MY LIFE ON THE PRAIRIE
By Geneva Janu [Berry] Barnett
Reprinted with permission
A WORD FROM THE EDITOR
History is filled with exciting events. How can the excitement be captured and retained? One easy way is to ask people, especially “old timers” to tell their stories and recollections to a tape recorder.
Another way is for people to write their recollections. This is what Geneva (Berry) Barnett has done. While in the hospital recovering from two hip surgeries, she filled two large notebooks with recollections from her childhood and early adult life. To these she gave the title “My Life on the Prairie.”
Because Geneva very early became “mother” to seven children, her formal schooling was at best only intermittent. To help readers of this story, some editorial changes were necessary. However, much effort was made to keep the personal and emotional quality of the story. I assume responsibility for all errors that may be found in this manuscript.
Who were Geneva’s grandparents, her parents, her brothers and sisters? The answers to such questions are contained in the Preface written by one of Geneva’s brothers, Russell Berry.
John Clark Berry was one of seven sons and three daughters of Christa C. Berry and his wife, Nancy Jane Carrico of Cass County, Missouri (south of Kansas City) and Greene County, Illinois (north of St. Louis).
John (1879-1931) married Minnie Belle Stevens about 1901 and they had two sons, Robert and Eugene. Robert was born in 1902 and Eugene in 1903. Belle died in 1906 and the John married Clara Belle Burch in 1908.
Clara’s parents were Albert and Tamson Reddish, but Tamson died and Albert then married Susan Johnson (Trimble, a widow with one daughter, Mae Trimble. Clara had one sister, Anna (Mrs. Alfred Gilbert) and a brother, Andy Burch. Andy lost his hearing and, therefore, never learned to speak.
Clara’s first child was Geneva Janu (Mrs. David Earl Barnett). She is the author of this story, “My Life on the Prairie.” She was born in 1909 and hence was 6-7 years younger that Robert and Eugene. Clara’s second child was Lois Tamson (Mrs. Herbert Barnett, later Mrs. Ray Ellis, and currently Mrs. Frank Swiderski). Both were born in Illinois.
Shortly after Lois was born, the family moved to North Dakota where John farmed at Steele (near Bismark) and Harvey (southwest of Devil’s Lake).
But soon “free land” in Canada could not be resisted. John filed on a 320 acre homestead north of Bitter Lake and Clara’s brother Andy filed for a homestead on the south side of Bitter Lake near Hatton, about 30 miles east of Medicine Hat, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Bitter Lake was aptly named: it is very salty. It is a long meandering lake formed when a prehistoric glacier dammed an ancient river bottom.
It was on this Bitter Lake homestead that Russell LaVerne was born in 1914; Nancy Jane in 1915; Dorothy Lucille in 1916; and Allie Auger in 1917. To get title to his homestead, John became a naturalized British subject in 1915. His naturalization paper also declared that Clara and all the children “acquired the status of British subjects and are Canadian citizens.”
During the World War I years there was ample moisture, heavy wheat yields and high prices. The family prospered and by 1918 John brought his family back to Illinois. Here he bought a farm near Elsah, Illinois and farmed from 1918-1922. It was here that Clara, after giving birth to eight children and 13 years, died at the age of 34 in February, 1923.
That spring, John sold his Elsah farm and bought a Dodge panel truck, converted it to what may have been one of the first mobile homes, and took his eight children back to Bitter Lake. Why go back to Bitter Lake? Well, he owned a 320 acre farm there and it needed a farmer. Crops had been poor and there was danger that the farm would be lost. Perhaps it could be saved. But who would take care of the children? Well, Geneva was 13, Lois 12, and Russell 10. They could look after their younger brothers and sisters. So despite all arguments from friends and family and many tears, the family returned to Bitter Lake.
The crop in 1923 was fair but prices were poor. In 1924, there was a total crop failure. The wheat grew only hand high and had to be grazed.
To keep from selling the cattle and horses, the family moved to Uncle Andy Burch’s homestead south of Bitter Lake. Soon it was necessary to move again in search of pasture and forage for the livestock. John rented a farm on the bluffs overlooking Frenchman’s River near Eastend.
The move to Eastend was made in early fall. All the family goods, furniture and farm marchinery were loaded onto wagons (one was a “covered wagon”, a converted “bundle rack”). It took several days to make the trip. The cattle were driven the hundred miles from Hatton to Eastend. The family enjoyed the stop in Cypress Hills. At Eastend, the pastures and crops were much better. John and Andy joined the threshing crews. The next year, a fair wheat crop was produced but it was impossible to keep the family together. Hence the children spent the winter of 1925-1926 in an orphanage in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, and returned in early spring to relatives in Illinois.
Soon Geneva and Lois were making their own living as cooks, maids, nurses aids and factory workers. They married brothers. Geneva and her husband, David Earl, lived for a time in East Prairie, Missouri, but eventually they returned to Granite City, Illinois. Geneva has one daughter, Diana B. McGinness and three grandchildren, Julie, Christopher and Timothy, and two great grandchildren, Keely Meyer and Tarynn McGinness.
Lois’ husband, Herbert L. Barnett, joined the Navy. They had two children, Beverly and Herbert II. Lois now has several grandchildren and great grandchildren. Following the death of her husband, Ray Ellis, she married Frank Swiderski. She has written Pioneer Homesteader (1986) which tells of her childhood and adult recollections. The stories of the other Berry children remain to be told.
Russell L. Berry
(revised by Diana B. McGinness)
OUR HOMESTEAD ON BITTER LAKE
My parents were John Clark Berry and his second wife, Clara (Burch) Berry. I was born on December 23, 1909,at my grandmother’s, Nancy Jane Berry, house in Kane, Illinois. I was delivered by Dr. Foreman, the town doctor. Anna Burch, my mother’s sister, worked for Dr. Foreman, and she was on hand for the delivery. Dr. Foreman later hired Dad to operate his farm in North Dakota. Aunt Anna went with us, as mother wasn’t well. We farmed either in Harvey or Steele, North Dakota, until it was time for my sister, Lois, to be born. My father then sent my mother back to Grandma Berry in Kane and Dr. Foreman delivered Lois. Lois was born in 1911. Aunt Anna said Lois was a pretty, fat baby and came into the world smiling. She also said mother had trouble with her lungs before she married dad. After Lois was born, we returned to North Dakota and this time my father bought a tractor, which I loved. My father met a Norwegian family, the Ringdahl’s, and they became good friends. The Ringdahl’s moved to Saskatchewan, Canada, and found they could homestead a farm, so my father followed them up there.
In 1911 my father homesteaded a farm near Hatton, Saskatchewan, Canada. There were two brothers, Robert and Eugene, from my father’s first marriage, and two girls, Lois and Geneva. We moved into a small house. Shortly after moving in, my father returned to Illinois to attend his mother’s [Nancy Jane Berry] funeral. While he was gone, my mother, Robert, and Eugene dug a basement under the house to make room to live. I wanted to help, but I was told, “Get our of the way, Geneva; you’re too little.”
