Dani's Niche

Family history. A novel idea.

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Excited about our children’s picture book

August came and went before I realized I had not written anything for my blog. Being an author is not just about writing a book, it also involves publishing and marketing of them which is not my forte.

That being said, before September gets away from me, I am posting one of Ann’s beautiful illustrations from our soon-to-be published children’s picture book. We have enjoyed working together on this project.

Next month’s blog post is cover reveal and a story description. 


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Where to?



A place


I do not know this place,

or where it is, but

I hope to find it.


This place does not matter to me.

It makes no difference in my life.

Or does it?


This place does not exist.

Or maybe I think it doesn’t because

I haven’t found it yet.


This place is all around me

no matter where I go,

even if I wish to be

somewhere else.


This is where I am not.

It’s another place.


This is where I am.

I may not have chosen it, but

it’s my place for this time, this moment.

Here is where I begin my journey from


No matter where I am or

how long I’ve been

on this road of life,

I can start from


as if I have just started

my journey.


And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.    -John 14:3-6


I  wrote this a few years ago and, having found it recently among my papers, decided to share it with you this month.

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wise old elephant

Awakened by light filtering through the banda window, Edith flung the bulky mosquito net to the side of her cot. “Wake up, Dorothy. Time to get on the road.”

Edith had taken several days off from the clinic she managed in eastern Kenya to show another missionary nurse, visiting from Ceylon, some of Africa’s wildlife. They hoped to make the most of their last morning inside the game reserve before returning to the mission compound.

Dorothy grabbed her camera, eager for a few more photographs, and they started off in Edith’s Peugeot station wagon.  When she glanced in the rear view mirror, dust billowing up behind the car obscured her view. Farther on, a herd of impala leaped across in front of them. Edith reminded herself to be watchful of such sudden appearances.

“I wish we would see at least one elephant up close today.” Dorothy peered through binoculars scanning the distant landscape. “Over there,” she said, pointing. “Can you get closer?”

Edith steered the car off the road and across the grassy plain. She slowed to watch a giraffe stretching its neck to feed on a flat-topped thorn tree. As they moved closer, Dorothy took up her binoculars for another look at the object. She laughed. “Another anthill.”

Back on the road, they viewed a rhino with a baby, and another time Edith turned off the road to get a better view of a lion finishing off its prey.

“Oh, look. Elephant!” Dorothy leaned forward. “Maybe I can get a good picture.” She grabbed her camera.

elephant_amboseliEdith knew they were in trouble the moment she saw the huge bull elephant coming toward them. Bushes kept her from leaving the road or making a U-turn.  Remembering someone’s advice, she turned the engine off. At close range, she had been told, it was better to wait quietly. Do nothing that will attract the animal and it will go away.

This tusker had no such inclination. Edith guessed it had been provoked. No telling what it might do. Get out of my way, the beast seemed to say with the waving of its gigantic ears and wild swings of its trunk. It passed by the car. The advice had worked. Edith sighed.

Before her next breath she heard, Crunch! Edith cringed at the sound of metal. The elephant must have turned around and pierced the side of the car with its tusk. “Not the fuel tank,” Edith prayed, laying her head on her hands which clenched the steering wheel.

Dorothy murmured, “Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.”

Crash! Edith jerked at the sound of shattering glass. She squeezed her eyes shut. Her hands gripped the wheel tighter as she felt the back of the car going up, up, up—high enough that the rear wheels left the ground. Her eyes flew open, and she found herself staring at the ground at a 45-degree angle.

Then, the car dropped—hard. Edith felt the impact in her bones. She sat motionless not knowing what to do—imagining the worst as a thick cloud of dust swirled around them. The car began to move. Dorothy screamed, “Faster! Faster!” But the engine was silent. The impact must have pushed the car forward.

Sensing an opportunity while the car was in motion, Edith reached blindly, her fingers searching for the key in the ignition. Her mind blanked trying to remember which car she was in—Land Rover? Peugeot? Land Rover—medical safaris. Yes, Peugeot. She found the ignition and turned the key. When the engine came to life, she pushed the accelerator to the floor.

That evening, safe at home, still stunned by their close call, Edith sank into a chair and picked up a stack of mail which had arrived that afternoon. She chose one from a friend in the U.S. and leaned back to savor the news. The closing words seemed to jump off the paper. We’re praying for you! 

A simple prayer and a few encouraging words written in a letter—a person might never know how much they touch someone far away.

It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.   (Lamentations 3:23)


A group of us surrounded Edith’s car when it pulled up to the house that afternoon. It was shrouded with dust, except a small part of the windshield cleared by the wipers. A piece of plastic covered the back window opening. Over it Edith had taped a big red cross. In assessing the damage, we found that a tusk had pierced the side of the car, narrowly missing the fuel tank, and a tusk had gone through the window and inside roof. The elephant must have pushed its trunk through the broken window and lifted the car. The ladies reached home unharmed except for aches and emotional stress. I hope the bull elephant’s anger subsided before it met the next car.

About the story

It is a retelling (a new and better version) of the same event which I described in my very first published short story. It appeared in a 1974 “Sunday Digest,” the weekly Sunday school paper of the David C. Cook Publishing Co.

About the elephant photo

This is not the angry elephant in the story. I don’t recall if Dorothy got a picture of it.

Either my husband or I took this one when we lived in Kenya. It’s not the best picture but considering I/he had to focus and set the shutter speed, and all that with our 35 mm Pentax MX, it was the best we could do in a short time. I found the picture in an album of prints taken off some of our Kodachrome slides.

