Dani's Niche

Family history. A novel idea.

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A Thanksgiving Gathering, 1863

On a brisk autumn day, friends and neighbors gathered at the edge of Warner’s field where food was laid out on planks. Wild game roasted over an open fire and children climbed on low branches and hid from each other behind trunks of the largest oaks. With the country still at war, the mood was somber and the absence of young men obvious. Amos was glad for the folks who came to comfort and bear up those who had heard little or nothing from their loved ones for two years. He was glad for the ones who came to be comforted and reassured. 

When Amos stepped forward, every solemn face focused on him, every voiced silenced, except whimpers from someone’s baby. He dug his heel into the ground and cleared his throat. He read again President Lincoln’s proclamation delivered to the nation a few weeks before. 

At the end of it, Mr. Warner’s deep voice resounded, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”

Other voices joined in harmony. “Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heav’nly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

In the hush of the moment after the “amen,” a voice beckoned with strength and boldness. “I have a few words before we take our leave.” Alf Williamson limped forward and gestured to the fire pit. “The aroma will force me to keep this short.”

A few chuckles sounded from the crowd. He leaned hard with his right hand against his walking stick and looked down at trousers that were folded up where a leg once held him steady and tall.

“I am only part of what I used to be.” He gazed beyond the crowd. “Before the war I was whole, strong, hardworking, dedicated to my goals. That strength was taken from me. So were my goals. I came home broken, defeated, without hope and purpose. What good is a man who cannot provide for his family” He paused and scanned the faces. “Yet I stand here to proclaim that I am stronger than before. Why? God took the place of my own strength, my own goals. I am not what I was.” He paused, pressed his lips together. “No …thank God … I am more. The Lord has blessed me with family and friends who would not let me despair—” When he caught Amos’s gaze, his voice broke.

Amos came and stood beside Alf. He bowed his head and began to sing. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Again, the others joined in. 

Solemn in his hopes for an end to the war, Amos was convinced of the need for one another. 

copyrighted excerpt from “The Stone House”-book two of the Stone’s Hope series by Danyce Gustafson

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Tiny heroes

Ants are annoying little creatures.

Sugar ants march single file through picnic areas and wherever crumbs are to be found. My mom even found ants marching into her freezer. None escaped.

One Christmas when we opened a gift box under the tree (not aware of the contents) we were disappointed that the ants had left us only a few sweet morsels. 

In Africa, we were amazed at the big towers built by white ants (termites). One contingent came up through the concrete floor of our house and began to construct a spire. We let them figure out how long to labor before abandoning their tower to nowhere.

We were well aware of the siafu in Africa. Safari ants can clean the inside of a house in two days. They invaded my VW beetle, stored up on blocks while I was on leave in the U.S. I can’t imagine what made the plastic molding around all the windows so tasty.

A dignitary, on a visit to our secondary school, stood with the headmistress near the office. Suddenly he began to dance and in seconds had removed his trousers. Pinching ants had crawled up his legs and the poor man got the full brunt of their appetites.

In Texas, we are in a constant battle against the red fire ants whose mounds pop up everywhere. An ant bite stings like fire for days after.  

Ants are captivating little creatures. What child is not drawn to its ways? How often even as adults have we watched and poked and been intrigued by ants ability to carry loads much heavier and larger than their own bodies, tirelessly doing their part to benefit the colony? 

In Africa, fried termites are a popular street food. At the beginning of the rainy season, when the ants began to swarm, we loved watching our dog catch them mid-air. 

The ant is God’s tiny hero.

All of us, at times, have been slack in our duties and consideration of others. To get our attention God stings us with a rebuke from one of God’s seemingly insignificant creatures.

Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest. Proverbs 6:6-8

The Bible calls us sluggards compared to the ant and commands us to look to it as an example. The ant knows its job and does it until it is finished. It is not distracted, whether building a nest or gathering food. It does not need any other ant to watch over or tell it what to do to make sure the work is done and done right. It cooperates with other ants to accomplish big tasks.

A parting thought

But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Job 12:7-8

God has left evidence of his intricate design, even in the tiniest creatures. Only a rebellious heart would deny him as creator and refuse his offer of redemption through Jesus Christ.

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Tea party for two

She arrived, pretty in pink organdy, stepping lightly in shiny church-going shoes. 

“Good afternoon,” our voices blended. We stifled giggles and quickly returned to manners proper for the occasion.

Her large, brown eyes twinkled when she caught sight of the lace-covered table and the porcelain teapot and cups set upon it. 

She chose a chair and fluffed her skirt as she took her place. I did the same, positioning myself across the table.

“Thank you for inviting me to your party,” she said, sitting with straight back and hands in her lap.

“My pleasure,” I replied taking up the white teapot, embellished with red roses, and pouring the brew into matching cups. 

“Cream and sugar?”

“No thank you,” she said.

I lifted my cup for a sip, replacing it on the saucer with care. She followed my lead.

She helped herself to a tea cake and offered one to me.

We licked our lips clean of the sugary topping and blotted them daintily with our linen napkins.

We did not say many words.

We did not need to.

We were friends

Having tea.


Remember when?

Tea for two

Me and you


For the real tea party when we were four and three years old, we used a plastic tea set on a paper cloth, sat on upside down buckets, and shared the table with a doll and a stuffed bear. My sister still has the tea set in its original box. 

~ dedicated to Dollie, July 2021

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A Mysterious Moaning: a World War II story

On July 23, 1945, the 136th Port Company Transportation Corps of the United States Army arrived by ship at the Port of Naha, Okinawa. The following are excerpts from the letters of Captain Daniel E. Lewis.

October 9th

Strong winds blew in from the sea and we tied down everything we could. We were warned that a great typhoon was headed our way and that we would get the most powerful part of it. All airplanes on the island were grounded and tied down facing into the approaching storm. Larger ships, outside the harbor, headed out to sea where they would attempt to ride out the storm. 

We put on our special typhoon clothing and vacated our camp area. As the storm increased it began to blow away tents and buildings and nearly everything in its path. The air became full of flying debris. Most of the men by now were hiding in the hills, the caves, and the burial tombs. I stood up against a protective concrete wall, near our camp area, where I could observe what was taking place. For several hours I contemplated what devastation and loss of life might be taking place. My supposedly typhoon-proof clothing gave little protection as it could not withstand the great amount of water being thrust at me. I was soaked. 

I watched our super-fine new latrine building lift up in one piece, sail over a six foot wire fence, and then drop down on top of our neighbor’s latrine smashing both to smithereens. The force of the wind was terrific. I dared not venture from my protective concrete wall lest I go the way of the latrines. Water blew against me, not from above, but horizontally. I licked my lips. They were salty. I then realized that this was not rain but was water being blown in from the sea.

Later I heard the moaning of whistles from the direction of the ships in the China Sea. It was a weird sound; a mournful sound as if something was in its dying moments. Between me and the coral reefs was the hill with those numerous burial vaults. I had a strong desire to see what was going on over the hill. There wasn’t anything else to do anyway. I made my way, crawling on my stomach through the tomb area, to where I could see the ocean.

The wind was so powerful that I had to stay as low to the ground as possible or I would join the flying debris. The force of water blowing toward me stung my eyes, blinding me. I put my hands over my eyes and squinted through the spaces between my fingers. Then I saw the reason for all those mournful sounds. I could see the shadowy forms of ships being blown onto the coral reefs. There was no way I, or anyone else, could respond to their calls for help. 

