Selected Essays – Family

The New Firetruck (part 4)

The New Firetruck – 1922
Dennis C. Orvis

Pictured behind the wheel in both pictures is George William Waltemate, the driver and my Grandfather of Waverly, Iowa. With him are the officers and firemen of a proud volunteer fire department.

The occasion was the introduction of the first new firetruck, a 1922 American LaFrance type 39, Pumper Engine. The purchase of this new engine was very exciting for this small Iowa town as New York City was also buying a new American LaFrance engine as well. These picture post cards were found in old family photos. They were taken in front of the 1911 City Hall. Notice the steering wheel is on the wrong (or left) side of the truck. Also note the interesting tires in the frontal picture.

The names of the firemen (large group picture) standing L-R: W.F. Hoffman, Herman Leusenhop, Wes Hanmon, Jack Vogt, Lynn Bogan, Carl Reichart, Henry Pfeffer, Frank Dana, Ed Swensen, Bill Dempsey, Martell Beebe, Otto Bredow and F.A. Lavell. 2nd Row: Leo Mooney, George Waltemate (driver), Theodore Shaffer, Fred Ownes, Claence Swensen, “Butch” Helmicke, unknown, unknown, and Ralph Dean. Standing in the Rear: Elmer Anderson, George Stephens, Oliver Spencer and John Flugga.

Although some names are familiar to me, I knew Leo Mooney and Martell Beebe very well. Their sons, Jim Mooney and Dick Beebe were childhood and school buddies in my early years.

Imagine! The small town of Waverly, Iowa matching the great New York City…buying matching American LaFrance fire engines! Wow!

The New Firetruck 1


Selected Essays – Experiences

The Dar Parmorza – The Polish three-masted tall ship
Dennis C. Orvis

Dar Parmorza
The year was 1976, the 200th anniversary of the birth of the United States. The Tall Ships of the world were in a sailing race to Newport Rhode Island. This ship, the Dar Parmorza was the leader as she was nearing Newport. It was reported later, the captain of the Polish ship received a message from the Russian ship. The message was short. It said, “Your ship will finish second!”

Russia at that time was causing serious world problems, not the least of which was impacting Poland. The Dar Parmorza finished the race in second place.

Days later, when the Tall Ships were anchored in the Newport harbor, my wife, Edie and I, Shirley and Russell Harmon, the Mayor of Fall River and his wife and a few others were invited to the Polish ship Captain’s party aboard that beautiful ship. I should add it was so foggy in the Newport harbor that afternoon you could hardly see any of the dozen or more Tall Ships from the shore in Newport.

At the Captain’s party there was an open bar with many bottles of liquor with labels none of us could read and small sandwiches, unfortunately so wet from the fog they were nearly impossible to pick up and eat.

I should add here that as the party grew longer, it got fogger and fogger. Some of it caused by the weather, but a lot of it caused by the bar. Because of this I found out the next day that I went home early.

I was told several of the young Polish sailors put me in a rowboat and rowed me to shore. And then my lovely wife drove me home to Somerset, Massachusetts. I was also told those that did not leave the party early were treated to a training film, usually shown to the new sailors. To quote my friend Russ, “I was the lucky one, I missed the film.”

Anyway, it was another great experience Edie and I shared. We loved it. Here we are pictured on the ship.

A few days later all the Tall Ships continued to the New York Harbor for a tremendous birthday party for the United States that many of us saw on television for the Fourth of July.

The Dar Parmorza
Dennis and Edie Orvis on the Dar Parmorza Tall Ship 1976


The Mexican Hat Dance
Dennis C. Orvis

Ta, da da, Ta, da da, Ta da da!

The familiar beat of the song, The Mexican Hat Dance. I’ve heard it many times over the years.
But there was a time, perhaps the first and last time I heard it and danced the dance.

I was in the sixth grade of Lincoln Elementary School in Waterloo, Iowa. It was a class music project to learn and perform this particular dance. You can bet we heard it many times before our teacher decided we knew it well enough to actually dance.

The Mexican Hat Dance
In this picture, taken in 1941, that is me and Juanita Dale, the second couple from the front. The first couple is her twin sister, Glenita and Jim McCleary. I can only remember two other names in the picture. One was Richard Deyo and the other was Robert Phillips. I don’t recall any of the others in the picture.

Along with the dance, I can add three other thoughts. First about Jim McCleary. He was a young happy Irishman. I think he was part leprechaun. We became great friends and because of him I came “out of my shell.” Together we were fun and mischief, often times in trouble with our teacher, Miss Merrill.

Secondly, about the Dale twins. Their father was a minister. I knew this although I never met him or their mother. Glenita was the happy one of the two. She laughed at or because of Jim and I frequently, on the other hand, Juanita was the somber one. She rarely laughed at either of us. And would you believe she was the one I really liked. Juanita was my first real crush, but I doubt she ever knew it. I certainly didn’t tell her. She would probably be surprised to know I said this. So you can understand how special it was for me to have her as my “senorita” in the dance. If you can look closely at the picture she isn’t smiling. You can also see most of the other dancers were not smiling either. And look at Glenita. She has a smile, a little faint, but she always had a smile.

Thirdly, about Miss Merrill. Most everyone has a favorite teacher. She was mine. She picked me to be one of the crossing guards. I got out of class about five minutes before the others, so I could get my “stop sign paddle” and go to my street corner. When the others were dismissed I would be on my assigned corner and I stopped the cars so all the students could safely cross the street.

Years later, ten years in fact, when I was living in Waverly Iowa, I was drafted into the army. It was February 1st, 1951. I was on a bus with about twenty others from my county on their way to
Des Moines, the capitol city to be sworn in to the army. We had to change busses in Waterloo to catch a bus to Des Moines. My mother and step father were there to see me. We didn’t get to see each other very often so this was pretty special.

I should add here that a few of the guys on the bus from Waverly had bottles of Peach Brandy in their travel bags. I really wasn’t a drinker, but why not, we’re going into the army. Frankly, I was a little tipsy when we stopped at the Waterloo bus station. I got through it fairly well, at least well enough to remember the occasion. As I left my mother and step father to go to the Des Moines bus, quite by accident I saw my old teacher, Miss Merrill. I stopped and we spoke for only a minute or two. I remember her saying, “Dennis I’m ashamed of you,” in her quiet tone.

I said, “I know, Miss Merrill, but I’m going into the army and I might not get back.”

She replied, “Dennis, I hope you get back.” Then we said goodbye. I did, Miss Merrill, I did and I thank you for everything, including your hope for me.

Ta, da da, Ta, da da, Ta, da da. That was sixty-one years ago today!

February 2012


This is a true story, written especially for our three children, Vicki, Chuck and LeAnn.

In 1962, not long after we moved to Chariton, Iowa, there was an antique airplane show in Ottumwa, Iowa. This we learned was an annual event. Ottumwa was about fifty miles from Chariton.

Vicki was probably eight, Chuck was six and LeAnn was four, about to be five years old.

We went to the antique airplane show and the star of the show was a Ford Tri-motor. This was the first passenger plane ever built and it had a nickname, the “Tin Goose”. The owner of the plane was selling rides for five dollars per person. The sky was gray, but it was quite dark in the west. It looked like rain and the wind was picking up. It was also late in the afternoon.

The person selling the tickets announced that the next ride would be the last for the day. I asked him how much for our family of five to ride. He looked at us and said “Fifteen dollars if you hold the two smaller ones on your laps.”

