Fond Memory Inspires a

Return Visit to a Favorite Rural Paradise

By David Scott Coker

Reviewed July 30, 2001


       Several weeks ago I wrote an article for the local newspaper that led to an interesting and memorable odyssey which I will not soon forget. 

      The entire experience began one afternoon at the home of David and Valerie West, two friends of mine who live in a farm in nearby rural Posey County.  Earlier this bright spring afternoon we had hoped to pick strawberries at one of the local U-Pick places not far from my home on the West side of Evansville.  Unfortunately, none of the farms we visited had any berries at the time as it was very late in the season.  So, instead we returned to their home and picked the ripe, red morsels from a nearby cherry tree located on their family farm. 

     While gathering the cherries, my mind drifted back to a similar visit to another Posey County farm many years ago, the former residence of Ed and Amelia Tiemann on the Ford Road, not too far from where David and Valerie live.  The experience has remained indelibly etched into my memory all these years.  I had actually pondered writing a description of this experience for many years. 

      The occasion of the visit was to gather red and black raspberries which the Tiemanns grew among the other produce they would frequently bring to town and sell to residents of Howell where my grandparents, Harry and Fern Coker, and my great grandmother, Ida Amanda Grossman Coker,  used to live.

       Beginning with a brief description of the appearance of the rather small farmhouse situated some distance from the road, the article described the pleasant surroundings:

                 "But it was the large lack yard that contained the magic.  There was a huge grape

                 vine woven onto a large white lattice trellis not far from the back door.  Flower beds

                 were planted everywhere.  Beneath the huge shade tree nearby was a small wooden glider

                 in which they no doubt passed many an evening sunset together amid the picturesque

                 garden and well-manicured lawn which framed the house.  There were several Purple

                 Martin houses where pairs of the little birds would rear their families.  They would swoop

                 down to the lush green grass gathering bugs and worms to be consumed by their young. 


        Out behind the immediate back yard were large garden plots where Ed and Amelia would plant virtually every type of vegetable which could be grown in this part of the country: squash, tomatoes, pole beans, bush beans, green peppers, onions, corn, eggplant, cucumbers, celery, cabbage, carrots, spinach -- you name it!  The gardens seemed to go on forever in the back yard amidst the out buildings situated in the lush green landscape.

          I well remember Amelia's frequent visits to my great-grandmother's house on Sunday mornings.  She would bring fresh produce to our family which would often end up a portion of the Sunday dinners we ate together every week after attending church.  Always greeting us with a smile and a joyful, lilting voice, Amelia seemed quite content and grounded in the rural manner of her life and eager to please her friends and regular customers. 

       On this particular visit, the sky was a deep blue and dotted with huge, puffy white clouds.  The air was fresh and laced with the aroma of the colorful blossoms in the flower beds surrounding the house.  I recall laying on my back and making grass angels in the tall grass and thinking to myself that this must come as close to heaven as any human being can experience in a lifetime. 

       The column went on to say that this experience some 35 years ago and that I had not returned to the Tiemann place since that visit as a little boy.  I then opined that I only wished that commercial developers in this region could eventually discover the magic of making grass angels in such beautiful settings, rather than continuing to devour rural  farm land for the never ending expansion of commercial development which goes on all around Evansville.

      I completed the column and sent it to the newspaper via email as I had so many times before.  A few days later, it appeared on the Viewpoint page of the Evansville Courier & Press.  The evening the article was published I received a telephone call which began the second part of this story.

       The caller identified himself as Glenn Curtis, a life-long resident of Posey County, who called to inform me that the farm which I described in the article was still there and "saved" from the encroaching residential and commercial development surrounding it on the Ford Road.  He said "I am a pretty tough old bird and it usually takes a lot to get to me but when I read that article you wrote it brought a tear to my eye."  Mr. Curtis went on to invite me to come for a visit to his rural home -- "it's all here, very much the same as what you described and I would like for you to see it."

