The Old Storm Cellar

Some of these still linger on in Kansas backyards and some are still used when the sky turns ominous and a tornado funnel starts to form. This particular one was in the yard where Gail’s daughter, Karen, lived for a number of years in El Dorado, Kansas. The house dated back to 1918 and perhaps the old storm cellar was of that vintage too.


Possibly, the doors had been replaced a few times over the years. It’s been painted but then that weathers away over the years.

It’s a fact of life if you live in Kansas, you need to know where the nearest tornado shelter is. Living in tornado alley means learning how to read the clouds and recognize a tornado funnel forming. It means knowing the siren tones to know which is a tornado alert and which is a “take cover.”

A vintage storm cellar like this one might have a dirt floor or could have been improved over the years. Some people stock them with chairs, a lantern, a weather radio, and other comforts to get through dangerous times. Sometimes the walls are lined with rough shelving to hold canned foods from the vegetable garden and have bins for potatoes and other root crops.

There’s a handle to make it easier to pull open the wooden doors. Fear lends you strength to haul it open as the wind howls around you and the rain pelts down.

Memories from Other Folks of Storm Shelters

  • Sara Sluss – We had one at the farm – long gone. I hated going into it – for potatoes, onions, or apples or because there were tornados in the area. Spiders, dark, dank, ick.
  • Nicholas C. – My grandparents had one in Maple Hill, Kansas. A lantern hung on the back porch to take when it stormed at night. It was used for canned goods and vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.) and crocks of sauerkraut. There were always toads! There was a vent in the top which made the wind and thunder sound strange and ominous! Thank heavens, I never saw a snake! I fell down the concrete steps when I was 5 and broke my left eardrum. Lots of memories!
  • Mary M. – My Aunt has one inside an outbuilding (which was a smokehouse at one time) in her backyard in Towanda. It started to cave in so she had to fill it with dirt.
  • Mike M. – We had one in western Linn County where I grew up. We kept our potatoes and onions from the garden in it and I learned to ride a bike by coasting off the top of it.
  • Beverly M. – Some called them ‘fraidy’ holes.
  • Robinette G. – We still have our cellar on the farmstead of my great-grandparents. The 6th generation now lives here. When I was a kid, this was my playhouse in the summer because it was cool in the western Kansas heat. We’d always go through the doorway really fast to avoid spiders, then checked for snakes! It’s covered by a silver lace vine.
  • Dorothy L. – We called them caves. Although we had a basement, our neighbor had a cave. During one tornado scare, several people from town gathered in that small space. I was in grade school and counted twenty-four people taking shelter while our local policeman, Officer Holder, drive through town in his police car sounding his siren or horn as a warning. No Shawnee County sirens in those days.
  • John F. – My grandparents had one just like it. I loved the smell of brick and earth and the dozens of mason jars full of fruit and vegetables. This was in the late 60s early 70s.
All Concrete storm cellar 1910 -

The Daily Republican 
Burlington, Kansas 09 May 1910, Mon  •  Page 8

Gail, Age 14


1938 – Pauline Bolte, Melba McGhee, Twyla Yeager, Gail McGhee, and little Carol McGhee.

The three on the right are the McGhee sisters. Older sis, Melba, married Norman Harlan a few years after this photo. Gail McGhee would have been 14. Younger sis, Carol would have just been 4-years-old.

The two on the left are cousins of the McGhee sisters. Pauline Bolte, age 17, was the daughter of Lucy Vining. Twyla Yeager, age 16, was the daughter of Laura Mae Vining. Laura and Lucy were sisters of Ruth Vining McGhee (mother of Carol, Gail, and Melba).
Here are Carol’s thoughts about the time a few years after this, “I went to the country Seeley School, smack on the prairie of the Flint Hills, from 2nd to mid-6th grade. Walked the mile or so back and forth when weather permitted. Always left early so I’d have time to chase rabbits and throw pebbles in the creek. Don’t remember it having a bell. Later photos show an oil well in front of it. 
Seeley school

View of the Seeley School with an oil pump jack in front.

Hollyhock Dolls

When I think of Hollyhocks, I picture in my mind a cottage garden in England with all kinds of old-fashioned flowers crowding together. The Hollyhocks with their long flower stalks stand out from the mounds of lower-growing flowers.

Gail’s sister, CJ thinks of her childhood. “When I was a youngster, I made “dolls” with the flowers for skirts.” She said that the hollyhocks were there when she moved into her home in Kansas. Her niece, that she rents from and who lived there first must have planted them.
CJ says, “I totally ignore them, and they seem to thrive! They’re extremely self-sufficient. I do nothing to or for them; they come up every year, and this year (like a lot of other flowers) are more bountiful with flowers. My local horticulturist says it is due to the weird & long winter we had. Even the maple tree had way more “spinning” seeds than usual.”
Cj-Garriott pics of hollyhocks

Photos of the hollyhocks by C.J. Garriott

Her friend commented, “I only know Hollyhocks from the song, “English Country Garden.” So good to finally know what they actually look like! They’re beautiful.”

Browsing online, I found some pictures of children making the flower dollies. They put a toothpick through the center of the flower base and use a bud for the head. Some put a toothpick sideways through the base of the flower to serve as arms.

