No one can change even one second of the past but a lifetime is built of the things that happened in the past. I am writing about all of the little everyday things that happened in my childhood because every one, no matter how small had some influence on my adult life. When I started to write this, I intended to have Goldie read it and tell me if it was good because she shared so much with me but I waited too long and she, like the rest, has gone beyond recall and now I am the only one left of the Hand family. When I am gone, there will he no one to remember. If I live long enough, I will have copies made so that my children may read it. It will help them to understand their mother. This is a true story and it’s all in my lifetime. When I started, I was going to call it “Yesterday and the day before" but it came to me that there is only one thing that I can call it, A FAMILY NAMED HAND because that is what it is all about.
A FAMILY NAMED HAND
There really was a family named Hand. A father, John, and a mother, Frances, and the nine children born to them. This is a story of their dreams, their hardships and their love. I wanted to get it down on paper and have my sister, Goldie, read it first because we shared so much but I waited too long and she has slipped away forever and I am the only one of the Hand family left. If I live long enough, I want to give each of my children a copy of this story. There will be lots of mistakes in the typing because my old fingers are stiff and won’t cooperate and my typewriter doesn’t spell well either but the thoughts will come through, I am sure.
In order to understand me you must have a picture of my childhood and also of my parents because they shaped my life and without them I could never have become the person that I am. They gave me a true sense of values that have kept me in good stead all of my life and without them I could never have become the person that I am.
I had a hard but happy childhood. I was raised in poverty but I didn’t know it, so it never bothered me any. My parents were very hard working people. My father was a very clever man. He could learn and apply himself to anything that he wanted to. He had an ear for music and could play any instrument by ear. He had a beautiful tenor voice and sometimes sang. He was fantastic with numbers. He had never known his father and had been “farmed out” since he was two and had been on his own since he was twelve. He had very little education and he could barely read and write his name. He was stern, stubborn, superstitious, and disagreeable and had a terrible temper. He was very jealous of Mother but I am sure he had no reason to be. I guess that I haven’t painted a very attractive picture of him but this is a true story. He could be very nice and he was very nice looking man with his black curly hair and his blue eyes. He always wore a mustache. He was not a large man. I think that he was five feet eight inches.
Mother was a gentle, loving woman with a world of patience. She worshiped my father. She was not clever like Father, but she was anything but stupid. She was half Indian, short, plump, black haired and left handed. They were married a day after her sixteenth birthday. (Marcia’s note: They were married 1 Mar 1894, Sturgis, St. Joseph County, Michigan) He was nine years older than she. I think that they were mostly happy and they loved each other, I know. Their life was made harder for them because the children came along so fast.
As this is a true story of a family, I must start with some things that happened before I was born. Just about the turn of the century, our parents left the Indiana farm where my Father had been born and where their three oldest children had also been born and came to Michigan, why and how I don’t know. They came to a homestead in Austin Township of Mecosta County, in the rolling sand hills southwest of tiny Burden Lake. (Marcia’s note: John Hand’s property is shown on the 1900 plat map for Austin Twp.) I mention the lake because it is about the only thing left to mark the area. Before the lumber companies came through, the land was covered with giant white pines but they had all been cut for lumber and later the hills covered themselves with second growth pines, scrub oak, named “the slashing.” The cabin has long ago burned down, the fruit trees Father tended so carefully have died and only the sand hills remain to remember a family named Hand.
The house was made of logs. The downstairs was one room and there was a room above. There was a lean-to in the back that served as a kitchen and it had a dirt floor. The front yard had a well there. I don’t know if Father built the house but I think that he put the well down. Everyone had a well in the front yard, maybe as a status symbol or maybe for convenience. Certainly passers by were glad to stop and refresh and water the thirsty horses in the summer.
It must have been an uphill struggle all the way for our parents. They had two girls and a boy and were expecting again. The oldest of the Hand children was an auburn haired, green-eyed girl named Sylvia Aurilla. The name Sylvia was for a great-aunt of father’s but I don’t know where they found the name of Aurilla. I have never heard it anywhere else. She must have been about four and looking back, I know that she never had a childhood. She had to grow up fast. She had to learn very early to care for her younger brother and sister and even help with the work of keeping the house. I hope that somewhere God made a special place for her because she earned it if anyone ever did. Her life sure was never easy.
The second born was a sturdy brown haired boy and they named him Harvey E. Newton. The Harvey was for father’s middle name and the Newton was for Father’s half-brother but no one seemed to know just why the initial E. came to be there. Of course, he was father’s pride and joy because he was a son to carry the Hand name he was always a spoiled one and always had his way and got almost anything that he wanted.
The third child was a red haired, green-eyed girl. She had a fragile look about her but really wasn’t. She was named Hester Elizabeth. Mother’s mother’s name was Elizabeth but the Hester was just because it had a pretty sound to it, I guess.
In April of nineteen hundred, another little girl joined the Hand family. She had blue eyes, a dark complexion and lots of straight black hair. She had a personality all of her own. She suffered from colic and was often in real pain so she cried a lot. Father was very disappointed because he had been hoping for another son. She was given the name of Clara May. (Marcia’s note: Her birth record says her name was Clara Mae. She was born on 22 Apr 1900, Austin Twp., Mecosta Co., MI.)
Father and Mother struggled to make ends meet on the sandy, eighty acres. He planted the cleared land and worked at removing the huge pine stumps and clearing more land. He bought a team of horses and a cow for milk and butter. There was a flock of chickens for eggs and meat. A pig was raised for meat. He worked for and with other farmers. In the spring, the dandelion greens furnished a welcome addition to the diets as did the wild mushrooms, called morels that grew in the woods everywhere. Later there were the wild strawberries and juneberries. Then there were long sweet wild blackberries, and wild raspberries and the hills were blue with the wild blue berries known as huckleberries. Wild cranberries could be gathered from the marshy bogs in fall and there were a variety of nuts to gather. Mother canned as much as she could get cans for. There were wild game and fish to put meat on the table. In late summer, there were bushels of the huge flat harvest mushrooms around the old stumps.
During the first winter of Clara’s life a near tragedy happened. (Marcia’s note: 1900-1901) She had cried a lot with colic and it irritated Father until he could stand no more of it. He grabbed her up in his arms, opened the door and threw her into a steep snow bank in the yard. Mother jumped up to go to her and he roughly knocked her into a chair and held her there with both hands. She struggled and screamed for him to let her go to the baby but he only held her harder and shouted, “Let the brat cry out there,” with a lot of choice words mixed in. The other children were terrified. They huddled in a corner not understanding what was going on. After a time, Father calmed down somewhat and released Mother and she dashed outside and picked up the now silent baby. She was half-frozen but alive. Mother bathed her in lukewarm water to start her circulation going and rubbed and moved her arms and legs. She recovered with no ill effects. Mother refused to let the children mention it at any time and I heard about it years later. When I asked Mother about it, she said that she didn’t even want to think about it much less talk about it but I heard the older children discuss it when they were alone.
About two years later (Marcia’s note: 1903), Mother gave birth to a darling baby girl, another disappointment for Father. She was a blond doll with a very fair skin. They named her Florence Ellen.
In the fall, Sylvia and Harvey were enrolled in the tiny one room school near Burden Lake. It must have been quite a task for them to get to school in the winter. It was a mile and a half and the road was not traveled often and there often was not even a track through the deep snow. Once when Harvey had stayed home and Sylvia was walking home alone, a lynx followed her all of the way slinking along behind her, stopping when she stopped and going on when she did but always there. She stopped and broke off a red willow switch and walked on home bravely carrying it. Mother and Father were quite shaken up when she told them about the big dark cat that followed her all of the way home. Father went gunning for it and found the tracks but the animal had disappeared.
In the second summer of her life, Florence became ill with the summer colic called summer complaint. The correct name was cholera infantum, I think. Home remedies seemed to do little for it and she got worse. Mother asked Father to take her to a doctor but he refused. It was haying time and he was busy and the nearest doctor was in Big Rapids, about twelve miles away. Mother asked him to let her take one of the horses and go but he refused to do that. He probably did not realize how sick his little girl was and he was so very busy. Mother grew desperate. Telling Sylvia to take care of the other children and to not tell her father where she was going, she took the sick baby in her arms and started for the nearest neighbor about a mile away. It was very hot. Florence was heavy and Mother was pregnant again too and that didn’t help. She hurried along as fast as she could. Father came to the house and found her gone. He forced Sylvia to tell him where Mother had gone and he hitched the fastest of the team to Buddy and hurried after her. He caught up to her just as she got to the neighbors’ so he put her in the buggy and started for the doctor’s. The August sun was terribly hot and poor little Florence was so sick and before they reached the edge of town she died in Mother’s arms. Instead of to the doctor, they took her to the undertaker’s. (Marcia’s note: She died 24 Aug 1905 in Austin Twp., Mecosta Co., MI.)
Arrangements were made for them to meet him at the cemetery the next day for the burial and they sadly returned home. The next day, she was quietly buried in a little pine box near the fence in Pine Plains Cemetery. (Marcia’s note: Pine Plains Cemetery is located in Colfax Twp., Mecosta County, Michigan.) It left a deep scar in mother’s heart. When she left the cemetery, a part of her heart stayed there. They never had a picture of her and only a lock of blond hair in the family bible and a tombstone in the cemetery is all that shows she was ever there. Years later Mother found a picture in a magazine and said it looked just like baby Florence and she always kept it. Many times I have seen the quick rush of tears when she looked at it. I think that I hated Father at such times. But who knows, she may have died in spite of anything they could have done.
On the last Thursday of November, which happened to be the last day, I came into the world. There was no doctor of course, only a neighbor lady to help the event happen. I was named Ethel Frances. I am glad that they gave me her name. I have often wondered why the first son is usually named after the father but it takes several girls before the mother gets a namesake. The Ethel was for a neighbor’s child who had died recently. Mother always said that I was born on Thanksgiving Day, just in time for supper. About sixty years later, I found an old calendar and found that November 21 was Thanksgiving in nineteen hundred and five. My folks must have celebrated Thanksgiving on the last Thursday instead of the fourth Thursday. I suppose I must have been another blow to Father. All he needed was another girl.
Father’s mother was a tough old lady, who had been married four times. Her first husband (Marcia’s note: Enoch Hand) died and she married his brother (Marcia note: Jonathan Hand), who was my grandfather and after he died she married again and had two children by him. (Marcia’s note: The two children were Newton and Nancy Freemans.) Later she was again widowed and married again but she had no children by him because they were both old. She visited us once at the homestead and brought her stepson with her. I guess he must have been her stepson. His name was Bill Brown and we were taught to call him Uncle Bill. He was a young man of eighteen or so.
Harvey had saved up his pennies to buy a present for Grandma Brown and when Father went to town he went along to get his gift. Grandma always smoked a clay pipe so he bought her a new clay pipe. When they came back, grandma was sitting on the steps. Harvey could not wait, so he gave her the pipe. She put it in her mouth and then took it out again and taking the bowl in her hand, she hit the stem on the edge of the steps and broke it. Harvey was almost ready to cry because he thought that she didn’t like his gift. She put it back into her mouth and patted him on the shoulder with a smile and then he realized that she had no teeth and could not hold the pipe by its long stem but with a short stem she could. He was happy.
It was probably the next winter (Marcia’s note: about 1906) that Father went to work at a Creosote factory in Cadillac. Cadillac was about sixty miles from home so he boarded there and only came home once in a while. Uncle Bill got a job there too so they roomed together. When they came home, they took the train from Cadillac to Big Rapids and either took another train to Rodney and walked from there or walked from Big Rapids. It must have been rough for Mother too, with animals to take care of, the kids to get to school and wood to cut. Somehow we made it and the money Father made must have come in handy.
Father had somehow gotten an advertisement from a real estate dealer in Missouri. Of course, it painted a rosy picture of life in the Ozarks. Father decided that it sounded good to him. The seasons were longer, and the winters milder and they were bound to make for easier living. I am sure Mother must have done her very best to talk him out of it but once he had made up his mind there was no changing it. I am sure that a trip across five states in a covered wagon with five kids and expecting another could not have had much appeal for her. She surely could not have wanted to give up all that they had worked so hard for to go to some unknown place and start all over again. She would also have to leave behind her darling baby’s grave.
Father began to plan, however. He made an arrangement with a neighbor to take over the homestead. He sold all the animals except the horses and everything else that he could. He bought a heavy wagon and put canvas on it. The barest of clothes and other things were packed. The day before they were to leave, Mother made him take her to the little cemetery and she placed a little glass or ceramic lamb beside the stone and said her goodbyes to the tiny grave. I am sure that the grass was watered by her tears that day. Poor Mother, it might be the last time she would ever visit it.
On a very chilly April morning (Marcia’s note: 1908) we said goodbye to the log house that had been home to us and to our neighbors and started out for the long trip to the unknown state of Missouri.
The roads were dirt roads. There were no road maps and Father asked directions from the people we met on the road. By the second week, we were in Indiana. If Father was glad to be in his native state, he made no mention of it. Bill had decided to join us so he joined us near the state line. The land was level and good and spring was just beginning to show. It was beautiful but every rain turned the road into mud. The grass was getting higher and Father was able to cut down on the ration of grain that he fed the horses every day. We were more comfortable too.
By May we were in Illinois with rain and more rain. It rained twenty-seven days in the month of May. The heavy black soil turned to a sea of mud, that the horses sank in up to their knees and the wagon wheels went in up to the hubs. Every few miles we came to a huge mud hole known as quagmires. It was impossible for the horses to pull the wagon through them with a load. Usually there were other wagons trying to make it through too. Everyone who could walk got out of the wagon and went into the mud up to their knees or deeper. When other rigs were stalled too, the men unhitched the teams and hitched several teams to the first wagon in the line and pulled it through the mud hole and then went back and hitched to the next until all rigs at the spot were through. Then each team was put on the proper wagon and everyone went their way. If no other wagon was in sight, the wagon had to be unloaded and then reloaded on the other side of the hole. Father and Uncle Bill carried the heavy trunks across or around and set them on the least muddy spot and everyone got out of the wagon and the teams would do their struggling best to pull the partly unloaded wagon through. Everyone was covered with mud and it was usually raining and everyone was wet and miserable. Bill was a great help in helping Father carry the heavy trunks and boxes. All of the other children had to help too. Mother being quite pregnant could only help us a limited amount and I was only about two and a half years old so I was the only one in the wagon a lot of the time. It must have been a very discouraging time. Everyone was covered with mud and our shoes were just blobs of mud and always there was the rain. Father, Uncle Bill, Sylvia and Harvey walked most of the time. Sometimes Hester and Clara did too. Harvey tried to act just like his hero, Uncle Bill. He would tramp along proudly no matter how tired he got. Nights were even worse. Anything dry enough to burn was hard to find and it took a while to get the fire burning enough to make any heat. The girls slept on the trunks in the back of the wagon but they were rounded on top and were never comfortable no matter how they were padded. Quite often the rain found a way in under the edges of the canvas. Bill and Harvey slept under the wagon but the ground was always wet, even with hay or straw on it. No one got dried out. I was the only comfortable one.
I must have been a real problem for my mother on that trip. I was extremely bashful and if strangers even stopped by to pass the time of day I was terrified and ran and jumped into mother’s lap or tried to. She was very pregnant and it must have been uncomfortable to have a forty-five-pound girl come jumping into your lap or trying to. I can still remember my terror of strangers. As outgoing as I grew up to be, it doesn’t seem possible now.
Roaming bands of gypsies were common. They traveled in closed wagons that must have been the forerunners of the modern vans. One or more teams pulled each wagon and the sides were brightly painted. Besides the horses that pulled the wagons several other horses were tied to the back of each wagon and led along. From three to eight wagons would be traveling together and as many as twenty-five horses might be included. They stopped at night near a river or stream and let the horses graze along the road while they cooked their meals on a bonfire. If possible, they liked to camp near a small town or village. The women scattered out and told fortunes for anyone who would let them. Of course, they wanted money for the service. The men tried to sell or trade horses or with farmers or anyone. They had a reputation for stealing anything that they could get their hands on. They were reported to steal small children and later to sell them. I don’t know if it was true or not. The menfolk traded, gambled, stole or did anything but work for money. Farmers turned all the dogs loose and locked everything up that they could whenever word came that a band of Gypsies had been seen.
One time a band of Gypsies camped near us by a river. One of the men took a liking to me and offered my father four horses for me. Of course, Father would never think of anything like that and refused to even talk about it but it didn’t help my peace of mind any. Although I was very young, I had heard of children being stolen by Gypsies and never found again and I worried about one of them stealing me in the night. I slept between the older girls and I clung to one of them as tight as I could all night and for several nights after we saw gypsies.
Everything comes to an end sometime and so did Illinois and the rain. We crossed the big Mississippi river and were in Missouri. We crossed at or near Hanibal, Missouri. Bridges were few and far between so we crossed on a ferry boat. They were mostly little flat barges and were pushed by dirty, little, smoke belching tug boats. Some had steel cable that ran thru a pulley attached to the side of the barge to keep it from drifting too far downstream during the crossing. The ferry we crossed on had a bar across one end with stools along it. I think that drinks were served there. Mother sat down on one of the stools, seeking whatever comfort she could. Before I could climb up on the stool beside her, it was taken by a rather plump lady. I felt that it should be mine and I made a fuss about it until a slap across the mouth from Mother shut me up. I can still remember the resentment that I felt for her and I can picture her in my mind still. She had brown hair pinned in a high bun on top of her head and her blouse was white with tiny black figures in it. It had long sleeves with gathers at the cuffs and a round collar with lace on the collar and cuffs. She had a full, long, black skirt.
Almost at once, the landscape changed from the flat muddy fields of Illinois to the hills of Missouri. As we worked our way westward, the hills became the steep rocky winding Ozarks. The roads were rocky and uphill and down and quite often I was the only one in the wagon. Even Mother found it easier to walk than to ride in the wagon over the rough roads. Father or Uncle Bill walked beside the team and drove or led them with the rest strung out behind the wagon.
Food must have been a problem because we could only carry a limited supply in the wagon because it was loaded heavy anyway. Sometimes we traveled several days without passing a store. Father or Uncle Bill shot rabbits and squirrels for food and if we were near a river they caught fish. Sometimes we bought eggs and vegetables from farmers along the way. Uncle Bill had a unique way of obtaining food in emergencies. He had a fishing rod in the wagon and we would search in the grain sack for kernel of corn and put it on the hook and toss it into a field or along the fence row where chickens were feeding and sooner or later some chicken searching for food would see the corn and swallow it. Uncle Bill would wind in the line and the chicken was forced to come struggling and flopping through the fence or weeds and with the hook in its throat, it made it impossible for it to make any noise. The farmer never saw the flopping chicken and didn’t even know he had lost one. Uncle Bill would wring its neck and put it into the wagon. Mother scolded him for it and said it was stealing, which it was, but hungry children had to be fed so we had a nourishing meal that night.
Somewhere in Missouri a farmer gave Father a large, ugly looking mongrel dog. His name was Buckus. He proved to be very useful to us. We children were delighted with him, of course. He trotted along under the wagon and minded his own business unless someone or something came too close. One look at him would discourage almost anything.
The Missouri farmers had their own way of raising hogs. Most of the winter and all summer they were allowed to run loose, foraging for food wherever they could find it. Acorns furnished a large part of their diet. They were always lean and poorly fed and their spine made a ridge the length of their back giving them the common name of razorbacks. In autumn the farmers banded together and cornered the wild pigs and took any with their mark on them and any young pigs running with their sows. Whatever was needed for meat was penned up and fattened. The rest were turned loose again after first marking the little ones. There were usually marked by cutting slits in their ears. Each farmer had a certain number and a certain way of making the slits. The pigs were more wild than tame and could be really mean, especially the sows with young pigs.
Sometimes at night, the pigs wandered into our camp site searching for food. I don’t know how it got started but when anything bothered us, Mother would say “Parade camp, Buckus” and whatever was there left in a hurry. The meanest of the wild pigs left after Buckus nipped them a time or two. His sharp teeth always found their rear ends and their tails and they left in a hurry. He would go back to his spot under the wagon, pleased with himself and with an eye for anything that might try to return.
Once it had been several days since we had passed any village or store of any kind and our supplies were at a low ebb. Mother had begun to worry because her flour was almost gone as were other needed things. Father said there was bound to be something ahead of us soon so when they saw a rough board sign saying, Gass City 14 miles they were glad. It was late in the day and they might not reach it that afternoon but it would be close the next day. As we went along, they saw other signs shortening the distance. Daylight stayed a long time so Father decided to make it to Gass City even if darkness caught us and we would make camp just at the edge of town and be there in the morning. We came at last to a cross road. On one corner stood a large square clapboarded building and on the other side was an old sign that said Gass City. The only building besides it was a barn and some sheds that belonged to it. Mother and Father climbed down and started for the building but when they reached the door it was opened by a woman who told them that the store has been shut up years before and it was used as a dwelling by the woman and her husband. Our parents were so disappointed they could have cried. Father asked if they might camp nearby and get water from them and they were glad to have them do that. They were very nice people and when they found out how much in need we were, the woman divided her flour, coffee and a few other things with Mother so that we would be able to eat until we reached the next store on the second day from there. They were very reluctant to take the money Father forced on them. Later when anything didn’t turn out like we expected, we referred to it as a Gass City.
As we traveled south and west through Missouri, the hills became steeper and the roads more crooked and rockier. The Ozarks were formidable after the rolling hills of Michigan with their gentle sandy slopes. When we finally arrived at our destination, the name of which I don’t even remember, Father took one look at the steep, stony land and decided it was not for him. The pot of gold just wasn’t at the end of the rainbow.
On the way out, we had seen a lot of covered wagons with the slogan “Colorado or Bust” painted on the side. Some said, “Pike’s Peak or Bust.” One disillusioned man had crossed out the “Colorado or Bust” sign and under it had painted “Busted by GOD” and he was headed back east. My folks got a chuckle out of it.
Father decided to join the Colorado seekers. Why not? I don’t know what they hoped to find out there. The gold rush was over but it seemed to be the thing to do, so we went on across the rest of Missouri, headed west by north now with no real goal, I guess. We came in time to the hot flat fields of Kansas. Water was scarce so we camped near ranches or farms whenever possible to do so. The grass became withered and dry and the horses ate it because there was nothing else to eat. They each received a measure of grain too, because they had to be kept up. The heat was terrible. The wind blows all the time in Kansas but it brings no coolness, only more heat. The dust from approaching teams could be seen for miles and we left a train of dust that blew off across the country. Grasshoppers flew in swarms.
Each day of our journey, brought Mother closer to her date with the stork. It began to be a race to see if we made Colorado or the stork caught us before then. Of course the subject was never mentioned in our presence because there were things children should not hear or even know about.
The first hills we found in Kansas were the stony Flint Hills. They are in eastern Kansas and were hot and stony and dry but we plodded on. Everyone was tired and the horses lost weight every day. One night we made camp near shallow, muddy Kansas. There was a large stone quarry nearby. Father must have been having a lot of misgivings for a long time. He had a very pregnant wife, five hungry children, a tired, worn out team and a fast dwindling supply of cash. He said that we would stay over for a day or two and let the horses rest. The next morning he went to the quarry and asked for a job and was hired on the spot. The foreman was the only English speaking help there. The rest were all Spanish or Mexican. Maybe he welcomed another American laborer. At any rate, Father went right to work. Most of the workmen lived in quarters nearby. The building most of them lived in had been a barn originally but had been converted into something somewhat like the motels we know now. Rooms had been added on in a row with no connecting doors. Each unit contained one or more families. Each unit had an outside door in the front and a window in back. Water was carried from a well nearby. After we had been there for a week or two, the foreman told Father that a Mexican family had left and gone back to their homeland and that if we wanted the room we could have it. It was on the end of the row. He told Father that the Mexicans fought a lot with each other but that we would be perfectly safe there. So we had a roof over our heads and one room was a lot better than one wagon. Because our room was on the end, we had a little more privacy than most, I guess. The Mexicans did not bother us any except for the noise and all the dogs but Buckus quickly established the bare spot of ground in front of our room as his domain and no other dogs ever came into it.
Uncle Bill soon tired of staying in one place and he seemed to have no interest in going to work so one morning he rolled up his clothes and his other possessions into a blanket roll and climbed aboard a train going west. “Hoboing” was a popular means of travel for males. You simply climbed into a car of a train going the way you wanted to travel. If the railroad detective, or Dicks as they were called, caught you they made you get off at the next stop, no matter where it was but you tried again as soon as another train went by. Every town had a hobo jungle where the hobos stopped off to await the next train and made a fire to cook any vegetables they had been able to steal from some garden patch. Any tin can would do as a stew pan. Sometimes they went from house to house asking for a sandwich or anything edible. Trains were switching almost every day at the quarry, trading empty cars for the full ones so it was easy for Bill to hop a ride. He said his goodbyes and left for Colorado alone and it was about ten years before Father saw him again.
I was soon playing with the other kids my age and as they spoke very little English, I was soon speaking Spanish. I guess, when you are just learning to talk any language is as good as another. I was not quite three. (Marcia’s notes: 1908), I soon forgot all my bashfulness and paid no attention to the dark strangers so nearby.