After many hours, the winds decreased to the extent that we could create a shelter from the debris and get some much needed rest.

October 10th

Today we were like ants, a hustle and bustle of men rebuilding shelters of of the rubble. Several of us toured the island in a jeep and everywhere saw nothing but destruction. All along the coast ships lay piled up on the rocks. Lots of stuff was drifting in from the sea, including some bodies. 

I was told this typhoon, the greatest of them all, was named Louise (Dan’s wife’s name). The wind gauge broke at 135 miles per hour and some estimated the wind velocity may have been as great as 170 mph. The entrance to the port of Naha is completely blocked by sunken ships, stopping our unloading operations for the time being. Our only food at this time is the K rations. Food and new supplies will be flown in from the Philippine Islands.

October 11th

B-29 Superfort planes are to bring in 284 tons of food for the 150,00 mean isolated on the island. 

Today I became the commanding officer of the 136th Port Company. We have a big task to rebuild after the “big blow”. 

The soldiers were not permitted to bring cameras from the States so there were only a few on the island. One of the officers had a 620 box camera which Dan borrowed, using film sent to him from his two sisters.  

If you missed the other stories about my dad’s experiences during World War II, you can find them in my February April, and May blogs.

If you have narratives or photographs of your family members from World War II, consider donating them to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. For more information, contact them at https://ahec.armywarcollege.edu/donate.cfm

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Typhoons, an Explosion, and a Stampede (a World War II story)

On July 23, 1945 the 136th Port Company Transportation Corps of the United States Army arrived by ship at the Port of Naha, Okinawa. The following are excerpts from the letters of Captain Daniel E. Lewis.

September 12th

It was some kind of typhoon we had here yesterday. They say it was the worst storm in twenty years. The wind gauge recorded 120 mph. It was a terrific force. There must have been plenty of casualties at sea as some bodies have been drifting up on the coral reefs. We made a tour to see what damage had been done. Everywhere we went we saw where buildings and other structures had been blown over, twisted and broken. Ships were piled up along the coast in countless numbers. We still have food in the form of K-rations that should take good care of us as long as the supply is available.

My duty at the Port is over and I am now back as the executive officer of the 136th Port Company. I have also been appointed to the board for Special Court Martials as Defense Council. I don’t like this type of duty any more than the duty I had as Trial Judge Advocate when in the 33rd Brigade in San Diego.

Rain gear

September 16th

The Ryukyus Islands are referred to as “Typhoon Alley” and typhoons are called “Ladies of the Pacific.” It is typhoon season, and although the center of the storm was about fifty miles at sea, yesterday’s typhoon drenched our tents inside and out, and we were lucky to keep ours standing. We reinforced it and prayed that it wouldn’t go over. Many others did, however. Our rain gear consists of pants tied around our ankles and heads covered with a hood. The only exposed parts of our bodies are our faces. The boots are not waterproof. 

September 25th

Today a big gasoline staton across the road caught fire. The flames and smoke shot a great distance into the sky. We all ran for cover, afraid the gas tanks might explode. One man was badly burned. 

A few months later, Dan wrote about a worse explosion. 

I was writing a letter in my quarters when I heard a tremendous explosion. I hurried outside and saw the whole northern sky aflame. It was a huge Army dump, several miles away, where a large number of full acetylene gas tanks blew up and shot into the air like rockets, leaving their blazing contrails behind. It was a spectacular display.

October 1st

Capt. Chervin, Lt. Lanier, and I hoped into our jeep last evening and went to a large outdoor movie show located several miles north of here. The GIs sit on the hillside on box crates all crowded together. During the show something caused the audience to stampede. It was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced. All at once, like spontaneous combustion, everyone was a part of a big, horrible mob trying to get out of the place, desperately going in all directions all at once.

Quite a few men were hurt and nearly everyone must have received some bumps and scratches. I was knocked down several times and each time I got up was knocked down again. The seats (boxes) were all smashed as if they were match sticks. Scattered everywhere were hats, helmets, raincoats, etc. I lost my helmet and Capt. Chervin lost his raincoat.

The best explanation I could find for the stampede was that someone had caught a big rat by the tail and the disturbance triggered the whole disaster. It is a helpless feeling to be in the middle of a mob like that. When we went to get our jeep where we had parked it, it was gone. GONE! GONE! Gone! We had experienced this type of theft before as there was no way to lock an Army vehicle. Our only solution was to take the jeep belonging to another outfit and return to our camp.


The photo: The soldiers were not permitted to bring cameras from the States so there were only a few on the island. One of the officers had a 620 box camera which Dan borrowed, using film sent to him from his two sisters.  

If you missed my story about Dan joining the army after Pearl Harbor, you can find it in the February 2021 blog, Dad’s Valentine. My March blog is Anxieties in War, Anxieties in Peace.

If you have narratives or photographs of your family members from World War II, consider donating them to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. For more information, contact them at https://ahec.armywarcollege.edu/donate.cfm

Next month’s post: A Mysterious Moaning

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Anxieties in War, Anxieties in Peace (a World War II story)

On July 23, 1945 the 136th Port Company Transportation Corps of the United States Army arrived by ship at the Port of Naha, Okinawa. The following are excerpts from the letters of Captain Daniel E. Lewis.

The whole build up of men and equipment on the island is to prepare for the invasion and occupation of Japan by the U.S. forces. This is the last stepping stone to victory. We have cargo ships off shore that our port companies unload onto barges. Then our men unload the barges onto trucks. From here another unit hauls everything to large “dumps” for temporary storage. There are many huge military airfields with thousands of planes and pilots preparing for the invasion of Japan. The sky is often filled with planes of all descriptions.

August 4

Naha was formerly the largest city on the island and Okinawa’s largest sea port. The destruction here is unbelievable. It is just a shambles and practically all wiped out. No worthwhile buildings remain standing. Prior to our encampment, large areas were prepared for Army occupation by leveling with large bulldozers. We live on top of rubble that was once a city of 65,000 people. We have been living in the rough, enduring much wind, rain, and mud. 

August 6

I have been working from 5 A.M. to 6 P.M. at top speed Then on top of that we usually are disturbed during the night with air raids from the Japanese. There is considerable noise and fireworks from gunfire. 

August 7

Tomorrow we officers will move into our tent houses. We have fixed up some real fine quarters—a far cry from the way we lived on arrival. At night we can lift up the flap of our tent and see the Battalion movie, as the screen is just a short jump from our quarters. We still wash in our steel helmets but soon will have an improvised shower made from an auxiliary airplane tank that we hoisted and mounted on a supporting framework.

August 8

When we first arrived here we had many air raids—sometimes several during the night. The sky would be full of tracer bullets and search light beams. It was pretty to watch but was a time of anxiety. Several of our men who were working at the docks at night were shot at by snipers who hide in caves during the day and come out at night to harass our workers. At night we don’t go far from camp without our carbines close by. It is never safe to take side roads when driving through the hills.

August 11

When the announcement was made that Japan had offered to surrender, we were watching a movie. It came to an abrupt end as men began to shout and jump and run and celebrate in a spontaneous outburst of joy. Men ran for all the weapons they could find—from small arms to antiaircraft guns— and caused the biggest display of fireworks I have ever witnessed or probably ever will. Tracer bullets literally filled the sky. I was much more frightened of peace than I had been frightened of war. I went to my tent and put on my steel helmet just in case some stray bullet might find its way in my direction. 