The Last Wagon Wheel Rug

Leaning in a forlorn way against the wall, the final wagon wheel rug remained unfinished. It would have been a beautiful rug with the subtle shades of gray, taupe and cream blended together.

Unfortunately, health problems followed by the death of Clyde and a year later of Gail meant the unique rug was never completed. Few people knew the skills needed for this kind of rug-making.

2007-01-10 mom's camera 009

Still pinned to the wheel, it was relegated to the dusty garage where it rested on the cracked, concrete floor. When the estate sale was held, someone purchased the partly woven rug on its wheel.

I hope they had an interest in learning the craft and went ahead to finish the weaving. I hope they had the vision to see what a beautiful rug it would be.

Learn more about the wagon wheel rugs made by Gail and Clyde Martin.

More recently, a Wagon Wheel Weaving Facebook group has organized and the members are helping each other master the making of these rugs. The folks would be delighted to know that it has over 250 members.

Self-Publish a Book of Your Poems

If you’re a poet wanting to share your poems with friends and family, think about turning them into a book. Here’s my experience with this.

My sister writes great poems, but she wanted a way to showcase them. I assembled them into a self-published book that she loves. It is available for her friends and family to order a copy online without excessive cost to her.

Collect and Sort the Poems

If you’re an organized poet, maybe you already have all of them in one place. If not, then gather your scraps of paper and get the poems typed into the computer and saved in a word processing program.

Edit and Polish the Poems

Look the poems over to be sure you’re happy with the wording of each one. Read them out loud to check the flow of the words and the resonance of each. Have a friend, whose judgment you value, review the poems and query you on unclear wordings.

Cover for Ride a Stick Horse

Cynthia Ross – The cover for her first book of poetry.

Paste the Poems into the Book Software

I recommend where you can download their BookSmart software for free. You can also use any of the photo book programs out there that you might like such as Shutterfly. Get the poems into the publishing program that is going to turn it into a book.

Match the Poems to Pictures

You don’t have to have photos or artwork with the poems, but I think it makes a visually appealing book with them. Make sure the photos and artwork are your own or that you have permission to use them.

We used my photos with her poems. Being in color, it did make the book cost more. You could use black and white photos or smaller photos if you want to keep the book more affordable.

Blurb Books inside prairie woman poems cindy book

Two pages of Cynthia Ross’ book, Prairie Woman Poems

Rearrange and Check and Publish

Read through the book in draft form to see that the topics of the poems flow in the way you want. With my sister’s poems, I grouped pages of poems on topics like childhood, writing, relationships, etc.

Spell-check and get several people to look for typos, design mistakes, and other errors. Upload the book to the publisher. Order a copy for yourself and tell all your friends where they can order a copy.

Prairie Woman Poems by Cynthia Jo Ross Blurb Books

Self-published poetry book by Cynthia Ross (tips for how to do this)

What to Say in a Sympathy Card

Sadly, I’ve been writing sympathy cards nonstop for the past week. Fortunately, I keep a pretty good stock on hand. The losses seem to keep on coming. I may have to restock my selection of cards.

Put the right words on paper - Writing a sympathy card.

Put the right words on paper – Writing a sympathy card.

I used to get tongue-tied trying to express my sympathy but am getting more fluent these days. Perhaps practice helps or else I’ve absorbed the words from Hallmark and other greeting card providers and that’s what flows from my pen.

Here’s an example of what you can write:

  • “Our hearts are sad for you and your family at this time of great loss. (insert name) was so special and loved by many who will miss him/her very much.”
  • Tell a story of a good time or memory of that person.
  • “Try to find solace in your many memories of the good times you shared. Sending hugs across the miles.”

Here is another example:

“Thinking of you at this sad time and wishing you comfort in the days ahead. Keeping you close in our hearts and in our prayers.”

(Article first published on Niume by Virginia Allain)

Decorating for Thanksgiving

Nature celebrates the harvest season and cooler weather with a burst of color. Bring some of that color inside your home to enjoy. Here are ways to do that.

thanksgiving fall bouquet

Oranges and yellows – perfect for fall or Thanksgiving decorating.

Pick up a few pieces each year after Halloween and Thanksgiving when autumn leaves, pumpkins, gourds, chrysanthemums, and other traditional fall decor goes on sale. Even jack-o’-lanterns can be used beyond Halloween if the back view is a plain pumpkin. Just turn it around. Over the years you’ll build up a good-sized selection to fit your seasonal decorating needs.

Store the items in a large bin with heavier items on the bottom and more fragile items like silk flowers and leaves on the top. Bring out the bin when it’s time to decorate for fall.

Look around for areas to enhance with the fall items. Fill the traditional places like mantels and tabletops. Add a swag or wreath to the front door. Don’t be shy with the groupings and colors. Put enough pieces together to catch the eye.

Thanksgiving display

The cardboard pilgrim figures are easy to store for next Thanksgiving.

I like to change the feel of my entertainment unit with the seasons. By creating autumn vignettes on each shelf, it makes a colorful wall in the living room.

As Thanksgiving draws near, add some pieces that relate to that holiday’s traditions. Think turkeys, pilgrims, and cornucopias.

Decorate outside the home too with corn shocks, pumpkins, and scarecrows.

Tips & Warnings If you use candles, be sure they are set apart from anything that could catch fire (silk flowers, leaves, etc.).

Post by Virginia Allain