The Grass is Always Greener,

Down the Road Apiece

by Helen Erwin Campbell

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The Odes and Hazel Erwin story continues:

It was 1931... Herbert Hoover was President, and the country was in an economic depression. Clark Gable began his Hollywood career, the Empire State Building was completed in New York City, Star-Spangled Banner officially became our national anthem, popular songs were Goodnight Sweetheart and When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain, and Al Capone was jailed for income tax evasion.

The family, for part of that year, lived outside of Virgil, Kansas, on a farm on which there was a two-story house. The chimney went up through the middle of the building. The beds in the upstairs bedrooms were pushed up to this chimney wall, and on cold winter nights it was a cozy place to go to sleep.

When Dad moved his family into the house there was an old hand-operated Victrola which the previous tenant had left, along with a stack of old records. I was living with Goldie and John at the time, but I often visited, and I remember one record in particular. It was the story of the killing of Jesse James. The chorus went:

Jesse James had a wife

To mourn for his life,

Three children they were brave.

But the dirty little coward

Who shot Mr. Howard

Has laid poor Jesse in his grave.

The story went on and on in the verses, and the chorus was repeated again and again. The records were thick and heavy, in comparison with today’s LPs (This was written before CDs –Ed.), and I’m sure by the time we inherited them they were quite scratchy. Sometimes as the machine played it would wind down and the music would got slower and s-l-o-w-e-r. We’d rush to wind it up again, and the music would pick up the tempo. We’d play the records over and over until I know Mom must have more than gotten her fill of them. When the family left that farm they must have left the Victrola behind. We children thought it was a shame to lose it.

Something happened at that farm which gave Dad another of his stories. The chicken house was part way between the house and the barn, up a very slight incline. Something had been getting at Mom’s chickens, and they figured it was a raccoon. When the chicken house was invaded, the chickens always set up a noisy alarm, but no one had caught or even seen the varmint.

The boys decided on a foolproof plan to end the problem, one which they put into action one afternoon when they heard the squawking alarm. The chicken house was a small building with roosts across the back and nests in the center, giving the effect of being two rooms. As prearranged, Bub (Raymond) went behind the building and beat on the back wall to drive the varmint or varmints to the front. Clifford went inside from the front with his rifle to shoot the invader when Bub shooed it forward. Buddy was to hold the door.

All went well up to that point, but Buddy didn't hold the door. Instead he closed it, dropped the wooden latch into place, and ran way back toward the house to watch.

The animal came around the row of nests and confronted Clifford. It wasn’t a raccoon as he expected. It was a skunk! Clifford backed to the door, keeping his eye on his enemy. He pushed, but the door didn’t open. The latch Buddy had dropped into place held.

 Buddy, open this door! Now!

 But Buddy was too far back and didn’t heed the command fast enough. Clifford literally broke the door down getting out. He did, however, escape in time and missed the skunk’s effective defense. He was pretty mad at Buddy though.

I don’t know what happened to the skunk or how they solved the problem. That wasn’t part of Dad’s story.

Mary, my next oldest sister, was in the eighth grade that fall and Bud was in the second, and they attended a one-room country school near the little town of Virgil. Mary was the only eighth grader in the school, and her sole companion at recess was a sixth grade girl. As mentioned earlier, at the time I was staying with Goldie, my oldest sister, and her husband.

The teacher made potluck soup every day for the children from different contributions they brought from home. The soup kettle was put on top of the potbellied stove to simmer during the morning. The boys and girls could smell the soup and anticipate lunch as they did their morning lessons. Bud and Mary remember how hot that stove got, and the students had to be very careful not to get too close to it. Often times the students nearest the stove had to move their desks until the fire in the stove burned down a bit.

 

In 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidential election by a landslide, Adolph Hitler’s name was becoming promi­nent in German politics, Shirley Temple appeared in her first film, popular songs were, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? and April In Paris, and construction was begun on the Golden Gate Bridge. This was also the year that the news of the Lindberg kidnapping horrified the nation, and 13.7 million Americans were unemployed. Also that year Safeway advertised pot roast for twelve cents a pound, three cans of Campbell soup for twenty-five cents, and a twenty-four-pound sack of flour for fifty-five cents.

My father, like his mother and several of his brothers, had an explosive temper and was quick with the whippings, but he was also a past master of the verbal put-down. Mom was long-suffering and slow to anger, but there were times when she’d fight back. Bud laughingly recalled one time when Dad had been riding Mary for something. Mary was often a target, possibly because she didn’t take his vocal attacks silently; she had a sharp tongue and a quick wit, and would often upstage his cutting remarks, even though she might end up with a cuff or a swat. Mom watched and listened to one particular confrontation and finally had all she could take.