When our father returned, he was surprised at how my mother had dug the basement. She made the kitchen in the basement and even had room for a bed.
I remember it was a very cold winter, and we didn’t have shoes, so we were not allowed to go outside. When spring came, it was a very busy time. Grandma and Grandpa Burch, Aunt Anna, and Uncle Andy, mother’s brother, came to see us. A new house and a new barn were built. A well was dug, and a windmill erected. Those were “happy days”. The day we moved the old house next to the new house was something. The old house was to be used as a coal house. The house was moved by placing it on logs and rolling it while the horses pulled. Lois cried her eyes out. She just couldn’t understand why the house was moving. Everyone was working while we children were finding whatever we could to play with. The gophers were running everyplace and at night the coyotes howled way into the night.
There was a sheep corral near Bitter Lake. The sheep herder would drive his sheep by and tell my brother about crippled sheep he had left at the corral, and that my brother could have them. Sometimes they were just babies, and we would feed them with baby bottles and fix up their legs. Sometimes we had several sheep.
We had three neighbors living close to us. Mr. and Mrs. Ringdahl and their daughter, Sofia. Also, Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson and Mrs. and Mrs. Needrum, who had three or four children. Sofia we played with the most. We would play house with her. We had lots of fun learning to speak Norwegian. One day I saw Sofia running down the road calling to us. My father sent me to see what she was yelling about. I ran up the road to meet her, and she said, “My dad said to tell your dad to get the ‘grease’ (hogs) out of our ‘tater patch.” When I told my dad what she said, he laughed and said she was talking about the hogs, “Go run them out.”
One day our dad told us the government was paying two cents a tail for gophers. He showed us how to take binder twine, make a loop, and lay it around the gopher hole. Then you take the other end, which is about four or five feet long, and lay it down on the ground. You wait until the gopher pokes his head up to look around, then you pull the string, and there, you have the gopher. It was fun. Most everyday we would go gopher hunting. We would play with the gophers, then collect their tails for dad.
In the spring, the ducks lay eggs all over the fields, so we went duck egg hunting. Mother would cook them, and often we had duck eggs for breakfast.
Cactus thickets grew all over the prairie, and what pretty flowers they had. They also were bad on our feet, since we went barefoot all the time.
There was a spring about halfway between our house and Bitter Lake. Until the well was dug, Robert and Eugene would bring water in barrels drawn by a cow to our house. The barrels sat on a homemade sled that was also used to haul stone off the land. It was always fun to get water.
In the winter, we played in snow houses we made. The snow was so deep we had to shovel snow paths to the barn and around the house. The mounds made great snow houses.
A new brother arrived, Russell. He was a beautiful baby, and dad was always playing with him. Dad always played more with the new baby as each one came along.
Lots of evenings, Lois and I would play cards with our brothers, Robert and Eugene. My mother would sit and rock Russell, while we played. Dad had teased Lois and me about black people. We had never seen a black person. One night dad blacked his face and came in while we were playing cards and told us to go with him. Lois and I told him “No.”
He picked us up and carried us outside and put us down in the snow. He told us we had to walk. My shoe came off, and I begged him to let me get my shoe. He said, “No, I can’t wait for that.” After he got us about ten feet from the house, he said, “Stay here, I’ll be right back.” As soon as he was gone, we made a beeline back to the house. We couldn’t figure out why mom and our two brothers didn’t put up a fight for us. They only laughed at us. Robert went out and found my shoe. Pretty soon dad came in and said, “I’ve been telling you, if you weren’t good, a black man would come and get you.” Later we found out it was our dad; he had just blackened his face.
Spring and summer came, and the wheat was so tall. We had lots of fun playing hide and seek in the wheat field. We had to go slow so as not to trample or shake the wheat, or they would know where we were hiding.
One day my mother told me she was very sick and sent me to the neighbor to ask her to come as fast as she could. I looked at my mother and knew she was very sick. My two brothers and dad were in town and wouldn’t be back until late. I ran to the neighbor whose house was about two blocks away. As I ran, I kept remembering how my mother’s face looked “scared to death.” It was autumn and I kept getting stickers in my feet, but I was frightened and did nothing to get them out. When I reached Mrs. Ringdahl’s house, I knocked as hard as I could until she came to the door. I told her mother was real sick and to come quickly. She got a funny look on her face and said, “Well, I don’t know what I can do.”
I said, “Oh, you must come, she is really sick.” I took her hand and started pulling her. She started walking, but very slowly. I kept begging her to walk faster as I ran ahead of her. We finally made it home and we found mother lying on the bed. Mrs. Ringdahl shut the door and kept me outside.
She said, “Geneva, will you bring me some water? Also gather some cow chips and start a fire in the cook stove. When that is done, you may go and play.” I went to find Lois, when I finished. She was catching gophers on the slope near our house. I told Lois our mother was sick and we couldn’t go in the house. We hung around the house until Mrs. Ringdahl told us we could come in and see our new baby sister. Mrs. Ringdahl was sitting in the rocking chair rocking the baby. She uncovered the baby’s face and let us take a look.
I looked at it for a minute and said, “Oh, no, she’s not my baby sister. She is black.” Mrs. Ringdahl said she would be white as soon as she got older. My father and two brothers came home. We were told our new sister’s name was Nancy. After a while, mom was busy with our new sister and we found we had another playmate, Russell.
Wheat harvesting came. Dad and the boys would get jobs harvesting the wheat. Big piles of straw were placed into stacks. It didn’t take us long to have lots of fun on the straw piles. We would climb to the top and slide to the bottom. We played hide and seek and covered up with straw. When winter arrived, Dad, Robert and Eugene brought a wagonload of ice and buried it in the straw so we could have ice the following summer.
In the winter, we played cards, and the boys would dare one another to run around the house barefooted. Robert was a big teaser, always getting the best of Eugene. Sometimes after we played cards, Robert would razz me, Eugene would razz Lois, and bet one another who would go to sleep first. Russell would be put to bed early because he was still too young to stay up. He didn’t know how to play cards, but he tried hard to do everything we did. We usually fell asleep listening to the coyotes howling outside.
The spring following Nancy’s birth, there was talk of war. Dad registered in the Canadian Army and was waiting to be called at any time.
Mother’s brother, Uncle Andy, had homesteaded a farm across Bitter Lake. His homestead was only about half a mile from our house, but the only way to Uncle Andy’s was around the lake, about twelve miles. The men talked about building a barge to cross the lake. It would be much closer than going around the lake to take the wheat and produce to Hatton to market. Dad and Uncle Andy built the barge.
Once the barge was completed, flagpoles were set up on both sides of the lake. The barge was pulled across the lake by a team of horses when everything was loaded on it. The flag was raised so Uncle Andy would know when to pull the barge across the lake. My brother, Bob, would drive the team on our side of the lake. The flags were used because Uncle Andy was deaf. All the farmers used the barge to haul their crops to Hatton.
