by Flossie Erwin Austin
Flossie's story continues...
I Must Go Where the Wild Goose Goes
As retirement time drew near, I didn't dream of a small house and a flower garden, which had meant peace and contentment for my mother in her later years. Rather, I was looking forward to indulging my long-held dream of just taking off and wandering. It was a feeling that I always seemed to get when I heard the wild geese fly over.
As a result of the few short vacation trips we had taken, my husband and I knew we wanted to do more traveling when we were free to do so. As the interest in travel vehicles and camping clubs developed, we began shopping for a trailer to pull behind the new Rambler car we had recently traded for. This meant visits to boat and travel shows and to the different dealers during our weekends.
We finally bought a small 13-1/2' Comet trailer to see how we liked it. We could always trade for a bigger one later, my husband promised me as he attempted to appease my disappointment for not buying a larger one.
As I shared my enthusiasm for my little home on wheels with friends at work, I was presented with potholders made from scraps of discarded shirts and decorated with bright-colored zig-zag stitches, made during lunch breaks or slack times. A friend who ran the embroidery machine made a banner from the back of a discarded white shirt, embroidering the picture of a trailer, along with our name, in bright colors. These, and a gypsy necklace and earrings set given to me by a route man at Christmas time, are some of my most treasured keepsakes of that era of my life.
Early in 1966, we joined the Gypsy Camp Club, a local chapter of the National Camper's and Hiker's Association. The meetings and campouts with this group gave new meaning to our leisure time. I think our children sometimes felt we were becoming a little childish in our old age, but our grandchildren enjoyed going camping with us. To one small granddaughter, our little trailer became “Grandma's playhouse,” and her favorite place to have a tea party when she came to visit.
Our youngest son graduated from high school and joined the Navy, while our youngest daughter finished her second year at Emporia State Teachers College. She then decided to transfer to Wichita State University for her last two years. She was married before her last year of college, but with her husband's support and encouragement, she finished her last year and became a teacher in the Derby school system. Our three older children were married and involved with their growing families.
As we planned our retirement, and looked forward to seeing a little more of the country in our car and trailer, our children were helping by giving us their blessing while, at the same time, planning their own lives. But, as we neared retirement age - in the normal sequence of things - our parents were nearing the end of their life span. My husband's parents, a little older than mine, passed away first at their home in Halstead, Kansas, but were buried at Lena Valley Cemetery near Madison, Kansas, where they had lived and farmed before retiring to Halstead to be near a daughter.
My own parents had lived several happy, peaceful retirement years at their home in Neodesha, Kansas, but in the summer of 1966 my father had a stroke, and my mother, crippled with arthritis, was unable to cope. My brother, who also lived in Wichita at this time, and I decided it would be easier to care for them if they were in Wichita near the two of us, and so we rented an apartment for them in a senior citizen center nearby, as they didn't care to live with either of us.
Concern for my parents’ health kept us from planning an extended vacation that summer, but our growing interest in the camp club we had recently joined gave us incentive to plan to attend the 7th national convention of the Camper's and Hiker's Association which was to be held, thanks to a kind fate, only a few miles away from Wichita at Kanopolis State Park.
We did get to the convention for the first two days, leaving my brother and his wife, who had just returned from their vacation, to watch over our parents, and with the promise to keep in touch by telephone. But my father's condition worsened, and we decided to break camp and return home. My husband and I agreed though, that this was the type of recreation we liked, and promised ourselves that we would attend another such convention in the future.
My father passed away only a matter of days after we returned from the convention. My mother had made friends with other senior citizens in the nearby apartments, so she decided to stay there alone rather than live with any of her children. I was close enough to visit her after work, and was able to keep her washing and shopping done, and my brother visited her on weekends.
During the next year we enjoyed weekend campouts with the camp club, or indoor meetings at recreation buildings in the winter months. We also took turns having card parties with a few who liked to play pitch. One of the more popular topics of conversation, especially among our camping group, was that of retirement. The president of our club said, "I don't know just what our retirement home will be like, but I do know it will be on wheels." Many others seemed to be of this mind, and we did a lot of thinking along this line. We even picked out a 25' trailer that we thought we might buy for this purpose, but we couldn't quite make up our mind that this was what we wanted. While our urge to travel was strong, we also felt that a little place in the country to come home to would also be welcome.