The Tin Goose

The Tin Goose only held seventeen passengers, if my memory is correct. We got on the plane. Mom held LeAnn and I held Chuck. The picture (attached) does not show it very clear, but there were side windows that are positioned on the dark strip on the side of the plane.

Obviously, the seats on a plane built in l929 (the year I was born) were not big and soft as they are today. From our seats, we could see the two pilots through an open doorway to the cockpit. We could also see the two motors (exposed) hanging under the wings, one on each side. There was a third motor in front of the pilots. Tri-motor means three motors.

Above the pilot’s heads, there was a crank that they turned by hand to control the wires that moved the tail flaps. This action made the plane go up and down and move to the right or left. I believe the top speed for the Tin Goose was sixty-five to seventy-five miles per hour. That may seem fast for a car, but for an airplane it is very slow.

As the plane took off, the clouds from the west were dark blue and you could tell a storm was coming. The plane ride was actually just a large circle around the edge of the town of Ottumwa. We took off into a west wind. Taking off into the wind was the easiest way to fly especially in the early days of flying. Older planes almost always took off into the wind.

It was kind of bumpy as there were many air pockets in the wind. Every time we hit an air pocket, Chuck would tighten up all his muscles and get very rigid on my lap. The exposed engines threw an oil spray that quickly covered all the side windows so everything looked hazy.

Flying into the wind made it feel like the plane was just sitting in the air, not moving. Of course the head wind was slowing the plane down. The pilots were turning the overhead crank all the time, as the winds were getting stronger. I suppose we were about a thousand feet in the air, maybe a little more.

As the pilots kept turning the plane in the counter-clockwise circle to their left, the wind direction moved from a headwind to blowing on our right side, which we could really feel. Then as we turned some more, we now had a tail wind and we must have gained at least twenty miles an hour. Then our final turn and we landed. The whole ride probably did not last more than five or ten minutes. It was starting to rain as we got out of the plane.

I don’t know how much of this you remember, but I believe the same plane you rode in is still giving “rides” around the country. You did not ride in the in the one pictured here. But your plane was in Lakeland in 1995 at the Sun N’ Fun air show, which is an annual event in Lakeland, Florida.

The rides in 1995 were twenty-five dollars per person.

It is hard to believe we did this as a family thirty-four years ago. But you did, in fact, take a ride in a Tin Goose, a Ford Tri-motor, airplane.

Maybe some day your children will have the same “great” experience.

This was one of the many special things we did together.

Love you, Dad.

Written March 1996

P.S. Today, April 11, 2014, the front page of the Lakeland Ledger newspaper has a story about the Ford Tri-Motor airplane. It was again at the Lakeland annual air show. Rides on the plane built in 1929 were $75 each.

One Day at Sweet’s Marsh
Dennis C. Orvis

My good friend, Jack, recommended a non-fiction book to me recently. It is called Old Songs in a New Café, written by Robert James Waller.

You might recognize his name. He wrote the very popular book, The Bridges of Madison County, that later became a well-received movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood.

This Waller book, Old Songs in a New Café, is a collection of essays. Waller is not only a
A fellow Iowan, but he is from northeast Iowa where I was born and spent much of the first thirty-three years of my life. Consequently, nearly every town and area he mentions in this book is quite familiar to me.

One of the essays is titled An Incident at Sweet’s Marsh. Reading this essay brought back a memory to me from the late 1950’s. I have only been to Sweet’s Marsh one time. It is a state owned Public Wildlife Reserve, located near the small town of Tripoli, Iowa. Tripoli is pronounced Tripola, with a small I and a small a by the people of Iowa. Tripoli is about twenty miles from Waverly, my hometown.

During duck hunting season each year, the State allows a limited number of duck hunters to hunt in a specified area of Sweet’s Marsh. State officials, Game Wardens, are at the gate of Sweet’s Marsh during hunting season to count the number of hunters and close the gate when the established number of duck hunters is reached. And obviously, they also patrol the area.

I only hunted ducks one time at Sweet’s Marsh and as I said it was the only time I was ever there. Now, with this background information, I will tell you about my One Day at Sweet’s Marsh.

There were three of us. My friends with me that day were both named Bob. One was a big guy. I’ll call him Big Bob. The other one I will call Bob H.

Big Bob drove. It was very dark when they picked me up at my house. In those years, the daily duck hunting season started one-half hour before sunrise and closed one-half hour after sunset. We knew we had to be at Sweet’s Marsh early to be included in the total hunters for the day before the gate is closed.

The twenty mile trip did not take long. It was still dark when we arrived. We figured we would be early enough to be included and we were.

We checked in and driving with only our parking lights on we slowly found the parking area. We unloaded our gear, which included our chest-high waders. We needed them to cross a small stretch of water in order to reach the island where the designated shooting areas were located.
We put the waders on and then, still in the darkness of early morning, we followed a worn path that became an earthen dam between two areas of the marsh. We were told by the Game Warden that the marshy area on the right of the dam was a protected part of the reserve. Hunters were not even allowed to point and/or shoot in that direction. Any hunter that did would be charged and fined.

Walking along this elevated earthen dam we could hear ducks quacking on the right side of the dam. There were no ducks quacking on the left side, which was the hunting area. How did they know they were protected on the right side? I’m sure that is one of Nature’s secrets.

It was somewhat difficult walking in our rubber chest-high waders along the uneven ground, but we struggled on with eager anticipation of good hunting later. Within five minutes we reached the place where we were to cross the stretch of water to the island.

Both Bobs had hunted here before, so I was following them.

It was still slightly dark when we entered the water, which was a little over knee deep. Somehow and I don’t know how, I must have been wading at an angle and not in a straight line behind them. As I said it was slightly dark.

Suddenly, I was up to my shoulders in the water! I had stepped into a hole! By instinct I raised my twelve-gauge shotgun above my head as I called out to the Bobs. The water was above my chest waders and the water quickly filled my waders! It was like standing in wet concrete! This is a very serious concern for duck hunters and the main reason why they should never hunt alone.

There was nothing I could do, but try and stand upright. If I would fall over, I would surely drown, as I simply could not move my feet or my body in that water casing.

The two Bobs were close to the island and quickly dropped their gear on the shore and returned to help me. It took both of them to pull me out of my waders and then get my waders out of the hole. I give them credit for saving my life.

Once on the island I soon felt I would freeze to death. It was fall in Iowa. The air and the water were both very cold in this early morning. I was wet, my clothes were wet and there was no place to get dry. Together the three of us trudged to our assigned hunting area. Fires were not allowed. I knew it was going to be a very, very long and cold day, for me for sure. A cup of coffee from my thermos did not help very much, but it did help.

The sunrise time was posted near the dam, so we knew when we could begin shooting in case
any ducks came our way.

The horizon was getting lighter. Minutes later we did not need a watch. A number of shotgun bursts boomed like a hunter’s crazy alarm clock. The duck hunting season for the day started.
We did not see any ducks in the air, nowhere. We couldn’t imagine what anyone was shooting at.
And I was very cold. I was hoping the morning sun would rise quickly with some warm air. When the sun did rise, it was no warmer to me than before. I was too wet and too cold to notice any difference.