About the painting

“Wise Old Elephant” is a David Shepherd painting. In the early 1960’s, this print sold more than any other title in the world and launched the artist’s career as a popular wildlife artist.

The print, pictured here and which hangs in my office, was a farewell gift to me from the boys’ secondary school in Kenya where I taught. It brings back memories of my life in Africa and also Edith’s terrifying encounter with an elephant.


copyright – dgustafson 2019

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A wind blew through here


Trees snapped and power poles pushed, taking down our power lines and blocking this driveway. This is a nearby neighborhood.

One week ago a wind blew through our city. Whether it was a powerful straight-line wind or an EF1 tornado, it struck without warning and cut a wide swath through central Longview.

Here in the Pineywoods, the wind snapped off or uprooted tall pine trees, large oaks and even utility poles. Trees fell on cars, houses, apartment buildings, roads, across trails and power lines. The wind took shingles off roofs, blew down fences, and took the steeple off a baptist church.

For us, the power outage lasted two days instead of the expected five days. This eased the situation at the six-way intersection where police directed traffic. No internet for a few days. People in the most damaged areas waited a week for power to their homes.

Crews worked 24/7, even in the rain, to start clearing the streets (especially to the hospital) and restore power. Chainsaws still buzz as volunteers and folks in neighborhoods clean up their streets and yards. Tree services continue trimming branches from overhead power lines, preparing for another possible storm this weekend.

The good news is no injuries have been reported. In spite of a lot of damage, it could have been worse.

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The Owl That Befriended a Boy

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Caroline Stoltenberg’s fingers swept across the keys of the accordion and her voice pitched the highs and lows of a masterful yodel. This amazing woman walked with a limp, the bulky brace on her leg a reminder of a battle with polio. Yet it could not keep her from sharing her gifts of music and art (and baking).

A vivid imagination and life experiences became the well from which Caroline withdrew many a story. She kept a portfolio of them, most never to be published. One day, she narrated a story to me about her brother and an owl. I never forgot it and rejoiced when years later she sent it to be printed in a local magazine. This is my abridged version.


Carl did not intend to bring home two baby birds.

In the 1930’s, farm boys liked to collect birds’ eggs as a hobby. One day Carl spotted a nest in the spindly branches way up in a tree. He climbed as high as he could but still could not see into the nest, so he stretched his hand over his head. When he reached in, his fingers touched feathers and felt tiny pecks. The baby birds screeched, and Carl felt terrible.

Because he’d touched the little birds, he thought their mother would abandon them. He carefully put them in his knapsack and took them home. They devoured canned tuna as if it was their regular diet. The smaller bird survived only a few days. The hearty one, which Carl named Boy, ate anything offered—and thrived.

Boy seemed different from the barn owls Carl knew. Like a Great Horned Owl, he had large, yellow eyes and long, sharp claws. From his perch in the opening at the peak of the barn, he watched over his yard and his people—and he swooped from there to land on Carl’s shoulder.

As soon as Carl stepped out of the house to go hunting with his .22 and called, ‘Come on, Boy!’ the owl got excited. Carl hiked into the orchard, sometimes with Boy riding the shoulder but more often walking and chirping happily at Carl’s heels. When Carl felled a bird, Boy ran or flew to retrieve it, then returned behind Carl before receiving his treat.

Two school buses passed Carl’s house. When Boy needed meat, Carl ran the mile from school to a butcher shop, bought the meat, and ran to catch the second bus when it stopped at the railroad tracks. Boy waited from his perch at the barn. If the first big yellow bus did not stop, he screeched, flew to the ground, and started walking down the driveway. He knew Carl would then be on the second bus, carrying meat for him. He squawked with anticipated joy. When Carl got off the bus, Boy was waiting for him. Carl stuck out a leg, and Boy walked up to rest on the familiar shoulder for a ride up the hill.

Boy started to disappear a few days at a time. One morning, before breakfast, Carl’s dad went out on his rounds of the ranch and came hurrying back with the announcement, “Boy is back and has his girlfriend with him.” Carl found them high on a rafter in the barn. Miss Whoo-zits had seen enough and flew out. Boy waited a few minutes looking at him, then he also left.

Carl never saw Boy again. He knew the owl had made a difficult decision—the right one.


Bird egg collecting is now illegal for citizen scientists, but real scientists can get permits. However, few do, in part because the process is so labor-intensive.

Carl didn’t know that birds have a poor sense smell, so the mother bird probably would not have known he’d touched her eggs.


No one gets stressed looking at a cow

Our home in California backed up to a green belt with a seasonal creek. In this peaceful setting I easily forgot we lived in town, as we enjoyed watching the deer and birds.

Last summer we moved to the piney woods of Texas, to a small neighborhood on what was once farmland. Our neighbor, a descendant of the original farmer, has for years kept chickens, horses, cattle, and at times, show goats.

The back of our house is only twenty feet from a forty acre section of the farmer’s pasture land.Z ~ cows in pasture copy

After breakfast we swivel our comfy chairs in the sunroom to face a line of large windows where we watch the morning’s activities. A dozen cows, one fine Angus bull we named Dozer, several calves, three retired cow horses (and sometimes deer) entertain us throughout the day as well. They amble, single file, from our end of the field to the other and back again. They graze, frolic and butt heads, and care for their young. Many nights, looking through the same windows, we marvel at God’s glorious handiwork in the night sky. DSCF0604 copy

Two calves, close in age, a black bull and a gray heifer, pretty much stay together, often in a fenced but not gated section. Sometimes they venture into the larger field with the rest of the herd. The mothers, one an Angus and the other a brown cow named Dolly Parton, take turns keeping watch over both calves while the other mother is grazing farther off. Here they are with their mamas. The Charolais (white one we named Char) gave birth to a gray bull calf last year. It’s been fun watching him “grow up.”



