Down the Road Apiece
Nineteen eighteen began with the world still at war. That year women over thirty in Britain got the vote, regular airmail service was established between New York City and Washington, patriotic citizens were urged to buy Liberty Bonds, our nation was introduced to daylight saving time, the worldwide influenza epidemic struck, killing nearly twenty-two million people by 1920, and the population in the United States reached 103.5 million. That year one hundred pounds of potatoes could be bought for $1.65, a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes cost ten cents, the last state ratified the compulsory school attendance law, Mary Elizabeth Erwin was born on April 15, and the Allies and Germany signed the Armistice on November 11.
The war in Europe, which at first seemed to mean mostly bands playing and the excitement of seeing the boys off, that year touched lives in our family in a more personal way. Raymond, Mom's only brother, was drafted over the protests of his father.
Charles Hayworth told the Draft Board, "He'll die. He's had pneumonia every winter, and I've nursed him through it. He'll die if you take him away." But of course Grandpa Hayworth's objections went unheeded.
Ray entered the service in April and went to war as a private in Company B of the 142nd Infantry. He died of pneumonia in France on September 5, before ever reaching the trenches, and was buried in the French civilian cemetery at Bersuraube, France. In 1921, his body was disinterred and brought home for burial in Arlington National Cemetery, grave No. 3112. Losing his only son was a severe blow to Grandpa Hayworth.
Dad's younger brother Tom also went to war. He made it back, but his was a sad homecoming. His young wife, whom he'd married only six months before he left, died in his absence, a victim of the influenza epidemic.
One of Flossie's vivid olfactory memories is of the asafetida bags they wore around their necks to ward off the flu bug. They had a strong offensive odor -- by dictionary definition the asafetida is "a resinous plant gum with a strong smell of garlic, used in medicine." A teacher in a warm classroom filled with students, each complete with an asafetida bag, must have sometimes questioned the wisdom of her calling. Flossie was never sure whether the little bag accomplished its purpose, but she and her brothers and sister did escape the flu, or influenza.
Although none of the family got influenza, for the second time in her short life they almost lost Goldie, this time from typhoid fever. She was ten years old that year, and so ill that Mom and Dad hired a nurse for several days to look after her. Mom recalled later the nurse packed ice around Goldie to keep the fever down. Afterwards Goldie's hair fell out, but it grew back in curly.
Goldie at ten was an excellent housekeeper, considering her age. Mom remembered Goldie, by that time, could clean house, wash dishes, make doll clothes, and crochet. She was a great help to Mom in taking care of the house and the growing family.
There was a very happy event in their lives that year of 1918. Mary Elizabeth was born on April 15 in Augusta, Kansas, Mom and Dad's fifth child and third daughter. Although our family was living in Florence, Mary, according to her birth certificate, was born in Augusta. We are assuming she was born while Dad and Mom were on a visit with Grandma and Grandpa Erwin.
In the spring of 1918 Dad rented a farm between Florence and Burns, and about two miles from his job at the refinery and moved his family there. The farmhouse, though not large, must have seemed roomy indeed after the little oilfield shack.
That September Clifford had his sixth birthday, and he joined his two sisters in the little country school some two miles from their home. Sometimes the three of them walked to school, but many times they drove the family horse and buggy, which was also Mom's transportation.
Flossie, in her book My Garden of Memories, told of one incident when the horse got stubborn one day after school and decided not to pull the buggy. They tried coaxing, they tried to push the horse, they tried leading the horse with the buggy attached, but nothing worked. The horse balked. Finally, Goldie, being the oldest and the official driver, unhitched the horse from the buggy and lead him home.
The children were late getting there and were met by an anxious mother and an exasperated father. But the horse had met his match in Dad. Dad mounted him with switch in hand, and they were off on a dead run to the school house. Minutes later they were back, buggy and all, with Dad applying the whip freely. That horse had forgotten to be balky, and after that it took only a shake of the whip, and he was ready to obey.
It didn’t take the teacher long to discover that Clifford was left-handed. The educational theory at that time was that left-handedness must be cured, and she insisted that Clifford learn to write with his right hand. He did so, and thereafter always wrote with that hand, yet in all other ways he remained left-handed.
Dad's team, Rock and Rowdy, who had helped move the shack to Florence, were an old team, and he decided it would be wise to make a change. He traded the pair to an old man for Bess and Queen, a large black team. They were full sisters, three and four years old. They were too much for the old. man to handle, and Dad figured it would be a good swap, providing he could break the pair to work.
They were not an easy team. Bess was the worst. It was always Dad’s practice to establish his supremacy over his horses with physical punishment, and he said he had to half kill Bess to break her. But perhaps Bess and Dad were an even match. Bess was bad to bite, and a couple years later she bit him on the arm. The wound evidently became infected, and his arm so painful that he couldn't work for more than a week. Another time Dad said Bess kicked him in the leg, again causing him to lose several days' work. In my mind it served him right.
It was in 1919 that the Prohibition Amendment was ratified on January 16, both steel workers and dock workers went out on strike, there were race riots in Chicago, Jack Dempsey gained the heavyweight world boxing championship, and the American Legion was formed. Also that year MJB coffee was advertised for fifty-five cents a pound, graham crackers for twenty-five cents a pound, and one could own a brand-new Ford Runabout for $583.