It was later reported that the peace casualties on the island were thirteen killed and two hundred wounded. 

If you missed my story about Dan joining the army after Pearl Harbor, you can find it in the February 2021 blog, Dad’s Valentine. Follow my blog for more excerpts about typhoons, a stampede, and a mysterious moaning.

The photos: The soldiers were not permitted to bring cameras from the States so there were only a few on the island. One of the officers had a 620 box camera which Dan borrowed, using film sent to him from his two sisters.  

If you have narratives or photographs of your family members from World War II, consider donating them to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. For more information, contact them at https://ahec.armywarcollege.edu/donate.cfm

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Fear and Beauty

The photo of little Don was taken in a cooler and less frightening time than depicted in his story.

Years ago my husband’s parents attended a writing class and discovered the power of the pen. Because of this, their children (and future generations) are blessed to have their stories from their perspectives. This month’s blog story was written by my father-in-law two years before he died at age 75.

I was four years old that warm summer morning in 1929. As I walked across the sandy field, I was overwhelmed by the perfume and coolness of grapes that hung over my head. I took a bunch between my hands and broke off one grape at a time, savoring their sweet and dusty flavor. My world was a paradise on earth. 

Continuing through that vineyard to my grandparents’ house, I walked by their chicken coop and sat down at the fenced enclosure watching the fidgety white hens pecking at their feed and squawking at each other. Suddenly, a large ferocious rooster flew at my face with all his speed and seeming intent to kill. My heart stood still with fear. My happiness changed into trembling and shaky panic. 

I ran in terror to my grandmother’s door. She calmed and comforted me with milk and cookies. When my grandfather arrived, he said that I must be cured of this fear, and that the cure was to take a live chicken and tie it around my neck for the rest of the day. Although he didn’t follow through with his threat, I had scary dreams during the next few weeks.

Several years later, on my first visit to Yosemite National Park, we stayed at a campground on the valley floor and took lots of hikes around the edges of the valley. Going upstream to Vernal and Nevada Falls, the beauty of this place filled me with awe and wonder. The roar of the waterfall and the wet spray on my face left an impression I’ve never forgotten. We then drove to the area of Glacier Point and hiked to the large rock overhanging the edge of the cliff. Looking straight down to the ant-like cars and people below, a momentary fear of falling quickly surfaced and was replaced by a feeling of being a part of this beautiful place.

As I look back on these childhood events, I wonder if there is a relationship between fear and beauty.

by Donald Gustafson, 1999

Dear reader, what do you think? Can you give examples from your experience of a relationship between fear and beauty? 

Write your story! 


Dad’s valentine

February needs a love story, so who better to feature than my mom and dad—in his words.

In the late 1930’s I had a small variety store in Berkeley, California selling greeting cards, Parker pens, fresh baked goods, toys, and dolls. One day1 I decided to hang toy monkeys from the ceiling in the front window. By using electric motors I had them moving around so as to gain the attention of pedestrians. Captivated by the display, an attractive young lady came into my shop and showed interest in a doll for sale. She returned another day and I became interested in her. Then she became interested in me. 

We were married in Reno, Nevada in October 1941. A cabin nestled in a clump of pine trees at Lake Tahoe was the simple but romantic setting of our first night together. We were hardly settled when a strange crackling sound seemed to be coming from the cabin roof. Convinced it was on fire, we rushed outside and were relieved to see a great number of pine needles falling on our roof from the swaying trees overhead.

The next morning we drove along the lake and discovered a place for breakfast called Honey Bunch—an appropriate place for a honeymooning couple. For some time after this I called my wife Honey Bunch.

As we drove south, we encountered snow on the summit, south of Tahoe. We stopped, got out of our car, gathered some snow in our hands, and threw snowballs at each other. This was our first fight, but it was all in fun. We laughed all the while. ~ Daniel E. Lewis

Five weeks later, the newlyweds were stunned at unwelcome news. They were celebrating the birthday of Dan’s niece, eating chop suey at the Shanghai Terrace Bowl, when an unwelcome announcement interrupted the festivities. Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Thousands of young men were drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II, including Dad, who at the age of thirty-six was sent to Officer Candidate School. The couple would have to wait four years before resuming their life together.

At war’s end, Dad returned to his hometown, Paso Robles. Because of his college degree and aptitude for teaching, he was hired as a seventh grade teacher. (Many years later, a new middle school was built and named in his honor.)

Every Valentine’s Day, while they raised us four children, Dad always gave Mom a fancy heart box filled with chocolates. She ate the candy and saved the boxes. They celebrated 59 years of marriage, shortly before she passed away. Dad joined her a few years later. 

When Mom walked into Dad’s store for the first time, she had no idea meeting him would change her life forever. And Dad did not know he would be buying so many heart boxes over the years–for his valentine.


Camping in Yosemite,1898:Part Two

Excerpts from Grace’s diary–impressions of Yosemite from a nineteen-year old’s perspective.

A page from Grace’s diary, 1898

June 22 (continued) From here (Artist’s Point) it was only a little way down grade until we came to plenty feed and very good camping ground. So here we camped under trees. Bridal Veil (900 feet) is about half a mile from camp but it is in sight and oh how beautiful to sit and watch the churning. El Capitan stands out boldly on the left while Cathedral spires are on the right and there is no use trying to describe the grandeur of these high peaks for it would be impossible. 

They camped in a meadow with a view of
Bridal Veil Fall.
Photograph by Carleton E. Watkins

June 23 Got up about half past six. Washed and baked bread in forenoon. In afternoon Dan and Alta staid home. (Dan being sick) The rest of us drove down to the tower which is about 4 miles from where we are camped. The road is simply grand. We could see the Bridal Veil Fall better than before. It makes three creeks which are good size. All at once the Yosemite Falls burst upon our view. They fall in three leaps making a distance of 600 feet. The town is in a very pretty place not far from the falls. It consists of a fine hotel, several cottages and store. We all registered our names in the big register and named our camp the Santa Lucia. Drove a short distance out of town, crossed the river and came back through meadows, camping ground and saw large wheat field. 

A sketch by Thomas Ayres of Yosemite Falls.
The High Falls Lithograph appeared in Hutchings’ magazine

June 26, Sunday Will and Maggie went fishing in the morning. In afternoon Dan Lou and I climbed up to the foot of the Bridal Veil Fall. Saw the beautiful rainbow. 

June 27 Monday Moved camp up close to town across the creek from Sentinel Hotel. 

The Sentinel Hotel had an unobstructed view of Yosemite Falls from its location on the bank of the Merced River. The river later changed course and the hotel had to be taken down.

June 30, Thursday Dan, Lou and I went to Nevada and Vernal Falls (Lady Franklin Rock), Register Rock (steps), Vernal Falls, Snow’s Hotel trail up steep Mt. Nevada Falls. 

The Vernal Fall
photographed by C.E. Watkins

The Vernal Falls trail is the oldest, built in 1857. By the 1870s, the trail had a toll house nestled under a fifty foot high piece of granite at Register Rock (off the lower Mist Trail) where hikers were charged $1.00. The shack is gone now as is the hotel operated by Albert and Emily Snow known as La Casa Nevada-The Snow House which was situated at the base of Nevada Fall, 700 feet above the Valley at 5,360 feet. The toll trail went from the end of Vernal Fall Trail up to Nevada Fall. After the Mr. and Mrs. Snow died, the hotel, under new management, received no guests except for visitors who signed the register (now of the most prized possessions of the Yosemite Museum collection). My family’s names are likely within one of the three volumes. A fire destroyed the decaying hotel in 1900.

