Matfield Green - Our first years

Monday, August 07, 2006

Water Witch

Easter Heathman is 89 years old. He lives about 3 miles up the road toward Bazaar. He's been witching water since he was a boy. Discovered the talent accidently, playing with his brothers. His success rate, he says, is about 75-80%. Can't promise what kind of water we'll find - could be salty or could be good and sweet.

Recently Easter found delicious, soft water for a well to serve the farmhouse and studio that Susi Lulaki and Daryl Nickel are building on a long-neglected and deeply beautiful piece of land south of Lawrence. Susi had some photos to deliver to Easter on Saturday evening, and took the opportunity to introduce Bill and me to this local legend. We told Easter we were buildling cistern for drinking water and other household use, but that with as little rain as we've had this year we've been starting to think that we'd better dig a well for irrigating the garden. There doesn't seem to be a procrastinating bone in Easter's body, so he was down at our place by 8:30 Sunday morning, a forked branch of choke cherry in hand, and a similar one from an apple tree, so thatBill and I could play along. Not 6 feet inside the east gate of the garden Easter's branch was magnetized toward the earth.

A vein of water - or an old water line - seems to be running north to south along the garden fence.

I tried my hand at witching and felt a little tug where Easter's branch had pointed definitively down. Meanwhile, Easter found another spot at the top of the garden nearer the railroad track, and Bill did a little witching just outside the fence between the garden and the road, where it would be easiest to drill. He got a tug and asked Easter to confirm it. Confirmed! (Now Bill is wishing that he hadn't told Easter where he'd got his message, just asked him to walk the same path and see what happened.) But Easter is sure and proud of his gift. Not likely to say yes when he means he's not sure. Too honest to manipulate.

Now we need to find someone to drill.

Next month Easter goes to South Bend, Indiana, to be honored for his role in another kind of legend. 75 years ago a young Easter Heathman was one of the first people at the crash site when Knute Rockne's plane went down in the field about a mile and a half west of where he lives now. As a teen-ager, he was also the youngest among those who discovered the wreck, and perhaps the most outgoing, so it is natural that Easter has become the keeper of the story, the steward of the site. People drive out from Kansas City and beyond to make early morning pilgrimages with Easter (it's too hot for walking out in these pastures by 10 in the morning these days). The interest does not seem to be waning and Easter does nothing to discourage his visitors.

People have told me that in Easter's version of the crash story the bodies of all the passengers on the Pan Am flight are intact and identifiable. Other eyewitnesses gave much more gruesome accounts of Chase Countians carrying off souveniers - ears and fingers and other body parts.

After Easter left us, I spent the rest of Sunday morning reading while Bill and Pat braved the heat down at the housesite. At noon Don and Imogene Hewitt arrived as planned to have lunch with Bill and me down at the Hitchin' Post.

We learned when we arrived that our local bar is open only one Sunday a month - Biker Sunday! The place, which is usually almost deserted, was packed to overflowing with men and women in leather and black tee-shirts. We lucked into a booth by the door and wrote our order on a napkin that Bill delivered to the cook. Clara Jo, who sometimes pitches in when the bar gets busy, came in directly after Church and, since everything seemed to be under control, sat down with us for awhile. The conversation turned again to Rockne and the crash. Clara Jo's dad hadn't mentioned a thing about it - ever - though the plane went down on his father's land. Then, not too long ago, the Kansas Turnpike Authority unveiled a memorial at the Matfield Green Service Plaza, and Clara Jo's dad asked her to take him over there for the ceremony. He sat silent the whole time they were there. Back in the car he said, "That's not the way it happened." "Well, how did it happen, dad?" That's when she learned that her dad and his brother were out tending horses when they saw the plane headed toward the earth. There was an explosion. Clara Jo's uncle got there first because her dad, more concerned about horses than plane, stopped to shut the gate...

Then the Hitchin Post blew a fuse, the air conditioning and the fans stopped and the room fell silent.

Another conversation to be continued.


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