Any visions of many flying ducks we might have had yesterday or when we planned this hunting trip to Sweet’s Marsh were nothing more than high hopes. About mid-morning, nearly five hours after we arrived in the dark, a small flock of Mallard ducks came our way. Bob H. fired first and the third duck in the formation fell to the ground near us.

He went to get the duck. When he returned one of the Game Wardens had come to our assigned area and met him.

The Warden said, “That was a pretty unlucky shot. You hit the only Redhead duck in the flock!”

It was against the law to shoot Redheads that year. The Warden took the duck and gave Bob H. a twenty-five dollar fine for shooting a Redhead out of season.

As if the day wasn’t already dreadful, from that moment on it continued to go downhill. Maybe a hundred yards or more across the marsh area from us, some jerk started shooting at ducks and geese when they were far out of range. Those shots would turn the birds and they would go somewhere else. It ruined any hunting for every hunter in the marsh.

Throughout the day, about the only ducks we saw were singles that slipped into the protected area, a direction, which you will recall, where we were not allowed to shoot. We still wondered how the ducks knew it was a protected area.

It was a disgusting day. A few hours before sunset, we gave up and backtracked our way from the island to the parking lot. It was stressful, putting my wet waders back on, but the rocky bottom of the water made it necessary. This time I was more careful, but it was easier to follow the two Bobs in the daylight.

Walking across the earthen dam to the parking lot we saw and heard hundreds of ducks in the protected area. I didn’t have to be there to know that when the hunting season closed at the end of the day, those ducks probably flew into the “hunting area” to eat. They probably knew they would be safe there after the daily hunting season closed.

Nature is good at what it does.

I don’t know if any hunter that day at Sweet’s Marsh shot any ducks, except Bob H. That Redhead was the only duck I saw fall. It was an expensive day for Bob H. Big Bob didn’t get anything either, except my thanks for pulling me out of my chest-waders in that deep hole.

I fully expected to get pneumonia, but somehow, I did not. Perhaps I suffered enough being wet and cold all day long.

So that is my story of One Day at Sweet’s Marsh. As bad as it was, I am fully aware it could have been much worse. That hole could have been two feet deeper.

I guess it was just one more of those strange things for which we can be thankful and I certainly was and still am.

When I think about what might have been, a tragedy with me drowning at Sweet’ Marsh in the dark of a cold fall morning, I cannot help but think the good Lord had a greater plan for me. I didn’t know it then, but today I believe it without hesitation.

I think of all the fine people I would not have met and the challenges I would never have known or the wonders of our great land I would not have seen. I think, more importantly, of my family
and of our children and the grandchildren that followed. Today I think of the many, many blessings I have enjoy and shared.

It reminds me even today, how blessed I really have been.

It was but One Day at Sweet’s Marsh, but it could have been a lifetime ended too soon.

Fortunately, for me, it wasn’t.

February 2008

Fill the void!
Dennis C. Orvis

I have had friends tell me they like my writings and hove often added, “I wish I could do that!”

Now I would like to follow up on that statement by saying, “why not?” You see I believe if you can write your name, you can write your thoughts and memories.

You don’t have to be a great writer to put your thoughts on paper. Do you realize you are the best authority on you today?

I was blessed in that I knew my four grandparents, but I know nothing about them beyond their names, their children and some of the places where they lived. Until recent years I didn’t know where they came from or their ancestors.

This is the void in my life as there will be a void in the lives of your children and grandchildren and all that follow, if you don’t fill that void.

You can prevent that void of their life if you will only write it down, now.

You have story to tell… sure you do, everyone does. Everyone has a story about his or her life. It isn’t really up to you to decide if your life is interesting or not. I guarantee it will be interesting, someday to your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Why not start today? Take time. Make time. What is the earliest you remember? Write it down. Write what you remember about your parents and grandparents and greats if you can. It is important to all that follow.

Too many people, most of them, nearly all of them take “all this knowledge” with them when they leave the living. It is a void that can never be filled, if you don’t fill it.

I wish my ancestors had filled it for me. So try it..go ahead and try it. I think you will be amazed at how much you remember as memories trigger memories and the past comes alive once again. And those that follow you will be delighted.

Go ahead, fill the void. Don’t wait any longer.



P.S. It will be ok if you let me know you have started

The President’s Limo
Dennis C. Orvis

It is January 22, 2009. The news media is talking about the first one hundred days of the new President, Barack Obama’s term. I am reminded that before his first one hundred days are over, I will celebrate the 30th anniversary of a Presidential event of my own.

It happened in April of 1979. My wife, Edie and I were in Washington D.C. attending the annual meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It is usually held the last weekend of April and also usually, but not always, the cherry trees are in bloom. Washington is extra beautiful when that happens.

Bill Torpey, who was the Chamber’s volunteer President and his wife, Agnes were attending the U.S. Chamber event with us.

I was quite surprised and pleased when Bill told me that Agnes’ brother was in charge of the President’s limos! He also said we could tour the Presidential garage if we could work it into our schedule. I told him we could do it for sure and on one of our three days in Washington we took that tour.

The President's Limo

What a thrill it was! Her brother showed us the various limos and told us a few of the “limo” stories. One in particular I remember was that President Lyndon Johnson had microphones installed in the fenders so he could hear what people “outside” were saying. Another one he told us was about President Carter. When inflation was so high during his term he would not allow the limos to be “flown” to wherever he had to be. The limos had to be “trucked” because it cost less to truck them. He said it was a nightmare to get the limos to where they had to be and be on time for the President’s use. We saw how the secret service protected the President when in the limo and the tools they used. It was kind of a James Bond for sure.

And then the real thrill. Edie and I got to sit in the President’s limo! While sitting there for a few minutes, I thought, “What are the odds that this boy from Iowa and this girl from Georgia would be sitting in the President’s limo?” Well, the odds are beyond comprehension.

That was over thirty years ago. What a fantastic experience and it seems like yesterday. Imagine, President Obama was only seventeen years old at that time! As I watched the inauguration activities on television last week, it all came back to me once again. Of course, the limo President Obama is riding in is new. I don’t know if “my” limo from 1979 is still in the fleet or retired.

But my memory of it that day, that moment, will never retire.

January 23, 2009

Selected Essays – Politics

The Nobel Peace Prize
Dennis C. Orvis

Two men were awarded the Noble Peace Prize.

One was named Nelson Mandela. He was imprisoned for twenty-seven years by a nation of white supremacy. It was against the law to photograph him during those years. Nelson Mandela emerged from prison to become President of his country. He preached and demonstrated forgiveness. His country prospered. He became a loved leader worldwide.

Mandela, at the age of 95 died in December 2013. He was mourned by world leaders and the world. Four United States Presidents and leaders of many countries attended ceremonies in respect for him.

The other man who received the Nobel Peace Prize was Barack Obama, President of the United States. He was re-elected in 2012 to a second four year term. He is now in his sixth year of office. He has led his country to record levels of national debt, over eighteen trillion dollars and unemployment was over seven percent continuously during his first five years as president. He claims it is under six percent but still we have fifteen million unemployed Americans and over forty-seven million Americans are receiving food stamps and a record millions are on welfare. He has blamed the Republicans.

He promoted his health program called Obamacare by saying “if you like your insurance policy you can keep it and if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor.” Neither claim was true when he said it and neither claim is true today. In addition the insurance of over five million Americans has been cancelled because their policies did not comply with the new rules of his health program. He also said his new health program will reduce insurance cost to the average family by two thousand five hundred dollars. This too is untrue. He is blaming the insurance companies.