Who was Lady Franklin? The wife of a lost English Arctic explorer, Sir John Franklin, visited the park in 1863. The story is she sat on this rock to contemplate her husband’s disappearance. Its exact location is uncertain.

Dan had spoken so much about the Firefall off Glacier Point, so we were disappointed to learn it had been discontinued. 

The famous fire fall was a summer attraction from 1872 to 1897, then again from 1900 to 1968.

July 1 Dan and Lou went to Eagle Peak. Will and Maggie went to Glacier Pt. I staid home with kids. 

The trail from Yosemite Falls to Eagle Peak is steep and rocky but the the view from the top is breathtaking. From Glacier Point they could view Yosemite Valley and Falls, Half Dome, Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. 

Left Yosemite July 4 at 5 o’clock. Walked up the first hill, went as far as toll gate and unloaded Will’s wagon, hitched 4 horses to our wagon and all went on to Mariposa big trees. Came back, ate lunch here and then traveled on to Wawona where we camped over night. Went to the fireworks in the evening.

In 1881, a tunnel was cut (enlarging a fire scar) by the Yosemite State and Turnpike Company as a tourist attraction. The tree was 227 feet high and 26 feet in diameter. In 1969, the 2300 year old tree fell under a load of snow.

The Wawona Tree in Mariposa Grove from my grandmother’s photos.

Our vacation was beyond all expectations, but it was good to be home after four and a half weeks of camping and 450 miles of travel by horse and wagon. 

When we began our journey, I worried about Dan, grieving in his quiet way for his wife and for his mother. Even a strong man like him has limits and I’m sure this last year took him to the edge with a ranch to manage, a drought that forced him to move his and his brother-in-law’s cattle, an ailing wife and two little girls who needed his attention. Lou devoted herself to 

During our time in Yosemite I saw my brother’s countenance change. He seemed to have a good time hiking the trails in the day, embellishing tales around the campfire at night, and clapping for the silly skits of Lou and me and Lou’s recitations of her own poems. She confided that Dan had given her a variety of flowers, picked to add to her collection for drying,  to go with poems she was writing about the Valley’s flora.  

Does he notice, as I, the respect Lou has for him and how she is like a mother to the girls? Can he open his heart to another and let his first love be a happy memory? I must keep these thoughts to myself and patiently wait. 

And I wonder, will I ever have a chance at love? 


Grace married in 1901 and died at 57 years of age.

Dan and Lou married in December 1899 and celebrated more than fifty years of marriage before they passed away, Grandpa Dan at 91 and Grandma at 84. They are buried side by side.

They added a daughter and a son to the family. Their son was my father.

I leave Grandpa and Grandma’s story and legacy for another time.

Copyright by D. Gustafson


Camping in Yosemite, 1898: Part One

It was not just the weather that was cold and gloomy that day in January 1898. Dan had done everything he could to keep his beloved wife Lizzie alive. In the end she was so weak and miserable from the tuberculosis, I knew that when she slipped away it was for the best.

Lizzie was my big sister, eleven years older than I. More than that, she was my best friend. When she fell ill and I sought to cheer her, it was she who had words of encouragement, but those were not the words that came to mind as I stood at her grave. Instead it was those she had whispered several weeks before. “Take care of my girls, won’t you Lou?” I had taken her hand and promised, “You know I will.”

The last year of her illness I helped care for her needs and for the girls, ages four and two, as Dan took the five of us to various locations, sometimes for month-long stays, in search of a restorative climate. Finally he brought Lizzie home to spend her last days in a familiar setting. The first months after her death, I was glad to have Verna and Alta to keep me busy. Dan seemed to deal with his loss by tending to his horses and mules, his grain, and his farm implements.

One month later we suffered another blow when Dan’s mother passed away. In spite of the deaths of the two women closest to him and the severe drought that had taxed his emotional and physical resources as a farmer, Dan announced we would be taking a month’s vacation. He said it would do us good. I did not question his decision.

Planning and preparing kept us occupied for many days as we would be carrying several hundred pounds of food plus all the supplies for the four weeks. When the wagon was packed and the horses readied, Verna and Alta took their places and I climbed up to join them. When Dan snapped the reins and we pulled away from the ranch,  I wondered what he was feeling. Instead of Lizzie, his nineteen-year-old sister Grace sat next to him waving at the ranch hands who would keep the farm going.

On Wednesday June 15th, we were finally on our way from the homestead east of El Paso de Robles, in California’s central coast, to Yosemite Valley where we would marvel at the magnificent sights we’d only read about and viewed with our stereoscope. A few hours later we met up with Dan’s brother Will and his wife Maggie in their smaller wagon. After a brief rest, we let them take the lead, keeping enough distance between so we didn’t eat their dust. All of us wore wide-brimmed hats for protection from the sun. Dipping our heads kept the blowing sand and dust from our eyes.

The twenty or so miles we traveled each day seemed to pass quickly as everything around us was so different from home. As we bounced along over rough road I could not help fixing my eyes on the broad shoulders of the big man in front of me. One would never guess he was nearly forty with the stamina of a younger man and a full head of dark hair under his dust-speckled hat. Lizzie had found a good man. And he had found a good woman. 

Though I loved the girls, on the wagon I could not escape their constant chatter and questions. Grace must have noticed for when we stopped to water the horses and stretch our legs on the third day, she suggested we change places. Grace climbed in back with the girls where she kept them occupied searching and counting all the animals they saw along the way. Dan and I sat side by side, the squeals of the girls and the din of jingles, rumbles and snorts a background to our silent thoughts.

The wagon swayed over a rough stretch and my shoulders pushed against his. I grabbed the rail and straightened. Our eyes met when he looked at me with the slightest turning of his head and smiled. I turned away quickly as if to view the distant mountains we would soon cross.

That night as I huddled in the warmth of the campfire, staring at the dancing flames, I realized that though our destination was the beautiful Yosemite Valley, I must not miss the wonders of the journey to reach it.

Grace sat on the log beside me, pencil in hand. “38 rabbits,” she said as she wrote the words before closing her diary. I wondered if she had counted the quail and foxes too. 

I reminded her, “Tomorrow is another day and there are only a few hours till we’re on the road again.” She followed me to our tent where the girls were already asleep. I curled up in my blanket but lay awake thinking about the next day. I decided that when it was my turn to sit up front in the wagon with Big Dan, I would have one of the girls sit between us. Surely there would be room for three.

Grace’s diary

The words in italics are as Grace wrote them. The regular font is my paraphrase of her accounts. The small print is information I’ve added for readers who might like interesting details about some of the sights.

After four days of hard traveling across the Central Valley, we rested on Sunday June 19th in the foothills of the great Sierra Nevada. It gave Dan and Will time to grease the wagons for the fourteen mile climb to Fish Camp. It gave me a chance to write in my diary and whittle my pencil.

