I don’t really remember this but dad was born July 14, 1886, near Fancy Gap, Virginia. Mom was born in Banner Elk, North Carolina on February 22, 1888. At some point prior to their marriage they lived about a quarter of a mile from each other on opposite sides of the road (or trail) which is now the Blue Ridge Parkway near Fancy Gap. Marilyn and I, Richard, Norma, Richard’s son, Brad, Norma’s Daughter, Lori, and Barbara, our brother Ralph’s daughter visited the sites in the fall of 1998, following the Leftwich family reunion in Roanoke, Va. Mom and dad were married on -------, 1906, in Hillsville, Virginia. They came to Kansas on a train within a few months where they worked as a couple on a farm, south of Burden, Kansas. In about 1911 or 1912, they moved to the farm which is described later. They lived there until l957, when they moved into Burden to a house on Main street which had been lived in by the lady who owned the farm they lived on for 45 years. It was in the first block north of the business block on the West Side of the street. At the end of this street about a block and one-half north of this house was the school where all of us kids went to both grade school and high school. The city hall was almost directly across the street.
Mom was a strong woman, both physically and mentally. She was neither giddy nor dour. She had a good sense of humor but it was not overt. Her orders were meant to be carried out, although I must confess, she didn’t give me to many orders. She would hoe the cockleburs and sunflowers out of the cornfield alongside a boy (like me) or whatever other job needed to be done. She could wring a chicken’s neck, chop wood, and milk cows, not to mention planting, hoeing, picking, and canning many things that grew in the garden. She cooked on a wood burning stove all of her life until moving to town about a year before she died. Clothes washing was done in a hand-agitated wooden washing machine with a hand wringer in water heated in a tub on the wood-burning cook stovetop. Mom did the clothes scrubbing on a washboard, one child turned the wringer, and another caught the clothes and placed them in a tub to be carried out and hung on a clothesline made of telephone wire. She was not a coarse woman as often seems to be the case with those who lead a fairly hard life. She had a social side as evidenced by her participation in a ladies club, I believe called the Agenda Club (There must be a story behind that name), the Eastern Star (which I never knew what was) and a card party group of about a half a dozen other couples. I think her formal education was approximately the sixth grade, however she loved to read. The Saturday Evening Post came regularly and there were certain authors of short stories in it that she especially looked forward to reading. One of them was R. Ross Anett. Why I remember that, I don’t know, unless it was because I, too, learned to appreciate his stories. I remember many of the Norman Rockwell paintings from their first appearances on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. I imagine that she read more of the books in the high school library than anyone in Burden did, because I regularly checked out books for her and I’m sure most of the kids older than I did also. I was first introduced to Harold Bell Wright's The Shepherd of the Hills through her reading program and have been a fan of that story and the Ozarks ever since.
She and dad both showed great interest in our progress, however trivial, from expressing great appreciation for a spelling paper on which the teacher had written 100+ VERY NEAT to attending every basketball game, home and away, in which I played, regardless of the weather. Mom was about 44 years old when I was born, in her 60’s when I left home and died in l958 at the age of 70. I never thought of her as being old.
Dad was a mild man. He sharecropped the farm that they lived on for 45 years. He worked harder and longer days when he was helping someone else than he did when he was doing his own work. He had the respect of everyone in the community from the banker to the school superintendent to his neighbor farmers. This was evidenced by the fact that he served on the school board for 27 years, even though his education was approximately at the 6th grade level. Dad wasn’t a worrier except for being overly concerned about us kids getting hurt in our play around the farm. He wasn’t overly ambitious in his farming, apparently satisfied with making a living as opposed to accumulating wealth. He wasn’t much of a fixer-upper around the house and with machinery, a trait that I seem to have inherited. It seems that he just fixed things when it became absolutely necessary, a policy that I also subscribe to. Consequently, our farming methods didn’t keep up with the times too well. Dad loved to play pitch (a card game), to pitch horseshoes and just visit on the benches and in the stores in town. He also loved to dance (square, waltz, two-step, etc.) at the country dances and to play the banjo along with the fiddler and the guitar player. He would sometimes slip us kids an extra penny or nickel on a Saturday night if we spent our allowance too early. He smoked Old North State tobacco in a pipe and occasionally a cigar. If smoking wasn’t convenient, he might chew some of the Old North State. Dad died in 1962, at the age of 76.
Their first child, Arthur, was born November 1, 1907. Although I think he was married after I was born, my first memories of him are being married to Blanche and them living in Towanda, Kansas. I had no idea where Towanda was but I just remember that when they came to visit they came from there. That was an exciting time. One day when we were expecting them, Norma and I would run down the driveway to see if we could see them coming. After several such trips, we got tired of this and decided that we would fool Mom by running back to the house yelling, "Here they don’t come". Mom, being quite anxious to see them, and perhaps a little worried, didn’t see the humor in this and shut down that game fairly quickly. Over the next few years, Arthur and Blanche lived in Parkville, Missouri, (near Kansas City) for a few years, then moved back to Burden during WW II, and eventually to a farm five miles straight west of our farm where Blanche and two of their boys still live, today. They had three boys, Larry, Dennis, and Neil.
Arthur was very likable, easy-going and laughed easily. We always enjoyed being around him, and he gave me my first real job on their farm, which I’m sure, will come up later in this work. He died in ---------.
Marion was born December 27, l908. He was married and gone from home when I was born. In fact, he had a son, Eugene, who was born about a year and one-half before I was. Gene dutifully called me "Uncle Howard", much of the time, probably with tongue in cheek. Marion’s wife was Jesse and they lived on a farm about four miles northwest of the family farm. My first memories of them were on that farm. I was often there either for family gatherings or "spending the night" or a few days with Gene. I was greatly impressed with almost everything about their farm. They had electricity! Further, they had a garage that they could actually put their car in, they had a windmill and a livestock watering tank that was always full of water, they had a "big" barn and a "little" barn, a tractor, a truck and who knows what else. To put it modestly, they were progressive. When I spent the night, I was impressed that they had a variety of breakfast foods, such as Kix, Shredded Wheat, etc., whereas it seemed all we ever had was Post Toasties. Oh yes, they always had one or more good riding horses, whereas we often rode a workhorse.
Marion was very good to help dad with his farming with all of his modern equipment. He was also good to me. He gave me a "runt" pig when I was about 10 years old. We treated it as a pet and raised it to a good marketable size and then Marion took dad, me, and the pig to Arkansas City where we sold the pig. He helped me buy one of the fanciest Hawthorne bicycles from Montgomery Wards that anyone had ever seen. I bought a green tweed suit with the rest of the money. Marion and Jesse had two other sons, Jack and John. Marion died -----, ----.
Ralph was born August 22, l911. He was the suave and debonair brother. It seemed that he was always involved in daring and sophisticated pursuits. He worked as a cowboy on a ranch in Arizona at some time during the depression. I remember a picture of him on a horse in Arizona that was in our box of family pictures. At some point, he worked in a restaurant in Winfield called Bernie’s where we always got a hamburger or a bowl of chili when on our infrequent shopping trips to Winfield. Later, he worked at -------Mercantile Company in Cedar Vale where he also married Edith, the daughter of an official there, I think. Later he worked in Wichita, where he drove a route truck for Wichita Towel and Linen Co.-right downtown in Wichita! He later became a manager, but he had already established himself as a man of the world in the eyes of us younger children. If these credentials weren’t enough, he had a yellow Plymouth convertible very soon after WW II, and he owned a house in Wichita!
Ralph’s wife, Edith, died of polio in 1939, when their daughter, Barbara was one year old. This was the first association with death that we younger ones had. I still remember Mom getting the phone call from Ralph informing us. Barbara lived with us for a while when she was about five and I was twelve. She tells some quite unbelievable tales about how I teased her and pulled various tricks on her during this time. Sometime after this, Ralph had re-established himself in Wichita and married Alene and Barbara spent the rest of her growing up years with them. Ralph’s sophistication was further cemented by the facts that he and Alene owned a barbershop (she was a beauty operator) and they owned some apartments in Wichita. Needless to say, when they came to visit the family in their yellow convertible it was quite exciting. Ralph died in --------.
Robert (Bob) was born in March 20, l918. Although he would have still been at home during the first few years of my life, I don’t remember it. One of the earliest memories that I have related to him was hearing discussion about his having been in a car wreck in which one of the Burden girls was killed. I think her last name was Brooks and I remember her being referred to as Brooksie. My earliest real memories about Bob were conversations in the family regarding the fact that he and Leroy, our cousin, lived in Greensboro, N. C., where they worked in a dry-cleaning shop. This too was quite impressive. Bob and Leroy married twin sisters that I think were daughters of the owner of the dry-cleaning shop. Their names were Mazelle and Mozelle. Bob married Mazelle.
About the only real memory that I have of Bob is an indirect one. Bob played the guitar and he and Mazelle sang. They sent us a record of some of their songs and we played them on our old stand-up, hand-wind phonograph. Two songs that I remember being on that recording were "Farther Along" and "A Jewell in Heaven". I learned later that these were Roy Acuff stand-by and I’m sure that he was singing them on the Grand Ole’ Opry about that time. This would have been in the late 30’s or early 40’s. Bob entered the Air Corps sometime in the early 40’s and became a radioman on a B17. He flew missions over Germany and was shot down and declared "missing in action" on his 30th and last mission in 1944. I believe that the remains of his plane were found after the war. He and Mazelle had no children.