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We worry when the calves won’t cross through the mire from the paddock to the pasture where their mamas have gone. Farmer Ron says, “They’ll figure it out — eventually.” They do.

We get excited when a cow gives birth in the field, delighted to witness her calf take its first wobbly steps, and sad when after a week Farmer Ron tells us, “The calf didn’t thrive. I had to bury it.

We are amazed when Farmer Ron calls and the whole herd rushes, one behind the other, from the far end of the field to the barn for their afternoon treat.

We feel sorry for the mama cow that bellows day and night for her calf. Farmer Ron says, “It’s weaning time for these two.” It’s part of life for them.

Watching cattle graze in the field is very calming. I agree with the saying: “No one ever got stressed looking at a cow.” It seems there is daily drama in the pasture, and we are learning life lessons as we observe their behavior.

We’ve had no part in the lives of these animals, except for when they come to our fence and my husband feeds them acorns, or we talk to them and pat their foreheads.


After ten months, we have become somewhat attached and were sad when Farmer Ron announced he is retiring from farming and will be sending his cattle and chickens to a new home.

We’ve been observing a bluebird couple getting their house ready for babies. Birds of prey sometimes swoop down on the field or sun themselves on the fence. Even without the cattle, there should be no shortage of drama out back.

Has anyone ever got stressed watching birds?

But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you; And the birds of the air, and they will tell you; Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you; And the fish of the sea will explain to you. Who among all these does not know That the hand of the Lord has done this, In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind?  Job 12:7-10




Fifty years ago – off to Africa

It was Sunday, December 29, 1968.

Dec 29, 1968 DanitoKenya

Checking my bags at SFO

My parents stood on the viewing deck at San Francisco Airport watching the United Airlines jet taxi down the runway and lift off. I never saw their hands waving to me or mother’s tears. Excited about my first ever airplane ride and the place where the Lord was calling me to serve, I tried to relax. On went the headphones to listen to an airline playlist. What a surprise to hear Born Free, a popular song from a movie about Kenya’s lions.

During the flight I discovered Daddy had sneaked a hastily written note into my purse. It’s a treasure I still have.

Dad's Note 1968

My parents must have been apprehensive. Their daughter, a recent college graduate, was going far away on her own. We would not see or hear each other for more than three years, our only communication through letters.

I spent several days at mission headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Determined to see the tourist sights on my first visit to New York City, I navigated the maze of subways and streets alone. It was cold. I had no winter clothes, except a coat borrowed from the daughter of a mission leader. One morning, while waiting for the tour bus in a small, crowded station, I found a place to get warm in front of a wall heater. At the end of the day, when I took off the polyester coat to return it, I was shocked and embarrassed (and relieved for what could have been). A big hole had burnt clear through the back of it.

On Friday, January 3, 1969 I departed the U.S.A. on a TWA flight from NYC (via Geneva, Switzerland and Entebbe, Uganda) to Nairobi, Kenya.

The director of the mission sent this letter to my parents: “We received word by way of “Ham” radio transmission on Sunday afternoon that Danyce had arrived safely at Nairobi, Kenya on Sunday, January 5th at 1 A.M.  . .  We shall be joining you in prayer that the Lord will bless Danyce’s ministry in Kenya and give her much joy in His service there.”

My first air letter from Africa arrived in my parent’s mailbox in California on January 14, 1969. Mother saved and numbered all my letters for over twenty years. I didn’t write about everything because she worried, and I didn’t want her to get anxious reading about snakes and wild animals and diseases. They were just part of living in Africa.

I’ve forgotten many of my experiences. One day, when I have time to read my letters, perhaps I will remember. And tears will flow.

Dani parents SFO 1969266

My parents (and my sister and brother) watched my flight take-off,  probably wondering if they would ever see me again.


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What’s a brownie cake?

“Mom, it would mean a lot to me if you would make a brownie cake for our rehearsal dinner.”

“What’s a brownie cake?” I asked.

The picture on his cell phone showed a stack of brownie bars flowing with grapes and berries. I felt honored that he trusted me to replicate this beautiful dessert, especially since I only had a photo to go by. But, it was one more thing to do for his wedding besides catering a rehearsal dinner for 40 and preparing for the arrival of family and friends from WA and CA.

Though I spent most of a day mixing batter and figuring out how to use silicone brownie bar pans, I managed to come up with about 80 brownies, hoping there were enough to stack.

The next day, after several attempts (and a dash of frustration) at stacking the bars like building blocks, my sister and I sighed with relief at the resulting three-layered brownie ziggurat.

As we drove to the venue, I held the very heavy cake in my lap, hoping it would stay intact.

During the rehearsal, my sister and brother-in-law made the dessert beautiful by lavishing it with fruit. (The bottom layer of brownies is covered.)

Matt, I hope you liked your brownie cake.

Brownie Cake for posting



Hope figurine use?

What did you notice first about the figurine?

The word HOPE?

The small clay figurine was a gift that held special meaning for me as a teacher of underprivileged children. The child’s raised arm grasps a balloon with the word HOPE.

When its tiny right hand broke off, I glued it back hoping no one would notice.

After a time the hand fell off again. I reattached it with a pinhead of goop which oozed from under the hand which now hung crooked. The repair was crude, but I was determined the figure would not be complete without its hand.

