JUST THIS SIDE OF THE 99TH MERIDIAN
The road to Willowdale is not flat, nor is it on a major highway. In fact, it's off the side of a side road.
If you're headed to Willowdale, you likely have a reason for going. These days, Willowdale is a quiet place, even a dying, or ghost, town according to the Hutchinson News (see http://www.hutchnews.com/news/20170730/faith-still-strong-in-ghost-town-of-willowdale.)
My grandmother, Catherine (Tatro) Vondracek was born and raised in the Willowdale area. Her mother, Mary (Cunningham) Tatro is buried there, along with several other relatives.
Although she has been gone for almost 20 years, her voice still echoes through an oral history interview I completed with her in 1990. So, here are some of my grandmother's memories, growing up on a farm near Willowdale. The words are hers, unedited.
'I was just seven when my mother died. There was a flu epidemic. She was going to have a baby and it died. Inside of her. Of course, she had the flu along with that. After my mother died, we was living with our grandparents. My mother died in February and my grandmother died in September (1920) after that my father got married again, so that there'd be somebody to take care of the kids.'
'In Willowdale, I boarded with some people by the name of Arensdorf. After my father married his second wife, we lived on a farm 2 ½ miles northwest of Willowdale. We'd walk to school and home of an evening. At that time, our school didn't serve meals. You took your dinner in a little dinner bucket. The main thing at Willowdale was the ball games"baseball. I could run like a deer then, but I do good to walk now.'
'The school has been torn down, and there's nothing left but the church. You would think that it would have died down"the church also. A year ago in May (1989) the church was full. You could hardly find a seat. The land went from father to son. That's the way they do it there. Most of them are Germans, and they're old fashioned Germans"pass the land on to the next one.'
My grandmother's father, Henry Tatro, became ill when she was about 12 or 13, and her school career soon ended.
'Even when my dad got well he was weak and he still needed somebody there. After you miss a whole year of school, it's hard to catch up. Then, I didn't want to go back. They should have made me, but I didn't. I did take the examination for 8th grade. And I passed it. But I never did take the 8th grade.
Catherine (Tatro) Vondracek never completed her formal schooling, although her self-education continued throughout the remainder of her life. I still remember her today as an avid reader and writer of letters.
Brandon Case has spent the majority of his life living near the 99th Meridian, an imaginary line used for mapping purposes that circles the earth and runs through the North and South Poles.