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Continuing her story…

Flossie Erwin - 1929

Chapter 10—Love and Marriage

One of the most memorable years of my life was the year 1929. In May of that year, I graduated from high school which was to be the end of my school life, and the beginning of a very different life.

After the next few years of trials and hardships, I was to remember the four years of my high school days with nostalgia. In comparison, they seemed four carefree years, full of fun and experiences with friends, some of whom I had hoped to continue on into college with.

But it was not to be. Even before graduation the great depression had begun; banks were closing, many businesses were going broke,  and in general, everyone was affected to some degree.

It was the custom at the end of the school term for each class, with their respective sponsors, to plan a day’s trip or outing - usually to the park in Emporia, where roller skating was available as well as other park facilities to make for an enjoyable day. However, the senior class, when all expenses were paid, was broke. Just why this was so I don't now recall, but I do remember that of all of the picnics and parties we had during my four years of high school, this last one was responsible for my happiest memories.

Although our class treasury was empty, we decided, with the encouragement of our sponsor, that we could still have a picnic. Instead of taking the customary out-of-town trip, we planned a picnic lunch to a shady area near Madison. We spent the day reviewing our school days and taking turns telling of our plans for the future, taking pictures, playing ball, pitching horse shoes, etc.

The fact that I had finally indulged a whim, originating many years before during the first World War—I had recently become the proud owner of a pair of black and white striped overalls—helped to make my day more enjoyable.

That summer of 1929 was the beginning of a change in the lifestyle for many people, but I seem to remember the first two months after graduation as a time of fun, visits with friends, and making plans for the future. Two close friends were to attend college in the Fall, and I remember experiencing some twinges of envy.

Besides my friends in Madison, I had kept in close touch with several friends I had made during my freshman year at Hamilton. A young man I had been going steady with for several months was a senior at Hamilton when I was a freshman; he lived with his parents on a farm in the same community as we did. As I recall, we did a lot of double dating that summer; money was scarce and by pooling resources we were able to afford more Sunday afternoon car rides, trips to the country or local parks - just getting together was the main thing.

I remember one afternoon, in particular, a carload of us had been putting in a Sunday afternoon in just such a way, when, after fixing a flat tire and walking awhile to stretch our legs, we seemed to have changed our seating arrangements when we decided it was time to return home.

My current boyfriend had brought a friend long—a few years older but not a stranger as I had known him since I was a freshman in high school. At that time he worked as a clerk in Hamilton's general store. He was popular with the high school group even if he was several years older. He was always friendly and ready to joke with us as we stopped to buy grocery items, candy bars or anything as an excuse to flirt with the good looking clerk. At this time in my life, I was only one of several who found the older, farm boy-grocery clerk attractive—never dreaming of the part he was to play in my future.

It was several years later when he again entered my life on that fateful Sunday afternoon car ride in the Spring of  1929—a car ride which was the beginning of a courtship lasting only a bare two months; we were married the 8th of August, 1929. Our wedding took place in the evening at the Eureka County Courthouse, with only my older sister and brother-in-law as witnesses. About four years before they had been married at the same location.

Although only two years older, my sister was married when she was seventeen and was now the mother of two little ones—a small boy and a baby girl. I felt very close to these two little ones, as I had put in a lot of time babysitting the three years I had attended high school in Madison, in return for room and board.

As usual, my folks did a lot of moving around during this time. My dad did custom hay baling along with farming, and as we never owned our own farm, we usually moved quite frequently; conditions always looked better elsewhere. Consequently, I was fortunate to have a home with my sister and family during the week—usually going home on weekends.

At the time of our marriage, my new husband was living in a small two-room house in Hamilton. He worked part time as a mechanic in the garage there, when he wasn’t engaged in farming operations on land he had rented close to town. He also had money invested in cattle he was full-feeding, expecting to make a good profit.

And so our future looked bright, that August of ‘29—we would make do with the little two-room house, and the little building at the end of the back walk, until the cattle were sold, and then we would look for a larger house and buy furniture. After all, it was a well-known fact that two could live as cheaply as one, and whoever heard of newlyweds needing a lot of space.

 

Chapter Eleven—And We Lived Happily Ever After, or Did We?

I think it is customary for all good fairy tales to end with “...and so they were married and lived happily ever after.” But since  this isn’t meant to be a fairy tale, but a true story, or at least as true as memory can be relied upon to make it, it would be unrealistic not to expect some unhappy times, as well as some hard­ships and uncertainties during the more than fifty years our marriage was to last.