Father was a good worker and was very dependable and it wasn’t long before the foreman asked him if he had ever had any experience with explosives. Father said that he had some experience with dynamite while blasting stumps in Michigan so the foreman asked him to take over the blasting at the quarry. The foreman had been doing it himself but with someone else doing that he would have more time for other things. Due to the language barrier, he had never tried to teach one of the others to do it. Father said he would try it. The solid rock in the quarry was broken into pieces and put through a crusher and reduced to gravel for road building. Holes were drilled into the rock ledges and dynamite was placed in the holes to break up the rock. A detonator or cap was inserted into the end of a stick of dynamite and a rope like fuse was also attached to the same stick. Several other sticks were put in the same hole and clay was packed over them tightly leaving the fuse hanging out. When all was ready, the blast man gave a warning shout, which was a cry of “fire in the hole.” Each man repeated the shout until it had gone around to each man and as they shouted it, each man took cover. Then the blast man lit the fuse with a match and took cover quickly. The time between the lighting of the fuse and the blast was determined by the length of the fuse. The fire went sputtering along the fuse until it reached the buried cap and then the cap exploded setting off all the sticks of dynamite. The earth shook, and pieces of rock flew into the air and a great cloud of white dust drifted off in the wind. The men got back to work again. The caps came in little square blue boxes of probably forty-eight caps. When they were empty, Father brought them home for us to play with and they made the best toys. They could be stacked in all kinds of formations and made the nicest containers for everything small. We children were fascinated by the “fire in the hole” bit.
Sometimes during our stay there, the dog Buckus came up missing and we never knew just what became of him. Our parents always thought that he became bored after we stopped traveling and went back to his former owner in Missouri. Maybe he did.
Early in September of that year, Mother gave birth to another girl. Poor Father. Another girl! She was named Goldie Lenora. (Marcia’s note: Goldie was born 8 Sep 1908, El Dorado, Butler County, Kansas.) I don’t know where either name came from but I don’t think they were family names. She was a baby doll with brown hair, blue eyes and two teeth. Father said he was a rich man because he had gold (Goldie) and silver (Sylvia). When anyone asked him about the new baby, he told them that she had three hands and two teeth. When they came to see her, they saw the teeth but not the third hand and when they asked about it, he laughed and said that her name was Hand therefore she had three hands.
One Saturday night a young Mexican from one of the other units knocked on our door and when Father opened it, he asked a question in Spanish. When Father seemed puzzled, he repeated it again and again. The word lend came out in English but no other. When Father still was at a loss the young man stepped inside and pointed to father’s guitar, which had been packed in one of the trunks but now was hanging on a nail on the wall. He pointed to it and made a motion to himself and repeated the sentence over and over and Father got the idea that he wanted the guitar. Whether as a gift or loan Father was not sure but he handed it to him and he bowed from the waist and with a white tooth big smile he said, “Muchas gracias, muchas gracias.” I think that it is Spanish for many thanks. After he had gone Mother said, “John, I don’t think I would have done that” but Father said, “I didn’t really know what to do. I don’t want to lose my guitar but I don’t want to make enemies of them either as long as we have to live here. Those greasers can be mean, if they get it in for anyone. We will just have to wait and see what happens.” Later we heard guitar music and rich voices singing in Spanish from down the line of rooms. They really can sing and it was beautiful even if you couldn’t understand it. It went on until nearly morning and we went to sleep to the sound of it. The next morning the young man appeared at our door and handed Father the guitar with the same big smile and the same muchas gracias. Around the neck of the guitar under the strings was the most beautiful red satin ribbon I have ever seen. It was about six inches wide and was knotted into a big bow on the back. When Father made a move toward it with his hand, the man caught his hand and shook his head and said something in Spanish. Plainly he meant that the ribbon stayed. As long as I can remember, it was on the guitar. We found out later that there had been a birthday to celebrate but no one had any musical instruments and they had heard Father play it and knew he had one. The one word lend was as near as they could get to the word borrow.
Father sometimes sang while playing the guitar and sometimes he sang love songs to Mother. My favorite was Molly Darling.
Lyrics added by Marcia:
Molly Darling Lyrics
Won't you tell me Molly darling that you love none else but me
For I love you Molly darling you are all the world to me
Tell me darling that you love me put your little hand in mine
Take my heart sweet Molly darling say that you will give me thine
Molly fairest you're sweetest and dearest won't you look up darling tell me this
Do you love me Molly darling let your answer be a kiss
[ strings ]
Molly fairest sweetest dearest look up darling tell me this
Do you love me Molly darling let your answer be a kiss
Sometimes he sang “I wish I was single again” to tease her.
Lyrics added by Marcia:
I Wish I Was Single Again Lyrics
When I was single, Oh then, Oh then,
When I was single, Oh then,
When I was single,
My money did jingle,
I wish I was single again, again,
I wish I was single again.
I married me a wife, Oh then, Oh then,
I married me a wife, Oh then,
I married me a wife,
She's the plague of my Life,
And I wished I was single again, again,
I wished I was single again.
My wife she died, Oh then, Oh then,
My wife she died, Oh then,
My wife she died,
I laughed and I cried,
To think I was single again, again,
To think I was single again.
I married another, Oh then, Oh then,
I married another, Oh then,
I married another,
The devil's grandmother,And I wished I was single again, again,
I wished I was single again.
He sometimes sang a funny ditty called “On tee rad???.” (Marcia’s note: unreadable) We used to tease him to sing and sometimes when he was in a good mood he would.
If you have read all of this you will notice that I mention Goldie more that anyone else but she and I grew up together. I was not quite three when she was born and Clara was five years older than I was, so we never shared the same things like Goldie and I did. That is why her passing hit me hard. We shared so much.
Sometime that fall (Marcia’s note: 1908) the quarry shut down for a week or so and Father was still dreaming of Colorado so he took off alone and hoboed his way to Colorado and climbed Pike’s Peak and came back. I guess, that he got it out of his system.
Letters had arrived from time to time from Michigan and things were not going as planned there. I am not sure what went wrong but early the next spring Father said, we were going back to Michigan. (Marcia’s note: They arrived back in Austin Twp., Mecosta County, Michigan in April 1909 but they stayed in Howe, LaGrange County, Indiana for a while before returning.) He sold the horses that a neighbor had let pasture in his field. He also sold the wagon and whatever he could dispose of. Mother again packed the old trunks and boxes and made arrangements to get to the station in El Dorado and we boarded a train headed east. The foreman tried to talk Father out of leaving because he hated to lose a good man but there was never any changing father’s mind. I think that even he was glad to be returning to Michigan.
I don’t remember how long it took us to arrive home but it was long enough for the novelty of the clickety-clack of the wheels and passing landscape to wear off. We had a huge basket of lunch and there was water on the train. Of course, the lunch was rationed because it had to last until we got off the train. Once the conductor came through the cars selling apples. They were red and polished and they look so good. He held a plate of them in front of every seat and I reached and took one but before I could bite it, Father took it away from me and put it back. When I started to cry, Father explained that the conductor was not just passing them around like I had thought but was selling them for five cents a piece and he could not afford to buy one for all of us, so no one got one. It was a blow to me but I got over it.
We got off the train at Howe, Indiana. I think that father’s mother still lived there and mother’s parents lived there and her only brother, Lewellyn, lived nearby. I can just remember Grandpa Green. His once red hair was grey and he had a long grey beard. He wore a red and black plaid Mackinaw jacket, the first one that I had ever seen. Grandma Green was short and chubby and was very wrinkly and had sharp dark eyes. Lewellyn had a large family and was cutting logs for a living at that time. He liked to be called Walter, his middle name, because he didn’t like Lewellyn. Father needed money too so we stayed there a while and Father helped Uncle Walter cut logs. It was a two-man job because they had to be cut with a crosscut saw. I suppose we stayed with Grandpa and Grandma Green, but I don’t remember.
As soon as spring started to show, we boarded a train and returned to the homestead. It was just a year to the day that we had been gone. (Marcia’s note: They arrived back in Austin Twp. in April 1909). Father exchanged work with neighbors and got the fields planted and a garden in and before long he owned a team of horses and a cow. As soon as she could, Mother visited Florence’s grave but was disappointed to find that someone had taken the little lamb that she had placed on it.
By fall we were well established again and it seemed like we had never been gone. The older children were in school at Burden Lake School again, after missing a year. Hester and Clara were old enough to go now too.
There was one queer little incident connected with the school that I must tell you about. All of the children carried their lunch in a dinner pail and almost every day some part of a lunch was missing. Some child would be missing a sandwich, a boiled egg, a piece of cheese or something when the noon hour came. Everyone tried to watch but no one was seen touching the lunches. Clara’s lunch seemed to be robbed more often than the others. Maybe it was handier to get to where it sat on the shelf. On one of their trips to town, Mother bought a really strong laxative powder. It was called epicake or some such name. She also bought some peanut butter, which was a luxury. The next day she baited a peanut butter sandwich, with the powder and put it in Clara’s lunch. She told Clara that if there were two sandwiches at noon to eat only the bottom one and bring the other one home untouched but if only one remained she could eat it. She also told her to brag about the fact that she had peanut butter sandwiches that day. At noon she found that she had only one sandwich so she ate it. During the afternoon, the teacher got up and asked one of the older girls to take charge while she went to the outside bathroom. After the second time, the Hand kids looked at each other and then began to snicker. After the next time out, they giggled so hard that the other kids began to ask what the joke was and they told them. When the teacher came in, she was greeted with so much giggling and laughing that she dismissed the school and told the kids to go home. I think that she knew that she had fallen into a trap. My parents could hardly believe that the teacher was the guilty one. She boarded at a nice place and could not have been really that hungry. At any rate, it stopped the lunch stealing for good.
Sometime during the homestead years, Father had bought a magic lantern. It was the grandpa of the slide projectors. It was a square tin box with a hole in the front, slots in each side and a place in back where a small kerosene lamp sat. It had pictures of far away places on glass sheets that slid into the slots on the sides and were projected on a sheet put up in front of it. The pictures were of Niagara Falls, The Empire State Building, Grand Canyon etc. There was a card that matched each picture that told about it. One slide was not a picture at all but a swirl of color on a glass with a very thin frame around it. The magic lantern had a tiny crank on the side and when the crank was turned one way the swirls of colors all went to the center and when it was cranked the other way they went out. It was my favorite and Father always showed it last. It always made me dizzy to watch the swirls go to the center.
Sometimes there were social gatherings at the school house and once Father was asked to bring his magic lantern to entertain the people. He was glad to show them the pictures and Mother had read the cards to him so much that he knew them all by heart and could tell about each one almost as if he had been there. The last one was the whirly-gig one and it brought ohs and ahs from the crowd. We children felt almost like celebrities as our Father talked about all the wonderful places he had pictures of. We enjoyed it, the people enjoyed it and the Hand children were very proud.
There was a Fourth of July that all the business places in the little town of Rodney and most of the neighbors purchased a large amount of fireworks and build a sturdy raft on Burden Lake and three men including Father were to shoot them off at the lake, while the people watched from shore. It was a beautiful sight with all of them reflecting in the still water of the lake. The people sat on blankets and watched. It was the first fireworks we had ever seen. Now I wonder just where we sat because the lake seems to be surrounded by swampy ground but maybe we sat farther away from the lake.
My folks always ate anything that didn’t eat them first so when Harvey found a big mud turtle in the road he picked it up to carry it home. As he carried it along by the tail, he somehow got the finger of his other hand too close and the turtle grabbed it and hung on. He was forced to carry it home with his finger in its mouth. It must have been very painful because Mother heard him crying while he was still a long way down the road. She and Sylvia ran to meet him to see what was the matter. Sylvia helped to carry it home and Father had to cut the muscle in its jaw to release his finger. He always said that he didn’t cry but Sylvia and Mother said that they heard him from a long way away.
I don’t know how I rated it but as far back as I can remember, I owned a B.B. gun. The walls of the log house were papered with newspapers in the inside and I was always shooting the pictures. At age three, I could hit a nail head across the room every time. When we had stopped at Grandma Green’s on the way to Michigan, she had been astonished that one so young was allowed to even touch a gun, much less own one. She made some remark about him raising his girls like savages. When I was nearly four, they had a picture taken of me with my gun and my hair hanging down. They tore my jumper to pieces and I posed barefoot. Father had one sent to Grandma Green. I think that it was intended to make her mad but she loved it. There must have been a lot of friction between Father and Grandma for him to spend good money on a picture just to make her angry.
Harvey was becoming a good sized boy by now. He was thirteen (Marcia’s note: About 1910). He had been allowed to go hunting any time he wanted to. If he didn’t want to go to school, he didn’t. He always got first pick of everything. If he came home from hunting tired, Sylvia had to do his chores for him.
Our parents went to Big Rapids one day with the horses and wagon and Sylvia was left in charge at home. Harvey went off hunting and he sat his shotgun down by a stump while he climbed through a fence and it must have been cocked because it went off and the shot stuck him in the back of the head. Several pellets hit him and if it had been one inch closer it would have been fatal. He managed to get to his feet and staggered home. It must have been a frightening thing for Sylvia. He was covered all over with blood. The blood had run down his back and he had touched his head and his hands were all bloody too. He was in a lot of pain and only half conscious. As soon as she found the wound, she made him lay flat on the floor on his stomach and she washed his head as best she could with a basin of cold water and a clean cloth. It was hard to tell how bad it was because of the bleeding. She sat on the floor beside him, pressing the cold cloth to his head until our folks came home. Clara and Hester were frightened and kept asking her, “Is he going to die?” and she would say bravely, “Of course not.” but afraid that he would before Mother and Father got home. They arrived after a time and Mother took over but she said that she could not have done a better job of caring for him than Sylvia had. He recovered but had a scar on the back of his head for the rest of his life.
Father made improvements as time went by. He put in a rough board floor in the kitchen to replace the dirt floor. He made a cement chick coop. No one had ever heard of one but he made one. It was still there the last time I visited the place. It is about the only thing that remains there.
I said that Father was clever. He learned to weave baskets and sold them to help make a living. He cut straight grained ash trees and with a draw shave cut paper thin stripes from them. These were placed in boiling water and they became very pliable. He rolled them into a roll like adding machine tape and later dyed them. We children loved to hold them while he dyed them. We put a finger in the hole in each side of the roll and held it while Father unwound it and dyed each side with a rag dipped in dye. When we got to the ends, we held it by a tiny corner and dyed our fingers as he did the ends. Of course, it took several days for the dye to wear off. Then Father wove the brightly colored strips into baskets, bushels, half bushels, market baskets and several kinds of smaller fancier ones. Once he made a half basket, weaving it as tight as possible and some of the water put in it at night would remain in the morning. A man bought it from Father and later we learned that he had exhibited it at the county fair. He also did a lot of whittling in the long winters. He made chains from a piece of wood. He got so clever that he could make them with hooks on both ends and a swivel in the middle. He made a fancy picture frame from hundreds of square pegs about two inches long made of wood. They were sharp on one end and flat on the other and had notches cut in the sides. Each piece held the next in place and there were no nails, tacks or glue to hold them. He made one to fit their marriage license. He made one for Sylvia after she was married too. I don’t know if he created them or if he saw one and copied it. There is one in the museum at Greenfield Village and I saw it and wondered if it could be one he made. I have never seen any like it anywhere else. They were very unique.
I had a nickname all of my childhood. It was “Bump”. I was playing near where Father was cutting wood one time and I climbed up on a stump and sat there and he said that I looked just like a bump on a stump. I was always chubby and the name stuck and my parents always called me that. Harvey was always “The old man” and they called Sylvia “Puss” but I don’t know why.
It the early nineteen hundreds, it was against the law to let milkweeds mature on your land and if the land owner didn’t cut them down before they seeded, the township or the county hired someone to cut them and the cost was added to the taxes on that parcel of land. Mother contracted to cut them on some of the nearby lands and while the seed pods were still green, before they were ready to burst and send forth their silvery parachute seeds, she and Harvey took corn knives and cut them. They covered the whole parcel and were paid by the acre. I don’t know how much they were paid but I am sure the money helped out a lot.
Father’s mother visited us once. She always drank hot chocolate and she brought her own pot to make it in. The pot was a sort of crockery pot and was the color of chocolate and it was years before I found out that chocolate could be made in some other color pot.
Father’s half-brother, Newton, also visited us at least once on the homestead. He was fun and he was married to a fat, jolly woman and they lived in Findley, Ohio and had twin boys and another boy. They really enjoyed the rusticness of our lives and I think we enjoyed them too. The only full brother my father had was a twin. He died shortly after birth so he liked Uncle Newt. Once Uncle Newt stood on his head in a sand bank just to prove he could and he had his good hat on too. Aunt Maggie scolded him for that but he said he didn’t want to get sand in his hair and that made sense, I guess. The boys had lots of fun playing hide and go seek with us. There were so many interesting places to hide and they never had a chance to play with girls before and of course we all played. Even Uncle Newt and Aunt Maggie played. Newton was Grandma Hand’s son by her third husband.
Father’s father’s name was Jonathan so when twin boys were born to grandma she named them John and Jonathan but one only lived a short time and she never was sure which one survived but as John was shorter she called the living one John.
Two neighbor boys visited us often. Their names were Charles and Ralph Martin. The oldest, Charlie, was a good natured happy-go-lucky boy. He had a little tune that he sang all the time. It wasn’t really a song it was just “Diddley dee dee dee, Diddley dee.” My parents nicknamed him Diddley Dee. On one of their visits, the older children were all playing outside and darkness had come but they were still playing. Diddley Dee ran across the yard and forgot that the cloth line was there and ran into it. The line had been spliced and had a sharp end and it was just at the right height to hit him right in the face. His cheek was cut badly. Mother took care of it as best as she could and sent Harvey to walk home with him to see that he was all right. She felt terrible about it. She felt that she was to blame but it healed up nicely. Once when the Martin boys and we were sitting under a tree, Charlie wanted to impress us with the fact that he had learned to smoke a pipe. He was sixteen or so. He casually lit his pipe and sat smoking it. We could smell something that smelled like cloth burning. We all looked but there didn’t seem to be anything afire. Charlie started to say that we would find it when it burned to the skin and he said “Oh you will find it when it get to the — Oh God” because right then it got through to his leg and burned him. We teased him for a long time about the spark getting to the Oh God.
We lived on the homestead about three years that time. It seems longer but I guess that you live a lot in three years. My father’s feet began to be itchy again and he started to talk of Kansas. Mother tried her best to talk him out of it. He had paid up the homestead at it was free and clear. They were just getting a good start. They had horses, three or four cows, pigs and chickens. The trees father had planted were starting to bear fruit. The children were getting bigger and were able to help more and everything was looking good.
Father had Mother write to the man who was the foreman at the quarry in Kansas and ask about the conditions there and if there were any jobs to be had. A letter arrived saying that the owner had lost his sight when a blast had gone off prematurely and his son was now running the quarry. He said that Father could have a job anytime that he wanted one. I guess that did it.
Early in nineteen and twelve, Father sold the team, the cows, the furniture, tools and everything he could. What couldn’t be sold was given away. He even sold the homestead. It would never be ours again. We said goodbyes to all of our friends and neighbors and left. There must have been a lot of tears because we had been happy there and it was home. I can go back to the old place but I can never go back to my childhood years there. The sand hills of Mecosta County are still there but the Hand family has left them.
The train trip was very much like the last one except we were going west. We got bored after a while because were confined to a limited space. Goldie and I sat with Mother and took turns sitting next to the window. Sylvia, Hester and Clara set behind us and Father and Harvey had a seat ahead but spent a lot of time walking through the rest of the train. We were all glad to reach our destination. The boss at the quarry had secured an empty house for us and his son met our train and took us to the place. We had no furniture. We had suitcases and the two old battered trunks. Some things had been shipped in barrels but they hadn’t arrived yet. We slept on the floor with grass under us and our coats over us. The next morning Mother, Father and Harvey walked to town and carried the groceries home. Then the next day Father went to work. He had to work just as a common laborer at first. It was very different from what it had been when he worked there before. The Mexicans had left for the most part and all the personnel were different. The man who took it over was a poor manager and things were not rosy. But at least Father had money coming in. We were about two miles from the quarry so Father walked four miles a day. Soon Harvey was hired as a water boy. He carried water in a pail from the boss’ house and offered every man a drink about every two hours.
Father hired a man to plow us a garden spot. He had a black horse and a grey one. I petted the horses while they were taking a rest and the man asked me which one I liked best. I said the black one and when he asked why I said the other one was too old. He got a laugh out of that and explained to me that some horses were one color and some another and that age had nothing to do with it.
Father ordered a set of golden oak dining chairs from a mail order catalog. When he got a card saying they had arrived, he took a half-day off from work and he, Sylvia, Harvey and Hester all walked to El Dorado to bring them home. I wanted to go badly but I was refused. I guess, they knew they had enough to carry without bothering with me. Darkness had come before they got home. Each child had carried one chair and Father had carried two. The chairs were quite heavy and they were awkward to carry and they had carried them five miles. We sure were proud of those chairs. They were probably the only brand new pieces of furniture we had ever had. They were so shiny and beautiful.
Little by little we gained furniture. Some was given to us, some was bought at second hand furniture shops and some Father made. We children were still sleeping on the floor. One morning Harvey came downstairs and said there was a snake in his bed. Mother didn’t believe him but she went with him to look and there was a brown snake curled up in the side of his bed enjoying the warmth, I guess. Mother was quite shaken up but Harvey only picked it up and took it outside and turned it loose.
Of course, Father carried his lunch to work. His sandwiches were made of homemade bread and as we never had butter or even oleo, it was spread with lard and sprinkled with salt and pepper and sometimes with sugar for a change. Goldie and I and sometimes Clara walked to meet him and carried his dinner pail to the house. We always looked to see if he had left us a bit and he always managed to leave a part of a sandwich for us and those sandwiches tasted better than any that I can buy or make today. Even if there was only a quarter of one, we divided it if more than one of us had walked across the field to meet him. I think, that he was pleased that we always came to meet him.
One summer day, a peddler came by with his enclosed buggy and a team of horses. Peddlers were just like a mobile department store. They carried everything from pots and pans to yard goods, harness repair to silverware and tools. Anything that a housewife might want, they could dig into their stock and come up with. He stopped in front of the house and called for Mother to come out to see his wares. Clara and I were playing in the backyard so we ran to the road as fast as we could go to see what the peddler had. Clara had a wart on the side of her heel and it bothered her a lot when she had to wear shoes but of course she was barefoot that day. When she reached the roadside she stopped but I didn’t and I ran into her and somehow my toenail hit the wart and cut it off as cleanly as any doctor could have done it. It must have hurt a lot and she screamed and jumped around and at first Mother and I didn’t know what was going on until we saw the blood and then it was hard to tell because it bled heavily and must have hurt a lot too. Mother was busy for a while trying to stop the bleeding and get Clara calmed down. The peddler finally became impatient and left and Mother had never gotten to look at his things. Mother told me that at least I had saved them some money because there were planning to have the wart taken off before school started because it bothered her when she wore shoes. It never did grow back either and it wasn’t really painful after the first few hours.
After a while, Father bought a horse. It belonged to one of the neighbors and had been a pet of his children’s but his children had grown up and left home. She was a small black mare and had a bad foot at some point in her life and it had never been properly taken care of and she had a limp. The man sold her to us cheap. The children that she belonged to had named her Chickababe but we shortened it to Chick. She was a faithful little beast but she had a will of her own too.
Father took several junked buggies and built one out of the pieces so we had some inspiration at least. After that Mother hitched up the horse and buggy and one of the children went to meet Father so he would not have to walk home after work. Instead of hiking across the fields he would take the road and he would be met before he came very far. Harvey had bought a bicycle and rode it to work. Usually Clara was sent to meet Father because Sylvia and Hester were busy but Clara and Chick never got along very well. Sometimes Chick went fine but if she wasn’t in the mood she would stop and Clara could not get her to go on no matter what she did. Eventually Father walked to where they had stopped and he would get in and turn the buggy around and Chick would come on home fine. After a few times of that, Mother decided to try sending me to meet Father. I was only six but Chick and I were real friends and she behaved well for me so it was my job to go to meet Father. Later he rode a bicycle to work too.
All of our water had to be brought from a windmill in a field about a quarter mile away. We had to go up the road, past the school house and through a fence into a pasture field. One day all the children were busy and were not handy so Mother got two pails and started for the well and Goldie and I tagged along with her. The fence was a barbed wire fence and we had to crawl between the wires or underneath them and I usually laid down on the ground and rolled under the bottom wire. There was a huge devil’s tongue just inside the fence and Mother called our attention to it and said to be careful. I went under the fence as usual and Goldie did too but she never paid much attention to anything she was told so as she went under the fence she rolled into the cactus, back end first. She was like a pin cushion, especially her butt. She could not walk because of stickers in the backs of her legs. Mother tried to remove them but it was almost hopeless so she went to the windmill and got a half pail of water and I had to carry it home while she carried Goldie. She laid her on her belly on the table and started pulling out the stickers. As soon as she got the longest ones out, she undressed her and spent the next hour pulling out stickers. Of course, it was a week before she located all of them and removed them with a sharp needle.
The school house sat on the cross roads just up the road from our house. It was called Prospect and was the typical one room school with the teacher’s desk in front and coat rooms at the back and outside toilets, one on each back corner of the yard. There was a pole fence around the yard with a small gate in front and a wider gate along the back. I started school in the fall and of course the others were going too. That meant there were five Hands going. The teacher was a man named Harold Sproal. He was skinny man and he had no discipline at all. I think he tried but several of the students were big and knew they could bluff him so they did about as they pleased. He came to school with a horse and buggy and unhitched the horse and tied it in a shed back of the school provided for that purpose. It was open on three sides but had a ?wall on the back side as a wind breaker and a roof on it so it provided shade in summer and some shelter in winter. The older boys took turns seeing that his horse had a pail of water every noon and grain or hay that he brought in the back of the buggy.