One day, Dad came home to get the gun. One of the horses, Dolly, had gotten into quicksand and was sinking in it. They tried to pull the horse out, but had no luck. They did get the harness off the horse. Dad figured shooting the horse would be a better death. We didn’t know there was quicksand around the lake. Mother asked dad not to shoot the horse, “Can’t you get it out?”
“No,” daddy said, “we’ve given up trying, nothing else to do but kill the horse.” We all loved old Dolly and hated to know she was going to be killed. We all stood in the yard and watched daddy take the gun and go back to the lake. We couldn’t see the lake from our house because it lay on the other side of the hill. We never saw Dolly again.
World War I was still going on, but my father was never called. His age and the children kept him out. Of course, they didn’t want a deaf man, so Uncle Andy didn’t have to go either. Robert and Eugene were too young.
None of us were going to school. My father and mother talked about school, but there was nowhere country children could go. Robert and Eugene had gone to school before moving to Canada. Lois and I had none. Russell and Nancy would be ready to go soon. Dad said we were too far away from school and there was talk about building a school the following year. There was still no school in sight the next year.
Eugene never went to work with dad and Robert. Dad would always tell him, “Eugene, you stay home and get the cows milked and help your mother.” Eugene would rather have gone with Bob to work, but our dad had a loud voice, and when he gave an order, it was done.
That spring, we saw the evening sky become very beautiful. It was blue with all the colors going through it. Mother thought the lord was coming. It turned out to be the sun shining on the icebergs, reflecting in the sky.
In April, Dad went to Uncle Andy’s and told Aunt Anna to come quickly as her sister, Clara, was about to give birth. Aunt Anna had just put her wash on the line and left a note telling Andy where she had gone and asking him to bring the clothes in by nightfall. And, so arrived another sister, Dorothy. Aunt Anna told me all children were born this way. Nancy, who Mrs. Ringdahl delivered, came in seven months, and that’s why she looked black. Aunt Anna said Mrs. Ringdahl didn’t know anything about childbirth, and mother had had to tie the baby’s cord. Around our house, a doctor was never called. Either mother or dad took care of everything that happened.
Another year came. Dad and all the farmers had another big crop. The wagons were again passing by. Uncle Andy and Bob managed the barge. Mother and dad were talking about school again. Sofia had been sent to a state school. Dad thought he had better get us back to the United States so we could go to school. Mother did not want to return, saying surely the school would get going in another year.
I had not heard a cross word between my parents in my life before. As time went on, dad insisted my mother come back to the States and the argument became pretty hot. One day my father bought my mother a beautiful black fur coat. He told her he was sending her and the children back to the States. I was eight years old then and was thrilled at talk of taking a trip on a train. I had never seen a town and couldn’t wait to get started. My mother didn’t seem pleased at all with the coat dad had bought her. She put it on, and I thought she was beautiful, and I asked my mother if she liked it. She said, “Oh, I like the coat, but I don’t want to go back to the States for a coat.” Dad got his way and we packed up our clothes, loaded the wagon, and headed for town.
One of the mares had a colt, and Dad put it in the barn saying it was too cold for it to go. We were on our way. We arrived at the edge of the lake, and dad drove the team onto the barge. Bob raised the flag, and we were off. I was so thrilled that I couldn’t stay in the wagon. I wanted to stand on the barge. There were other men on the barge with us. When we made it to the middle of the lake, we looked back and what did we see? The colt Dad had put in the barn. Dad became upset and said the colt would never make it across the lake because the water was too cold. The men took the rope and threw a lasso over the colt and dragged it onto the barge. They dried the colt with wheat sacks, and it went all the way to town with us.
I bet my eyes were big when I first saw the town with all those lights. It looked so pretty. The streets had boardwalks. We stayed in a hotel that night. The next morning we were to take the train. It was my first time I ever saw a train, much less ride it. I was having the time of my life, I thought.
My dad and two oldest brothers stayed behind. Dad had to find a renter for the farm and have a sale to dispose of our belongings. I enjoyed riding on the train. It was two or three days until we arrived in Illinois. Grandma and Grandpa Burch were there to meet us. We rode another wagon to Grandpa’s. His home turned out to be a log house. He had lots of brown chickens and woods surrounded the house. I was not used to woods. In Canada, it was prairie and cactus. Everyday Grandpa would throw corn out to the chickens. He would call the chickens and some would come and some would not. He always put more corn out than they could eat. I said, “They already have corn, why are you putting out more?”
He said, “Well, they like bugs and green stuff better than corn, but I want to keep enough corn out so they will grow big and won’t be hungry.” I soon found out they didn’t lay eggs in the hen house either. We would search the woods looking for eggs. About every two days, Grandpa would have two big crates to carry to a neighbor to sell for him in town.
One day, Lois, Russell and I went to help Grandpa carry the eggs to the neighbor. As we came back through the woods, Grandpa set an old log on fire. After he had it burning good, he said, “Come on, we’re going to the house.” We all started, but Russell slipped back to the fire unnoticed. We had just made it to the house, when we heard Russell running and crying through the woods. We looked and saw he was on fire. Mother ran out to the gate toward him. The gate was barbed wire, and Russell rolled under it. His clothes were burned off, and he had some burn spots, but, as always, mother took care of him herself. Russell was soon as good as new.
I always got a big kick watching Grandma bake biscuits. She raked ashes out on the stove hearth and put the biscuits in a pan with a lid on it. Then, she covered the pan with ashes, and in a little while she pushed the ashes off. She would uncover the best biscuits you ever ate.
One morning in December, we woke up to find we had a new brother, Allie. Our dad named him after a grocery store man he had traded with in Canada. Dad wasn’t there for Allie’s birth. He arrived in January. I never knew why it took him so long to come. After he arrived, he rented a house in his old hometown, Kane, Illinois. It was a small country town with about a hundred homes. The house Dad rented was three or four homes from grandmother’s old home in Kane.
Dad’s mother had passed away while we were in Canada and his younger brother, Wiley, and his wife lived on their parent’s farm. I can barely remember my Grandmother Berry. I though I was a big girl and wanted to help my mother wash the dishes. Mother tried to talk me out of it by telling me Grandma wouldn’t want me to, afraid I might break the dishes. I went to the door, and I saw her sitting in a rocking chair in the dining room reading. That is the only recollection of my Grandmother Berry. That imprint has always stayed with me. I do remember helping mother after I told her grandmother was reading and wouldn’t see me. We were probably staying there just before leaving for North Dakota.
Lois and I started school. It was our first school. We were nine and ten years old. The grades taught were from the first through the eighth grade. We were, of course, as big as some eighth graders. Also, we were not used to other children. We had only known one other girl, Sofia, while living on the prairie. The other children didn’t treat us well. They thought we were too dumb. They wouldn’t even let us walk on the sidewalks. They pushed us into a road ditch and made us walk home in it. We were not used to being in a town and were lost trying to find our way home. One day we walked right into another home, thinking it was our home.