Our ambassador to Benghazi was killed along with three other Americans. He blamed a television show. He claims to have ended war in Afghanistan and Iraqi. His policies have us deep in war with Islamic militants. The Veterans Administration awarded bonuses while veterans died waiting to get a doctor’s appointment.

His administration has been riddled with embarrassing scandals in the IRS, fast and furious, lines drawn in the sand, the Obamacare website and too many more to mention. He confirmed the beheading of an American journalist and then he went golfing. Our enemies are laughing at us and our friends don’t trust us. There are riots in the streets and policemen are being shot. We can only wonder if America can survive two more years of Obama.

Those who selected the recipients for the Nobel Peace Prize should be ashamed.

And the world still mourns Nelson Mandela.


Congress – Shame of America
Dennis C. Orvis

When did Congress stop serving the American people? Congress with an approval rating in the “teens” goes on vacation. I can’t even imagine what kind of person would say they approve the job Congress is doing.

Our Country is drowning in crisis. We have an energy crisis. We have a jobs crisis. We have a housing crisis. We have banks in trouble. We have business in trouble. We have industries in trouble. We have education in trouble. And Congress goes on vacation.

Fifty years ago, President Johnson declared “War on Poverty.” Did we win that one? Forty years ago President Carter called for an energy plan to free America from foreign oil. Did anything happen?

Meanwhile Congress votes itself pay increases and fairytale pensions. Meanwhile, Congress fills the Congressional Record with millions of words spoken to empty chairs. Meanwhile our Country’s deficit soared while Congress takes millions of dollars through earmarks. This used to be called “pork.” Today it is called earmarks. It should be called “stealing.”

When will the public learn that the money government “gives away” is taxpayers money? Government doesn’t have money, it only prints money. Government doesn’t earn money; it only collects money from taxpayers.

Do you really believe the person who can vote his/her salary will ever be satisfied with his/her salary? Do you believe the person, who gets paid according to the number of people they supervise, will ever have enough employees? Of course not, and that is why government gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

Partisan politics is only irrelevant when Congress votes on its own salary and/or benefit package.

The system is designed to perpetuate all the wonderful perks Congress enjoys regardless of which party is in the majority. It is designed to protect the incumbent. This is the system that refuses to take retirement and/or benefits from colleagues who are felons, serving time in jail. You know those good ole boys in stripes.

Is it too late to save America from Congress? Probably. I’m sure I won’t see any meaningful improvement in my lifetime. Those elected to make important changes to the system get pigeonholed and are never heard from again. Eventually they “join the club.”

Maybe Will Rogers was right when he said, “Any politician who can’t steal enough in one term doesn’t deserve to be re-elected.”

But there is a consolation. A democracy is an awful form of government except it is better than all the rest. Somehow, in spite of Congress, it works.

I think it is time to reduce the number in the House of Representatives by half. The representation would remain the same and we would save billions of dollars. It is long past time for the line item veto. And it is time to get everyone’s hands out of the cookie jar, no more earmarks.

Unfortunately, the public fails to realize that only Congress can spend money. What is even worse, only Congress can change the system. Where is the “remote?”


Selected Essays – Golf & Me

The Monster Divot
Dennis C. Orvis

In 1979 there were many problems at the Fall River (Massachusetts) Country Club.

I had been manager of the Fall River Chamber of Commerce for ten years. My wife and I had been members of the Country Club since August, 1969, when we moved to Fall River.

The Fall River Country Club had quite a history. It was constructed in 1895, making it one of the oldest golf courses in the United States. It was built on a Scottish-lay-of-the-land style of golf course, along a beautiful part of the Taunton River.

It had two big problems. First it was built on a piece of land that could be classified as almost too small for a nine-hole golf course. It was bordered on one side by the river and on the other side by a railroad track. There was no hope for an expansion to eighteen holes.

The other problem was low membership and money. The original course was built in good times by the leaders of the business community, community leaders. Then around 1922, over one hundred cotton and garment factories moved south to the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama. The city fell into financial chaos and went bankrupt. Then tragedy upon tragedy, the Great Depression of 1929 hit the Nation. The State of Massachusetts took over the finances of the city. Maintenance stopped and the population dropped by more than 50,000 people.

Through this the Country Club survived somehow, although most businessmen who played golf joined other golf courses in southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which were less than twenty miles away.

The membership, with few exceptions, was made up of working people and finances continued to be a difficult problem.

Sometime in the 1960’s, a Federal government project to dredge out the channel serving Fall River’s deep water port was completed. Much of the material dredged out of the channel was deposited along the shore of the Fall River County Club. This new land made it possible to turn the nine-hole golf course into an eighteen-hole golf course. Arrangements were made with the assistance of most of the Fall River banks to do the project.

There was an abandoned rock quarry at the far end of the golf course north and on the other side of the railroad tracks. It was learned the quarry was for sale. The Country Club was very interested because there was enough land in the quarry to design two new holes of golf.

The Country Club board of directors asked or appointed one of its members to meet with the quarry owners and buy the property for the expansion of the golf course. I don’t know if that person was a member of the board or not, but if he was it would make this situation even worse.

This is why. That person bought the quarry land and kept it for himself, instead of buying it for the Country Club. He re-opened the quarry and probably did very well financially.

What a fiasco.

The Country Club board (and membership) voted to expand the golf course to eighteen holes. In order to accomplish this, they leased enough land on the other side of the railroad tracks (not the quarry land) to design and add two holes. This was necessary, since there was only enough land, with the addition of the dredging material to build seven new holes. They hired a well-known New England golf course architect to do the design of the new nine holes.

When I arrived in the fall of 1969, the Fall River Country Club was an eighteen hole golf course and still struggling financially. The membership did not grow as expected after it became an eighteen hole golf course. My wife and I were playing members but I did not get involved with the Clubs problems, I had enough of my own problems trying to rebuild the Chamber of Commerce.

Then, I guess it was maybe 1978 when a friend was elected to be the President of the Country Club. He asked a mutual friend to be the chairman of the Green’s Committee. The role of this committee is to oversee the work of the course superintendent and his crew, and to deal with golf course problems.

About three or four months later our mutual friend resigned as chairman of the Green’s Committee in disgust. There wasn’t enough money and there were problems with the employees of the golf course.

My friend, the Club President then asked me to be the Green’s Committee chairman.

Frankly, I had enough problems running the Chamber of Commerce, I didn’t need any more.

In fact, I had a couple good Chamber supporters who suggested strongly I shouldn’t get involved with the Country Club problems.

I felt however, the need and the challenge were both great. I looked at it as just “another” chamber-type community improvement project. It was my belief that a good golf course helps to attract new business and industry, many businessmen are also golfers.

So I said yes and became the chairman of the Green’s committee for the Country Club.

With the limited funds available, I hired a bunch of young people to cut brush, small trees and in general, clean up the golf course and make it prettier.

I also went hole by hole on the course and came up with a list of thirty-three projects that I thought would improve the golf course. Most of the projects could be done with minimal expense. Some of my suggestions had to be approved by the golf course architect and they were. The smallest project was to cut down a tree that was too close the tee on the 18th hole. On the right side the fairway was lined with trees with a deep valley behind them. It was a horrendous tee for most amateurs, especially the slicers that had no place to aim or hit.