I soon had a very special friend, who I chummed around with at school. We noticed that every morning there were spider webs in the doorway to the girl’s bathroom and that one or more of the huge bodied spiders that lived in Kansas would be in them. Sometimes they had webs in the fences too. My friend and I took it upon ourselves to kill the huge, ugly spiders every morning and tear out the webs. Next morning they were replaced by other webs and other spiders. One day we decided to check to see if there were any on the boy’s bathroom door and there were so we killed them too. First, we did the girl’s bathroom and then the boy’s. We never went in, we only killed the ones in the doorway. It would have been strictly off limits to have gone in.
After a few mornings, we noticed that the other girls were avoiding us and would not talk to us and when we came up they walked away and there was a lot of whispering. We were told that they couldn’t have anything to do with us because we were bad girls. We had been seen near the boy’s bathroom and no nice girl would ever be near it. We gave up the spider hunts and were soon back in good graces.
There was no kindergarten so I had to start in first grade or primary as it was called. No one had told me that you had to make good grades in order to pass on to the next grade so I never put any special effort in learning anything. I thought that you were in one grade one year and another the next and it was as simple as that. I found out too late that it didn’t work like that I was in primary two years but it never happened to me again.
There were great patches of wild sunflowers growing along the roads everywhere in Kansas. Huge grasshoppers clung to the undersides of the big wide leaves to take advantage of the shade from the hot sun. One of Goldie and my favorite pass times was catching them. We put them into tin tobacco cans but I don’t remember what we did with them, turned them loose again probably.
Kansas has huge fireflies too. We used to go after dark and catch them and put them in a glass jar. We took them to our room and turned them loose after we got into bed. They flew around the room like tiny elves with lanterns and we loved to watch them until we went to sleep. No matter how many we turned loose at night we never could find a one in the morning. I don’t know what became of them.
In order to try to keep the crow population in check, the county paid a bonus of twenty-five cents for each crow head brought in. We knew where a pair of crows was nesting and we knew there were baby crows in the nest because we could hear them. One day we went to the huge cottonwood tree where the nest was and Clara decided to get the birds for bounty. Harvey wouldn’t climb up after them but Clara was somewhat of a tomboy and was not afraid of anything, so she climbed up and robbed the nest. She tied a string around the necks of all five baby birds and dropped them to the ground. If the string had not choked them the fall would have killed them and while she made her way down Harvey cut off their heads. The next trip into town Clara went along and took the crow heads into the clerk’s office. He looked at them and then he said, “Young lady, I think that you have a bargain there but the law says nothing about size and they definitely are crows so here is your money.” One dollar and a quarter. She was rich!
A few cars were beginning to be seen on the roads. Most horses were frightened by them and most drivers stopped and held the bridles and talked to the horses as the cars passed by. You could usually see them long before they got to you. Of course, they went at the speed of fifteen or twenty miles an hour but they were impressive as they went chugging by.
One day after school had started a man drove into the school yard and asked the teacher if he could take a picture of the school. I am sure that the teacher knew that he was coming because his wife had come to visit school that day. He drove the car up near the front of the school house and as many as could get in or on it did. It was a touring car with a top that folded down and rested behind the back seat. I and three of the littlest girls sat on the folded top. Four of the others got into the back seat and three boys took the front seat. Of course, Harvey was under the steering wheel making like he was driving. A recitation bench was placed between the car and the school house and several of the pupils stood on it to be high enough to be seen over the car. Sylvia, Hester and Clara were there. Mr. and Mrs. Sproal and the taller kids stood on the ground. It wasn’t the first car we had seen but it was the first we had been near let alone sat in. No king in history has ever been prouder than I that day as I sat on the folded top of that car. That picture is one of my proudest possessions.
Kaffir corn was a big crop in Kansas and every fall there was a Kaffir Corn Carnival that was like a fair in Butler County. There was always a parade and Prospect School was going to enter a float. A big hay wagon was fixed for a float. Several tiers of seats were built grandstand style and wagon and all was covered with red, white and blue bunting and the edges and ends were all trimmed with springs of kaffir corn. It would be drawn by two teams of matched horses and they would be brushed and the harnesses all polished up until they shown and each buckle had a sprig of kaffir corn. All the children could ride into town in the parade on the float. Prizes were to be given for costumes using kaffir corn. Father made Harvey an Indian costume with feathers made of sprigs of kaffir corn. He made Sylvia an umbrella out of kaffir corn. They both won prizes. I don’t remember what the prizes were. We stood on the corner by the school waiting for the float to come. We were so excited. We were so proud to be riding on a beautiful float. We could hardly stand it. Some of the pupils road into town with their folks and got on the wagon just before the parade but not the Hand kids.
I remember the first funeral that I went to. A kindly old man about a mile down the road passed away. His name was Kimball. I don’t know how old he was because when you are a child, everyone is old. His hair was white anyway. Funerals were held in the homes and Mother went and took Goldie and I with her, probably because no one was at home right then to look after us. I thought the old man looked so nice with his good clothes on. As I stood by the coffin a small insect, like a fruit fly, crawled around on the cuff of his shirt. It was so out of place. I always remembered it. His cuff was starched and so white and the tiny black insect crawling on it.
Our house had an upstairs and Mother papered the rooms up there and the stairway walls with pages from magazines. Most of them had colored advertisements on them and we enjoyed the pictures. One that I will always remember advertised Jap-O-Lac varnish. It had a picture of a very pretty young lady varnishing a stair rail and it said, I have to Jap-O-Laced the front room, I have Jap-O-Laced the hall, please help me Jap-O-Lac the stairs. I made a little tune to fit the words and I sang them to myself over and over. I still think of them sometimes.
I think that we lived there for about a year and then we moved. I am not sure why. The place we moved to was about a mile and a half from where we had lived. It was farther from the quarry, farther from town and farther from school. The house was a half basement type with the bottom floor about half above ground and four or five steps that led down to the door. There was an upper floor with two large rooms up there. We named it “Basement Hall”. Several large catalpa trees grew near it and there was an old neglected peach orchard that no one had trimmed for years and it also had a regular thicket of plum trees that had been tamed but had more or less grown wild. It also had a well. The shallow wells in that area were made of galvanized metal. They were rectangular and were about four feet high with a crank on the side. The crank brought up an endless rope with shallow metal troughs fastened on it every eighteen inches or so. The troughs brought up water and as it went over the top the water spilled into a spout and ran into the pail. The deep wells had a windmill and the wind always blows in Kansas.
There was also a cyclone cellar. The word tornado was not in use. The severe wind storms were cyclones. The cellar was in the ground and was several rods from the house. It was round, walled up with stone and had a roof just slightly above the round and sturdy door as the bottom of the stone steps that led to it. My father was very much afraid of storms. There were no radios or TVs to give warnings. Whenever bad storms threatened to turn into a cyclone, my father herded us all into the storm cellar. Quite often it was in the middle of the night. We would be wakened and told to head for the cellar. Mother followed with quilts and Father came last with a kerosine lantern and an axe. We sat on stones or boards laid on stone. Sometimes there was smelly, slimy water on the floor. We sat huddled together wrapped in quilts because it was wet and cold and we had only night clothes on. We kept our feet up if we could. The cellar was not big and it was crowded. There were spiders, toads, lizards and even once in a while, a snake. Mother and we children hated it. Sometimes we were down there for hours. We sat listening to thunder crashing and downpours of rain and wondered what might be happening up in the world. After a time, Father would open the door and step up the steps and look at the sky and decide the storm was over and we could go in and go back to bed.
On the hot breathless nights in summer, we slept outside under the catalpa trees. The heat in the house would be unbearable. We had some old rusty bed springs that we had quilts on and slept on. Sometimes a sudden shower made us grab our bedding and run for the house but if it was only a hard sprinkle we stayed, knowing that the fat catalpa leaves would soak up the drops before they got to us.
Father bought another horse. I think his name was Prince. He was much bigger that Chick but they made a team of sorts. He cleared out the plum thicket and left only a row of the best. The peach trees had lots of peaches the first summer we lived there. Goldie and I made playhouses under the trees. We outlined the rooms with stones and we used broken crockery and dishes for dishes. We made all kinds of things from the huge catalpa leaves.
We pinned them together with little sticks and made belts, skirts, aprons and lots of things.
When the peaches started to ripen, Goldie could always be found in the orchard. She loved peaches. Once when she had not been seen for some time, we started looking for her and Mother and Father had begun to get upset thinking she may have wandered away. Finally Harvey discovered her sound asleep, under a peach tree. She was laying on the ground surrounded by peaches.
Jack rabbits were so thick that they were presenting a problem to farmers so a date was set for a jack rabbit hunt. The menfolk all came with shotguns and the older children came to walk through the thickets and fields in a row and flush out the rabbits so the men could shoot them. We all wanted to play dog but of course only Harvey got to go. Father said that it was too dangerous. Someone might get careless with a gun. They killed more than a hundred jack rabbits that day.
The mail came by on the next cross road and we had to put our box there as we were the only house on that road. Several families had boxes at the corner and the names on the boxes read “Walls Hand Hart Denneses Keys”. We thought that was cute.
Father was still working at the quarry and riding his bicycle to work but it was farther and the road was stony and rough so he quit and started to work here and there for farmers, anything to earn an honest dollar.
Father was what is known as a “water witch”. He could take a forked twig from a willow or peach tree and walk over the ground and tell where water ran near the surface and a well could be put down. He almost never failed and people came sometimes from quite a distance to get him to witch them a well. I don’t know how it works, I only know it does. I think that you have to have a special faith to do it. It never worked for mother and never worked for me. Hester could do it after she grew up.
The young men had begun to notice Sylvia. She had green eyes and long heavy auburn braids of hair and while not really pretty, she had a nice wholesome look about her. One young chap by the name of Fred Mitchener started calling on her. He had a matched team of tan colored horses and a shiny buggy and when he came into the yard there was always in a cloud of dust and he came right up to the door and skidded the horses to a stop. He called the horses Boy and Button. He was a teller of tall tales and he usually ended by saying, “me and George”. George was his brother. One day Father said to him, Is George any meaner than you are?” and he said, “No, Why?” and Father said, “Oh I just wondered, you always say Mean George”. He laughed about it but he tried not to say it anymore. Hundreds of acres of wheat were grown in Kansas and in late August and September the thrashing crews came. All of the neighbors helped each other and there were men who followed the harvest every year. The thrashing job took at least twenty men to handle it. They went from place to place and the ladies banded together to help feed the hungry men wherever they happened to be at meal time. We children liked to go out by the road to watch in awe as the big steam engine went rumbling along making the earth tremble. It towed the thrashing machine, a huge iron giant. Behind it came a parade of wagons and the water wagon last with its huge tank to carry water for the boiler of the engine.
Sometime after we moved there, the telephone company ran a line by our house. All of the poles were set by hand and all the holes dug the hard way. There were about five men on the crew. They ate their lunch in front of our house and sat under one of our big trees. Of course, we kept them company. One of the crew had an eye on Sylvia and a day or so later I found a jack knife under one of the poles they had set. Sylvia remembered that she had seen him use that knife so she took it to him and it was not long before he was coming to see her. He didn’t have a matched team and a shiny buggy. He had a motorcycle.
It was an old Yale and the only way to start it was pushing it until it started. He was a short man and it was something to watch him push it until the motor started then jump on with his short legs.
Later we had a phone put in. It was wonderful. It was a party line with several people on it. Each ring came in all of the houses but each party had their own ring. You were supposed to just answer that one ring. Our ring was one short, one long and three short rings. Our number was 9 on 390. It was a long time before my mother would touch the phone or talk on it. She was scared of it or something.
During the summer Sylvia worked for one of the neighbors, cutting milk weeds out of the cornfield with a hoe. She got fifty cents a day for that. Just before school started she went to work as a mother’s helper for a family who lived several miles away. She was to go to school there with their children but it would be a different school. She was in the eighth grade, I think.
Father bought a bunch of sweet potato plants and gave Goldie and I each a row to tend and said that he would give a quarter to the one growing the biggest sweet potato. Of course it was just a gimmick to get us to take care of a row, but it worked. We worked hard with our sweet potatoes and in the end it was a tie, so we each got a quarter.
Father had bought or traded for or somehow got an old octagon barreles rifle. It had a long barrel and it was heavy. He and Harvey were out in the orchard trying out the gun and I came out there with Goldie and I asked if I could shoot it but Father said it was too heavy for me. He said that I wouldn’t be able to hold it up long enough to shoot it. I teased to shoot it until he finally put a shell in it and handed it to me. It was heavy all right. I called Goldie to come to me and when she came, I told her to stand still and I walked up behind her and placed the barrel of the gun on her shoulder, aimed and fired it. I guess the shot so near her ears, almost deafened her for a little while but I hadn’t thought of that. Father sure got a kick out of it. He thought that was really clever of me and told all the neighbors how I found a way to hold up the gun and shoot it.
While we lived at Basement Hall, Father learned to make brooms. The man who had been the boss at the quarry when Father worked there before was now blind and as there was no Social Security or Disability or anything on that order, everyone had to make a living as best as he could. The man had learned to make brooms for sale to help out with his keep. Father watched him make a couple and he knew that he could make them too, so it wasn’t long before he had planted a field of broom corn and had bought the necessary things for making brooms. The main item was an upright base with a vise on the top that held the handle and the broom corn while it was being sewed together with heavy waxed string threaded into a big slender needle. The handles, wire, thread and a tin collar were brought from a mail order house.
The broom corn was grown like any other crop. It had to be thrashed to remove the seeds before it could be dyed and used in brooms. The machine to thrash it was a round wooden cylinder set in a frame with a crank to turn the cylinder. The cylinder had hundreds of sharp spikes sticking out of it and as the crank was turned the broom corn stakes were held against the drum so that the spikes ripped out the seeds and the loose straw.
On days when Father thrashed out the straw, we had to take turns turning the crank while he held the straw. We didn’t mind the cranking so much but the straw had to be dry and it gave off a dry powder that got everywhere and whenever it came in contact with your skin it set up a terrible itching. It got down our necks and in the creases of our arms and all over us and almost drove us wild until Father decided we had enough and we could get into a wash tub of water to get rid of the dust.
Whenever Father had made two or three dozen brooms, Mother sold them house to house. She would load them into the buggy, take me and sometimes Goldie too and go as far as she could in one day and stay overnight at some farm house and come home by a different road the next day. She stopped at each house and asked if they would like to buy a broom. The brooms were well made and sold well and there was never a problem in finding a place to stay. The farm families were usually glad to have company and someone new to talk to. Usually when she went to a house I sat in the buggy and held the reins. Sometimes the lady of the house came out to the buggy to pick out a broom. Some were heavy, some lighter and the handles came in several colors. Sometimes the man of the house came out to buy a barn broom, which was heavy duty one and sold for much more. I loved the trips to sell brooms. Usually she traded a barn broom for a night’s lodging and a stall for chick. Sometimes Hester or Clara went but mostly it was I and once in a while Goldie went along too. Father was too jealous to let her go alone.
One day I sat in the buggy while Mother went into a house in a little town, a team of runaway horses came galloping down the street headed right at me. Runaway horses have no sense at all while they are running and will run into or over anything in their path. Mother was just coming out of the house and was rooted to the spot in fright, unable to even call out but luckily some man stopped the horses before they got to me and the buggy. I was not frightened at all. I was fascinated watching the horses run. Mother was really shaken up though.
One time Mother went to the back door of a farm house and came back as white as a sheet. I asked her what was the matter and for a little while she couldn’t even tell me and then she told me that someone at the house had told her that the man of the house had just shot himself in the head. A suicide. As we drove out of the yard, I looked back and saw two pillow cases hanging on the line. There was water dripping from them and one had a huge brown stain in the center. I realized that it must be blood. I don’t know if Mother saw it or not. She probably did, but neither of us ever mentioned it. It was horrible sight.
Just before school started, Sylvia started working for a family that lived about seven miles to the east of us. When school started she went to the school nearest them, where the children of the family went. It was called Pontiac School. Sometimes on weekends, she came home to visit us. She usually walked home and someone took her back on Sunday afternoon.
Her telephone repairman boyfriend took her out sometimes and quite often he was at our house for Sunday dinner. He had been married and his wife had divorced him. His name was Bill Dale. (Marcia’s note: William Dale.)
The Pontiac School had a team. I think that it must have been a basketball team. They had a cheer leader and a school yell. Sylvia had the team spirit and could give the yell as well as the leaders. We children at home kept her busy giving the cheers. Our favorite one went like this, Boom boom dee aye, Boom boom dee aye, Pontiac, Pontiac, Jaywalker Jay. It probably drove Mother crazy but we liked it.
At Christmas, Pontiac put on a very nice program and Sylvia wanted her folks to be sure to come to it. For some reason, Father refused to go. Sylvia was very disappointed. Mother finally got Father’s permission for her and some of us children to go. We went with the buggy and old Chick. It was a very cold night but there was no snow on the ground. We bundled up with quilts and took the lantern for light. The program was beautiful. On our way home, it became very foggy and the lantern light was very feeble in the thick fog. Mother could not see much so she was letting Chick take her own lead. Usually horses will go home without any supervision but after a time Chick stopped and refused to go any farther. Mother climbed out of the buggy and took the lantern and went to Chick’s head to see what was wrong. About a mile from home there was a field with a stone fence on three sides of it and Chick had missed the road and went into the field and came to the corner where two fences met and could go no farther. She had her head right in the corner of the stone fence. Mother recognized the fence and knew where we were. She turned Chick about and led her back to the road and we headed for home. We made it home all right from there. Mother told us never to tell Father about it because he would be very angry and give her a bad time about it. We never told and I don’t think that he ever knew about it.
Of course our school had a program too and it was about Christmas at sea. Harvey played Santa Claus and he was supposed to give the captain a pair of binoculars for Christmas but his pack was made from a mesh bag and the holes were quite large and the binoculars fell out before he got to the captain and he had to come back down the aisle looking for them. Of course, everyone laughed. It ended with everyone singing “But Santa come to the sailor boys and Christmas cheers us with all its joys as sailing on to port we go with a hoo ya hoo ya hoo! Funny how some rhymes can stick in your mind all these years.
At some point during that school year, I took Goldie to school to visit. It was a regular custom for children to bring a younger brother or sister to visit to get some idea of what school was like. That day one of the older girls came to school ill. She wanted to keep her perfect attendance record and she was one of teacher’s pets so she was not sent home. Later in the day, she broke out with a good case of chicken pox. I don’t know how many of the others contacted them from her. My older brother and sisters already had them but I hadn’t. I have never had them but Goldie sure got them from her. I am either immune to them or else I had them so light that no one knew I ever had them. I have been exposed to them a lot of times but to my knowledge, I have never had them.
It was about a mile and a half to school, if we followed the road but it was only a mile if we cut through the big pasture field. If the cattle were pasturing in that field, we could not go there because every herd had one or more big bulls running the herd and they were mean. They would attack anyone on foot. We cut through the pasture when we could. In spring, it could be full of water. A spring rain would turn it into a raging river for a few hours. In winter, it might be full of snow. The Kansas wind can be bitterly cold in winter. I remember lots of winter days when the older children pulled my tam-o-chanter cap down over my face and led me with one on each side holding hands. Later, I helped lead Goldie in the same way.
Harvey was still going to school that first year at Basement Hall. The bell was in the belfry above the back of the school where the cloak rooms were. It was rung by pulling on the rope attached to the bell frame. One end hung down and ended about five feet from the floor. The bigger boys all liked to be the one whose turn it was to ring the bell. Harvey had his share of turns and maybe even more than his share. One day as he started to ring the bell a heavy knife of the sort called butcher knives fell from the belfry and hit him with a glancing blow to his shoulder. It had been rigged to drop when the rope was pulled and hit whoever was ringing the bell. Had it hit him in the head, it would have been serious or even fatal. It cut a gash in his arm and made a hole in this shirt sleeve. There was quite a fuss made about it. No one admitted doing it and it was never traced to anyone. The sheriff was called and each pupil was questioned but no clues came to light. No one had seen anyone in the belfry or at least no one admitted seeing anyone there. Some thought it was meant for the teacher but most of the people thought that it had been meant for Harvey. It had been propped in such a way that it would fall, point down when the rope was pulled. If anyone ever found out who was guilty, we never heard of it. My folks were quite shaken up about it, as was the school board. The board felt that it was meant for the teacher but he hardly ever rang the bell.
One day one of the other boys fell from a tree in the corner of the school yard and broke his arm. He was taken into town by the teacher with his horse and buggy and one of the older girls was put in charge of the school for the rest of the day. Word was sent to his parent that the teacher would bring him home as soon as the extent of his injuries was known. It turned out to be only a broken arm. He was a hero for a while. The fad of autographing casts was still in the future or he would really have been a hero.
The years at Basement Hall were busy ones but they were happy ones, at least for me. The older children had a lot of work and I had things that I was required to do but Goldie and I had a lot of time to play too. If I mention her the most is because we are nearer the same age. There were not quite three years between us and there was more than five between Clara and I. Of course, little Florence had been between Clara and I. By then Mother was pregnant again and one June day we had a little brother. There were some complications. Before Mother had bore all of her children without a doctor but this time she wanted one. My father had refused. No doctor was going to handle his wife but later after he learned that there was a woman doctor in El Dorado he consented to having her tend Mother. There apparently was some kind of trouble and Father refused to let her do what she felt was necessary and she ran out of patience with the whole thing and packed her bag and was leaving but Father conceded for once in his life and called her back and she delivered him a son. I am sure that made up for everything for all. After five girls, he finally got another son. They named him George Jonathan. I don’t know where the George came from but the Jonathan was after father’s father, of course. Looking back it seems to me now that George was a little retarded but I asked Harvey about him many years later and he said, “NO WAY”, so maybe it only seemed so to me. It doesn’t matter because he never grew up.
I had gathered a few rumors here and there about the birth of a baby but they were so incredible that I couldn’t believe them. After George’s birth, I tried to get some information from Mother but failed badly. She pushed my questions away. I know now that I being a little shy, modest Mother would never have known how to tell me even if she wanted to. I must have embarrassed her terribly.
That summer Father was cutting hay in a field some distance from the house and Mother sent Goldie and me out to take him a tin syrup pail of cold water so he could have a fresh drink. He sat under a tree in the fence row and relaxed for a few minutes, while Goldie and I played around. Goldie spied a baby rabbit sitting in some tall grass and asked Father if she might catch it. She wanted it for a pet. He was sure that she could not catch it, so he said yes. She slipped over very carefully and grabbed the little rabbit with both hands. It was so frighted that it squealed and squealed but she held onto it. Fathers let her hold it until it quieted down for a while and then he asked her to let it go again. He told her how miserable it would be without its brothers and sisters and its mother. She finally let it go and it lost no time in getting out of sight.
Summers are long and hot in Kansas. The ever blowing wind brings heat and dust to you. The sun beats down on you hard. The locusts start their droning in late afternoon, and the cottonwoods come alive with their whirring noise. The buzzards circle endlessly in the clear blue sky. Goldie and I spent hours under the catalpa tree and later in the day we would hunt grasshoppers under the sunflower leaves. We had a special place to play too. It was down the road a bit and out in the field. A natural sheet of rock came even with the ground and it was about as big as our house and almost as smooth as the floor. We built stone castles. We chased the prairie dogs who lived nearby into their holes. We chased the lizards over the rocks and lived in a world of our own. A bit on down the road was one of the ponds that a farmer had made by damming up the lower end of a draw to catch rainwater as it ran off. It didn’t have water in it all summer but even after it dried up, we could catch great huge crabs under the rocks. They made deep holes under the stones and we sometimes spent hours digging out one crab and putting it in a little prison we made for it for a little while and later turning it loose to go its way. Early in the spring the field had daisies, some white and some blue. We picked bouquets that we took home to Mother. I get a feeling of nostalgia just thinking about those golden days and there are tears in my eyes.
I guess that a lot of childhood is going to school. A lot of my memories are of Prospect school, district number 8 and all the things that went on there. The first three years I went there, Mr. Sproal was the teacher. He never had much control over the older students, especially the boys. They did whatever they wanted to and the older girls could get anything they wanted just by buttering up the teacher. After the third year, the school board decided to let him go. They hired a Mrs. or maybe it was Miss Jornagan. She was about five feet tall and weighted about ninety pounds. All the parents were very skeptical and said the kids would run her out in six weeks. On the first day of school, she laid down her rules and told them she expected them to be obeyed. That was that and she never had any trouble.
By my third year, Harvey had quit. He didn’t care for school and my folks didn’t think it was very important so he quit. Hester and Clara were still going and Sylvia finished at Pontiac.
Each desk had an ink well in the upper right-hand corner. They consisted of a small glass jar that fit into an iron frame and was covered by a lid. Hardly anyone ever had ink in the ink well. The younger children were not allowed to use ink and the older ones were mostly too poor to buy pens and ink and if they had ink it was kept in the bottle it came in. The pens were wooden handles that metal points slipped into. There were no fountain pens or ball points either. The Hand children never had any extras and we suppose to make a tablet of paper last for a long time. I was quite an artist and liked to draw pictures but if my parents knew that I had used a sheet of tablet paper to draw pictures on, I was in trouble. I drew them anyway but usually some of my friends would want the picture and trade me two or three sheets of paper for it so I did all right.
