December 29, 2020

CHAMPION—December 28, 2020


Champions are alert to their good fortune to live in a place so placid and peaceful, at the same time so pleasantly packed with wildlife and good neighbors. We meet out on the road and wave, and perhaps roll our windows down for a chat. “Good morning, neighbor!” “Did you see those seven white tails bounding across that field?” “You and your family all doing okay?” “Well, take care and happy new year!” Solitary old couples enjoyed many phone calls with friends and kin and watched on the internet as friends gathering with their families. It is a Champion quality to be able to delight in the happiness of other people. We have had a Merry Christmas indeed and we hope for the comfort of the many in the world less fortunate.

When Mr. Potter realized Uncle Billy had accidentally handed him the $8,000.00 meant for the bank deposit of the Building and Loan, instead of calling the old man back and returning the money, he sat like a scurvy little spider and watched as the drama unfolded. We know the story had a happy ending, but Potter never returned the $8K. He got away with it. In today’s money that would be $148,702.29. Maybe we should just let it go and focus on the joy and the celebration of a genuinely good man as his many good works were acknowledged. A sequel to the story might have the miserable old man investigated for theft and malfeasance by some hard-nosed attorney general with subpoena power and a pique of righteous indignation. Phillip Van Doren Stern wrote “The Greatest Gift” in 1943. It was a short story that he shopped around to a number of publishers and none of them were interested. He finally self-published it as a 21 page booklet that he sent to 200 of his friends for Christmas. It eventually got into the hands of Frank Capra and that is how George Pratt became George Bailey, the richest man in town.

Old Mr. Gower lost his son to the influenza pandemic in 1918. For a little while he was so grief stricken that he lost his way, and had it not been for the keen observation of a young employee, he might have caused another family to suffer. Many now are suffering the loss of dear ones and a general malaise over world conditions. We hope not to lose our way. We are reminded of a message written in stone after the previous pandemic that was happening at the same time with World War I. In those hard times someone thought to write, “So with the darkest days behind, our ship of hope will steer, and when in doubt just keep in mind our motto Persevere.” The stone is in a walkway in the Port of Leith, now part of Edinburgh, Scotland. That country endured much and sacrificed much in that great struggle. We struggle yet, but with hope and good hearts, so we will say, “Persevere and Happy New Year from Champion!” Looking on the Bright Side!


December 23, 2020

CHAMPION—December 21, 2020


Jupiter and Saturn are teaming up to make their appearance as the Star of Bethlehem on the longest night of the year. Starting Tuesday, the days will be getting longer a little bit at a time. Things are looking brighter overall as the vaccine and the continued good vigilance of the population will have us all back in each other’s arms before next Christmas. Some great scientific treatise or novel will be written about “Two Years of the Pandemic.” People who are in the second and third grade now will one day talk about this time as their grandparents talk about walking so many miles uphill both ways in the snow to get to school. Last week’s letters to Santa in the Herald made some Champions smile thinking about themselves at the age of these young scholars. Seasonal sentimentality surges as we remember our sweet Christmases past. This one, being like no other, is still the special one for our youngsters.

This is a special time for Herbie Johnston too. He just had his 65th birthday, but he is one of those forever young people by virtue of his lively nature. Internet users were treated to a 3 minute 45 second video of him on that great big fiddle in the company of a couple guitars, a couple mandolins and a banjo playing “Joy to the World” and “Jingle Bells.” The Midwest Bluegrass Directory folks have a great video of “Herbie Johnston’s Fiddle Frolic at the Boot Heal Bluegrass Festival” in 2014. It is a pleasure to hear him play that little fiddle and a joy to know that he is encouraging a generation of young fiddlers. The positive effect of music on children (on all of us) can hardly be overstated. The Backyard Bluegrass baby boy is now three years old. His venerable old grandpappy most likely has him up on his knee picking something. Merry Christmas!

