By Flossie Erwin Austin
Continuing her story…
Chapter 13—We Old Folks Know More About Being Young, than Young Folks Know About Being Old
Recently, when offering a bit of advice to three teenage grandsons on what not to do on a planned “night on the town,” I received this reply from one, along with his impish grin: “Now, would we do that, Grandma?”
“Yes, I think you probably would,” I said. “I was once your age, and although some of my faculties may have dimmed with the years, my memory is still pretty good.”
I remember one occasion when I let myself be persuaded by friends to attend an out-of-town game, or some school event. There was no advance planning, and of course, my parents didn't know about it. We lived on a farm without a telephone, so I had a perfect excuse for not asking their permission. But, as we should be back before school was out, there was really no problem.
But alas, “the best laid plans of mice and men...” As I recall, our transportation was one of the boy's far-from-new Model T Fords. I believe there was a flat tire and maybe other problems. Anyway, to make a long story short, as my friends delivered me at my home several hours later than expected, we were met by my father with fire in his eye and a sample of his very colorful vocabulary when his temper was aroused. I was more or less expecting such a reception, and to save as much embarrassment as possible I had told the others to please just let me out and go, quickly. Teenagers being teenagers, whatever the generation, they were more than glad to do just that.
Similar occurrences were to happen over the years, but I did manage to enjoy a pretty normal, carefree life as a teenager. Many times I repeated the phrase “…but I am old enough to look after myself.” But, like an echo, it has come back to me many times from children and grandchildren.
I know that sometimes the best intentions aren't always enough to get one home on time from a date. I've heard quite a few excuses over the years, such as: “We got stuck in a snow drift;” “My watch stopped;” “The party was late;” “We had a flat tire,” “The car wouldn't start,” etc., etc., etc. But the story my mother told once about a date she had with my father, intrigued me the most.
It seems that the two of them had been to a dance somewhere near Longton, Kansas. My father was driving a horse and buggy which was the common means of transportation in those times—the early 1900’s. As the story goes, the horse was quite tame and reliable, so—as my father was in the habit of doing after he had delivered my mother to her home—he tied the reins to the front of the buggy and lay down to sleep while the horse took him home, several miles away.
This had worked fine numerous times before, but this particular time, my father woke in the early morning hours to find his horse tied to a fence post along the country road a mile or two from home. I don't think anyone ever owned up to this prank, but I it was some time before my father was able to live down, “...the time when old Dobbin didn't make it home until daylight.”
Some of my happiest memories are those of my life during my first year of high school. At that time we were living on a farm several miles from Hamilton, Kansas. It was too far to walk to and from school, and as there were no school buses then, the problem was how to get to school.
As with many country kids at that time, a rented room in town seemed to be the answer. So a few days or weeks before school was to start my mother and I went room hunting. To qualify it had to be cheap, regardless of how primitive or unhandy the accommodations. The room we finally decided on was in a rather old two-story house which was located in an “across the tracks” type of neighborhood. It belonged to a widow lady who occupied the front two rooms, and kept herself by renting out the rest of the house.
As I remember, there was a third, rather large room downstairs that was rented to a young couple with a baby girl; this room became a second home to the rest of us. I think they enjoyed our company as much as we enjoyed theirs.
But to get back to my room—the upstairs of the house were three rooms. Two rather small rooms faced each other across the hall, and a third, larger room, across the back. I was to have one of the small rooms for six dollars a month rent. I can remember waiting, hopefully, to see if my mother thought we could manage the six dollars. It didn't take her long to make up her mind, and knowing her as I did, I knew this was to be her contribution to my education.
About the only money my mother could depend on during my growing up years was the money she made from her flock of chickens. Once a week, the eggs, and usually a can of cream, would be taken to town; the money to be used for the family food and other necessities. As I knew she would, my mother always managed to save a few dollars each week to see that my rent was paid and so I could have a little spending money.
The other two rooms were to be occupied by a brother and sister and two sisters. The one boy was a freshman and had the other small room, while the three girls, one freshman and two sophomores, were to share the large room. My fellow renters were neighbors and friends, and although they were strangers to me at the beginning of the school year, it didn't take long to become acquainted and good friends.
This small room, reached by climbing a steep flight of stairs, was very poorly furnished by today's standards. I recall that it contained an iron bedstead, a small table and one chair, and a two burner kerosene stove that set on one end of the table. A water bucket and wash basin occupied the other end. As with most houses of the era, the house had no indoor plumbing, and it was necessary for all of us to carry our water upstairs from the outside source—a faucet, I think. Likewise, the waste water had to be carried out.
Poor as it seems now in recollection, it was nevertheless the beginning of a complete new life for me. I was on my own for at least five days at a time. I was called on to make decisions, and establish my own moral code that I was to live by. I was fortunate to have such a nice group living in the same house; we had similar ideas and shared lovely talk sessions in the evenings.
Often I would have a girlfriend spend the night, as did the others. Really, our rooms became a pretty popular place to spend the evening, both to study or just talk. There was always one stipulation. If our friends wanted to eat, they must bring some food. It always seemed hard to make the food supply we brought from home last a week.
