By Flossie Erwin Austin
Continuing the story...
Chapter 7—A Salute to the Model T
Memories of our first car, a Ford Model T, occurred about the same time of my life as did those of the First World War. It seems we lived on the same dead end street in Augusta, Kansas, when I remember my father taking us all for a ride in that first Model T. I remember him driving slowly along the street, keeping very close to the curb; he was really just learning to drive and wasn't too sure of his ability.
Driving a car in those days was quite different than it is today. If one had the two or three hundred dollars a Model T was selling for along about that time, and felt brave enough to try to drive it - that was all it took. Being used to horses all his life, I am sure it was a little hard for my father not to yell “whoa” when he was learning to drive, but I don't really remember any wrecks happening. Of course, the speed traveled then, slower in comparison to that of today’s cars, had a lot to do with that.
There was a saying that all one needed to repair those first Model T's was a length of baling wire and a pair of pliers. I think it was meant as a joke, but there was a lot of truth in it. I do remember there was always a bit of wire in the tool box on the running board.
Starting the car, by turning the crank fast enough to turn over the motor, was responsible for many a sore arm or sprained wrist. This operation was often said to “kick like a mule.” In fact, as I remember back, I seem to feel a tingle in my arm, in sympathy I suppose, for those times in my early teen years, when going or staying home depended on starting that temperamental Model T.
Although we usually had a car of some kind after that first Model T, I think for several years my father felt more secure driving a team and wagon. I must have been in about the second or third grade when we moved to a farm between Florence and Burns, Kansas. I don't think we lived there more than a year or two. To my father the grass always seemed to look greener somewhere else. But I do have memories of attending school events, such as school programs and soup suppers, etc., and then being bundled up afterwards in the bottom of a wagon, as my father drove the mile or two home.
I also remember the parts of our Model T being strung around under the shade of a tree. I think this was my father’s way of spending his spare time; overhauling the car. My mother never learned to drive the Model T, or any other car we had in later years, although there is a rumor she tried once, only to drive the car into a tree. But she had her own means of transportation, at least while we lived on the farm. It was a horse and buggy, and she used it to drive to see friends or do errands when my father was away. My older sister and I, and younger brother, drove the same horse and buggy the two miles to school occasionally, but most of the time we walked.
I don’t recall my father ever driving this horse and buggy, except one time, when after school we were met with a balky horse. No amount of coaxing, pushing or even leading with the buggy attached, had any effect, until finally my sister, being the oldest and official driver, decided to unhitch and lead the horse home.
Of course we were late and were met by a very anxious mother and a very exasperated father when he heard our explanations. But in my father, the horse had met his match. With switch in hand, my father jumped on the horse and with balkiness forgotten they were off on a dead run to the schoolhouse, and minutes later they were back, buggy and all, with my father applying the buggy whip freely.
“Now,” my father remarked to his rather shamefaced offspring, “I’ve just demonstrated what that buggy whip is for, and I don't want to have to repeat the lesson.” Looking at the tired, sweating horse, it was obvious one lesson was enough. As I recall, a shake of the whip was all it took after that.
As the years went by the Model T began to play a greater part in our lives. At first it was a touring car. It had a roll of side curtains one carried along to snap in place when it started to rain. Of course one usually became soaked through before getting them untangled and in place. My father was one of those suspicious of the sedan, believing it was top-heavy and easily turned over when going around corners. But later, as time passed and this was disproved, we enjoyed the comforts of a closed sedan.
With the advent of the Model A in the late twenties it became a matter of pride to own one of these new models, or at least have a boyfriend that owned one. With a little research, I find that a new Model A could be bought new for under $600, unbelievable now, but still a lot of money in those days. But my happiest memories seem to be involved with the Model T. During my high school years there always seemed to be several available when a party or picnic was planned, and in each there always seemed room for one more.
We lived on a farm west of Madison, Kansas when a younger brother and I first learned to drive, and in a Model T of course. As I remember, neither of us was very sure of our ability, when one morning we were told it was up to us to deliver the milk to the several customers we were selling to at that time.
As I recall, it was during haying time, and a very busy time for us. My oldest brother, just two years younger than I, was needed in the field, and I believe my older sister also helped in the hay field, but she was also soon to be married and move to her own home in Madison, Kansas. I guess I must have learned to drive well enough, as I remember it became my job during the haying time to drive my mother, along with the hot lunch she had prepared, to the hay field and so save time for the haying crew.