Work at the National Refining Company slowed down, and Dad was out of a job. In the spring of 1919 he moved his family back to Augusta where Grandma and Grandpa Erwin still lived.
The spring rains often brought flooding to Augusta, and Mom and Dad lived in a low area. When the flood waters threatened they would load most of their belongings in the freight wagons, drive to higher ground, and live in the wagons while waiting for the flood waters to recede.
Clifford recalls one of those times when they were loading the necessary items into the wagon to which the team Jim and Dutch were hitched. The team was standing in several inches of water, and the horse Jim lifted up one foot and brought it down hard on the ground. His large hoof made a loud splat, and the cold, dirty floodwater sprayed the surrounding area. Mom, at the time, was loading a mattress and bedding into the wagon that would be their home for the next few days. Mom yelled in disgust at the horse, but, like a mischievous child, at irregular intervals as the loading went on, Jim would raise his hoof and bring it doom with a mighty splash. Mom scolded him angrily each time she and her household belongings were splattered, but Clifford – then a boy of seven – was much amused at the horse's antics.
When the waters receded, and the Erwin family was able to return to their home, they found an inch or two of silt covering the floor. They had to use shovels and scoop out the muck before they could even begin to clean it.
Flossie, because of her extreme shyness, was not doing well in school, and the teacher decided it was best to hold her back a year. Flossie had been in the same room with her Uncle Jim, one of Dad's younger brothers, and her primary memory of the situation was that Jim was very upset-about it, much more so than she. Jim didn’t want to go to another room without her. The teacher tried to reassure him. "It will be all right. Flossie will be just fine." He reluctantly left her behind. Flossie remembers she was actually better off without Jim in the same grade. He was so protective of her that she felt smothered.
During the previous several years Dad and his father and brothers had followed the oilfields, going wherever the work was. With each new strike a boomtown blossomed almost overnight. Clifford was around the men and heard their talk. He remembers that for Dad, and for the other men, the times were good. There was the excitement of new wells; there were new people to meet, and there was big money to be made. The promise of quick money brought the tougher, more adventurous kinds of people, and along with the workers and big money came the saloons with their gamblers and dancehall girls.
Flossie liked to listen to Grandma Erwin's stories in later years, and she got a different picture of the times. Grandma remembered life in the oil towns in a different light. It was often necessary for the transient families to live in tents or primitive little shacks in the oilfield boomtowns. The streets were muddy when it rained, and dusty when it didn’t. There was no running water, no electricity, baths were infrequent, and there was a smelly outhouse to accommodate toilet needs. Food was often cooked over an open fire, sometimes under a tarp or lean-to, and those who were more privileged had an indoor wood or kerosene stove. She allowed that although the children tended to have fun wherever they were, it was a life of drudgery and squalor for the oilfield wives.
But, though their life was far from ideal, the women, like others down through the ages before them, followed their husbands wherever they went, and did the best they could to make a home for them and their families.
In 1920 the 19th Amendment gave American women the right to vote, Warren G. Harding was elected President, Mary Pickford was a favorite with movie audiences, there were more than eight million licensed motor vehicles in the United States, and the Prohibition Amendment went into effect. That year unsalted crackers sold in bulk for twenty cents a pound, Crisco went for thirty-three cents a pound, a silver filling at the dentist's office cost one dollar (without an anesthetic), and I was born about 2:00 A.M. on March 7 in Augusta, Kansas.
Flossie recalls living in Augusta in a small two-room house across the railroad tracks from town. The front room was used as a living room, as well as a bedroom for Mom and Dad. The other room was the kitchen, but it also had two short beds in it, one for Goldie and Flossie, and the other for Clifford and Bub (Raymond). The youngest child always slept with Dad and Mom until he or she got too big, or until suddenly displaced by a newcomer.
Flossie remembers one particular night when Dad came in bringing a little sister, which would have been Mary, and placing her between the two girls. "Take care of her," he told them. "You have a new little sister now, and she is in with Mama." That new little sister was me, to be named Helen Virginia.
Mom told me later that I seemed to be in a hurry to make my entrance into the world. I arrived before the doctor, and was already yelling my first yell when he pulled up in front of our house in his buggy. Mary has a very early memory of this time. She remembers being held in someone's arms and looking down at Mom in the bed. Mom was saying, "Oh, her nose is gonna’ be outta’ joint now." Mary didn't understand. She didn't see what the new baby had to do with her nose.
In 1920 the Women's Rights Movement was still far in the future, but Women's Suffrage had been an issue for several years. Clifford remembers an incident from that year which may have been sparked by all the talk about the emancipation of women. That particular day Mom had sent him on an errand to the store. When he reached the railroad tracks, there was a switch engine on the track blocking traffic, and everyone had to wait, including three buggies and their occupants. The lady in the front buggy was becoming increasingly impatient. She lost her temper and began berating the brakemen. "Why don't you get this train out of the way so we can pass!" The man took her abuse and tried to ignore her. Finally the train started to move. The trainman looked up at her. "Lady, why don't you get the hell out of here and go on home where you belong?" The lady reached for her buggy whip, and with one quick movement she struck the man’s face with the whip, then hit her pony across the rump, causing him to make take off at a gallop. She left the brakeman nursing a welt on his face, and cursing her and “all damn fool women who don' t know where they belong."
The saga of the Odes and Hazel Erwin family, as they looked “...Down the Road Apiece,” will be continued in the December issue.