James C. Schaap

Contributor

Dr. Jim Schaap doesn’t know what on earth happens to his time these days, even though he should have plenty of it, retired as he is (from teaching literature and writing at Dordt College, Sioux Center, IA). If he’s not at a keyboard, most mornings he’s out on Siouxland’s country roads, running down stories that make him smile or leave him in awe. He is the author of several novels and a host of short stories and essays. His most recent publications include Up the Hill: Folk Tales from the Grave (stories), and Reading Mother Teresa (meditations). He lives with his wife Barbara in Alton, Iowa. 

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Des Moines Local History

That it was a government in absentia was not unusual. Several freshly-born northwest Iowa counties were run from afar in the 1860s, if run has any meaning. 

Sioux County's first government declared such jobs as bridge-building and road-construction to be their work and paid themselves royally for their labor, even if there wasn’t any. Government was a hoax, a racket, a fraud, a scam--but if you were part of it, you could pocket some cash.

Public Domain Pictures

Some psychologists want to drop the last initial in PTSD. They claim that to call PTSD a “disorder” makes the condition appear unusual. It isn’t. They claim that if you’ve been to war, you have post-traumatic stress because war is trauma.

I can’t help thinking such distinctions wouldn’t have mattered to the woman in the casket yesterday. Her husband took Nazi fire at the Battle of the Bulge and came home with a purple heart from wounds that were visible–and some that were not. “He just wasn’t the same when he came back from the war,” one of his relatives said.

Lully Lullay

Dec 31, 2017
Wikimedia Commons

Coventry, an English city of 250,00 in the West Midlands, was home to significant industrial power when World War II began, a line of industries Hitler wouldn’t and didn’t miss. When the Battle of Britain began, a specific Coventry blitz started immediately and didn’t end for three long months--198 tons of bombs killed 176 people and injured almost 700.

But the worst was to come. On November 14, 1940, 515 Nazi bombers unloaded on Coventry’s industrial region, leaving the city in ruins. Its own air defenses fired 67 hundred rounds, but brought down only one bomber. It was a rout.

Wikimedia Commons

Okay, it’s time to get serious. Before you talk about miracles and magic, let's have a good cold look at what happened in No Man's Land between British and German troops, December, 1914. Before you grab the Kleenex or get all teary and sentimental, you should remember that perfectly good reasons explain why peace broke out amidst war, why, for one unforgettable Christmas, a battlefield became an enchanted cartoon.

Be reasonable. The magic of that moment is perfectly explainable.

James C Schaap

Legend has it that back in the fifties, when the county spread blacktop over the gravel on the road straight west to the South Dakota border, one farmer held out. “That cottonwood,” they told him, “is going to have to go before the road goes in. He’s too blasted close to the roadbed. Look there at the way he hangs over.”

Farmer shook his head, said no way. Farmer said he loved that tree, cottonwood or not, tallest one on his place, best shade too; and you know what?-- he could give a fig for that blacktop because who needs the traffic out here anyway?

Ames Historical Society

It’s the summer of 1971, on Highway 34, southwest Iowa. Some big digger, a lumbering monster doing the dirt work for road construction--maybe they were going to widen the highway—chewed up ground as such monsters do so well. But it stopped, politely, at the graves of 28 people it found in the way.

You can’t just go charging through. Some kind of recovery had to be done.

One of the men running the show, a man named John Pearson, came home that night after work with the news.

Wikimedia Commons

The only picture we have of the guy makes him look like a criminal. His nose seems overlarge, as if swollen, as if he might have been beaten. If it weren’t for the thin moustache, he’d pass for a boy, a kid, someone more than slightly afraid of whoever held the camera. His hair is tousled, as if he’d not slept.

He doesn’t look like a criminal, although the picture itself looks like a mug shot, which it might have been.

Wikimedia Commons

Some may believe that standing, hand over heart, for "The Star-Spangled Banner" is a profoundly patriotic gesture, but as a measure of homage to homeland it out-and-out pales in comparison to the giddy excesses America--and the world--took when going off to war a hundred years ago. 

Wikimedia Commons

Some may believe that standing, hand over heart, for "The Star-Spangled Banner" is a profoundly patriotic gesture, but as a measure of homage to homeland it out-and-out pales in comparison to the giddy excesses America--and the world--took when going off to war a hundred years ago. 

The Bloody Benders

Oct 31, 2017

For reasons that likely have to do with desired ends, the Oregon Trail has a more wholesome reputation than its southern sidekick, the Santa Fe. The Oregon Trail once carried the hopes and dreams of whole families. The wagon trains leaving Missouri carried hundreds of thousands of little girls in sun bonnets and boys in bibs bobbing along beside the oxen, Mom holding the youngest up on the seat of the wagon.

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