Monday June 20 Left Dupello about half past five. First place of interest (five miles) was Coarse Gold mining town up the mts. Pretty little place. Left the next place Fresno Flats and commenced a long climb of 14 miles. Ate lunch on a small stream of water and then we started on through redwoods, firs and black oaks. Scenery perfectly grand after 14 miles of grade three miles of down hill and then we came to Summerdale or Fish Camp 200 miles from home. Camped under large fir trees so very very tall. Lou and I both sick. Glad when night came.

The next day we stopped to rest and fish. Will came back with six mountain trout. Dan chased a pig with potatoes. We packed and prepared for an early start to Yosemite Valley on the morrow. 

Wednesday June 22 Got up five minutes past three o’clock. Left Fish Camp twenty minutes to six traveling through a dense forest nearly all the way to Wawona which is a distance of eight miles. Wawona is indeed a fine summer resort with a large hotel and pretty grounds and a large fountain in front of hotel. A mile away was the W.S. camp (A.E. Wood) and here we came to the Toll Gate where we had to pay 13.50 for the two teams. 

Who was A.E. Wood? Yosemite Valley was the first tract of land set aside for preservation and public use when, in 1864, President Lincoln created the Yosemite Grant. Yosemite National Park was established in 1890. U.S. Cavalry troopers from the Presidio in San Francisco became its first park rangers, managing it during the summer months between 1891 and 1913. In April 1891, Captain Abram Epperson Wood led his unit, with their camp at Wawona, to “prevent timber cutting, sheep herding, trespassing or spoliation in particular.” Captain Wood died in 1894. His replacement, Captain G.H. G. Gale, had the camp name changed from Camp Wawona to Camp A. E. Wood, now the Wawona Campground. In 1899 the “buffalo soldiers”(black cavalry units) took up the patrols to protect the park from exploitation and development.

After crossing a large stream of clear running water we traveled on about twelve miles through trees and up mountain and down mountain. A very cold day. Ate lunch in sun. Let horses feed on the grass. Left here about one o’clock and crossed Grouse Creek. Met Guardian of the Valley.

The first Guardian of the Valley was settler Galen Clark, who discovered the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias at Wawona, an indigenous encampment. He completed a bridge over the South Fork of the Merced River in 1857 at Wawona for traffic headed toward Yosemite Valley and provided a way station for travelers on the road the Mann brothers built to the valley. He was “guardian” from 1856 to 1897. No name for the “guardian” in 1898.

Traveled uphill about two miles very steep grade. Arrived at the summit and there expected to get our first view of the Valley but could see only rocks and mountains in the far distance. We passed several large farms which the stage company owns where they change horses. After feeling somewhat discouraged we traveled on until all at once we came upon Inspiration Point (3 miles to bottom) where we could get a good view of the Valley. The only fall in sight was the Bridal Veil. 

After stopping here and looking down upon the grand valley we moved on just a little ways and came to what is known as Artist’s Point where a still better view of the Valley may be seen. 

–to be continued in my next post as we follow Grace’s account, view vintage photos, and learn more about Dan and Lou

Grace’s diary is from my personal collection. Photos are in public domain.

copyright by danyce gustafson


Dad’s dazzling Christmas gift

The two-story Victorian was built in 1889. My parents bought it almost hundred years later, after Dad retired from teaching. Mother had always admired the old house. Dad had a special plan for it, at least for a few weeks of every year.

Dad purchased strings of colored lights, extra bulbs, extension cords and power strips. He drew a schematic to show where the thousands of lights would be positioned and safely plugged in.

The morning after Thanksgiving he started hanging the lights. Mother helped organize dolls from her extensive vintage collection plus a few modern mechanical ones. Dad fashioned a star, then climbed up as far as the ladder reached to attach it to the palm tree, letting strings of lights flow down the trunk.

After weeks of preparation, one task remained. Dad put the ladder on the second floor widow’s porch. Bystanders gasped as he climbed up and secured Santa to the rooftop. 

At 6 pm on the second Saturday of December, Dad flipped the switches and the stately aged house was transformed into a fantasyland of color and twinkling lights with wise men seeking Jesus in the big bay window and dolls in every other window, ledge, porch and yard. Children squealed with delight when some of the dolls seemed to come to life and when they spotted Santa on the housetop.

The street, closed to traffic that night. It filled with thousands of townspeople and visitors from afar who came to view the houses lit and decorated for the season, sip apple cider, nibble on cookies, listen to groups of carolers, and pause in silence in front of the nativity scene.

Dad was not finished with his gift to the community. A born entertainer, he loved to elicit laughter and smiles with tricks and funny stories and perform as a vocalist. Dressed in a long wool coat, a scarf wrapped around his neck and his head covered with a tall top hat, he made his way out the front door and down the steps. He took up mallets, two in each glove-covered hand, and tapped out Christmas songs on the wood bars of his marimba. No matter the weather he entertained outside for three straight hours. Sometimes he stopped playing to say “Merry Christmas” to those crowded along the fence or delight them with a mechanical monkey from his boyhood. 

One year, Mother passed away in the morning a few weeks before Christmas. By afternoon Dad was out stringing lights. My husband, thinking the loss would take away his desire to tackle the huge project, said, “Don’t worry, we’ll help you.” 


“We’ll help you.”

“I’m okay,” he said and proceeded to wrap his house in light. It was his gift of joy, even in sorrow.

 Dad was 98 years old when he decorated the house for his last Christmas. As always, he insisted he was the one to put Santa on the roof. 

This week I looked at old photos of the house in its holiday glory and thought about Dad. No lights needed on his mansion in heaven. The light of a billion stars must seem dim compared to the light of the glory of God. I can’t imagine it!

This time of year brings back memories of how our family celebrated Christmas when I was growing up, but  I love this one of my dad after we’d all left home. Even though I first posted the story in December 2015, it’s worth repeating every few years.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL as we remember the reason for our celebration.

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Matthew 1:23

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

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The value of gentle children’s picture books

A child reaches for a butterfly or kneels to gaze at an insect in the grass or delight in picking a flower. Children are naturally curious about nature, drawn to beauty and movement—butterflies, colorful flowers, the antics of monkeys, ants trailing across a sidewalk . . . 

Children receive joy in interacting with the natural world.

They respond to lessons learned through God’s creation. 

They need examples of kindness and other appropriate behaviors to imitate.

They need to hear proper use of language, even before they speak it.

Children need books that show beauty and speak truth.

What makes a child want to hear a certain book read over and over? What makes a grown up want to buy a book they loved as a child for their own children and grandchildren?

If a book is to have value, it should be appealing, engaging, charming and personable rather than frightful and unreal.

“A Whistle in the Wind,” a sweet children’s book with lovely, simple illustrations, is a breath of fresh air in a world of googly-eyed, anime-inspired bobblehead people and creature illustrations. The classic, timeless pictures are gentle and sweet, not loud and over-colored. 

This review of my children’s picture book is what prompted me to consider why gentle and engaging illustrations and stories appeal to young children and why they are needful.

As a parent and educator, I understand the responsibility of how we guide what words and images fill the minds of young children through books and screen, oral and visual. 

My desire as an author is to engage young children, evoke interaction, stimulate thinking skills, bring joy, and teach life lessons. “A Whistle in the Wind,” illustrated by Ann Boland, is a perfect birthday, Christmas, or a “just because we love you” gift. Every giraffe has a heart, and young children love searching for them. It’s a great book for day care center, school, or local library.

