Not Cowed By the Heat

I was back up in Perry County today to photograph Viola “Mietz” Theiss, former Postmaster of the Wittenberg Post Office. Because I have pictures of the town before it washed away in the 1973 and 1993 floods, I’m working on a project with the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum to shoot current photos to match up with the ones I shot in the late 60s. At the very least, there will be an exhibit of the photos at the museum, and I’ve been invited to speak about how to do regional photography at a conference next year. We’re working hard to see if I can turn the images into a book, too.

Mietz, and her daughter, Kathy Schoenherr, were a lot of fun. We drove out to Tower Rock, Wittenberg, her old homestead and the site of the train depot where she had to have northbound and southbound mail ready to meet the trains in the morning and the afternoon. We also spent some time at the old Post Office, one of only two buildings still standing in the village.

Fawns along the road

One of the high points of the day was when we rounded a curve and spotted two fawns, not much bigger than large dogs on the side of the road. I stopped the car immediately to keep from spooking them. They were more curious than afraid. They slowly approached us with their ears high in the air. I didn’t want to roll down the window, so I shot this through the windshield. They were a little far off to get a good shot. After about a minute, their mother came walking across the road. She was a little more cautious than the fawns, but she took plenty of time herding her charges off into the bushes. I rolled the car forward a few feet and the crunching gravel caused them to bolt away.

David Holley hopes to beat the odds

The other high point was when David Holley came walking by. He owns the Post Office and lives in the only other building in Wittenberg. He’s the fellow featured in my video about the last train robbery in Missouri. Interestingly enough, Mietz said her husband told stories about seeing the aftermath of the shootout that ended the caper.

Townsfolk told me that David had been having a tough time lately, so I was really happy to see him. “I’m on my third round of chemo,” he said. “I’m hoping I’m in the 60% that makes it, but I haven’t had a whole lot of luck in my life,” he added, matter of factly.”

Same old story-teller

He’s lost a lot of weight and his hair has turned greyer, but he’s still the same old story-teller with the same old twinkle in his eye. When I asked him how high the water had gotten in his house, he said that it reached about three feet in the basement during one stretch: high enough that they were cut off from the main road and had to use a canoe to get home.

Then, he launched into a typical David story about the Flood of 1993 and having to put his toddler daughter in the canoe in the middle of the night to pick up his wife when she got off work. The water was high enough to to just about reach the ceiling in the post office, he said, putting the canoe into the treetops. “I’d give my daughter a lantern to light my way through the trees, and we’d start out fine. Then, about halfway there, she’d think she was a coon hunter or something and start shining the light up into the trees, into the air and everywhere but where we were supposed to be going. She thought it was great fun to have me run into a tree.”

It’s hot. How hot is it?

It’s hot enough that I thought about joining these cows in an algae-covered pond on our way out of Wittenberg. This picture posed some interesting technical challenges. The cows – no fools – were in deep shade. The bulk of the pond was in bright sunlight. I like cows better than algae, so I cheated the exposure toward the cows, which caused me to lose the bright green algae in the foreground.

The head index has been in the 105-108 degree range. I come home from shooting with my shirt so wet you can wring water out of it.

I went over to Wife Lila’s brother’s house the other night for dinner with him, Dee and Wyatt. John offered me an ice-cold beer and I had to turn him down. “I’m so thirsty that you’d have to get me a designated driver to get me home. If I stick to ice tea, the worst thing that could happen is that I’d get arrested for indecent exposure if I have to stop on the side of the road.”

It was a good choice. I emptied three giant glasses of tea and sloshed all the way home.

25 Replies to “Not Cowed By the Heat”

  1. Thanks for all the pictures and stories about Wittenberg. It brings back alot of memories. I have been in the Post Office many times when I was small
    Thanks again!

  2. Ooh, boy. Cows vs algae would be a tough choice for me. But algae look a lot prettier close up, maybe seen through a good phase-contrast microscope.

    I don’t suppose you got the identity of either the breed of cows (doesn’t look like Holsteins) or the species of algae. At least you got us the identity of a couple of interesting humans.

    1. John,

      My ability to identify flora and fauna is limited. I divide the world into two groups: things I can eat and things that can eat me.