Richard was born February 1,1920. I vaguely remember a few incidents when he still lived at home, such as him chasing me out of the house by popping my rear-end with a wet dish-towel. This was done in fun but there was a certain element of fear on my part. Richard was the first of the kids to go to college (except, perhaps for an ill-fated attempt by Ralph which didn’t last long enough to count). My first real memories of him were his visits home on weekends from Southwestern College in Winfield. His being a guest gave him a certain air of importance in my mind. My main impression was that when he laid down on the duo-fold (a forerunner of the divan) he had to put his feet on the arm. I couldn’t wait until I was tall enough for that. I think for some time that I cheated by scooting far enough down the duo-fold that I needed to put my feet on the arm, also. Richard was drafted in 1942, making him the first of our family to go into the service for WW II. He spent much of his time in India coming home and being discharged in l946. Letters from Richard and later from Bob, Joe, and Tom were the highlight of Mom’s life during the war, and consequently the rest of our lives, also.
Richard married Maxine Detriech soon after returning to the states. He had known her since Southwestern days. After his discharge, he went to Chicago University, obtaining his doctor’s degree in l949, after which he taught at then Oklahoma A & M for his entire career. He and Maxine had three children, Judy, Greg, and Brad.
Joe was born in May, 1924. Joe marched to the beat of a different drummer. Primarily, I remember him being in trouble for infractions ranging from tearing his new school trousers on a barbed-wire fence, to driving the car too fast (a relative concept, considering the condition of our cars), to skipping school. He left home after a couple of years of high school and was not seen much of until he was drafted into the infantry in WW II. He suffered some wounds in Germany. After his discharge, he lived at home for a while, working on some neighbors’ farms. He soon went his own way again, not being heard from directly for several years. He came home in the early 1960’s, lived with dad a while and died in about 1961.
Tom was born in December 6, l926. My memories of him are many-from the earliest when he lorded it over Norma and me in many ways to later ones when I patterned my life after him in many ways. I imitated him by playing the trombone in the band, trying to sing base in gospel songs which he learned at the Methodist church, playing basketball and baseball, and later by majoring in accounting at the same college that he did (Wichita University). Tom entered the Navy in 1944 or 1945, serving on a destroyer in the Pacific. The war ended about the time that he entered a combat zone. He married Rita (Chub) Krouse soon after returning from the service. They lived in Wichita where he graduated from the university in l949. He entered into a fledgling business, B & T Bookkeeping Service, which he continued until his death in about 1997. His business provided me with part-time employment for about the last 3 years of my college work that began in l949. Tom and Chub had six children, Bob, Susan, Ted, Karen, Gail, and Joyce.
Get ready for a surprise, Norma (a girl) was born next on July 22, l929. Everyone thought that she would be "spoiled" being the only girl, but most of the family agrees that I got that honor, perhaps because I was the youngest—perhaps because I was the sweetest. Needless to say, she was the one that I grew up with since I came along about two and one-half years later in 1932. We endured such things together as Richard washing our hair occasionally, Tom bossing us around when left in charge of things, and more or less going through the Burden school together—she was two years ahead of me. Much to my embarrassment she would come to my rescue when I got into problems of one kind or another at school. There was one time especially when she went home and told dad that I along with six others had been locked up in the town jail by the town marshal on a Halloween night. There would be no end to the day to day memories of just growing up together on the farm. Once out of embarrassment about the appearance of our 1936 Chevy, we ordered some blue paint out of the Montgomery Wards catalog and painted it. We thought it looked pretty nice for a while, but for some reason or another it didn’t hold up. Norm and I were in the same high school crowd—she went with a boy that I ran around with, Jube Conner. Of course, she graduated two years ahead of me and went on to seek her fortune in Dodge City, Ks. I think she lived with our cousin, Louise, to begin with but later roomed with one of her high school friends, Lois Rowe. Most importantly, she met Jim Pickering and they were married at the Burden Methodist Church in 1950, I think. They had three children, Sandy, Brent, and Lori. All of us that were born after Mom and Dad moved to the farm near Burden were born at home in the farmhouse
I should mention the only other relatives that played a part in our lives, Uncle George and Aunt Edna and their three children, Leroy, Louise, and Boyd. George was dad’s younger brother and he came to Kansas under dad’s auspices before he was married, I think, but he and Edna, who was also from Virginia, married and settled in Kansas. Although they originally lived around Burden, by the time that I can remember they lived on a farm about six miles east of Winfield. Although mom had 14 brothers and sisters and dad about 5 or 6, we never knew any of them except George. Boyd was a year and a half older than I. He and nephew Gene and I played intensely at our many family gatherings. We would also spend a few days at each other’s homes from time to time. Louise and Leroy were about the age of my older brothers Bob and Richard. Boyd seemed pretty much a man of the world to me. He could play the guitar; the big city of Winfield was his town (as opposed to my little town of Burden) and furthermore he blew off the middle two fingers of his right hand with a dynamite cap as a teenager. George was a fiddle player and dad played the banjo and they along with Boyd often played together when we had family gatherings. They also played at square dances in the community, frequently.
To put it mildly, Uncle George was different. He made elderberry wine and I believe enjoyed it immensely. He was a great tease, almost to the point of going beyond good taste, but no one could say that he wasn’t an interesting character. He gave us free haircuts when we were too little to protest and I think his clippers pulled about as much hair as they cut.
So much for a review of our family
Our house was probably considered grand at one time although it wasn’t when I came along. It was a typical farmhouse style, with two full stories, a bay window in the living room, and gables. Although the front door opened into a hallway on the west, we as kids never realized it, because we always used the south door that entered the kitchen through a screened in porch. I think the original front door on the west was nailed shut. It was a house that was truly a home. It was somewhat primitive and in some ways dilapidated but there was always a certain dignity about it. Even as a child, I could unconsciously tell the difference between our house and others that we would occasionally enter that were not maintained with some pride.
The kitchen ran the full length of that wing of the house with a door on both the north and south as well as windows on both ends. It had all the effects of a breezeway on summer days. Dad often took a brief nap on the floor by the south door, using a folded up jacket for a pillow. Incidentally, neither door would lock; in fact, they were seldom closed in the summer. There was a pantry under the stairway on the west side. At the back of it there was flour box at one time where goodies such as cookies were sometimes to be found. On one side were shelves on which were many strange and unknown items that no one knew what else to do with—furthermore it was dark in there and you had to sort of go by feel. Skillets and lids hung on the other wall.
The focal point of the kitchen was the wood-burning cook stove with a warming closet, reservoir, stovepipe with a damper (I never knew exactly what that was but it was often a point of conversation between mom and dad). The main purpose of the warming closet seemed to be to lean on with your hands while leaning over the top of the stove to soak up as much heat as possible after coming in from doing a cold winter evening’s chores. There often seemed to be a platter of bacon grease in there as well—I’m not sure why. The oven had a thermometer on it which I’m certain never worked. Without it working and without mom having much control over the temperature of the oven anyhow, I’m convinced that oven temperatures aren’t as critical as present day recipes seem to indicate. The principle thing to know about reservoirs is that they need to be filled with water--even when the pump is a block or two away from the house and the weather is frightful.
The oven door was a particular nemesis to dad, though all of us had our run-ins with it from time to time. When nothing was baking in the oven, it would be left open for the purpose of heating the kitchen. It stood out from the stove, treacherously, shin high to a grown man. Dad was not a foul-mouthed person but when he banged his shin into the outstretched oven door we kids added a few words to our vocabulary which we were not subsequently permitted to use.
Once or twice a year, we would come down to a cold kitchen without the usual smell of breakfast. That combined with an equally cool atmosphere between mom and dad tipped you off that the flue was stopped up and that someone should have anticipated the problem. I might add that the necessary cleaning created quite a mess in the kitchen and breakfast was not going to be quite the same that day.
The wood box was another major challenge for a farm boy. It had to be filled every night and to do so might involve wielding the ax for awhile.
Other activities took place around the cook stove. One was just sitting behind it as one of the warmest places in the house. As I remember, Tom was the one who often sat behind the stove. Another was taking a bath behind it on a cold Saturday night. One had to be very careful about bending over because the quarters were very close. A further hazard was that company might drive up the driveway, requiring a hasty retreat to another room, which was very cold, since the kitchen was the only room heated much of the time.
The maximum number of people that I am aware of that had to gather around the table at one time was seven. They were mom, dad, Bob, Richard, Joe, Tom, Norma, and I. Whoops, that was eight. I really don’t remember when Bob and Richard were there for I would have been about four when Bob left home and five when Richard went to college. I do remember Richard coming home from Southwestern College for visits.
Another major activity that took place in the kitchen was separating the milk-morning and evening. It required turning a heavy crank on the separator at a faster and faster speed until a dinging sound became a clicking sound. Then it was time to turn the spigot to allow the milk to run through the mechanism where the cream would come out the upper spout and the skim milk out the lower spout. One sign of approaching manhood was when one was big enough to turn the crank fast enough and another was when one could pick up a bucket of milk with one hand and pour it in the hopper while still turning with the other.
The water bucket with its dipper was an important feature of the kitchen for the obvious reason of getting a drink when thirsty. It was also a place of high drama when one of us kids went to get a drink but found the bucket empty or near empty. That meant that someone was eventually going to have to go get a bucket of water from the pump that was down by the barn. If it was cold or dark, or for that matter, hot, this was not a pleasant prospect for a kid. The child then had a twofold objective—to put the dipper down quietly enough that no one noticed that that the bucket was empty and to squelch whatever desire had existed for a drink.