No one likes broken vessels. We want ourselves and others, relationships, and circumstances to be “fixed.” Sometimes we step into God’s place to “help” when His plan may be for one to go through the valley so He can draw near.

It is when we are broken that God does His greatest work. We read David’s words of hope in Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Tired of trying to fix the figurine, I left it as-is and set it on my desk as a reminder.

The child is looking upward at HOPE instead of his infirmity.

We are like figures of clay, formed by God’s hand. He does not cast aside but uses broken vessels to proclaim His message of hope. Hold the banner high for all to see and know that He is the God of hope.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit Romans 15:13

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The Missing Letters of Civil War Soldier Frederick Pettit, Part Four


After heavy losses at Spotsylvania, Lt. General Grant’s army met General Lee’s army in the Battle of North Anna, May 23-26. Fred Pettit’s letter to his parents tells of the infantry’s activities after leaving Spotsylvania. It is dated May 31st, the first day of the major battle of the campaign at Cold Harbor and two days before he was fatally wounded.

Tuesday May 31st 1864

Dear parents:  When I wrote last we were near Spotsylvania Court House about 12 miles from Fredericksburg. We left that place on the evening of the 21st and marched all night in a south easterly direction. The next day we continued our march. That night we rested. The next day we continued on and in the evening came up with the rest of the army on the North Anna river about 23 miles from Richmond. The rebels were making a stand on the other side of the river and heavy fighting was going on. We lay in the road all night. The next day we moved down to the river. In the evening we crossed the river a short distance above, wading it. Lay that night on the bank. The next morning we moved to the front and were put on picket. Heavy skirmishing all day. We had 10 men wounded. The next day we were relieved and went to the rear. 

At dark we recrossed the river on a temporary bridge and our brigade was sent up the river to another crossing. Here we found the 9th corps recrossing the river. We were ordered to put up breast works to hold the ford. By daylight the whole army had recrossed the river and was moving down its banks. The rebels appeared on the opposite bank about sunrise and skirmishing commenced across the river. We had 2 men wounded in our reg. About 10 o’clock the enemy withdrew their infantry and put out cavalry pickets and we did the same. Our corps then followed on down the river after the rest of the army. We moved very slowly on account of the large waggon (sic) train in our front. We stopped that night about midnight.

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Edwin Forbes drawing of the Union Army crossing the Pamunkey River, 1864

The next morning we moved at 9 o’clock and continued on all night. At daylight the next morning we crossed the Pamunkey river on a pontoon bridge and stopped for breakfast. We found the whole army at this place. About 8 o’clock we moved out about 3 miles from the river and commenced to fortify. The next morning (yesterday) we moved on after the rest of the army. ‘there was skirmishing in front all day yesterday. In the evening we moved to the front and relived (sic) a part of the 9th army corps. Sent out pickets and built breastworks during the night. Some firing occasionally. We are said to be within 11 or 12 miles of Richmond. Farther than this I know nothing of our position. Our breastworks are in the edge of a woods with an open field in front. Our pickets are in the edge of the woods on the opposite side of the field. 

My health is as good as usual. David Wilson is well. Captain Critchlow has been with us all the time and is all right yet. Lary, Pence, Hoge, Bird and the rest of us are well. I have not heard from J. P Wilson for some time. He was in the Hospital at Fredericksburg when I heard from him. I received a letter from Evan dated the 5th. This is the last I have heard from home. 

Two of our wounded have died in hospital one of them was my messmate Samuel H. Cleeland from near Portersville. He was about 17 years old and a very amiable intelligent boy. He was shot through the breast just below the heart. Thus far Co C has had 5 killed and 23 wounded. Through the mercy of an All wise Providence my life has been spared. My trust is still in Him. Write soon. Send some papers. The latest papers you have. 

Your affectionate son, Fred Pettit, Co C 10th P.V.

Screen Shot Battle of Cold Harbor

Battle of Cold Harbor by Kurz & Allison                 public domain

The Battle of Cold Harbor, fought near Mechanicsville, Virginia May 31 to June 12 1864, was one of the bloodiest, most lopsided battles in America’s history. Lt General Grant, assuming General Lee’s army was exhausted, ordered a frontal assault against strong defensive positions. As a result, thousands of Union soldiers were killed or wounded.

As Fred Pettit was withdrawing down the Shady Grove Church Road to a new position in the rear, he was wounded in the left arm. 72 men in his regiment were lost that day. After a time of recovery in the hospital he returned to the regiment, surprised and honored to have received a promotion. It was short-lived.

On July 9, 1864 near Petersburg, Virginia, while the young soldier was reading or writing he was killed by a Confederate sharpshooter.

After 9 months in a series of battles around Petersburg, Virginia Lt. General Grant laid siege to cut off supply lines and weaken the Confederate army. Lee finally abandoned Richmond and Petersburg in April 1865, leading to his retreat and surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Letters penned on the battlefields by soldiers of both sides reveal their fears and hopes, hardships and friendships, convictions, and dedication to the cause for which many laid down their lives.

“The Regiment is the place where every loyal able-bodied man should be,” wrote Pettit. “Hardships are half in the imagination. Thinking of your misery won’t help. Complaining won’t help. Always keep cheerful.” He said it was their duty to endure.