DAD BUYS A FARM IN ELSAH
Spring came, and we moved from Kane to the country near Elsah, Illinois. The new farm was only a mile from town. Bob and Eugene came, too. Sometime that summer Dad returned to Canada. Eugene did the plowing. We put in a garden and a patch of corn as feed for the chickens, horses and cows. Lois and I started doing our share of work. We learned to milk cows, fry chicken, get in wood for mother, and cook. We learned to “set the hen” and gather vegetables from the garden for mother. We also were sent to town for groceries for mother.
Eugene was grown up. One day I saw him plowing the fields. He stopped the team and leaned against the plow handles. He took out a cigarette and started smoking. He made me promise not to tell mother. He also told me he was tired of working for nothing. He was getting so he didn’t want to do his work. Dad came home before too much trouble started.
That fall dad took a job harvesting the “Old Maids” pear crop. We all helped with this work, so we started school late. It was fun picking pears. Dad and Eugene climbed the trees and Lois, Nancy, Russell, and I would pick up the pears that had fallen on the ground. None of us minded working. It was just another day of playing. We never had toys to play with, so our work was our play. Soon the pear crop was picked and we were back at school.
We went to the school in Elsah that year. The town was so different from Kane. The houses were built of rock. Even the school was built with rock and was two stories. The higher grades were taught upstairs, the lower on the first floor. The teacher always began class with roll call. Next we would sing a song and pray before we began to study. The children at Elsah were nice to us. They let us play games with them and take our places like all the other children. We all enjoyed going to school. We had to walk a mile, but even that became fun.
In the winter the creek would freeze and we would stop to ice skate. I thought I was a pretty good skater. Then, one day, the ice broke, and I fell into the water. I nearly froze walking home. I was told there would be no more skating for me.
There was a long hill by the school. The children would bring their sleds to school. We didn’t have a sled, but the other children let us use theirs. Two could go down at once. Oh, it was fun going to school at Elsah.
I don’t recall where Eugene went after dad’s crop was harvested. I think he went to his Aunt Bess Fresch, his mother’s sister. Robert didn’t come home from Canada that fall. He stayed with Uncle Andy near Bitter Lake.
Dad worked that winter cutting down an old apple orchard on our farm. I think Eugene helped him before he left.
One day a shocking letter came to mom and dad from Uncle Andy. It read:
Dear John and Sister,
I don’t know hardly know how to tell you this. But Bob has accidentally shot a man and he may be in trouble. I thought I’d better write to you about it. There was this neighbor here that had a boy in war. Since the war is over now, he’s home. He has been coming over here to play cowboy with Bob. Riding the horses and shooting a pistol. Well he was over here and I was cooking dinner and you know Bob. If there is anything to read, he always got a book and read. Well he was sitting here reading and the Army boy was cleaning his gun. I had just told Bob that I needed some water and to go and fetch me some. Well Bob was putting on his overshoes to go get the water. He had just put on one overshoe when this boy handed him his pistol. Next thing I know it went off shooting the Army boy in the stomach. Bob dropped the gun and ran to the boy and so did I. We put him on the bed and undressed him and patched the wound. Bob and he talked together but me being deaf I couldn’t hear what they were saying to each other. I left them there and went to Hatton for help. They have taken the boy to the hospital and he was still alive when they left here. I really don’t think he has much of a chance to live.
John, you might need to come up here in case he does die. Bob may be in real trouble. I don’t know. I’ll let you know when something else turns up.
About two weeks later another letter from Uncle Andy arrived. This letter read:
Dear John and Sister,
I’m writing to let you know more about Bob. I understand the boy told the “law” it was an accident. Bob had not meant to do it. The boy died day before yesterday and feelings are running high here. Bob was in Hatton yesterday and some of the boy’s friends tried to overtake Bob on horseback. Somehow, Bob got away from them. We are afraid they will lynch him. Bob left this morning to go to the States. He had some money. Enough to get him to the line if he walked some. I don’t know how he will make it. The police were here looking for him, and the gun. They couldn’t find it. I think Bob was so afraid he did away with it. I know you are worried but we can only hope he makes it.
The next letter came from Bob himself. The letter read:
I’m here at this town near the border. I have to wait my chances to get across the line. I know Uncle Andy has written you what happened. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but will be home as soon as I can get across the line. Don’t worry, I’ll make it.
I’ll never forget when Bob returned home. Dad was plowing potato rows, and I was dropping potatoes behind dad’s plow. Bob came to me first and threw his arm around me giving me a big hug. Then he said, “Hey, Sis, do you like chocolate candy?”
“Oh sure,” I said, “you got some?”
“Sure,” and he took a big flat cake out of his hip pocket and said, "Here, take a bite.” He held it out and I took a big bite. Chewing tobacco. It didn’t take me a minute to spit that out. Darn him, he always was a big tease. He was just the same old Bob. He went over to dad who was leaning against the plow handle watching us. After talking to Dad, he went into the house to greet the rest of the family. In a little while, mother called us to dinner. Everyone was so excited.
The thing I remember best was dad saying, “Well, Son, tell me how did you get across the Canadian border?”
Bob said, “Well, dad, I didn’t think I was ever going to make it. I just hung around the border. I noticed cars running through the crossing. The border cops would get on their motorcycles and go after the car. While they were gone, an old Ford came through loaded down, I figured with whiskey. The Ford drove through while the cops were after the other car. After crossing, the Ford turned down another road going the other way. I was so surprised, I didn’t even cross. This was going on about every day. So one day after I’d seen so much fun, I just walked over the line and came home.”
We were all happy about his return home. Even Eugene returned and stayed a week before going back to his Aunt Bess Fresch.
One of dad’s brothers, Uncle Elmer, moved into a farm about half a mile down the road with his family. They had two girls and two boys. The older girl, Virginia, was a beautiful girl with long dark hair. She had been going away to high school and had come home for summer vacation. Mildred, the other girl, was also a very pretty girl with long red hair that she wore in curls. The oldest boy, Lyndon, was tall with dark hair. Spencer was short with red hair. Bob really liked our cousin, Virginia, and every chance they got they were together. I heard my uncle and dad talking one day. They were afraid it was going to get “out of hand.” I also heard my dad having a talk with Bob. He told him he should remember she was his first cousin. I heard Bob say, “I know, Dad. Don’t worry; nothing is going to happen. I do like her a lot. I only wish she wasn’t my cousin, then I could like her a lot more.”
One night we were awakened by our dad, telling us to get dressed. He took us over to our Uncle Elmer’s. Aunt Viola got up and made a bed for us. I couldn’t figure out why we had to get up in the middle of the night to go there to sleep. The next morning I was told I had a new sister at home. When we arrived home, we saw our new sister, Lola. She had dark hair and brown eyes.
