The Grass is Always Greener,

Down the Road Apiece

1914-1917

Home

 

World War I erupted in 1914. The incident that sparked it  was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28. That same year E. R. Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes was published, Henry Bacon designed the Lincoln Memorial, the Panama Canal was opened, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission was established (I was to work there 36 years later), a fifty-pound sack of flour cost eleven dollars and twenty-five cents, one dozen Ball fruit jars sold for sixty-five cents, and my sister Goldie started school in first grade.

Goldie remembered that the Erwin family was living on a farm near Longton in Elk County, Kansas when she first attended school, and she recalled that she had to walk about a mile straight down the road to the schoolhouse. The farmhouse was in the middle of a pasture, and there were cattle around. They lived close enough to Aunt Ellen and Uncle Tom Stilwell for Mom to take her three children there to visit.

Mom was born near Longton, and her mother Melissa died when she was only nine. When her father went back to Oklahoma to homestead after the death of his wife, he left his middle child, my mother, with his sister Ellen Hayworth Stilwell, and took Alpha, his older daughter, and Charles Raymond, his son, with him. Her father had little impact on her life after that; she considered Uncle Tom and Aunt Ellen her parents. Mom especially appreciated Uncle Tom, since he often took her side when Aunt Ellen seemed to be partial to their son Fay, who was about a year her senior.

Aunt Ellen was domineering and demanding, but – as was the custom of the time – she made sure that Mom learned the various homemaking skills necessary for a wife of the era. She taught my mother how to cook and keep house, how to sew her own clothes and make quilts, and to garden and look after chickens. All of these skills were to be very valuable to her in the years ahead; the many years in her married life when she would have to "get by" and "make do."

Mom, in turn, passed these homemaking skills on to her daughters. Goldie, particularly, was an apt pupil as well as a real help to her Mom. When she was five or six and Clifford an infant, Mom heard crying. She ran in from outside and found Goldie trying to change her little brother’s diaper, only she'd stuck him with the safety pin. When she was eight, Mom recalled later, Goldie could clean house and wash dishes as well as a girl sev­eral years older. One of Flossie's early memories is of drying dishes as Goldie washed them, with the dishpans placed on chairs because she and her sister were not tall enough to reach the counter.

Flossie also recalled that there were often caves or storm cellars on the various farms where they lived. Many were outfitted permanently with beds, at least for the children. If a tornado threatened – or a cyclone as they were more often called then – Mom and Dad would grab up the children and run to the cellar. Flossie remembered, on more than one occasion, of waking intermittently and seeing Mom and Dad peeking out the door of the cellar to see if the storm clouds had passed.

Goldie had a vivid childhood memory of one threatening storm. It seems that Dad had gone to town with the team and wagon (this was before radio and weather forecasts) when a storm came up suddenly. The sky was black and menacing, and Mom hurried her children to the storm cellar. They knew they were safe, but the cloud was coming from the direction of town where Dad had gone, and they were terribly frightened. They didn't know what had happened to him. As they stood anxiously in the doorway of the cellar they finally saw Dad coming at a frenzied pace, with the big black cloud behind him. The cloud seemed almost to be chas­ing Dad. He was wielding the whip, and his horses were running as fast as they could. He drove the team and wagon into the yard, yelled at the horses to stop, and ran for the safety of the cellar. Goldie's memory didn’t include any post-storm devastation, so evidently the cloud did not touch down in their vicinity, and the horses survived unscathed.

Dad always had quite a repertoire of stories, and one of those was about a cyclone. It seems that after the storm had passed one small house was completely missing, along with the man and his wife. Everyone was concerned, and a search was started. They were found a short time later. According to Dad the cyclone had picked up the shack, along with its occupants, and deposited it a mile or two away, smack-dab in the middle of the road. Supposedly, when they were discovered, the man was sitting on his front stoop smoking his pipe and his wife was inside cooking breakfast.

Dad would laugh at his own story and repeat the punch line: "There he was sittin' on the stoop smokin' his pipe, and his old lady was inside cookin' breakfast." Then he'd slap his leg and laugh again. Sometimes Dad's stories needed to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

 

Europe was still at war in 1915, the film Birth of a Nation was showing to American audiences, a popular song was Keep the Home Fires Burning, Henry Ford produced his one millionth automobile, the first transcontinental telephone call was made between New York and San Francisco, Margaret Sanger was jailed for writing a book on birth control, and Mom had another child.

Mom and Dad were still living in Elk County when Michael Raymond was born on September 4, 1915. He weighed in at a. hefty thirteen pounds, and Mom said years later that he was born under primitive conditions. Actually all the time they followed the oilfields they lived under what we would now call primi­tive conditions, but this must have been worse than their usual circumstances.

              Right: Mom with Goldie, Flossie, Clifford & "Bub"

The new baby was soon nicknamed "Bub" and was known by that name until he grew up. Although he went back to his given name Raymond before he married, he is still remembered fondly by his brothers and sisters as Bub. While Bub was still very young the family moved to Drumright, Oklahoma. As Mom mentioned to me in a letter many years later, "'We were in Drumright when Bub was a baby and from there we went to Augusta."  .

