by Flossie Erwin Austin
Flossie continues her story…
Chapter 15 - Nostalgia
In 1951 we decided it was time to “put up or shut up.” For most of our married life my husband and I had talked of buying our own farm. We felt that a farm-life atmosphere was the ideal lifestyle for bringing up our children. The farm we finally found, and decided to buy, was near Altoona, Kansas, about two miles from a one-room country school at Mound Springs, and about the same distance to the small high school of Vilas. Both would play a big part in our lives for the next few years.
The farm had been vacant for some time, allowing the weeds and a thick growth of brush to take over, which in turn created homes for a host of small animals, snakes and birds that would ordinarily be shy of human habitation. As soon as the electrical wiring was installed and turned on (it previously had no electric power), we decided to move in, and tackle the other problems as they appeared.
As we moved from the rented farm near Furley, Kansas, to our "new" farm home between Altoona and Chanute, we found that it was necessary to go the long way around, because 1951 was to be known as the year of the big flood in southeast Kansas, and many of the roads were under water.
A different life awaited us in this rural community. First, a lot of work was necessary to get a house—empty for several years—ready to live in. We had hoped to be able to sever ties with Wichita and vicinity and become completely self-sustaining, but we found extra income was needed to help put the farm on a paying basis, to say nothing of the needs of five children, four of which were in school. So, it was decided that my husband would go back to his old job in the airplane plant, on a “temporary basis.”
He worked at the aircraft plant in Wichita five days a week, and then came home over the weekend to direct things on the farm. This would be our way of life for the next seven or eight years. This period of time in the lives of our children created a nostalgia that continues to provide topics for many “do you remember when” stories whenever the group gets together.
One of the most poignant memories happened one night soon after moving to the farm. My husband had left for his job in Wichita, and the rest of us had retired for the night to the several bedrooms in the large two story house. All was quiet within, when all at once the most blood-curdling noise imaginable had every one tumbling into mother’s room, who was just as startled and uneasy as her frightened offspring, had they but known.
“What is it, what is it?” was the cry, to which, I am sure, I calmly replied, “Nothing to be afraid of, only a hoot owl.”
Was that really the way I answered? I wonder… Well, since this is my story, that’s the way it will be recorded. The rest of that night there was more listening for strange noises, and little sleep. The wise old owl was, no doubt, wondering about the unusual noises from that once empty house. As time passed we learned to cope with the hoot owls, and bobcats looking in bedroom windows from overhanging tree limbs, and we eventually got used to the various night noises. We even managed to live with our sometimes overactive imaginations.
During the day we worked at cleaning up the house and outbuildings. My husband, on the other hand, was doing a lot of worrying about the welfare of his family while he was busy with his job in Wichita. He especially worried about snakes he envisioned hiding in rock fences that his over ambitious children insisted on climbing over. Since we didn’t have a telephone we were never in touch during the week. Left to our own resources, we learned to cope with most of the things that my husband would have taken care of had he been with us.
We soon found that we had moved to a very friendly neighborhood, quite a contrast to the overcrowded schools and neighborhood we had been used to. The schools in and around Wichita, during the war years, had more pupils than they could handle. Small wonder that our oldest daughter was surprised at the warm welcome she received as a junior at Vilas High School, as did her sister in seventh grade, brother in third and small sister as a beginner at Mound Springs.
As I thought of my young first grader beginning school in a new neighborhood, my thoughts wandered backward to that time in my own life, when, only recently arrived with my family to that dead end street in Augusta, Kansas, I began my own first year of school.
Life at that age is a time free of cares and worries—a time for adventure and new sensations—that leave the tensions and frustrations and weighty decisions to parents. I had to make decisions during the week that, with my husband gone, sometimes weren’t always the proper ones. There never seemed to be quite enough money to stretch over the week for the necessary things, to say nothing of the longed for items. I learned to “make do” as I remember my own mother had done years before. We were both, I feel, a pioneer in our own time.