While Mr. Sproal was teaching sometimes at recess or noon, some of the boys would catch one of the big bumble bees that came to the wild flowers and bring it in and put it in some ink well and close the lid. The bees got very angry at being confined in such a little space and they set up a very loud buzzing sound. The buzzing sound in the little glass jars would be very loud but almost impossible to trace. As soon as school was called and the children quieted down, there would be this huge angry buzzing. Mr. Sproal would ask whose ink well it was in and no one knew except the boy who put it there and maybe his best friend but no one ever told. Mr. Sproal would stride up one aisle and down another trying to locate the sound but it always seemed to come from somewhere else. Mr. Sproal would become very angry and threatened to whip everyone if no one would tell where it was. No one worried about him doing it. It was usually good for almost a half hour before the bee would tire out and be still for a while and then one by one the children would get up enough nerve to open their ink well to see if the bee was there. Sooner or later someone let it out and it usually escaped out the door but sometimes it flew around the room and turned it into a panic with the girls screaming and the boys chasing it and it delayed class again.
When Mr. Sproal was angry, he had a habit of sitting down in his chair really hard. One day someone discovered that there was a loose splinter in the seat of his chair and that a bent pin could be slipped under it and be almost invisible. So someone placed a pin in the proper way and with the point up, of course. Just as school took up someone did something to anger the teacher and the results satisfied everybody. He sat down hard, rose fast and looked in the chair, saw nothing and sat down again. By then school was entirely disrupted and all the pupils were laughing. It was only after he turned his chair upside down that the pin fell out. It happened that Harvey was still in school and he always claimed that his buddy placed the pin in the chair that had made the teacher mad. I don’t know if that is true, but I know all the kids enjoyed it a lot.
One of the neighbors had a girl who was fourteen or fifteen but she was very fat. She was unable to walk to school. I think that she must have weighted three hundred pounds. She rode a pony to school every day. When she got off, she put the reins up over the pummel of the saddle and told the horse to go home. At home her mother put the pony in the barn yard until it was time for him to return and get her then she saddled him up and went back to school to get his mistress. We got accustomed to it but strangers often got upset to see a riderless horse along the way. He was as faithful as any dog could have been. In all kinds of weather, he plodded the mile and a half and waited if he arrived before she got out. Her name was Hazel Irwin and she had a little brother but by the time he had started we had moved but we often wondered how he got to school. We heard later that Hazel had died before she was twenty. I suppose that she must have had a condition that accounted for her weight. She was a very nice girl and her family was very nice also.
When George was only a few months old, Mother went to one of the neighbors to visit for a little while and Goldie and I went along. They were an old couple who lived alone. Their name was Hart and Mr. Hart was out in the field working. Mother and Mrs. Hart were having a nice visit. Goldie and I grew bored, so we took several of George’s diapers and made us a tent under the dining table. We hung the diapers from the edge of the table and we were having lots of fun. I went to hang a diaper over the board under the top of table and saw a very worn but bulging billfold laying there. It was a very sturdy oak table and had a little shelf around the edge. Being a child I took it down and opened it. It had the biggest roll of bills that I had ever seen. I have no idea how much was there but it was a lot. I closed it up and replaced it just like it was. Goldie saw it but didn’t touch it. On the way home, I told Mother about it. She questioned me about it and made sure that I had left it just as it was and had only opened it but had not taken anything out. She scolded me for touching it at all but said that she could see no harm done as long as I left it as I found it. If Mrs. Hart knew it was there she didn’t seem to worry any about it with us playing under there and I have often wondered if perhaps it was a secret place he had and she didn’t know about it. I am sure that their life savings were in it.
One time when we went to the corner to get our mail we used to dally along and watch the hard-working doodle bugs. They were hard shelled beetles and they gathered fresh horse manure in the road and made it into perfectly round balls. They rolled the balls along the ruts made by the wheels of passing vehicles until it was even with the round deep holes they dug just outside of the wagon tracks. With great effort and at times help from other bugs they rolled the balls out of the track and into the hole. I always wondered what they made them for and we also wondered how they knew just how to make them but they always seemed to be just the right size to go down the holes. A few times we tried to dig out a hole to see what was at the bottom but the holes were deep and the ground was hard and we never dug one out.
Also along the road were ants that were the brightest red color and looked like they were velvet. We used to watch them too. They were not in groups and seemed to be always alone. One day, I scooped up a handful of dust with an ant in it because I wanted to see it closer and knew if I tried to just scoop up the ant I would injure it. The ant bit or stung me or whatever they do, right on the outside of my little finger. It was very painful and stung for a long time. It left a tiny red pin point of a spot on my finger and it remained for months before it faded off and it was exactly the same color as the ants were. I showed it to Mother and she said that it was what I got for bothering the ant when it was minding its own business.
After Father quit working at the stone quarry, he started doing blacksmith work shoeing horses. At first it was just something to make a few extra dollars but he kept busy most of the time with it. He finally decided that he would build a shop and really go into the business. I don’t know how he got the money for the lumber but he always seemed to get what he needed. He built a shop out next to the road and north of the house. Someone had to pump the bellows of the forge when he was busy and keep the metal hot and I was the one for that most of the time. The older children had other things to do and we each had to do what we were able to, so I pumped the bellows. It was a tiring job and an unpleasant one too. Father was never satisfied. If I pumped too fast, it burned the coal up too fast and if I pumped too slow, the metal was not ready when he was. There was never any pleasing him. Once in a while, Goldie had to spell me off for a bit so that I could rest. I liked the days when he was shoeing horses. I could find a few spare minutes to pet and talk to the horses. Father hated mules and almost never shod them.
A big black and white tom cat came and adopted us and stayed. He always greeted Father whenever he came out of the house and especially in the morning. Father said he always said “howdy” to him so he named him Howdy. No one ever said Hello or Hi or any of the greetings in use now. It was always “Howdy” when you met anyone on the road or anywhere. I guess it was shorted from “How do you do?”.
We had a dog too. Goldie and I had to keep the wood box by the kitchen stove filled and we taught the dog to carry wood too. He would pick up a stick and carry it and drop it at the bottom of the steps that led to the kitchen door. Mother used to say that some morning when we got up he would have the space filled with wood and we wouldn’t be able to open the door but it never happened. He only carried wood when we did.
Not all of my memories are happy ones. There were a few sad ones and they belong in this too. Mother used to set the hens and raise baby chicks. One time one of the chicks was crippled when it came out of the shell. Mother took it into the house and tried to treat it but it showed no improvement so she asked Father to dispose of it. He took it just outside of the door and picked up a root with a sort of knot on it and killed the chick with it. It always stuck in my mind. I knew the chick was better off dead but somehow the callous way he killed it made me sick. Every time I went out and saw the root, I shuddered so I brought it in and burned it the next day.
Father had a large field of kaffer corn and when the heads were starting to ripen the black birds came in flocks like a black cloud and lit on the corn and ate it. Sometimes he went out with his shotgun and bird shot and killed as many as twenty in one shot. We ate them. Mother made a stew with them and it was very good. We skinned them and what there was of them was very tasty. Then Father started setting steel traps on the fence post around the field. It was my job to go around the field every morning and remove the birds and reset the traps. Some black birds were caught but there were always several meadow larks in the traps and it broke my heart to find them with both legs broken. I couldn’t kill them so I turned them loose knowing that they would die of starvation but I couldn’t kill them. I tried to find excuses for not tending the traps but they never worked. After a few days, I only reset the traps that were right near the house where Father could see them. The rest I set on the post but they were sprung but from the house you couldn’t tell. After a time, Father gave up on trapping.
There was a row of big mulberry trees along the road down at the corner where we got our mail. The lady who lived there told Mother that she was welcome to come pick them at any time because they did not care much for the berries. Sometimes Mother and some of us picked there and sometimes some of us children picked a pail of berries there for Mother. One day she wanted berries for a pie and Goldie and I offered to pick them for her. We soon tired of picking the ones we could reach from the ground so we climbed the tree to pick. There was an oriole’s nest in the tree. We watched it all the time we were there and no birds ever went to it so we thought that it must be an abandoned nest from last year. I wanted the nest very badly. The oriole builds a nest like a pouch with a very small opening at the top. When we were ready to go home, I climbed out on a very risky little limb and broke off the twig that the nest was attached to and dropped it down to Goldie on the ground. We played around for a few minutes and started to go home. When I picked up my prize, I was amazed to hear the chatter of baby birds in the nest. There was no way that I could replace the nest because I had broken the limb it was attached to and we had nothing to tie it up with. We knew the mother would never find it on the ground. We held a council and decided the humane things to do was to kill the baby birds to save them from starving so I took them from the nest and killed them one by one, crying my heart out as I did it. We dug a grave and buried them nest and all and placed a little cross made with sticks tied with vines on it and said a little prayer over them. We never told anyone but for years I felt like a murderer every time I heard the golden liquid song of an oriole.
One more bad memory is my one and only venture in stealing. One of my schoolmates had a lot of things that I could not have because her folks were better off than we were and sometimes I envied her. She had good clothes, all the tablets she could use, paints, crayons and anything else she wanted. She had her own scissors so that she never had to wait for her turn for the school scissors when we made paper chains or anything. I wanted a pair so badly and had even asked Mother if someday I might have a pair. She asked Father but he said no so that ended it. One day after school was dismissed, I remembered a paper that I had forgotten to turn in and went back into the school. As I took the paper up to the teacher’s desk, I walked by her desk and right on the corner of her desk laid the scissors. The other children were outdoors or in the cloak room and no one was in sight so as I walked back from the front of the room I very quickly slid the scissors into my pocket. I took them home and told my mother that I had found them in the road. I think that was the only lie that I ever told my mother. But I dared not tell her the truth. I don’t think that she really believed it and so she said it was odd that they should be so shiny after laying in the road. I thought that I would keep them at home for a week or two and later take them to school. They weighed on mind all night and I realized that I could never enjoy them. After two days I took them back and slipped them onto her desk where I had taken them from. She had been sure they had been stolen but I don’t think that she had any idea who had them. She was glad to get them back but not half as glad as I was to return them. I never told anyone and no one ever knew it but me.
Once Mother asked me where they were and I told her that I hadn’t seen them for a long time.
There were lots of snakes in Kansas but they never gave us any problems. Mostly they were harmless garden snakes or the big king snakes that fought the prairie rattlers but the rattlers were not thick and we only saw one once in awhile. There were water moccasins but they were only near the river or streams. There were lots of lizards but they always scurried away from us.
I think that I have mentioned that Chick the horse, had a personality all of her own. She had one habit that my folks could not get used to at first. Whoever had trained her in the first place, sure did a good job. If you left her with the reins loose and hanging on the ground she would stand for hours and not move from that spot. It was called ground tying. If the halter rope or the reins were tied to a hitch rail or tree she would work at the knot with her teeth until she untied it. She was very clever with those sharp little teeth of hers. Usually she stayed right there anyway but she hated to be tied. Whenever Mother drove her to town to get groceries, she left her standing at the hitch rail in front of her favorite store but left the reins lying on the ground. Goldie and I went with her on one of her trips and that day she had to pick up some heavy bags of seed at the feed store further down the street. She passed by the store where she usually traded and went on to the next block where the feed store was and planned to get her groceries at a store next door and then get the seed so she drove to the hitching rail in front of the feed store. She debated about tying Chick because it was an unfamiliar place and decided that perhaps it was best to tie her. She expected to be in the store only a short while. She tied her to the rail went in the grocery store and when she came out Chick and the buggy were gone. Mother thought of Chick plodding toward home with the empty buggy and her stranded in town with two children and of father’s wrath about her letting it happen. She went to the store and asked the man if Goldie and I might stay there for a while and she told us to be good and stay quietly out of the way and she started off to find a telephone to alert Father that Chick had left for home without us. As she went toward the next block and the store where she usually traded, there stood Chick at the hitch right in the usual spot. I think that Mother was so happy that she could have kissed Chick. She drove back, picked up the groceries and us and left me to hold the reins while she bought the seed and then we went home.
Everyone in Kansas seemed to ride horses except us. Father said that the horses had to do enough work to earn their keep without toting people around on their backs and he rarely let us ride any horse. During the long hot summers, the pasture got pretty dry and brown and Father used to tie Chick along the fence row so that she might eat the good grass along the road. At first he tried tying her with a rope, but she always got loose and followed the next team that went along and someone would have to go catch her and bring her back. Then he got an idea and he tried a big log chain. The metal links on the chain confused her or her teeth would not hold or something because she did not untie that. It got to be my job to bring her to the yard every night and pump a tub of water so she could drink and then turn her loose in the little fenced in lot. I asked Father if it was all right if I rode her up to the yard and he absently mindedly said he guessed so. Every evening I first untied the chain from the fence and then put it in long loops over her shoulders so that it wouldn’t drag. That was quite a job because the chain was heavy and I was short. Next I led her alongside the fence so I could climb on the fence. I had to climb next to a post so as not to damage the fence. Then I would try to straddle my leg over her back but always just as I was all set to slip over to her back she would step away just far enough so that I couldn’t. I would lead her up to the fence and try again. Sometimes it took me twenty tries before she grew tired of the game and let me climb on her. She was a small horse but I was only nine or so. (Marcia’s note: About 1914) It never was more than a quarter mile to the house but I sure did enjoy it.
A family named Marley lived about a mile from us. They had several children and one little girl about seven had rheumatic fever and was confined to bed and was not allowed to set up or hold a book or anything heavy in the least. My mother used the old wooden clothes’ pins and one day she took one and covered the top with cloth, drew a face on it, sewed thread hair on top, made cloth arms and turned it into a tiny doll. She made cloths for it, several different ones and took the cardboard box that our kitchen matches came in and converted it into a tiny bed complete with a blanket and pillow. Then we went to visit the little girl and Mother gave her the tiny little doll. It was so light that she could play with it and it made her long days much more bearable. After she recovered and was well again, her mother told my mother that of all the things that folks had done and all the gifts that they had brought there was nothing that gave her as much pleasure as the clothes pin doll.
As the months flew by, the Hand family was growing like weeds. Sylvia was a young lady and had finished the eighth grade at Pontiac School and came home for a little while. Teachers were in demand that year and her teacher had told her of a county program where by an eighth grade graduate could go to Teachers Normal for six weeks and earn a certificate enabling them to teach any grade school in the country. Sylvia came home to talk it over with her parents to see if there was a way that she might go. She was given permission to go if she could make her own expenses. There was a small tuition and some supplies that she would need. Of course, there was a matter of getting into El Dorado where the school was held.
The blacksmith shop was keeping Father busy and he told Sylvia that he would manage enough money for her tuition but that books and clothes would be entirely up to her. A restaurant in town offered her a part-time job waiting tables and said they would fit it into her school classes but of course there was still the matter of getting there. She was still going with the telephone lineman. My folks liked him but he was about nine years older than she was. Of course, Father was nine years older than Mother. Bill was a divorced man and they were not really pleased about that but on the whole they liked him. His mother lived in a big house in town and she offered Sylvia a room at her house for almost nothing while she went to school. She had been married several times but was a widow and was raising two boys by her last husband. My folks consented to Sylvia staying at her house because she was a good woman and would allow no foolishness. The restaurant job would buy her supplies so she went in and enrolled in the teachers normal.
Hester was also growing up and she had taken a job as a sort of governess to the little son of a famous opera singer named Garoldine Ferrer. When she wasn’t on a singing tour, she lived with her mother on her mother’s ranch. She had been married but I don’t know what happened to her husband but she and her son lived in seclusion. Very few people knew that she had a son. Of course, famous people didn’t air their private lives like they do now. Hester’s duties consisted mostly of playing with the boy and keeping watch of him at all times. She taught him how to catch the big fire flies and put them in a jar and turn them loose in his room at night. He got a big kick out of that. In the evening, he would watch outside until it was beginning to grow dark then he would say to her. “Hester, I ’spect’ the bugs are out.” My folks said that working for Mrs. Ferrer gave Hester airs and made her uppity pupity. I don’t know but it might be true. Certainly their life style was a long way above ours and she was treated as one of the family. At least, they taught her a lot about clothes and they taught her that lunch was the noon meal and that dinner was the evening meal and how to use silverware. She was encouraged to read too. She was always learning. She learned to say Sylvia instead of Sylvy and Clara instead of Clary like we always did. Hester was entirely different from Sylvia. Sylvia was a down to earth person, Hester was a dreamer. She was slim and dainty and gave an impression of being fragile.
Hester made very good grades in school and her attendance record was perfect so she had been allowed to skip a grade and had caught up with Sylvia. She wanted to go Teachers Normal too so she quit working for Mrs. Ferrer with her blessing. Bill’s mother let her share Sylvia’s room too and the restaurant also hired her.
Shortly after she finished Normal, Sylvia asked for permission to marry Bill. Our parents had a few misgivings because he was older, had been married before and had two sons and his former wife had divorced him. They liked him though, so they consented. His mother had offered to let them live with her until they could make a home of their own. Hester went back to work for Mrs. Ferrer while waiting to get a school. She never got one, probably because of her youth and inexperience. Sylvia did not apply because of her marriage coming up.
When Hester quit the restaurant and Sylvia was going to quit the manager asked if they had any sisters, who could be hired. Clara was only fifteen but the labor laws were very lax so she was hired to replace Hester. About the second day that she waited on tables, a man named Frank Griffith walked in and sat down and she waited on him and it was love at first sight. He ate there every day for a week and by then they were madly in love and planning to elope. Clara confided in Sylvia and asked her to tell Mother after they were gone but Sylvia promptly called Mother on the phone and told her they were eloping. It really shook things up at our house. Of course, Goldie and I only got it in bits and pieces that we overheard from one end of the phone conversation. Father hitched the horse to the buggy and they took off for town in a big hurry but by the time they got there, Clara and Frank had been to the Justice of the Peace and were man and wife. Things were very up in the air for a while. Father said that the marriage would be annulled because of Clara’s age but she said that if it was she would run away and they would never see or hear from her again. She probably would have done it too. There were several very hectic days with tears and cussing but in the end things calmed down and they stayed married. If Clara ever regretted getting married so young, I never heard of it and they were married for more than forty years and marriage only ended in her death.
Our parents had acquired two sons-in-law in less than a month. At that time, I could not know that Bill’s sister’s son would become my son-in-law in time. (Marcia’s note: Ethel’s daughter, Reva L. Armstrong married Richard Rudolph Slyter 27 Nov 1947 in Stanwood, Mecosta Co., MI.)
Our family was reduced to Goldie and I and baby George and sometimes Hester on weekends. Harvey was nearly always gone.
Some of our old Michigan friends had kept in touch and that summer the son of one came through Kansas and hunted us up. He had been just a boy when we left but now he had struck out on his own. He was using a different last name (Marcia’s note: Lewis Henry Barnum was the name he was using, Lysher was his birth surname according to census records and information from other Lysher descendants.) and when my mother asked him about it, he said that his mother had been married to a man by that name for a short time and that the name was his legally. My parents never accepted that but I don’t know. At any rate, he had an eye for Hester and started dating her.
After going to live with Bill’s mother, Sylvia grew homesick. She was a country girl and even a small town was different for her. She wanted me to come and spend a few days with her so I did. The house was a big old monstrosity and had a lot of rooms. It had a hall running from the front door to the back with rooms opening off of it on either side. Bill always rode his motorcycle right into the house and parked it in the hall. There was plenty of room to walk by it, because the hall was wide. I got a kick out of him riding in at the front door and parking it near the wall in the hall. The door was usually open and there was no screen so he just rode in.
His mother had two boys by a later marriage and they were at home. One was about my age and the other was slightly younger and was between Goldie and my age.
I enjoyed them both, never having had any boys to play with. They teased me a lot but I never minded much. The older one taught me how to roll a hoop with a cross piece nailed on it. It was a really fun thing to do and I’ll bet that I rolled that hoop a thousand miles in my childhood. He also played ball with me and mumbley peg and took me to the river and a lot of fun things. At the end of the week I had to go home and Goldie had a turn at staying with Sylvia.
Mother and Father finally accepted both of their sons-in-law and Father use to say that he now had Gold (Goldie), Silver (Sylvia) and a Bill. He said anyway you looked at it, he was a rich man. He and Bill spent many happy hours together and were very fond of each other. Father never was as close to Frank but they never had as much in common as he and Bill had. They never had any real trouble except just at the first.
Something happened one day that gave me some terrified moments. I will never forget it. Our upper floor was a combination of setting room and bedroom and Hester and her boyfriend were there, lolly-gaging, as my folks called it. I was at an age where I didn’t want to miss anything so I was there keeping an eye on them. I was laying across the bed on my back. For some unknown reason, I had a marble in my mouth and all of a sudden I swallowed it. I was panic-strickened. I had a mental picture of myself chocking to death or worse still having it get stuck in my throat so that I couldn’t swallow and slowly starving to death. I did not dare to tell anyone because I knew that I should not have had the marble in my mouth in the first place and Mother would be sure to whip me for that. I was scared stiff. There was a big dish of popcorn on a table in the room. As casually as I could make myself do it, I got off of the bed and slowly walked over to the popcorn. So far so good. I put one kernel in my mouth and tried to swallow it. To my great surprise it went down very normally. I put more in and it went down also. At least I wouldn’t have to starve. Of course, the marble might plug me up inside and cause me to die but I was feeling better all the time. After I ate my second handful of popcorn, my doom’s day feeling faded away. I never saw the marble again but I guess nature took care of it. I never told anyone for years and years.
One day a man came for my father to do some blacksmith work for him and Father was busy so he waited. He had his little son with him and he must have been about four. The little boy tried to talk to Father but he was too busy to pay any attention to him and after awhile he came into the house and sat in a chair and talked to us. He said, I talked to your father but he wouldn’t talk so I said “Good morning, Mister Hand.” And he said “YAH!” His imitation of my father was so cute that we all had a good laugh.
Sometime that summer the boss from the stone quarry contacted my father and asked him to come back to work there. He would be head blaster. Things were not going well and some of the help had quit. Conditions were bad. I don’t know what kind of a deal was offered to Father. We were never taken into any adult conversation or told anything because it wasn’t considered our business. I don’t think that Mother had any say in what we did either. Father was boss. Father was always busy in the blacksmith shop and he still made brooms in any spare time, so I could never understand why he gave it up to go back to the quarry. Father was offered a small house right near the quarry. It was small but the family was growing smaller too. Harvey was away most of the time and Hester was home very little and was thinking of marriage. The house where Goldie had been born had burned down and the house we moved into was very near to where it had stood. Father harvested his crops before we moved and sold his blacksmith shop and tools.
School started again while we were still at Basement Hall. Only Goldie and I went from our house. A new family had moved into the south of us and they had two boys about our ages. As they had farther to go than we did, they usually walked with us as far as our place. If we cut across the fields, it was nearer so if the cattle were pastured elsewhere we always cut through. There was a valley or draw that ran across the middle of the field and it was deep enough so that anyone walking in it could not be seen from the road or from any house. I don’t know how it got started but as soon as we got into the draw on the way home the boys and we had contests to see who could pee the farthest. Of course, they always beat us because they were better equipped for it but we did all right with what we had. They never touched us nor did we ever touch them. If my mother had ever known about it, we would have eaten standing up for a long time but no one ever knew it but us and the boys. I can’t even remember their names and I doubt that they even remember any of it.
I still have a soft spot in my heart for old Basement Hall. I was very happy there. My last memory of it is a sad one. Somewhere along the line I had gotten a little tin cook stove for some Christmas. It had lids that could be removed, an oven that could be opened and when it was new, it had tiny pots and pans but they had all been lost or stepped on long before that, but the stove was intact. It was probably ten inches square. I wanted to take it when we moved but Mother said we didn’t have any room for it so I had to leave it. As we went out for the last time, I saw it there laying on its side in the dirt and debris of things we abandoned in moving. I may not have played with it for months but right then I wanted it so terribly. I still remember how much it hurt to leave it laying there.
I don’t think that the move was a wise one because almost at once Father began to think and talk about moving back to Michigan. Sylvia and Bill had moved to Great Bend, Kansas to work on a ranch where Bill’s brother worked. My parents missed them a lot. Hester and her boyfriend were talking marriage and Clara and Frank were adjusting to married life nicely, it seemed. Harvey was working at Yates Center on a farm.
Hester’s boyfriend’s mother had died and his father was lonely and at loose ends, so he came out west to see the country. (Marcia’s note: Lewis Barnum’s mother’s maiden name was Catherine “Katie” Alice McClelland. Her married surname was Lysher. She died 18 Dec 1914 in Henderson Twp., Wexford County, MI.) Being an old friend of the family, he stayed with us for a little while. He was about the same size as my father and about the same age and could be mistaken for him quite easily. One day Father left for work while Mr. Laser left to walk into town. (Marcia’s note: His name was really Henry Russell Lysher.) A little while later my mother looked out of the window and jumped to her feet in alarm and said, “Oh my God! It’s John” She ran out the door and I followed. A man was staggering down the path toward the house. He had blood all over him. His face was all cuts and skinned in places. He could barely see. It was only when mother ran to him and took his arm that she realized it was not Father but Mr. Laser. Mother led him to the house laid him on the bed and started to clean his face enough to see how badly he was hurt. She sent me to get Father from the quarry. When Father came, he took one look and started to harness the horse to the buggy. Mother wiped his face as best she could. His nose was cut to the bone on the one side. She tied a clean cloth around his face leaving his eye uncovered and Father started to El Dorado and the doctor with him. By bits and pieces, they had found out that he had been walking in the road going down a steep rocky hill known as rock side. A young man had hit him in the back with a bicycle also going downhill. He had been knocked to the ground, face down and the stones had gashed his face. The doctor sewed his face up and told him to stay with us until it healed. There was no adhesive tape and no bandages like we know them and it was almost impossible to keep his face bandaged. Hardly anyone had screens and we didn’t either so there were flies everywhere. One day when Mother was cleaning his face she was horrified to find maggots in the gash on his nose. She harnessed the horse and took him to town to the doctor but the doctor was not concerned at all. He said the maggots had eaten away the infected flesh and had really helped with the healing process. He recovered with a scar but otherwise all right. My father had a few words with the young bicycle rider and had caused him to be fired for not doing his job and they always felt that he had hit the man purposely thinking that it was Father. From the back he could have easily made that mistake. Of course, he claimed to have lost control of the bike and that could have been true too.
