Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Kansas June 27, 1946

In past posts I have documented the family connection with Kansas. This post moves us ahead to the 1940's. My Dad, John G. Sutor is writing from Kansas back to his mother in Illinois. He has gone to Kansas to assist my Grandfather John J. Sutor with the wheat harvest. That year my Dad would be 17 and my Grandfather would be 39 at the time of the letter. I'm sure it was part of the process of training the next generation of farmer a lesson in hard work. Here is the letter.

There are a few things to note. In the last two days he notes they have worked twelve and a half hours one day and eleven and a half hours on the day he wrote the letter. The wheat on one field was too green so they moved west to Earl Grecian's farm. It is over 70 years later and Ken Grecian now farms some of our family's ground in Kansas. In a world where too often we don't know or care about our neighbors it is important to note in rural America this is more often the case. Families are neighbors or business partners for generations. Ken is near retirement now and I suspect that Earl was his most likely his grandfather. When you get to the end Dad talks about driving the Cat 30. He is talking about a Caterpillar Tractor Model 30. Rudy and I don't know who he is has been operating the Cat 60. A final note before I move on. Note my Dad signs the note "Sonny Boy". When you and your father are both named John it was a quick way to determine who you were talking to or about. I remember many times in my youth my Father being referred to as Sonny.

The Cat 30.

The Cat 60.

This is what wheat harvest would have looked like.

One man would now do the work that two did in those days with a much larger machine that harvests many times faster.

In closing it is in some ways sad the amount of history we are losing. Letters like this one provide insight into the lives of our parents and grandparents. We just don't write letters now and if we do no one seems to keep them.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Cattle Business

In a blog post dated July 12, 2013 I wrote about my great grandfather John J. Sutor, Sr. and his brother Henry T. Sutor and Martin Sutor. I want to add some detail to that story based on a recently discovered letter. First a little background. Martin Sutor was born on September 3, 1854 in Haldimand County Ontario Canada and Henry T. Sutor was born on March 19, 1861 in Galesburg, Illinois. The Knox College directory indicates Henry attended there for the 1879- 1880 school year. It appears that after the end of the 1880 school year at Knox he and Martin went to Kansas to seek their own way on the American prairie. They became farmers and cattle ranchers. We knew that the two brothers in Kansas shipped cattle back to Illinois to be corn fed and sold in the Chicago market. We don't know when that started but we do know in 1901 it was happening. Since the letter seems routine it is reasonable to assume that this was not the first time they had sent cattle east.

I put an image of the envelope in for a couple of reasons. First, the top image is the front. Note the postmark of Fairbury, Illinois. The letter was mailed from Zurich, Kansas on November 11, 1901. It was apparently mistakenly routed to Fairbury instead of Wataga. The image of the back of the envelope was interesting because it is stamped November 14, 1901 indicating that was when the letter was received in Wataga. I had not seen an envelop stamped indicating when it was received.

Martin indicates to his brother John they are leaving Kansas on Tuesday, November 12, 1901 with three 36 foot cars holding a total of 75 head of cattle. They will take a short lay over in Kansas City to rest the cattle and expect to arrive in Wataga on Thursday. It raises the question. Would John be surprised? The letter was mailed on the 11th with the expectation it would arrive on time before the cattle did on Thursday. Since the letter took an unexpected side trip to Fairbury it arrived the same day as the cattle. The Sutor farm in the Wataga area was about 2 miles by road from the train tracks and possible siding. It would require several men to drive the cattle from Wataga to the farm. It seems maybe things wouldn't have gone as smoothly as expected. There were other issues to be considered. John had married Emma Parsons on November 22, 1900. She gave birth to their first son Martin Parsons Sutor on November 21, 1901. So the cattle are coming to the farm and Emma is great with child. 

So we know that in 1901 the Sutor Brothers in Kansas and Illinois were involved in shipping cattle from the great plains of Kansas to the fertile corn country of Illinois to be grain fed and eventually shipped to and sold through the Chicago Stock Yards. A short letter but a vital piece of family history. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


Last night Carol and I put up our Christmas tree and decorated it. She is very familiar with my bah humbug attitude toward Christmas. She asked why I hated Christmas. I thought about how to answer that as I was walking Rose and Lily this morning. You can do a lot of thinking when you are on a long walk.

I don't hate Christmas it is more that I am disappointed in what Christmas has become. It seems to be the one holiday where the fullness of our excess is on display. When I was young we spent Thanksgiving as a family. The only people who had to work were folks like police, firemen, prison guards and hospital workers. All the stores were closed so that everyone could spend the day with their family and reflect on how thankful they were for what they had. Now it seems that we spend less time being thankful for what we have and more time trying to figure out what else we want. I'm not talking about things like a more inclusive society or peace with others. It's about how much more crap we can stuff into our homes. Maybe we have so much we need a storage unit for the excess. We rush through our Thanksgiving meal so we can go out shopping or get on line and buy stuff. Can't miss out on those deals. Can't we take a day and be thankful for what and who we have in our lives?

