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February 4, 2003

Help and authentication have been provided for the recent column about the Perry man who conceived the idea of sending fruitcakes to Noble county servicemen and women during World War II. His name was, as I correctly remembered it in that column, H.R. McMullen. He was an accountant, a bachelor and a person who cared about people who served in the military during wartime and were far from home at Christmas. Mac organized a campaign to send each and every one of them a fruitcake, and he did most of the hard work on his own.

Mac, a lifelong bachelor, is deceased and buried, in Union Cemetery at Billings. He was Hazel Busse's uncle, and of course she remembers him quite well. Hazel is nearing the age of 93 now, and her mental faculties are still well-honed. Her daughter, Jan Billingsley, also has vivid memories of holiday dinners with Mac. "He offered us pea salad once," she recalls, "and I did not care for any. Nevertheless he put a serving on my plate and made it clear that I WOULD eat it. And I did. He was a bachelor and did not know much about how to handle little kids." My thanks to Jan for clearing this up.

Another friend, Elizabeth Willems, brings, me information about two other recent column subjects. One of those was the little Santa Claus house that has served so many years as a meeting place for kiddos and Santa himself in the courthouse park each Christmas season. The Chamber of Commerce, coordinator of Santa's pre-Christmas visits here, has determined that the little house is showing serious signs of wear, and that brought up the question of how old is it, really. Elizabeth tells me that her sister, Frances Hoch, now of Oklahoma City, watched the house when it was under construction, probably in the 1930s, in the backyard of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Cress at 808 Jackson street. Mr. Cress built it himself for his young daughter, Mary Lou. Frances and a neighborhood friend, Betty June Crowder, were fascinated as they watched the small home take shape. Mr. Cress, known to most Perry people simply as "Howdy," was our city's chief of police at that time, and he also was a good carpenter. After Mary Lou outgrew the playhouse, it became the property of Mr. and Mrs. W.K. Leatherock at 901 Jackson, and it was used by their daughter, Marianne, until she was grown up. For the past few years it has been Santa's house each December for events in the courthouse park.

Elizabeth also suggested two reference books for searching out the derivation of American slang terms. (The one in question was “soda jerk," which I used to be.) Her recommendation was The American Dictionary of Slang and/or H.L. Mencken's two-volume dictionary. There is also the complete Oxford English Dictionary that Elizabeth donated to the Perry Carnegie Library a few years ago. Included in that magnificent set is a magnifying glass to assist searchers in reading the tiny type that is used to confine it to just a few volumes.

Off to another matter now. A faithful reader wonders about something that might be a touchy subject. The writer brings up the topic of what he calls trashy and rundown residential property in the 700 block of Ash street. 'I think every structure …of that block is empty... It's also a fire hazard... (Is) city hall trying to do anything about the situation?"

That's enough for this time. Stay tuned for later developments.