Mother started to have severe headaches right after we moved back to the quarry. Most of the time she felt rotten. When we were not in school, Goldie and I started to do the dishes, sweep the floor and do the other things around the house. We also had to take care of George most of the time. The muddy Walnut River ran close by and our greatest pleasure was to go fishing. Everything from the grocers came wrapped in paper and tied with string. We always saved all of the string. We tied some pieces together to make a fishing line and tied it onto a slender stick. We had no boughten fishing tackle. We made hooks from bent pins and tied them onto our string lines. Some days we hurried to get all of our jobs done and then we would ask Mother if we might go fishing. She usually let us but quite often we could go only if we took George with us. We took turns holding him and of course we argued about who had taken the longest turn. I can remember sitting on drift wood that the high water had left caught in the fence that spanned the creek. I would hold George in one arm and fish with the other hand while it was my turn. The river was neither wide nor deep but was swift and had deep holes where we could have easily drowned had we fell in. The banks were steep and sometimes muddy and the rocks were slippery. Neither of us could swim and George was too young to walk yet. I can’t imagine Mother letting us go but she did. I was only about ten and Goldie about seven. (Marcia’s note: about 1915) We would fish until George got too hungry to be good anymore and then we had to take him to the house to be nursed and changed. We caught a few little blue gills and once in a while a bull head. We took them home and ate them no matter how tiny they were.
Harvey came home for a time and with Mr. Laser there too, it was crowded in our little house but as soon as his face healed up Mr. Laser left. Harvey got on this bicycle and left later too. I don’t remember where. He was always off somewhere.
Sylvia and Bill came home from Great Bend for a visit and while they were there we all went over to one of the neighbors, a Mr. Irvin. He had stocked his cattle pond with fish and wanted us to come see it. We were all standing on the earthen dam at the lower side and watching the fish. They were coming to the top and snatching the food that Mr. Irvin had given them. Mr. Erwin was a big man and he came up behind Sylvia and said, “How about a swim?” and clasping her under her arms he whirled her around and made like he was going to throw her out into the middle of the pond. I should have known that he would never have thrown her out but at the time I thought he was going to. I was so scared that I got sick. I became hysterical and couldn’t stop screaming until Mother slapped me several times. I was ill for two days. Everyone else knew he was just fooling but it sure looked real to me.
Sometime along about then, the hoof and mouth disease made its first appearance in the USA. A lot of farms were quarantined to stop the spread of it. A farmer about eight miles away had a large herd of Herefords including a prize bull that he had paid seven thousand dollars for and at that time that was a hunk of money. He was determined that his herd would not get the dreaded disease. He fenced his huge ranch in and hired guards to be on duty day and night and their instructions were to shoot anything running or flying before it could enter his land. He installed huge lights all around and we could see them from our house. It was like a town. He saved his herd and not one got the hoof and mouth thing. Everyone said he couldn’t do it but he did.
Early in the spring of 1916, Hester and Lewis were married with her parents blessing. (Marcia’s note: They were married 9 Feb 1916.) They were still at odds with him for claiming the name of Barnum. They still were sure he was a Laser but they put up no objections to the marriage.
All winter Father had been talking about Michigan and as it got toward spring he started making plans in earnest. He planned that as soon as it was really spring we would be on our way. He bought a sorrel gelding named Bill. He was only about eighteen months old and everyone said he was too young for that trip in harness. He also traded our old faithful Chick off. Mother tried to save her but he said she was too small to pull her share and I guess she was. We asked if we couldn’t just keep her for a saddle pony but he said she wouldn’t earn her keep. He said she was getting old and that she had always been lame. Mother tried to find some way but he had made up his mind. I know that Mother felt bad and Goldie and I were heart broken. Father got a big black horse named ??? to go with Bill. Father covered a wagon with oil cloth because it was lighter and cheaper than canvas and would last for the duration of the trip. We sold or gave away everything that wouldn’t go in the wagon. The old round topped trunks were packed to bulging point again. We girls were very thrilled at the thought of the big adventure and I think that even Mother was sort of ready to leave Kansas and especially the quarry behind. She blamed her headaches on the blasting and the smell of the dynamite.
Sometime in late April or early May, blankets were folded and stacked in the wagon. All of the gear was loaded. A spot found for a bag of grain and a few tools. Food was tucked in and one morning we rode off, not into the sunset but into the face of the rising sun.
This was about the best trip that they had made. There were fewer people to worry about, they were better equipped, the weather was much nicer and about the third day out, Mother lost her headaches and they never came back. The roads were much better now too because the car had begun to catch on and it was even possible to get a road map showing the best roads to take.
I doubt that any of us had any real regrets about leaving Kansas. Father was born to roam and one place was as good as another to him. Mother had never liked Kansas and was happy to be going back to Michigan. She was also very relieved to be rid of her terrible headaches. She shed some tears at leaving her three oldest daughters not knowing when she would see them again but they all had lives of their own now and things were working out for them.
Bill seemed to take the long days in harness fine and willingly pulled his half of the load. Father grained them at noon and watered them whenever he had a chance. At night, they were tied along the road to eat the green tender grass. The farther we came the better the grazing and each day took us nearer to Michigan.
Father had covered the wagon with oil cloth. It was the forerunner of plastic. He had fixed a strip of oil cloth attached at the top and rolled up during the day but it was unrolled to make a sort of lean-to shelter at night and we slept under it. It kept the heavy dew from us and the few days of rain we managed without many problems. We carried a little bunch of dry kindling in one spot in the wagon so that we could start a fire if everything was wet. Once the fire was burning, the wet wood dried and burned.
We jolted and bounced over the Flint hills of eastern Kansas and came to the place where Kansas becomes Missouri. Goldie and I were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t see any difference at first. It looked the same, but gradually it turned into the beautiful Ozark Mountains of Missouri. The road was rough and winding and the hills were steep but it was beautiful and the people were friendly. We saw lots of pigs and mules. It was tougher on the horses.
At the Mississippi River, we had to take a ferry across. It was a flat low type boat with a rail around it but it had gates on both ends. It had an engine to propel it across. When we reached the loading dock, three automobiles were waiting for passage. The ferry came chugging up to the dock, fastened some cable to secure it and put down a ramp. The cars were driven on first then the horses and wagons were loaded. Bill refused to board and stopped on the ramp until Father took a hold of his bridle and led him on. When all passengers were loaded, the ramp was lifted, the cables untied and we chugged across to the Illinois side and the forward end of the boat was made fast and the cars were driven off and then the wagons and we were in Illinois. Goldie and I were so thrilled by it all.
Whenever we got tired of riding, we walked for a while. Mother drove the team and Father and the rest of us walked behind the wagon just to exercise our legs. We never walked in the little towns and villages. In time, we left Illinois behind and were in Indiana. I suppose Father got a little thrill from that as he was born in Indiana. He was not one to show emotion. Every day we got more excited because the next state would be Michigan.
Mother had written to Father’s half sister, Nancy, who lived at Sturgis, Michigan so that was to be our stopping place, at least at first. (Marcia’s note: Nancy’s maiden name was Freemans and her 2nd marriage surname was Bixler.) She was married and had a family. Sturgis was a pleasant little town about three miles north of the Indiana line. After forty-eight days of slow but steady travel, we arrived at Sturgis. A dam had been built at a neighboring village to form a reservoir so that Sturgis could have a water supply of its own and a big celebration was in progress to celebrate the completion of it. It was billed as the “Dam Celebration.” The main street of town was roped off and a carnival spirit was over the town. I am sure that had Father known about that he would have delayed our arrival a couple of days to avoid the crowds and confusion of it. It was a gala three day affair and we got there the first day of it. Father asked directions to my aunt’s place and we had to take back streets across town to reach it. We attracted a lot of attention as we drove through town with our makeshift-covered wagon but I think most of the people thought that we were just a part of the celebration.
Father’s people were not close and did not keep in touch with each other very much. He had only seen Aunt Nancy two or three times since she had “stood up” at their wedding with them and I am not sure if he had ever seen her husband, David Bixler. They had four children, Minnie about fifteen, Violet about my age, Margaret about Goldie’s age and Earnest, three or four. I don’t know if they were glad to see us or not but they made us welcome. Nancy had been married before and had two children by her first husband. Her oldest was a boy and he had been raised by someone else and Aunt Nancy had no idea where was at that time. According to their story, the girl had been stolen by gypsies when she was small and they had been unable to find her. My parents always thought that she had met with foul play at the hands of her stepfather but I don’t know if they had any real reason for thinking so or not. Minnie had several bad scars on her face and they said she had been attacked by a dog but Father had heard that her father had thrown a hatchet and struck her in the face during a fit of temper.
Goldie and I were really thrilled to meet our cousins. They were allowed to do so many things we were not. They kept us in a state of excitement all of the time. I think they regarded us as their poor relations, which we certainly were. Their standard of living was much higher than ours had ever been.
Anyway we stayed with them for a time, probably a few weeks. There was no love between Father and Uncle Dave. Behind his back, Father always called him David the Doodler. Father found a man on the edge of town who let him pasture the horses there for a while. Father hunted for work and also for a place to live. The two lots next to Aunt Nancy’s were for sale and Father made a deal for them. He found a job at one of the factories and went to work. I think, that it was the one that made shears. He bought a tent and put it up on one of the lots and we were living in it in no time. He made a shed for the horses and tied them out along the road in the daytime so they could eat grass.
Goldie and I really enjoyed our new found cousins. They did so many things that were no nos to us. We saw a lot more of the Dam Celebration than we would have ever been able to, if not for them. There was a carnival and parade both of which they were able to go watch on their own. With many misgivings, we were allowed to go with them. They made us promise that we would not tell their friends that we had just arrived from Kansas by covered wagon. They thought it would be degrading or something of the sort. I felt really bad about that because it was an out of the ordinary adventure and I wanted to talk about it but they hushed us up whenever we started to say anything. They said they didn’t want their friends to know we were that poor. I had never really thought about being poor until then. At any rate, we enjoyed all of the things we were doing and all of the new things that we were seeing. The Dam Celebration was a whole new world to us.
I think everyone except Goldie and I were very relieved when we set up our tent and moved out of Aunt Nancy’s house. They had been very nice to us but I am sure they were relieved to have us out of there.
Uncle Dave was a night watchman at a factory that made gocarts. I mean the kind that people used to push their babies around in. He went to work in the evening and was supposed to visit each room or department every hour to see that everything was as it should be, no fires, no break-ins etc. Time clocks were located at points around the factory and he had a sort of key that punched holes in a paper ribbon on each time clock. It registered the time of his visit to each one. He bragged to Father that he had found a way to take the clocks apart and punch each one for the whole night at one time so that he only went around once and they were all punched and he never visited them again until the next night. We thought that it was dishonest. He was getting paid to make the rounds and he was not doing it. Father told him so and that did little to make them better friends.
Some man had started to buy the lots that Father had bought and he had planted potatoes on one lot. He had run foul of the law and landed in jail and had been unable to make his payments and had to give up the lots. The potatoes had little care so the potatoes they bore were small but we dug them and ate them. Mother boiled them without peeling them and we were glad to get them.
In September, we started school at the old Fourth Street School. I was fourth grade, I think and Goldie was in the first or second. It was a far cry from the country school we had attended in Kansas, with eight grades in one room. This school had a room for each grade and special session rooms for studying in. We must have left Kansas before school was out so I don’t remember just how we worked it. After that first year my grades were good, not because I was smart but because I put a lot of effort into them. I guess Goldie’s were all right too. Our parents never set much store in schooling. If you could read, write and figure what more was there? Mother was good at reading and spelling. Father could write his name and that was about all. His reading wasn’t much but his arithmetic was fantastic. Mother wrote a very nice hand even if she was left-handed. Hester, Clara and I were also left-handed. Clara’s teacher had forced her to write right-handed and she had never learned to write well with either hand. My teachers had tried half-heartedly but had never made a big deal of it so I still wrote left-handed and so did Hester. Sylvia and Hester had both turned into find writers. The training for school teachers had helped there, even if they never taught. Sylvia had married right after receiving her diploma and Hester had failed to be hired, probably because of her youth and lack of experience.
By winter, Father had built a rough square building along one end of the tent. We lived in a combination of tent and shed. We had a cook stove and a table and chairs in the shed and we slept in the tent. It was crude but we managed. It was made of rough lumber and covered with tar paper. It had two or three windows and a stove pipe that came out through the roof. A door led from the building into the tent. Our only heat was a cook stove but it was a small space and we survived all right. Father had made a more weatherproof shelter for the horses and had cut a supply of marsh grass for hay. It wasn’t ideal hay and the farmer let him cut it for free but if it was all there was, the horses would eat it. He cut it with a sythe and I always marveled at how even and how straight the windrows would be. It was my job to go with him and with the three tined hay fork, I made the rows of hay into little stacks or haycocks. Later we hauled it home with the wagon and made it into a large stack by the barn. We even had a chicken coop and a few chickens by then.
About that time, there was a rift between Father and his brother-in-law and maybe Nancy too but I think it was mostly Uncle Dave. I think that our living in the ugly tar paper shack and tent was the reason for it. We were right next door and they kept their yard and grounds really neat and clean and ours was a real eyesore, I am sure. As a result of the spat between Father and the Bixler’s, we were forbidden to talk to any of them. We were not to walk with them to or from school and were to have nothing to do with them at any time. As long as we were in sight of home, we were very careful but as soon as we were out of sight we got together and exchanged news and compared notes. I am sure that Mother knew it but she didn’t care as long as Father didn’t find out.
He built a stone wall between the Bixlers and us, right on the property line so that they could not step on our land. We girls had a hole in between the stones where we stuck notes to the Bixler girls and they had a hole where they put notes to us. Anytime we were outside, we always checked our secret place for notes.
It was during our first winter in the tent house that Goldie and I came down with the old German measles. I guess that we were quite sick for a day or two but the bad part was after we felt better and still had to stay in bed in a darkened place because it was hard on our eyes. The tent was not entirely dark but it had a subdued kind of half light. It was very boring. In the middle of our measles, Harvey came home. He had worked his way home by easy stages, working here and there and riding his bicycle on the way. He was still bumming around, doing just what he wanted to do. He had to keep away from us until we got over the contagious stage.
We walked several blocks to and from school. The first four or five blocks had no sidewalks and no pavement so we walked in the street. The last three or four blocks had sidewalks. One house we passed, after we came to the sidewalk, had a porch across the front that was covered with vines and was very secluded. It had a solid rail half way up and vines around that. As we passed by on our way home at noon or back after lunch, someone always said “Hello” or “Hello there” and we always said hello back but we never could see through the vines to see who was so friendly. We told Mother about it and she said that it was probably some lonely old man who was an invalid or something and he probably enjoyed young people going by. One day as I came by the house the newspaper was in the front yard and the wind was scattering it all over so I gathered it up and put the sections back together neatly and went up the steps to hand it to whoever was on the porch. There on the porch in a big high cage was a big green parrot. He would cock his head over to one side and slide across the perch and say “Hello there” to me. I was amazed. I rapped on the door and when the lady of the house came to the door I handed her the paper and explained that it was being blown around the yard. She thanked me very nicely and I asked her if we could stop and talk to the big parrot sometimes and she said we could anytime we liked. On nice days when he was on the porch we came up and peered through the vines and talked to him. He seemed pleased and would sputter and croak at us and say a word now and then. We always missed him after the weather forced him inside.
Farther on down toward the school was the usual “haunted house.” It was a big old weather-beaten house. It had broken windows and if it had ever been painted it didn’t show that it had. It was ugly. The kids at school told weird stories about it of course. We always watched and watched as we walked by but never saw anything but an old ugly house falling apart.
It was during that first winter that Goldie and I had the regular old German, red measles. For a few days we were content to just stay in bed but as we began to get over them it was harder to say put. We had to remain in a darkened area because of the danger to our eyes so that we couldn’t read or color or cut out paper dolls. I guess it was about two weeks but it seemed like two months that we were confined to the darkened tent. During our measles time Harvey came home on one of his haphazard visits. He was not allowed to be near us. I guess it must have been February or March because winter was on the way out by the time we went back to school.
It must have been early that spring too that the gocart factory where Uncle Dave was a watchman burned down. The firemen were called out early in the morning but the fire had gained such a start that there was not much they could do to save it. I know that Uncle Dave had a bad time for a while because they wondered how it could have gained that much of a start between his rounds of the factory. There was no real proof that he had been lax about his duties and as all the time clocks had been ruined by the fire they were useless to prove anything. I guess, that the worse that happened was, of course, the loss of his job. Later what remained standing of the factory was torn down and a new factory was built on the site. The partly burned and charred boards were given to my dad if he would haul them off. A lot of the lumber could be salvaged and the rest would make wood for the cook stove so Father hauled it home and made a huge pile of it in the back yard.
Sometime in the spring, we drove to Howe, Indiana to visit the graves of mother’s parents, Elizabeth and Horton Green. (Marcia’s notes: Her mother’s maiden name was Frances Grace Green and her married name was Frances Grace Hand. Elizabeth’s maiden name was Jones.) I use to think that Horton Green was the funniest name that I had ever heard. Grandpa had died about the time we went to Kansas the first time. I can barely remember him. He had gray hair and a gray beard and wore a plaid jacket called a Mackinaw and I had never seen one before. When he was young, his hair and beard had been red. He must be the one who caused a red head to show up here and there all through the Hand family and their children. Grandma had passed away while we were in Kansas and Mother was unable to go to her funeral. She had been living with mother’s sister Sarah in Lansing after grandpa died and Mother probably didn’t even know it until sometime later.
While we were in Howe, we also visited a cousin of father’s who lived there. She was a sort of village character. Her name was Christina Sullivan and at some point in her life she had been married but I think that she was a widow. (Marcia’s note: Christina’s maiden name was Hand.) Everyone in town knew her as “Old Crissie.” She lived in a filthy old shack that she shared with cats, dogs, chickens and skunks. There were no screens and they all came and went as they wanted to. She was very tickled to see Father because it had been a lot of years since they had seen each other. Of course, she did not recognize him until he told her who he was. She danced around him and hugged and kissed him and kept laughing and saying, “I didn’t even know my own cousin Jonty.” Later she hugged and kissed us all and asked us to come in. She pushed cats and skunks off chairs and when we acted uneasy about the skunks she said, “Oh they won’t hurt you” and they never did. She asked us to eat but after seeing the animals sharing the table and dishes, we made excuses. She wanted us to at least drink tea with her but after watching her scoop tea leaves from the saucepan she always had on the back of the stove with her filthy hands, we were not thirsty. She was a happy person and was always singing. The young people of the town got their kicks from coming to her house and asking her to sing and dance for them. She always did, I guess and they gave her money for her dancing. It was probably the only source of income she had. That was years before Social Security and I don’t think she was on welfare. She would lift her long dirty skirt to about half way to her knees and jig and clog and sing funny little ditties. I don’t know how old she was but she wasn’t young.
Goldie and I walked to Howe to visit her several times during the years we were in Sturgis. (Marcia’s note: It is about six miles from Sturgis, Michigan to Howe, Indiana.) We could safely go that far and even accept rides from passing cars then. We use to enjoy a day spent going to visit Old Crissie. Several years later the Health Department got involved and condemned her house. The town’s people took up collections and had projects to raise money and built her a small comfortable home in another part of town and moved her into it, but only allowed her take one or two pets with her. She only lived a few months in the new location. I think that she just couldn’t stand the change and longed for her old life and just couldn’t adjust.
Once our parents and we visited the children of mother’s only brother, Walt. (Marcia’s note: Walt was a nick name. His name was Lewellyn Walter Green.) He was sick and could not take care of them. There was quite a large family of them and there was no way to support them and the Father would never be able to so they had been placed in a childrens’ home in Indiana. Goldie and I felt so sorry for them because they could not remain at home without a father or a mother and they were aware that their father was dying. Later mother’s sister, Sarah, took the baby; a boy named Miles and raised him as her own. (Marcia’s note: Sarah’s maiden name was Sarah Ann Green, her second married name was Sarah Ann Haley.) Other relatives took one or two others but all the older ones had to stay at the home until they were sixteen.
World War I was raging in Europe and we were fast getting into it too. Father subscribed to the Kansas City Star, a weekly newspaper with a good coverage of the war. The paper arrived every week and my father made Mother read all of the war news to him. She hated it because it sickened her to think of all the young men who were being sent to battle and so many who would never return. I suppose she knew in her heart that her son was just the right age to be called in sooner or later.
Sylvia and Bill had remained in western Kansas working with his brother George on a big cattle ranch. Sylvia was expecting a child and as the time went by she wanted more and more to come to Michigan so that Mother could be with her at the baby’s birth. They had been living in a tent in the orchard at the ranch and earlier in the spring a bad storm came by. George ran to the tent where they were sleeping to tell them to go to the cellar quickly. George and his wife had several children, the youngest were twin boys about three or so. Sylvia and Bill ran back with George and each of them grabbed a sleeping twin and ran for the cellar while George and his wife herded the older ones to the cellar. The wind and rain and the handling partly awakened the twins and they started to struggle not knowing what was happening. Bill made it fine but Sylvia had a rough time trying to carry a kicking, screaming, three-year-old boy with very little light and trying to hurry. Bill got his boy to the cellar and came back to get her and took the twin from her. The twin kicked and struggled all the way and he kept screaming, “Sonna bitch, sonna bitch” all the way. After things got back to normal, all of the family got a big kick out of it. The house was unhurt but several out buildings had been blown down. The chicken coop had been blown away and the chickens were never found. The pickle factory in town had barrels of water on the roof to use in case of fire and several of them were later found in Nebraska. The only damage to the tent was a stake pulled up.
Sylvia got so panicky that she finally convinced Bill to move to Michigan and they did. It always seemed odd to me that she would be the one that had to come home to Mother because she was always so self-reliant all of her life. Bill got a job at one of the local factories and they rented a small apartment on the second street over from us and her and Mother had a signal if she needed help. She was to put a big white square of cardboard in the window and Mother looked every little while to see if it was there. She fell down the stairs one day and Mother was really scared but she suffered no ill effects at all.
By then Clara had given birth to two little boys both of them having lived only a few months and Hester had also given birth to a baby girl. (Marcia’s notes: Hester’s first child was Lucille Helen Barnum, born 7 Nov 1916.)
By our second spring Father was busy working on the basement for our new house. He and Harvey spent every spare minute digging the dirt out with shovels. The lumber from the factory was sorted over and some of it used for forms. Tons of stones were hauled to be put in the forms to save on cement and the walls were all poured by hand
Homes were mostly heated with wood fires and every spring there were piles of ashes that must be cleared out of back yards and garden spots. Father made a dump wagon with loose planks in the bottom so they could be tipped to unload easily and he made spare money by hauling ashes. There was a low spot on one of the lots so he used the ashes for fill. Mother went house to house and contracted for hauling. She quite often hauled the ashes while he was working, shoveling them all out by hand. He didn’t like it but she did it anyway. That was a long time before women’s lib and women just didn’t do things like that and especially for other people but I am sure that the money she made came in very handy. Sometimes I helped her too.
One of father’s half sisters lived in town too. She was a widow and took in washing and ironing for a living. I can remember her so well trudging down the sidewalk hauling a wagon with a big basket of neatly ironed and folded clothes in it. She wore a sunbonnet almost year around and her skirts were full and just cleared the sidewalk. Her name was Mary Matilda but somehow it had been shortened to Mate and everyone called her Aunt Mate. We visited her once in awhile but we were never close to her.
The second year of school in Sturgis, I had a teacher named Mina Denton. None of the other kids wanted to be in her room because she was supposed to be very strict and mean. I found her to be very dedicated person and a wonderful teacher. I loved her. I have often wondered about her over the years and wished that I had kept in touch but when you are young that is not so important. She had a world of understanding and went out of her way to help a bashful or backward student and I know she helped me more than all of my other teachers put together. She wasn’t young and looking back, I think that she must have been about fifty. She taught fifth grade.
It must have been our second Christmas there that Goldie and I were told that we were supposed to go to the welfare office on Saturday. We did and were given mittens, stockings, new shoes and rubbers to go over our shoes. We had never owned rubbers before. As we left, we were each given a big package with our names on. They were wrapped in fancy paper and had ribbons and bows on them. We had never seen Christmas wrapping before. When we got home and opened the packages, they each contained dolls. Mine was porcelain and had black painted hair. She was so beautiful. I named her Victoria Pearl. Goldie’s was more of a baby doll type. It was dressed in a cute little suit and had a ruffled bonnet on its head and had a big smile on its face. She named it Julia. It was weeks before she discovered that it was two faced. One day she dropped it and when she picked it up she looked it over to be sure that it wasn’t broken and she felt a rough spot on the back of its head. She was afraid to look thinking that it was surely broken but when she finally removed the hood we found it had a crying face on the back. It even had painted tears. The head could be turned either way. We really loved those dolls and we were always sure that Mrs. Denton had arranged for us to get them.
By now Father had the house roughed in and we moved from our tent shed dwelling into the house. At first we had the kitchen downstairs in the basement and the first floor was living room and our parents’ bedroom. Our bedrooms were upstairs. The walls were not finished inside and the used boards from the factory showed signs of fire and were scorched in spots but it was far better than any place we had ever lived in before. Later on a big room was added on the back for a kitchen-dining room. Along with all his other talents my father was a good carpenter too.