We read in history that from 1659 to 1681, the Puritans outlawed the celebration of Christmas in Massachusetts. They hated its Pagan roots and excess. Meaning the only group to ever ban Christmas in America were Christians. Libraries are full of books about the Meaning of Christmas and the Reason for the Season. There is a lovely Nativity scene at the corner of C Highway and 76. We all have our personal feelings and histories with the best day of the year. And we are, every one, ready for a time of love and peace and wonder and joy and thanksgiving and hope. God bless us every one!

Champions are surprised! One finally figured out that the baby black bear she has been seeing in the same tree every time she passes is, after all, a plastic bag brought up there by the wind and held in brushy entanglement. It was nice thinking it was a bear. The first trip to town in a month found 20 miles of surprises—land being cleared, new houses popping up. Along the way Christmas decorations offer bright fanciful fun with fat snowmen wobbling in the wind and candy canes from here to yonder. In a year of surprises, hopes are that Christmas surprises will be sweet ones. We have our families and our friends and we will all be celebrating, even if in different places together. Peace on Earth, good will toward men from Champion—Looking on the Bright Side!


December 16, 2020

CHAMPION—December 14, 2020



A Champion couple, Freemans, who call themselves Still Hillbillies live down in McKinney, Texas, but they never forget the old home place. Suzie says, “I’ll never change. Never had a credit card, cable TV, cell phone, face-book or a computer and I’ve made it over 73 years.” She and Wes celebrated 55 years of marriage in November. They both have health problems and she said there is a great deal of Covid in her family and in the area where they live. Still, she is optimistic for a better year ahead, and once again, shared her sweet holiday art work in the mail. See an example in the Meeting Room at the Historic Emporium in Downtown Champion.

Royce and Jody Henson celebrated 62 (sixty-two!) years of marriage on December 13th. Chances are they met in Champion or in the general neighborhood sometime before 1958. Jody says, “We are fine and staying at home. Guess that’s why we’re fine!” She is a ‘people person’ wondering if we are missing people as much as she is. Plans are to meet up with them at the Champion School Reunion on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend in 2021. It will be a glad reunion day for everyone when we can gather again in big happy bunches.

Emily’s dear old Dad is a garlic lover. He likes it in everything and even likes it pickled. One of his kin folks raised that big variety called Elephant Garlic, and he fertilized it with elephant poo that he was able to get from the zoo. It was big—not like the tiny vegetables a Champion is reported to have harvested after using miniature donkey poo for fertilizer. One Old Champion prefers horse manure for her garden, but she is no longer able to double shovel. Alas!

Once again, we sing the praises of the Douglas County road crew. Those gentlemen keep our country lanes in good shape around the twists and turns over the hills and over the creeks. That fancy articulated brush hog has been up and down Cold Springs Road lately and doing a fine job of it. It looks ragged now, but spring will be wonderful for the work they are doing now. Just now, however, someone abandons a fairly neat little plastic bag of trash on that straight stretch of sandy road just south of Orville’s barn. Solid waste management has always been an issue in Douglas County. People do not seem to know what to do with their refuse or they lost it inadvertently or they just have not been taught good citizenship. It will be a Champion who picks it up.

It was a beautiful snowy Sunday with flakes falling fast, first fine and wet, then slowly and softly, then fast again and fluffy, all falling straight down and hardly any sticking. It was a good day for looking out all the windows and for watching the Kansas City Chiefs in another exciting victory. When asked, “Was there anything, other than the game, on television or on the internet today that made you feel better about anything?” the Old Champion replied, “No. Nothing much is going to change. Things will not get appreciably better; maybe they will just stop getting worse. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it is a long, long tunnel.” In a year when our vocabulary has been augmented by words like kakistocracy, crumbletonians, and snollygoster, we are cautioned and enlightened by Woody Guthrie’s great “Mean Talking Blues.” He made the polka dots hate the stripes. Hopes are that the Mean Season is over and we can mend the beautiful fabric of our democracy with our good hearts meeting the good hearts of our neighbors. We all want the same thing. This week we remember the great Charlie Pride and “On the Wings of a Dove.” Champion! Looking on the Bright Side!