Even though that rather doubtful saying, “Two can live as cheaply as one..., might be true, but three? And it was soon apparent there would be three before that first year was up. After a short wedding trip to Wichita and Winfield, where my husband had a married brother and sister, we were back home to the little two-room house in Hamilton, Kansas to begin our married life.

Not much time or money for a honeymoon. We were treated to a shivaree by a few close friends one evening shortly after returning home; friends who were out of town the evening we were married, and so missed the shivaree we were subjected to by family and friends from both Madison and Hamilton. A shivaree is a custom I am rather glad has lost favor—sometimes it had a way of getting out of hand. But this evening with friends dating back to my first year in high school, was fun and tended to add spice to a too-short honeymoon.

It was harvest time—a busy time for those engaged in farming. I remember feeling let down as my husband became busy with farm work; not all that much to do in that little two-room house. Some days I would go to the field with him, especially when corn was to be shocked. We would take a picnic lunch to be eaten in the field, and it helped to break  the monotony for both of us.

The pleasant Fall days passed. Friends came to visit now and then—some were getting married, others were looking for jobs, while a few were going on to school, but it wasn't long before we were aware the bright future we had planned on wasn't going to be so bright after all.

By the time the cattle were ready to sell the bottom had dropped out of the cattle market. Instead of the nice profit my husband was expecting, he found he was rather heavily in debt to the bank. We did manage to rent a larger house at the edge of Hamilton and my husband worked where he could—mostly at garages and farm work—so we got by as well as most of our friends and neighbors.

In the Spring, May 30th in fact, our baby girl was born. I had been accustomed to relying on my older sister as we were growing up—a custom that was still in effect, I found, for when I needed help during my confinement (babies were born at home in those days) my sister insisted I come to her home in Madison for the birth of my baby, so she could take care of me as well as keep her home going—so this I did. Our mother was there to help when she could, although she still had young children at home In fact, she had three grandchildren when my youngest brother was born.

The following Spring we moved to a rented farm and became full-time farmers. Times were hard. Money for pleasure, or anything other than the bare necessities, was practically nonexistent. But we managed to get by. We raised a good garden and with chickens, milk cows and pigs. We had enough to eat, and we had eggs and cream to sell for what we didn't raise. I think we had lived on this farm about two years when we decided to go into partnership with my husband's folks on a farm near Eureka, Kansas. For the next two or three years we lived in a small two-room house in the shady backyard of my in-law’s home. We increased our stock and farming equipment, always with the hope of owning our own farm sometime in the future.

When our little girl was about four years old, we decided to make another move. At that time, my folks lived near Virgil, Kansas, and as a small acreage nearby was for sale, we decided to buy enough land on which to build a home when we were able, and planned to make a living working in the hay fields and with rented farm land.

As I look back on the time spent there—two or three years I think—very few pleasant memories come to mind. Although we had the independence we wanted, the times were uncertain, and money scarce. The fact that we were trying to build a home on ground without a water supply and very little shade, made our future look very bleak to me most of the time.

It was the mid-thirties, during the worst of the dust-bowl days. One of the most poignant memories I have of this time was the one I have catalogued in my mind as the day the dust came. For days the wind had been blowing and as it was very dry. The air was full of dust—a condition which made it almost impossible to keep the house or one’s self clean. Our shortage of water aggravated this situation. But on this particular day I remember we were outside working at something when all at once a change in the atmosphere became so noticeable as to be almost eerie. All at once the wind became quite still while a brown haze seemed to hide the sun. As we watched in wonder and, I think, a certain amount of apprehension, a thick blanket of dust seemed to settle to the ground, covering everything and making it very hard to breathe. How many days it took the air to clear, I am not sure, but I remember hearing of cases of pneumonia and even deaths, caused by so much dust in the lungs.

A few months after this experience our second daughter was born. It was during a period when we were having the hardest time making the two ends meet. She was born one night at our own home—a small, two-room house with very primitive accommodations. My mother,  and a family friend who was an experienced mid-wife, were with me to assist the doctor. It was a breech birth, and the doctor decided he would need another doctor's assistance, and by the time one could be summoned from Madison, I was very sure the so-called joys of motherhood were highly overrated.

