The Ottumwa Courier


June 28, 2013


Let's face it, compared to our country's pioneers, we're a bunch of wimps

OTTUMWA — Reading Sue Parrish’s “Remember When” column in the Courier each week makes me realize what a bunch of softies we’ve become in our modern daily lives.

How did these rugged, adventurous people crossing and settling the country do it?

A recent Remember When really brought it home when comparing it to modern times.

It’s really a comparison of “Then” ... and “Now” and an exercise in perspective.


“When they [settlers] opened the prairie sod for their first corn crop, it took two to four teams of oxen to break through the roots of the prairied grasses and undergrowth. The plow was heavy, and the breaking of this sod was a very slow process. The roots gave way with the sounds we can hardly imagine today. Keep in mind, before this was even begun, their log homes and shelter for their livestock had to be built. Many times areas that were to become fields had to be prepared by the cutting of down trees and the removing of large surface rocks.” — Sue Parrish, Remember When


[In Ottumwa]

After a three-block walk, Matt and Elaine arrive at Graham’s Ice Cream.

Matt: “Ah, will you look at this! There’s a line. Geez. This is going take at least 10 minutes.”

Elaine: “Yeah, nice call on the walk, Matt. It’s hot out here! I’m starting to sweat too! My sleeves are like clinging to me. What’s with the humidity in Iowa? [Elaine expels air in frustration.] Like some of these people really need to get ice cream. C’mon, let’s move it along here, folks.”

Matt: “So, anyway, to finish my story, I contacted the Wapello County Historical Society about that cologne idea I had: ‘Pioneer Spirit.’ You see, I want to capture the essence of rugged pioneerism in those Remember When columns.”

Elaine: “You think people want to smell like sweaty pioneers after plowing a field all day?”

Matt: “No, not like that! So you don’t like the idea?”

Elaine: “No, I don’t. That’s as lame as your other cologne ideas. Panther’s Foot? Night Owl? Just give it up.”

Matt: “Ahh man, would you look at this ... I just stepped in pop! Now I’m going to have that sticky sound everywhere I walk. Great! I just bought these shoes too!”

Elaine: “Let’s just go! I think it’s going to start sprinkling. I hate it when it’s misty. My hair gets all frizzy! I hate that! I need my hat.”

Matt: “So what, we’re going to get a parfait at McDonald’s now? Sheez! This has been a rough day.”


“After the field was prepared and ready for the planting of the corn, the farmer made gashes with an ax in the sod about 3 feet apart. In these gashes were placed four kernels of corn, which were tamped down and covered by stepping on the spot.

After the stalks were up, which occurred in June, each hill had to be hoed. ... The hours were long and hard.”

Sue Parrish, Remember When


[At Jerry’s place somewhere in Ottumwa]

Matt bursts into Jerry’s apartment, out of breath.

Matt: “Did I miss the start of the game!”

Jerry: “No, the cable’s been out for like an hour now! Why is it every time there’s a storm in Ottumwa the cable goes out? I’m just sitting here with nothing to do! No TV, this is barbaric! Why are you out of breath?”

Matt: [panting and pointing to the hallway]: “I just ran ...!”

Jerry: “Up five flights of stairs?”

Matt: “Oh God no. Down the hallway from the elevator. And my car’s still in the shop. I had to walk like five blocks over here! It’s humid out! I was going to call you but that meteor shower is disrupting the phone service. It’s prehistoric!”

Jerry: “Yeah, I know. Oh, there the cable’s back on — finally! Now where’s that remote? It’s got to be around here somewhere. Alright, I can’t find the remote! This is unbelievable. Now we’re going to be watching ‘New Jersey Housewives’  for the next two hours. This day has been so challenging! Where are those sportswriters you work with, Scott and Andy?”

Matt: “Oh, they just opened that new place on Main Street: ‘PB&J’s.’ All they make are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. These guys are pioneers — snacks for people on the go!”

Jerry: “Yeah, that’ll last. Well with no remote, let’s walk up and see the renovated Chief Wapello statue.”

Matt: “It’s like a quarter-mile away.”

Jerry: “Yeah, I’ve seen him before. It probably looks about the same. Let’s just watch a movie. Geez, it’s been a strenuous day.”


“Climbing into the mountains dangerously late in the season — largely, [journalist Ethan] Rarick argues, because of an ill-advised decision to take a ‘shortcut’ on the trail earlier that summer — the wagon train, named after its leader, George Donner, was trapped by a fall storm. Hunkering down in hastily built cabins, they battled the cold and the elements. When their food ran out, they starved, roasting shoestrings and eating animal hides to stay alive. Finally, snowbound, with little hope of rescue, they started to eat each other.” — Review of “Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West” by Ethan Rarick.


[At an Ottumwa diner]

George: “Where’s that waiter? We’ve been sitting here for like five minutes and he just keeps walking by!”

Matt: “I think it’s deliberate. He’s deliberately shunning us. It’s because Elaine made a big deal about the big salad. They don’t have a big salad!”

George: “Why can’t she just have two small salads, what’s the big deal? What is taking so long, I’m starving here! George is gettin’ upset! Woo-hoo! I’m not going to tip this guy much.”

Matt: “You mean, leave a tip.”

George: “What, you’re saying I’m cheap? Hey, back when I had a job, I was spending baby! By the way, I put down PB&J’s as a job I applied for. Can you tell your buddies to say they turned me down as a waiter? That lady from unemployment’s getting suspicious.”

Matt: “Man, this has been a difficult day.”

References give you perspective

When you read stories about how rugged the pioneers of this country were, the challenges they had ... the everyday adversities we complain about seem awfully petty, whiney and wimpy.

I was thinking about this while reading Remember When at PB&J’s.

You need references like this to put life in perspective and realize just how fortunate we are.

Now where’s that remote?

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