December 9, 2020

CHAMPION–December 7, 2020


Lonnie Krider Memorial Drive runs right through Downtown Champion. Lonnie said his birthday was three days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He did not think he caused it, but as he grew up he thought about it when his birthday rolled around. He was a farmer, a teacher, and advisor and a wonderful musician of the bluegrass variety. He was a fan of Doyle Lawson and acapella gospel was his forte. He passed away in 2009, leaving a legacy of farmers, teachers, advisors and musicians and more. He would be 79 this year and it has been 79 years since Pearl Harbor, where we lost 2,403 lives in one day. We lose about that many people every day now, many of them Veterans of the War that America joined following that attack. They had the support of every American as they fought. This battle is just as serious, even more deadly, and we are all in it together right here on our own soil. We hear the type-setter at the Herald is still recovering from a hard Thanksgiving week with the Covid, “It does a number on you.” To all those convalescing, give yourselves plenty of time to heal.

Early frosty mornings are a sight in Champion. The sunlight races across the valley floor shifting silver sparkles to soft shades of summer green. Birds are busy out every window. Yard dogs are getting a rest with fewer deer hunters touring country lanes. Some days the only vehicle to trundle by is the mail truck. What a service! Newspapers, Christmas cards and letters from grandchildren get mixed in with the bills, junk mail and catalogues. One day is much like another but for the possibility of something special in the mail. One of Winthrop’s town folks sang that Montgomery Ward sent him a bathtub and a cross-cut saw on the Wells Fargo Wagon. Wells Fargo does other things these days and we now have the USPS. We appreciate our letter carriers keeping us connected, our grocers keeping us fed, our truckers keeping us supplied, our first responders and health care workers keeping us safe, and many others, especially our teachers and school staff doing the remarkable job of educating our children in difficult times. Thank you all!

How wonderful it is to think we are out of ‘The Mean Season’ that has been the mark National politics in these very recent years. Our dearest hope is that polka dots and stripes can join to mend the tattered garment of our democracy.

Old Burl Ives has been outdone by The General himself. “Oh, by golly, have a holly jolly Christmas this year!” Friends laughed remembering a warm, sultry evening summer before last when Dennis and his friend, banjo Dave, kicked off “Jingle Bells” to the delight of those at the Vanzant Bluegrass Jam. In the middle of a heat wave and the tick-picking and hay making, it seemed like a long time until Christmas. Now, it is fast upon us, and one unlike any most of us have seen. The joy of the season will triumph. The charming Champion Spouse seems to keep her name on both the naughty and nice lists, and that is just part of what makes her special in the special part of the world. We are given to believe that she is a big Kansas City Chiefs fan. She must really be enjoying these days.

Among art supplies shared by Barbara Anderson a couple of years ago were some photographs of old barns and old store buildings, some of her favorite subjects to paint. One photo is of the Old Champion Store, taken somewhere around the turn of the century. Linda Clark is ascending the steps on the east side of the building. Kenneth and Wayne Anderson are sharing the bus seat on the porch, and stepping up on the porch from the west, obscured slightly by the waving flag, looks like Lonnie Krider. It was just another typical, perfect day. The building has changed, but the essence of the place is very much the same—picturesque, peaceful, and pleasant. Champion! Looking on the Bright Side!


November 30, 2020

CHAMPION—November 30, 2020


Last Thursday afternoon an Old Champion leaned back in his chair, smiled up toward the ceiling, lacing his fingers loosely over the little round bread basket that has in time grown up on what used to be called his abs.  “Well,” he said, “I sure do feel a whole lot more like I do now than I did a while ago.”  (In truth, it sounded more like “shore do” and “a wholla go.”)  He went on to say that if he always felt like this, the price of groceries would not be anything at all.  Thanksgiving dinner for two old folks netted leftovers clear through Monday and beyond.  In many places all over the country the traditional banquet was celebrated in clusters of two.  Some fortunate families were able to gather in bigger lots.  In Champion, Kriders, Wisemans, Watts and Clines, and perhaps others of that clan were fortunate to be able to spend the day feasting together.  Some of The General’s brood visited the nest over in Vanzant for biscuits and gravy and, doubtlessly, for old family stories going back generations.  If there is one thing that Covid-19 has taught us, it is that family and dear friends are the most precious things we have.  Until we can safely hug the stuffing out of each other again, we will have to keep the phone lines, internet, and post office humming with our declarations of love and concern and, most importantly, those old family stories that tell us who we are and how we got here.