Here’s another one I wrote, with a cover and line drawings throughout the book also by Ann. “The Wright Pages” is a historical fiction adventure book for ages 7 to 10.

If you and the children in your life enjoy these books, I would love to hear from you.

~ Image of mother and daughter reading in field is in public domain, from wpclipart.com

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400 years ago the Mayflower sailed from England

Painting: Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall, 1882.
Source: Wikipedia. Public Domain

If your ancestors were English, you may be one of ten million living Americans and around thirty-five million worldwide who claim descent from one or more of the 102 passengers and 30 crew of the Mayflower. (1) 

The Mayflower, financed by a London stock company, is called the Pilgrim ship because 37 passengers were “saints” or “separatists” (later referred to as pilgrims) who left England for religious reasons. Most of the passengers, 65 of them, were merchants, adventurers, and servants.

The Mayflower departed from Plymouth, England in September 1620. The three-masted ship, typical of English merchants ships of that time, was not well-suited against the prevailing winds of the Atlantic and the rough seas—which it faced due to the long delay in Southampton. The return voyage took half the time.

Beset with a meager food supply, buckets for sanitation, and a small living area—a low-ceilinged 1600 square foot space—the passengers endured two months of formidable conditions. The ship anchored at Cape Cod, north of their intended destination, on November 11th.

On arrival, those who survived the voyage found themselves ill-prepared for below-freezing temperatures. They relocated to Plymouth, Massachusetts where disease claimed about half the passengers and crew who had remained on the ship. Here, 41 passengers signed the Mayflower Compact, swearing allegiance to the English king and establishing self-government in the New World. This early attempt at democracy set the stage for future colonists seeking independence from the British. 

My Mayflower Ancestor

My sister and I grew up believing that our ancestors came from the British Isles. More recently, my sister’s DNA testing confirmed this and linked us to a distant relative who had corresponded with our mother years ago. To our surprise, he sent our genealogical line to prove descent from a Mayflower passenger who was a signer of the Mayflower Compact.

The passenger was Richard Warren, a merchant from London, recruited by Thomas Weston, of London Merchant Adventurers, London’s leading guild of overseas merchants. Born in Hereford, England in 1578, he married Elizabeth Walker in 1610. In 1620 he signed on for the voyage as a merchant to help establish Plymouth Colony in America.

Richard and Elizabeth and their five daughters ((Mary, Ann, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Abigail) probably meant to sail together to America on either the Mayflower or Speedwell. When the Speedwell became unseaworthy, Richard joined a smaller group on the Mayflower, leaving his family to come three years later on the ship “Anne.” (also financed by the Merchant Adventurers Two sons were born at Plymouth Colony in America.

An Independent Woman

After Richard’s early death in 1628, his widow Elizabeth legally assumed some of his government duties, unusual for a woman of that time. The family became one of the more prosperous in Plymouth Colony.

Elizabeth remained a widow for 45 years and lived to see at least 76 of her great grandchildren. All of Richard Warren’s children survived to adulthood, married, and had large families. So, although Richard Warren died eight years after his arrival in America, he seems to have more descendants that any other passenger. (2)

Richard received two acres in the Division of Land in 1623 as a passenger of the Mayflower and five acres as a passenger (his family) on the Anne and Division of Cattle in 1627.

“This year (1628) died Mr. Richard Warren, who was an useful instrument and during his life bare a deep share in the difficulties and troubles of the first settlement of the Plantation of New Plymouth.” (3)

Richard Warren was one of the original 1626 Purchasers, the 53 male citizens of Plymouth Colony who underwrote some of the colony’s debt. His name does not appear in the list of purchasers because he died in 1628, but Elizabeth’s name appears.

Elizabeth Warren (1583-1673) was not a Pilgrim, yet she is classed with the Pilgrim Mothers. “One Pilgrim woman, however, breaks through the patriarchal conventions of 17th century society. By the longevity of her widowhood and by the independence of her actions, Elizabeth Warren emerges from the collective category of “Pilgrim Mother” as a highly individual woman.” (4)

The Pilgrim women are known by their husbands and children. Elizabeth, however, was acknowledged for her own accomplishments. In 1635 she appears in the Records of Plymouth Colony in a new role. Having fulfilled the obligations of her deceased husband, Elizabeth now acts as an independent agent. Numerous activities were documented in the records. It is recorded she deeded land from the Warren holdings in Plymouth’s Eel River Valley to her sons-in-law. 

The Bartletts

Their oldest child was Mary Warren, born about 1610 and died 1683 in Plymouth. She married Robert Bartlett, a fellow passenger on the ship “Anne,” about 1629/30 and had eight children. He may have been a cooper. They are buried at White Horse Cemetery Plymouth, Mass.

My sister and I are descended from their son Joseph Bartlett and his second wife, Hannah Pope. An interesting tidbit—my grandmother, born on May 1st, was given a name appropriate for her birth date and heritage—May (or Mae) Flower.

Many famous people are descended from Richard Warren, but I am particularly interested to learn of any readers also descended from the line of Joseph Bartlett and Hannah Pope.

For further research

-General Society of Mayflower Descendants (Mayflower Society) 

bartlettsociety.org (also on Facebook)


-Caleb Johnson’s Mayflower History


(1) “Of the 102 passengers of the Mayflower, 24 males produced children to carry on their surnames. And although approximately half of the Mayflower passengers died at the plantation during the harsh winter of 1620-21 (one passenger had died at sea while another was born before landing), today, a staggering 35 million people claim an ancestral lineage that runs all the way back – sometimes through fifteen generations – to the original 24 males. That number represents 12 percent of the American population.”  from General Society of Mayflower Descendants website

(2)  Richard Warren’s descendants include Civil War general and President Ulysses S. Grant; President Franklin D. Roosevelt; and Alan B. Shepard, Jr. the first American in space and the fifth person to walk on the moon; and various well-known evangelists, actors, and authors.

(3) From Nathaniel Morton’s 1669 book, “New England’s Memorial”

(4) pilgrimhall.org

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Haley tells her story: hope, resilience, and optimism after a devastating loss

Screen Shot 2020-08-15 at 4.06.16 PMOn November 8, 2018 the Camp Fire devastated the beautiful town of Paradise, California. 85 lives were lost, 11,000 homes were destroyed, and 50,000 people were displaced. It is said to be the single most destructive wildfire in California history.

The wind-whipped fire raced along the ridge destroying the homes and everything they owned (including irreplaceable treasures) of our aunt and cousins (four generations displaced). It also took their family business, Paradise icon Joy Lyn’s Candies, an award-winning small confectionary factory which featured delectable chocolates and beer brittle. The fire spread so quickly, there was barely time to grab their wedding album from the house and the candy recipe book from the store before everything went up in flames.

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Joy Lyn’s Candies, a “sweet” store before the flames turned it to ash

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The family looks forward to the grand re-opening in a new location on October 1, 2020

The Hartley family has worked hard to rebuild their lives, homes and business. On October 1, 2020, the store will have a grand re-opening in a new location with new equipment. In time, they will restore their website and online orders. We wish them success as they move forward with their lives. For updates, visit their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/joylynscandies/


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Steve Ferchaud, an award-winning author/illustrator and a Camp Fire survivor himself, has produced this beautifully illustrated and meaningful  book. The main character is our cousin’s granddaughter who tells the story from a child’s viewpoint, but it is one to be read by all ages. It is a story of hope, resilience, and determination.