I learned to depend heavily on my two oldest daughters; one in high school and the other in junior high. Both drove the car with much more confidence than I did, which was a great help. As they became old enough, all joined the local 4H club and attended the High Prairie Methodist Church—experiences at both making for a well-balanced life.
Although food supplies sometimes ran short before each week was up, the latch string was usually out for overnight company. “Staying all night” was a popular custom with the young of the neighborhood, and as I was always intrigued by that quote “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” we had many school friends spending the night. I remember having difficulties stretching that sandwich spread when friends came to visit.
Recently, when discussing those years, a daughter remarked, “You know, Mom, those sandwiches always tasted good, but sometimes I wondered what was in them.” Well, sometimes it’s best not to go into detail about such things. During the war years, when meat and other foodstuffs were scarce, most people made use of “meat extenders.” It really wasn’t anything new. My own parents “made do” during the tough times of the 1920s and 1930s in order to raise their eight children. They did the best they could, and we never went hungry.
At one point my husband obtained a battery-operated three-wheel scooter, like those used in the airplane plants for expediency in getting around. He decided it would be a help to his three youngest offspring in getting to school and back. With a side car built on the side, it held three and sometimes four when a friend wished to hitch a ride. Like the Model T when I was young, there always seemed to be room for one more. It also provided amusement for many in the neighborhood as they watched the unusual transport.
So the years went by. The children grew older, but the time never seemed right for my husband to quit his job in Wichita and become a full-time farmer; we always thought maybe the next year would be different. With only the weekends at home, he had little time for social affairs; most of the farming was done then and at vacation time.
Two different evenings were spent during the later years, in seeing the older daughters married. One daughter remarked, “I think my friends came to my wedding as much to see what Daddy looked like, as to see me married.” Maybe so.
As my thoughts go back to those years on the farm, many things come to mind. Things that were a challenge to the ingenuity then, now brings a smile as I look back in retrospect. The absence of a telephone saved my neighbors many calls for help. It also taught me to rely on myself numerous times when no one was around to turn to. For instance, there was the when I opened the top half of a divided barn door and our over-eager milk cow gave a leap over the lower half to reach her bawling calf that was penned up inside. She cleared the door with her front feet and then hung there suspended, unable to move either way.
As I listened to her groans of discomfort, I remember sending a fervent prayer heavenward: “Oh Lord, what do I do now?” Lifting the cow was beyond me, and all of the children were at school. I was totally alone. As I looked frantically about, I saw a sledge hammer in the corner and decided that it was the best tool to ease the cow’s discomfort. By beating on the top door hinge I managed to break it loose, and a now less enthusiastic cow was able to reach her calf. As I recall, my husband repaired the door without much comment, relieved, I think, that there wasn’t a worse problem.
One of my responsibilities in the winter time, and one that I dreaded the most, was breaking ice on the pond so the cattle could drink. This meant a walk of a quarter mile or so to the pond, carrying an ax to break the ice. It was no problem when I was able to slip away from the cows while they ate, but more often than not, the thirsty animals would catch up with me, and would be pushing and shoving before I was able to break the ice and get out of the way. I always expected to be knocked down, or sent sliding across the ice or into the water—but this never happened.
The fact that I was on my own much of the time, I believe, caused me to be more cautious than I might otherwise have been, especially when forking down hay from an open loft, cutting wood at those times when my woodpile ran out before the weekend, etc., but there came a time when my luck seemed to have run out.
I had been helping my husband in the field over the weekend—riding on a corn planter that he was pulling behind the tractor. It was my job to raise and lower the planter at the end of each row with hand grips. I remember the palm of my hand became quite sore with what I thought was only a bad bruise, but in spite of all my home remedies, it got worse instead of better. One evening I became concerned when I noticed red streaks extending up my arm. I decided it was time to see the doctor instead of waiting until morning. He assured me I had done the right thing, and he gave me a shot and instructions to soak my hand through the night with hot salt packs and be back to the hospital early the next morning for an operation. My uneasy offspring were on their own for one night before their father reached home for the weekend, but I think that was one time when my sympathies were mostly for myself.