General Robert E. Lee said, “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”

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Fred Pettit’s May 31, 1864 letter and envelope with 3 cent stamp

Interesting reading:

Infantryman Pettit: The Civil War Letters of Corporal Frederick Pettit, late of Company Co  100th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment, “The Roundheads,” 1862-1864 Edited by William Gilfillan Gavin

An Eye for Glory by Karl Bacon, a novel inspired by the letters of Frederick Pettit


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The Missing Letters of Civil War Soldier Frederick Pettit, Part Three

Infantryman Frederick Pettit dips his pen one last time. There is just enough ink to finish a final exhortation before signing off. The words are barely legible but he is able to fill one more page of the letter to his sister. It is May 2, 1864 and he writes from the campsite of the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at Bealton (Bealeton) Station.

Pettit begins his letter by encouraging his sister with personal views about the teaching profession in the 1800s. He then describes the regiment’s movement through areas desolated by war.

Interesting is a mention of being reviewed by President Lincoln as they marched past Willard Hotel which was located in the center of Washington DC at 14th St and Pennsylvania Ave. The Willard Hotel, Washington, D.C. during civil war Image source: WikiCommons

They crossed the Potomac on the Long Bridge. The original, built in 1808, was replaced in 1863 by a stronger structure 100 feet down river. It was used during the Civil War by the Union Army, mostly to provide access to the city for wounded soldiers. The photo shows the bridge in 1865 looking toward Washington D.C.

Long Bridge 1865 looking toward Washington DC Image source: Wikimedia Commons Public domain

Pettit’s regiment marched across or camped on sites in Virginia where battles had raged two years earlier, like Bull Run and Chantilly. The Union Army had retreated from there to Centreville which, at various times, was a supply depot for both sides and was the site of the the construction of the first railroad built exclusively for the military.

Another campsite was at Fairfax Court House where during an earlier battle two generals were killed, and after the battle at Bristoe Station the Union Army had retreated to Warrenton. The photo show the court house in 1863 with Union soldiers guarding from the rooftop.

Fairfax Court House, VA - with Union soldiers - Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Pettit saw much devastation of land, buildings and fences but does not give details to his sister but does remark that the residents in these places were just starting to rebuild after two years.


Bealton Station, VA  May 2nd 1864

Dear sister Mary, 

I received your most welcome letter of the 16th ultimo on the 29th when near Warrenton Junction. I was glad to hear from you as I did not know why you did not write. Mr. Thompson is certainly very unfortunate in securing a permanent position. His qualifications as a teacher are appreciated by very few. The day is coming when a mere knowledge of books will not be a certificate of scholarship. Pedagogues of the class now installed at Poland will soon pass away and live thinking teachers will take their places.

I think it would be a great advantage to you to get employment in some permanent school as assistant teacher if you intend to make it a business. Perhaps the best plan would be to get employment as assistant and pupil also. For a year or two you might not make much but i think it would pay best. Try and get in some permanent institution. Teaching will soon be a recognized profession and those who follow it must qualify themselves for it and follow it.

Sargent Sehart of Co. D has returned since I wrote to you. He asked me one day if I had any relations living in Ohio. I said I had some cousins there. He said he saw two ladies in New Brighton by the name of Pettit and they knew me. That they obtained one of his photographs to look at and kept it. He said he learned they lived in Ohio. I showed him your photograph and he said it was the lady that got his and wanted to know if I wrote to her. I told him I had received a letter from her and that she was now in Ohio. This was all.

Perhaps you are wondering how this letter comes to you from Virginia and the other one was from Md. Well we have been marching. On Saturday April 23rd we left Annapolis for Washington. That day we marched 13 miles. The next day Sunday we marched 20 miles. On Monday we reached Washington about noon. After resting about an hour near the city we marched through it being reviewed while passing Willards Hotel by president Lincoln. 

We crossed the Potomac on the long bridge and camped for the night near the Convalescent camp above Alexandria. The distance marched in the three days was about 50 miles, and considering everything was a hard march. We were obliged to throw away our overcoats as we could not carry them. On Tuesday 26th we did not move but started again on Wednesday morning. On our way we passed Fairfax Seminary. That night we camped at Fairfax Court House. This part of Virginia looks very desolate indeed. The buildings and fences are almost all destroyed, though the inhabitants are beginning to make some improvement this spring.

The next day we continued our march passing Centerville (which is desolation itself) and within sight of the battle fields of Chantilly & Bulls Run, crossing the latter stream about noon just below the first battleground. 

In the afternoon we came to Mannassass Junction where we found the Penna. Reserves doing guard duty. That night we camped at Bristoe Station. During the day we saw all the boys from our neighborhood in the reserves. They are all well, and have been stationed here since January. 

Our division of negroes relieved them and they started on for the port the next day.

The next day Friday we continued on down the railroad our Corps relieving the 5th Corps which has been guarding the road all winter. Friday night we camped near Warrenton Junction. The next day we came on to this place 3 miles farther. Our company was immediately detailed to relieve the pickets along the railroad. 

I was placed on post at a culvert about half a mile from the station. The only danger is from guerrillas who are constantly prowling about to pick up stragglers, capture railroad trains, or whatever other mischief they can find to do.

We remained on picket until Sunday morning when we were relieved, and rejoined the regiment. We immediately moved to a new camp put up our quarters and rested a while. In the evening we had a short sermon by the chaplain.

This morning I was engaged washing my clothes and this afternoon am answering your letter. Bealton Station is about l6 miles from the Rappahannoc river and about 50 from Alexandria. Within the last 10 days we have marched about 100 miles. Most of the boys stood it very well except getting very sore feet. Milo Wilson is sick with the Typhoid fever. The rest of us are all well.

You wished to know what called my attention to the subject of baptism. It was reading a book called The Confession of a convert from baptism in water to baptism with water. By examining Bible passages relating to the subject I think there is very poor authority for immersion. 

