I knew Naomi Mullendore Hougham nearly all my life, and a sizeable portion of hers.

She and my parents, Jack and Eve, were all at Franklin College in the 1920s, and became close friends. Naomi had a cabin south of Franklin, and I remember being put to bed as a child on her back porch.

By the time I became a student at the college in 1952, Naomi had retired, married, and was living in the big Hougham house on the Greensburg Road where my parents and I also visited.

When I graduated, I left Franklin and didn’t return until I began teaching journalism at the college in 1979. One day I was walking down Water Street and, with an “excuse me,” stepped past an old lady weeding her brick sidewalk. She looked up and said, “Bill! I haven’t seen you lately. Where have you been?”

It was Naomi, of course, and the previous quarter century vanished like a puff of stardust.

After that, my wife Karen and I saw her frequently, usually on Sunday at the First Baptist Church. We took her out to dinner occasionally, and one memorable day drove her to Brown County State Park, where she seemed to welcome every ancient tree as an old friend.

She was a font of stories about Franklin and the college. One I’ve never forgotten was her account of seeing a distinguished and aged man, in a rocker and wrapped in a shawl, reading in the basement of the college library when she was a student, starting in 1917. She believed, and I have no reason to doubt her, that she had seen William Taylor Stott, the college’s famed post-Civil War president—perhaps the last person alive to have seen that grand old man.

(I, too, had an even more tenuous link to Stott. As a student I roomed at the home of my Aunt Laura Vandivier at 847 E. Jefferson St. Stott had lived there at one time, and the glass transom over a door still bore the birds painted on it by his wife, Arabella.)

Naomi kept a treadmill at her home on Water Street and exercised regularly. Eventually, she had her knees replaced, not because she could no longer walk, but because she couldn’t walk fast enough to suit her. And she had critical words for her doctor who wouldn’t let her go back immediately to scrubbing floors on her hands and knees.

Near the end of her life, Naomi returned to the college one day for some official purpose, and I persuaded her to step next door to Shirk Hall, the former library, where the journalism department had just installed the campus’s first classroom computers. I got her to sit down at one. I hoped she would type her name, and thus link, however fleetingly, the blossoming computer age with the era of William Taylor Stott.

But she declined to try the keyboard. “Was she afraid of the computer?” someone asked me recently. No, Naomi was never afraid of anything. But she was still a practical farm girl, who saw no reason to waste her time fiddling with a contraption for which she would never have a use.

In that respect she resembled another college veteran, Professor Dick Park, to whom I confessed one day that I was learning how to tweet. “Oh, Bill,” he responded instantly, “I’m so sorry!”

One thing leads to another. The central building of Old Main, known in my school days as “the Gut,” is actually Stott Hall, named of course for the GOM. Across the front of its tower from time immemorial had appeared the name Franklin College, followed by a period. This was the typographic style of the 19th Century when many formal titles—even that of The New York Times.—bore that terminal punctuation.

When the building was restored after the fires of the 1980s, I noticed one day that the period was gone. Horrors! I told Ann Barton, director of media relations, that if she would get the punctuation restored, I would write a story about it for the alumni magazine. She did. The current period is actually a refrigerator line cap welded into place. And I did my part, ending my article with the only possible concluding line: “I love Franklin College period.”

(This is one of an occasional series of stories about county residents whose oral histories are maintained in the Johnson County Historical Museum.)

By some standards, Naomi Mullendore Hougham led an uneventful life. But it was not an uninteresting one.

When the Charlotte Emerson Club interviewed its members for its centennial in 1989, Naomi’s unnamed interviewer managed only about four typed pages, mostly basic biography. But then she appended Naomi’s own 41-page memoir of growing up as a Johnson County farm girl, an account that glows with Naomi’s keen observation and sympathies.