It became quite a strain on my husband to keep up with this way of life. The hardest part, I’m sure, was trying to anticipate the situation he would find when he returned for the weekend. Finally, both of us became weary of the struggle and decided there must be an easier way to live. My husband summed it up: “I can make more money in Wichita just playing around, than over here on the farm doing my best.” So, we sold the farm to our oldest daughter and son-in-law, and with our three teenagers, we moved to Wichita and another way of life.
Chapter 16—Another Change in Our Lifestyle
There was a feeling of regret when, after seven years of trying to make a go of our farm, my husband and I decided it was time to make a change. In our middle years, with our two oldest children married and already presenting us with grandchildren, and with our three at home all teenagers, we felt life owed us a little more leisurely time together.
Once the decision made to move to Wichita he lost no time in carrying out his plans. Always averse to paying rent—he considered it money thrown away—he looked for a house we could afford to buy. The house he found was a new, three-bedroom brick house. It was small and very compact, with all modern conveniences, some of which we had not had in rural Altoona. Housekeeping in our new home was about as different as night from day from that in the old rambling farm house we had left.
Life was certainly different in the city. Our new house had central heating, consequently there was no carrying in wood or carrying out ashes. And running water allowed the use of an electrically operated washer and dryer on my laundry day.
One feature of our new home reminded me of my childhood when, so many years before, my parents first moved to Augusta and the little house on the “dead end street.” Our new home in Wichita was also on a dead end street, but instead of the cornfield at the end, there was a railroad track and a right-of-way which in a few years was to be a highway through town. The kids laughingly nicknamed themselves “the dead end kids.”
The farm then became our favorite place to visit. When the decision was made to move back to Wichita, our oldest daughter and her husband decided to buy the farm from us. So, during the next few years, we were able to watch five grandchildren grow up in that farm home. It was modernized and improved over the years; another example of a dream developing into a reality during the second or third generation.
Life in the little brick house at the end of the street took on new dimensions for the five of us. Our oldest son entered his first year of senior high school at East High, our youngest daughter was an eighth-grader at Hamilton Junior High, and our second son was a sixth-grader at Linwood Elementary School. With three different schools that first year to keep up with, I seemed forever on the go.
The grade school pupils went home for lunch, while those attending junior high and high school were served hot lunches at school cafeterias. My lunch-packing days were over, which was one change I welcomed.
The local Methodist Church was within walking distance, and the warm, friendly fellowship of the church members soon made us feel welcome.
Both sons earned spending money delivering papers. Our oldest son's interest was fishing and hunting, and he and a friend who shared the same interest spent many weekends in the country. Our youngest son was more sports-minded, and so his spare time was taken up in the summer with little league baseball, and in the winter months with basketball. He also belonged to the Boy Scouts. One of the highlights of his junior high years was a canoe trip he took to the lakes of Minnesota with fellow Explorer Scouts.
Our youngest daughter was soon busy with the new friends she made at school and in the church. Her main interest was music, and it took up a great deal of her time. She continued with accordion lessons, an instrument that was experiencing a wave of popularity about that time. She was considered an advanced student at the school we contacted in Wichita. She had taken lessons in Chanute for at least a year before we moved to Wichita, as well as piano lessons for several years.
Although one married daughter and family remained on the farm, our second daughter and her husband had moved to Wichita ahead of us, and so we were able to enjoy seeing three more grandchildren grow up in the city.
The time seemed to rush by. Our oldest son joined the Navy during his last year in high school, and also married only a month after graduation. Their early married life was rather hectic; time was divided between Wichita and San Diego. Two grandchildren were born during this time. A baby girl, the oldest, was born in Wichita, and the second, a boy, in San Diego.
To be continued in the next issue of The Bagpiper.