Direct your letters to Washington D.C. 

Your brother,

Fred Pettit

Co C 100th P.V.

After many days of marching across devastated battlefields and two days after Pettit wrote this letter, his weary regiment crossed the Rapidan River. The brigade was heavily engaged against Lee’s army in the Battle of the Wilderness from May 5-7 1864. This was the first of a series of battles in Virginia. There were severe losses during May and June on both sides. May 8-21 the 100th Regiment suffered its worst casualties of the entire war at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

In next month’s blog I will post the letter Pettit wrote ten days after Spotsylvania, one of his last letters to his parents.


Images Source: Wikimedia Commons

Original hand-written letter is in my possession

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The Missing Letters of Civil War Soldier Frederick Pettit, Part Two



Three letters, currently in my possession, are missing in the sense that they were not included in the book, “Infantryman Pettit: The Civil War Letters of Corporal Frederick Pettit, late of Company C, 100th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the Roundheads, 1862-1864”, edited by William G. Gavin, 1990. The letters in the book were from a collection of typed copies, the location of the originals being unknown at the time.

The “missing” letters, had they been available, would have filled some gaps and given further insight into the soldier’s character. They are hand written with pen and ink on simple lined paper, folded in half. The soldier must have taken care as there are no smudges and his penmanship is very legible. You can make your own conclusions about him, considering his grammar and introspections.

Off to Join the Roundheads

This letter was written from the farm of Fred Pettit’s family in Hazel Dell in Pennsylvania on August 19, 1862, the day before the twenty year old was sworn into the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment (referred  to as the “Roundheads”) at New Castle, Pennsylvania. Recognized as a “Fighting Regiment,” they were to suffer many casualties during the war.

Hazel Dell August 18th ’62

Miss M. A. Pettit

Dear sister,

It is now some time since I wrote to you, and having a little spare time this morning I thought I would write you a few lines. In my last letter I told you I intended to enlist in the army as soon as we finished harvesting. We have finished harvesting & I have enlisted in the 100th (Roundhead) Reg’t Co. C, Captain Cornelius. Cap Hamilton is in New Castle recruiting. He sends a squad to the Reg. this week and I have been ordered to report at New Castle tomorrow. From there I will go to Harrisburg where we will be equipped and forwarded immediately to the Reg’t. I do not know any person that is going with me. i have heard there are 8 going from Perry T/s but I do not know who they are. The Roundheads are in Burnside’s Division. The last time we heard from them they were at Fredericksburg, VA. J. Shoemaker, J. Leech, P. Clinefelter, Rob. Breckinridge & Joe Morehead went in the 9 months one (illegible) week before last. Three Co. have gone from Laurence Co. They are still at Harrisburg. Some persons here are very much scared about the draft. Some are sick some lame, some almost blind. So I have enlisted to serve the time of the Reg’t about 2 years. Do not be troubled about my going. I believe I go in the discharge of duty. I believe the rebels are not only fighting against our country but also against the truth of the Almighty. And I farther believe that if we go forth to battle trusting in His strength we shall conquer. Give my respects to Professors Thompson & family & to all inquiring friends. Good by Mary until we meet above.

Your affectionate brother F. Pettit

P.S. Grandfathers and the rest of the folks are all well      F.P.

photograph from Find A Grave website

— to be continued

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The Missing Letters of Civil War Soldier Frederick Pettit, Part One

Civil war letters

I hold a treasure in my hand, one of three pieces of history that have come to me, letters written by a young, literate Civil War solider. They peaked my interest because my great grandmother saw her three brothers march off to war. Two returned wounded, the third never made it home. I’ve wondered what they might have written to their sister and parents.

In a letter dated August 18, 1861, addressed to his sister, this particular soldier tells of his enlistment with the Union army and that he was on his way to report for duty. “Do not be troubled about my going,” he assures her. “I believe I go in the discharge of duty, I believe the rebels are not only fighting against our country but also against the truths of the Almighty. And I further believe that if we go forth to battle trusting in His strength we shall conquer.” Like the Confederates he would fight against, he was willing to lay down his life for the cause he believed in. The solider wrote he had seen the scared, sick, lame, and blind. He must have been aware of his mortality as he ends his letter with “until we meet above, Your affectionate brother.”

In the one dated May 2, 1864, he writes his sister of a personal matter, then gives a detailed description of his company’s march on April 23rd, its encampment on the Potomac and details of their movement through the end of the month.

The final letter, in its original envelope with a 3 cent stamp postmarked Washington D.C., was written to his parents on May 31, 1864. He writes of skirmishes and crossing the Pamunky River on a pontoon bridge near Richmond, VA and the sad news of the death of his 17 year old messmate, “an amiable and intelligent boy. He was shot through the breast just below the heart.”

Sad to say, this was one of his last letters home as he was killed by a sharpshooter a few weeks later.

I have touched history. It has touched me and I cannot help but ask: Did he sit upon a carpet of grass under a tree as he wrote this letter home? Did he hear sounds of war in the distance, the moaning of the sick and dying nearby? Did the smell of sweat and blood overpower the fragrance of spring blooms? I only know what he has written and it is enough. For now.

My research is turning up some very interesting information on this soldier. I hope to post further quotes from the three letters, a photo, and more in a future blog.

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To Yosemite by Wagon, 1898

Hetch Hetchy Valley, early 1900s

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. 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 we stood at her grave. Instead it was those she had whispered several weeks before. “Take care of my girls, won’t you Lucy?” I took her hand and promised, “You know I will.”

