(An American Tragedy)

Donald K. Muschany


[Letter 6]

February 10, 1977

Dear Norman:

     I have been gathering some material on our grandfather, J. U. Muschany. Thought you might like to be updated on our grandfather.
     James Urban Muschany was born October 28, 1856, in St. Charles County, Missouri. At the age of 14, he began a lifetime career as a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He rose to the post of Steward of the Church, and Superintendent of the Sabbath School at Howell. He graduated from Westminster College in Fulton, which school was to become world famous as the scene of Winston Churchill’s ‘‘Iron Curtain” oration.
     Grandpa was a bit famous, himself. He gave the address at his own commencement. I have uncovered dozens of congratulatory letters on being the principal speaker and doing it so well. I have a packet of the letters, should you ever care to look at them. He then came back to his native county and became a school teacher, certainly out of dedication, not thirst for riches.
     While I am in accord with the need for better salaries for teachers, I could not help but have copies made of the teachers’ contracts of Grandfather and his sister, Madge. I want you to note two items: Grandpa’s salary and requirements, and Aunt Madge’s academic certification, both circa 1890.
     In 1884, Grandpa received a letter from H. J. Seib, asking that he meet with the board to discuss a six-month assignment. Such was the intensity of the day.
     James Urban Muschany was the Christian teacher in the classic sense, in that he decried pedagogy and offered example instead. I was only six when he died, on November 4, 1922, but I remember the figure he presented to me: one who practiced what he preached, and one to whom knowledge and Christianity were synonymous, or at least tangent. Can you imagine his feelings on modern-day ideas of no prayers nor Pledge of Allegiance in the classrooms? His motto was certainly, “For God and Country.”
     The social life in those days was simply encased in church and home. Church Socials were the regular fare with their quilting bees, and home-made goodies for sale for the church fund. Box suppers, chicken and chili suppers, ice cream socials, and the like were steady and popular fare. (They sound all right to me now.) Of course, you medics won’t let me have most of the items mentioned.
     Another event was the basket picnic. I found a formal invitation received by Grandpa and Grandma Muschany, and a more elegant bid I have never seen to a social event (even if it was in 1900). Also, I have some of Grandpa’s calling cards and they are equally impressive, showing that this man had class despite being in a remote rural area. I guess class is the person, not the place, right?
     Grandfathers and grandmothers are very special people. They regale us with tales of “dumb” things our parents did, all the while seeing in us the good qualities they were trying to instill in their own children.
     Grandpa married Margaret Ann Morris when he was twenty-nine years old, so it wasn’t any passing fancy. Grandma was born near Nevada, Missouri, and departed on March 20, 1925, having been his devoted “Maggie” for thirty-five years, or until his death did them part.
     Doc, in our modern day of “living with,” not “married to,” philosophy, I have included copies of marriage certificates which were then openly displayed as part of the human condition. This was a bond, a contract, a promise made to one another for life . . . and beyond.
     I am no sociologist, but in spite of everything I see and hear today, I think marriage is here to stay or the Wedding at Cana was all for naught.
     Going back for a moment to teacher contracts of yesteryear, it is obvious that teachers were considered to be equipment, not persons. Aunt Madge Muschany did not marry and dedicated herself to teaching and helping others for so long that it was too late to think of herself, I suppose. O tempore, O mores!!
     I mentioned in a previous letter that Aunt Madge seemed to be the Delphic Oracle to almost everyone. Well, where did she go for help with problems? Just as a pro golfer goes to another pro for advice, Aunt Madge went to her brother, our grandfather. In a letter I came across, Grandpa is writing Madge about a career impasse she had reached:

     “My dear sister, you want my advice in regard to remaining in school. If I were you I would remain in school all the year, that is if you can be contented; if not, I would not remain. You are not compelled to stay if you don’t want to—I don’t like to decide for you but am telling you what I would do. Do what you think best and it will be right.”

     Now that is my idea of counseling, Doc; not lofty-sounding aphorisms, but a personal view with a suggestion that the other do “what she thinks best, and it will be right.” He knew that he was writing to a mature, responsible woman whose judgment he revered and respected. So, he came right to the point, just as he had always did in his teaching role. Grandpa really understood the word education came from the Latin, ‘educare,’ meaning to lead forward.
     So, when this faithful member of the Masonic Lodge and charter member of the Eastern Star, departed this mortal coil, the following description of his death was written:

     “After having contracted pneumonia, he called his family around his bedside and talked to them of his leaving this world, and asked them to live right and meet him in heaven.”

Note to my children:

     Those are not only words to die by, but to live by . . . for all of us.

More later,
[signed: Don]
Don, the Bookcomber