Later, we were to be thankful that our intuition led us to buy the small forty-acre farm near Chanute, in the vicinity where we had formerly owned a farm. Our former home was now the home of our oldest daughter and her husband and their five grandchildren. We were fortunate to find a buyer for our home in Wichita, so in the Fall of 1967 we retired from our jobs in Wichita and moved to our little home in the country, but kept our small trailer for the trips we were planning to take. My friends at American Uniform wished me well, and presented me with a folding picnic table, and my husband received a gasoline lantern and fishing equipment from fellow workers at the airplane plant.
We lost no time in transferring from the Gypsy Chapter of N.C.H.A. to the Camp Hoppers, a Chanute Chapter of the N.C.H.A., as we wished to continue with our favorite type of recreation. The national convention of the N.C.H.A. was to be held in Pennsylvania the summer of 1967. We had planned to attend with other members of the Gypsy Chapter, but as the time drew near and we became involved in our plans to move to our new home. Ultimately we decided the time would be better spent in weekend trips to get our house, vacant for several years, ready for occupancy. It became, more or less, a family project, with our children giving freely of their time to get us moved.
The Spring of 1968 found us settled and ready to enjoy a new way of life; a life of leisure, combining our love of country living, spiced with trips to indulge our wanderlust. We kept our small trailer packed and ready to go. It became our second home, and was responsible for many happy memories. Along with road maps and other travel essentials, I always had a supply of pens and notebooks to record our adventures. In discussions later and when a question might come up about what happened where, I needed only to check my notes to have the last word.
I relive these trips over again as I read what I wrote in my journal as we traveled along. For instance, in the Spring of 1968, my notes tell me:
Friday, 17th of May- '68, we are on our way from Chanute to Pittsburg for a weekend campout with the Camp Hoppers. lust entering Crawford Co. - sun is shining and cool - about 60° - looks like a nice weekend coming up.
Sat. morning - windy and cool, but sun shining brightly, so will probably warm up. Reached camp yesterday evening, found quite a few campers already here, and parked at Lincoln Park; park really filling up this morning.
Sunday afternoon about 4 o'clock pm - on our way home from a very nice time at Pittsburg area camp show. Weather was cool and windy, but plenty of sunshine and no rain. Eight Camp Hopper units were there, which was a very good percentage - several clubs were represented - met many nice people and exchanged ideas and viewed the latest models in camp equipment.
The Camp Hoppers ate together Sat. evening - potluck - and had a short business meeting as most of the other clubs were doing. Then all met together around a campfire - each bringing their own folding chairs - prizes were awarded for contests conducted in afternoon - horseshoe pitching for the men - original hat modeling for the women and picture coloring for children. The Camp Hoppers made a good showing, as usual.
Many pictures were taken to be shown at later meetings - a lot of visiting done and naps taken.
This was just a sample of the numerous campouts we were to attend during the months to come. We met and talked to many retired couples at the state and national conventions, whose enthusiasm for this way of life matched our own; we exchanged addresses and kept in touch after returning home. I think this new interest in traveling and camping had a lot to do with extending the active years of many retired people.
In July 1968 the N.C.H.A. national convention was held in DuQuoin, Illinois. We planned to attend the convention, traveling together with another retired couple from the Gypsy Club, and would allow enough time for a sightseeing trip. We spent a week at the convention - checking my notes kept of this trip, I notice this comment:
So many retired people are going all out for this camping life, some of them really have nice outfits. interesting to hear of all the places some of them have been. Friday morning - just a week since my last entry - but what a wild, hectic week - several thousands of tired and sleepy campers are heading out of DuQuoin in all directions after a week of camping fun with all that goes with it. DuQuoin really rolled out the red carpet to make our stay pleasant. The time was spent visiting each other's camps, parading, taking scenic tours and attending the very interesting night shows.
