Wendell Ashbaucher of Bluffton, IN


In the early 20th century, childhood deaths were common place in rural America and parents had to accept that some of their offspring would not survive.  Influenza and farming accidents claimed many lives in those days.  There were no antibiotics.  Polio, measles and mumps were prolific.  Farmers set their own broken bones and horses pulled the plows until they dropped dead in the field.  Women baked bread, sewed for the family, made do, and tended large gardens full of cucumbers to be pickled, beets, turnips, carrots, potatoes and onions.   Underground root cellars were thus filled and wheat that was threshed in July was ground into flour to bake breads, pie crusts and pancakes.   There was a pig in the pen, a hen house filled with layers and fryers, and a cow for milk.  Beef cattle and Percherons were rotated on pastures.

Nancy Mabel Waugh, my great grandmother.

My great-grandma (Nancy Mabel Waugh) was born in 1892 .  She lived on such an Indiana farm in the early 1900′s with her first husband, my great-grandfather, Wilhelm (William Edward) Ashbaucher.  They were third generation settlers, at the brink of American ingenuity and prosperity.  Henry Ford’s Model T was just rolling off the assembly line.  Soon to follow would be Edison’s electric light bulb, indoor plumbing, and radio sets which could miraculously broadcast a Yankee’s baseball game or one of Jack Dempsey’s fights.  Charles Lindbergh was learning to fly.

World War l was raging the year my grandfather, James William Ashbaucher, was born: 1917.  By November, 1918, the war to end all wars would be over.

My whole life, I was told that Grandpa had a big brother,  Will, who died one evening after being kicked in the head by a horse.  He was seven years old.   I was only six years old the first time I remember hearing the story.  It has always bothered me:   this little Will-boy who died without having had a chance to make his mark on the world.  I have always loved him.

Children of Nancy Mabel Waugh, my grandpa and his sister, Martha 1950′s

As I grew up, I would think about Will’s life on the farm.   He was the only big brother my grandpa ever had and he certainly tagged along after him.  By age 3, Grandpa was reaching under hen bellies to gather eggs while Will swept the hen house floor and freshened the nests.  Both boys shared an oval, metal bath tub in the kitchen on Saturday nights.  My great-grandma would heat the water on a stove top and both boys would strip down and get a good scrubbing.  My Grandpa wore Will’s hand-me-downs until 1926.  He was four years old then–the year that Wendell Waugh Ashbaucher “Will” was injured by the horse and killed.

Grandpa Place, living in town.

Four years later, unexpectedly at age 38, their father (my great-grandfather) died too:  leaving behind the farm, his wife (my great-grandma), and their two young children, my grandpa and, by then, a baby sister named Martha.  That’s when my great-grandma’s world fell apart.  She couldn’t care for her children and so sent them to live with two other families (temporarily) as she sold the farm, the livestock, the tools, and equipment.  Martha was cared for in town and fared well.  My grandpa, at age 4 or 5, went to live on another farm.  He never spoke of that time, but it is generally understood that he  had a hard life because the family was cruel.   Great-grandma moved to town and grieved.  Eventually she remarried a man named Glen Place, who was a railroad engineer, and brought the children back home to live with them.  Grandpa Glen was much loved by all and worked for the Nickel Plate Railroad.

  Today Grandma Place is buried between both husbands.  She died in 1971.

As a young girl growing up in Chicago, Grandma Place would come to visit.  She was very old by the 1960′s, but would push me on a back yard swing.  Later we would share some vanilla ice cream that my grandpa would hand crank in the cool of the shaded porch.  She played a wicked game of pinochle, wore lots of perfume, and her eyes twinkled.  She was a round, big hipped woman with frosty white hair and saggy, baggy cheeks that hung down.  She was soft and beautiful.   Once, she sewed me a dolly blanket from scraps and mailed it as a Christmas surprise. Now, when I get the patchwork blanket down from the shelf and look at the stitches she lovingly placed, precisely-spaced in rows, I wonder…

I wonder how she bore the loss of a child and a husband.  I wonder if she thought of them in the twilight hours of her life as she pieced together my blanket.  I hope making the blanket gave her comfort.  I can not touch the blanket without thinking of how she overcame all that sorrow.  She went on to live a happy, retired life in sunny Florida where she rode a three wheeled bicycle and enjoyed the sun’s heat and shine by the pool.  Later, Martha would join her.

One hundred years later, in 2013, my cousin, Sandy, and I were camping near Bluffton and on a lark I said, “Hey, why don’t we find out where the cemetery is and see if we can find any Ashbauchers.”   We googled it and discovered that there were four cemeteries nearby.   By divine intervention, we picked the right one, Fairview Cemetery.



My secret hope was to find Wendell.   I wanted to tell him (my great-uncle!) that he was not forgotten and that I loved his little brother, my grandpa, with all of my heart.


To be Continued….




Time to Pucker Up

It isn’t often that we catch “The Bryce” suffering any humiliation of any kind.   He is human after all, and I’m sure he slips and falls down, but we’ve never caught him in the act.  That has all changed my dear friends (insert evil grin).