The biography can be covered quickly. Naomi: Born December 13, 1897, to Franklin Records Mullendore and Lavinia Featherngill Mullendore, Nineveh Township farmers with a big brick house south of Franklin near what is now Airport Road. Graduated 1917 from Franklin High School and 1921 from Franklin College. Taught for a year at Sullivan High School, before returning to teach botany at Franklin College until 1949. Along the way she got her master’s and doctorate in botany through summer work at the University of Chicago. In 1949, she retired and married Harry Hougham, a graduate and trustee of the college, moving to his home on the Greensburg Road. They traveled in this country as well as Mexico and Canada until his death in 1959. In her later years Naomi lived at 300 N. Water St. in Franklin.

Naomi died in the spring of 1995 at the age of 97.

In 1989, her interviewer lived in Naomi’s old house on the Greensburg Road, and recalled that Naomi came each year to gather persimmons from the trees there. The children of the house called her “the little old persimmon lady,” but the interviewer said she had found that Naomi was in fact “a very modern lady attuned to the times.”

And now to Naomi’s own account, which can only be excerpted and reviewed here. The entire text can be found in “the Charlotte Emerson book, Vol. II” at the museum.

There were horses standing on the pond! I stood in our living room and saw a team of horses on the ice of our pond. I was amazed.

Those words, near the start of the memoir, convey a child’s delight at a distance of more than a century.

Naomi had near-total recall of her childhood farm, its people, its animals, and rituals. The icehouse where blocks cut from the pond lay in sawdust. The milkhouse where warm milk was strained through a fine brass sieve, producing a thick layer of cream, “delicious on cereal.” And a little house used for drying peaches.

It was here that I maneuvered a peacock where I could catch him and get a few of the tiny top-knot feathers for my doll’s hat.

And the utilitarian aspects of country life, like the three-hole privy put together in the barn.

Before it could be moved to its place in the chicken yard, my brother had used it, to the disgust of my father.

Maple syrup was made each spring, and Naomi recalled that her father loved it on everything, even pouring some as a joke on the mashed potatoes of a visiting cousin. Not appreciated!

In a nearby field was a log cabin to which Naomi’s grandparents had moved from Shelby County in 1857. In it, she wrote, they housed nine children plus any hired hands to bed and prepare food for.

In later years, one of the hired hands, Charlie Rueff, had readied a buggy to go courting, and hitched it to King William, Naomi’s father’s horse. But King William had other ideas and tore off around the farm, returning with only the wreckage of the buggy dragging behind him.

There were other excitements. One day Naomi was gathering walnuts with her brother, accompanied by his dog Sport, when they were attacked by a skunk.

Our clothes were buried and we were washed as clean as possible, but that poor dog must have had a miserable time for several days.

Eventually, there was school, in a room at the Union Christian Church. The room had a map of South America.

I copied it many times, perhaps when I should have been doing something else.

Heat came from a stove and water from a bucket with a common dipper. There were foot races at recess, and at Christmas a tree decorated with strings of popcorn. At a school program, Naomi recited “The Little Red Hen,” to laughter from the older students. I never knew why.

Naomi’s father was a stockbreeder and had once sold a bull to someone in South Africa. On the barn was a picture of another bull, Klondike, painted by an itinerant artist, Mr. Irlett, with a fondness for drink. Irlett had gotten one of the horns wrong, and, unable to fix his error, simply gave Klondike a third horn.

In winter, her father brought newborn pigs into the house to warm them on the open oven door. An uncle, Will Flinn, gave Naomi an orphan lamb to raise with a bottle. She eventually sold it for $5, her first earned money.

“Cooking for threshers” was not just a phrase. The Mullendores and their neighbors were part of a “ring” which went around farm by farm at harvest time. The women cooked, and ate last so the men could get back to the fields. A menu:

Two kinds of meat, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, dressing, dumplings, noodles, green beans, baked beans, slaw, pickles, applesauce, jams, jellies, salad, pies, cakes, and gallons of iced tea.

Naomi fished in the farm pond. Once she saw six 15-inch carp swimming together. She got a garden rake and raked three of them to shore.

She followed her brother when he began school in Franklin. In high school, she studied botany with Nettie Craft, which might seem like a prelude to her later career, but in fact she had always loved and studied plants.