The family members were all in the kitchen, and Dad was standing in the open doorway. Mom had a pie tin in her hand, and finally, after an especially sharp comment by Dad, she threw the tin at him. He ducked slightly, and the pie tin, just like a later-day Frisbee, sailed neatly over his head, just barely missing him, and on out into the yard. Bud doesn’t remember what happened next, only his delight at seeing the pie tin sail out over Dads lowered head.

About this same time Mary was taking a high school cooking class. She thought Dad would like one particular dish she had learned to make, so with Mom’s permission and cooperation, she made the new recipe and proudly put it on the table. She thought Dad would surely enjoy it.

His reaction: Anybody can cook like this if they have the whole back end of a grocery store to do it with. So much for trying to please Dad!

 

Bud remembers living on a different place almost every year during those early childhood years of his in Kansas. Dad would blame the land for his problems, and the next year they would move again. That usually meant a different school every year for him and Mary.

The family never went hungry though. They had plenty of the things that they could grow; they just didn’t have many of the things required money to buy. Mom always had a large garden and  raised plenty of frying chickens. She’d can vegetables from the garden, and fruit from any trees that happened to be on the farm of that year.

When Dad butchered, Mom would even can the meat from the cow or pig. Nowadays tenderloin is considered one of the more expensive cuts of meat, but Mom would can the tenderloin and would also make biscuit and tenderloin sandwiches for Bud to take to school. They were good, but after awhile the same old thing got to be a little tiresome. Bud just got all the biscuits and tenderloin he could eat, so he’d trade them to a town kid for his bologna sandwiches. The town kid thought it was a great deal, and Bud did, too. He liked that bologna—it was something special, at least to Bud.

 

Clifford remembers the time Grandpa Erwin left the gate open and the horses got out. Grandpa had come to help Dad with the haying, bringing with him Dick and Dan, the team he’d had for several years.

Clifford and Raymond were out bringing in the cows and the horses at the end of the work day. Grandpa’s team stopped at the pond for a drink, and then he took them on up to the barn, put halters on them and led them through the gate and into the corral. Buthe neglected to shut the gate. As soon as his back was turned his team walked back out of the gate and into the adjoining cornfield. The rest of the horses, as horses will, followed.

Clifford noticed the open gate and said to Raymond:

“You’d better get on up there. Your team went through the gate into the cornfield.”

Raymond hurried up. Dad was on the other side of the barn, but he saw the horses trooping through the corn. He came running around the building and on seeing Raymond, started yelling at him for letting the horses get out. Raymond, having a temperament like my mother, didn’t say a word in his own defense.

Clifford asked him later,

Why didn’t you tell him you didn’t leave the gate open? Why did you take the blame?

Raymond just shrugged. It didn’t matter who got the blame for it. I knew it wasn't me.

Clifford said something to Grandpa also, telling him Raymond got yelled at because the horses got out.

Grandpa replied: “Oh, Odes is just like his Ma. He just has to yell at someone.

 

In 1933 Congress voted independence for the Philippines, Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated as our thirty-second President, Adolph Hitler was appointed German Chancellor, the United States went off the gold standard, and the twenty-first amendment to our Constitution repealed Prohibition. That year the movie King Kong entertained movie audiences, popular songs were Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. This was also the year that Clifford was married, Dad opened a blacksmith shop in Virgil, and Donnie was born on March 12.

Clifford had been dating his brother-in-law Oran’s sister for several months, and on February 2, 1933 he and Helen Austin were married at the Eureka County Courthouse. Dad was ready to make another change, and Clifford and Helen took over the farm where the folks had been living. They farmed it for one year, and Dad opened a blacksmith shop in town.

Bud remembers the night Donnie was born. Bud was eight and a half at the time and was awakened in the middle of the night by a loud cry. He didnt know what it was, and he called for Mom. Dad came into the room and announced the arrival of a new baby brother. Donnie weighed over eleven pounds at birth, and Bud recalls he always had a very loud, lusty cry.

Mary at fifteen was considered too old to remain at home the night of Donnie’s birth, but too young for knowing what was going on. When it became apparent the time of delivery was at hand, Mary was sent to a neighbor’s for the night.

When it was time to pick a name for the new baby, Mom wanted to name him Gerald Dean. She particularly liked the name Gerald. Dad balked at her choice. He had an acquain­tance named Gerald, and he couldn’t stand the man, but he said the Dean part was okay. It was Mary who suggested Donald as a first name Donald, so Donald Dean it was.

When Don was told some fifty years later that he was almost named Gerald Dean, he was most grateful to the man named Gerald who had gained Dad’s displeasure.