I should have mentioned above, in connection with baking in the stove, that mom made two or more big black pans of biscuits every morning unless there was some dire circumstance that prevented it. White gravy was also standard fare. Depending on the season, we had eggs, fresh pork, or cured pork with them.
At night, kerosene lamps provided a rather dim light. They required trimming the wick frequently to keep an uneven flame from blackening the chimney. (More sophisticated people called it the globe). From a very young age, we children carried these lamps all over the house, including up and down the stairs. Only a God in heaven could have kept us from falling or dropping a lamp and burning the house down.
Needless to say, the kitchen was the center of most activity for this farm family.
This was our main entrance to the house. It at one time, anyhow, had a bench on it where wash pans were placed for "washing up" before meals. There was a shelf along the east side where one might find a needed tool and also where tomatoes were placed for ripening. There was one small place in the concrete floor that was smooth enough to play jacks. It was in the path between the porch door and the kitchen door.
This was not a very hospitable place. There was always a lot of junk on it and in the winter the north wind kept us from entering the kitchen from that end. It did contain the cellar door, with stone steps leading back under the house. Shelves of home-canned goods lined the wall and there was a potato bin that usually smelled of rotten potatoes. It was always an adventure to go down there for several reasons. First it was dark and it was not easy to tell what canned item you were getting. Second, there was usually water standing in the floor so one rolled his pants legs up as high as possible and hoped it wasn’t any deeper than that. The water was cold enough to turn your legs blue. I’m not sure why it wasn’t frozen. Third, I always suspicioned that there were snakes or worse down there. One of the tests of manhood was to be able to open the cellar door. Once opened, it was a good idea for someone to hold it in case the wind blew it down while you descended the steps. Incidentally, the lower steps, just above the water level, served as our refrigerator in the summer. Butter and other items that we hoped to preserve for a while were placed there.
There was also a cistern just north of this porch. It was considered "dry" since it wouldn’t hold water but it was wet from the standpoint of being down in it. This became an issue when severe storms hit and the family descended a rickety ladder down into it for safety. It was damp enough for frogs and who knows what else to thrive. The kerosene lamp that we took down there with us didn’t illuminate sufficiently to see them but you knew it if you stepped on one. The necessity for going to the cistern seemed always to occur at night. For some reason we would go out the south door of the house when making our way to the cistern and circle around the east side of the house in a blinding rain. It seemed that during these trips lightening would light up the whole outdoors, sufficiently to see the barn, trees, and other outbuildings as plain as day. After everyone was settled down at the bottom of the cistern, dad would pull the metal cover over the small opening and come down the ladder carrying the ax, in case it became necessary to chop our way out because of the house having fallen on top of the opening. Looking back, it seems that it might have been impossible to chop "up" through the remains of the house. I think our best bet was that someone would miss us and dig us out from above if it became necessary.
The living room had a sort of formal air about since we did most of our living in the kitchen. Nevertheless, we did overflow into it often during the summer, but not so often in the winter because we didn’t always heat it. My earliest memories are of a potbellied iron stove in the corner, which when heated full blast would cause a "red spot" to appear on the side of the stove. Even when this occurred, only a small area in the vicinity of the stove was warm when the day was very cold. This was a welcome sight to a child that had reluctantly crawled out of a cold upstairs bedroom onto a colder linoleum floor and flown down the steps with clothes in hand. In times when that stove wasn’t burning the journey didn’t end until one was behind the kitchen stove. We later had a "circulating" stove which I still don’t understand but it looked nicer and kept the entire room warmer.
Other than the fact that the living room floor had a severe slope from east to west, as evidenced by the further fact that my marbles always rolled to the west wall when I attempted to play marbles in there, the telephone was the other principle point of interest. It hung on the west wall at an adult level, making it necessary for a child to pull a chair up to the phone in order to carry on a conversation. This wasn’t a severe problem because no one talked on these country lines for casual visits-especially on cold winter days when the living room wasn’t heated. We always accused dad of talking loud enough that the phone wasn’t really needed. Being on a party line, we knew the line was "busy" when we picked up the receiver and heard someone talking. The proper etiquette was to quietly hang up and wait a while before trying again, however there was always the temptation to "listen in" and learn some local gossip. There was a lady named Maude Searle that could keep the line tied up for hours. If she wasn’t talking, we assumed that she was listening.
This downstairs bedroom, across the hall from the living room was the guest room and the maternity room. As the guest-room, it provide the ultimate test as to whether a prospective daughter-in-law or son-in-law was willing to proceed any further with the relationship, if a visit occurred in the winter. Everyone agreed that it was colder in that room than it was outdoors. As a maternity room, it served the last seven children of the family. (I think) Some of the grandchildren might also have been born there.
This was the room to the left at the top of the stairs. In addition to serving as a bedroom as dictated by the number of kids at home at a given time, this room had several other uses. One was as the "meat room". After butchering hogs, the part of the meat that was cured was often kept on a table here. On a dark winter morning we would hear mom or dad slicing ham, shoulder, or bacon in this room. These were prime breakfast times that only lasted till the meat was gone. In the spring this room miraculously became the "chicken room". Baby chickens obtained by mail from the hatchery in Winfield were kept in here until it was warm enough for them to be put outside during the day. One of the many evening chores was to gather these baby chickens back into the boxes in the evening and take them back to their room for the night. At other times this room was more or less a "catch-all" for things we didn’t know what else to do with. At one time there was an old sewing table in there that Tom took over as his desk. The corner that it was in became his "office" as evidenced by the word "BOSS" painted on the wall over the desk. He apparently fulfilled this fantasy with all the years that he did have his own bookkeeping office.
To the right at the top of the stairs was a large bedroom that at times had two beds in it, accommodating four kids when necessary. The one that I remember sleeping in the most was by the double windows above the first floor bay windows on the south side of the room. Through those windows I can remember hearing during the night the trains on the track a mile south of our house, coyotes howling, calves and cows bawling in protest of the weaning process and screech owls, among other things. Since the house had no closets, a long wire line was strung across the southwest corner of the room that served as the hanging place for all the family’s clothes. Behind it was a wire enclosure that surrounded the stovepipe that came up through the floor from the living room below.
After climbing the stairs and turning right into the kid’s bedroom, another left led into mom and dad’s room. It had a door that led out onto the roof of the porch below. There was no railing on the roof and due to dad’s warnings we kids considered it very adventurous to go out there. On very hot nights, mom and dad would spread quilts out there and sleep till it cooled off. The head of their bed was against the west wall and there was a small bed on the west wall that Norma says she remembers sleeping in frequently. There was a time when a chicken incubator stood in the southeast corner of the room. I think it must have been heated with kerosene. It was there so that dad or mom could keep a close eye on it to see that it was functioning correctly and the eggs had to be turned, occasionally. This must have been before we started getting our baby chickens from the commercial hatchery in Winfield.
Another important item in mom and dad’s room was the water bucket that sat beside their bed. Dad had learned a long time ago that it took too many trips downstairs to satisfy the kids one dipper full at a time. In the winter, ice would frequently form on the water bucket.
A door on the north wall of mom and dad’s room led into a room that we called "the closet". It was really just a small room that could have served as a bedroom but there had to be a place to store all the odds and ends that there was no other place for. A good part of the floor of this room was covered with fruit jars used for canning at the appropriate times. There was a large trunk that contained many curious and interesting things. Other interesting things, to kids, were piled in various places. The most mysterious feature of all was an opening into the attic and the attic itself. With the proper conditioning from older brothers, mostly Tom, we could imagine seeing almost anything when we got up the nerve to stick our heads through the opening. In fact, it contained mostly worn out shoes. The thunder mug was also in this room; however, kids of school age soon trained themselves to hold out until getting to school the next morning.
Our farm was one mile north and one mile east of Burden. Of course it could have been just the reverse but the mile south of our corner was not graveled at that time and consequently wasn’t always passable in bad weather. I suppose another reason we habitually followed the north and east route was that the school was on the north side of town and it was often our destination or starting place. The roads were lined with hedge trees at that time for they were a source of fence posts and firewood. On those occasions when one had to walk home at night the trees made the way very dark. Combining this with having to pass the cemetery about a half-mile from our house and the encouragement of older brothers made for a quite scary experience.
Two eighty acre plots of our farm were on the northwest corner of the intersection described above and another eighty acres was across the road on the northeast corner of the intersection. The house and other improvements were on about a ten-acre portion of this "eighty", immediately next to this intersection. The driveway was about 100 yards on east of the intersection where one turned north toward the house. On the left as you approached the house was one of our vegetable garden areas and an orchard. It wasn’t a great orchard, but we did enjoy a couple of kinds of apples, peaches, and best of all crabapples from which mom made crabapple jelly which to this day is my favorite kind of jelly. To the right of the driveway was "the grove" which consisted of quite a bit of open area where all of us developed our skills of ball-playing, high jumping, pole-vaulting, etc. There were also a number of trees, most of which had some farm implement parked under them. We weren’t modern enough to have sheds for them. It was a foregone conclusion that the binder, the mowing machine, the lister, the box wagon, the rack-wagon, etc. would be in their expected places.