I really think I learned to appreciate the value of nickels and dimes that year—I even learned to count pennies many times. I was responsible for buying the kerosene for my little stove, as well as coal for the miniature potbellied stove that was my only source of heat in the wintertime. I remember taking a small bucket to the nearby lumber yard to be filled with coal. If I used it sparingly enough it just might last a week.
I also learned to be wary of the dangers of “coal gas.” I remember returning to my room late one Sunday evening. It was cold, so I decided to go right to bed instead of building a fire. The others weren't to come in until the next morning. Some time during the night, I awoke with a splitting headache. I seemed to realize I must have fresh air, but what an effort it was just to make it up and open the window. Somehow the room, closed over the weekend, had become filled with gas from the stove. I never told my folks about this—feeling that what they didn't know, they couldn't worry about.
Chapter 14—You Can Take the Boy Out of the Country, But You Can Never Take the Country Out of the Boy
There’s a lot of truth in that saying, and it applies to girls as well as boys. My husband and I both began to have that “fenced in” feeling. When the owner of the garage where my husband worked offered us a chance to go into partnership with him on a farm he owned near Furley, Kansas, we were quick to accept this opportunity of getting back into farming.
We sold our home in Sedgwick and moved to the farm in August—about a month before our second son and sixth child was born in the Bethel Hospital in Newton, Kansas. The farm was completely equipped and we were to share with the owner in both crops and the increase in livestock.
The school bus took our two oldest daughters to the grade school in Furley. With three preschoolers at home, life was busy for me; there was little time for social affairs. We did attend PTA meetings, and with two in school, there were programs and parties to keep up with.
There were many happy memories, as well as a few sad ones, during our four-plus years spent on that farm. Our two oldest girls made many friends at school, and some came to visit now and then.
One memory was both happy and sad, at least for me. It concerned an orphan pig which we named Petunia. One morning, after a flash flood, we discovered that only one small pig had survived from a new litter. The mother had drowned as well. The little piglet soon became a pet. The older children remember, with a lot of nostalgia, the fun they had with their pet pig. We fed it with a bottle until it was old enough to eat from a pan, and it reacted much as a puppy—chasing the children and nipping at their heels.
Now, when occasionally we discuss the past and happy childhood memories, our pet pig, Petunia, is often mentioned, and I always notice, for the children, there are only happy memories, while I seem to feel a lot of regret when I remember that pet pig—grown to market-size, and with only one possible fate in a farm setting.
Up until only a few days before she was to be loaded in a truck with other hogs, Petunia had associated only with humans, had been petted and made over. Because of her size she was becoming a problem, but when put into the pen with others of her kind, her squeals of fright were pitiful as she ran up and down the pen, trying to get back to the only family she knew. I wonder if one is ever justified in making pets of domestic animals, certainly never wild animals.
My husband decided, when he was called back from layoff to the airplane plant in Wichita, that the extra money would help with our farming operations, and the decision was made easier since we were close enough for him to commute.
We soon had three in school; our oldest son started in the first grade and our oldest daughter was transported by bus to Valley Center High School. Life became a little more involved with school affairs. Our oldest two girls joined the local 4-H club and so were busy in the summer with projects.
When our youngest two were three and five, we were shocked to hear that the illness we thought was only a cold was really infantile paralysis. In those days, before polio vaccine was available, this was the most dreaded diagnosis for parents to hear about. For two weeks our two youngest were quarantined at the hospital in Newton, while the three oldest were quarantined at home. At the end of the two weeks, our five-year-old daughter, showing no signs of paralysis, was released and went to stay with her grandparents—my husband's folks, who at that time were retired from farming and lived in Halstead, Kansas. But our three-year-old son wasn't so lucky—one shoulder was affected, so it was decided that he should remain for another two weeks to undergo therapy. Since I would need to continue the therapy when he was released from the hospital, I was asked to observe each day to learn the proper technique.
It was a relief when that month was up and we were all home together again. It had been a trying time for the ones at home. Although I came home at night, I was gone most of the day. The last week or so when my son was feeling better, the nurses spoiled him outrageously and he loved it. Often, when I got to the hospital in the morning, I would find one of them carrying him around in the hall.
The therapy consisted of exercises in a warm-water bath. It looked simple enough when performed in a hospital bathtub with hot water available by merely turning a tap, but I found it was pretty much of an ordeal with the primitive conditions on the farm at that time. Our bathtub was an oval galvanized tub, and the water, which had to be heated on the stove, was quick to cool.
Toys were bought that would encourage the use of the affected shoulder. I think his favorite, as well as the most useful, was a small clothesline and small bright-colored clothespins—the line placed high enough to ensure that the shoulder muscles would be used. There was worry, at first, that there might be some permanent paralysis, but this fear gradually disappeared. Thankfully, he had a complete recovery, we were able to relax and enjoy life again.
Of course life had been going on, and it wasn't until the worry of my youngest was eased that I became aware of some strain for my school age three as well. After two weeks of quarantine there was homework to catch up on, and I think some hurt feelings when a few of their schoolmates tended to reject them, feeling perhaps that they might still be carriers. There had been another case in the school before ours, and I think that knowing another family could share this feeling of temporary isolation made it easier for them to understand and accept.
As the time passed, there seemed to be more and more friction between my husband and our landlord. They had different ideas of how things should be done—and so, we began to think seriously of our own farm.
To be continued in the next issue of The Bagpiper...