The biggest project was to sell part of two fairways which were deep with gravel and could really help the country club in a big way financially.

About two months before the annual meeting of the members I sent a survey to every member explaining my proposed projects. I told them I would present the projects to the members for a vote at the annual meeting and would be requesting a “up or down vote” on each project.

I am sure you can guess we had a huge turnout at the annual meeting. I made my presentation one project at a time. I was pleasantly surprised when the members voted support for twenty-three of the thirty-three projects.

On the biggest project, the excavation of gravel, I told the members we had a gravel company do test borings and they concluded we could expect over 80,000 cubic yards of gravel to be recovered. This gravel could be sold for over $1.10 per cubic yard.

There was some historical knowledge that the glaciers actually melted in this area of Massachusetts. The test borings verified this possibility.

I told them this project could be done without harming either one of the two holes that would be involved.

Well, there were only two or three votes against the project. It was an overwhelming yes vote.

When the excavation was completed over 90,000 cubic yards of gravel was removed. It was said, “Orvis made the biggest divot in the history of the golf course since it was constructed.”

On the second hole, a par five, there was a long plateau for about 180 yards then it dropped down to a valley, all the way to an elevated green. What we did was remove the plateau, which meant the golfers simply teed off to a valley, which really did not change the hole’s distance and actually enhanced its beauty as the tee faced the water at the other end.

On hole number eight, a par three, the tee was level with the green, some 140 yards away. The project put a valley between the tee and the green. The distance was the same and the hole became a much pretty, challenging hole.

The members loved the improvement when it was finished, although we had more than one bucket brigade days to pick up little pebbles that were now on top of the fairways, even after the original black top soil was spread over the project area. Many members participated in this effort.

Here is a picture of the project.
The Monster Divot

At the top center of this picture you can see the equipment digging the new valley on the eighth hole, which goes left to right. The dotted line in the picture is the imaginary line between the 2nd and 8th holes. The 2nd hole goes right to left and the tee is in the upper right side of the picture. It is hard to believe that over 90,000 cubic yards of gravel came out of this hole. It is mind boggling to know that the entire golf course is built on pebbles from the melted glaciers centuries ago.

Well, the last time I saw this great old golf course, it was a showplace. The young man I hired to be the greens superintendent was still there. When I hired him I told him, “this is your golf course; make it as great and beautiful as you can with the little money we can provide.” I want to tell you he turned it into a great golf course. It really is a show place.

This is what happened after this project. The members voted to build a new clubhouse overlooking the Taunton River. The membership of the country club has grown. The last I heard there was a waiting list to join.
No, it wasn’t a Chamber of Commerce project, but I can assure you it served the same purpose.
I was chairman of the Green’s committee for only a couple years. Another project I liked was spearheaded by one of the members of my committee. He collected over five hundred dollars from some of his friends and buddies and we bought six old street lights from the local power company and installed them along the drive coming into the country club. I really like that touch. It gave it a little extra class. The light poles used to be in downtown Fall River, early 1900’s.
After two years, they selected another person to be the chairman. I think they were afraid I would try to sell a couple more fairways!
It would be great to play the old course once again for many reasons, more than you can imagine, perhaps more than 90,000.

February 2012

Selected Essays – Nature


By Dennis C. Orvis

Waverly Iowa is my hometown, so I am from the Midwest. Iowa is rural America. My town was small and basically, it was a farming community. I grew up in a broken home, which can be summed up by saying, “We never went on a family vacation, ever.”

When I was a teenager in the 1940’s if I had been asked to make a list of things I would like to see in the United States, it would have been a pretty short list. It would be foolish today to try and create that list, for my world then was rather small. Perhaps, for the sake of interest my list would have included the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon and an ocean. I am just guessing, of course.

Maybe this is why I have always liked to travel. During the past half century I have been extremely blessed because my wife and I have traveled and visited every one of the fifty States. I use the word extremely here because I believe truly; the number of people who do this in their lifetime is probably quite small. I say this without any proof, but I have known many who have not traveled beyond their bordering States.

They have missed a whole lot. We live in the greatest Country in the World and every one of the fifty States has things to be proud of and worth seeing. Think of this for a moment. If, every year, you could spend one month in a different State, you would see a lot, but you could not see everything. And it would take a half-century to do this.

Although I have been to all fifty States, I have only seen the “main” attractions. I do not claim to have seen it all.

We have a Country of many Wonders. I do have a favorite, but before I tell you which one it is, I am going to list a few that I would hope everyone could visit in his or her lifetime. These are listed as I thought of them and not in any order of importance.

The Statue of Liberty
The Empire State Building
Niagara Falls
The White Mountains in the fall
The Smokies, the Rockies
Mountains in general
The beauty of Alaska
Old Faithful
The Grand Tetons
Zion National Park
Grand Canyon
The Great Salt Lake
The Great Lakes
The Florida Beaches
Stone Mountain Georgia
Mount Rushmore
Hoover Dam
The Nation’s Capitol
The White House
The monuments of Washington D.C.
The St. Louis Arch
Carlsbad Cavern
LasVegas at night
The Museums of Chicago
New Orleans at night
The Riverwalk in San Antonio
The Alamo and Missions
The Smithsonian Institute
The Dinosaur Nat. Monument
The Four Corners of U.S.
The Cliff Dwellings
Lake Pontchartrain Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Washington and Brooklyn Bridges
Hot Springs Arkansas
The Petrified Forrest
Wisconsin Dells
Crater Lake
Mount St. Helens
Mt. Rainer, highest in U.S.
The Pacific Ocean at Oregon
The Outer Banks, Atlantic Ocean
Mount McKinley
Mason City Iowa
Mall of America
The Masters’ Golf Course
Historical Boston
Historical Philadelphia
The Atlantic Coast in Maine
Disneyland and Disney World
St. Augustine Florida
The Badlands of South Dakota
The Mansions of Newport Rhode Island
Rainbows over Pearl Harbor

…And so much more. I cannot list all the National Parks we have visited or the many Zoos, of all sizes and qualities. There is so much more.

So are you wondering what my favorite Wonder in the United States is? What could possibly be missing from the list above?

Hmmm! Well, my all-time favorite Wonder is the Giant Sequoia Trees, the big Redwood Trees of California. Years ago, one of them even had a highway cut through it at the base. I don’t know whose idea that was, but today, it could never happen. Unfortunately, that particular tree fell a few years ago. The damage took years, but it finally destroyed the tree. Imagine, though, if you parked your car in front of one of those mature trees, the tree could stick out five to ten feet past both ends of your car. Many of the big trees have names, like General Grant and General Sherman, etc.

My Favorite Wonder

Throughout the big tree forest you will see little seedlings, one or two feet high, each with a sign identifying them to give them protection. It is hard to look at one of those little seedlings and even imagine they might some day be as big as the mature trees nearby. I have seen the big trees twice. The first time was in the summer months. The second time they were covered with a very late snowfall and some of the park roads were closed. Both times the trees were just stunning. The natural beauty was overwhelming.
Touch the bark and say to yourself, this tree is a living thing, hundreds of years old or a thousand or maybe more! That is awesome to the max!

To me these wonderful trees serve to emphasize the greatness of God and the Bounty of the greatness he bestowed on the United States. The big trees are awesome majesty. So is our Nation that too often is taken for granted or faulted over some point that is insignificant in the big picture. If I could wish that everyone could see what I have seen, what a wondrous gift that might be. And so I do….especially for you!