It was about fifty years later that my husband and I, retired now and enjoying a long anticipated vacation trip, chanced to stop at an antique car and machinery museum. We viewed, with much interest, the section where Model T Fords were displayed; they being so much a part of our early lives. As my husband moved on to the early farm machinery, I lingered a bit longer to engage in a little nostalgia for that time so long ago that I drove my father’s Model T’s. I felt that I had a
lot in common with the model T; we began life about the same time. I was born in 1910, and the Model T, perhaps a year or two earlier. We shared an unpretentious life; more at home with the common folk as we traveled the country roads.
Ah, yes it was a good life, so many memories of struggle through good times and bad, along muddy and dusty roads. Why then did I feel that that old Model T was just a little bit of a traitor, as it sat up there in all that bright paint and polish. It was not the way I remembered it.
I wonder, would I increase my status if I got out the powder and paint, indulged in some new clothes, perhaps some high-heeled shoes, visited a beauty shop for a new hairdo and joined a social club as have some of my contemporaries. But, on second thought, it just wouldn’t be me. Better to buy a new pair of tennis shoes, my enjoyment of which was almost spoiled by that person who recently coined the phrase “...little old ladies in tennis shoes (meant to be derogatory, I felt),” and see if I can still walk around the lake, or part way, or am I just kidding myself'?
Chapter 8—Like Mother, Like Daughter
Although my father was the dominant one of our family, it was my mother who had the most influence on my life, or at least I always seemed closer to her. I know I had more in common with her, personalitywise, and I think I resembled her more in looks, as well. One of the few encounters I can remember having with my Grandfather Hayworth, was when he told my mother that if she wanted to know what she looked like when she was my age, all she need do was look at me.
Memories of my early life seemed to revolve around my mother. I remember her helping us make homemade valentines, all the while telling stories of how it was when she was a girl. At Christmas time we strung popcorn chains and hung up our stockings. I can’t remember my father being at home in the evenings much in those early years; he liked to visit with other men in the pool halls or wherever men gathered to spin tales. I do remember him coming in late on Christmas Eve a time or two, when we children were supposedly asleep, with Christmas treats and a few toys. It was his way of helping Santa Claus.
My mother seemed to take it for granted that my father needed the trips to town in the evenings for visits with friends. He enjoyed spinning yarns, as did most of the other members of his family, and so enjoyed the company.
My mother, however, was a homebody, content with her family, her needlework and garden. She always had flowers and plants for which she seemed to have a special knack, sometimes called “a green thumb.” She had an affinity with the young of most species, whether her children, grandchildren, or the farm animals and pets that were always a part of our lives as I was growing up. Many of these characteristics I seemed to have inherited from her, especially my love for animals and the young.
As my sister was older, she became the housekeeper and I became my mother's helper in many of the outside chores which were “women’s work,” such as caring for chickens, gardening, etc.
Unlike my sister, who was a natural housekeeper, I would have much rather been outside, and skip the many household tasks, especially the dishwashing. Yet my sister did a lot of the outside work when needed, such as helping at haying time. This was more because she was older, I think, than as a result of her choice.
To think of my mother as she was in my early life is to remember the chickens she always had when we lived on the farm. Every farm in those days had a flock of chickens, as well as a few milk cows and pigs. Caring for the chickens was my mother’s responsibility, and it always came first in the day’s work. In this task I became her understudy, willingly most of the time, since when I was helping with the chickens I was missing out on the dishwashing and other such things.
Raising chickens in those days meant carefully sorting the eggs at each gathering time, in order to save the best for hatching. This was done each Spring. A certain number of eggs, usually fifteen to eighteen, depending on the size of the mother-to-be, was placed under the hens as they indicated their natural urge to raise a family by remaining on the nests after the usual laying period.
As with the female of the human species, some hens made better mothers than others, so the broody hens were carefully culled and the ones not needed were placed in a pen to be “broken up,” or convinced their urges to become mothers were all a mistake, after which they would soon be back producing eggs again.
After an incubation period of about three weeks, the chicks began to hatch, and so began a busy time for my mother. She always watched the hens carefully during this time, ready to lend assistance when needed. Sometimes the chicks needed help getting out of the egg shells.
I can remember becoming pretty involved when the chicks were finally put with the mother hen and allowed to roam free during the day. It was necessary to be sure that each family returned to their own individual chicken coop in the evening, and that the coop doors were carefully closed to protect them from their natural enemies.
My most poignant memory at this time was frustration at not being able to run fast enough to prevent a chicken hawk from making off with the little chicks. My dislike for a chicken hawk became pretty strong, and even now, so many years later, when I see a hawk I instinctively look to see if it has a fluffy little chick in its beak.