The last year of her illness I had already been caring for the girls, ages four and two, as Dan took the five of us to various locations in search of a healthier 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 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, by mid-June Dan announced we would be taking a month’s vacation. He said it would do us good. I did not question him.

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 sister Grace sat next to him waving at the ranch hands who would keep the farm going.

A few hours after leaving Paso Robles we met up with Dan’s brother Will and his wife Maggie in their smaller wagon. After a brief rest, they headed out ahead of us, keeping enough distance between so we didn’t eat their dust. All of us wore wide brimmed hats which protected us from the sun. Dipping our heads kept the blowing sand and dust from our eyes.

We were finally on our way to Yosemite Valley where we would view the magnificent sights we’d only read about and seen photos of with our stereoscope. 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 my eyes fixating on the broad shoulders of the big man in front of me. One would never guess he was nearly forty with his full head of dark hair though now speckled with dust. Lizzie had found a good man. And he had found a good woman.  It was sad their marriage had been cut short.

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, 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. “Tomorrow is another day and there are only a few hours till we’re on the road again.”

We went to the 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.

~ to be continued

If you like this story about my grandmother Lucy, I’ll write more tidbits from the real diary Grace wrote of their adventure.

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Out to Pasture

horse eating roses for blog

“They’ve been put out to pasture.” Our neighbor was speaking of the three old mares that graze in the field behind our house. He was implying they had “seen better days.”

My husband is retiring this month and we’ll be making a lot of changes, including a move to the place (in a distant state) where these horses come to nibble on the roses along our back fence. As I think of that scene, I pray that, like them, we’ll not be put out to pasture. I like to think the best is yet to come.

The years ahead are supposed to be our “golden years.” As pure gold is not strong, neither do we have the strength of youth. But, like gold, we can be useful and valued and should be shining examples to the younger folks. After all, we’ve racked up lots of years of experience. Right?

“Golden years” may imply a life of leisure after retirement, but studies show this usually lasts about a year. Because retirees like us have freedom to spend the days as they choose, it is important to have a reason, beyond self, for getting out of bed each morning. Focusing on “me” never inspires.

Reminders to myself:

Accept change. There will be many and I may not like some of them at first, but “new” or “different” is okay and besides, I need to save my strength for the bigger battles.

Expect a slower pace. My mind and body may not work as quickly as they used to, but they still function, so be kind to them. No name calling.

Learn or do something new. Putting thoughts on paper for my blog or developing characters and storylines for my books don’t come easy but the challenge makes me determined. So does Sudoku. It’s hard to get a good grasp of technology though. Take deep breaths and keep trying.

Humor goes a long way. Remember that Dad lived 99 years. He brought joy to others and laughed a lot, especially at himself.

Relearn a previous skill. I sit at the piano and realize, with practice, it is possible to relearn all those recital songs I played when I was ten or twelve years old.

Serve others by volunteering in the community. How exciting is this! Helping others is always good for the soul.

Continue a healthy lifestyle with physical activity (walking, bicycling, camping), fresh air, and nutritious food. I like this one!

Socialize by playing games or going on tours. Friends and family can stimulate my mind in discussions of ideas, current events, books.

Spend time with the young. Children like hugs and being read to. Laugh with them, have fun. With teens and young adults, find common ground. Show interest in their activities and gadgets even if I don’t understand their lingo or technology. Share a wise saying often enough so they will remember me for something after I’m gone.

Leave an inspiring legacy. This could be photos, letters, family history, notes in my Bible, stories I write or tell, whatever I want my descendants to know about me and my reason for living.

Embrace life as an adventure. There are no re-runs.

Remember that God loves me. “For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. Psalm 100:5


copyright by d gustafson January 2018


25 Christmas Cards


Christmas card 1949_use

Dad turned off the light that dangled from a beam in his small darkroom under the house. When he switched on the red light it became a magical place, at least in my little girl’s thinking. It smelled of the chemicals that filled several trays on the table. A string of photographs dried overhead. Dad worked with a machine called an enlarger. He lifted wet sheets of paper in and out of the trays. I peered wide-eyed as images slowly materialized on the paper.

For twenty-five Christmases he decided on a design, took the black and white photos with his 35mm camera and developed the negatives, then cut and pasted, printed and hand tinted our family Christmas cards, all before computers and digital cameras and Photoshop.

Dad must have been dreaming when the second year he pictured us sisters peering through a window framed with snow laden flora. As far as I know California’s central coast has never had a white Christmas.

Our cat Sam made his debut one Christmas and the year he died Dad pictured him with wings flying away from us. Over the years the photos changed as siblings were born or left home to raise their own families. The last cards pictured Mother and Dad alone, one showing them pretending to talk on an old crank telephone, keeping in touch with the kids and grandkids and friends, no matter the distance.

I keep an album of the cards. They are a reminder of Dad’s labor of love and that family is a gift to cherish.


The Blacksmith’s Heart

A Friend in Need

The picture hung on the wall in my parents’ living room. Now it hangs in mine in a less gaudy, more fitting frame. The print is dated 1902 and has no other markings but I believe it is from an old painting titled “A Friend in Need”.

I don’t know where my mother acquired it but I can guess why she loved the picture. Her father and grandfather were blacksmiths and her interest in dolls began at a young age when she hand stitched clothes for her small porcelain doll. Years later Mother accumulated an extensive doll collection.

The picture features a white-haired village blacksmith and a little girl with her doll and broken doll carriage. A road leads to a village where the girl’s story begins. The blacksmith’s tools and the large broken wheel tell of his work but the small wheel on the anvil reveals his heart. In the shop the fire burns and the old man has work waiting yet he puts it aside.