Virginia left to go back to school. Eugene came home. Bob bought a black and white dog. It was a beautiful dog, all black with a large white ring around his neck, white feet, and a white tip on his tail. We called him Ring. He was such a loveable dog with children. Dorothy and Allie were only one and two years old. Ring would lay by the stove to sleep, and Dorothy and Allie would lay with him, most of time using him for a pillow. Whatever the children did to Ring, he didn’t seem to mind.
When the men were ready to go hunting, they would blow into the gun barrel. Ring would hear the loud noise and get excited, barking, and off they would go. They would bring back the opossums alive, and kill and skin them at home. One morning, Bob told me, “Sis, you should see the pretty cats I brought home last night.” I asked where they were and was told they were outside in the wheelbarrow with a tarp over them. I just had to take a look. I raised the tarp, and did I ever get sprayed with the most stinking perfume you ever smelled! I ran into the house. I thought mother would die. She made me take a bath and change my clothes.
Bob didn’t stop at that. He gave me one of those pretty cats for a pet. And what a pet it became. Believe it or not, that skunk never released his perfume unless he was hurt or scared. Mother wouldn’t let us bring it in the house, so we put it in the basement. The basement was dirt with an outside door. The skunk would come out and eat with the cats and follow us all around the farm like a dog. Ring didn’t harm it either. He knew it was a pet. It wasn’t afraid of Ring either.
Mother had been staying up until midnight making lunch for the hunters. One night mother told them she was too tired to stay up. Bob volunteered me to stay up and make biscuits. I tried to get out of it because I had never made biscuits. He said I could learn and mother told me she would tell me how. I was all set. I made the biscuits and they were ready by midnight, sitting on the oven door. Bob came in, picked it up and bit into it and said, “Darn, Geneva, that’s hard as a rock.”
I said, “I told you I didn’t know how to make biscuits.” He picked them up and started throwing them at me. I ran out the door into the yard with biscuits flying past me.
One night Bob told Lois and me we could go hunting. We didn’t think we could do it, but Bob assured us we could. He said, “All you have to do is blow into the gun barrel, and Ring will know you want to go hunting. Then just go across the branch up the hill into the woods. Ring will tree an opossum. All you do is shake the tree, and the opossum will fall out and play dead. Ring won’t kill it. Just pick him up and put him in the sack.” He gave Lois the gunnysack and me the shotgun. It felt so heavy. There were no shells in the gun. Bob said, “You don’t need shells, just catch the opossum on the ground and put him in the sack.” We had so much fun, we caught opossums just like Bob said, almost too many to carry home.
That fall we went to White Oak – a county school. The school was about a mile from home. Our cousins, Lyndon, Mildred and Spencer, went with us. We had play with them the previous summer, and we were all good friends. We would go by our cousins on the way and all walk to school together. In the winter, we would go ice skating on the frozen creek. That was always fun.
That year, I remember, the teacher had us draw a map. We were to get a prize for the best one. I drew a map of the United States, and did, I thought, a really good job. Even the teacher thought so. But she took the map away and gave it to someone else who couldn’t draw, telling me to draw another one. It was much harder. I didn’t do as well with the second one, but I got stuck with it anyway. I was so hurt over it, I don’t recall who received the prize and didn’t care.
One evening we arrived home from school to find Dad and Bob cleaning a hog. Dad wanted to hang the hog on the cedar tree to finish cleaning it. They were trying to figure out how to get it onto the tree. Finally, Bob told Dad to put the rope around the tree and he would carry the hog over. Dad didn’t think Bob could carry the hog because it weighed about 300 pounds. Bob said he could do it. They took the guts out and Bob carried it to the tree. After they finished cleaning it, they took the hog down from the tree and took it to the table to cut it up. After cutting it up, they took it to the spring house to let the meat cool. After supper, they went to bring the meat in and found a ham missing. Poor old Ring got the blame. Dad wouldn’t let us feed him because he wanted him to get hungry enough to dig up the ham. We watched Ring everyday for a week, but he never did dig up the meat.
When spring came, Bob and Eugene left. They probably went to Kane to be with their Aunt Bess Fresch. Farming began. A large truck patch was planted. Also, corn and hay. One day, Dad said, “Geneva, you and Lois take this pail of corn and the hoe and replant the corn down by the bridge.” We went down to the field, looked over the rows of corn, and found the patch Dad wanted replanted. Mildred, who lived across the bridge, wanted us to come and play. We were afraid Dad would be mad if we didn’t plant the corn. After talking it over, we decided we would plant a handful of corn in each hill. We worked hard at getting rid of the corn. We thought Dad would think we didn’t do the work if we didn’t get rid of it all. Once we finished, we played with Mildred until dinner, then went home. At dinner, Dad asked, “Did you girls get that corn planted?” We told him we did. He asked, “What did you do with the rest of the corn?”
We said, “We planted it all, Dad.”
“You planted it all?” he asked. “There was enough corn there to plant three fields like that one! I should tan your hides. I’ll see what you’ve done, when it comes up.” When it came up, we had to go back out and thin out the hills.
One day, mother and I were hoeing the garden. We saw a snake running across in front of us. I started running after it with my hoe. Mother was calling for me to stop, but I wouldn’t listen. I just kept on running and hitting at it with the hoe. Finally, I chopped it right in two. Both ends of the snake just kept on running. I was so surprised, I just stood there and looked at it run. I walked back to mother and said, “Did you see that snake, both ends of it ran after I cut it in two?”
She said, “Yes, I know. That was a blue racer. Had you run away from it, it would have run after you.”
After the garden came in, Dad got a job hauling garbage from Chautauqua. My dad decided I could sell milk, chickens, and vegetables from the garden. I had never handled money, so Dad would sit down at the table with me every night and teach me how to make change. I left every morning, riding a horse named Bluebell. She was a pretty horse, with white stocking feet. Mother would price everything. Most of the time, I sold everything and took orders for the next day. I did get into trouble one day. I had two chickens left that hadn’t sold. I was taking them home, when two ladies came out onto the road and stopped me. They saw I had two chickens left and wanted them for a cheaper price. I argued that I couldn’t sell them for less, as Dad didn’t sell for less. They suggested that since I hadn’t sold the chickens, they didn’t think my dad would mind. They talked me out of the chickens for much less. Dad raked me over, when I got home. He wanted to know who talked me out of the chickens. When I told him it was the last house in Chautauqua, he said, “Yes, I know them. I’ll have a talk with them. Don’t you ever do that again.”