Harvey was home part of the time and gone some of the time. Of course, he was called into service eventually and was sent to Fort Custer for his first training. Of course, it nearly broke mother’s heart and I suppose it hurt Father too but he never let it show.
We had a lot of clothes given to us from time to time. Mother took the coats that were sturdy and warm but much too big and ripped them up and made us coats that fit so we had warm coats. The parts that she cut off she made us hats out of. They were just straight pieces of cloths sewed up the side and across the top. The corners were folded down and attached to the sides so they didn’t stick up. The first day we wore them to school one of the boys said that they were Dutchmen’s hats and it made us so mad we never liked them and only wore them because Mother made us.
My father was called to Dunkirk, Ohio by the death of this sister’s husband. (Marcia’s note: Dunkirk, Ohio is in Hardin County.) He died of a self inflicted gunshot wound. His wife decided to move to Sturgis to get away from it all, so Father stayed long enough to help her dispose of some things and pack others. He traveled by train and was gone several days or maybe longer. His sister’s name was Rebecca Ellen but we always called her Ellie.
Aunt Ellie had a funny situation in her family life. She had been married quite young and had given birth to three boys and a girl by her first husband. (Marcia’s note: According to the census records, Aaron Palmer was her first husband.) All three boys and their father had died within just a few months and Ellie had a nervous breakdown and almost lost her mind. She took up religion and was later ordained as a Presbyterian minister. Later she gave that up but it helped her over a bad spot in her life. Her daughter grew up and married and she met her daughter’s father-in-law at the wedding. (Marcia’s note: Her daughter’s name was Clara M. Palmer. Clara married Harry E. Pickett.) His first name was the same as the first name of her first husband and it was such an unusual name she was interested. The name was Heathcote. (Marcia’s note: “Ellie’s” second husband was Aaron H. Pickett and they called him Cote according to his descendants.) Later she married him and they had two children, a boy and a girl by him. (Marcia's note: I do not know if both husbands’ names were Aaron Heathcote but from the sounds of this story I am thinking that maybe that could be true.) Her daughter had children older that these two. I never knew what triggered his suicide. (Marcia’s note: The statement about the ages of the children does not seem to match the census records found if Lula was Clara’s oldest child. Descendants of Aaron H. Pickett, say he committed suicide because of a skin cancer diagnosis, which he was afraid would eat away at his face.)
Several months later, Father was using a pair of pliers that had belonged to Ellie’s husband and she had given them to Father. They slipped off of whatever he was holding or something and his temper flared up and he threw them across the room where they hit the wall and fell to the floor. He let out a string of cuss words and ended with, “If Cote had to use tools like that it’s no wonder he shot himself!” I wanted to laugh so badly but I did not dare because if I even smiled he would turn on me and I would suffer a real beating. I nearly burst but I kept a straight face and never let on that I had heard it.
In June Sylvia become a mother of a darling baby girl. (Marcia’s note: 1918) They named her Garoldine. Father said that he would be old and gray before he remembered that name. She was something special to them because although they had been grandma and grandpa before that, she was the first one they had seen or known.
The city dump was about five blocks from where we lived. Mother use to take the little wagon and go pick up kindling wood there. She usually took us girls with her to help and we took George along. He rode in the wagon going to the dump and then we came home we would have the wagon piled high with boards and bits of wood so we took turns pulling the wagon and carrying George or helping him walk along. We sometimes found the most interesting things in the dump like plaster of paris statues or discarded dishes.
One of my school friends lived right by the dump and once I was permitted to go home with her and stay the night. Her name was Teressa Jenkins. She could put a whole boiled egg into her mouth and shut it. I sure thought that a clever thing to be able to do. It amazed me. At home we had always been taught to go easy with sugar and yet she was allowed to put it on potatoes.
Years after that the dump was closed and covered with dirt and made into a beautiful park. I wonder if anyone using that park today knows that under it was tons trash and garbage.
Aunt Sarah came by train from Lansing to visit us sometimes. We always enjoyed her so much. She was short, fat and good natured and she smoked a corn cob pipe. That was interesting to us because we didn’t know any other woman who smoked them. Of course, she brought cousin Miles with her. He was three or four by then. (Marcia’s note: about 1915 or 1916.) She always dressed him so nicely but Goldie and I always felt sorry for him. She was always on his back for something. He never did anything right. If he ate fast, she got on him to eat slower and if he ate slower she scolded him for dawdling with his food. I am sure that she was trying to raise him right but she went at it in a funny way.
Aunt Sarah had been married to a colored man for a number of years. His name was Berriman Haley and he was a nice man but that was a long time ago and mixed marriages were not as common as they are getting to be now. (Marcia’s note: He shows up as Miles B. Haley in the 1920 and 1930 census in Sturgis, St. Joseph Co., MI. He also shows up on the Lansing city directories listed as Miles B. Haley, and Berriman/Berryman Haley.) I asked Mother about him once and she told me that years before Sarah had been married to a white man and they had two boys. Her husband had been killed and left her with two babies to raise. There wasn’t a big choice of jobs that a woman could get then and the common solution was to remarry as fast as possible in order to have a father for your children. Berriman had offered security and a home and she was desperate enough to accept it. The little boys had both died after a little while and a baby boy born to her and Berriman also died when he was about a year old so she ended up with no children of her own. Berriman was good to her and if she ever regretted her marriage to him no one knew it. (Marcia’s notes: Sarah Ann Haley died 13 Aug 1939 in Lansing, Ingham Co., MI. Her obituary was published in the Lansing State Journal, Monday 14 Aug 1939. Miles Berriman Haley died 20 Feb 1939 in Lansing, Ingham Co., MI. His obituary was published in the Lansing State Journal Monday, 21 Feb 1939. Both are buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Lansing, Ingham Co., MI.)
As I have said, we all worked hard but we played hard too and had a lot of fun. In winter we went sleigh riding and there were fox and geese to play in the snow. In the worse weather, we had indoor games. We played dominoes with a homemade set with the dots burned in with a hot wire. We played tiddley winks with a set that Mother had when she was young. We had to be careful with them and be sure not to lose any of the little colored winks. We played cards if Father was not on one of his religious spells. No one had more fun than Father when he played cards. Mother made us button buzzs with a piece of string put through the holes in a big button. We could get a lot of hours of fun out of each piece of string. Also there were hours of fun in a piece of string if you knew how to play kitty cradle. It was always fun to see how long we could go before someone goofed and it didn’t turn out right. Mother made us the forerunners of the jigsaw puzzles. Our favorite was from the Kelloggs’ corn flakes box. It had a picture of a pretty girl holding an ear of corn up to her cheek. She had on a bonnet and it said “The sweetheart of the corn.” She cut out the front panel and with a pencil made crooked, wavy lines up and down and across the cardboard and then with the shears cut all the lines and the resulting pieces were very much like the pieces in today’s puzzles except they were a little cruder but we put them together and had fun. We read a lot too. There were no TVs and no radios so we read aloud in the long evenings. Mother read most of the time but when her throat grew tired, I took over the reading. Perhaps that is why I still read a lot, but not aloud. We learned how to get books from the library and made weekly trips there for reading material. The Zane Grey books were our favorites. I think that I must have read Black Beauty at least five times. Father mended harnesses, sorted beans, shelled beans or peas or sometimes just whittled while he listened.
In the summer, we sometimes went fishing on the weekends. We took the horse and wagon and went to Crooked Creek south of town and fished from the shore. We cooked our dinner over a camp fire. Sometimes we stayed overnight and slept on the ground under the trees. We had a farmer’s permission to camp in his grove. We cleaned our fish and fried them and that is the time they tasted the best. Sometimes we even found juneberries or maybe some raspberries or strawberries for desert. Sometimes when Mother or Father were too busy or didn’t want to go, Harvey, Goldie and I and our cousin Lulu and her younger brother Aaron went on a picnic and fishing. (Marcia’s note: Their last name was Pickett.) We walked to Crooked Creek and carried our lunch in a basket. We had our favorite spot that was ours alone. We called it Pleasant Island. It wasn’t really an island. It had water on three sides but a strip of swampy land joined it to the mainland on one side. We crossed the marsh and reached the little rounded knoll that was our island. There were tree and grass and paths made by the farmers’ cows. We really had fun there. Sometimes we fished, sometimes not. Harvey had a crush on Lulu for a while. She was fifteen, I think. They walked around the island hand in hand or lay on the dry ground in the shade. There was nothing between them because they never got rid of all three of us younger ones. Lulu and Aaron were the grandchildren of Aunt Ellie. We always got wet nearly to our knees crossing over to the place, but that did not bother us at all. The fact that there were a few ?massenguge? Michigan rattlers in the swamp bothered us even less. We enjoyed ourselves to the fullest.
Father showed us how to make kites and we always had kites flying somewhere. Once Harvey made one and got it up in the air. After awhile he grew tired of flying it so he tied it to the fence in back of our yard and left it. It stayed in the air for three weeks before it came down in a rain storm. Every morning we always looked as soon as we got up to see if it was still there and it always was until a storm in the night forced it down. He never got it to fly that long again.
Father also made us a wooden swing that was unique and I have never seen another one like it. We had no trees on our lot so he put up two long poles and anchored them well in the dirt. Each one had a deep notch in the top and a pole fitted into that and two long poles attached to that and hung down and a seat was fixed to the bottom ends so at the poles took the place of rope in a conventional swing. A lever with a rope attached to it was fastened to the top of one of the side poles so that by pulling on the rope the swing was made to swing. It sure was different from any other that I have seen. We were very proud of it because no one else had one anything like it.
He also made George a tricycle. It was a sort of like a wooden box with half of the bottom cut out. It had two wheels in back and one in front and was steered by a bar or handle on the front. It was propelled by pedals that he pushed up and down with his feet and he could really hot rod with it. He sat in the box with his feet down thru the hole and push down with one foot than the other. He was small for his age when he went zipping down the sidewalk people turned to watch and more than once I heard someone say, “Look at that kid go!”
All of our girlfriends had roller skates and skated to and from school all of the time. Goldie and I wanted some so badly but Father said that he could not afford to buy any. After awhile he told us that he wanted the pile of boards in the backyard moved to another spot and piled up better so that it would take up less garden space. He told us that if we would do it for him he would buy us roller skates. Oh Joy! We would get roller skates. We tackled the huge pile of dirty charred boards. Father had sorted them over so many times in his search for good boards to use in his house building that they were scattered every which way. He showed us where he wanted them piled and we went to work. The first week or two wasn’t bad but after all of that struggling and lugging the unmoved pile began to look like a mountain. Sometimes we just couldn’t find the energy to do it but then the thought of skates egged us on again. Everything comes to an end some time and the pile did finally. Father oked our job and when he went downtown the next time, he brought back our skates, one pair for the two of us. We had thought he meant a pair for each of us and we were so disappointed we were sick. We dared not say a word to Father or he would have promptly taken the one pair back. We knew one pair was better than none at all so we swallowed our resentment and took the skates. We had a lot of skinned knees and elbows and some bruises and some torn clothes but we mastered them all right. Some days we took turns, one skating before noon and the other skating afternoons and sometimes we each took one skate and used it like a skate board. Any errand we were sent on we skated. We really enjoyed them.
Victrolas or phonographs were very popular about then and one day Father brought one at a sale. It played disc records and had a big horn shaped like a morning glory. The horn was bright blue and inside it had pink roses painted on it and I thought that it was the prettiest thing that I had ever seen. Nearly every payday Father brought a record or two. The favorites were Amos and Andy, The Three Black Crows, Uncle Josh and Lum and Abner. Uncle Josh records were coming out all the time and if there was a new one out Father got it. There were a lot of old times songs like “Roaming in the Gloaming” by Henry Burr and others and we had quite a few of the best religious songs. Father was very proud of the Victrola and was always glad to play it whenever we had company.
Father had spells when he was very religious. While they lasted, we went to church and Sunday School every Sunday and Mother had to read a chapter in the Bible every night and every morning and after the reading we all knelt while Father prayed. We also said grace and each meal. I thought that was a good idea as it got us all at the table together and we all got started on the food at the same time. I still think it is a good idea. Sometimes we were Baptist, sometimes Methodists and sometimes something else. Mother never had any real feeling for religion and I am sure she was glad when his spells wore off as they always did in a few months. When he was religious, we could not have a playing card in the house and then after awhile we were back to card playing again. No one had more fun than Father playing cards. We used to play a game we called High King and it was a really fun game but no one that I know now has ever even heard of it.
Sylvia and Bill moved to Lansing when Garoldine was quite small. Bill got a job on the section crew for the railroad and they lived in a tiny house right by the tracks.
We found a farmer out in the country, who had a huckleberry marsh and we picked berries in season. We would take a bucket and boxes and a lunch and take the horse and buggy out to the farm and pick berries and have a picnic lunch at noon. We always had blueberries with sugar on them for desert. I enjoyed those days very much. There were so many interesting things in the marshes, insects, toads, frogs, lizards, snakes and squirrels besides lots of wild flowers and birds. The farmer’s barn had pigeons in it and I wanted some so badly. Finally Father bought two from the man and he made me a very nice cage to keep them in. For a while, I was very happy with them but after awhile, I lost interest and had to be reminded to even feed and water them.
A great new thing was sweeping the country. It was called moving pictures. The theaters were spring up all over and of course one was built in Sturgis. Every Saturday night there was a full slate of entertainment. There were news reels a short comedy sketch, a short movie and then a chapter of a regular old cliff hanger serial. They always ended with the brave heroine tied to the railroad track with the big ugly train bearing down on her or the hero hanging by a thin frayed rope over a big cliff and you could hardly wait until next Saturday to see how she or he made out. We went once and Father got hooked and we had to go the next week and then the next. One of the favorites was “The Perils of Pauline, the Girl who Dared.” Sometimes we went to westerns with Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson and William S. Hart. Of course, they were all silent and Mother had to read all the subtitles to Father because he could not read that well. Sometimes it was hard to hear with the piano making mood music too.
Very early in the spring, Father decided that we needed a boat to fish from so he bought lumber and whatever he needed and set to work making a boat. The weather was still wintery so he decided that he would build it in a large room upstairs as we had no garage or sheds. The upstairs room had not been finished yet so he had a nice big space to work in and it was dry. He spent his spare time up there and sometimes was up there plaining a board or something else by lantern light. It turned out to be a very nice fourteen foot row boat. We wondered how he would get it down the stairs but one day when we came home from school, and he had it in the yard. He had removed the window and the casing and had turned the boat up cornerwise and slid it out of the window and let it down with ropes. When it was ready to go in the water, he took it out to Crooked Creek with Billie and the wagon. He kept it under the bridge by the road and locked it fast to the irons on the bridge. We decided that a fine boat like that must have a name so after many suggestions and much discussion we decided to name it Michigan Liner. That was a pretty impressive name for a row boat but we had a christening ceremony and Mother named it officially with a bottle of water.
Harvey had completed his rookie training at Fort Custer and had come home on leave and then went to a camp in Florida. We had a service flag in our window to denote that a member of our family was serving his country. I think that his army buddies must have given him a rough time some time knowing that he was a country hick. He wrote home once and asked Mother to mail him six linen napkins because he had to have them right away. Mother thought that it was a funny request but I was sent downtown to buy them right away.
I went to every store but linen napkins were expensive and I couldn’t buy any with the money I was given. I went home and told Mother the price of them and she said she would try to pinch out enough from next week’s grocery money. When Father got home, he said that it had to be some kind of joke because they sure didn’t use linen napkins in a mess hall but Mother was sure if Harvey said he needed them he did. A couple of days later she got a letter from him telling her to forget them so I am sure someone was pulling his leg. I asked him about it once when he was home but he just changed the subject.
One day in early spring when the snow was melting and everything was muddy and sloppy, Goldie and I had worn our rubbers to school to keep our shoes dry. Goldie always put the toe of one foot behind the heel of the other and pushed the heel of the rubber down and then kicked it off. She had been scolded for doing it before but she never paid much attention to anything anyway so that day when we came in for lunch, she stuck her heel against the other toe and loosened it and then gave a kick and the muddy, dirty, rubber came off and flew up to the ceiling and then turned over and over on its way down. Our oven door was down and Mother had a large kettle of soup sitting on the door to keep it warm for our dinner. I watched in horror as the rubber headed for the kettle and landed right in the middle with a big “plop.” I don’t remember what we ate for lunch that day. Of course, Goldie was in the dog house but she never got any punishment but then she never did.
Ouija boards were very popular about that time and everyone was talking about their magical power to answer questions and a lot of people were buying them. Of course Father made one out of the lid of a cigar box whittled into a rough heart shaped with a hole made in the pointed end so that a stub pencil could be put in the hole and little wooden legs struck into the other two corners. You placed it on a paper and put your hands on it lightly and it was supposed to write answers to questions and it worked. The boughten ones spelled out words on a lettered board but ours seem to work well with its pencil. Some people set great store in them while others took them with a grain of salt so to speak. We asked ours if it was a spirit and it wrote “Yes.” We asked it if it had a name and it said that its name was Millie and although we asked the same question lots of times it always claimed its name was Millie. I don’t know how they work and I don’t believe in them but them, but they seem to work better for some than for others. I don’t remember that Millie ever told us any earth shaking news but once she told us that she knew where a lot of money was hidden. After Father and someone else had asked a lot of questions, the answers said that the money was buried on the south side of the south tree in a row of big maple on the road to Crooked Creek. It said it was about two feet deep and said that the only one that could find it would be me and that I must go all alone after dark. I don’t know how it happened to pick me because I would be the last one to believe in spirits or hocus-pocus. I was to dig down eighteen inches at the south side of the last tree in the row. Father got pretty excited about it and a few nights later he hitched up the wagon and he and I made the trip out to the row of trees. We stopped at the end of the farthest from the tree I was suppose to dig by and Father stayed there while I took the lantern and went down to the last tree and dug. Of course, I found nothing and after I had dug for a long time Father came over and he dug around the south side of all of the trees but of course he found nothing either. He blamed it on the fact that he went with me and I wasn’t alone. Of course, there was no way that they would have let me go alone even if I wanted to. Maybe its like witching for water, you have to have a special faith and I sure didn’t have it. My father was very clever but he was also very superstitious. You wouldn’t believe all of the superstitions he had.
One summer day our parents decided to drive to Lansing to visit Sylvia and Bill. Of course the trip would be made with Billie and the wagon and would take two days. I think that Father took a few days off work but I don’t remember for sure. Anyway we loaded the wagon with bedding, food, dishes and clothes. We had to take along a sack of grain for Billie and as I still had my pigeons yet, we put them in a chicken crate and fastened it onto the end gate of the wagon. We stayed overnight along the road and slept on the ground. Sylvia had sent us directions to get to her place so we found them without any problems. They still lived in the tiny building by the tracks. I think that it had once been a depot. Every morning, several other men arrived and with Bill they pushed the handcar from the shed to the railroad tracks on a sort of ramp then they got on and pumped it down the tracks. It was all man powered then. The hand car was propelled by pushing on a handle. They were like bars and one was on each end of the handcar. Two men pushed down on one handle and then the two on the other end pushed down on their handle. If there were more than four men the others just rode. They had a certain length of tracks that they were responsible for and each day they had to go over that section and inspect it and maintain it in good order, loose rails had to be respiked, bad ties replaced etc. One evening while we were there, the handcar came flying down the tracks and stopped and the men jumped off and pushed it off the tracks onto the ramp just as a train went flying by. Of course, they knew just when trains were due and it was all in the day’s work to be safely off by the time the train came.
We were pretty crowded in the tiny house but we managed. We spent some time with Aunt Sarah while we were in Lansing too. I think that it was at that time that Sarah told Mother that before she died, their mother had told her about her Indian blood but she would never say more than that but just before she died she told Sarah that she had been taken by white men in a raid and raised by a white family as a slave and later had married the son of the family. Because she was related to Sitting Bull and all of the Soo tribe hated white men, she was afraid to tell anyone who she was until after Grandpa had died because she was afraid they might kill him for revenge. It seemed that she was Sitting Bulls wife’s sister. Her Indian name was Grey Fawn.
We teased Mother to give us Indian names and she finally did. Of course, in a real Indian family the mother is not the one that names the children but we were happy anyway. Sylvia was Grey Eagle, Harvey was Red Feather, Hester was Nimble Fingers, Clara was Still Water and Goldie was Silver Star. I was Lone Feather. I don’t remember what she called George but she took the name of Looking Glass for herself. She sure did a good job of picking names, I think.
Goldie was always getting hurt but it was usually her own fault. She never minded what she was told. She had a habit of getting up in chairs on her knees facing the back of the chairs and rocking it back and forth first on the back legs then on the front legs and making them sort of walk across the floor. She had been told not to do it but she still did. One day she was in the highchair rocking it back and forth and she rocked it too far and it tipped over and she hit her face on the corner of the oven door. It made a very deep cut right between her eyes. It bled so much that Mother couldn’t stop it no way. She finally sent me upstairs to look for a big cobweb. I found a big one between the rafters, under the eaves and brought it down to her. It was big dusty one and she put it on the cut and pressed it down and the bleeding was stopped almost at once. There was so much blood all over Goldie and in the wash basin that Mother was using that I got sick and had to lie down. That’s the only time in my life that blood made me sick. It left a tiny scar that she never lost. When you think of all the sterile protection that is given to all wounds now and then think of that old dirty, dusty cobweb you wonder. The scar was a tiny blue line on her nose just between her eyes.
Harvey had been home on leave again and was due to go overseas when he reported back to camp but the war ended right then and he didn’t have to go. (Marcia’s note: World War I ended Nov 1918.)
A neighbor came by all excited and told us that the armistice had just been signed and the war was over and everyone was downtown celebrating so we went downtown too. Everybody was there and there was excitement everywhere. Every store had sold out or given away every American flag that they had and the people were waving flags and cheering and shouting. They had taken the big bell down from on top of the fire station and mounted it on a big ?stakerake truck and were driving up and down the main street with as many young people as could pile in it and ringing the bell all the time. They would stop on the main corner and one load would unload and a new bunch piled in. All of my school mates were taking rides but my parents forbid me to go. They said it was no place for a young girl. I begged but they still said no. I don’t know what harm it would have done. They were packed in so tight that all you could do was wave your arms and holler. I sure wanted to be a part of it but I couldn’t. I have always felt resentment because I wasn’t allowed to go. It was a mad but happy throng that jammed the streets that day and I have never known anything like it since. The local paper sent out a special edition that said “Huns Quit” in letters six inches high. All kinds of banners and signs sprang up everywhere and no crowd that I have been in since has come close to the mood of that one.
About then or maybe just before that, the flu was making its way across the county and people were dying everywhere from flu and complications of it. Father had it but the rest of us escaped it. It usually took a long time to recover from it. Bill had it and was sick for so long that he lost his job and they were so hard up that they didn’t know what to do. Mother wrote and told Sylvia that if Bill could travel they could come home for awhile. They came by train. Bill was a walking skeleton and was so weak that he could hardly walk. Sylvia was pregnant again too. Father took Bill to our doctor and he knew just what to do. The flu had left Bill with a serious kidney problem and luckily the doctor recognized it and knew what to do. He treated him with as simple a thing as pumpkin seed tea. He gradually recovered and Sylvia gave birth to another little girl. After a little while, they went back to Lansing and rented a house next door to Aunt Sarah. (Marcia note: They were still here in the 1920 census.) Bill was still in a very week condition and Sylvia went to work as a waitress but the money was not enough to keep the family so Bill got a job too. Sylvia wanted to work for a few weeks, at least until Bill got a pay check or two but someone had to watch the girls. It was during the school year but I was put on the train and sent to Lansing as a baby sitter. I was only about twelve and I never had been away from home longer than overnight and I got so homesick that I was useless so after a week or two I was sent back home and Sylvia quit working. (Marcia’s note: In November 1917 Ethel turned twelve, but this child was born after Geroldine, who was born about 1918 according to the census records so the year is in question.) The baby had never been very strong and she passed away in a few weeks.
Aunt Ellie was working as a janitor at the school where we went to school. Her granddaughter Lulu helped her but it took a lot of work so she asked if I could help her too and she would pay me. My parents consented so for about three hours every night I helped clean. I emptied waste baskets, erased black boards, swept floors and cleaned the rooms. That was the first time that I had ever seen the latrines in the boys’ bathrooms. One Saturday a girl’s basketball team from away somewhere, played the local girls. I didn’t have to help clean up after the game but Ellie and Lulu did and Aunt Ellie found a dead newborn baby in the waste basket in the girls’ bathroom. Things like that were not brought out in the open and I probably would have never heard of it if Lulu hadn’t told me. It created quite a furor but if the mother was ever located, I never heard of it. It was generally thought that a girl, who came with the visiting team must have given birth to it during the excitement of the game and that it probably had failed to get a breath and died and the frantic girl didn’t know what to do with it and she hid it in the waste basket.
In the spring, Father rented a lot and planted it mostly in sweet corn. He also rented an acre of ground just outside of the city and planted it with pickles for a cash crop. When the sweet corn was ready, Mother and I took the little wagon and picked it and sold it house to house. There was no problem selling it as everyone wanted fresh sweet corn. After the first day, Mother didn’t go with me even to pick it because she knew that I knew which ones were ready to pick. She gave me a few cents commission for selling them. I really didn’t mind. It wasn’t hard.
Of course after the pickles got going, I also had to help pick them every other day. The smaller ones were the choice ones and brought the most money so the field had to be picked often so that the little ones didn’t get big. After school started, I had to skip school every other day to pick pickles. Goldie had to help sometimes too.