In Mother’s big woods, there were Dutchman’s breeches, squirrel corn, phlox, fire pinks, larkspur, buttercups, may apple, false rue anemone, yellow, blue, and white violets, pennyroyal.

Each week a huckster wagon visited, with sewing materials and food staples, as well as candy and chewing gum. (Dr. Carl Payne also distributed Kissme chewing gum as he made his rounds.)

And there were visits from Dutch John who made medicines from snakeskins, hog hair, sheep droppings, red corn cobs, and many other things about which we did not know nor could even guess. The medicines were aromatic, and so was Dutch John.

Among Naomi’s favorite places were a summer kitchen, such a nice place to pop corn, crack nuts, and eat apples in the evening. Apple varieties included Transparent, Maiden Blush, Wealthy, Rambo, and Baldwin.

There are a host of other glimpses in Naomi’s memoir of an earlier era in Johnson County: visiting back and forth among friends and relatives; bathing in a galvanized tub in the living room behind the baseburner; grinding horseradish (our tears flowed copiously), and her first Christmas present, a brown baby doll which cried when the bottle was taken from its mouth. And her recollection that her grandmother, Catherine Mullendore, thought every girl should know how to make 25 kinds of pie before she married. Perhaps that’s why grandfather liked pie, even for breakfast.

And there is one other recollection that persists today: the giant sycamore leaning all the way across the road hear Naomi’s childhood home. It was threatening to fall a century ago, but is still there. Now, however, the county highway department has put up a clearance sign to keep any oversized truck from plowing into it.

[Written for Nostalgia News, the magazine of the Johnson County Historical Society.]

You scream/I scream/we all scream/for ice cream.

 For the first few years of my life, that familiar chant was associated with a building on the east side of South Main Street in Franklin, a little north of the Young’s Creek bridge. It was never hard, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, to persuade my father to stop there with me in tow. He liked ice cream almost as much as I did.

For most of my life, I’ve thought this building was the little blue-and-white structure that is now part of Chumbley’s Auto Service. Driving past, I fantasized about the chances of stopping for a double vanilla cone. Only when I began researching this article did I discover that my temple of ice cream is long gone, replaced by a parking lot. That site’s address is 251 South Main. Chumbley’s Auto Service is at 257 South Main. I feel as stunned by my enduring confusion as my literary Uncle Bill was when he discovered he had been misspelling “ukulele” all his life.

I owe my enlightenment to James Chumbley, who went into a dusty cabinet and hauled out an Aug. 4, 1934, newspaper ad announcing the opening of Dallas (Dal) Wirey’s new Tydol-Veedol service station “next to Franklin Pure Milk Co.”

Digression: Chumbley started working at Wirey’s former station in the 1960s and took it over in the 1980s. Dal Wirey moved up the street in 1941 and built a new Texaco station, eventually turning it over to his son, Gene (who passed the 1934 ad on to Chumbley). Paul Newkirk, who currently owns Wirey’s former business, noted that 1941 was not the greatest time to start a service station, since rationing of gas, rubber, and other items was just around the corner. Wirey made a go of it, though.

Back to ice cream: Getting Pure Milk’s location straightened out wasn’t the end of my confusion. I was also under the impression that the South Main site was Fertig’s ice-cream store, but a recent search of city directories shows otherwise. At least as early as 1928, the store at 251 South Main was the Pure Milk one, while the Fertig Dairy Co. was at 345-51 East Jefferson. A two-story brick structure at 351 East Jefferson, just west of the railroad, still stands, although the rest of the 345-51 address has been cleared. The 351 building, long vacant, is now occupied by Crossroad Engineers.

Ice cream in Franklin for more than half a century was closely associated with the name Fertig, and specifically Dayton D. Fertig, who founded his company in 1910. Dayton died on Dec. 8, 1983, at the age of 94, but had retired many years before. He had also run ice cream businesses in Indianapolis and Shelbyville, according to his obituary in the Johnson County Daily Journal.