One Sunday, Uncle Charley came to visit. Lois, Russell, and Nancy had been playing and watching the cows feed along the road because the pasture was going dry. Dad was gone, hauling garbage. Uncle Charley had driven his car and we all wanted to go for a ride. Uncle Charley wouldn’t take us. We were pretty mad at him because he wouldn’t. So we figured out a way to get even with him. We placed rocks in the road about a foot apart and covered them so they looked like piles of dust. When Uncle Charley came down the road, we jumped aside to watch. Uncle Charley speeded up thinking he could just mash down the dust piles. He got such a surprise when his car hit those rocks. He sure had a bumpy ride. We all laughed at him. Then we saw our dad coming, and we knew we were in trouble. He, too, took the bumpy ride in his truck. He ordered the rocks removed immediately and as soon as we were finished, we were to come home. We figured we were in for it. When we arrived home, to our surprise, dad only asked us if we removed the rocks, and why we had put them there. We told him it was to get even with Uncle Charley for not letting us ride with him. Dad said he “would let us off this time, but to never do it again.” I really think he got a kick out of it, but didn’t want us to know.
Uncle Elmer went to Oklahoma where our uncle, Dr. Andy Berry, lived. He found he could make a living, so he wrote Aunt Viola telling her to have their furniture shipped and to come to Oklahoma. Our dad helped her pack the furniture and put them on the train. Lyndon came to say goodbye to me and gave me his books, as I would be ready for his grade the following year. I was tickled to death to get them. I knew it was hard for Dad to buy shoes for school, much less buy books. We said goodbye to Aunt Viola, Mildred, Spencer and Lyndon. Virginia was already in St. Louis with Aunt Viola’s sister. She was visiting her aunt before going to Oklahoma. A week after they left, we heard Aunt Viola was very sick. The next week, we learned she passed away. I felt a great loss as I loved my Aunt Viola very much. Uncle Elmer brought her home to be buried in Kane. None of us were able to attend her funeral. Afterwards, Uncle Elmer and his family returned to Oklahoma.
It wasn’t long until we had new neighbors, the Mayberry family. They seemed nice, and dad spoke well of them. They had one son named Herman. I was glad to have a new kid to go with to school.
Dad was still hauling garbage and I was still selling late garden produce and milk at Chautaugua. I always got a kick out of going through the gates. This town was a summer resort for the rich. Most people came from St. Louis. There would be large boats coming up the Mississippi at night to put on shows and sometimes there would be dancing. Chautauqua had a toll-house with a police guard at the gate. To get in, you had to have a pass. One morning someone was trying to get in without a pass. A line of cars had gathered. I was already late for my deliveries, people were waiting on me for milk for their breakfast. Now I was going to be even later. Sure enough, when I was finally able to pass, people were waiting for me. At least this helped me get to the other customers on time.
I had one customer who lived in an underground house, it even had a dirt floor. The dirt was loose, so when you walked on the floor, you left your footprints. I never saw anyone other than the man who bought things from me. One day, he told me he would leave a note on the table listing the items he wanted, if he wasn’t there. I was to leave the things on the table, and he would pay me the next day. I told him I would have to get my dad’s approval first. Dad said he knew the man, and the arrangement would be all right. The first time I found the man gone, I opened the door to a set of stairs going down into a basement. It was one big room, everything was nice and clean and in place. The floor was swept and clean. I saw the table with a note on it. I walked to the table to get the note and turned around to see my tracks all over the floor. I figured he would be mad, but he wasn’t. The next day when I saw him, he paid me. The people there treated me wel,l and none of them tried to haggle over the prices, except those two old ladies. Most of the people knew my father, as he was their garbage man.
One day, Bluebell, my horse, was losing her shoe. I was coming home when I saw her limping. I had her raise her foot and saw the shoe was coming off. I limped her into the blacksmith shop at Elsah to get a new shoe. I really loved Bluebell. I used to steal sugar for her. She loved sugar. She would eat it out of my hand.
When summer was over, Chautauqua closed. People went back to their homes. The gates were locked, but dad had a lot full of fat hogs. He sold the hogs and bought an organ. He said he was going to teach us how to play. Dad was a pretty good singer, and he could play the organ, the French harp and the guitar. He would have Lois or me hold the French harp, so he could play both the French harp and the organ at the same time. He would play and sing songs. I learned that dad learned to play “by ear” and he thought we could learn as well. Lois and I tried many times, but we couldn’t. So we didn’t try anymore. Mother would sometimes hum a tune. She would never laugh out loud though, only smile really big.
With summer over and the closing of Chautauqua, our workload slowed down a bit. We just had to milk the cows and feed the calves. We always separated the milk and sold the cream. Then we added bran to the separated milk and fed it to the calves in a bucket. If they were young, they would suck your fingers. We had to feed the hogs before we left for school and make sure there was enough wood on the porch for mother. Sometimes we would catch up and walk with Herman Mayberry. Sometimes, he had to go on without us, as we had so much work to do he was afraid he would be late.
We had a man teacher this year. It was my first man teacher, and I was wondering if I would like him. Herman didn’t have any books when he started to school. I guess I wouldn’t have had any either if it weren’t for Cousin Lydon. I was in fourth grade then, and I really liked to go to school. I wanted to pass as I was getting to be a big girl. I had never though much about how big I was getting until one day a man came to visit my dad. I heard him tell my dad, “Man, you’ve got two good looking gals here. Someday soon you’re going to have trouble keeping the boys away.”
After two or three weeks of school, one morning Dad said, “Well, Geneva, I’m going to have to take you out of school for a few days. Your mother is getting out of wood.” He said, “It won’t be too hard though. I got my truck rigged up to cut wood. All you have to do is help me lift the log. I got the back wheel jacked up with a belt on the wheel. I’ll start the truck, and it will run slow. We’ll cut some of the pole trees and Bluebell will draft them up. Then we’ll saw them up. The rest of you kids can go to school.”
When we finally got it cut and hauled to our house, I returned to school. I looked for my books and they were gone from my desk. I asked the teacher, and he said he didn’t know anything about them. He asked if I had my name on them. I said, “No, but they have my cousin’s name on them. He gave them to me.” Herman wasn’t at school that day and I found the books in his desk. The teacher asked how he was to know they had been given to me, that my cousin could have given them to anyone. I said, “He wouldn’t give them to anyone, and his name is Berry, same as mine.” That night I told Mother and Dad that Herman had my books in his desk. They both thought it would work out.
“Just ask him for them tomorrow,” they said. The next day I jumped Herman and he said Lyndon had just left the books at school and since he, Herman, had gotten there first, he was claiming them. He wouldn’t let me have them. Mother and Dad told me maybe I’d better talk to Mrs. Mayberry and tell her what happened. Before I talked to her about them, she had talked to the teacher. Herman said he got the books at school and that was where Lyndon had left them. Then I told her I had had the books at home all summer and if I didn’t get them back, my Dad was coming to talk to her. She said she would talk to Herman. I got the books the next day from Mrs. Mayberry. She said she was sorry it all happened. Herman and I became good friends by the time school was out.
Farming was getting underway and my dad put me to work plowing the fields. It seemed awful hard for me at first to turn the walking plow around at the end of the field. As time went on, I got pretty good at it.