We spent another week sightseeing before heading home. Reviewing notes, I see:
We stopped at a museum which contained vehicles used in Lincoln's time: quite a collection of buggies, sleds, wagons and etc. - takes one back through the pages of history when traveling was done in a different style.
It was a very pleasant trip, and sharing it with good friends made it more enjoyable. However, we knew it was time to go home; we had planted a large garden, and knew it would be needing our attention. And we were planning another trip to the west, later in the summer. Checking my notes, I am reminded:
After about a week at home while we cut weeds, mowed lawn, dug potatoes, harvested some garden vegetables, which included freezing 45 pts. of corn, canning 20 qts. of pickles and 12 pts. of beets, we have our trailer loaded and starting on a trip to Washington and Oregon. We will spend our first night August 5th with children in Wichita.
We expect to get to Bremerton, Washington to see son, Steve, while he is there; his ship, the 'Enterprise', will be in port during August and September being repaired and refueled.
As I read my notes, I relive that trip with a bit of nostalgia; a quiet and peaceful time - perhaps a little monotonous at times, as it may have been when I jotted down these lines:
Just rambling along, with little Comet behind, no place to go, and plenty of time.
But there were many tension-building times also, such as the time we were overtaken by a wind and rain storm with a line of impatient traffic behind, darkness fast approaching and no apparent place to turn off. With straining eyes, we finally spotted a filling station and managed to get turned off - with the little Comet trailer still in one piece. Of this instance, I wrote:
We camped by the side of a filling station-store combination. The young couple that runs it had trailer house behind, so they were there all night. We were relieved to find the place to camp, as black clouds were gathering in an ominous way, and it began to rain hard and wind blow before we could get parked. But we were comfy and cozy in our little home on wheels; had a leisurely supper, watched TV and wrote a letter. Nice and cool night to sleep.
We stopped to visit the Eisenhower Museum as we went through Abilene, Kansas, and later visited Mt. Rushmore as we traveled through South Dakota. So many things to see, as we traveled along, but our destination was Bremerton, Washington in order to see our sailor son. My notes read:
Sat. morning - leaving Belfair State Park where we spent four nights - a very pretty place and a pretty drive as we head towards 101 highway and Oregon. Had a nice visit with Steve, saw lots of scenery during our stay at the park which was near Bremerton - cost $2.00 a day which included sewer, water and electric hookups.
We later visited relatives in Oregon and California, and stopped off for a visit to the Grand Canyon area. All were interesting and enjoyable, but as the time passed our thoughts began to turn homeward. We remembered the Kansas State Convention of N.C.H.A. was scheduled for Labor Day weekend at Kanopolis State Park, so we began to change our plans so that we might be back in time for this event. My notes tell me we did reach the park about noon on Saturday and spent two nights enjoying the fellowship of about 3,000 people camping there over the weekend.
And so, after being gone about a month on this trip and most of July on the trip to Illinois, we were looking forward to a quiet Fall and Winter at home.
Memories Are Made of These—As every story must have a beginning, so it should follow there must, sooner or later, be an ending. I feel the time has come to bring this story to a close. To do this, I decided to review my past and pluck at random a final bouquet of memories. As in any flower garden, some are bright and outstanding in my mind, lending a bit of romance to “my garden of memories,” while others will add poignancy.
A common occurrence in my early life were the frequent visits of tramps, or “Knights of the Road,” seeking handouts. I can't remember one ever being turned away, but they were always fed outside. I think my father kept a watchful eye on foot travelers, and managed to be on hand if one should stop.
One memory of such an occurrence comes to mind when we lived on a farm between Burns and Florence, Kansas. I can remember my father sitting down to rest under the shade of a tree while such a visitor was served a generous helping of my mother's freshly baked bread, with plenty of homemade butter. Although they were always fed, I think they got the idea from my father's attitude that they weren't expected to linger.
As I recall this, I can’t help but wonder if my father might have been thinking of a time in his own life when he was treated differently. I remember a time when we were traveling, by way of covered wagon, when we found ourselves without milk for my young brother. I clearly remember my father stopping by the side of a pasture and slipping through the fence to milk a cow nearby.