Some of the features of this area around the house and barn took on names by which we all knew them. Examples are "the cedar tree", "the big tree", "the hedge tree", "the rose-bush", "the lilac bush", etc. Probably the most prominent of these was the cedar tree. It was near the road that ran along the west side of the house where our mailbox was located. The path to the mailbox curved around it. It had some low hanging branches that made ideal "horses" on which one could sit and bounce up and down. One measure of maturity (in our eyes) was the level to which we could climb in its lofty branches before giving in to fear. The ultimate accomplishment was to reach the top where there was sort of a natural seat from which one could observe the world.
The chicken houses don’t hold many fond memories. It seems we spent every Saturday cleaning them, although I know that isn’t true because of the quantity of remains we removed when we did clean them. Gathering eggs wasn’t too bad unless a hen pecked you as you tried to reach under her to remove the eggs or you encountered a snake in a nest.
The barn was a favorite place for many play activities. The loft usually had bales of hay in it that we could muscle around and make houses or other enclosures. There were "chutes" for the purpose of dropping hay down to the horses in the stalls below, but we preferred to use them for purposes of ingress and egress to the barn loft. There were six horse stalls on both the east and west side of the ground floor of the barn. In my earliest memories dad had six horses; Babe, Bess, Blanch, Major, Bill, and Maud. Babe and Bess were the stars. Dad would call the horses with a call that sounded like "quooooke" and they would come into their respective stalls to be fed and harnessed for the day’s work. I still don’t know how Dad knew how to put the harness on the horses. When Dad came in at noon, someone had to pump water into the tank for the horses to drink. I felt quite put upon when that someone was I—and it usually was. Dad farmed with horses until about the time that I left home in l949. Most farmers in that area had tractors before that time but we didn’t. Our older brother, Marion, farmed about 4 miles from our home place and he was much more modern. With his fancy equipment he often helped dad with combining grain, and certain other activities that seemed to require the use of a tractor the most.
The stalls on the east side of the barn were not used for horses, but rather for pens for hogs or calves being weaned from their mother. The main things I remember going on there were Dad teaching a baby calf how to drink milk and having to feed the hogs their slop, grain, or weeds pulled from somewhere around the barnyard.
There were always barn swallow's mud nests on the beams of the ceiling of the ground floor of the barn. We checked the nests for eggs and watched with interest for them to hatch. I’d like to think that we never did any harm to this process.
There were two grain bins along the west side of the ground floor. They contained wheat, oats, chop (ground corn), or kafir corn at various times. The mounds of grain made interesting places to play at times. It was not uncommon to find baby mice in nests in these bins.
A stairway with a 90-degree turn in it went from the ground floor to the loft. At the landing at the corner of the steps a board was missing from the front of the step. This was one of the perennial places that our chickens chose for laying their eggs. It was a pretty bold move to thrust an arm under the step to get the eggs if a hen was sitting on the nest.
We usually milked the cows (by hand) in one of the open lots around the barnyard, but in the winter we brought them into the barn to feed them as we milked them. Presumably, it was warmer for the milkers in the barn, but if it was, it was mighty cold out in the lot. Another aspect of doing the milking on winter mornings was you did so without seeing a thing. We didn’t have electricity and I guess we figured it was too much trouble to use a lantern. One had to have a good sense of feel.
An exciting time for the smaller kids was haying time. The hay was "prairie hay" as opposed to alfalfa or some other exotic kind of hay. The baling was done with a "stationary" bailer as opposed to "pick-up" bailers. The grass was mowed with horse-drawn mowers, raked into windrows, and then pushed up to the bailer with a device called a buck—all horse-powered. From these piles, men pitched the hay into the bailer with pitchforks. The bailer did the rest of the work by power from a tractor that was conveyed to the bailer by a pulley belt. The bales would be loaded onto a rack-wagon and taken to the barn and loaded into the loft through a window. The top bales were fairly easy to get into the window, but the farther down into the load that one went the higher each bale had to be hoisted to the window. With teamwork, the one unloading the wagon would hoist the 70-80 pound bale as high as they could and the person working in the barn-loft would stab it in midair before it fell back down and crushed the one doing the hoisting. (A little exaggeration there). This job was one of the real tests of manhood for farm boys.
Just east of the barn was the "little pasture probably about 20-30 acres) where the horses were kept and also the cows were kept at night. The cows were taken to the "big pasture" every morning and someone, mainly me, had to "take the cows out" each morning and "go get the cows" every evening. There was a pond in the little pasture that was our principle swimming hole until we were big enough to go to Silver Creek, Grouse Creek, "the gas station" north of Cambridge, or Banner’s pond all of which were deeper and cleaner. Unfortunately, our pond held water that was drained from a cultivated field just north of it along with a lot of topsoil. Consequently, one sunk into the mud up to the ankles when entering it. We didn’t mind—in fact we enjoyed smearing the mud all over our selves as a part of going swimming. When friends would come, usually from town, we would start running past the barn, through the fence, and down the path to the pond peeling off clothes all the way. Most of the time we skipped the formality of donning a swimming suit-probably because we didn’t have one. I’m still not sure why some of us didn’t drown in some of these swimming holes because there was little supervision as we taught ourselves to swim.
Back to "getting the cows" from the big pasture each evening—it was approximately a mile to the gate of the big pasture and the cows (usually 6 to 10 milk cows) could be anywhere from right at the gate to almost another mile to the east side of the pasture or the south side. Furthermore, there were hills that they could be behind at each of these points. If they couldn’t be found at the gate or spotted at some point in between, the possibility existed of going to one of the farthest points and not finding them, which meant going to the other farthest point. Also, there was a creek, which had lots of trees along it that ran through the pasture, and there was a chance that the cows were hidden among them. Even worse was the possibility that one would encounter "Jabara’s bull" in the process because Mr. Jabara, one of the town residents ran cattle in the same pasture. Our imagination probably exceeded the real danger from the bull but it did get a little scary sometimes. Incidentally, the creek that ran through the "big pasture" was called Blue Branch and it was also one of our swimming places. At the extreme south end of the pasture a bridge passed over the creek which was part of U.S. 160 highway which was still gravel in my earliest memories. All of these details about "getting the cows" usually became the source of much of the conversation while we were doing the milking.
The "chores" had to be done every morning and every evening come rain, snow, hot, cold, sickness, death, etc. Some of these, in addition to those mentioned above were feeding the chickens, gathering the eggs, watering calves or whatever else was in the various pens at the time, bringing in wood for the stove, filling the reservoir on the stove, slopping the hogs, straining the milk through a cloth into the separator, turning the crank on the separator, scattering hay or fodder for the livestock in the winter, and others too numerous to mention. The actual work involved wasn’t so onerous, since it was usually divided among several of us, but "the chores" had to be done even on holidays, or on other days that we thought were important. This may be one of the principle reasons that boys leave the farm, although modern farmers are more specialized and don’t do all these things.
The basic crops grown on our 240 acres were wheat, corn, oats, and kafir corn or maize of some kind. In my earliest memories, Dad prepared fields, planted, cultivated, and harvested these crops with only horses as opposed to a tractor. It was necessary to hire a commercial "thresher" to thresh wheat and oats. Threshing time was an especially exciting time for kids. The kick-off for this excitement was when the "threshing machine"-more technically, the separator, was slowly pulled onto our farm by an iron-wheeled tractor which we referred to as a "Rumley". I think that was approximately the brand name of such a giant tractor. It was majestic as it barely crawled onto our driveway, through the yard, and into the small pasture just north of the house. It was set up there so that the straw-stack that resulted from the threshing would be there for the livestock. More importantly, the straw-stack was an ideal place for kids to play. It seems as if it was as large as a house. We weren’t supposed to play on the new straw-stack until it had been rained on. I was never sure why, but I suppose it had something to do with settling it down so that a child wouldn’t disappear in it. Back to the threshing—it had to be preceded by the wheat or oats being bound into bundles with a machine called a binder which was drawn by four horses driven by Dad sitting on a seat that was quite high off the ground. Since this was a "once a year task" the binder had to more or less renovated each year to put it in working order. The renovation was mostly centered on replacing broken sections and guards, repairing the canvas, and overhauling the mechanism that tied the knot in the twine that held the bundles together. I never understood how this tying mechanism worked—it seemed impossible to me. Once these repairs were made, it was still touch and go all the time that the binder was in operation as to whether something would fail to function properly. The binder accumulated bundles in a fork-like device until the driver determined the proper time to release them with some kind of foot device on the binder. People then had to come along and "shock" the bundles—standing them heads up in teepee fashion so that if it rained the heads would dry out sooner. It seems like the magic number of bundles in a shock was about eight. Before the threshing could begin, the Rumley had to be stationed the proper distance from the "threshing machine" and a large pulley on the tractor attached to a pulley on the thresher with a leather-like belt. This was the means by which power was transferred to the thresher that had no power of its own.
Now the real fun could begin. A series of rack-wagons pulled by horses went out to the field where workers would "pitch" the bundles from the shocks on to the wagons; the driver of the wagon skillfully stacked them (which if not done properly could cause the embarrassment of "losing your load") and hauled them to the threshing machine; pitched them into the cavernous machine which miraculously trickled grain into a waiting box wagon while spewing straw out of a long pipe forming the "straw-stack". Kid’s involvement in this entire process ranged being told to stay out of the way (for the smaller ones) to doing chores related to helping the women prepare dinner to being the "water boy", carrying crock jugs wrapped in burlap of water to the various workers.