      Well, I guess there is a subdivision: those things that would really hurt if it stepped on my foot.

  3. I think your photo of Dvid Holley is one of the all time great “character” shots! What a WONDERFUL picture of a man, a life, and an era.

  4. By the way, I think the cows are Charolais (pronounced Shar lay). My father-in-law use to raise them and they are unique in their white coloring.

    1. Ah, yes. I’ve heard of that breed, but don’t know where I could find any to look at here in Michigan. Wikipedia says they’re more popular in the south. In case Ken is thinking about getting that sample of surface water, he might be interested to know that says, “Charolais while not the most docile of breeds are gentle natured.”

  5. Ken, I sure hope your Perry County material becomes a book. My mother was born and raised there so I have lots of connections there and great memories.

    Have you had a chance to hear my son’s CD when you have been at the museum? Have Carla play it for you. “Be Still My Soul” is the name of it. He plays a mountain dulcimer but not in your typical single note fashion.

    I am headed to the Cape area in a couple of weeks and I hope you chase that humid heat away before I arrive!!

    1. I picked up a copy, but haven’t had time to listen to it. I’m looking forward to hearing it.

      I’m rolling up my tent on Friday and headed back to FL for some cooler weather. At least my sweat doesn’t sizzle when it hits the sidewalk back there.

  6. I would buy your books, no matter what town you were photographing, Ken! I have a big, lovely coffee table, and a collection of Steinhoff albums would dress it up very nicely! I can hear the oooh’s and aaah’s of my guests now!

  7. From the picture of cows in a pond covered with green?? I would guess the plant is not an algae but look like a species of duckweed…

    1. Shouldn’t be hard to tell. All we need to do is get Ken to wade out there, take a sample of water from the surface, pour it in a white enamel tray, and then take a close-up photo of it for us. I’ll bet that’s just the sort of excuse that he was looking for! (He doesn’t really need the camera, but I’ll bet the chances of getting him to do it without the photo opportunity are about zero, which may not be extremely different from the chance of getting him to do it WITH camera.)

    2. I think you may be correct in your theory about the duckweed.

      On the other hand, I drove by there today and saw no cows present. On the off chance that whatever that green stuff is eats cows and that’s why they were absent, I am not going to take The Spokesrider’s advice to wade out for a water sample.

      (The two fawns were out again today. They were a lot more skittish this time. Maybe wisdom comes with age. That’s why I’m not getting the water sample out of the cow-eating pond,)

  8. Thank you for the piece on Mietz Theiss and Dave. For me, Mietz represents everything that I love about the people of east Perry County, MO: humility, beauty, intelligence, a sense of pride about her family and regional roots, and a strength of character that reflects beautifully in her face. We all wish Dave comfort, peace, and health. Once again, he is a person who exemplifies the spirit of the great river he lives on with his strength, steadinesss, and independence. Thanks, Ken.

  9. Great articles and photos. Looking forward to the book, hope it works out.
    My husband is one of the former residents of the town.

  10. My name is Kristie Freeman and David Holley is my stepdad. I cannot tell you how proud I am to have seen this post, the pictures and the awesome comments about his character. He is such a funny, sweet guy who loves to meet new people and will help anyone who might need something.

    When I was a kid growing up in Wittenberg, it was a love/hate relationship. There are so many things I loved doing in the country and now cherish the simplicity of my days and time with my family. At the same time, I would dream of living in a big city with lots of people around and always having something to do. Now that I live near St. Louis and have my own family, many times I think I should go back to simplicity and nice, down-to-earth people.

    Your posts and pictures are wonderful and I am excited to continue following your work.

    1. Kristie,
      David is a special person and his wife (your mother?)is equally cool. I stopped by to drop off some pictures and met her for the first time recently. She was exceedingly gracious. I have some nice photos of her that’ll be running one of these days.

  11. My name is Felicia Holley. David was my favorite Uncle . Seeing this post has made me proud of him. He always told me stories. But I never thought I would be able to read about him on the internet. But as an adult it makes me feel like I’m doing research on a historical icon. I miss you telling me stories. But I remember the one’s you told me. You are greatly missed and never forgotten. I love you and save a spot for me.

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