It seems to me that modern Christians want to celebrate the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus while they ignore everything he tried to teach them about how to live. Pastors stand behind the pulpit and preach that if you give more money to them you will be rewarded with more money for yourself. The so called prosperity doctrine. The first part is true. If you give them more money they will have more. Then they claim to need things like expensive jet planes so they can reach more sinners. It seems the logic they use has seeped into our politics. If you don't have money, a nice house and car it must be your fault. You are doing something God doesn't like. It couldn't possibly be anything else. So many in politics believe you are poor because you are a sinner, or of poor character, or just plain lazy. None of those may have any basis in reality. Many Christians wear those wrist bands that say WWJD. What Would Jesus Do. It appears for many the answer is that Jesus wouldn't give a shit about you. They got theirs because of their faith and you didn't get anything because you don't have enough faith. It is like those who claim to heal by faith. They lay hands on you and pray for your healing. At the end of the prayer they say that your faith has made you whole. You die a week later from that cancer that was eating you up just like the doctor said would happen. The faith healer says that you died because you didn't have enough faith to claim the healing God had for you.

So simply put my Christmas problem is twofold. We lack thankfulness for what we have while we shamelessly pursue more stuff. We celebrate the birth of Jesus while we spend our time ignoring all the deeds we should be doing that would make us true followers of Christ. Christmas has his name but it has lost his spirit.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Mystery of History

The picture above is one of hundreds I'm working through in totes of family history. I know her name. The back of the picture says she is Margarette Morton of Fairbury, Illinois. A search on Ancestry indicates she was born in Ireland on January 18, 1855 and died on September 25, 1929 in Fairbury, Illinois. She was the daughter of Kathryn Lytle and Edward Morton. There begins my questions. My great great grandfather John Sutor was married to Martha Lytle and emigrated to the United States from Ireland. Was Kathryn Lytle related to Martha Lytle? I can think of no other reason for this picture to be included with all the other family pictures. Why have a picture saved of someone you don't know? She will, for now, remain a mystery.

The two little girls pictured above are even more of a mystery to me. Genevieve Lucy McKenzie was born on July 3, 1896 and died on April 25, 1978. Her sister Gail McKenzie was born on November 12, 1897 and died on April 23, 1976.  It appears from records in 1900 they lived on North Prairie Street in Galesburg. My great grandparents John and Emma were married in 1900. John would have been living on the family farm near Wataga and to the best of my knowledge Emma would have lived on her family's farm near Henderson. In this case I can find no possible common relative. Was Emma a friend of their mother from the time she attended Knox College in the 1880's? It is now and perhaps forever a mystery how this picture ended up in one of the totes. In checking on Ancestry the same picture is available and ensures I am accurate with the birth and death dates of both individuals.

I have in the past advocated for everyone to take a few moments to identify individuals in the pictures they have. It is clear that more than that is actually required. If possible some context for the picture. How do you know them? Why was the picture taken? Why do you have a copy? As you can see, sometimes these pictures survive and we are left with mystery.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


Recently four United States soldiers were killed in Niger. President Trump made a big deal out of saying he personally calls family members of those killed in action. Okay, that is probably a good thing to do. Difficult, to be sure, but an empathetic effort by our current President. The call to one family went awry somehow. The widow of the fallen soldier was offended by what the President said and how he expressed his sorrow at her husband's untimely passing. I listened to the President's Chief of Staff, John Kelly explain what the President was trying to say. I think the way it was stated by Mr. Kelly most likely would have been acceptable to this soldier's widow. Is that how it was communicated by the President? I am skeptical. He is not known for being empathetic and in my opinion has trouble communicating emotional messages in an acceptable manner. I have never had to do what the President did. I have not had to talk to a grieving pregnant widow about the ultimate sacrifice made by her husband. My experience I think is similar enough to allow some criticism of what the President did. Part of my job working in a prison was to verify the death of someone in an inmate's immediate family. Once that verification had been accomplished it was my responsibility to notify the inmate. I was going out to the housing unit and calling a man down to the office to tell him that his son, mother, father, daughter, or wife had died. No matter how bad my day had been I was acutely aware that his was going to be worse. He often was locked up hundreds of miles away from someone close to him. Someone he thought would be there when he was released. Someone he may have been depending on to help him transition from prison to the free world. Now, that support is gone. How do you tell someone that the woman who raised them was dead? Or their child had perished. I always tried to be brief. "I'm sorry to have to tell you that your mother passed away earlier today." It isn't just the words. It is the tone of voice. The sincerity of the delivery. Many times it was an inmate I did not know. I had almost no background information that would clue me as to how he might react. It was like putting on a blindfold and running into a mine field. You hoped that nothing went horribly wrong. Sometimes, even with your best effort, the result was not what you had hoped. Something in the way it was said or in what they heard didn't sit well. What do you do?