But a healthy baby girl was born, and for the next few months I had two little girls to keep me busy. Even though my husband was away most days trying to make enough money to support his increased family, I was reasonably happy and contented.

But this contentment changed suddenly when we were faced with the first tragedy of our married life; Bobby, our oldest little girl, was rushed to the hospital one night with a ruptured appendix. She passed away about three weeks later.

                                     In Memoriam

Barbara Jean "Bobby" Austin

In loving memory of our little daughter Barbara Jean, who passed away January 7, 1936

There's an empty place around our family fireside.

In our hearts only sadness and sorrow abide.

We hear no more the little footsteps pattering across the floor.

Nor the childish voice which begs, "Mama tell me a story, please one more."

For our darling has gone to join the angels and we miss her o'er and o'er.

She has gone where pain and sorrow is never known, they say.

Where there is only sunshine and gladness the livelong day.

But for us there is only darkness since she went away.

Perhaps if we are patient, bless the short time we knew her love,

We will some day be united with our darling up above.

Flossie Austin

 
 

 

There was a growing dissatisfaction with conditions—many were pulling up stakes and moving to California where it was rumored there was work to be had at good wages. My two oldest brothers, now married, decided to try their luck with the ever increasing numbers heading west. When my parents also decided to follow my brothers I began to feel a little forlorn, and tried to persuade my husband that we, too, should follow this exodus to the promised land. My husband did give it a lot of thought, but couldn't quite make up his mind that the move would be to our advantage.

But we were ready for a change and ended up selling our little place near Virgil and moving to a rented farm between Madison and Hamilton. We lived there for the next five or six years. Our third daughter was born in a nursing home in Eureka to be near our doctor—the same doctor who had operated on our oldest daughter.

When I remember my stay at this nursing home, I remember, with amusement, Nellie St. Clair, the practical nurse who ran it. She had never been married and this was her way of making her living, caring for confinement cases in her own home. She entertained us with her dry wit, but I especially remember hearing her tell her young niece, who frequently helped her, to be proud of the way they spelled their name: St. Clair instead of Sinclair. In other words, they were the Saints instead of the Sinners.

But a more poignant memory of this time had to do with the reason I was in the nursing home. My doctor expected a difficult birth and wanted me near the hospital. But, difficult it turned out to be, by the time our third daughter was born both mother and daughter were too exhausted to take interest in the hurried conference going on between doctor and nurse.

It was decided both of us needed a stimulant, and in those days of prohibition, what better use could that confiscated booze down at the jail house be put. So, I had my first taste of brandy, which was also the first food for my baby daughter. I’m not sure how the same situation might be handled today, but it worked pretty well on that cold winter night many years ago. As my thoughts go back to that night, I have a feeling of gratitude for that person or persons who gave up their brandy, however unwillingly, so it was there when my baby and I needed it.

 

Chapter 12—Second World War Brings Changes

Times continued to be hard the next few years, but there were pleasant times. Our oldest daughter started to school, which created a different life for all of us. For the first time we had a personal interest in school events. As there was a little over three years difference in our two little girls' ages, little sister enjoyed going to school programs. For awhile we belonged to a bridge club, taking turns meeting in each other's homes, but we soon decided it wasn’t all that much fun when we had two children to take with us. Most days were filled with work necessary for just day-to-day living, with little energy left over for social affairs.

When the aircraft plants in Wichita began calling for help to meet the demands of the Second World War we decided to have a sale, and that my husband would seek employment at one of the plants. With no previous experience, it was necessary for him to begin in the maintenance department. He was an experienced machinist, but he was happy to take any job in order to get hired. He was confident in his ability as a machinist, and was sure that he would soon be transferred where his experience could be utilized. And so he was—during the next few years he worked in both Boeing and Cessna plants as a machinist.

Choosing to live in the suburbs and commute back and forth to Wichita, we eventually bought our own home in the town of Sedgwick, feeling it would be a good investment. Life in the small town of Sedgwick was pleasant. With one daughter in school, and a preschooler, and only a small house to keep, I found time for a certain amount of social life.

The girls and I attended Sunday school and church and were involved in school and church programs, and we enjoyed  the fun and fellowship of a closely knit neighborhood. My husband worked the evening shift a great deal of the time, but did join the local Odd Fellow lodge; he had belonged in Hamilton before we were married, but had failed to keep up his membership when we moved from Hamilton. I joined the ladies auxiliary, or Rebeccas, which was a new experience for me.