What special times Saturdays were, especially in the summer. There was a certain aura that existed from the time we got up on those days. Everything led up to "going to town" that evening. Even the chore of churning the butter in the barrel type churn with a dasher seemed tolerable, knowing that we would be taking the butter to the grocery store in town later to trade in on groceries. Even the "chores" didn’t seem so onerous on those days. Baths were taken, shoes were polished, and the chores were started much earlier so that we could get an early start to town. I’m sure the cows were confused by the change in schedule. When we were old enough, we kids might even start walking to town because we didn’t think we could wait for mom and dad to get ready. But even they tried to get to town early enough to get a parking place near the center of the block of businesses so that mom could sit in the car and observe the goings on. Other ladies would join her in the car to visit. After taking the eggs, cream, or butter to the store and exchanging them for groceries, and hopefully some cash, dad would visit with the men on various benches along the street or in the hardware store or some similar store. In pre-teenage years we boys (my nephew, Gene and other boys from around town) would mostly roam up and down the street, probably making somewhat of a nuisance of our selves. There were tin awnings protruding out over the sidewalk in front of most of the stores and several of them had the store’s sign hanging down just above most adults’ head. Some were higher than others were so we would show our prowess by running and jumping to touch the highest one possible. Obviously, the one who could touch the highest one was the "winner". Closely related to this exciting activity was climbing the metal poles that supported the tin awnings. The most exciting thing of all was the spending of our allowance. At the youngest age a penny was used for the purchase of a Guess What which contained a piece of candy and a prize. At a little older age a nickel could be used for a candy bar (my preference was a PowerHouse), a fountain Coke, an ice cream cone, or perhaps a milk shake at the drug store. In my estimation, the fountain Coke was a poor choice because it was so small. If one had to have a soft drink, the 12-ounce Pepsi was a much wiser choice. As we got a little older we graduated to fifteen cents or a quarter and we could possibly go to the movie, which cost 12 cents. At an even earlier time the "picture show" was an open-air building. I didn’t frequent it enough to know how much it cost. At about the age of 14, I usually provided my own spending money from raising ducks or sheep or working at farm jobs. Also, at that age and up our "hanging around" town on Saturday and other nights was more sophisticated and might even include some cautious interaction with girls.
As fairly small children, there were a few Saturdays that stood out above all others. These were when mom and dad either went to or hosted "card parties". They were in a group of 6 or 8 couples who rotated having such parties about once a month. It was a treat to go to one of these other houses to play with the other kids and to enjoy the refreshments that usually consisted of sandwiches and desert. The "grass is greener on the other side of the fence" principle seemed to apply when it came to eating someone else’s food. It was even more exciting when mom and dad hosted the group. This was one of the special times when mom would make cookies—kind of vanilla cookies covered with flour—they had no name and I suppose the recipe is lost. Her sandwiches were always chicken salad, although we just called them chicken sandwiches. Dad’s special duty on those days was to get our Coleman lamps ready for the evening as opposed to the kerosene lamps that we normally used. I never fully understood the principle by which these lamps worked, but I know that you pumped air pressure into them and the mantles had to be replaced. The new mantles looked like a small mesh bag when they were tied on to the lamp, then a protective coating was burned off. From that time on a slight puff of wind or a touch would cause the mantle to disintegrate. If this happened, dad’s usually mild demeanor could change for a brief period. The end result was a very bright light that rivaled electricity—until the air pressure began to wane.
The "going to town" activities, described above, took place in the context of a festive air that only existed in a former time. I.e., the l940’s and earlier. This festive air was as important to the experience as the individual activities that each engaged in. There was shoulder to shoulder people on the one block long business district street and in the grocery stores, restaurants, domino parlors, drug store, etc. The total effect was greater than the sum of the parts.
Another occasional special Saturday night event when I was quite young was a barn dance in the loft of our barn. Bales of hay were placed over the openings in the barn loft floor, other bales were placed around the perimeter for sitting purposes and the ‘good times’ began. To a child, it seemed that there were thousands of people in the barn and milling around the yard. It also seemed that parked cars lined the country road for at least a quarter of a mile away from the house. Although I’m sure it wasn’t always true, it seemed that a full moon always illuminated the activities. The music was a fiddle, a couple of guitars, and a banjo. Uncle George often played the fiddle and dad played the banjo. Refreshments, including mom’s cookies, were served and I’m sure there were some refreshments in the darker corners that were not a part of the planned menu. Unfortunately, these affairs were discontinued when a cracked beam which supported the floor of the barn loft, was deemed to make them unsafe.
Another special time was "butchering" time. Until the latest years that I was at home, butchering referred to hogs, not cattle. This was because pork could be "cured" and would keep for some time without freezing. I don’t know why, but this was apparently not true with beef. Since dad was kind of squeamish about these, things, our brother Marion, who lived about four miles away and possibly a neighbor, would take charge of the dirty work. This involved shooting the hog and/or cutting its throat with a knife, which I must confess didn’t thrill me all that much, either. Nevertheless, it was an exciting time. The next steps were to "scald" the animal and scrape off the hair and finally to split the carcass and remove the innards. The remaining process was moved indoors to the kitchen table where Marion cut the halves of the hog into the appropriate "cuts" which were ham, shoulder, tenderloin, bacon, ribs, etc. The pieces that didn’t fit into any of these categories were sorted into piles that became the raw material for sausage or for making lard. The "special" part of this whole process really began with having fresh tenderloin for breakfast along with the ever-present biscuits and gravy. In a precious few days it was gone. Fresh ham with biscuits and gravy was almost as good. The liver was eaten fresh with other meals. The remaining ham, shoulder, and bacon were "salt-cured" by dad and it would last for a period of a few months. The pieces reserved for sausage were ground with plenty of sage and I don’t know what else and became the next breakfast treat to be eaten with biscuits and gravy for breakfast. The pieces reserved for making lard were heated and placed in a rendering device, which was a cylinder with a sieve-like bottom. A circular plate was placed on top of the heated fat, pressed down with a screw device; squeezing out the lard and leaving the remaining substance in a round cake-like form about two inches thick. These remains were called "cracklins" and weren’t bad to chew on although I don’t remember eating a whole lot of them. Of course the lard was an essential ingredient for cooking all year round.
In the last year or two that I was at home, Herb Pickens built a frozen-food locker in Burden. This opened up the possibility of butchering cattle and storing them in rented frozen-food lockers making beef available all year long. Prior to this we had pork until it was gone some time in the spring and then we were meatless until chickens were raised to fryer size in the summer with another meatless gap in the fall after the chickens were beyond frying age and until hog butchering time.
Of course, there were always plenty of vegetables, eaten fresh at the time they were grown in the garden and canned for use in the winter. The canning is another story of much suffering by farm children, primarily picking and shelling peas and picking and breaking string beans. Mom also canned corn, other vegetables, and several kinds of fruit. My favorite canning product was crabapple jelly, made from the harvest of our one crabapple tree in the orchard. There is no appropriate description of the ecstasy of melted butter on hot biscuits capped with homemade crabapple jelly.
I entered the first grade in the Burden Public Schools in the fall of l937 at the age of five. It seems that I remember hurriedly learning to spell my name in the day or so before the first day of school. Older brothers had conditioned me for greatly fearing the grade school principal and his big paddle with holes in it to make it sting more when used. I’m sure now that was mostly myth, but I did imagine that he was a pretty fearful-looking guy when he came into the first and second grade room on the first day of school and asked each of us our name. I’m sure he already knew most of our names, especially mine, since dad had been on the school board for a number of years. His name was Earl Dyer and I learned later that he had gone through the Burden School years before. My first grade teacher’s name was Miss Rodick. About all I remember about her is that she was fairly plump and fairly young. She played a lot of records, I’m sure on a hand-cranked phonograph; one of which I remember was "The Anvil Chorus". She also played a number of records by Walter Damrosch which seem to have been a combination of story telling and music. We sat in old-fashioned school desks with a place in the top of the desk to keep books, etc., a hole for ink bottles (which we never used) and a recessed place to lay pencils. Another student sat on a seat attached to the front of each desk. The first grade sat on the right side of the room and the second on the left. There were blackboards on the front and right side of the room, with cabinets to hold things like construction paper above those at the front. There were windows along the left side of the room that looked out on Main Street toward downtown that was two blocks to the south. There was a large sand- box by the windows and either in the first or second grade we built a house in that area that was a wood frame covered with paper. It was large enough for us to play in it. Across the back of the room was a cloakroom with some kind of folding doors. Even though we only had coats, not cloaks, we still called it the cloakroom. I doubt if any of us knew what a cloak was.
I don’t have as much to say about the second grade (for which I’m sure you are thankful) because it is hard to distinguish between what went on between the first and second grade. The only thing I’m sure of is that we felt much more important when we moved to the left side of the room as second graders. It was the rule for all of the grades from first to eighth that when the bell rang in the morning and after lunch that the students in each room lined up on a curved sidewalk outside the front door and marched into the classroom. We had to take care to stay on the sidewalk for the penalty was severe for walking on the grass i.e. staying in at recess for a period of time. Some other details that apply to all the grade school years were that we had 15-minute recesses in the morning and afternoon. These were spent mostly on the swings or the merry-go-round in the early years and playing "work-up" softball, black-man, or perhaps running races on the track at the rear of the school in later grade school years. At times, marbles would be the major activity at recess. Although it was against the rules, we usually played "keeps" which meant one could keep all the marbles that he knocked out of the pot. The key to success was to take only a certain number of marbles to school in a tobacco sack and just quit if you lost them. If you were winning, you might play all day and take a sack-full of marbles or more home at the end of the day. I suppose this was akin to gambling and we did feel a little wicked for doing it. If a teacher approached the game, we would, on some kind of signal from someone switch to "funs" without a word being spoken.