It was during this time – 1914-1915 – that Grandpa Erwin operated Erwin’s Feed Barn in Cushing, Oklahoma. He contracted teams and wagons he owned, and worked with his sons, but he also rented stalls to other people.

 

The war continued in Europe in 1916, Woodrow Wilson was reelected President by a very small majority, the United States purchased the Virgin Islands for twenty-five million dollars, the National Park Service was established, twenty-four  states voted for prohibition, the first birth control clinic was established, and jazz swept the country.

When Flossie started to school in Augusta in 1916, the family was living in a three-room house at the edge of town. In her mind it was "the house on the dead-end street." She recalled a wide, dusty street that was a good place for children to play, and a corn field at the end of the street. A field of tall corn makes a good place for childhood pastimes, and Flossie had many happy memories of that particular field.

As a child Goldie was spunky and aggressive, but Flossie was painfully shy. Mom often said that Goldie never met a stranger, but Flossie always held tightly to her dress and hid, if possible, behind her skirts. Dad frequently said Goldie was an Erwin, but Flossie was a Hayworth. He also labeled Clifford an Erwin, and Bub a Hayworth. I’m sure that he said it mostly to needle Mom about her family. Flossie doesn't remember that he graded the rest of us when we came along. Perhaps by that time it didn't matter.

Starting school for the shy Flossie was not easy, but older sister Goldie was there and was never hesitant about stepping in to fight her little sister's battles. Flossie doesn't have many happy early school-day memories. In addition to being shy, she remembers the frequent earaches she got as a result of the often cold walks to school.

But there were pleasant playtimes after school, as well as household chores. Goldie was quite helpful at home, and even at six Flossie was given the job of cleaning the chimneys of the kerosene lamps, mostly because her hands were small.

Although some people had cars by this time, our only means of transportation was a team and wagon, the same one that Dad used in his work.

Grandpa and Grandma Erwin always seemed to arrive in a place first, and their married sons soon followed. Grandpa Mike usually had several extra teams and wagons, and hired teamsters to work them. Dad and one married brother had their own teams and equipment, but often worked with Grandpa on hauling jobs.

 

It was 1917. The United States and Cuba declared war on Germany, General Pershing went to Paris to lead the American forces, the Allies executed dancer Mata Hari as a spy, Woodrow Wilson began his second term as President, Charlie Chaplin's annual salary reached one million dollars, and the American war song "Over There" was composed by George M. Cohan. That year three packages of cornflakes sold for twenty-five cents, a Ford Runabout for $345, and bobbed hair became the fashion in both Britain and the United States.

Flossie, then seven years old, remembered the excitement of the time. They lived a short distance from the railroad track, and often, with friends and neighbors, would go to watch the troop trains move through. They would cheer and return the waves of the laughing young soldiers. The trains would slowly move through the town, the youthful warriors still happily ignorant of the cold, hard realities of battle. They were off to "make the world safe for democracy."

Civilians had a part in the war too. Some foodstuffs were rationed, and patriotic women and girls were asked to limit their purchases of new clothes, and wear their old ones as long as possible. That wasn't anything new for our family. They'd been doing that all their lives.

There were many events organized for the war effort. Flossie remembered a time when she and Goldie had walked uptown with Dad and Uncle Bill. They passed a building with an open front where a dance was in progress. Girls were stopping all males going by, urging them to come dance. Uncle Bill nudged Dad and said, "Come on, Odes. Let's dance!"

Dad hesitated for a moment. He was probably tempted, remembering his enjoyment of dancing during his teen years. But then he shook his head "no," with a significant glance down at his daughters. Dad walked on home with Goldie and Flossie, and Uncle Bill stayed to do his bit "for our soldier boys."

Clifford remembered that Mom and Dad's house was about two blocks from Grandma and Grandpa's place, and he often walked over there. He recalled a particular time when he was about five when he walked up to the kitchen door, quietly opened the screen and started in. Grandma was working at the  counter cutting up some food.

Upon hearing the screen door open, Grandma whirled around, butcher knife in hand, ready to defend herself from an intruder. She almost hurled the large knife at him before she recognized her small grandson. In the face of her threatened onslaught, Clifford started to back away, but Grandma stopped him.

"All right, come on in. But don't you ever do that again. You call out or knock first."

There seemed to be unfriendly feelings at times be­tween Goldie and Joy, Grandma's youngest child and only daughter, and both Flossie and Clifford remembered an incident when Goldie got an undeserved whipping due to one of Joy's prevarications.

The children had walked home from school together, along with two other girls, Joy stopping off at her house, and Goldie, Flossie and Clifford coming on home.

Later Dad stopped off briefly at Grandma's house on his way from work and was told the tale as Joy had told it to Grandma. Goldie and Flossie were supposed to have thrown ink on another girl's dress, and Grandma told the story to Dad with relish.

The first Goldie and Flossie knew of the alleged incident was when Dad got home with a leather strap in hand. He came in the door, strode over to where Goldie was helping with supper, and, without a word, started whipping her with the strap. Mom asked for an explanation, but Dad ignored her. About the time Dad started on Flossie, Clifford figured he might be next, so he slipped away.