Sudden thunderstorms, especially with strong wind, were also a hazard during this time in the chicken’s life. I can remember one time very clearly when a storm came up suddenly and my mother calling me to come quickly and help her get the chickens in. As I ran to help, I recall seeing my father and the team of horses he had hastily unhitched from some farm machinery, coming up the lane at a dead run, with heavy black clouds rolling in behind him.
But my thoughts were with my mother and the task of getting the chickens to shelter. We were able to get many of them in, but the wind was against us, and I remember that we had one bunch almost to the chicken house door, when they were blown from our hands. About the same time we became conscious of my father yelling at us to “...let those d---- chickens go and get in the house.”
As we looked up, it was easy to understand his concern. We had been so involved in corralling the chickens that we had failed to notice how really severe the storm had become. Worried, my mother grabbed my hand and we made a run for the house, successfully dodging broken tree limbs and other debris flying about. Of course, as soon as the storm had let up a little, we were out searching the bushes and hedgerows for half-drowned chickens, carrying them to the house to be warmed and revived.
My mother wouldn't have considered herself dressed without the full apron tied around her waist. This part of her clothing was useful for so many things; with the corners gathered up and held in one hand, it became a basket to hold chickens, eggs, chips to start a fire, vegetables from the garden or fruit from the orchard, and any number of things that she hadn’t thought to take along a container for.
Although in my own mature years I don’t wear the large apron, I would feel lost without the pant top with the large pockets, so handy to carry things in. What an odd assortment is found there after a nature walk with a grandchild.
My mother only attended school through the fourth grade, but even so, she was able to write more interesting letters than many with a much higher education. The words weren’t always spelled correctly, but the meaning was plain.
Although my mother and her only sister were separated early in life because of the death of their mother before she was thirty, as a result of consumption, now called TB, they kept in close touch through letter writing and occasional visits. The family lived in Longton, Kansas when their mother died. My mother went to live with an aunt and uncle there, while her sister and a younger brother moved with their father and another aunt to a homestead claim in Oklahoma.
As the two little girls grew up and were married, they promised each other to get together at least every three years. This, I think they did; taking turns making the trip. I remember making numerous trips to Oklahoma to visit cousins during my growing up years, as well as many trips to Longton, Kansas to visit my mother's aunt and uncle; the aunt and uncle with whom she had made her home from the time she was a small girl. I have a few clear memories of these visits, such as watching my great aunt as she would lift that small trap door in the kitchen floor that was directly over the cistern; here she kept her butter in a covered pail, suspended on a strap. I remember always being fearful, after being allowed a small peek into the dark hole, that some one would fall in.
And before the butter, there was the endless up and down movement of the dasher in the churn which tended to wear out several small arms before the butter finally came.
As I grew older, I found my mother enjoyed hearing of my experiences at school, so on weekends I shared many happenings with her; she laughed with me over the letters I received through my magazine correspondence, and she wrote many letters herself to family and friends.
During the last few years of her life, in a nursing home now, we shared many letters, and finally, when unable to write anymore herself, she turned over addresses of friends and relatives with the request I keep writing to them in her place.
Chapter Nine—Brief Moments of Glory
I sincerely believe that “in every life some rain must fall,” and I think I have had my share of those cloudy days, but to balance the book of life, I am equally sure it was meant for each of us to have some sunshine—or as I like to think of it, our own “moments of glory.” In reviewing my life, I seem to remember many shining moments, though brief and unimportant in the overall scheme of things, that still have provided many happy memories, helping to make my life a well-balanced one.
One such moment happened in my early grade school. I may have been in the third or fourth grade, when my siblings and I went to a one-room country school. We had a male teacher that year and I remember one of our lessons was to write a description of one of the holidays. My bright moment occurred when the teacher picked my story to read before the class, followed by a compliment on my on an apt description.
I was rather puffed up with my own importance for awhile, but as “pride goeth before a fall,” I remember coming back to earth a few days later, when the teacher asked me, as a special assignment, to write a story about all the holidays—in sequence. I labored over the project, and proudly handed in a paper that I felt would win more compliments. But alas, I was to be disappointed. I had failed to follow the instructions about the sequence part, and instead of compliments there was disapproval with my mixed up story.
Putting my thoughts down on paper was one way I had of passing the time. I was still in grade school, when we lived on a farm north of Madison, Kansas. I remember attending Sunday School in town, and always reading the Sunday School paper I received from front to back. There was one section of the paper that invited contributions from the readers. The article I wrote was entitled “Smiles,” and it was my first published effort. The fact that I submitted it, and that it was published, was my own little secret, that is until a neighbor who attended the same church saw it and brought it to the attention of my folks. She asked them for permission to submit it to the local newspaper. The paper published it under the heading: “Written by local girl, Flossie Erwin, and first published by (name of Sunday School Paper).” For a day or two, I enjoyed a few “brief moments of glory” as I received the congratulations of teachers and fellow students who had seen the newspaper.