      During the week following publication of this piece, several of my personal friends acknowledge that they had enjoyed it, as did several of my mother's friends who attend Howell United Methodist Church.  But about a week later I received another telephone call from yet another respondent -- this time it was Edna Tiemann Waltz, the daughter of Ed and Amelia Tiemann, who wanted to tell me how much she appreciated reading the article. 

       After about an hour of talking with Mrs. Waltz, I learned that we were almost neighbors and that she and her husband lived not far from our home.  She said she was contacted the day the article was published by Mary Ruth Oakley, my Godmother and distant cousin, who was a childhood friend of hers.  During the conversation I invited her to accompany me to go visit the Curtis's to recall fond memories of when her parents lived on the small farm.  She eagerly agreed and we set a date for the visit. 

     Driving out to the farm, I learned why our families had been close for so many years.  Apparently, her father was a welder at George Koch & Sons and their family lived on Irvington Street when she was a young girl.  Throughout grade school in the 1930s at the old Daniel Wertz on Emerson Street and later Reitz High School,  Edna and Mary Ruth had been close friends.  She even shared a humorous story about my father, John Coker, who also grew up in Howell, which I had never heard before.

       Approaching the Curtis residence, we proceeded up the long lane which is flanked by huge cedar trees on one side and hardwoods on the other.  They serve as shelter and a wind break for the small house on the left side of the lane.  Glenn and his wife Dolores, seemed to have been waiting for us in the back yard when we arrived.  I quickly recognized a large, square storage building in a central location behind the house, the white clapboards on the bottom weathered with age.  Glenn began describing several things that are different about the property -- one of which was the removal of a huge cheery tree in the back yard which became diseased a few years ago.  A root sprout has more recently emerged by he immediately pointed out a pear tree nearby which although bearing fruit does not appear to be too healthy.  I told him about Valerie's father, Lester Weiss, and his theory that airborne pollution being responsible for killing so many trees which have recently died on his property.

     He told me about several buildings he had removed and the garage he had built which was not there before.  We proceeded toward the garden and he complained about the tomatoes which for some reason had not been doing well this year.  There were other crops, however, that were doing much better including a row of potatoes, a patch of tame garlic, and sunflower around the perimeter of one of the gardens. 

      Glenn pointed to a line of catalpa trees along a fence row on the North end of the property and told us about a man who used to gather worms which he would use for fishing.  It reminded me of how my father and I did the same thing when I was a kid over near a river camp in Griffin when we used to go fishing on the Wabash River.

      Dolores chimes in:  "Ever since he planted so many trees around here he doesn't trust my mowing.  So now, I don't have to mow the grass anymore!  He does it all." 

      As we walked toward the lake at the back end of the property, Edna and Dolores stayed close to the house in the shade and chatted.  "I am a man who likes his privacy," Glenn said, and he recalled Ed Tiemann telling him one time "If you don't speak much with your neighbors, you will really like it here."  Poking fun at a large brush pile not far from one of the gardens, "This is my nature preserve.  It's habitat for wildlife!" It looked as if it had been accumulating there for a while.   He pointed to a long drainage ditch he had dug from the basement of the house down to the lake to solve a water problem he had in the basement of the house.

      I got a couple of 'water turkeys' that come and visit every once in a while, you will have to look up what kind of birds they really are," referring to a resident Green Heron which lives on the lake at least part of the year. "I keep cutting the willow trees out since the county extension agent once told me that one of them can consume as much as 100 gallons of water a day, " out of the nearby lake.

      Referring to a path that he cut several years ago through the trees surrounding the back side of the lake, "One afternoon I just came out here , closed my eyes and started mowing."  As we proceeded down the passage through the lush foliage, Glenn turned reflective for a moment:  "I begin to feel the pressures of the world closing in on me out here."  Pointing over to the left he continued, "Someone sold this farm and they built all these houses back here."  As I peered through the branches of the trees along the path, I could make out the back yards of several recently- constructed homes built on the other side of the lake, we observed the Heron taking flight, apparently spooked by our presence.