The next day Mom went over to see the mother of the supposed victim and told her what had happened. The girl's mother hadn't heard anything about ink on her daughter's dress.

"Well, she didn't wear that dress to school today. Let's check it." She fetched the dress in question, and they looked it over. There wasn't a spot of ink on it. Joy's story was pure fabrication.

Goldie was furious. She had suffered enough whippings in the past for things she might have been guilty of, but to get a whipping because of a spiteful story told by Joy was too much! She wanted revenge. Goldie sent little brother Clifford to deliver the message to Joy that Goldie would get even!

Clifford arrived just as Grandma sent Joy out to get some eggs she needed for her baking. Clifford followed her into the barn and delivered Goldie's message in detail. The two of them stood there arguing for several minutes.

Suddenly Grandma appeared in the doorway of the barn with a. stick in her hand. She was fuming at Joy; she'd been waiting in the kitchen for the eggs Joy was to bring.

 “What do you mean standing out here wasting time while I'm in there waiting for those eggs!" She swatted Joy all the way back to the house.

Clifford went back to Goldie with the story of Joy's chastisement. Goldie was overjoyed, and she thanked Clifford for helping her get even.

The family was living in Augusta, Kansas when Dad got a job with the National Refining Company in Florence, some thirty miles or so north. He was to be paid $200 a month for himself and team and wagon. He and Mom now had four children: Goldie nine, Flossie seven, Clifford five, and Bub” two. They had a little oilfield shack, just twelve by twenty-four feet. It was made of flat boards, had a flat roof, and was covered with tar paper. It was perhaps the forerunner of today's house trailer.

Grandpa Erwin, also living in Augusta at that time, said,

"You take two of my big teams to help move your shack, and get up there where that job is."

With Dad's team and wagon that made three. They positioned two wagons in front and one behind, under the little shack. They  were fastened together at the corners with chains, and timbers were secured to the wagons with chains and boomers. Two timbers bolted together were used for the length of the shack, to be unbolted for the return trip. The side timbers were only two feet off the ground.

Grandpa had a big white team he called Bob and Robert. He had purchased them separately, and since each had been called Bob he renamed one Robert. Dad's younger brother Jack handled this team. Grandpa’s other team was a bay and a sorrel named Duke and Prince, to be handled by a hired driver. Dad's team was a grey pair, named Rock and Rowdy. Each of the horses weighed between 1700 and 1900 pounds. There were two teams abreast on the two wagons that were in front, and the third team was out in front pulling by means of a chain. The resulting vehicle took up almost all of the road.

The group was well into the trip when they started down a hill. There were hand-held brakes on the right back wheels of the wagons, and Uncle Jack and the hired driver were on the brakes of the front two wagons at the time. The brakes would help, but would not hold a loaded wagon, so the two teams had to hold back on the whole load on this fairly steep downgrade. Dad's team was on one side and Bob and Robert were on the other.

Suddenly the neck yoke on Dad's team broke, and that left only Bob and Robert to hold back the three wagons. Dad was afraid the wagons would run down the horses. He yelled "Whoa!" Clifford was only five, but he remembers how Bob and Robert, and especially old Robert, set their front feet in the ground and held that load. The wagons rolled closer to him, and Robert's feet slid about a foot in the dirt, but he held. Dad shouted,

"Hazel! Bring that other yoke! Hurry!"

Mom ran through to the back wagon and got the spare neck yoke, and Dad jumped off and hurriedly put in on his team. That made four horses holding the load instead of two. It was a real scare.

Everything then went smoothly until they came to a narrow one-way bridgeactually just a culvertwith a guard rail of pipe on each side. Dad called a halt. The culvert was wide enough for the two wagons to pass, but the guard rail would interfere with the load, as the timbers holding the shack were so low to the ground.

"We can't cross, Odes," Uncle Jack said anxiously. "What  are we going to do?" Everyone looked at Dad.

Dad studied the situation, looking from the low timbers back to the obstructing rails, then he made a decision.

"Hell, I'll fix those," and he un-harnessed his big horse Rock and used a single tree and a chain to hook him to the rail. He flicked the rein and yelled "Pull!" Rock exerted his full strength and pulled. Slowly and steadily the pipe bent as Rock continued to pull. When the pipe was low enough for the load to pass, Dad unhooked the chain and took Rock to the other side and repeated the procedure. He then re-hitched Rock to the wagon, and they continued on their journey.

There were ten or fifteen of those narrow culverts in a twenty-mile stretch of road, and each time Dad unhitched Rock and had him bend down the offending guard rails.

A little further on they camped for the night. Mom was bustling about preparing the evening meal and Dad was relaxing when a man on horseback approached them.

"Did you come up that road?" Dad nodded in the affirmative.

"Do you know what happened to those guard rails?" Dad answered, "No, I don’t have any idée. I never saw a thing."

Clifford was just a little boy, but he knew better than that. He also knew better than to say anything.

They got to Florence the next day without further mishap. When they arrived they jacked the shack up, pulled the wagons out, and set it on the ground. It was ready for occupancy again, and it was their home for almost a year.                                                                                                                      »»» 

 

Top

Home