Apologize. It is what the President should have done. Don't try to claim you were right. Don't say the person on the other side is attacking you and trying to make you look bad. The only thing the President should have said was something along these lines. "I called the widow of .... to express my personal sorrow at the loss of her husband in combat and express the gratitude of the nation at the sacrifice her family has made for our safety and freedom. It was not my intent to in any way add to her pain in this time of loss. I was clearly unable to express my sorrow in an appropriate manner and for that I am truly sorry." In cases like this one it doesn't matter what you said or how you said it in your mind. What matters is how the widow heard it. How it made her feel. Attempting to defend what happened only increases her pain and makes you sound like an inconsiderate asshole. Some arguments you can win. Arguments with widows of fallen soldiers is not a winnable argument. Best just to sincerely apologize and perhaps vow to do better the next time. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Who Killed It?

What is "it"? The it I'm referring to is empathy. When did the situation of our fellow human beings stop being a concern for too many of us? How did it become an us versus them world? I suppose part of getting older is looking back on a past that perhaps never existed in reality. As an older man I look back with fondness on how I think the world used to be. Were we kinder back then? Is the stark and shameful truth something different?

My first thought is that the world has gotten more cruel. Why? How? In my youth if you wanted to call someone out about their conduct, their alleged character flaws, or anything else it was done in person. You had to look them in the eye and say what you thought they needed to hear. You would get feedback in their body language. If you went to far maybe that body language included a well placed punch where those words exited your body. You could see the harm your words were doing. The pain they caused. The anger, tears, frustration were apparent. Now it is different. We communicate on line. We go to Facebook and someone states an opinion we don't see as valid or accurate. We, in many cases, don't know who they are or where they are from. So, emboldened by the fact they are most likely in some distant location, we determine there is no risk to being an asshole. We call them names. We question their intelligence. We make reference to the legitimacy of their birth. We suggest things they should do to themselves with their sex organs. That they should learn to read, or think or that they are just too stupid to live. It may be the only time we ever interact with that person. What do we care if it hurts their feelings? They mean nothing to us. They are just a name or a avatar on a computer screen.

What does that have to do with anything? It seems to me that since it has become so easy to do in the virtual world of our computers it has bled over into our everyday lives. It is and always has been my belief that the world around me is not real to anyone but me. No one else has my experiences. Has my eyes. Has my brain. Hears sounds with my ears. Perception is reality. So your perception is going to be different from mine and therefore your reality is different than the one I experience. When we determine cruelty is acceptable in the virtual world of Facebook or Snapchat or any of a hundred other social media programs it will bleed over into our lives outside those programs. Thoughts become actions, actions become a pattern or conduct, then a habit. We don't realize that slowly over a period of months or years we have killed empathy. I can only see your point of view if you agree with me. Anything that clashes with my reality must be wrong. Since I have lost empathy in the virtual world I cannot summon it in the real world.

What can we do? Maybe it is time to leave social media on the scrapheap of history. Since we are unlikely to do so perhaps this is a better answer. Before you post something snarky or cruel ask yourself a question or two. First question. Would I say this if this person were standing in front of me right now? Second question. How would I feel if they said to me what I am about to say to them? The answer is to bring empathy back to life. Perhaps I'm a dreamer. I want to perceive the world has a kinder and more gentle place. Manners and courtesy. Are they too much to ask for?

Thursday, October 12, 2017


It may come as a shock to many, especially my Mom who reads this blog, that I am a pimp. I have several hookers and they are proud to work with me. The whole experience started about 2011 on a website called RantsfromMommyland.com. The two ladies who still run the site looked around and saw other mothers who could not afford Christmas gifts for themselves and their children. You know moms always think about their kids first. These two ladies decided to be the go betweens for the mothers who needed help providing Christmas for their children and mothers who had some extra and wanted to help. A mom in need would send in her information and it would be provided to a mother who wanted to help. It was referred to as the hooker project. They were hooking these two groups of mothers up to fill a need. It was a big success and the next year even more moms wanted to participate as givers. As with any project things can get out of hand. The ladies trying to run the project were just overwhelmed with the numbers of moms who wanted to be involved.

One of the ladies I worked with and I participated in the project during these early years. I don't normally talk about charity work because it is best done quietly. When these ladies stopped doing the project the lady I worked with and I decided to continue and do our own thing. Over the ensuing years other women have wanted to get involved and the number of hookers has grown. We do a project or two a year depending on our finances and the need of the person we are helping. While the group isn't large I have not met all the hookers. I remain the sole pimp involved. The only reason I am writing about this today is to encourage anyone who reads to get involved in some way. Everyone knows someone who has a need. Who is desperate for something as small as a kind word or encouragement. Who could use a few groceries to get them through a tough spot. A gas card so they can get to work or a doctor appointment. If the need is big try to get a group together. Sometimes we give to someone that no one in the group knows on a personal level. The recipient almost never knows who provided the gifts other than a pimp and some hookers. We don't do it for acknowledgement from them we do it because it needs to be done. The world is harsh, sometimes even cruel. Somewhere along the line we seem to have forgotten that each of us has a responsibility to reach out to our fellow human beings. To pick them up, brush the dust off and let them know that there is kindness and good in this world. I hope each of you will look out in your corner of the world and find someone you can help.