That year the farm was put in navy beans. I did most of the plowing that spring. I finally ended up on a riding plow. For the life of me, I don’t remember if I had four horses or six. I drove a wagon to the field taking feed, water, and my lunch. I stayed all day. I fed the horses and watered them at the wagon. I ate my lunch, then hooked the team back up and plowed all day ‘til dark. That kind of plowing wasn’t as hard as the walking plow. It was a little harder handling the horses. Those were good teams. After the plowing was done, Pa used the good team for planting while I had to use an old blind mare and an old mule. At one point I had to harrow the ground and then drag it down smooth so we could find the rows. Fanny, the blind horse, was bad enough, but that old mule would just stop in the middle of the field and just stand there. Whipping him did no good. I thought he was just old and poor. I don’t know why I didn’t even feel sorry for him. I just thought he didn’t want to work. Later when Mother and I went picking blackberries down by the pasture, there lay the poor old mule. He was laying in the hot sun. Mother started breaking off tree branches to lay over him, so I helped her. By the time Dad arrived home, the poor old mule was dead.
Old Fanny had to be led to water down to the creek every day. I fell in love with her even though she stepped on my feet. Even to this day, my big toe nails are a mess because of her.
I was only eleven years old when I did all this work.
After the crops were in, we had it easy through the summer. We got Pa’s garbage barrels and played with them, rolling them down the hill. We would roll two at a time to see who could roll the fastest. We played in the branch (creek) and found pretty rocks (geodes). We discovered there were jewels inside the rocks. The rocks were round and, when broken, it looked like diamonds inside. We would swing on the grape vines and go swimming in the branch.
Mother was glad when I took the children with me to give her a rest. There were five of us to play now. We would go to the woods to play and pick flowers. We would always pick a big bouquet to bring home to mother.
It rained so much that year Pa’s navy beans weren’t growing too good, sorta slow. One day Pa was coming home in the buggy pulled by Bluebell. As he got to the middle of the creek, I heard a roaring sound. I looked again and saw the water washing the buggy down the creek. Bluebell was trying to hold the buggy, but the water was washing it and Pa away. Bluebell went down the creek with the buggy. I sure thought they were gone. Then I saw Bluebell and Pa coming back. Pa was still in the buggy. It hadn’t rained a bit where we were, but it had rained a flood above us. The flash flood had come from above us. That was the only time we had a flash flood while we lived there.
It soon became harvest time, and our fun was over. Pa cut hay, and we hauled it to the barn on a hay rack. It had to be pitched up to the hay rack, brought in, and piled up in a stack, then put in the loft. It was also time to cut the navy beans. Pa cut all but one field, which was too small to cut by machine. So Pa told all five of us to pull the beans up by the roots. We laid them in piles, five rows at a time. I suppose it didn’t take too long, but we thought it was forever.
One evening Russell and I went to get the cows in. I was in the road and, of course, barefoot. Along the road came an old steam thrashing machine driven by a young man who thought he would have some fun. He blew the whistle real loud, and I jumped a foot high into the air. He threshed Pa’s navy beans and the next day he teased me about being a “jumping frog.” I guess he sure liked me. I wasn’t going to be 12 until December so I wasn’t thinking about boyfriends at that time.
During the winter we had shoes to wear to school. Usually they didn’t fit very well as Dad would buy shoes on sale and bring home six or seven pairs, just guessing the size. Mine would be too small, and I would have to wear them a month before they felt good on my feet. I still have corns on my little toe. They didn’t bother me much because I went barefoot most of the time.
One Sunday I found a funny paper and was lying on the bed face down reading it. Lois came in and said, “Geneva, let me cut your corn.”
I said, “Cut my corn?” I looked at her and asked what she was doing with Pa’s razor. She said she was cutting her toenails. I told her she had better put it up before Pa got her. She said he wouldn’t know and that she wanted to cut my corn. I told her to get out, that it wasn’t bothering me. I started reading the funny paper again. Then she took my foot and raised it up and missed the little toe, cutting a big gash on the inside of the next toe. I got up, and we had a fuss about it. Mother found out Lois had Pa’s razor and made her put it up. Mother helped me wrap a rag around my toe. Of course, the next day I had to plow again. It was clay dirt, and the clay would fall back into the furrow and hit my cut toe. When I thought I couldn’t make it another round, I stopped the team and called for Lois. She finally came out to see what I wanted. I was so mad I gave her a piece of my mind and made her bring another rag to wrap my toe. I’ll never forget that day. She brought the rag, but wouldn’t get too close to me. She finally laid it on the ground and ran like everything into the house. I guess she thought I’d hit her if she got close enough. As mad and hurting as I was, I still had to laugh at her running into the house. That night Pa went to shave and asked who had been using his razor. When he found out about the razor and my sore toe, he talked about using the razor strap on Lois, but didn’t. He told her if she ever got his razor again, he would use the strap.
The fall before my 13th birthday, Pa was elected to the school board. I heard my parents talking about the teacher that had been hired that year. They said she was blind in one eye, but was the best they could get for the money.
That year I learned a lot about sex. I had to do a lot of fighting. I soon learned the teacher was boarding at the Price home across the road from the school. The Price family had two boys, ages 14 and 15, and a girl, age 12. Elmer was the oldest, then Richard and Alice. My breasts had grown until they began to show. The boys noticed. Every chance they had, the would hit me with a hockey stick. When we jumped rope, they would raise the rope so I would trip and fall. Even Alice whipped me with the branch of a tree. I couldn’t fight the three of them. The Jenkins kids didn’t seem to know what to do either, but they didn’t try to harm me. I tried to tell the teacher, but she didn’t seem to want to do anything. One day in school, Alice whistled in class while she was sitting behind my sister, Nancy. The teacher looked at Nancy and said, “Nancy, I heard you, you can stay in at noon for that.” I was so burned up, I raised my hand. When the teacher asked me what I wanted, I told her Nancy didn’t whistle, because she couldn’t whistle. I told her it was Alice who had whistled. The teacher said, “Oh yes she did. I heard her.” I let it go until noon. Everyone left the room except Nancy and me. The teacher told me to leave. I told her I would leave when Nancy went with me. Then I told Nancy to come with me, that she was not staying in. Nancy didn’t want to come, thinking she would get in trouble. I just picked her up and carried her out. The teacher tried to talk to me, but I wouldn’t listen. We all went to the creek to skate.
Five days later the teacher was letting the younger students out early to go home. Lois and Russ had made it part of the way up the hill when Richard Price raised his hand and claimed to see them fighting. The teacher told Richard to call Lois and Russ back. When they returned, she asked them why they were fighting. Lois said she had forgotten her dinner bucket and was trying to make Russell go back and get it for her. Russ said he didn’t want to. The teacher told Richard to get a switch to whip them with. She told Lois and Russell to stay after school to get their whipping. I knew Richard was so pleased he got his way again. How I hated those Price kids. They always got the best of us. The teacher whipped Lois, but when it was Russell’s turn, he took
the stick away from her, broke it over his knee and threw it away.