City directories through the years show the ownership and name changes that occurred. Fertig’s on Jefferson and Pure Milk on South Main remained constant until 1956, although a Miller-Yarling store at 64 W. Court St. is listed for 1940. But in April, 1957, Polk Sanitary Milk had taken over on Jefferson, possibly coinciding with Dayton Fertig’s retirement. After a year out of the directory, the 251 South Main location reappeared for a time as the Golden Guernsey. By 1959, Polk Sanitary Milk had been replaced by Franklin Sanitary Milk, and the Guernsey was no more. (Paul Newkirk also remembers an ice-cream business at the corner of South Main and South Street, where the city police department later was located.)

Dayton Fertig’s obituary is relatively short, but indicates someone who was active in community affairs and organizations, including the board of the Johnson County Welfare Department, the Boys and Girls clubs, Hillview Country Club, Masonic organizations, and Grace Methodist Church. He was the first president of the Franklin Kiwanis Club, and an honorary member of Kappa Delta Rho fraternity. He spent his winters in Coral Gables and Miami, Florida. He was survived by his wife Reeda (Holstein) Fertig, whom he married in 1945 after the death of his first wife, Ida, the previous year; a daughter and five grandchildren also survived. He is buried in Greenlawn cemetery.

Fertig was an avid golfer, and in 1929 donated the Fertig Cup to Hillview Country Club, where he was president from 1928 to 1930. A detailed story, by Bill Campbell in the Spring 1983 Nostalgia News, explains that the cup’s possession “was symbolic of golf supremacy each 4th of July on a medal play basis! It was a traveling cup and by this I mean the winner each year kept it from one 4th of July to the other. He had to relinquish the cup if he did not successfully defend it.”

Campbell described each competition from 1929 through 1947. The trophy, a tall, slender, silver cup, is pictured in the article. But after 1947, strange things happened. Here’s the story, in Campbell’s words:

“I am not sure as to why or when they stopped playing for the cup. I have every reason to believe that the last time they played for it was in 1950. I base this opinion on the fact that my scrapbook informs me that I won it in 1951 [sic] and I have an individual trophy to show for that win. I suspect that the reason they quit playing for it was due to the fact they did not know where it was.

“It was lying in a local jewelry store gathering dust until the jeweler asked Roger Owens what to do with it! Roger took it home with him and asked some officials from time to time what they wanted him to do with it, but none of them took any interest in it, so he just kept it.

“He just recently gave it to me as he knew I had the only other one that survived the fire in 1971. Both trophies actually belong to the club. However, I am in no hurry to give them up as I am not sure what fate would await them!”

But Campbell was writing in 1983. So where is the Fertig Cup now? It turns out to be just where one might expect, in the Johnson County Museum to which Campbell or his family eventually donated it. Mystery solved.

This blog continues to be my own frail effort to examine the political storm from the standpoint of a retired journalist. I don’t know just how long the effort will continue, because it seems clearer by the day that journalists, like the rest of the country, are, in the words of a perceptive writer, “all [Trump’s] prisoners, held fast in the projected drama of his mind.”

I happen to think that the writer, Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books, is overstating the case a little, but perhaps not by much. The press by its nature is reactive; it has to report the outrageous and false tweets because of where they come from. But the rest of us don’t have to be held in thrall.

If your milieu is anything like mine, you know several people who are actively avoiding the news, or who are following it sporadically only to keep at least passingly informed about what’s happening. And now and then there are journalists who remind us that there are other things in the world than the circus we’ve been watching.

One of these (mentioned here before) is David Brooks of the New York Times and PBS, who turned away completely from the show this morning to write about a book he’s been reading. It’s a book about relationahips, especially those in marriage. He examines what he calls “covenant relationships” in which longtime partners stay together not simply because of love or even shared interests, but because they have made a lifetime commitment to hanging in with the partner, come what may. It is a wonderfully human piece of writing, and has the virtue of drawing one’s attention away from the relentless political theater we’re seeing.