When our youngest daughter was about four years old, our first son was born at the Axtell Hospital in Newton, Kansas. A proud father got a great kick out of handing out cigars. I think he had given up hope of ever having a son after three daughters.

Life went on in a pretty settled routine for a year or two. Our small two-bedroom house was adequate while our family was small, but when our son was about two and we knew another baby was soon to join the family, we felt it was time to expand our home. This we did by finishing the attic into one big room by adding dormer windows and a lot of built-ins.

Our fourth daughter was born in the Newton Hospital also. I remember, with amusement, packing a suitcase with the necessary essentials for my expected trip to the hospital. My six-year-old daughter became pretty upset when the days went by and I didn't make a move to go after the impatiently awaited brother or sister. But Mommy, she said, “you’re just going to fool around until the babies are all gone, then we’ll be left out.

But it didn't happen that way; when I finally did get around to making that trip, a healthy baby girl was waiting for me. I called these last two my war babies; both born during the second World War with its gas rationing and numerous other restrictions. By the time our baby girl was a year old, the war was over, gas rationing was discontinued and other wartime restrictions were beginning to ease.

As the plants were beginning to lay off workers, the problem of unemployment began to be felt. My husband decided to quit his job in Wichita and seek private employment. He found a job at the local Chevrolet dealership as a mechanic, with the understanding that the start date would be delayed in order to make the trip to California to visit my parents and other family we had there.

With four young children, two of whom were preschoolers, we found the trip very tiring. Our car was several years old model, but almost everyone was in the same situation, since no new cars had been made during the war years. But my husband, secure in his mechanical ability, and with tool box and several spare tires, felt he was equal to the trip.

And get there and back we did, but not without numerous overhauls and repairs. I think this trip was responsible for my husband’s coining his own pet phrase. When deciding on yet another used car he wished to trade for, he would grin and say, “Oh, I wouldn’t be afraid to start to California in that.

One of the more pleasant memories I have of that trip was the first evening after a long, hard day’s drive. We were lucky to find a motel about dark, and while I was busy getting our four little ones settled for the night, my husband found time, after seeing to the car, to relax a little and share experiences with a few fellow travelers.

Later, before retiring ourselves, my husband shared the meeting he had had with a family from Oklahoma, also on their way to visit family in California. The family consisted of a young man, just out of the service, a teenage brother and their mother and father. They were on their way to a married daughter and family living in Bakersfield. During the course of conversation, and after finding them compatible, it was decided for security’s sake, that we would travel together the rest of the trip.

The wisdom of this decision was apparent a number of times before we reached California. As we were both traveling on a pretty tight budget, we depended on picnic type lunches during the day, with a hot supper, if possible, in the evening. The young man had made the trip several times while on active duty, so we were glad to let him lead the way. With our children in mind, they were kind enough to watch out for interesting places to stop, both at lunch time and when a break was felt to be needed.

I think it was the second or third day when we were forced to stop because of some problem with our car. We were relieved to see that our new friends had missed us and had returned to help. My husband was fortunate to catch the trouble in time before serious damage was done, and we found a shady park at the edge of a small town. And so, a problem that might have been tedious, turned out to be a rather pleasant interlude.

With the proper tools for this minor overhaul, and spare parts that my husband had brought along for just such an emergency, plus two other willing assistant mechanics to help, the job went quickly. And, when we were almost to California, the opportunity came for us to lend tangible help to our friends. We found them parked by the side of the road with a flat tire and no spare. We were able to lend them a tire until we reached the next filling station. It was soon time to bid these fellow travelers goodbye, as they headed towards Bakersfield while we turned in the direction of Los Angeles to visit my husband’s brother and sister, and later north to Madera and Fresno where my parents and younger brothers and sisters lived. The visit with our families relieved that feeling of homesickness we had been laboring under for some time, but we were happy to return home again and get back to a settled routine.

For the next year or so, we were fairly contented with our life in Sedgwick, but then we began longing for farm life, and a little more room to move around in. I longed to be able to call my own children in to a meal without several extra showing up. Some became so familiar that I sometimes had a confused feeling that maybe I had miscounted somewhere along the line, and I really had eight instead of four. But when the doctor confirmed my suspicion that yet another trip from the stork was imminent, my husband and I both agreed we would start looking for some wide open spaces to spread out in.

To be continued in the next issue of The Bagpiper...

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