Recently, when reviewing our past life, both my older sister and I recalled this incident, and she remembered our father first stopping at a farm house and asking to buy some milk, but was turned away; I suppose he felt justified in providing for his young son in whatever way he was able.
This thought led to a later memory; I was a young mother myself, when my mother became reminiscent of how it was in her day. Babies were always breastfed, usually being nursed well into their second year, that is unless a new baby was expected, and then they must be weaned. There was a high mortality rate for such babies in their second summer, many falling victim to what was called “summer complaint.”
In a lighter vein, and as Valentine's Day is near, my thoughts go back in time to that dead-end street when I was a first or second grader. For days we had been busy making valentines. My favorites were large red hearts, painstakingly colored with red Crayons. I think what made the memory of this particular Valentine's Day so long lasting was the bad timing of the little boy who lived across the street. As I recall, it was the evening before Valentine's Day when a knock was heard on the front door, and much to the glee of all my family, I was presented with a big red heart. For days I heard the chant, “Flossie has a feller” so many times I that am sure I became pretty sick of the valentine, and probably my little friend as well.
One of the strongest personalities of any of my ancestors, I think, was that of my grandmother Minnie (Freeman) Erwin. She was of French ancestry; her own mother, my great-grandmother Freeman, having emigrated from France. I've been told she grew up in the Girard, Kansas area, but the information of where she met my grandfather or of her early life, is rather vague. Many of the stories she told during my growing up years have remained in my memory. It seems that bands of Gypsies traveling through the country were very much a part of life in those days, and many, including my grandmother, I think, believed in their power to foretell the future.
I remember her telling me - one time when I was visiting her and she was in one of her rare storytelling moods - of an incident when a band of Gypsies had set up camp near her family's farm and close to a large, nearly-ripe, wheat field. Fearing the camp fires might set fire to the wheat, the Gypsies were asked to move on. They did move, although unwillingly, but before leaving, one irate, grey-haired lady shook her fist at my grandmother's family with the promise they would never get a cent from the wheat field. "And", my grandmother said, in reminiscence, "you know, she was right, we never did. Before the wheat could be harvested, a hailstorm ruined the whole crop."
Checking my encyclopedia, I find one of the first groups of Gypsies in the American Colonies came in 1715, when a band was deported from Scotland to the colony of Virginia. But the greatest wave of Gypsies to the United States came between 1870 and 1890, and they came mostly from Russia and the Balkan countries.
Jesse James, the outlaw, figured in many of my grandmother's stories as well. Although history has recorded him as one of the most notorious “bad men” of his time, many felt he was unjustly blamed for many crimes. According to her the Freeman family were among those who often gave him sanctuary.
The story of my life wouldn't be complete without some mention of the numerous members of the animal kingdom that has given it so much meaning. Going after the cows at milking time seemed to be my job pretty frequently during my grade school years. This was a job I didn't usually mind, as there was time to daydream as I walked along. That is, I usually didn't mind, but one farm where we lived had a pasture and then a “far” pasture, and if the connecting gate was open, that walk after the cows got a little long and tiring. At these times one old jersey cow turned out to be a comfort; she didn't mind giving me a lift.
I remember one night in particular: I was a little late in getting started after the cows and, of course, this was the time they were about as far away as they could get in the far pasture. Before I got them rounded up and headed for home, it was beginning to get dark and the coyotes were starting to call to one another. A little uneasy, I was glad for the company of that old Jersey cow. She was never in a hurry, so was usually the last one as they lined out single file in the path for home. It wasn't hard to hop up on her hips. As she plodded along, contentedly chewing her cud, I could lay down across her back and enjoy the leisurely ride home.
I always seemed to have a kitten, along with other farm animals that needed care from time to time. At different times in my life, I dreamed of having a sanctuary for different animals needing a home; not the real wild kind though, for I’m a timid person by nature. This dream, as others I have had over the years, is showing signs of developing into a reality in the lives of grandchildren.