Proceeds will benefit the Youth on the Ridge Community foundation. Books can be ordered from: https://chocolatefest.us/getting-involved/my-name-is-haley/




Warnings: a snake and the ER

Screen Shot 2020-08-07 at 6.28.55 PMAn unusual clamor drew my attention to our front yard. I yanked open the door and quickly closed it until my husband came. A six foot long black snake lay doubled along the wall of the porch, and the mockingbirds were sounding their warning. We watched the birds’ amazing display of courage—landing on the ground next to the snake, flaring their wings, squawking and flying up and down to get it to move away. The reptile slithered under a large square flower pot for refuge, but not for long. After identifying it as a non-aggressive rat snake, my husband took it to the field behind our house.

A few days earlier, a sudden warning alerted me to a serious medical issue. It began with pain on the left side of my head and then vomiting. When my speech started to make no sense, my husband called 911. The mini stroke left no brain damage but five doctors came to my room and would not let me leave the hospital until I had been subjected to many tests. After three nights, one in ICU,  the cardiologist was still trying to figure out the reason for the clot. I live as healthy a lifestyle as possible, so maybe the heart monitor I’m wearing for a month or the pharmacological stress test will reveal something.

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A road sign caught my eye today. It read: Obey warning signs. State law. Even if it they aren’t laws we should still heed them for our own safety and the safety of others.

You know other signs that warn of danger. How many do we give heed to?

The Bible has warnings. Then He said to them, O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! ( Luke 24:25)  For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23) God warns us in His word of the coming judgment. He sent His son to save us from what we deserve by dying on the cross in our place so that we may have life eternal, but we must accept this gift of salvation.

Life is precarious and precious. I hope you realize that every second of breath is a gift. Thank the Lord and give Him yours. If you have not, this may be your only or last warning. God cares for you! Seek Him.



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The Old Red Case: the search for an immigrant family of the 1800s

My sister lifted the hasp of the tattered red case and found ephemeral treasures dating back to the late 1800s. What immigrant family had posed for the photos and received letters in Swedish and German? Why had they given land to extend a New York City cemetery? Here is my sister’s account of her findings.

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In an old red case, inherited from my mother who operated an antique store to raise funds for church mission work in the 1970’s and 80’s, I found names of immigrant families living in New York and Boston, foreign language letters, photos, a wax stamp kit, land deeds, and wills all dated in the 1800’s. Someone alive today is related in some way to these folks of long ago. While harboring in place at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, I sought to find family histories and descendants, or someone interested, a historical society perhaps.

One item immediately stirred my curiosity—an 1873 Deed of property sold for $162,000.00 ($2,500.00 per acre for about 65 acres) to the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City for land to add acreage to Calvary Cemetery located in Queens, New York. Upon further investigation, I found that the cemetery was established in 1848 and has the largest number of interments of any cemetery in the U.S. covering 365 acres. It is owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and managed by the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. By 1855 there were 50 burials a day, half of them poor Irish children under seven years of age. In the early 20th century, influenza and tuberculosis epidemics caused a shortage of gravediggers, and people dug graves for their own loved ones there. By 1990 there were nearly 3 million burials.

Reading this brought to mind things we give little attention to in our modern era. Our ancestors had many struggles including invisible bacteria and viruses causing epidemics and pandemics, e.g. Bubonic Plague, Spanish Flu, tuberculosis, typhoid, cholera, smallpox, polio, mumps, rubeola, rubella, chickenpox, and others. I have memories of surviving childhood diseases prevalent in the 1950’s, and I remember hearing about certain ancestors who did not survive communicable diseases. It should make us aware of just how fragile life is and of things taken for granted since the advent of treatments for infections and viruses, and better sanitation, clean water, etc. I feel thankful to live in a modern era and in a modern country. But life tomorrow is never guaranteed and living through the current world pandemic, it puts life in a different perspective of what is truly important- God, family, friends, helping others, etc.

My sister was able to track down one family, not named below, and has contacted them about receiving photos and other items of their heritage. We have yet to learn if they are related to any other people named in the documents inside the case. We believe most of the items in the case belong to the Hultin family. The search continues.


Soldier x 2

two unmarked photos in a red velvet album

Please leave a comment if you recognize any of these names. This is a sampling of the information we have.

Erick Magnus Hultin, born 1798 Sweden and died 1873 in Boston. Letters in Danish ℅ German Coffeehouse in Boston. 1816-23

Eliza Hultin married Erick Hultin March 8, 1840

Their children: Erick, 1836, Eliza 1898, Christina Hultin Folson (Foleson), 1840-1913. Christina’s son Frederick 1860/61

The following people may not be related to the Hultin family. A handwritten document has the following about a family in England:

Isaac Hall married Susannah Ridgway August 16, 1784 in London.

Children: John, 1785, Sarah 1787, Isaac, 1789, Thos, 1790, Dan, 1792, Wm, 1794, Saripa, 1797

Names on other documents, all of New York:

Jeremiah, Mary Ann Spaulding and Susan E. Spaulding 

John Lambert, Ann S. Lewin, Frank S. Lewin, and Mary P. Lewis



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How self-isolation and sanitizing saved a village 410 years ago

The other day, as I bemoaned the restrictions forced upon me due to the current pandemic, my thoughts turned to a discovery I made while doing research for a historical novel. I came across the fascinating account of how centuries ago, during a pandemic, my ancestor’s village was saved from extinction by implementing simple measures.

A centuries-long pandemic, 1331-1666

This period of intermittent bubonic plague epidemics originated in China in 1331, the first year of the Black Death, and lasted until 1750. After sweeping through Europe, the Black Death (Great Pestilence) arrived in Britain in 1348 and lasted until 1351, wiping out 60% of the country’s population. The Great Plague, from 1665 to 1666, was the last major epidemic (on a smaller scale than the Black Death) of the bubonic plague to occur in England.

A small market town saved from extinction, 1631

Plagues not only ravaged densely populated cities but also impacted small towns, like one in the East Midlands. From July 1630 until February 1631, the market village of Alford was cut off from the rest of the county as a plague began to take a huge toll. No one dared enter the town, so its residents faced disease as well as starvation. 

The generous people of the surrounding districts placed a cross at the top of Miles Cross Hill, the site of a large, ancient stone. The filled a hollow in the stone with vinegar, the only known disinfectant at that time. During the plague, the healthy residents of Alford climbed the hill and placed money in the hollow to pay for produce, poultry, eggs, and medicine left by the outsiders. They never came into contact with each other. Self-isolation and sanitizing seems to have saved the town from extinction.

The Plague Stone, as it was locally known, was later removed and placed in the garden of Tothby Manor in Alford. Other villages took similar precautions, especially in later plagues, evidenced by stones much like the one near Alford.

Plague stone public domain

Almost obscured by moss and vegetation, this stone (thought to be a plague stone from another area) is a reminder and inspiration of how people worked together to save a village centuries ago. Photo: Peter Vardy Public Domain

The story of the plague stone intrigued me, so I wrote it into one of the scenes in my first book where one of the characters, who wasn’t sure of its existence, finds it two hundred years later.

And now, in a time with medical advantages, I am applying simple measures to protect myself from a mysterious worldwide virus, knowing that ultimately my life is in God’s hands.


Stone’s Hope by Danyce Gustafson, the first in a series of faith-based historical fiction books, is the story of the rural poor in nineteenth century England. Available online and through bookstores in paperback and e-book.