 

Blacksmithing was something Dad had learned growing up; it was a natural sideline of handling horses. Buddy’s ninth birthday was in October of 1933, and liked being around the shop with all its various bins of nuts and bolts, washers, and other miscellaneous items necessary for the blacksmithing business.

In town there was one storekeeper who had a penny peanut machine in his establishment. For a penny one could get a small boy’s handful of peanuts. These were a special treat to Buddy, but pennies were hard for him to come by. However, one day Bud discovered Dad had a bin of washers that were the same size as a penny and would fit just right in that peanut machine. From then on he carried a pocketful of washers and made frequent trips to the machine. He enjoyed his new-found feeling of wealth, and he especially enjoyed all those peanuts.

Everything went fine until the day the man came to re­fill the machine and remove the pennies. When he found the washers he was understandably not very pleased. He conferred with the shop owner, and the owner agreed to keep a close watch on the machine.

Of course Buddy got caught. Dad had to buy back all of those washers at a penny apiece. He was a little upset for awhile and commented, Hell, I noticed a lot of those washer were disappearing. I was sure I wasn’t using that many, but I couldn’t figure out where they were going.

Bud got a whipping, the usual punishment, and for the rest of the year in that town he had a new nickname, which was “Washer.” Especially from the man who owned the shop. Whenever the owner would see Bud coming down the street he’d step to his door and call out, Hey there, Washer!

Buddy tried to stay away from that store, but it was a pretty small town, and if he went to town at all, he’d have to go somewhere near the place. Bud was sure glad when the family moved out of that town.

Bud doesn’t remember Mom ever giving him a whipping. Dad took care of that. Instead of his belt, as some of Bud’s friends fathers used, Dad would use a switch. He always carried a small pocket knife, and when it was determined that Bud had done something that warranted punishment, Dad would go out to the nearest tree, take the knife out, and search with his eyes for just the right limb. He cut the limb off and slowly and methodically trim off all the small branches until it was just right.

All this time Bud would be watching him and waiting, knowing that when Dad finished preparing that switch it would be used on him. Sometimes Dad would take as long ten minutes to do all this. And of course the waiting was always worse than the actual whipping. Bud recalls that Dad would never save the switch for the next time. No, Bud always had to wait for him to prepare a new one.

 

A short time after Dad opened the blacksmith shop he bought a hay bailer. Clifford was a married adult at the time, but nevertheless he was expected to be part of the crew. Clifford, on the other hand, didn’t like working with the hay bailer. He hated  the dirt and the dust and he said as much to Dad, but Dad’s reaction was, “Oh, a little dust won’t hurt you.

But soon after he was married Clifford had a bronchial attack and consulted a doctor. He was told that if he wanted to avoid long-term chronic bronchitis he should stay away from that particularly dusty job.

Clifford then went to Dad and told him, If you want to bail hay, that’s fine, but count me out. And he refused to work around the hay bailer again.

It was then that Buddy was brought in to drive the buckrake using John and Judy, Raymond’s team of horses, a horse and mare. Sometimes little Buddy would get so much hay on the buckrake that he couldn’t see over the top. Since he couldn’t see where he was going, he’d have to run around the end to see if he was going in the right direction, and then run back and get on the buckrake again, without the horses even being aware he wasn’t driving.

Sometimes the team would get tired or stubborn, and they wouldn’t do what Buddy told them, but Raymond would come out, say just one word to them, and they’d go back to work right away.

 

Clifford remembers an incident Raymond told him about after he (Clifford) had married and left home. Dad was fixing a doubletree, and he needed to drill a larger hole for the pin to go in. However, much to his disgust, he couldn’t find the proper size bit for the larger pin, so he ended up making do with the smaller one.

Shortly afterward he and Raymond had to leave to go after a load of hay. Dad was in the lead with his team and wagon, and Raymond followed in another wagon pulled by his team John and Judy. It was early spring, still cold, and the streams were still affected by the spring rains. They had to ford one stream, and as Dad’s team started back up the bank, the stress of the pull bent the small pin, and the doubletree came loose from the wagon. The horses kept going, and, of course, the wagon remained in the stream bed.

Dad stood on the wagon, reins in his hand, and he had to make a quick decision. He could let go of the reins and let the horses go, but then he’d have a great deal of trouble catching that particular team, orhe could follow the horses. He quickly stepped off into the cold water, soaking his shoes and pant legs up to his calves. He let out a curse as the cold water penetrated to his skin. Raymond thought it was so funny. but the odds are he didn’t laugh, at least not so that Dad could hear him.

Later Dad cussed and fumed, blaming everyone but himself for losing that particular drill bit which prevented him from drilling the larger hole for the larger pin, for the stronger pin  would have undoubtedly prevented the whole incident.                            

                                 To be continued in the next issue

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