We took our lunch to school wrapped in newspaper and it usually consisted of lunchmeat or sometimes pork and bean sandwiches and a piece of chocolate cake. Sometimes we had chicken salad sandwiches left over from one of the folk’s card parties. On rare occasions, when we were out of bread or something we would be given a dime to eat at a restaurant downtown. In the earlier years a dime would buy a hamburger and a bottle of pop. Incidentally, the chocolate cake that we usually had in our lunches made excellent trading material for some of the store-bought items that our friends had in their lunch. We didn’t fully appreciate the chocolate cake because we had it so much and the other kids were willing to trade almost anything for it. Believe it or not the store-bought cookies or perhaps bananas seemed like a great treat to us.
There were two grades in each room up through the eighth grade and it was always a thrill to graduate to the next room. When in the lower grade within a room one often wondered if he or she would ever be able to learn the things that the higher grade was learning. For instance, in the third grade I thought that I would never be able to master the long division that the fourth grade was doing. Of course when in the upper grade within a room one always looked down on those in the lower grade and made light of the simple things they were doing.
The school had steam heat which has a couple of related memories. The first was that the radiators which were in the ceiling of the first floor and on the floor of the second floor. It seemed that they were always making a banging noise. We just considered this the normal state of things-and maybe it was. No one seemed to give it a thought. The second was the existence of a boiler-room that contained a giant apparatus that was of course the boiler and the heating device. This room was always very warm and if one fell off the playground equipment into the puddles of water under it one would often be sent to the boiler room to dry out. Obviously "dry out" had a different connotation then. A darker use of the boiler room was as a place for the big boys to sneak a cigarette.
An institution within an institution was the janitor of the school. In my earliest years of school, the janitor was Les Moore. He was a kindly "old" man who probably did more for kids hurt feelings than any of the professional counselors of today. I use the term "old" advisedly for I’m sure he was much younger than what I would consider "old" today. He was in charge of everything from the boiler room to sweeping the building. He also rang the bells for beginning and ending school each morning and afternoon as well as for recess. It was a great thrill to be chosen to ring the bell. Mr. Moore would lift the chosen one up high enough to reach the buttons. I presume that he passed the honor around equitably.
I remember beginning to read books from the classroom library in the third or fourth grade. My favorite was about an Indian boy, the name of which escapes me. Miss Adams was my teacher in those grades. A Miss Clark was my fifth grade teacher and Miss Beamer my sixth grade teacher. I finally reached the seventh grade where the dreaded Earl Dyer, the grade school principal, was the teacher. I learned that the stories about him were more fiction than fact. Other than the fact that he was my first male teacher, there was nothing especially memorable about that experience. Perhaps we had more effect on him than he did on us because this was his last year to teach. He had taught from 1921 to 1944. Lester Lewis was the teacher in the eighth grade. He was a rodeo performer as well, primarily calf-roping. I participated in the grade school band, playing trombone, and begin to play junior high basketball in the seventh grade.
Upon completion of the eighth grade, I finally reached that lofty level of high school. All the grade school rooms had been on the first floor of the school and high school meant moving up to the second floor. In high school, each student in all four grades had a permanent desk in the Study Hall, a large room in the center of the second floor. There was a raised stage area at the front of the Study Hall that was used for assembly programs and also as a library area. The high school library at the very front of the Study Hall was overwhelmingly large compared to the classroom libraries in the grade school rooms. Some books that I remember reading are A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Kings Row, The Shepard of the Hills, and Dragonseed as well as several other Pearl Buck books. Going from the Study Hall to classes in various rooms with different teachers was the epitome of sophistication compared to the grade school system of fixed classrooms and teachers.
Some where in this range of time I began driving the family car (a 1929 Chevy) to school. I was thirteen when I entered high school—I might have driven to school the previous year. We didn’t worry about the niceties of driver’s licenses and insurance in those days. I had learned to drive in a 1929 Chevy and somewhere about this time we got a 1936 Chevy which was quite a step upward. To our parents cars were only a means of getting from one place to another—with these places being not far apart—so the only repairs that were made were those necessary to keep the car running. Consequently, a broken window stayed broken, a door that wouldn’t latch was held shut by whatever means were available, brakes that didn’t work well were compensated for by not driving in places where brakes were essential. It was only when a kid became strong enough to get the maximum braking power from the mechanical brakes and experienced enough to make use of the gears that he could park the car diagonally at a sloping curb. Otherwise, one might jump the curb and crash into a storefront. During the summer between my junior and senior years dad bought a dark red 1946 Chevy five-passenger coupe. Since this was l948 it meant that our car was only about two years old--the newest we had ever had in my memory. What a thrill! It was such a good-looking car that I almost washed and waxed the paint off of it.
Memories of my freshman and sophomore years of high school are pretty general. I participated in basketball and baseball at the junior high and second team level. In Manuel Training, as we called it, I made a coffee table and an end table from walnut wood. The coffee table disappeared at some later time but the end table is presently in my office at home. I remember generally having a good time at school during these years. Between my freshman and sophomore years, I worked most of the summer for my oldest brother, Arthur, who had a farm about five miles west of ours. My first assignment was to haul wheat from a combine, which Arthur operated, in a trailer pulled behind a 1934 Ford. For some reason the first loads were to be shoveled into a grain bin (perhaps this was oats which were used for livestock feed). The trailer was filled to the top and scooping that load into the granary was by far the biggest and most difficult job I had ever encountered. I don’t know how long Arthur had been waiting with another full bin in the combine when I finally finished and drug myself back out to the field. Thereafter I was given smaller loads to scoop off into the granary. When we got to the wheat, the work consisted of hauling the trailer into Burden to the elevator. This had a certain amount of tenseness to it as the trailer had to be pulled up a steep ramp into the elevator with a 1934 Ford with a manual transmission and questionable brakes. After the harvest was finished, the remainder of the summer was spent cultivating corn and plowing the wheat and oat land that we had harvested. Although I had driven a car before these experiences, I had not driven a tractor in fields before and I had a lot to learn being a farmer. I was fourteen during this summer. I was paid five dollars a day and began to experience some sense of being on my own, financially, from that time. (As far as spending money was concerned, that is)
During my freshman year, I became acquainted with Raymond Butler and we quickly became fast friends. At some time during that year, his parents were moving to some other town. Our telephone rang before breakfast one morning and it was Raymond casually telling me that his parents were moving and asking if he could come and live with us. I relayed the question to mom and dad and in the same phone call we all agreed and he promptly moved in with us. He lived with us until we both graduated from high school. I’ll have to confess that it was nice to have someone to share "chores" with as well as having my best friend living with me. I suppose that the whole community considered us like brothers from that time on.
After my sophomore year, more through Raymond’s aggressiveness than mine, we got a job baling hay with another farmer along with two or three of our other high school friends. He had a self-tying pick-up baler and in addition to baling his own alfalfa he did custom baling for others. The various related jobs were mowing, raking, stacking bales on a wagon behind the baler, and unloading the bales into barns or other facilities. We got paid by the bale, which turned out to be pretty good pay when we were actually baling. Unfortunately, it was often too wet or there were equipment failures which kept us from baling at which times the boss would put us to work hoeing the garden, or various other farm jobs at no extra pay. This was not good employee relations and I’m afraid our attitude showed it. On one of these days after a storm had blown down some trees, some of them into a pond or creek, he assigned some of us the job of trimming them up for logs. (He said later that they were valuable walnut logs) Afraid that we might get into the water and enjoy it too much, he instructed us that any of the trees that fell into the water we could leave alone. With no malice aforethought we cut some of the trees in such a way that the pieces did fall into the water into order to shorten our job. When he came to check on us he made the observation that we had cut some forty dollar logs in two and generally showed his displeasure. We severed our relationship with that employer that day.
Raymond and I got another job, this time on a hay baler that did not automatically divide the bales and tie them with twine. It required a person riding on a seat on one side of the baler who "blocked" or divided the bales by inserting a block at the right place and inserted two wires through the block that reached to the other side. Another person (me) sat on the other side and "tied" the ends of the wires together. We did custom baling, going from farm to farm all over the community. Dinner (we would call it lunch, now) was prepared by the lady's) of each farm, usually fried chicken. Working on this baler was very dirty, requiring wearing a mask for breathing purposes. Baths took place in creeks or ponds.
The following summer, when I was 16, Raymond, another high school friend Doby Conner and I moved in with Raymond’s sister and her husband in a little town named Riverdale a few miles north of Wellington, Kansas. They both obtained jobs working on the railroad as section hands and I got a job in a sheet metal shop in Wellington where Raymond’s brother-in-law worked. The shop manufactured sheet metal tops for jeeps that were in great abundance for a few years after World War II. I made 65 cents an hour. The town telephone office was in our house and we all chipped in to "run" the switchboard. We would hitchhike home most weekends, a distance of about 30 miles. None of us had a car. I don’t remember how we always got back to be on the job each Monday morning. I suppose we hitchhiked back on Sunday evening.
