Fond Memory Inspires a
Return Visit to a Favorite Rural Paradise
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.