April 2020

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Twiga the giraffe: two printable coloring pages for young children


Twiga activity

A grandma bought “A Whistle in the Wind” for her grandchildren. Their mom sent this picture and gave me permission to share it with you.. Isn’t it great?

A note to Shelby (age 7) and Tori (age 5): Nice work, girls! I don’t know you, but thank your mom for sending this picture of your coloring (and your grandma for giving you the book.). Your pictures brought much joy to me today. I like how you got creative with all those stickers, and that Tori gifted her artwork to your cousin Caleb.

Parents of young children: Click on the link below for two printable coloring pages prepared by artist Ann. If you have the book, your children can trace the other animals and make their own coloring pages.

Two Twiga coloring pages


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Paperback available online and through retail bookstores


The Thought That Counts

Screen Shot 2020-02-14 at 11.07.49 AMappreciate having a computer. Without it I never would have written my first novel. And e-gadgets bring distant family members close when we share photos, Skype and text.

Electronic communication does not need envelopes, stamps or mail boxes. E-mails, e-cards, and texts are easy to store, easy to trash, easy to read, quick to type, quick to send and receive, easy to correct or change, and inexpensive. There are choices of fonts, emotions and colors. The minute a person comes to mind, I can pop a letter to her and with one click she receives it thousands of miles away. I love that I can stay close to family and friends around the world. Quick is good.

Does it matter that every e-mail looks much the same– stark and impersonal? Isn’t it the thought that counts?

Do we relinquish something precious by our use of e-communication, even with all its advantages? Do we forgo “that special touch?”

Keeping in touch” means “maintaining communication with someone.” That definition seems more impersonal than the idiom implies. Have letters become merely functional– to be read and disposed of rather than treasured?

Letter writing used to require paper and pen or pencil. The writer needed to choose the most appropriate paper, perhaps one with letterhea, or bordered with flowers, a vellum, fragranced sheet, or note card—or decorated with something to add “a special touch.”

The writer attended to her best handwriting.

The writer gave thought to the right words without the aid of spell or grammar check.

Finally, the writer addressed and licked the envelope (or sealed it with wax) and affixed a stamp. She sent the missive by messenger or mail service, then waited and waited for a reply.

Imagine how a young woman might have felt when she was handed a letter and her eyes fell upon the familiar handwriting of the one she loved. Personal notes and letters used to be cherished, to be read and re-read, stained with tears. Or blood. Or coffee. Bundles of yellowed love letters found in old trunks still spark our imagination and evoke emotion.IMG_2945_resized

I have a collection of cards sent to my parents celebrating my birth because my mother pasted them in a scrapbook. Why did she do that? And why do I keep them?

There is something special about touching a letter that has been written by a loved one or someone from the distant past. There is something special about what thoughts the note expresses.

What does “keeping in touch” mean to you?

I will continue to use a computer and welcome e-cards and letters, but I will cherish the handwritten notes and remember when it was more than the thought that mattered.



One Christmas in Africa

The harmattan wind sent gritty sand swirling through the yard as the oppressive heat sent me back to the kitchen to refill our water glasses. “Where’s Son?” I asked Husband, who reclined in a rattan chair on the veranda trying to cool himself with a wet rag to the head. He sat up when I offered him the warm glass, then tipped his head toward the storeroom door.

Little tappings sounded from inside where our six year old engineer had concealed himself. It was December 24th. 

Our little boy seemed to accept that Christmas was not celebrated in this region of West Africa. No stores beckoned holiday shoppers with colored lights, fake snow, and music blaring words about a white Christmas or decking the halls. No icicle lights blinked from the eaves of our house. There were no fir trees to decorate, no tinsel, Santa Clauses or reindeer. None of that had to do with the real meaning of Christmas anyway, but I admit that while I did not miss the commercialism, I did miss some of my childhood traditions.

A few days earlier, gazing at our sparsely furnished sitting area, I had asked Husband, “Is there something we can do to make our place a little more like…well…like…

“Like Christmas when we were six?” He finished my thought as we both peered through the window opening at a scene so unlike the winter landscapes we had known. 

“What about presents? Son should have something to open on Christmas morning.”

“Maybe,” he said, “we can find something at one of the village shops.”

I stared at the wall thinking, That’s great for dried fish or a bag of sugar, but certainly not something for a little boy.I wiped the sweat off my forehead and contemplated our family tradition of hanging stockings on the fireplace. 

A short time later, while I was busy kneading dough for sweet bread, I heard the door slam shut. “Here’s our tree!” Husband said, proudly holding up the pathetic remnant of a thorn bush. 

“Good start,” I encouraged. “Now if we could just have a fireplace. Not the warmth of it, of course. Just a place to hang our socks.” Wishful thinking in the heart of tropical Africa. 

A few days before Christmas, Son fabricated tree decorations from odds and ends he found inside and outside the house. And who knew that Husband would take my wish to heart? He and Son fashioned a large piece of cardboard into a three dimensional fireplace complete with yellow and red paper flames. We hung three borrowed Christmas stockings and laid a small rag rug in front. I placed a red candle and our advent storybook on the mantle. I stepped back and thought, It’s almost perfect. 

Christmas morning arrived and I began preparing a simple dinner to share with a Canadian family who lived down the path. Later we would celebrate Christ’s birth with a few of our favorite carols and scripture reading.

Husband called me away from the kitchen to pose the three of us beside our Christmas “tree” in front of the cardboard fireplace with its roaring paper flames. After a couple of camera shots, we took turns opening Christmas cards and letters from family and friends a world away. I held back tears. Son opened a package from his grandparents—two hot wheel cars. Next he pulled off the brown wrapping of the gifts we bought from a local shop–a bag of marbles and two giant balloons. 

One package remained under the tree. “It’s for all of us!” Son exclaimed, presenting it to us. My husband and I smiled with pride, knowing he had put a lot of time into this special gift.

“Go ahead, you do the honors,” Husband said, placing it in my lap. I lifted the top of the crudely nailed wood box and peeked inside. Amidst wadded up toilet paper, I gently withdrew several clothes pegs dressed with raffia and ribbon. Mary, Joseph, the wise men, an angel. 

“It goes like this,” Son said, turning the box on its side and placing the clothes peg angel at the peak of the roof and the peg people inside what resembled a stable. He left the room and brought back a few small plastic animals, even his rubber Pluto which he added to the scene.

“Thank you,” I said, giving him a big hug.

“But there’s more, Mom.” He plunged his hand into the pile of wadded paper and pulled out the bottom part of a match box. Inside was the top piece of a clothes peg swaddled with a tiny blue cloth. “Baby Jesus in a manger,” he said, setting Jesus between Mary and Joseph. The scene was now complete. We marveled.

What a remarkable gift!

The babe, that is.  Emmanu-el, God with us. God incarnate. Redeemer. 

That is why we had come to Africa. To bring this good news to people who had never heard the wonderful message of salvation through Jesus Christ. 

On that hot, humid December morn the message of Christmas rang strong and true. Our completeness is in Christ alone. 

Our Living Hope!

P.S. Son kept the cardboard fireplace in his bedroom for most of the next year, but the memory of that Christmas will linger forever.

Whistle In The Wind - Childrens Book

*** I decided to share this special memory, originally posted December 2104, because many of you were not aware of my blog back then.