I entered my senior year of high school following this summer’s work. It was the last year of what now seems to have been a very pleasant high school career. After doing my share of "bench-warming" for baseball and basketball teams in earlier years, I participated as a "starter" in those sports during my senior year and also was a part of the track team. I played first base in baseball, doing fairly well in the field but not being much of a hitter. I ran the "220", some relays, and pole-vaulted in track, not setting any records. Basketball was my best sport and I must modestly say that I was the "star", but at the same time admit that our team didn’t set any records. I averaged about 12 points a game, most of them being from what we now know as the 3-point range and on one occasion I scored my highest level of 22 points. I must admit that I had no clear vision of what I wanted to do with my life upon the completion of high school. I don’t think that many of us gave much thought to our future, but rather just followed existing opportunities as they occurred.
This war was going on from about the fifth grade through the sophomore years of my life. It obviously had a large, but not a well-defined, impact on my life as well as everyone else’s. I remember the Sunday afternoon of Pearl Harbor. Our family was visiting another farm family that afternoon. As usual, we were in town that evening and I can still remember a rather hushed and somber atmosphere that prevailed in the stores and on the street where many of the townspeople and farmers regularly gathered. The first direct impact that I remember was that my brother, Richard, was the first of our family to be threatened by the military draft. It sounded rather exciting to a 9-year-old, but at the same time I could sense that Mom and Dad began to carry a heavy burden with 8 sons potentially exposed to war. In fact, Richard was the first to enter the military in 1942. Bob, the next older brother than Richard entered next, then Joe, then Tom. We took great pride in having 4 stars on our service flag that hung in our living room window. I remember the anticipation and the joy of receiving letters from all of them, but I’m sure that we kids had no real understanding of what they meant to Mom and Dad. Occasionally, especially interesting letters would be published in the Burden Times. The most traumatic event of the war was when the telegram came informing us that Bob’s plane had been lost over Germany and he was therefore "missing in action". This status eventually was changed to killed in action. Richard, Joe, and Tom came home in the normal course of events when the war ended. I must confess that I had a certain sense of disappointment when the war ended because to a 14 year-old the prospect of going to war seemed rather exciting and romantic.
The war caused us to get our first radio, a battery operated one, for the purpose of being able to listen to the "war news". In addition to learning the war news a whole new world was opened up to us kids with radio programs such as Lum and Abner, Jack Armstrong, Henry Aldrich, etc. We did have to limit our radio listening because of the limited life of the battery and the limited availability of new ones caused by shortages brought about by the war. Shortages of various goods, such as tires, gas, sugar, and many others made "rationing" by the government a way of life. Food stamps, for rationing purposes, A, B, C, stickers for our cars (which indicated our assigned priorities for gas and tires) became a way of life, which we gladly accepted as our patriotic duty. Items that were not officially rationed, such as candy bars, were nevertheless in short supply and it was a kind of status symbol to be on a merchant’s preferred customer list (unofficial, of course) when a shipment of these kind of things came in.
Patriotism was a way of life during this war. We collected scrap metal, bottles, etc. for the war effort, we knew all of the military service’s fight songs, we all could draw caricatures of Hitler, Mussolini, and Hiro-Hito, we treated uniformed servicemen with awe, and we learned about war bonds and stamps. We learned to recognize all kinds of military planes and we would watch them from one horizon to the other when they appeared in the sky. We could identify the ranks of the military from the insignia on their uniforms.
Although I didn’t think that much about it at the time, leaving high school and home is a significant change in one’s life. Mom and dad never overtly tried to get me to stay on the farm, but I think that I knew that they would have been very pleased if I had. I'm not sure now whether I especially wanted to get away from the farm or whether I was sub-consciously just following the pattern of Tom and Richard. I suspect that mom and dad had mixed feelings and wanted a better life for me than our kind of farming had to offer. Nevertheless on the night of high school commencement, four or five of us guys stayed up all night ending up in Wichita at Don Bailey's sister’s house the next morning. Our objective was to go out to Boeing and get a job making lots of money. We all applied but strangely I was the only one hired. I soon found that the personnel manager was a college friend of Richard’s from Southwestern. Now I was really on my own in Wichita, the others all going back to Burden to seek their fortune. I was a sheet metal fabricator’s helper, earning a dollar an hour plus ten cents for working the second shift which was from 4:30p.m. to 1:30a.m.
I rented a sleeping room on the third floor of a large old house in the 1300 block of North Topeka (or Emporia) for seven dollars a week—with a bathroom down the hall. I’ll have to admit to some loneliness and perhaps downright homesickness for a while in this strange new life. Fortunately, another young man who roomed in the house worked at Boeing and had a car and I joined his carpool, having no car of my own. Tom and Chub lived in Wichita at the time and they naturally saw quite a bit of me. After a few weeks one of my classmates from Burden did land a job at Boeing and we shared a sleeping room in the 300 block of South Market, very close to downtown. I later learned that the room we had was the same room that Ralph had lived in when he first moved to Wichita after his first wife died.
I was adjusting to my new life, with no greater plans than working at Boeing the rest of my life when one night at work I was confronted with a demand for my birth certificate. This was a reminder that I had informed the company that I was 18 when I applied and my birth certificate was going to indicate that I was only 17. I had no choice but to comply and I was promptly dismissed that same night. Actually, they were very nice about it and noted in my file that I would be eligible for re-hire when I turned 18. So much for that career!
The summer was almost over and Tom and Chub were planning a vacation trip to the Ozarks. They invited me to go with them and I accepted against mom’s advice (they hadn’t been married a year). I think they really did want me to go as their driver, because Tom never did like to drive very well. It was a great trip from my viewpoint and as a historical matter it was my first visit to Branson and the Shepherd of the Hills Farm. The only fame that it had then was as the home of Harold Bell Wright, the author of The Shepherd of the Hills, and few people visited there. Little did I know that 50 years later it would be one of my family’s favorite vacation spots. This very Christmas season our entire family plans to go there for a weekend.
Upon our return, I made the momentous decision that since I didn’t have a job that I would go to college. Bob Bailey, Don Bailey, and Virgil Carrier, had gone to Wichita University the year before. They, along with Raymond Butler and I enrolled in the fall of l949. We rented a basement apartment in southeast Wichita that was a couple of bus transfers from the campus for $45 a month. Yes, it was pretty crowded. We cooked most of our meals, at least to begin with, cleaned very rarely but in general got along pretty well. Don had a 1939 Chevy, the only vehicle among us. When our schedules didn’t match we rode the bus. In general, we all had a good time. We formed an intramural basketball team, which was coached by Tex Rutledge, the owner of a Mobil service station where Raymond had obtained a part-time job. I had an appendectomy around the end of the first semester. We moved to another basement apartment a little closer to school during the year. Bob and Don checked out at the end of the year and Virgil, Raymond, and I got an above ground apartment near the service station where Raymond worked and where I also got a part-time job at 50 cents an hour. Raymond and I pretty well ran the service station during the next summer, as Tex didn’t like to work all that much. We would often get to the golf course (a sand green one) at daylight on Sunday morning in order to play 18 holes of golf in time to open the station at 9:00 o’clock. The other mornings we had to open the station earlier.
Virgil had obtained a white-collar job in the municipal library during this year and had been befriended by a middle-aged lady named June Manneschreck. Her daughter, Joy, attended Harding College and June introduced them on one of her visits home. They were members of the church. Joy and Virg soon were "going together". Marilyn and Joy were roommates at Harding and following their sophomore year (l949-50) Marilyn scheduled a visit to Joy’s home in early August. In order for Virg and Joy’s plans to be together to go uninterrupted they needed to find a date for Marilyn on a Saturday night. Raymond and I were the likely choices and since he was scheduled to work that evening, I was the final choice. Who says fate doesn’t play an important part in our lives? We played miniature golf and went to a drive-in. I’m still trying to figure out what hit me but I’m still thanking my lucky stars that it did. I called Marilyn at Joy’s house the next morning from the service station, saying many brilliant things, I’m sure, but the main accomplishment was to establish that it would be all right to come to Kansas City to visit her in the near future. She said it would! I wasted no time in making arrangements to borrow mom and dad’s car for Labor Day week-end when Virg, Joy, and I set out for K. C. in their l946 Chevy. This must have been one of the most exciting trips of my life. The excitement was dulled just a little when we blew out a tire around Newton, Ks. on the way. The new tire absorbed a good chunk of the money that Virg and I together had. We arrived on Friday night, spent Saturday, Sunday, and part of Monday in what has to be one of the best weekends of my life. In addition to the courting that was going on we enjoyed all the sights of a great city. Marilyn’s folks put all of us up and I suppose you could say ‘put up’ with us, so the purpose of getting acquainted with them was accomplished, also. In addition to beginning a love affair with Marilyn, this weekend also began a love affair with Kansas City. It was my first visit there and in this one weekend we covered most of the attractions not to mention the general beauty and excitement of such a large city. Some of the attractions were Swope Park, the Plaza, Union Station, the World War I Memorial, and the Wyandotte County Lake. We spent a romantic Sunday afternoon boating on Wyandotte County Lake. Another disaster was about to occur, however. On the way back to Wichita on Monday, the engine of Dad’s car conked out near Strong City, Ks. We had to call Virg’s older brother, Cecil, in Wichita and ask him to come and get us. It was a good 100 miles each way and I’m sure he enjoyed every mile of it. After a few days, Tom took me back to Strong City to get the repaired car and I delivered it back to Dad in more or less as good condition as when I took it.