A little thrill ran up my leg when I received the following text from him this morning, “This should make your day; I’m stuck in the ditch right now by your neighbor’s house.”

 Oh, it did. 

For years we have suffered through his “I have a perfect driving record” bull crap story every time he shows up to tow us out of a jam or save the day in some other way SO, of course, I hustled right out there to take pictures and laugh at him.

His Chevy diesel pickup truck was buried to the axles with snow due to a teeny weeny bit of ice on the road and a whole lot of operator error.   Being the good citizen that I am, the first thing I did was post his “stuck” picture on facebook  to let the neighbors know to be careful tonight on their way home.

Adam shows up with his Ford Dualie diesel and they strap the pickup trucks, butt to butt, for a good yank to freedom.  Instead, the Ford jerked and spun all four rear wheels, catapulting Adam into uncontrolled spins, snapping lines, and setting him into a free fall.  He ended up butt to face with Bryce’s truck with a fresh load of crap in his pants.

They both got out of their trucks to work up a new plan.  Each almost fell over and had to reach out and clutch at the other like Olympic Ice Dancers dressed in Carhartt brown.  As the wind blew, their bodies drifted on stilted legs down the road, taking them farther and farther away from the scene.  Just short of a double Lutz toe loop, they released their grips on one another.   Bryce slithered his way back to his truck and Adam switched it up to Nordic skiing on his way to the barn for heavy duty reinforcements.

Confident now, Adam pulls out with a four wheel drive tractor headed towards Bryce so they can give ‘er another go.    Here is where the real butt puckering began.  Events prior had simply been foreplay.










As he approached Bryce’s truck, the tractor lost control, gained speed, and was gliding until it hit firm snow at the ditch.  Then Adam threw it in reverse and the real trouble began.  Now it was “The Bryce” who got the last laugh as Adam had to drive straight into, through, and up the snowy ditch, nearly missing a mailbox, just to get back up on the road.


Adam:  “That wasn’t even the bad part. The bad part was going back down the hill after we got him out. I did another spin at about 20 mph and thought I was going to flip over in the ditch.”




Challenge Accepted




When my dog hears me jingle my Airstream keys, she calls “shotgun” and leaps into the front seat of the truck.  My 16′ DWR Bambi, affectionately named, “The Hen House” is just the ticket to freedom for me as a solo mom whose baby chicks have flown the coop.  My German Shorthaired Pointer, Remi, gives me the courage.  She is my protector and friend as we roll across the open road. 

Just having her along always sparks conversation with other campers and it would break her little doggie heart if I ever left without her.   We have our routines as we strike camp across the miles.  Mornings are for walking the foot paths in the woods or going  to see all the waterfalls that Mommy wants to see. 

Then we run a few miles, eh, I mean she runs a few miles because I’ve trained her on lonely, dirt back roads to heel to the front wheel of the truck.  A tired dog is a happy dog! 

Then it is nap time, lounging around time, hot summer sun time, or bird watching time; a favorite past time for us both. 

We live in Michigan, a two peninsula state, and in the off season, Remington’s Iron Maiden runs the wild sand beaches of Great Lakes Huron, Michigan or Superior.  My American Express card is definitely NOT the one thing that I wouldn’t leave home without!

When I posted the picture of Remi reflected in the sands of Lake Michigan, Airstream wrote me back to encourage me to enter the picture and a brief story (above) in their contest.  Challenge accepted.

Down below are some more pictures of my road warrior!  Enjoy.

Two Little Devils

June 2011 16555

Ahhh, the 1950′s, southside Chicago:  one shade less than being classified as juvenile delinquents, my father and his best friend, Uncle Kenny, were always up to no good.  The stories they told to grandchildren around the campfires decades later were legendary.

Their shenanigans began during early childhood; my grandma dreaded each phone call from Pasteur Elementary School. Uncle Kenny had something like 12 brothers and sisters so the Peto house was where all the action was.  Ma Peto once had a bee fly up her skirt and the kids still tell about that day as she dashed around the yard screaming.

The only physical thing separating Uncle Kenny and my dad’s Chicago brick bungalows was an 8′ gangway between their houses.  There was about 3′ of grass, a sidewalk, a chain link fence on the property line, and then 3′ of more grass.  They could look into each other’s bedroom windows.  Sign language worked for a while, but they figured they could improve upon it.  Each ” borrowed” enough parts from local pay phone booths to construct a working line suspended between their windows.   Piece by piece, by trial and error, they mastered a voice system that worked.  Only God knows what they talked about into the wee hours.  Ma Bell was on a need to know basis and she didn’t need to know.

Jimmy (my dad) at 6247 So. Kilpatrick Ave., Chicago

There was the time when my dad, who contracted polio in 1945 at the age of 4, was famous for hitting other kindergarten kids with his crutches in the school playground.  Grandma damn near expected a call once a week telling her how her Jimmy was a bad boy.  He sought revenge the summer of 6th grade by breaking into the school and smashing garlic cloves real hard with his “good foot” into the wood classroom floors.   By September, the school was ripe and could not open.