There was an old apple tree along the road out toward Crooked Creek and sometimes Mother let me ride Billie out and get a sack of them. I loved that. Riding out along the dusty road in the beautiful autumn weather with wild flowers everywhere, goldenrod and blue gentians, that are extinct now. I picked up a burlap bag about half full and tied the top securely and laid the sack across Billie’s shoulders and came home with the smell of apples all around me. Mother was very glad to get the apples too. They went into pies, sauce and apple dumplings.
In the spring, Father liked to go to Crooked Creek and spear the huge carp that came up in the shallow water in the bend and bayous to spawn. If Harvey was home he went but if he wasn’t available, I had to go to paddle the boat for Father. I loved Crooked Creek but I hated the carp spearing trips. I had to sit in the little end of the boat and paddle it so that Father could stand in the big end and throw the spear. Of course, it was much harder to handle going backwards that way and I had to make it go up into the grassy flats ever so easily so as not to frighten the carp. Father was a hard task master and if I missed by even the tiniest margin he bawled me out and swore at me. I always dreaded padding for him. I never got any praise even if I did it perfectly once in a while.
I always enjoyed walking behind Father on the way to and from the creek because I like to watch the crease in his overall legs go from one leg to the other as each leg took a step. It fascinated me. I guess life is made up of the little things.
The summer after I turned thirteen, the neighbors down the street were expecting a second child and the lady was not very well. (Marcia’s note: 1919) She wanted to hire my mother to do her washing and ironing but Mother was also expecting a child and she couldn’t do it. I asked my mother if I could do it and she said if the neighbor would let me I could try it and see how it went. She said that I would be strictly on my own with no help from her. The neighbor was desperate so she said I could try out. I was no stranger to a washboard because I had helped with the washing ever since I could remember. After a week or two, the neighbor asked me if I would consider doing the ironing too, so I did. Imagine a thirteen-year-old doing washing and ironing the hard way. Her husband brought the clothes on this way to work and picked them up on his way home. Almost every other night, he came home carrying a market basket of groceries. It always seemed like such a lot of groceries for just the three of them. Father said some people eat to live and some live to eat and he must be one of the latter so we always called him “Live to eat” but not to his face.
That summer Uncle Bill stopped by to visit. It was the first time we had seen him since he left us in Kansas to go on to Colorado. He seemed to be just a bum but he was all involved with the IWWs. They were the Industrial World Workers and I guess they were the first labor union. People referred to them as the I Won’t Works. All he talked about was the IWWs and Father got quite fed up with it and him too. They finally had a few words over it and Father ordered him out of the house and we never saw him again.
One day Father noticed that one of the poles on our funny swing had worn almost in two so he said not to swing in it until he found time to fix it. The Pickett’s kids, our cousins, were there one day and Goldie got into the swing and asked Aaron to push her on the swing. I called her attention to what Father had said but she paid no attention and after a little while the worn pole broke and she fell on her face and her teeth cut all the way through her lip. I suppose it hurt a lot and of course it bled a lot too but it healed up and left another little scar.
George loved goldfish and my parents had got him a pair and they lived in a round bowl on the livingroom table. One day in summer when the sun was bright and hot, Mother came to the kitchen to find a room full of smoke and the ball of crochet cotton she had been using and had set on the stand burning. It must have been the round fish bowl acted as a sun glass and set the cotton on fire. If we had been away from home, we would not have had a house to return to in a short while. The fish got moved to a different spot after that.
All the girls were crocheting draw string bags then so of course we did too. I made mine and then I got really clever, I thought, and crocheted the draw string in one piece by putting it through the loops and then joining it together. I was really proud of how I had fixed it. Goldie made her bag but was having trouble with her string so Mother made a string for her. She made it in just one long piece and put it through the loops and tied them in a square knot. Goldie hadn’t notice how she had made it and when she did she said that I had cut it and tied it so that it would not be as nice as mine. She was so mad that she cut mine in two and made a big knot in it. I was very angry then and told Mother and she told Goldie that she was the one that had made hers like that. I had nothing to do with it but Goldie got by with that just like she always did. I never did forgive her for it in my heart, not even now.
I was saving my money to buy something nice to wear to school. I never had more than one school dress. When I had money enough, Mother and I went down to buy cloth for a dress. I found some beautiful serge material. It was a color called dusty rose and it must have been the forerunner of hot pink. It was beautiful. Mother had some misgivings but took it home and the minute Father saw it he started to rant and rave. No daughter of his was going to wear anything made of that color and on and on. I cried, Mother coxed, Father swore but after several days he said she could make it up if she could tone it down with some other material too. She bought a lot of black “baby ribbon” and trimmed it with that and Father let me wear it. I thought that it was the prettiest dress that I had ever seen.
Uncle Dave still lived next door and his kids always went to meet him when he came from work and carried his dinner pail for him and hung onto his arms. Father always resented the fact that we didn’t. Mother asked us to sometimes go meet him so we tried to remember to do it. We hadn’t realized that it made any difference to him. He wasn’t the type to show affection to anyone. I don’t think that he ever kissed me in my life. On the other hand, he never whipped me either but he often cussed me out in a way that hurt me more that a whipping would have. He was very pleased when Garoldine’s first baby steps were taken to meet him when someone said, “There comes grandpa.” I guess that maybe he did have feelings but he took pains to never let them show.
I had finished the sixth grade and would have to attend the Junior High in the fall and I wasn’t at all pleased about it. It was a larger school and the kids were different and I wouldn’t have the clothes that the other kids had and I didn’t have money to spend and I would not be allowed to go to any of the activities either. Goldie would still be going to the Fourth Street School. I was relieved of my washing and ironing by then but I still had a lot of work to do. I had to help Mother with the house work. I had to take care of the horses and put feed in for them, pump water into the tub and bring them to it to drink. I also had to clean the stables. I sawed wood for the kitchen stove with a buck saw, helped in the garden and helped pick pickles. Goldie had her chores to do but I was bigger so more was expected of me. We still had time for fun sometimes. We went on our fishing trips and picnics and sometimes Goldie and I hitchhiked to Howe to visit old Crissie. The name hitchhiking had not been invented yet but that’s what it was. We had our cousins, the Picketts, to chum with and also our cousins, the Bixlers when Father wasn’t around. Their father died that summer, I think. (Marcia’s note: David Bixler was still living in January 1920 when the census was taken. He didn’t die until 23 Mar 1922 (Sturgis, St. Joseph Co, MI), which is after both Frances and John had died so this statement can not be correct.)
Mother was not very well that summer and Father decided that a vacation might be the thing for her. He sent her to Ohio to visit his brother. (Marcia’s note: I don’t know who this was as Ethel said the only full brother he had was a twin, who died. Maybe it was his ½ brother Newton.) I think that it was very typical of Father that he sent her to visit his people rather than her own. She had a sister, Sarah, in Lansing and her sister, May, lived not to far from us. She had not been to see them since we returned from Kansas. She said that they were as close as she was and could come to her if they wanted to see her. I think that there had been some trouble between them but I don’t know what is was. Anyway he put her and George on a train for Ohio and Goldie and I stayed home with him.
We had never had running water and George was fascinated by his cousin watering the lawn with a hose. He asked if he might try it so his cousin gave him the hose to hold. He held it on the grass for a few minutes and then he pointed it at the wooden clothes line post and the force of the water blew it all back on him. The post was only about five feet away and he was drenched in nothing flat. He tried to shout but only got a mouth full of water. He didn’t know that all he had to do was move the hose away from the post. Mother and the cousins laughed until they cried. He wasn’t hurt only very wet.
Fall came and I started junior high. The principal was a man named Ferner. There was a rumor that he kept a pancake turner in his desk drawer and had been known to hit unruly kids on the behind with it. There was a little ditty about Mr. Ferner and the pancake turner that the kids sang but of course not when he could hear it.
Girls’ basketball was getting very popular or maybe it had been and we just didn’t know about it. My school had a team and one day one of the teachers asked me if I would like to play on the team. I told her that I would very much like to. She told me to stay on after school and play in practice to see how it went. I asked Mother and she said that I could stay after school and play. I loved it. I liked the game and it made me feel like I was one of them. The teacher was pleased with me and said that she was sure that I could make the team if I wanted to and I sure wanted to. She told me that I would have to have the gym shorts and blouse that all the teams wore and when she saw my face fall she told me that she was sure that there was a way that I could get money to pay for it. I knew that Father would not give me money to buy clothes just to play games in. I went home bubbling with excitement to tell Mother and Father that I could make the team. When I mentioned the fact that I would need special clothes, Mother asked about them and when the shorts came out, that was it. No way! No girl in the Hand family would appear in public with anything on that showed their knees to say nothing of a few inches above them.
The blouses were sleeveless too and that was another no-no. Show your armpits. Shameful! For once Mother sided with Father and there was no chance of a change of heart in either of them. I cried myself to sleep. My basketball career ended before it began.
I don’t know how I kept up with my school work. I was never a smart one and it was hard for me. My self-consciousness made it even harder. I never seem to be one of them because I couldn’t dress like they did and I could never do the things they did and up until the frost, I had to take every other afternoon off and sometimes I had to work right up until dark to get the pickles picked and Mother sometimes kept me home to help her. Sometimes the teachers called me in and asked the reason for my missing so much school but they never did anything about it.
One Sunday in October, we were sent to the Pickett’s with orders not to come home until Father came after us. (Marcia’s note: 1919) We went on one of our picnics out to Pleasant Island and Harvey went along. He was at home and was working at one of the factories in town. We kept telling Goldie that when she got home there would be a surprise for her and she got really excited but she never got wise to the fact that we were talking about a new brother or sister. It was after dark when Father came to walk us home and told us that we had a new brother. My aunt came every day to wash and care for the baby and Mother and I stayed out of school and cooked and washed clothes and did the house work. They named him Ray Albert. A prince named Albert had just visited the United States from Belgium or some place and we teased Mother about naming the baby after him. I still think that is where she got the name. I don’t know where the Ray came from but it was just Ray not Raymond.
Harvey had been going with a girl he had met shortly after he returned from service. We thought that it might be serious. Harvey brought the other lot next to ours and built a very sturdy little house on it but the romance died out.
I had very few really close friends in school and I can only remember the names of two of them. There was an Ethel Ankaney and I only remember her because her name was Ethel. She never was special to me. There was a Katherine Murry that walked with me to and from school a lot. She was an only child but was not snobbish at all. She had long black curls and always had a bright ribbon in her hair and she always had nice clothes. I though she was the most beautiful girl I ever knew. She had her own room and I had never had one. She used to invite me to her room to show me things and I didn’t really envy her for all the things she had. She was just too nice. I had one girlfriend, who was older than I and had dropped out of school. She was an Indian girl and lived with her father. I guess that her mother was dead. About the time the war ended, she dropped out of sight and when she came back, she had a baby boy. She claimed that she had been married to a soldier, who deserted her after the war. We never did quite believe that. Both Mother and I thought that her father was the father of her child, but we never knew for sure. Harvey was interested in her for a while and I hoped they would marry but they didn’t. I don’t know what became fo her. I lost track later.
On nice days in the fall, we hitched up the team to the wagon and went out west of town and tied the horses at the side of the road near where the road crossed the railroad tracks and then we walked up the track quite a way and then Goldie and I each took a pail and walked back toward the road and filled our pails with the lumps of coal that had fallen off the trains. When our pails were full, we poured the coal along the track and Harvey and Father picked it up in a tub and carried it to the wagon. When a train went by and the man saw us girls picking up coal, he kicked off a bunch of coal for us.
We would get enough, coal in one trip to run us for months and if we could get time for two trips we had our winters coal. We also picked up chestnuts by the railroad tracks too. The chestnuts have prickly burrs and we always got our fingers full of stickers so it wasn’t a really nice thing but we liked the nuts.
There were a lot of factories in Sturgis and they all paid off on Tuesday nights. The stores and banks were open until 9:30 or 10:00 on Tuesday nights and everybody was in town shopping. After our evening meal, we always walked down to the store. We took the little red wagon. They called them express wagons then. Sometimes George rode down in the wagon and sometimes he took his peddle car Father had made him. Mother picked out the groceries and Father paid for them. No frills, just the main things, sugar at five pounds for a quarter and bread was three loaves for a quarter. Sugar came in big barrels and was scooped out and weighed into brown paper bags. Coffee also came in barrels and was scooped into smaller bags to suit the customer. It was in beans and the grocer would grind it for you if you wanted him to but most people preferred to grind their own. Nutmeg came by the nut. They were brown walnut size or smaller and Mother had a grater and grated some off as she needed it. Cinnamon came in sticks and a piece was broken off and powdered by hitting it with a hammer. Sometimes it would be powdered by hitting it with a knife handle. Red Devil Lye was a staple and was in every household. Baking soda came in boxes, the same old Arm and Hammer brand that is still on the market. They used to have a little card in it. They came in a series of twenty-four. The first one was birds and I collected all of them, then it was flowers. A description of each one was on the back of the cards. Tea came in paper bags with fancy Chinese designs on them. They came in several sizes. Flour was brought in twenty-five pound bags or by the barrel. A barrel was eight sacks. The sacks were usually made of heavy paper. There were no dish soaps and no detergents. Mother bought either Fels Naptha or P.G. made by the Proctor and Gamble company. It was always in bars. We almost never had milk and I can never remember having butter or margarine on the table. One of our favorite spreads was to put a big spoonful of sugar on our plate and pour bacon fat over it and dip it up with bread. Sometimes we had peanut butter. It was bought by the pound and the grocer scooped it from a burlap bag in the form of whole peanuts and poured them into the hopper of a big fed grinder with a wheel on the side. The wheel was turned by a handle and the peanut butter dropped into a wooden pad like lard used to come in. We were always glad when Mother brought peanut butter because we liked it and we liked to watch it being ground.
Sometimes Mother bought bacon or side pork. When she fried side pork, we always asked her for a piece to fry on the top of the stove. She would cut us both a piece about as big as a half dollar and we would lay it on the hot stove for a minute on each side and then eat it as soon as it cooled enough. It sure tasted good and if it got a bit smokey in the kitchen no one seemed to care.
By February I was getting very discouraged with school. I was still missing a lot and I was ashamed of my homemade clothes and also of the fact that I never had any money to spend for any of the things the other kids did. We still had Billie and Father had ??ie no hay at all the last summer because he had no time so about every three days, I had to take the hand sleigh and go buy a bale of hay at the livery barn and bring it home on the sleigh. The evenings were short and it was impossible for me to come home and get the sleigh and money and walk the ten or twelve blocks and back pulling the sleigh before dark so on those days I had to leave school early. Father and Harvey were both working and they didn’t get home until after dark. Workers were expected to put in nine or ten hours then instead of the eight that is standard now.
I asked my parent if I could quit school and neither of them put up any objections. After all I could read and write and what else was there that a girl needed? I asked the principal and he set up a date for me to talk to him and the school board. I was scared stiff but I went. Mother didn’t come with me so I was all on my own. They asked a lot of questions and I answered them as truthfully as I could. They brought out my attendance record and found out it was like I said. Finally they gave their permission for me to quit as a hardship case. I have never regretted quitting and in the same circumstances I would quit again but I do regret the circumstances that made it necessary. I made sure that none of my children quit school at thirteen and I have surely made my six and a half years of education work for me.
That next summer was for the most part a happy one. Uncle Dave had died and Aunt Nancy and her children had moved away. (Marcia’s note: I thought this was about 1919 but maybe it was the summer of 1920 because David Bixler was alive in Sturgis in 1920 when the census taken in January. The family left Sturgis in May of 1921, so it had to before that time.) Aunt Mate had passed on so we only had the Picketts for relatives. Aunt Ellie had given up the janitor work and was talking in borders to take up the slack in her income. Her late husband had been the leader of an orchestra and her son-in-law had been a drummer in it and her son by that husband had been a champion drummer at age five. He started playing drums at age four and for his stage appearances he wore a white sailor suit and he looked just like a life-size doll. Her daughter by her last marriage was a week younger that I but she was years ahead of me in actions and development. While I was still shaped like a totem pole, she was a very pretty teenager. She tried to include me in her world but I didn’t fit. She ran away and married an Indian man when she was fifteen and they had a daughter named Romona after the popular song. Her hair turned white when she was about sixteen but I saw her once when she was in her late sixties and it was black then.
Sturgis had a celebration that summer and there was to be a big parade and everyone was urged to take part. We asked Mother if we could go as Indiana maidens. She bought some brown material and made us both Indiana dresses complete with beadwork and fringes. We wanted to stain our faces and hand with walnut juice but Father vetoed that. Harvey decorated his bicycle and rode it in the parade too. Goldie and I made quite a hit with our dresses and headbands.
A few days later I asked Mother to put on my Indian costume and let me take a picture of her. We were about the same size. She put on my head band and stuck a hawk feather in it and I took her picture posed against a background of hazelnut bushes with my old box camera. I had no way of knowing that the picture would become the most cherished one in the family but then we didn’t know that we would lose Mother the next year either.
I worked out a lot that spring. I worked for the wife of the candy store owner. She had a Model-T with a self-starter on it, the first one that I had ever seen. She came and got me in the morning and sometimes brought me home. I sure felt proud riding home in her car. I also worked for a lady who lived at Klinger Lake, a little resort town west of Sturgis. I rode to Klinger Lake on the train every day and back at night. She paid my fare. I walked to the depot, took the train to Klinger and got off and walked about a half-mile to her house and worked until three and then went home. I mopped floors, beat carpets and washed woodwork and did all kinds of work. We use to think that she must be very rich to pay my way both ways.
An old man, in his eighties, lived about four blocks from us and he had a big well-attended strawberry patch. He stopped Mother one day and asked if she would be interested in picking strawberries for him. She said she would, so nearly every day she went to pick berries. He didn’t like kids near his patch so we stayed home. I think that I have mentioned that Father was very jealous of Mother. He soon started raising a fuss and accused her of all kinds of things. So for a time she took Ray and put him on a blanket at the end of the patch and either Goldie or I watched him, that way it was less obvious that she had a chaperone. The old man didn’t want kids anywhere near his patch so she finally had to quit picking. We read later in a paper where the old man had created a new strain of strawberries and it had been named Lannings Pride. We were happy for him because he was such a nice man.
Sometime that summer I found out that my father was a dirty old man. On one of our fishing trips he made a very improper advance to me and exposed himself as no father should to his daughter. I was shocked, sickened and terrified. I left and ran almost all the way home. I never let myself be alone with him again. Nothing really happened but I know he wanted it too. I should have told Mother but she worshiped my father and I couldn’t bear to hurt her.
Fights and quarrels between my parents occurred sometimes and we always went outside and got away from them. One day I walked into the house to find them struggling over my 22 rifle. Father was a mad man and Mother was crying and repeating over and over that if he left my gun alone she would promise not to touch it. They quieted down when they saw that I was listening. I found out later from Harvey that Mother had tried to commit suicide by shooting herself and that Father had broken every gun in the house but mine. I never knew what brought it on and if Harvey knew he never would tell me. He had a habit of knowing a lot of things by just plain eavesdropping. I lived in a state of terror for months, afraid she would do it some time when we were gone. It wasn’t like her at all but if she did it once she might try again. I hated Father because I knew that it must be his fault in some way.
Sturgis had a lot of factories mostly furniture. Father worked at Wilhelms Furniture. There were the Royal Easy Chair Company, Kerchs Curtain Rod and the gocart and shears factories to name a few. There were a lot of smaller shops also.
One fall day, we went on one of our fishing trips out to Crooked Creek and had our usual picnic and were ready to leave. Harvey rowed the boat back to lock it up under the bridge and Father drove Billie and the wagon out to the road and Mother and we children were going to walk out to the road. We were walking down a cow path with Mother in the lead carrying Ray, George behind her, me behind him and Goldie poking along somewhere. Suddenly, I heard the sound of a rattler and looking ahead I saw it coiled and ready to strike at George. It must have been sleeping in the sun and woke when we passed. I screamed, one of the only times in my life I have and as I screamed I grabbed George’s shoulder and literally threw him back behind me. The snake struck empty air. George jumped up screaming because he didn’t know what was going on. Mother got a stick and killed the snake and we were all a trifle shaken up. It was the only time that we had ever encountered one out there.
A lady came to the house to hire me to work for her. She needed help with the housework and the children. I could live at home and come to her house every day. I took the job. She had a boy fifteen and another about six and a little girl about a year and a half old. The older boy had bought a kit and was building a radio. Very few people owned radios then. The younger boy claimed that he could touch his tonsils with this tongue. His mother said it was no big thing because he couldn’t show anyone that he could do it. Her husband was an assistant cashier at the bank but the way she put on airs was like he owned it. She always called the store and had fresh vegetables send out daily. She also called the meat market and ordered meat. When the grocer answered, she would say, “Mrs. James Walton speaking” in a tone that implied that you had better jump. There were not any dryers, laundry had to be line dried. When I hung up diapers, I had to hang two together with one of the new ones bought for the baby on the side toward the street and the old worn ones behind them so that the neighbors would not know that she was using old diapers. I always thought it was a silly thing. It took twice as long and the wind always whipped them up and showed the ragged ones anyway. She had a gas stove but the burners had to be lit by hand with matches. She always had a box of kitchen matches nearby on the counter. Once when she started to light the stove, the box of matches caught fire. She dropped them and ran screaming from the room. I came on the run to see what was wrong and I pushed the burning box of matches into the sink and ran water over them and they went out at once. She made a big fuss over it and told everybody how brave I was and made it sound like I had saved her life. I am sure that they would have burned out without anything worse than a burned top on the courter. The kitchen was smoky but no harm was done. I don’t remember how long I worked there or why I quit now.
The factories were mostly furniture and in the winter sales fell off and quite often there were layoffs. There was no compensation and your pay stopped. One winter Father was laid-off for a time. A farmer out by Fawn River had a big wood lot that he wanted cut into stove wood and offered Father the job. Father took it with the understanding that if he was called back to work he would quit the wood. He and Harvey set up the tent in the edge of the woods. Father took an old washtub and turned it upside down and made a hole near the edge of the bottom so that a stove pipe could be attached and go out a door in the side and it made a very usable camp stove. There were no chainsaws and the wood was cut with a cross cut saw with a man on each end. On the milder weekends, Mother took Billie and the sleigh and we spent the night at their camp. We took out groceries for them. We girls piled wood and we slept in a row on a pile of straw all covered with blankets. We loved those weekends. The tent was always toasty warm and always smelled so good with a big kettle of beans or stew cooking on it. Water was carried from the river, no worry about pollution. It was Harvey’s chore to bring the water. He had to take an axe with him to break the ice to dip the pail in. There were no paper plates so we each had a tin or enamel plate and we used the same one for the next meal. There was not much washing of faces and hands were washed in a basin of melted snow water. A wide board placed across two big blocks of wood made a place to set things. Our toilet was a pole across two stumps with burlap bags on three sides to keep some of the wind off and offer a little privacy. Our toilet tissues were oak leaves with the snow shook off. A crude shelter made of branches with leaves still cling to them made a shelter for Billie and he was covered with a horse blanket. He didn’t seem to mind as long as he had hay and grain to munch on and a pail of water now and then. At the end of our stay, we bundled up in the sleigh and went back to a cold house. While Mother got the fire going, I put Billie away and fed him and then I came in to huddle around the stove with the rest of the family.
We had been living at Sturgis for almost five years now and that was about as long as Father could stay in one place. The wanderlust began to get to him during the winter of nineteen twenty-one. He had been having a lot of stomach problems and had even quit drinking coffee and drank hot water with his meals. He seemed to think that a change of the climate would help although I don’t know how that could help his stomach any. He had a cancer gnawing at his insides but we didn’t know it then. As it began to look more and more like spring, he began to talk more and more about Kansas or Colorado. He was back at work and he began to hoard his money and spent the very least he could. He was always good at saving money and I can’t remember when he couldn’t come up with enough for what he wanted. Trains were out because it would be too expensive for so many of us. We still had Billie and Father was sure he could make another trip. Harvey was a grownup man but he decided he was going too. That would make seven of us and it would be expecting too much of Billie along with all of our supplies. Father told Harvey that the only way he could go would be to ride his bicycle. He had been riding one since he was small and had bought himself a new Ranger a few months before that. Father had an old Smelzer bike that he had been riding to work for about four years. There were a few days during the winter that he didn’t ride but very few.
With the first warm days of spring Father started going over the wagon, making sure it was in shape. He made wooden bows to hold the oil cloths over the top. The harness was carefully mended and inspected. Mother started to decide what should go and of course only a bare minimum could be taken.
One day Father said that it was too bad that I didn’t know how to ride a bicycle because if I did, I could ride with Harvey and make more room in the wagon. I had never been allowed to even try to ride a bicycle up until then. I guess it wasn’t considered ladylike. I had ridden many times side saddle with Harvey or Father but had never been on one alone. Father told me that I could try to learn to ride his if I thought that I could. The time was fast running out before the day Father had set to leave so I got busy. I have always been short legged and even if Father was not a tall man his bike was still tall for me and of course it was a man’s bike and had a crossbar. Even with the seat set down as much as possible it was still very tall. I gathered a lot of skinned elbows, scraped knees and bumps and bruises before I got the hang of it. There was a slight incline in the road near our house and I tried riding it down that. It took a while to learn to balance it and then I concentrated on learning to pedal and balance at the same time. I got to where I could ride a block before I lost it and then I got to where I could ride around the yard and up and down little hills. I was so pleased with myself.