Written 2004

Selected Essays – My Wife

Edie with Swan


An Essay
By Dennis C. Orvis

It was the first weekend of October and my tenth year as a volunteer at the Disney Classic Golf Tournament in Orlando. About an hour earlier I had arrived in the morning darkness with my wife from our home in Winter Haven, Florida. This was her thirteenth volunteer year. I was on the list three years before my name was selected for a volunteer job.

When we arrived before sunrise, she quickly joined her volunteer buddies at the snack plaza. I traded my breakfast coupon for a delicious looking Danish, a banana and two containers, one of orange juice and the other filled with hot coffee.

Then I carried my breakfast loot and my umbrella along the shortest route to my assigned location. I knew the route very well, even in the near darkness, since this was my seventh year with the same assignment on the Magnolia Golf Course. There was a tinge of daylight showing, enough to see an Armadillo near the bushes quietly burrowing in the
sod for its’ morning breakfast. The heavy dew on the grass muffled any sounds from my footsteps. The Armadillo never looked my way as I took the shortcut, a straight-line across the ninth and second fairways.

I soon came to the narrow bridge between two ponds that will challenge and worry the golfers later today. Crossing over I can see the outline of the hilltop green on golf hole number twelve where I will spend the day and the rest of the tournament. I could also see a mother deer with two fawns on the edge of the wooded area, maybe thirty yards to my right. The three of them froze, trying to blend without movement into the background.

I kept walking steady as if I had not seen them and within a few steps the distance between us was growing. A glance over my shoulder told me they knew the danger had passed and they were eating the new leaves again. There is a lot of wildlife here at this huge Disney complex with its’ twenty-five thousand acres.

A couple minutes later I arrived at my par three, number twelve green. I retrieved my folding lawn chair from the bushes where I hid it yesterday, out of sight. I learned years ago it was so much easier to leave my chair than to drag it back and forth from home everyday. I remember one year somebody took my chair, but losing only one chair
in ten years was still worth it.

I went to my favorite high point near the green, opened my chair and sat down to enjoy my waiting Danish before my coffee cooled down completely.

The horizon was getting lighter now and the eastern sky was gorgeous as the still hidden Sun was sending its’ rays upward against a few fluffy clouds. They were so pretty in pastel pink, yellow, orange and lavender colors.

I took another bite of the sweet Danish and I was thinking of some old buddies of mine, back in the Midwest, that might be putting storm windows on their house this weekend in advance of the pending Iowa winter.

My Danish was soon gone and I wished I had another one in the sack instead of a container of orange juice. I just sat there relaxed, looking into the morning sky. Natures morning sounds were starting with a few birds calling and maybe a quartet or more of frogs croaking to each other from the nearest pond.

It was going to be a terrific day for the golf tournament. The gentle wind coming from the west would not be a factor unless it gets much stronger than it is. I looked to the west where the morning light had not yet reached that part of the sky. I could see a couple very small objects that looked black against the dark, bluish background and they seemed to be moving.

I could not tell what they were so I watched them with interest for a few minutes. It appeared the black spots were coming my direction. The closest one, probably a mile away, began to take shape like an upside down pear. Gradually, the black spot began to change to many colors and then I knew it was a hot-air balloon!

Then the second black spot started taking shape as another one came into view behind it. And then another one followed and I was looking at parade of four hot-air balloons on a Sunrise flight. As they floated closer and the Sun began peeking over the horizon, the spectacular colors of the balloons became brilliant against the light blue sky. I could now see the baskets hanging below the huge, brightly colored bags that were maybe three or four stories high. The wicker basket looked so small by comparison.

The first balloon was now over the golf course, about fifteen hundred feet in the air. It was heading my way over the thirteenth fairway. I can hear the gas burner blast a jet of hot air into the bag above it and now I can see the people waving at me and I returned their greetings.

Wow! What a great view they must be enjoying as they float easterly over me, with the second balloon closely behind…and then the third one followed…and then the fourth and last balloon passed over me. Each of them with their passengers so friendly this early morning. It was kind of thrilling as if I was the only person on earth to welcome them and I waved back, returning their greetings before they began shrinking into the eastern sunrise.

Then it hit me! Our anniversary will be next month on Thanksgiving Day. What a terrific idea! I will give my wonderful wife an anniversary present that is something new and very different…a Sunrise hot-air balloon ride! It was exciting just to think about it and I thought about it often during the rest of the tournament.

The following week I was talking to Vicki, our oldest daughter, and I told her what I was planning to do as a surprise to her Mother. Well, I did not know it, but Vicki started right then to change my surprise. Within a week or ten days, my wife and I received a rather large envelope in the mail. When we opened it we found a gift certificate for “A SUNRISE BALLOON RIDE” from our three children, Vicki, Dennis and LeAnn, as an anniversary present. And this surprise was also on me!

And to make the ride sweeter, our daughter, LeAnn, who lives in Connecticut will be here to share this experience. Her husband, Stu will be home with their children. It could only be better if our son, Dennis, could be with us also, but he had recently moved to Kentucky and would not be able to get away.

The next eight weeks sailed by with a little extra anxiety. Our planned balloon ride popped into many family conversations, especially Thanksgiving Day when we attended a Daniel family reunion in Georgia and a toast was given to our anniversary.

Our flight reservation was scheduled for December thirteenth. Daughter LeAnn arrived several days earlier and we sure enjoyed her company. Together, we were watching the daily weather reports. As you probably know, weather controls all hot air balloon flights.

Bad weather or strong winds will immediately cancel a balloon trip. There are no maybes, it is either on or off.

Our instructions were to watch the evening weather report on December twelfth and if the weather looked good we should expect a phone call from our Pilot at four in the morning, telling us the flight was a go. We watched the weather report and it looked pretty good. Then we set the alarm clock for four A.M. and tried to get some sleep.

It seemed to me the alarm clock rang minutes after we turned off the light and the phone rang almost at the same time. I answered the phone and the voice said, “We’re going!”

Additional words were not necessary. LeAnn had heard both the alarm and the phone. We were all awake. I phoned Vicki and Joe and told them the Pilot called and the flight is on. They live in Lakeland, about thirty minutes from Winter Haven. My wife turned on the coffee pot and we all dressed quickly.

About forty-five minutes later, Vicki and Joe pulled into our driveway. It was almost five o’clock and it was very dark. We quickly climbed into their van and headed north towards a small shopping center in Kissimmee. We arrived about forty minutes later and we met our Pilot, who was waiting. He said, “Good morning, follow me!”

And we did. It was only a few miles to his launching field. We pulled in behind him and parked. It was still dark. The five of us, Vicki, LeAnn, Joe, my wife and I watched as the Pilot and his helper hurriedly unpacked the huge deflated balloon and stretched it out on the grass. Next they attached the gas burner to the small, square, wicker basket.

I looked at Edie, my wife and I saw her seriously “eyeballing” the small basket. It was big enough for Edie, me, the Pilot and the four-foot tall tank of bottle gas. The Pilot told us he had a bigger basket that he used when a ride was scheduled for more than two people. Edie was not impressed.

The eastern sky was beginning to show signs that dawn was not far away. The green port-o-john reflected the glare of the first flame when our Pilot tested the burner. The light blue sky was moving quickly above us and across the sky as the Sunrise was getting closer.