      Upon returning to the back yard, we rested for a minute in several lawn chairs beneath a pleasant grove of shade trees adjacent to the lake.  It was apparent that the Curtis's passed many a summer evening in this peaceful setting just as the Tiemanns had in the little white glider up near the house many years before.  Glenn talked of his family being among the oldest settlers of Posey County in the early 1800s, the source of his lingering fascination with genealogy and the history of the region.  Descending from branches of the Todds, the McFaddens - from whom the settlement which became known as Mount Vernon was formerly called "McFadeden's Bluff" -- the Curtis family was among the original settlers of this portion of the Ohio River basin.  They arrived during the territorial period in 18111, beating Father Rapp and the Harmonists from Pennsylvania who settled in the Northern aspect of Posey County by several years.  His sharply barbed wit and personal observations were an entertainment as we passed the afternoon amidst the lovely surroundings.

       Edna and I proceeded up the hill to the car as we bid our farewells and thanks for the pleasant visit.  She recalled that one year her father had great success with watermelons in one of his gardens.  Dolores quickly reminded us that many of the melons which were alleged to be of the famous Posey County variety have for years actually been grown in nearby Gibson County, where family had lived for many years.

       "The red sage up by the house grew up to the bottom of the windows," Edna allowed, "it was taller than my mother was." A similar stand of red sage now grows in a small bed in the middle of the back yard near a huge squash plant.

       While riding back to her home, Edna told me the story of the later years of her parents lives.  The Tiemanns moved to the farm after her father retired in 1959.  Selling produce every summer was apparently not a new vocation for Amelia, in that she was one of six sisters in the Keck family, all of whom grew up on another farm in Posey County.  For many years the young girls all sold produce, home made butter and smearcase (a form of home made cheese) to numerous customers in Howell.

       "When they lived out there, in the winter time mom would piece together quilts while dad would putter around the yard, waiting for planting season to begin,"  Edna said.  But in the spring and summer, that garden was their whole life," she continued that every year her father would plant lettuce in a cold frame on Valentine's Day.  "He figured if it froze, so be it -- he would plant more later,"  Edna said, "If it did not freeze, he knew he would have some of the earliest lettuce around."  

        Unfortunately, ill health forced a premature departure from the beautiful farm.  Amelia acquired Alzheimer's Disease and had to be placed in Pine Haven nursing home in 1983.  Edna said that while he still lived at the farm, Ed would drive into town daily to visit Amelia at the nursing home.  Shortly after selling the farm to Glenn Curtis's then son-in-law in 1986,  Ed moved to a small apartment owned by the Stocker family not far from the nursing home.  From there, he could walk to visit Amelia every day and would leave late in the afternoon -- a testament to his endearing love for her and all the years of devotion, hard work and companionship.   It is apparently that the roots of the Tiemann family run quite deep in the West side of Evansville, though some family members have since departed to live in other parts of the country. 

      Upon returning Edna to her home, I later realized I had left my leather backpack out at the Curtis's farm and returned their to retrieve it.  Glenn gave me a bag of squash from the big plant in the back yard, along with a couple of newspaper articles that told of his career as a cartoonist, a sometimes politician and the always irascible sage of Posey county as he had come to be known by area residents. 

      On the way home I stopped by David and Valerie's farm to tell them about my visit.  They told me they thought Dolores Curtis attended Immanuel Church of Christ, the same church as Valerie's parents, not far from their home on Hausmann Road.  It occurred to me how close these two farms are geographically and how similarly threatened they are by commercial and residential development. 

      Later in the evening, just before sundown I picked corn, tomatoes and zucchini squash from the small garden I helped them plan earlier in the year.  I went home that night with the back seat of my car laden with fresh vegetables.  I was once again impressed with fond memories of the same beautiful place I visited as a child.

       It was a very good day.