In 8th grade he and Uncle Kenny blew up the science lab.

No one was more relieved when my dad graduated 8th grade than his mother!


For winter kicks, the two of them would crawl up a fire escape attached to a two story brick building at the corner of 63rd and Cicero, onto  Pete the Shoemaker’s flat roof, (Pete turned the soles and made all of my dad’s shoes with a 7″ left foot lift).  Pete’s brick building had a  rook tower facade, perfect for striking innocents and hiding hoodlums.  Together, the two boys would spend hours making ice balls.  They would wait for the city buses to stop at the corner and then bomb the folks getting on board.  At the first sound of sirens, they would climb down the fire escape and run back to safety at their homes, just across the alley.   A couple of real sharpies.

They never stopped making trouble.  In their 40′s, they decided it would be a good idea to burn a rubber tire pile which resulted in the Edens Expressway being shut down.  Did I mention their fixation with M-80′s?  “Fire in the hole” at Devils Lake State Park in Wisconsin every 4th of July.  They blew them off in the water to watch the fish float and also wedged firecrackers into tree forks to “light ‘em and run”.

One summer, in the late 60′s, they built a “motor chopper” for my little brother.  They designed and manufactured a bike with an 8 horse Briggs & Stratton engine and a seat built for two.  Woody and I rode that thing up and down the alleys at 52nd and Kedzie.  We even brought it up north to explore logging trails near Crystal Falls, MI.

Back before adolescents had video games and cell phones, there were plenty of innocent troublemakers and real life “games” being played!





Our Baby Girl

1988.   Jennifer Elaine Kupiec, our baby girl, arrived on a sunny August afternoon at 9 lbs. 4 oz.  bringing with her big, brown angel eyes and a softness that I can’t explain.  Proof that hearts can be stolen.

Too soon, she started weaving string potholders on a metal loom and riding a pink two wheeler.  Next came a tackle box full of glass beads which Jennifer spent hours threading into hand crafted lizards and turtles, some of which still hang from my office drawers.

She cared for yellow, fluffy spring chicks each year and sipped tea with  lions and tigers and bears.  Dollies, sparkly pillows, and Leo DiCaprio posters filled her room.  Giggles, braids, and hopscotch certainly were a breath of fresh air after raising two sons.  The boys reminded her every day that “Pink Stinks” and that she is lucky they let her live with them.

They taught their baby sister important life skills:  to always be the banker when playing Monopoly and how to survive on a little, red sled while being towed at 30 mph by two beasts on a snowmobile.  She  learned how important life jackets are after her oldest brother took her for a “little” boat ride.  He brought her back to our cabin soaking wet–apparently, she wasn’t holding on for dear life good enough and she cartwheeled overboard.  Her other brother, bless his heart, taught her not to volunteer to be buried in the sand or to breathe under water.

High school came and went in a flash filled with dances, gymnastics, puppy love, and tennis.  She became a Michigan State Spartan and opened a business where she met Will, a nice guy from Ann Arbor who did not attend U of M and whom accepts all things Sparty!

2014.  One blink, and she’s in Chicago, at the Signature Restaurant atop the John Hancock Building and calls home to say,  “Mom, I’m engaged!”  Will had the waiter tie the ring onto a purple ribbon wrapped around the wine bottle.  He dropped down on one knee and proposed.  She began to cry and then he wrapped his strong arms around her.  All he needed was a horse and a beautiful sunset to ride off into.

Our baby girl is getting married.  When I first held her in my arms that warm, August day in 1988, I prayed for her to have a happy life full of adventure, love, health, and happiness.  She has found all of these things with Will.  We love him and trust him with her heart.  Will has met her two older brothers and they approve–proving that there is a God and that Will and Jennifer’s love a match made in heaven!

Epic Fail

Okay, so I have this friend.  Let’s call her Sally.    “Sally”  is coming up on 33 years years of marriage and is always looking for ways to grow old gracefully.  One day she was feeling so dang bloated; her tummy was distended and her jeans wouldn’t snap.  It was painfully apparent that something bad was going to happen.

It was during this realization that her husband came home early, sat down on the couch, and started working on his computer.  Her living room furniture floats out in the middle of the room, just like mine.  Knowing that her muscles were fully taxed and accepting that there is only so much one can blame on a dog, she decided to make the most out of a bad situation.

Sally knew that  she was going to have to “own it” sooner or later–so she stood just behind the couch, near the back of his head, pretending to pick up dog toys, and relaxed.  And relaxed again.  And relaxed one more glorious time.

Not yet a pro at practical jokes (and this was practical) she tried to keep her sniggling silent…in truth, she tried to keep everything silent.  By this time her eyes were watering as she doubled over in agony, holding her laughing in.   Did you know that it is very hard to hold one thing in while letting another thing out?

Getting no response, she finally burst into heaving waves of laughter.   The End.



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