Marilyn began a job at her old high school, Washington Rural, in the fall instead of returning to Harding and I began my second year at WU. We began writing to each other often and visiting each other as often as possible. I think our next visit was when Marilyn flew to Wichita for a weekend. Quite impressive! Other than that trip, we sometimes caught rides with friends, and otherwise took the train for our approximately monthly visits to each other. A lot of nostalgia and romantic memories are associated with those train trips—especially arriving or leaving from the landmark Union Station in Kansas City, Mo. Marilyn’s first trip to Burden and to my parent’s home was that Thanksgiving in l950. We rode with Jim and Norm in their 1949 Chevy from Wichita to Burden on heavily snow-covered roads.
A major problem was beginning to develop. Since Virg, Joy, and Marilyn were all 19 years old and had finished two years of college, it seemed best to leave the impression that the same was also true for me. It wasn’t. I was l8 and just ready for my sophomore year. In fact, Marilyn was 20 before I was 19. I faced the problem squarely, and told her the truth in a letter rather than in person, assuming that the relationship was over. For some reason, it wasn’t—I guess she liked younger men. Anyhow, I was glad to get that off my chest. Tom and Chub invited me to move in with them at the beginning of this school year and I also began to work part-time for Tom in the bookkeeping firm in which he was a partner. I guess that it is obvious that I owe a lot to them. I was able to remove one burden that I was to them by buying my first car in the spring of l951. Up to that time I had been using their car pretty much at will, as well. The car was a 1940 Ford Deluxe two-door sedan. It was maroon and had an overdrive. I paid for it by selling my herd of about a dozen sheep, which Dad had been caring for back on the farm. There was one more punctuation mark in my trips to see Marilyn. On one of my return trips from Kansas City the lights went out and I hit a bridge crunching the right front end of the car. Guess where—Strong City, where Dad’s car had quit us on the first trip to KC. It turned out not to be too serious and with brother-in-law Jim’s expertise we were able to buy and attach a new fender which was almost the same color as the rest of the car.
I’m sure that Marilyn’s Christianity was one of the most significant elements of her character and personality that swept me off my feet. I attended church with her regularly from the time that we met and in the fall of l951 I was baptized at the Waverly Church of Christ in Kansas City, Kansas by A. R. Keppel.
Our long-range courtship continued until Thanksgiving in 195l, when we were engaged while I was at their house for the holiday. We set the date for January 24, l952, and began the countdown. Incidentally, Virg and Joy had become engaged also and set their wedding date for January17, l952. All went as planned and we were married at the 7th Street Methodist Church in Kansas City, Ks. We settled in Wichita in a duplex owned by one of the elders of the Riverside Church of Christ. It was at 845 Buffum in the Riverside area. I continued with my last year of college, having cut off a half year by going to summer school. Marilyn soon went to work for the Brown-Ginzel Insurance Co. in downtown Wichita. After a few months we traded the 1940 Ford in on a white 1951 Chevy and we were in tall clover. We enjoyed our first year of marriage in Wichita very much. By the end of 1952 the Korean War and the related military draft had picked up steam and I was preparing to graduate and launch my career in accounting. I had taken the CPA exam in November. I fully expected to be drafted soon but I had chosen to be drafted for two years rather than join the Air Force or the Navy for four years. This was one of those problems that solved itself when we learned that Marilyn was pregnant with a due date in August, 1953, which was within days of a cutoff date after which the pregnancy would have had no effect on my draft status. As it was, I was reclassified and never threatened with the draft again.
During the Christmas holidays of 1953, I obtained a job in Kansas City, Mo. with Ernst &Ernst, a national public accounting firm. After my graduation in mid-January we loaded all that we owned on a rental trailer (covered with a tarp tied down with rope) and hit the icy road to K. C. It was bitter cold and I had to re-tie the tarp frequently, making it a rather long and unpleasant trip. We temporarily moved in with Marilyn’s folks and I reported to work on January 24, 1953, to begin my career. We stayed with Marilyn’s folks until December, 1953, when we bought a two-bedroom house at 5607 Yecker, in Kansas City, Ks. for $10,200. In the meantime, Donald was born on August 18, l953, in Providence Hospital in Kansas City, Ks., beginning a whole new phase of our lives. Donald was a near-perfect child in all respects and with our new baby, home, and a reasonably good job, life was good. I learned that I had passed two parts of the CPA exam and I completed it in May, l953. Marilyn stayed home with Donald for the first year or so after which she took a secretarial job at Trader’s National Bank in Kansas City, Mo. near where I officed. One of the reasons for this decision was to make it possible for us to buy a new car, a turquoise and white 1955 Chevy! Marilyn’s mother took care of Donald during the day for about two years when Marilyn became pregnant with Linda. Linda was born August 8, l957, in the same hospital that Donald was born. She too was near perfect and life continued to be good.
My work with Ernst & Ernst was primarily in the auditing field. It involved some regional travel, but not enough to be a problem, and the experience that I gained was invaluable. I was promoted to a manager’s role in l958, and took on the jobs of staff recruiting and scheduling in addition to overseeing several auditing jobs.
Mom died of cancer in May of l958.
We had begun to have an interest in a larger house and perhaps a better neighborhood and Marilyn found an ad about a new addition in Johnson County called Empire Estates. The houses that they described were almost identical to a house plan that we had drawn up and one visit there sold us on the move. We were able to have some adjustments made to the house plan and have it built from scratch. By our standards, it was somewhat of a mansion with two living areas, two dining areas, two bathrooms, and three bedrooms. All of the rooms were fairly large. It was a French Provincial style with black trim and some brick trim. We thought we had died and gone to heaven when we moved into it in August, 1959. Donald was six and Linda was four. It was at 4200 West 97th Terrace in Overland Park and cost $26,000. Sam and Esther Munn built a house across the street from ours at the same time that we were building. We became life-long friends starting with the daily visits to the construction sites to oversee the building of our houses.
We placed membership at the Overland Park church, which was located at 67th and Woodson at that time and made many other lifelong friends among the members there. We are in close contact with some of them over 30 years after having left Overland Park. Donald and Linda both went to Linwood grade school at 99th and Mission Rd. and Donald went to Nall Hills Jr. High during the eight years that we lived in Overland Park.
In 1961, an opportunity arose to become the controller of Cook Paint and Varnish Co., one of the largest local companies in Kansas City. I had begun to have some concern about the kinds of responsibilities that lay ahead if I continued in public accounting, such as the social aspects of obtaining and keeping business, so I accepted the job at Cooks under Vice President Harold Fisher who had also worked at Ernst & Ernst in earlier years. I began the new job in January, 1962. This was an excellent position, although one harrowing project was the conversion of all the accounting functions to what was considered to be a very sophisticated computer system at the time. It wasn’t easy to convince some of the old-timers that the computer was here to stay. I think most of them were convinced by the time I left the company in l967. Dad died in July of 1962.
Sometime in l965 or early 1966, Marilyn and I had begun to discuss the possibilities of my going back to school and going into college. I had even made an exploratory trip to Arkansas University. We had mentioned the possibility to Richard who was a professor at Oklahoma State University and he had the occasion to mention it to James O. Baird who was the President of Oklahoma Christian College. In his typical fashion, Dr. Baird called me at work at Cooks one day and invited us to come down to visit about coming to OC. We made the visit in March of l966, with a follow-up visit in July, and by December we had decided to make the move. It involved a salary of about one-third of what I was making and a three year stint in graduate school, but we decided that it was a change that we wanted to make. So, in May, 1967, we ended an eight-year period in Overland Park, which in many ways were golden years with respect to every day life in the suburbs, church, neighbors, job, and our family.
Marilyn’s Mom and Dad had also moved to Johnson County in l959, the year that he retired. They a nice house on a large lot on 69th Street in Prairie Village where he planted lots of trees and did lots of gardening. This was their first move from the house that they had built in Wyandotte County when they were first married. We spent a lot of time at their house, especially for Sunday dinners. Donald and Linda did a lot of playing in their large yard.
We sold our house for about the same as we had paid for it eight years earlier and drew up plans for a smaller house to build in Edmond. The general plan of it was like Tom and Chub’s house in Wichita. John Pruitt built the house for us before we moved. We only saw it once while it was under construction. We made all of the decisions that have to be made about decorating, etc. while still living in Overland Park and passed them on to Mr. Pruitt by mail or phone. We arrived at the finished house on Memorial Day week-end in l967 and found Mr. and Mrs. Pruitt doing the final cleaning and that they had done everything that we had requested perfectly down to Donald’s red carpet and Linda’s blue carpet in their bedrooms. Though the house was smaller and cost considerably less than the one we had in Overland Park, it had many qualities superior to it. Donald and Linda were 9 and 13, about to be 10 and 14 in August of that year.
We placed membership at the College Church, I immediately enrolled in summer school at OU and began the 35 mile each way daily commute to pursue a doctor’s degree and Marilyn and the kids settled down in our new environment. Edmond was more of a separate town of about 12000 in those days. Smiling Hill was one of the few new additions and there were none of the additions scattered through the hills surrounding Edmond. Donald enrolled in the only Jr. High, Russell Dougherty, and Linda enrolled in a fairly new grade school, Orvis Risner. There was only one high school, on 9th Street, from which both Donald and Linda later graduated. Church and OC activities soon became the focal point of our lives as they have been to this day. Our primary reasons for making this change in our lives was to be associated with a Christian College both from the standpoint of making a living and for the whole family to enjoy all of the related activities.
The last 33 years leading up to the year 2000 have passed like a blur. Since this is being written primarily for the benefit of our kids and they lived these years just as we did. I’m sure that their children would enjoy seeing these years through the eyes of their own parents when they one day have the time to write their memories.
Howard Leftwich 1999.