When I graduated from the eighth grade we lived on a rented farm west of Madison. My mother had made me a new white dress for graduation, and on the evening of the graduation ceremony Dad drove us all to the school in our current Model T. There were only three students graduating that year, and it was not a terribly great honor to be head of the class, but I still experienced some bright moments when the County Superintendent of Schools gave me my diploma and congratulated me on my good grades.
Unfortunately, by the time we reached home, I was feeling quite a let-down. The lights on the car went out before we got home, and there was still a creek to ford, and the lane to the house to negotiate. Since I was wearing a white dress which would show up in the dark, it was suggested that I walk ahead of the car to lead my father in. It seemed reasonable at the time, for after all, it was for me we were out anyway. The creek was about ankle deep, so to save my slippers I waded across barefoot. It was the only time I can remember when I didn't enjoy wading in the creek.
Another experience comes to mind that occurred while I was attending high school in Madison, Kansas. It was the custom of the country schools to have at least one money-making event during the year to raise money for different school projects. Box suppers were popular, and usually could be depended on to attract a good crowd. Most of the country schoolteachers at that time were young girls, either fresh out of high school, or with only two years of normal school training. It was not common for married women to hold such jobs then. These small, one-room schools were where the young teachers were expected to get their experience.
My current boyfriend and I, along with several friends, planned to attend one such event as we were acquainted with the teacher. As was the custom, we girls had our boxes decorated and packed with the usual supper. Naturally, the identity of each box was kept a secret. The boys, of course, were expected to guess the correct box and have enough money along to buy it.
There was first a program presented by the teacher and students, and then the boxes and pies were auctioned off. The highlight of the evening was, usually, the contests such as the most popular girl and ugliest man, etc., the winners determined by the freest spenders. This particular evening the two candidates for most popular girl were the teacher and myself. It was usually a foregone conclusion that the teacher would win this contest—after all, she was the star of this particular show and loyalty of the district should insure her winning. However, in a spirit of fun, my boyfriend, who nominated me as candidate, and others in our party, decided otherwise. I remember there was some lively bidding and a few scowls from the opposition, but I was finally handed the box of chocolates as winner. I recall that my boyfriend soon took possession of the box of candy—passing it around among our friends. I’m not sure whether I ever did get a sample of the chocolates, but I do remember having an empty box as evidence that, for a short while anyway, I was the most popular girl of the evening.
A hobby of mine, that was responsible for many pleasant memories through my school years, was the correspondence I carried on with persons whose names I found in Sunday School papers or other places. The year I studied German, my teacher contacted a class of German students who were studying English, and as a result, our class wrote letters in German and received letters back written in English. This made our class much more interesting that year.
The year I was a senior, a girlfriend and I became interested in a magazine called “Ranch Romances.” Besides containing interesting stories, it also had a section for letters from the readers seeking correspondents or “pen pals.” One evening, for want of something better to do, we decided to write a letter to the magazine and sign both our names. This we did, and as time passed and nothing happened, we almost forgot about it...almost but not quite. All at once we began getting letters. In fact, the result of mailing one letter was pretty overwhelming. Taking stock one day, we found that we had each received letters from over one hundred different people—mostly from the opposite sex. Of course we had to let our friends in on our secret—the result being that a number of our friends gained pen pals as well. The cost of a first class stamp was only two cents at the time, but even so our project began to be more than we could handle. And, as it turned out, we were due to receive quite a bit more publicity than either of us could have imagined over that one innocent letter.
We had been hearing the rumor for some time about the possibility of the Madison Post office dropping to a lower class because of the continuing decrease in the volume of mail. The news had little interest for me until our very loquacious postmaster began greeting us with what seemed to be very gleeful smiles as he handed us our many letters. For some reason, the volume of mail increased just enough to allow the post office to remain in the same class. The postmaster insisted that two high school girls who like to write letters should receive full credit. I never knew for sure whether he actually believed this, or was just his way of having fun.
As I indulge in a reverie of the past, I find myself remembering many happy moments—and not only in my younger years. The many cards, gifts and letters at holiday and anniversary time that denote a caring family provide many happy memories. But of all the bright moments, the one that was to have the greatest impact on my life occurred in the Fall of 1969. That was when my husband and I received custody of four orphaned grandchildren. The announcement by the judge took only a moment, but what a change in the lifestyle it made for two retired grandparents.
To be continued...