HIAWATHA — In the old days, during The Great Depression of the 1930s, most kids loved the arrival of new mail-order catalogs so they could make up their "wish lists" for Christmas. Annabell Harger, who knew her family was so poor those wishes would never come true, instead relished the transfer of the old catalog to the outhouse out back.
"We were always happy to see the new catalogues come in the mail, as the catalogue we had been using in the outhouse was pretty well used, except the slick pages," she writes in her a self-published memoir, "Rump Tump," that recalls her childhood in and around Urbana with trips to Cedar Rapids.
"Every once in awhile," she continues, "Mom would splurge, and buy something just for a treat for the family. This time it was a roll of toilet paper."
My, how times change. Which is exactly why Annabell Harger Weaver, now 85, spent 20 years writing about her childhood, finishing in time for the Christmas past to give copies to her family.
"My life ended when I graduated high school," Annabell jokes, referring the basic conclusion of her book, even though a short final chapter covers her marriage, birth of five children, and the next 50-plus years.
The truth is, I caught up with Annabell at the Oldorf Hospice House of Mercy in Hiawatha. Diagnosed with cancer two years ago, she’s had two cancerous growths and part of her colon removed. She was feeling better after three weeks in hospice. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
"I’m glad it came out when it did," she says. "You’d be surprised at the reaction I got — ‘I didn’t know you did this; I didn’t know you did that; I didn’t know you lived there.’ Now they want to go back to the country, where I grew up."
What better tribute is there than that?
"It makes me feel good that they’re interested in it," Annabell says.
In fact, word got out to the point Annabell received a phone call from Mildred Kalish, author of the best-selling "Little Heathens," which took place around Garrison in the same era. The Benton County connection prompted the call.
"We had a great chat," Annabell says. "Here she’s an English professor and knows all about writing."
The "Rump Tump" title comes from her grandfather who would proclaim, "Rump-tump, doodle-um-adeedle-um-a-dum," as he bounced children on his knee.
Annabell’s tales recall simpler times. One-room schools. Walking through huge snowdrifts. Her father starting a grocery store and being so poor the family of six lived in a back room. The radio connected to a car battery since they didn’t have electricity. Her mother confiding in only her about a lump on her breast. Sunday drives along gravel roads."I want to encourage others," she says. "Mothers need to write these things down before they forget them."