Esther Wrinkles’ Christmas cactus

A regular patron of the Historic Emporium in Downtown Champion hails from down on the Bryant and celebrates his 75th birthday on the full November Beaver Moon and this one is special for having 85% of the visible surface  darken at 3:42 a.m., central time, as a result of the last penumbral eclipse of the year.  Whether Mr. Birthday was awake to see that special sight, we hope he knows he is as special to the Champion as a rare full moon is to the heavens.  There is a wonderful story about “…..that big old yellow moon a hangin up there, and God’s sweet lanterns a hangin in the sky.”  It involves a still that produced something akin to ‘honeydew vine water.’  And then there was the bear.   That good neighbor from down on the Bryant, has plenty of stories to tell, including that one about how the 7th Calvary’s mascot mule got shot up in Vietnam and the one about Waterhole Ike, the boar hog that got his Social Security card and food stamps.  It is a true story.  Champions hope it was a happy 75th birthday for one of it favorite story tellers.

Shirley Emerson is one of those charming ladies who used to visit Champion on behalf of the Douglas County Health Department to help us regulate our blood pressure and general health.  It was a great amenity to the community and we miss their monthly visits since the pandemic has been on us.  Shirley still checks in on her favorites, in particular those whom she deems may not take care of themselves as well as they should.  Part of taking care of ourselves is staying positive.  As Mr. Python said, “If life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten, and that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.”  Do as much of that as you can and tell those old family stories like Champions—Looking on the Bright Side!


November 16, 2020

CHAMPION—November 16, 2020


By way of a disclaimer, it is not necessarily the case that every Champion agrees with the observations and opinions as proffered in The Champion News. However, every Champion who has the good fortune to see an eagle light in a big dead tree up on WW Highway shares the joy and excitement. That includes the Cowboy, the Prominent Champion, the Essential Shop Keeper, Deward’s Granddaughter and numerous others. Deward’s daughter, Marian Conradi, who lived on the old home place, was a great appreciator of the eagle. Her note cards most often featured eagle pictures and she referenced the link of the great bird with patriotism. From her hill top vantage point she must have often seen a local resident pair and those migrating this time of the year. Her daughter, now on the old home place, the Henson Centennial Farm, sees them there occasionally and reported seeing a young one and one with a white head and tail on Friday. “Beautiful!” she said. Indeed!

The General was a little late getting to Champion on a recent Wednesday. He sent a message that he had an appointment at 9 am to get a new muffler and tailpipe. This prompted some Champions to ask if the muffler was for himself or for his truck. Then they suggested that when he arrived, they might require him to turn around for an inspection. By and by they moved on to other topics and let that opportunity for levity pass. Levity had its place however, when The General recalled that there was a day when a person might cough in order to disguise that funny noise that happens sometimes when digestive gases escape the human body. These days it is the cough that is to be disguised, but the method in reverse is not nearly as voluntary or predictable.

A local gardener, a while back, was said to have used fertilizer provided by miniature donkeys. That year all his produce was miniature with little bitty potatoes and tomatoes. Don Bishop reported a dismal harvest from his garden this year—small potatoes. He did not say what kind of fertilizer he used, but he said if he had a couple of big ones in addition, he might have enough sweet potatoes for a mess. There is a big doe with three fawns routinely patrolling and feasting upon his plantings. He would put her in his freezer but for Reba, who is not a fan of venison. Maybe the mama deer will wander onto neighboring property and be harvested by some hunter. A fat doe makes good eating. The season has commenced with much wind and rain, thunder and lightning. The harvest will be appreciated for the extreme conditions as much as for the kill and the resulting good food. Traffic has increased on country lanes so much as to exhaust vigilant yard dogs. Champions wish all the hunters good luck and a safe chase.