The little girl seeks out the one she trusts to help her.

I am poor and needy; Yet the Lord thinks upon me. (Psalm 40:17a)

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. (I John 5:14)

The old man is an example of how we should bear others’ burdens.

Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)

It is a sweet scene with a happy ending. On the other hand, what if the girl had no one to go to? What if there was no one to mend the wheels, big or small? What if there was no one who cared?  That is the harsh reality for many today. They do not know there is One who cares. The blacksmith in this picture may also represent the Lord God. Numerous Bible verses remind us of His love and care, His mercy and grace.

Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. (Psalm 103:13,14)

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. I Peter 5:7)

How much does God care for you?

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)


Do you recognize this painting? Do you know anything about it, especially the artist’s name?

What story would you write?

Does the picture encourage or inspire you?

Counting my blessings,




Danyce pumpkin patch

My husband and I just returned from a research trip to beautiful Wisconsin where friendly residents helped us find answers to many family history questions. We spent tedious hours looking through documents from the mid-1800s at the Driftless Historium in Mt. Horeb and scrolling through microfilm in the archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison. It was a pleasure to meet new-found relatives including my third cousin who was born in the Stone House on Thanksgiving day 98 years ago (and the doctor stayed for dinner). We also enjoyed reminiscing about Kenya with missionary friends.

It would be wonderful if next harvest, instead of a pumpkin like this one in a Texas field, I’ll have in my hands book three of the Stone’s Hope Series.

Harvest time causes me to reflect on God’s provision in every aspect of my life. I am blessed!

Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us. Psalm 67:6


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When the Circus Came to Town

Clyde Beatty Circus conveyance copy

Clyde Beatty left his family’s farm as a teenager to join the circus where he became a famous lion tamer. Later he formed his own circus which traveled by rail with as many as forty animals and the finest circus performers. Between 1947 and 1956 the Clyde Beatty Circus drew large crowds when it rolled into our small agricultural town in California.

When I was four years old my dad told us the circus that summer would be set up on the playing field of the school where he taught, just one block from our house. It was not the tight rope walkers or aerialists, not the clowns, animal acts or sideshows I remember. It was watching the workers set up the huge tent with the help of the elephants.

circus tent and masts_canvas on ground copy


circus tent going up copy

The crew unrolled and stretched out a huge canvas on the ground, then staked it securely with heavy rope. Four tall center masts topped with American flags were hoisted. Then the elephants were led to their places, harnessed with heavy chain attached to the tent. We watched wide-eyed, except Dad who had his movie camera rolling. As the big animals moved slowly forward, each in a different direction, the huge big top rose high off the ground. It still amazes me when I view the old movies of the amazing circus elephants.

elephant pulling up circus tent copy

One year, during a performance when the tent was packed with a cheering crowd, the wind lifted part of the canvas. A large center pole went up with it. The base swung up and crashed into the bleachers about eight feet from spectators. Parents whisked their children out and refused to take them back no matter how much they begged. One terrified child jumped down the back of the bleachers from about six rows up and dove under the tent, right into a pen with a pack of show dogs. That sent her just as quickly back under the flap where her dad grabbed and scolded her. The show went on, but for many the fun was ruined that year.

Sideshow 1950 with Danyce and Dollie and mother copy

Our town has grown and there are fewer lots on which to locate the smaller circuses which come and go every year. There are no more lion and tiger acts or working elephants but one thing has never changed. Excitement is always in the air when the colorful posters go up announcing that the circus is coming to town.



copyright d. gustafson August 2017

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Great Grandmother’s Sewing Basket: A Writer’s View

Great Grandmother’s sewing basket was the “something old” I was given on my wedding day. It is a Victorian sewing basket with silk tassels, old Chinese coins, colorful beads, and Peking glass rings.

sewing basket2

On my wedding day long
I received Great Grandmother’s basket
so I could sew.

With the notions inside I made quilts and
There were also ones for mending

Sometimes a pattern and sometimes
I pinned and cut and measured
the lot.

After stitching and joining with needle and
Sometimes I ripped, something I

I wanted it right, each piece to
So I took my time with every

The thimble helped to push the
And protect the finger so it is

Yet tears did flow and time seemed
slow but
It wasn’t long till I was attaching a

Buttons and snaps and all kinds of fluff
finished it off and I said,

I don’t sew much as I did in the
But the tools are there for mending

I sat down to work on
my novel
And saw my basket in
a different

For making a dress it holds all the
Like the tools for writing, it’s not just the

With paper and pen I start with a
And a hero who gets in trouble
a lot.

I fit the pieces, the story comes
After cutting and stitching, it starts to

All the work, determination and even
Are finally ended, along with my

When my novel is finished
I’ll start
And say to my self,”It’s not such a

Sewing and writing are much the
Both can be fun though they’ll bring no

If you have the tools and also
Sewing and writing can be great

What notions do you think Great Grandmother kept inside her sewing basket?


copyright d gustafson July 2017


A Great American

Use for Blog

My dad was a great American (though not a famous one), a loyal son, husband, father, and patriot. When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, he was a 36 year old newlywed. He did not hesitate to enlist in the U.S. army where he rose to the rank of captain.

Until his death at 99, Dad proudly flew the American flag from his front porch every day, not just on holidays. He proudly wore the red, white and blue and sometimes a tie that played the tune “God Bless America.” He respected the flag and honored what it stood for.

On this 4th of July as we celebrate our freedoms, let us remember the words of an unknown author:  It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you.

In God we trust!