Then another problem showed up. When I rode Father’s bike, the bar on the front made my skirt hike up and showed my knees and part of my leg. That would never do! Girls or women didn’t wear pants, slacks or knickers at that time. I had never even worn overalls. I suggested wearing a pair of Harvey’s pants but that was quickly vetoed. It really was a problem. Finally Mother designed a suit consisting of a blouse and bloomers to match that reached just below my knees. She bought some navy blue cloths and made the suit up. Father took one look and vetoed it because the bloomers revealed too much of the shape of my hips and thighs. Finally Mother came up with a short full skirt that came just to my knees. Father finally said it would do. It was a funny outfit. The blouse had long sleeves, a sailor collar and laced in front. The bloomers came well below my knees and at least six inches below the skirt. I had worn long black stockings all my life and they covered the rest of my legs. I also wore high shoes. I had never been allowed to wear any kind of slippers ever. My appearance didn’t bother me at all. I had always worn what I had regardless of what everyone else wore. I was just happy to have something that they would let we wear.
After Uncle Dave’s death, Aunt Nancy had been forced to sell her house. Father and Mother had a sort of truce in their feud too, so there was some arrangement made with her that her and the three children that she still had at home would move into our house and look after it until we decided what we would do, so about all that remained now was for the grass to grow up enough so that Billie could eat at least part of his living along the way.
On the third day of May in nineteen twenty-one we left Sturgis behind with mixed feelings. Mostly we had been happy there and we were leaving the best house we had ever lived in and a lot of friends too. Of course, there was excitement too. Kansas here we come!
We must have been a funny looking sight as we went west out of town. The light wagon was covered with oil cloths tied to wooden bows. It was piled high with quilts and boxes of clothes. There was a box of food stuff, cooking utensils, a wash tub and board, a water pail and wash basin, a sack of grain for Billie and starting out two bales of hay in case the grass was short yet. We had a shovel, an axe and a 22 rifle and fishing rods. There was a place behind the seat where Goldie, George and Ray rode and they could sit up or lay down as they wanted to. Ray was a roly-ploy toddler and George was a runty six-year-old, while Goldie was twelve. And of course, Harvey and I were on bicycles. We both had felt hats similar to the ones worn by the doughboys in World War One. We had ours fancied up with beadwork on the front. I had my funny outfit and he wore overalls and a blue shirt. Harvey said the wagon reminded him of an ambulance that was in the army when he was and Father said that it must have been awful slow if it wasn’t any faster than we were, so we called the wagon the crippled ambulance.
We knew the route Father intended to follow so Harvey and I would ride until we got tired and then waited for them to catch us again. We scouted for campgrounds both for a dinner stop and overnight stops. The first few days, I sunburned my face, got blisters on my hands and my legs got so tired I could hardly go but each day got a little easier. The roads were only paved for a few blocks in the larger towns, and the rest of them were gravel or just dirt. The main roads were marked with colored bands painted on the utility poles. Each road had its own color. The Lincoln Highway ran from somewhere in Indiana to Springfield, Missouri, I think, and it had a black band then an orange band and then another black one. The road had red, white and blue markings etc. The bands were about four feet above the ground and about two inches high and were very easy to follow. Father had obtained a map and planned our route so we knew where to go. Cars were beginning to get numerous and we met one every few miles. They all gawked as us as they went by but we only smiled and waved to them. If we crossed a likely looking stream, we stopped and Harvey pulled a fish line out of one of his many pockets and we caught grasshoppers or crickets and fished a while. We were ahead most of the time, so we had lots of waiting time. After the first few days, we could guess about how far Billie could walk in a forenoon so we rode that far and looked for a nice spot to eat lunch. Lunch was usually a cold meal eaten while Billie ate grass and drank water if there was any. It let us all stretch our legs too. After we went on, Harvey and I went as far as we thought they would go and then we looked for a place with good grass, trees if possible and most of all water. If there was no river, we camped near a school house or church or even a farmer’s house. Everyone was glad to let us get water from their well. If a tree was nearby, we slept under it for protection from the heavy dew but if there were no trees we had a piece of oil cloth that was fastened to the top of the wagon but could be unrolled and used as a sort of lean-to. After a breakfast cooked over the campfire, we packed up and were on our way. We were usually up at daylight.
Once Harvey and I were riding along and I said, “I can smell strawberries,” so we looked for them and on a high bank by the roadside we found a patch of beautiful wild strawberries. We picked our hats full and then waited for the Crippled Ambulance to come along. Mother put them in a pan and she hulled them as she rode along the road and we had fresh berries with sugar on them for supper. Sometimes we found wild plumbs and they all made a nice change to eat. Whenever Father crossed a stream, he always offered Billie a drink from a pail because it might be quite a spell before we found another stream.
We had several places we stopped at to pick up mail at the general delivery window. Once we got a letter from Sylvia. She was very lonely knowing we were gone. They had a baby by then so they had two children.
The first week or two we ran into cold weather. It froze ice in our water pail and the ice was so hard in the wash basin that we couldn’t break it with our fingers. I even had to borrow my father’s gloves because my hand got so cold. Every day on the road took us farther into May and farther south on the map. Our campfire sure felt good in the early mornings. Our fuel was whatever we could find. We search fence rows and ditches for dry or dead wood. We never cut anything green. Sometimes when Harvey and I found a dead tree handy to the road, we broke it up in pieces and piled the pieces in a nice pile right by the edge of the road side.
A few times we got caught in sudden rain storms and got very wet. If we saw a rain storm coming, we tried to make the next town. There would always be a store or gas station with a porch we could stand under. Sometimes we stood under trees, if we had to. Our folks were all right because they could unroll the oilcloth and tie it down and be quite dry. If we beat the storm to the next town we usually sat on the wooden benches under the porch and there would be others, usually old men there and they talked to us and were always amazed at how far we had come and how far we intended to go. If we got wet, we wore our clothes until they dried on us. They were always surprised when I told them that I had only been riding for a few weeks. Starting out, I tipped over every once in a while but by the time we got there, I could ride all day and never get out of a tire track.
As we progressed, we found more and more schools out for the summer. We camped near school yards whenever possible because there would be a pump for water and also outside bathrooms, which was a luxury to us.
Billie would be watered and tied by a long rope so that he could eat as much grass as he wanted. In the morning, he would be watered again before we left. As soon as we stopped for the night, Father and we children gathered whatever we could find for wood. We had to have enough for breakfast too. Mother got supper. We all washed in the same water because our pail of water had to last for two meals and the dish washing too. Now I watch the ladies in the drought areas on TV show all the ways they conserve water. I have always known all of them and some they haven’t discovered yet. Big Deal!
Once Harvey helped a farmer unload some planks from his wagon and he gave him a nice fryer in payment. We ate chicken that night. Sometimes a rabbit or squirrel got into our stew pot.
We inched our way across the green grassy farmland in Indiana and then across the flat fertile land of Illinois with its old slag piles to remind one of the coal minds that used to flourish there. We traveled the Lincoln Highway, the Illinois Central the old Ozark Trail, each with their special markings. We crossed the mighty Mississippi at Hanibal, Missouri on a ferry. The ferry tender didn’t know how much he should charge for bicycles so he didn’t charge us anything. It was west of Warsaw, Missouri that we crossed our first expansion bridge. We sure thought that it was something. We waited for Mother and Father and even took pictures of it. Mother had to get out and lead Billie onto it. He didn’t like bridges and sometimes refused to go on them, but if we took a hold of his bridle or halter and led him he would go anywhere. I think, that Mother could have led him over a two-by-four.
Somewhere along the way, probably in Missouri, we camped overnight in the yard of an old church. There was a pump but it took a lot of coaxing to bring up any water. It had lost its priming and probably hadn’t been used in a long time. Harvey found some muddy water in a ditch and primed it with that and was rewarded with a stream of water. I think, that is where we got the germs of typhoid fever. There was a pile of old rotten boards along the fence and while Harvey and Father were trying to make the pump work Mother went over and carried an armload of the boards over to our campsite and dropped them on the ground and out backed a huge scorpion with its spiked, poisonous tail curved up over its back and very angry. Harvey came and killed it but Mother was quite shaken up because she had carried the boards in her arms and it was in between some of the boards all of the time.
Twice during the trip, we camped and stayed over a day at some stream while Mother washed our clothes and Father “set” the wagon rims. In between when my outfit got to dirty, I changed into something else at night and washed it out by hand and hung it on a limb or a fence to dry. Quite often, it was only partly dry in the morning but I put it on anyway because it was the only one I had to wear.
Big billboards were just starting to appear along the highways. The most popular one advertised Kelly-Springfield tires. They had a pretty girl holding up a tire. All the ends of barns near the road had ads for Red Man Tobacco painted on them. Missouri was a nice state to travel through. There were steep, stony hills and they were truly mountains to us. There were also lots of rivers and streams but the water was muddy and brown and not at all like the clear water of Michigan. There was plenty of wood for our fires and plenty of game to help our food supply. The people were very friendly and we liked them. After a while, we came to windy Kansas. The flint hills were rough and stony and then we came to flat land and rain. It was June by then and warm or even hot but for days it rained constantly. Harvey and I rode in wet clothes most of the time. It was hard to find anything dry enough to start a fire with and it was almost impossible to cook meals in the rain. The roads turned into a muddy mess and Billie’s feet sank into the soft gumbo and he made slow progress because the wagon wheels sank inches deep in the mud and he really had to struggle to pull it. If Billie had it rough going, so did Harvey and I. It was impossible to ride in the deep mud and we pushed our bikes and walked mile after mile. The heavy gumbo mud would stick to the bike tires until they were too wide to pass through the forks of the frame. Sometimes we could walk out on the grass at the side of the road but it was hard going too. It was uneven and stony and the grass and weeds were almost up to our waists. We had to carry a stick with us and stop every few roads and clean the mud out of the forks and off of the tires in order to push the bikes at all. Our shoes were like snow shoes with inches of mud sticking out all around them. We were wet from the top to our knees and solid mud from there down. If we got partly dry, we ran into another shower and were wet again. On the third day, we met a man with a team and wagon traveling east. We stopped to pass the time of day and Father asked him how far west the mud went and he said “Just as far as you want to go.” They had been driving in it for three days. It sure was discouraging to us. That night we camped just at the edge of La Harpe, Kansas. Billie was tired and Father thought that an early camp was in order. After supper, Harvey saw the train depot and walked to it and asked about fares from there to El Dorado and also how much it would cost to ship the bikes from there. I don’t remember what it was but Father said that it was too expensive and that we should make it in about three more days and we could stand it that long. Harvey had money of his own and he decided he was going on by train anyway. Of course, I had no money of my own. After a time, Father decided that it was hardly fair that Harvey should desert me now after all those miles so he said I could go on with Harvey. So early in the morning, we cleaned our bikes as best we could and wiped the mud from our shoes and I put on a clean dress and we put the bikes on the train and said goodby to go to Clara’s house and stay there until Mother and Father arrived. It was just over a hundred miles. (Marcia’s note: The distance from Sturgis, Michigan to La Harpe, Kansas is about 756 miles, but they probably rode the bicycles lots farther because they didn’t have today’s roads and highways back then. Aunt Ethel said it was 1500 miles but I would guess the distance they rode the bicycles was somewhere between both of our numbers.)
It was a real treat to me to just sit and watch the fields go by the windows and listen to the clickety-clack of the wheels. I hadn’t realized how exhausted I was until then. We could see ads for Red Man Tobacco painted on barns from the train too but we didn’t see the Kelly-Springfield ads from the train. I enjoyed looking down the main streets for all the little towns as we went by the crossing. It seemed like the town was spread out before us. Harvey was here and there on the train and probably the only place he hadn’t seen was the inside of the ladies’ bathroom. I was content to stay in my seat.
It took most of the day to get to El Dorado and we left our bikes at the baggage room and went out on foot to find Clara’s house. We inquired and found her street and then inquired again and found she lived on the next block. She knew we were on our way but had no idea when we would arrive and Harvey said that we should play a trick on her. She hadn’t seen me for about five years and from ten to fifteen makes a big difference in a girl so we didn’t think that she would know me offhand, so he stayed at the end of the block and I went to the house alone. I knocked on the door and when she opened it, I asked if I could borrow a few matches. I never got to finish the sentence. She had me in her arms before I hardly opened my mouth. They sure were happy to see us and could hardly wait for the rest of the family to arrive. I think that it was about three days later that they came. Clara had never seen Ray and George had been only a baby when we left Kansas and of course Goldie had grown a lot too. It was a very happy reunion. Clara was pregnant again after losing two little boys.
Frank worked for a construction company and his brother worked there too. He took a shine to me the first time he saw me, I guess, but he was several years older than I was. He was six foot four and it made me look like a little kid to walk beside him. He bought me my first bottle of pop. Every Sunday there was a baseball game in the park about four blocks from Clara’s. They always went but they sat on the embankment of the railroad track and didn’t have to pay that way. Of course, we went with them. Floyd went along too and the Kansas sun got along the track with no shade, so Floyd bought Goldie and I each a bottle of pop. I don’t remember what kind he got because I had never had any and didn’t know what kind I liked or even what kind there was. After he came back, he bought himself and Mother one. There was a stand at the gate and it was only a little way from where we were sitting. None of us Hands had ever had any before, so it was a real treat. Floyd asked George how he liked it and George said “If I had known it was so gosh darn sour, I would have broken the bottle but he drank every drop of it.”
It didn’t take Father long to find out that a rancher that he had known when we lived there before was looking for a farm hand. We stayed at Clara’s for a while to catch up on the news and then Father decided that he would work at least for a while to see what came up. Father rode his bike out to the ranch, which was several miles out and talked to the man and some kind of an agreement was worked out. Father obtained an old tent from somewhere and set it up in the orchard at the ranch. We could get water at the windmill near the barn and Billie could be put into the pasture and graze with their stock. At least the tent was a lot more convenient than living in the wagon. We could have fresh milk and eggs and our wood was free for picking it up. Everything seemed to be going fine. Harvey had stayed in town for the present.
We had only been there a short while when Mother started complaining of a headache and not feeling well. That wasn’t like Mother at all because she was never sick and never complained about anything. She laid down most of the time and the cooking and looking after the younger ones fell on me, of course. Father was usually home at noon but was gone all day.
A neighboring town was having a gala celebration and fair on the Fourth of July and Father was sent in to tend the prize stock the rancher had to exhibit there. The rancher had twin daughters just slightly older than I was and they were typical ranch girls and could do anything. Their names were Cleta and Coila. One of their many duties was to take their pony and ride out to the big pasture and bring in the milking stock every night. It was necessary that they ride because of the big bull that ran with the cows. He didn’t bother horses or ponies but would attack anyone he caught on foot. They called him Billie Beans. On the fourth, they went into town with their father intending to come home in the evening to do the chores and go back again for the evening of fun. Their mother was a short, fat, jolly person and she wasn’t brave enough to face the heat in the afternoon but would return with them in the evening. She came to the orchard to ask me if I would take the pony and bring up the milk cows so she could have them milked by the time the girls came home and then they could return to the fair sooner. I told her that I couldn’t leave Mother and she offered to stay with her until I returned. She had the pony saddled and waiting at the gate. She said I couldn’t ride Billie because he would be strange and the cows wouldn’t come up so well and the bull might get mean with a strange horse too. She said, “Don’t get off for any reason.” I asked her how I would know which ones I was suppose to bring up and she said they would know and just bring up any that seem to want to come so I said fine, got on the pony, got the gate open and shut and took off for about ten rods and then the pony threw me over his head. I wasn’t hurt but I scrambled to my feet looking for Billie Beans but he was nowhere to be seen. The pony walked a few steps and waited as much as to say, “That was fun, let’s do it again” so we did.
I lost count of how many times he threw me and if it hadn’t been for the fear of the bull, I would have given up. Mrs. Barbos, the rancher’s wife got worried but didn’t want to leave Mother and finally the girls and their father showed up and one of the girls jumped on the pony and he went loping out after the cows as tame as you please. He knew I was a greenhorn. I was not hurt except for a few bumps and I was surely glad that he always waited for me to get up and try it again. He would only walk a few steps and stop and he always let me climb on as nice as could be but just when I thought that he was going to be OK, he threw me again.
It was right after that Mother took a turn for the worse. She ran a high fever and she started to bleed from her bowels and she said she thought it was typhoid but no one believed her. Dad told me to ride my bike into town and hunt up a doctor and tell him all of her symptoms and have him give her some medicine. He would stay close and look in on her from time to time. I was told not to go to Clara’s and she wasn’t to be told that her mother was sick. She had lost two babies and they didn’t want to take any chances with the baby she was about to have. So I pedaled through the Kansas sun and explained her symptoms to the doctor. He said “typhoid fever” and said he would be out there the next morning to quarantine us. He was quite amazed when during his questions about where we had been and where we had drank from, he found out that we had just came all the way from Michigan. He asked if I had walked to town and I told him that I had rode a bicycle and he said that it was quite a ride and I said not after I had just ridden 1500 miles. While I was in his office, I weighed myself on his scales and found that I had lost a half pound on the trip. He gave me several kinds of pills and said he would be out first thing in the morning and he was. He said that she definitely had typhoid and was in a bad way. He gave her a shot and then told me that she must have one every day and until it could be arranged for the county nurse to come up that I would have to give her one. I told him that I couldn’t but he said that I had to. There was no other way. It was the first time that I had even seen a hypodermic needle and I am sure it was the first shot Mother had ever had. He left medicine and plenty of instructions and left again. For two days I tended her and for two days I gave her the shot. I am sure my clumsy efforts must have been torture for her and I am sure they were for me. I wish that I could say my efforts saved her life but I can’t do that either. Once she said to me, “I just don’t know what to say to you if I don’t make it, just do the best you can.” I couldn’t and I wouldn’t even let myself think that she might not make it. She just had to. She was our mother and we needed her. I know now that she saw the end approaching but I blocked my mind and prayed “Oh God, we need her and we love her so. Don’t let her go away from us.”
The county nurse finally got out to help and by the time I was having trouble keeping going and Father had begun to show signs of illness. Not understanding the situation the health department was sure that the city water was at fault and there was quite a scare when the paper came out with the notice that three known cases of typhoid had been detected. Names were kept out of it and Clara still didn’t know that it was her folks. Harvey had come out and he stayed to help with what he could. By then I was not much help. Someone had gotten word to Sylvia and she took the train to Kansas bringing her two children with her. How she got the money and how much hardship it entailed I never knew. When she reached El Dorado she took the children to Bill’s mother, who still lived there and left them with her so she could come to our aid.
By then all city water sources had been tested and found safe so a lot of people were relieved. When it was found that we had used water from dozens of places, the idea of tracing it down was more or less given up. There was no way that we could tell them all the places we had used water from.
The county nurse said that something had to be done because it would be impossible to take care of us in the tent. A house was located. It was an old one and had been vacant for several years. It had kaffirs planted all around it and not a tree for a mile. The welfare or someone came up with some usable beds and linen for them and orange crates for chairs and we were moved into the house. By then I was not aware of much that went on. All I remember was how hot it was in that house. By the time we were moved into the house, Mother, Father, Goldie and George and I had all become victims of the fever. Why Harvey never got it, I don’t know. Surely he had drunk from every well we did and ate anything the rest of us had. Maybe the Copenhagen snuff he used killed the germs. Ray didn’t get it either or at least not enough to recognize. Of course, he was nursing yet and we later figured out that all the medicine that Mother was taking was going to him through her milk and so it protected him.
Some time about then Clara gave birth to a healthy baby boy and was later told that her folks were all battling for their lives.
It must have been a very hard time fo Sylvia. She must have missed her little ones terribly and no one was allowed to leave our place except Harvey to ride after supplies. No one could visit us either, except the nurse and doctor. She had to keep house in the most primitive way, with just the bare necessities. She was awake day and night and worried sick about her folks.
I was in a coma or out of my head most of the time so I only had a few clear minutes now and then but somewhere during that time Mother slipped away from us. She was buried simply in the potters field at a forlorn little county cemetery. The doctor had warned then that there was no chance that I would recover. I was in a state of half in and half out of this world for a long time. I think that I was aware that Mother was gone but it really meant nothing to me.
It was just sixteen days after Mother passed away that little brother George followed her. I have felt grateful that he followed her because at least she didn’t have to suffer the pain of seeing him go. He was buried near her grave and the rest of the family waited for me to follow. Goldie had never been really sick and Father was improving now. Sylvia’s grief must have been almost unbearable. She was away from her husband, could not go visit her children, had lost her loved ones and was trying to get by with almost nothing. Harvey helped her but the real load fell on her. The boredom was hard to cope with too. One day when the doctor had made his daily visit, he put his hand on her shoulder and said, “I don’t know how, but your sister is over the hump and will get well but it will be a long road yet.” Later I became aware of what was going on around me. The whole family, except for me, would rush to the uncurtained window to watch a car go by on the road about a quarter mile away. I was starved all of the time. The only food I could have were oranges, crackers and rice. Needless to say, not of them have ever been my favorite foods since then. By then, Father was well on his way to recovery but was still on a very restricted diet. When Sylvia was out hanging clothes and other things outside, he would send Goldie to the kitchen to snitch food for him. I used to beg for bite of anything but they never gave me any. After I had been on the mend for a week or two, I decided that I should move around more to get by strength back, so while everyone was out of the room I thought that I would get out of bed on one side, hold onto the bed and walk around the foot and get into bed on the other side. So I edged my way to the edge and put my feet over and touched the floor and put my weight on my feet and fell flat on the floor. I found out that I didn’t even have the strength to sit up, much less get up. I had to holler for help and Sylvia and Father got me back in bed. I only weighted about a hundred pounds.
Someone had given Sylvia a stack of magazines, mostly Ladies Home Journal and McCalls. They had lots of pictures and pages and pages of recipes and lots of them had full color pictures of the completed products. I use to look at them by the hour and imagine how good they must taste. I was still on a very ridged diet and knew what hunger was for sure.
When it was for sure that I was going to get well in time, plans were made for the return to Michigan. Father, Harvey, Goldie and Ray took off with Billie and the wagon. We were to stay until I was strong enough to travel and then Sylvia and the kids and I were to take the train home. Sylvia was finally allowed to bring the children out to stay with her. It must have been a happy day for her because she hadn’t seen them for almost six weeks. After a time we left for Michigan. I don’t remember much about the trip except that in Chicago we had to walk the length of several train cars and it took more effort than I have ever been called on to make. Sylvia had to carry Phillip and lead Garoldine but in the end she sat them down and came back and helped me because I was so weak that I was staggering. I was skin and bones and my hair had fallen out and had just started to grow back and I must have looked like death warmed over.
If this were fiction, I could give it a happy ending but it really happened and we left our beloved mother and our young brother in an unmarked grave in a weed grown cemetery by the railroad tracks. We never were a family after that, just the broken pieces that never could be put together again. Sylvia stayed until Father got there and then she left for Lansing and her husband, who had been missing her so. I slowly got on my feet. Aunt Nancy had left as soon as Sylvia and I got home. There was friction between my father and I right from the start and when I locked him out of our home, he told me to leave his house and never enter it again and I did. I lived in Harvey’s little house the rest of the winter and he helped me and made sure that I had something to eat. I tried working but everything in the factories was set up for right-handed people and I was too clumsy and there were very few jobs for girls or women. Women’s Lib was years away yet.
Father must have found life hard without Mother. I am sure that he loved her very much in his own way. He probably found it impossible to get over her there so he looked at an eighty-acre piece of land in the hills of Mecosta County. It had an old house on it. Harvey took his saving from the bank and made a down payment on it and the plans were to go there in the spring but Father was not a well man and he had to make another trip. Father had been trying to adjust to life without Mother but it was hard. He had a house keeper, who cooked, cleaned, sent Goldie to school and tended to little Ray. She also smoked big black cigars. When Goldie first told me that, I found it hard to believe but it was true. Father worked but he was not well and he had left his heart in Kansas so he began planning to go back there.
Early in April he let the housekeeper go, rented the house furnished, put Goldie and Ray in the wagon and once again Billie was plodding westward.
Shortly after Father left, Harvey decided to spend the summer at the place up near Stanwood that he had made a down payment on so he talked our cousin Violet Bixler and her boyfriend into going too. He and the man rode their bicycles and Violet and I followed on the train. We had taken just what we could pack in a trunk and our suitcases. Harvey had arranged with a Mrs. Derby to meet us at the depot in Stanwood with the buggy and bring us out to the farm. It was pretty crude and was just camping out and the boyfriend and Violet soon went back to Sturgis but Harvey and I stayed. He got a job at Rogers Dam, which was being remodeled and rode his bicycle to work over the sandy two track roads. I just whiled away the summer. The hills were blue with wild blueberries and I went berry picking with the neighbors. I canned as many as I could get cans for and gave the rest away. It was during the summer, possibly in June that I met the only man who ever held an intimate place in my life. He had a Model-T and we spent a lot of time together.
Father reached Kansas a very sick man and he had found out that all his lonely memories went with him so after resting a few days at Clara’s he started back to Michigan. The cancer that was nibbling at his insides was making his life a nightmare. He was only fifty-six but he has a broken old man when he reached Michigan. I know now that he needed me desperately but I let him down and went my own way. In mid-September when we asked him to sign a paper of consent so that I could marry my sweetheart, at age sixteen, he did so without any hesitation thereby making sure that my future was taken care of.
He died in December (Marcia’s note: 1922) at Sylvia’s home in Lansing and was laid to rest in the Pine Plains Cemetery beside baby Florence. For the second and last time, we saw his half brother Newton at his funeral.
There is no point in going on because the Hand family was gone and over. Ray stayed with Sylvia until he died of food poisoning at the age of fourteen. Goldie married young and both her and I raised families. Harvey later married but had only one child, a daughter Alice Frances but no son to carry on the name.
The family had lived out its span on earth and gone the way of all flesh and only the sandy hills of Mecosta County, the modest house on Cottage Street in Sturgis and the windy prairies of Kansas remember that for a time they knew a Family Named Hand.