When we decided to leave the farm near Chanute for our home in Wichita, it happened I had a white guinea pig, the last of a project that didn't turn out well. I called him “Sam.” When we were ready to leave, and the fate of Sam came up, my husband said, "Oh, just leave him here with the kids, there's no place for him in town." But at the last minute, knowing the kids were unsympathetic to this idea, I slipped him and his box into our last load. He was allowed to come and go in the back yard, but he never strayed far from his box, that is until one night he just disappeared without a trace. It was an unsolved mystery; and one that I was glad to have remain unsolved.
If a good book is my cure for insomnia, so a sense of humor is my favorite way of combating tension. Always a feeling of “fun and games” seem to dominate the scene when my family gets together; jokes on each other, with good-natured laughter, makes for a happy day. Recently, at a family gathering the unanswerable question was asked. “What came first, the chicken or the egg?' But this time my son came up with this remark, "There is a very simple solution, just find out what Noah took aboard the Ark - two eggs or two chickens." This research was handed over to my journalist-in-the-making granddaughter; an interview or two should settle that age old argument.
As the size of the family increased over the last few years, and the need to cut down on the overall cost of gifts at Christmas time became necessary, we did what many families do; we began drawing names, and set a low price level. As a result, instead of dampening the pleasure of the family get-together, the imaginations displayed in choosing gifts to fit the different personalities has become almost hilarious at times. For instance, a carpenter or handyman in the group one year received a box of mixed nails, resulting in a lot of sorting required in the months to come, and plans for getting even the next year. Even so, all the nails were used and appreciated.
As we all knew they would, the giver of that box received one in return the next year, but this box was filled with an assortment of different size macaroni, and to make the challenge even greater, a generous quantity of popcorn was mixed with the macaroni. Another sorting job took place,- this time by a granddaughter and boyfriend. As her mother laughingly remarked, there were several evenings with hands safely occupied - after all, how romantic can sorting macaroni be.
There were many humorous incidents during the era when we were camping. One, in particular, comes to mind. It was during a national convention, the one held in Illinois, I believe, when a working couple planned to leave as soon as possible on a Friday evening. As the story was told and retold many times around the campfires of that convention, the husband, with loaded camper, picked up his wife from work and immediately headed out of town on the way to the convention. The wife, being tired, decided to crawl into the back of the camper and take a nap while the husband drove. Somewhere down the line, the husband decided it was time to stop for gas, which he did without disturbing his wife.
But as all good stories must have a climax, his wife was busy providing one. When she awoke and saw they were stopped at a filling station, she decided to visit the restroom. In the meantime, the husband completing transactions in the filling station, and hearing nothing from his wife, pulled out and continued merrily on his way, secure in the knowledge—or so he thought—he would have a well-rested wife when he reached the campground. But a very exasperated wife returned just in time to see her camper disappearing down the highway.
Although perturbed, she was a resourceful lady, and knowing others would be along, she got into position to catch a ride. As a whimsical fate would have it, the first of her club to come along was a young man, and the only single member of the club. As the story went, they soon caught up with the husband and with horn honking and waving wildly, they passed him by - leaving a very surprised husband to wonder how his wife could have gotten in the other camper when, to the best of his knowledge, she was still sound asleep in the back of his.
My husband and I were attending another camping convention, in South Carolina this time, when another incident happened that now comes to mind. For ease in getting around the camp, we carried a motorcycle mounted on the front of our pickup. When the time came to go to the evening meetings, I would thread a folding chair over each arm, leaving my hands free to hold on as my husband drove us to where the action was. As we were on our way to the meeting one evening on our motorcycle, I noticed we were catching the amused interest of many as we passed by. From the corner of my eye, I noticed that one man stepped out behind us to focus his camera as we passed. I have often wondered what sort of picture he got.
But there were sad times also, losing a married son late in the Fall of 1968, and his wife a few months later, brought on a period of mourning. When we were awarded the guardianship of four lively orphan grandchildren, aged 18 months to 8 years, the tempo of our retirement years was entirely, and forever, changed.
But that, I think, should be another story. »»»
Oran Lee Austin passed away November 15, 1979, and Flossie Erwin Austin died June 4, 2003 at the age of 93. Both are buried in High Prairie Cemetery near Altoona, Kansas. -Ed.