There was a feeling of urgency. The Pilot’s helper was actually a photographer who traded his services for the opportunity to take and sell pictures to the riders. He wasn’t that handy as a helper and our son-in-law, Joe, moved in and began helping the Pilot.

The huge, portable fan was sending air into the beautiful balloon as it began rapidly swelling up. While this was going on, the Pilot said to Edie and me, “When I tell you to get in the basket, do it as fast as you can! The balloon doesn’t wait!”

The balloon was now about half full and Joe and I held on to it as the Pilot lit the burner to heat the air in the balloon. The burner was very noisy and things were moving very fast. The sky was now getting lighter. Vicki and LeAnn were both taking pictures.

Our pilot jumped into the basket as the hot air made the balloon fill out faster and suddenly “stood upright.” We could feel the inflated balloon tug on the basket we were trying to hold down. The Pilot yelled, “Get in!” and my wife moved fast. She had one leg in and one leg out. This was difficult for a person with short legs! I was holding tight along with Joe and the helper, as the balloon was struggling to leave the ground.

“Jump in!” the Pilot hollered over the noise of the gas burner. He was looking at me and I jumped in. It was more difficult that it looked. And I was hanging on to my camera around my neck and pulling Edies’ leg in with me. Our Pilot, with his push broom mustache, two passengers and a tank of bottle gas left the ground in a hurry as Joe and the helper let go of the basket.

The anniversary couple waved at our “ground crew” and up we went! The hot air lifted us like a fast, noiseless, elevator. The wind pushed us away from the launching field and the port-o-john below us. I managed to snap a couple pictures during this exhilarating moment. At a certain height, the Pilot cut the burner jet off and it was so wonderfully quiet. Off to the east we saw the beauty of the Sunrise and the sky turned a brilliant yellow, surrounding a huge ball of gold. Within minutes, the yellow and gold became a soft, clear, light blue. I thought to myself, a Sunrise so beautiful should last more than a few minutes.

The Great Ride

We now directed our eyes to the countryside below us. The citrus trees stood in straight lines and were so organized, compared to the random woodlands in the area.

Gliding over a highway we could see the headlights of many cars. People in the cars right under us were waving and honking their horns.

Every so often our Pilot would send a gas flame into the base of the balloon to keep the air warm. That was comforting, since we all know it is the warm air that keeps the balloon riding the sky.

We floated over a vineyard that looked like hundreds of rows of grapevines. Every direction we looked the land patterns made a special quilt of many shades of green.

We drifted over a small farm with a few horses in a corral. Our Pilot said he could not give the burner a blast until we got past the horses. He said they might bolt and cause problems. We could feel our balloon sinking or going down a little, but when we got on the other side of the farm, a quick flame blast brought us back up again.

Suddenly, a strange thing happened. The wind started to get stronger. The Pilot said, “This wasn’t supposed to happen until ten o’clock and it is not even seven yet.” A minute later he added, “The wind is blowing us off-course. We will have to find an alternate landing field.”

He made it sound like we had a choice, but I knew enough about it to know it was not something he could totally control. He did not seem to be too concerned, but I was sure he did not want to alarm us. We kept drifting along. The view was stunning, but we could feel the wind getting stronger.

After a few minutes our Pilot said he was going to lower the balloon a little and see if the wind would be less. We slowly descended fifty or a hundred feet, but the wind kept pushing our floating basket pretty hard without change.

We could see a good size lake ahead. I’m sure he was trying to keep us calm, but when he said, “I’m going to go lower and drag the bottom of the basket in the lake to slow down the flight of the balloon.” My wife quickly told him, “If you dump us in the lake, I’m going to kill you!”

Knowing her fear of water, I think she might have been serious. When he added, “I’ll try not to get your feet wet.” I knew he was serious, too.

We could see the shadow of our balloon coming closer to meet us as we were getting lower. We could hear the water as the base of the basket touched the lake and began skimming the surface. I had the feeling he wanted to lower the basket a little deeper in the water, but probably decided his health might be in danger as he watched my wife’s face.

In the distance behind us we could see the helper with the chase car with Vicki, Joe and LeAnn following closely behind in their van. I am sure following was not easy, because they had to find roads…we were going cross-country.

We were still moving too fast as we could see the other side of the lake getting nearer. Our basket was dragging in the water and then we could hear it hitting the weeds and lily pads in the shallow water. The basket was slowing some and then “WHAM!” we hit the edge of the shoreline! The basket flipped a half turn and the impact nearly threw us out and might have if we had not been holding on as tight as we could.

The wind was still pushing our inflated balloon. The basket had tipped toward Edie’s side. She was now on her back at the bottom of the pile. I was laying on her, trying to keep my weight off of her! The Pilot was partially on my back and the bottle gas tank was on top of all of us! And we were still moving pretty fast through the mud and grass!

We were being dragged by the powerful wind. I could not guess how fast we were moving…too fast would be my first guess. And then a strange thing happened. Edie and I started laughing! I can’t explain why, but we were laughing. The Pilot managed to find the safety cord that opened the vent at the top of the balloon. He pulled the cord and the vent opened and the wind began racing out the open hole.

But the wind was still dragging us through the field of grass where we happened to come down. It was a cool morning and there was a wisp of fog in the field ahead of us. Edie could not see where we were sliding. And then I saw a dozen or more cows. We landed in a Farmers’ pasture.

And there was more!

I could see fresh cow pies, steaming, in the cool morning air. I told Edie and we were laughing even more. “Brace yourself,” I said, “and close your eyes, Honey, there is a fresh cow pie right ahead of us!” We were helpless…we could not move, except where the wind, the balloon and the basket were taking us. We could not even change our positions in the basket. And we were still laughing.

Fate was kind. The basket hit a bump in the pasture and we “jumped” right over that fresh one! Fate was very kind. We missed them all as the balloon was now quickly deflating and our runaway basket gradually came to a stop.

“WOW! WHAT A GREAT RIDE!” And we were still laughing.

Was it everything we thought it would be? Yes and more. I know the ride was shorter than it should have been. I think we were only in the air twenty minutes and it was scheduled for an hour. We could be disappointed and blame the wind.

But on the other hand, it was the wind that gave us such a great ride. Without that strong wind it would have been pretty, but dull, without the excitement and laughter we shared.

Of course, we did not know we would have to help pack the balloon and basket and carry all of it to the chase vehicle. Granted it was an unplanned landing. A normal flight would have landed right beside the chase vehicle, but not this time. We were in a farmer’s pasture, with “No Trespassing” signs hanging on the barbed wire fence. I suppose we were all lucky we did not collide with a cow! Or worse yet…a fresh cow pie! I should add here, that if it had not been for Vicki, LeAnn and Joe, my wife and I might still be dragging that basket and balloon out of that field.

As we all helped lift the basket and balloon over the barbed wire fence, my mind quickly looked at the barbed wire and I thought, it could have been worse!

The kids said they were worried when they saw the basket dip on the lake the first time. I told them “The Pilot was too. His life was in danger.”

With all the equipment loaded on the chase vehicle, we returned to the small shopping center where we first met our Pilot. He put on a ceremony that involved glasses of champagne and a few drops on our heads, symbolic of something.

We were now members of some special club. A week or so later the photographers’ pictures we bought in advance arrived by mail. They really were not as good as the pictures Vicki and LeAnn took. I am glad they had their cameras. And my pictures from the air were very special.