I’m purposely omitting the name of the book David is reading, because it is not the point. The point is that he turned aside this morning to talk about something else of importance in our lives. And he doesn’t make, nor will I, an argument that “covenant relationships” might also exist in other areas of life.

For the moment anyway, I’m also refusing to be a prisoner. The next post, at least, will be on a totally different topic. In fact it will be about ice cream

Somewhere in the media storm today was a wonderful story about Gen. James Mattis, the secretary of defense.

Benny Johnson, a reporter for the Conservative Daily, ran into him in a hallway, surrounded by veterans who wanted their picture taken with him. Benny shot the picture, then asked Mattis if he could talk to him for a minute or two. Mattis said sure.

Johnson asked if it was true he did his own laundry in the Pentagon basement. (It was.) He asked if it was true that Mattis always carried his own bags. (“Why not? I’ve got two hands.”) Then Johnson asked why his call sign was “Mad Dog.” It wasn’t, Mattis said. His sign is actually “Chaos,” bestowed by his troops in an earlier day, and understood by his friends to stand for “Colonel has an outstanding solution.”

Then Mattis smiled at this reporter he’d just met. “You can call me Chaos,” he said.

 

 

Eleven days ago, on Feb. 15, I blogged about a New York Times piece that I called the Three-M Story, for the first names of its writers, Michael Schmidt, Mark Massetti, and Matt Apuzzo. It could have been called the Russian Story, because it quoted multiple unnamed sources who said the FBI was sifting through “a trove of information” about yearlong contacts between Trump associates and Russian intelligence sources.

I said the story could be either Watergate or a damp squib. Truthfully, it looked like a squib. Mike, Mark, and Matt haven’t followed up with any more details.

Except that the Trump administration won’t let the Times story die. In the last 11 days it has trashed the story repeatedly, launched a furious campaign against the FBI leakers, and escalated its war on the media as “enemies of the American people” and purveyors of “fake news.” President Trump has spoken disparagingly of the First Amendment, and ordered the Times and some others barred from the small White House briefings called “gaggles.” He has declined to appear at the annual Washington correspondents dinner, and has said the media should be barred from using unnamed sources.

And there’s the strange episode in which the White House confirmed, according to National Public Radio and others, that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had tried unsuccessfully to get the FBI to publically deny the Russian Story. When that effort failed, an unnamed White House spokesman said FBI director Comey had told the White House privately that the story was “garbage.”

Hmmm.

Mike, Mark, and Matt have touched an exceedingly raw nerve, and an observer has to wonder. This story is either a damp squib or very smelly garbage indeed.

 

According to PBS and the New York Times, the Democratic Party will be holding a convention this weekend to vote on leadership and future courses of action. A national organization of conservatives is just finishing such a session.

The Democrats are being pushed, in part by their more strident members, toward declaring all-out war against the current administration and all its pomps and shows (as in “the Devil and all his pomps and shows”). Moderates are having a problem withstanding this storm, as are moderates (few as they may be) on the other side. I can understand their dismay all around.

So it’s with some relief that I’ve been reading the local newspaper columns of John Krull, my successor as director of the Pulliam School of Journalism at Franklin College. The headline today was “Search for Good Sense Among Screaming.” (Yes, of course the headline writer should have made it “Amid Screaming.” But moving on . . . .) John hosts a talk show on an Indianapolis radio station, and he was making a point: Some participants whom he expected to throw an on-air fit didn’t. Instead they spoke calmly about real problems. John concluded: “Polarization won’t help us meet our challenges or solve our problems. But listening to each other might.”

John’s patient stance reminds me of a recent column by David Brooks in the New York Times. David doesn’t scream either, but the column described at length some of the real and troubling problems our country faces, from a loss of economic dynamism to widespread social alienation. Then he wrote:

“The central task for many of us is not to resist Donald Trump. He’ll seal his own fate. It’s to figure out how to replace him—how to respond to the slow growth and social disaffection that gave rise to him with some radically different policy mix.”

Wise words, indeed. And not a scream anyplace in it.