Political discourse swirls around ancient wood stoves, café tables and over fences and the internet. A room can be squelched to a sudden silence at the arrival of someone perceived to hold unpopular (other) beliefs. Tension is so high as to vilify the nonconformist. Not since Sir Walter Scot introduced the term in 1816, has the cold shoulder been turned with such conviction. Real power, a prominent figure has declared, is fear. The fear of change and of altering values, the fear of losing something and of people with nothing getting something are some of the general fears that help drive the divisiveness. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said another prominent figure in 1933. Someone said that courage is not not being afraid but doing what needs to be done even when you are afraid. Champions are courageous, though some are pleased to say we don’t know what we are talking about.

Home is the best thing there is according to Jerry Wagner. He is pleased to be spending these days with the Fair Lena. He admits not playing his fiddle like he should. There is nothing wrong with his playing; he just does not do it as often as he ought. Otherwise, he says they are doing fine, and he, like all of us, is looking forward to the time when we can all get together again. One of his tunes is “I wonder how the old folks are at home.” The Christmas cactus that Esther Wrinkles shared a decade ago is blooming mightily, making us remember her and the many old folks who have gone on to the ‘better home.’ We will all get there eventually. Champions! Looking on the Bright Side!


November 10, 2020

CHAMPION—November 3, 2020


Halloween in Champion was spooky! It started under what might be called a ‘buttermilk sky.’ The whole expanse of the bright blue western view was curdled with golden bottomed wispy white cotton ball clouds erupting in a fountain of color from behind the hill over toward the Henson Centennial Farm. It was brilliant, explosive, but quiet–still and quiet. The parade of Waterhole Ike and Elvis impersonators, gypsies, hula girls, mummies, zombies and pirates happily did not appear. There were no trick and no treats, just a long procession of precious memories of dear spirits now rambling with the blessed. Obituaries occupy a substantial part of most newspapers and old people almost always look there first. What we learn about people after they are gone from us sometimes surprise us. Must we lose someone close to us, someone important to us in order to take seriously our vulnerability? Someone laughed and said, “If you want to clear a room fast, just cough.” We might ride that cavalier air all the way to our coffin. If you are sick, stay home.

Music has healing properties best applied live, but any way you can get it is good. Choose your favorite kind and blast it when you need your heart lifted. Banjo picking and hot fiddling may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but one Old Champion takes it as a tonic to get up and get with it. As old folks break up housekeeping or just spend their quarantine time in house cleaning they are faced with the mountains of their accumulated stuff. Recent good rains have not significantly reduced the fire hazard, so take care in your blazing decluttering, while you relieve your heirs of the onerous burden of disposing of your heaps and piles and boxes of papers and junk.

Anxiety over the election, over the pandemic and our losses, over social issues and over the prospect of a hard winter ahead adds up a lot of anxiety and it is all bipartisan anxiety. Everyone feels it. We are all in it together. Our individual life experiences have shaped us all differently and as widely divergent as our points of view may be, it is understood that everyone wants what is best for the Nation…for everyone…all 331 million of us. The intensity of rancor and vitriol of recent days has been overwhelming. What a great relief it will be when we can lay those things aside finally. Then we can begin to work together to address all those other important issues. We may not all be drinking that free bubble up and eating that rainbow stew. It may be cornbread, buttermilk and good old turnip greens, but we will all be grateful to come to the table—still friends and neighbors and kin folks.

We pause in the midst of the election hoopla to acknowledge Veterans’ Day–November 11th. The freedom and security that we are able to enjoy here in the United States of America comes to us through the sacrifice and service of our men and women in uniform. Thank you. There are currently about 1.3 million active duty personnel and 800,000 reserve forces. We have about 17 million Veterans in the Country and more than 1000 of them live here in Douglas County. Many of them are Vietnam era Veterans. They came home to a Nation in turmoil and the recognition they deserved was long delayed. The Nation seems to be in turmoil again and hopes are that our courageous Veterans will help us all to heal and unite like Champions—Looking on the Bright Side!