All in All, it was a wonderful anniversary present. We shared a terrifying experience with laughter, because we were together. It truly was a Great Ride! Sunrise, blue skies, laughing eyes and cow pies! Wow. It really was super!

It was a Great Ride! And I said to my wife, “Should we do it again? and she replied, “I don’t think so!” But she did agree, it was a Great Ride.

The End

June 2004
Still Remembering!

The Great Kiss


Dennis C. Orvis

We live in such a great Country!

The United States of America!

It stretches thousands of miles east and west, north and south across the “Lower Forty-eight” great states. Then the states of Alaska and Hawaii were added to make it an even fifty.

Every state is special in special ways and my wife and I have traveled every one of them. There are thousands of special things to see and you cannot see them all in ones’ lifetime. We tried and it cannot be done.

This little essay is about the Great Kiss and I’m getting to it.

I am proud to say I have kissed my wife in every state. We have been to all of them and I can assure you it was more than one kiss in every state.

That’s for sure. I have kissed my wife in the Statue of Liberty, top of the Empire State Building, under the Golden Gate Bridge, Preservation Hall in New Orleans and Niagara Falls. Ok, I know I am bragging but there were many places, great places, too many to mention.

And yet, there is one place in this country like no other. The Four Corners! This is the only place in our country where four states come together in perfect ninety-degree corners, right angles.
Of course, you have to cross Indian property to get to the exact spot. At this location you will find a large raised marble monument. It is about three steps up from ground level to the flat surface. I don’t remember the size, but it was over twenty foot square.

In the center of this large monument there was a circle, maybe six foot across and it was cut like a pie in four pieces. Each pie cut extended to the corner of the monuments’ surface.

It was in this circle and on this very spot where I was standing in Utah and Arizona and I kissed my wife who was standing in Colorado and New Mexico!

Imagine that! We were standing in four different states! Now that is a special kiss.

I should tell you there was a charge to cross the Indian land, but it was worth it.

On the subject of States in this great country, there is only one Four Corners.

It was another kiss I will not forget. It was The Great Kiss!

October 2006


The Photo

Dennis C. Orvis

Can a photo speak?

My wife and I were on vacation in Bluefield, Virginia during the summer of 1992, visiting children and grandchildren. When we drove into the community, we happened to notice an interesting, older brick building on one side of the street.

It was kind of shabby, with only a couple windows, one on each side of the single, wooden door. The small sign over the doorway said “Antiques and Stuff” or something that meant the same thing.

The green painted letters on a dingy background that might have been white years ago, were faded and peeled in places. The door and the wood frame around it and the windows on each side were in the same condition.

My wife and I enjoy old shops like this on our travels. It is kind of a hobby, in a way, but more casual than serious. We are never looking for anything in particular; although my wife has a clown collection and we always have an eye out for clowns that are different.

One day, while in Bluefield, we had some free time. It was easy to find the old shop since it was on a main street and we had driven past it a number of times already during this visit.

In many antique shops, in out-of-the-way or rundown locations, most of the items inside could be in the category of junk. We had a feeling this antique shop might be like that. We opened the door and once inside, we knew immediately the sign should have read, “Junk and a few Antiques.” It was typical. There was one rectangular room, poorly lit with the cash register just inside the door.

There were shelves, cabinets and tables of all sizes, piled high with stacks of stuff. Many of the shelves were swayback from years of holding excess weight. The floor and under the tables had more stacks of stuff.

It was a room full of undusted clutter. The walkways between the tables created a small maze that often required a sideway turn for safe passage. Still it was not unusual. It was pretty much what we expected in similar locations.

It was also typical for my wife and I to walk separate paths in shops like this, which seemed to work well for us. If either of us would see an item of interest, we would call the other to come over for a closer look.

That is what happened today. Sometime within the hour she called me. “Come look at this,” she said, and I followed her voice through the maze where she was standing.

“What is this?” she asked as she handed me a short board with a picture mounted on the front and sealed like a plaque. She told me she looked at it a while ago and then for some reason, she came back to look at it a second time.

I took the mounted picture to a spot in the shop where the light was a little better. Then I could see it was a special item. Although the photo was somewhat yellowed with age, perhaps, I was confident that sometime in the past it was a very fine gift.

On the backside there was a small printed card pasted on it, about the size of a business card. The following was printed on it.

Atlanta Georgia Skyline
Compliments of
George L. McCarthy, President
Recordak Corporation

I looked at the photo in the better light. It was indeed an aerial photograph of downtown Atlanta Georgia. I had never seen this photo before, but since I spent two years in Atlanta in the early 1950’s I recognized the famous Five Points and the buildings taller than any I had ever seen in my home State of Iowa. I recognized the State Capitol and the Atlanta City Hall. I did not know when the photo was taken, but it was obviously before the Interstate Highways were built in Atlanta.

My wife had said earlier “something called her back to the photo.” And then while I was staring at it, I suddenly saw the reason she got that feeling.

“Look at this!” I told her, as I pointed to a building across the street from the State Capitol. My finger was pointing to the Baptist Church where we were married in 1952 on Thanksgiving Day. “No wonder this picture was calling you!”

Well, she could not believe it and neither could I. We don’t know when the photo was taken, except it was after our Wedding Day in 1952 and before the Interstate Highways were started. I have since learned that Mr. McCarthy invented the first rotary camera to film cheques. In 1928, Eastman Kodak bought his patent, redesigned the camera and established a new division named Recordak, headed by McCarthy.

I am guessing there is another story we will never know about and that is How this photo-plaque found it’s way to that Antiques and Stuff Shop in Bluefield, Virginia, hundreds of miles from Atlanta Georgia.

If photos could speak, we would learn the answers. We can agree, though, that photo’s cannot speak. But there is a bigger question. Can a Photo call out?

I think the answer to that is a definite yes. Although I admit I was not nearby and I did not hear it, I believe it actually “called out to my wife.” How else can we explain that she returned a second time to inspect the photo?

You see, I know something else that may help to convince you. I’ll tell you why the Photo called out to my wife. That day my wife picked up that photo to look at it, was nearly forty years to the very day we were married at that Baptist Church. And while that coincidence alone, might be enough to justify my position, listen to this. There is more. About ten or fifteen years before my wife found that photo in Bluefield Virginia, we were in Atlanta and we decided to drive by that Baptist Church where we were married, just for the memories.

We were shocked to discover our Wedding Church was GONE! It was nothing more than a parking lot for the government buildings in the area! Unusual as it might be, our marriage outlasted the Church!

I will always believe it wasn’t the photo that called out to my wife; it was that Church that only lives today in that photo. It was that Church that said to her, “Come back, look again!”

How else can this moment in time be explained? Was it destiny for the two of us to find that picture, which has so much meaning in our lives? Perhaps.

Is this just another one of those things that we cannot explain? Still, when I recall the empty feeling in our hearts when we both saw a parking lot where our Wedding Church once stood and the feeling we both had when this photo REBUILT THAT CHURCH in our minds, I know it was not a mere coincidence.

We bought something that day. For only three dollars, we salvaged a million dollar memory. We rescued a picture that probably had no meaning whatsoever to anyone else. We rescued a picture from an obscure, dingy existence and it lit up our hearts.

True, there is no scientific answer, but I do believe we did not find that picture. I believe that Church in that picture recognized my wife and called out to her after she put it down the first time.

“Come back, look again!” And she did. She surely did.

The End