About the middle of that school year some new kids, Betty and Bob, moved in. Betty was around the same age as I, and we became good friends. She soon saw what the Price kids were doing to us and asked why I let those kids treat me that way. “Well I can’t fight them all,” I told her.
She replied, “You can now. I’ll help you.”
Believe me every time they did something to the Berry bunch, we did it right back. After a while, they saw they couldn’t get the better of us, and they wanted Betty’s friendship.
The Price boys started teasing us and making passes at us, writing sex notes to us during school. They threw paper wads at us and did things at their desks to draw our attention. The teacher would always blame everything the Price kids did on other kids. One day the teacher told me if I didn’t stop looking at Elmer Price, she would make me sit with him. He was always throwing paper wads at me, and when I would look at him, he would make a face at me. I tried not to look at him for he just made me mad. One day the bell rang just as I was taking my seat (I had to sit down sideways then turn my knees under the seat). The teacher claimed I was looking at Elmer. She came over to my desk and tried to make me get up and go sit with Elmer. I held onto my seat and wouldn’t get up. She struck my knuckles with a ruler until I had to let go.
At recess, I told her I was quitting school. I started getting my books, when she said, “No, you’re not,” and made me leave the room. At the end of the day, I gathered all my books and took them home. At home, mother was making biscuits. I told her I was quitting school. She asked me why, and I told her about the sex notes and how the teacher had wanted me to sit with Elmer. It was the first time I ever spoke to my mother about sex. I was not sure how she felt about it. She didn’t get angry or anything; she just listened, and when I finished, told me to go milk the cows and she would “talk to your Dad about this”. I was still milking when Dad came to the barn asking me what kind of words those boys were using at school. I was afraid to tell him thinking he might whip me. He kept asking me until I said the word. He told me if I ever used that word again he would beat me to death. Then he saddled up his horse and rode away. The next morning I was told to go to school. When I got to school, the school yard was full of people, buggies, horses, and cars. I learned my dad was on the school board, and he had gone to all the board members. All the children were sent outside, and each child was then called in to talk to the board as needed. At the end of it all, the Price boys were expelled. The teacher was allowed to finish the school year. So, I finished the school year and became good friends with Betty and Bob, her brother.
Bob began carrying my books on our way home, until we had to go separate ways. Bob was very nice to me and kind. I guess he was my first boyfriend, only I didn’t know about love then. I only knew he was a nice kid and I liked him. I hated it when school was out and I wouldn't see him again. We were looking forward to the next school year.
Spring came again and Dad was readying everything for planting. This year he was putting in a cane crop. He planned to make sorghum syrup. Dad did most of the plowing, while I did the harrowing. To make the ground smooth, he made a drag. I had to stand on the drag and drive the horses. Dad made marks to mark the rows. He would make two rows, then he would cross these two rows to make a square. In each cross mark we kids planted the seed by hand. We dug a hole with our foot, dropped the seed in, then covered it with dirt again using our foot. The entire farm was put in cane that year. We were all pretty happy when that was over.
When the crop came up, we plowed it like corn. It turned out to be a very good crop that year. To harvest the cane, we had to cut the leaves off. Dad made board paddles so Lois and I could use them to knock the leaves off. Thank the Lord help came! Uncle Charley and Uncle Wiley (Dad’s brothers) and others from Kane arrived and this hot job was soon done. We were glad for the help. Then came time to make the syrup. Dad got a big round steam boiler with pipes running out the side. He made three long, table-like vats and put the steam pipes around inside them. He had a juicing machine, which was horse powered. The juice was squeezed out of the cane by leading the horse around and around the juicing press. The juice was then cooked in the steam-heated vats to make the syrup. The syrup was then stored in one-gallon buckets and stored in our back bedroom. We never used that room in winter because it had no heat.
We were so busy with the crop this year, I hardly knew how Mother was getting along at the house. As always she was looking forward to a new baby. Dad had hired a girl to help Mother. At first, I thought mother was getting along good. I kept seeing the hired girl take water to Dad, and they would go sit under a tree to drink and talk. One day at the house, I head Dad say to Mother, "Why don't you clean those kids up? They're so darn dirty."
Mother replied, "Well, if that girl you hired would stay here at the house, maybe they would get cleaned up." The hired girl left soon after that. She took along with her a bracelet that my Aunt Louella had sent me along with some dresses that were too big for me. She didn't get away with everything because I saw a pretty pin on the dresser that belonged to her. I set the lamp over it hoping she would miss it, and she did. I did not know she had taken my things until after she left.
Mother was making out by herself. The rest of the children were going back to school, but Lois and I had to work. Right in the middle of sugar molasses making, my baby brother, Tom, was born. I had to go to the house and get dinner for the bunch of workers, even though Dad knew I had not done a lot of work around the house and no cooking.
The only time I cooked, Mother had gone to Jerseyville to get some work done on her tooth. It was the first time I had seen Mother get dressed up. She looked beautiful, and I told her so. I asked her why she didn't get dressed up all the time. She said, "It's no use, a woman can't wear pretty clothes while keeping a house with a baby on her lap."
That day I tried cooking some beans in her pressure cooker. At least I could do that for her while I sat with the kids. I put the beans on in lots of water and put wood in the stove. I poured some coal oil on the wood to set it on fire. The stove took off in a blaze. I pushed the kettle over the front burner and thought to myself, "Now I can go out and play with the kids."
Later, I came to check on the beans and the stove was red hot. I pulled the pan to the back of the stove and turned the safety value. The steam came out of the cooker so hard, it blew beans all over the ceiling. Boy, Mother got after me when she got home! That and making biscuits for my brother, Bob, were disasters.
Now I had to fix dinner for a bunch of hands. Mother said she would tell me what to do. So here I go! I put wood in the stove and put in a little oil to set it on fire. As Mother told me what to put on, I began preparing the food to cook. After I had several pans on the stove, I found the fire had gone out. So it seemed. I picked up the oil can and poured more oil in the stove. It's lucky I had stepped back for just as I did, the stove blew up! It blew soot all over the house. Mother jumped up and put her feet on the floor. She saw I was safe, so she sat back on the bed and told me how to get the fire going. I had to clean everything in the house. The hands came in for dinner, and none was cooked. By three in the afternoon, I finally made it. Mother got up and came into the kitchen to help me. I tried to get her to stay in bed, but she said she would help. I was soon back at making syrup, then the milking after the syrup was all made.
One day, Grandpa and Grandma Burch came to see us. I remember Mother meeting them at the door, saying, "Well, come in and meet the new family member."
Grandma said, "Oh no, Clara, not another one!"
And Mother said, "Yes, another one." They came and took him and kissed and hugged his as well as the rest of us.
One day, Mother was talking at the back door to someone I didn't know. I wasn't paying much attention until she said, "Well, all I hope for is a good bed to die on." That somehow has always stayed with me.
I think I did go back to school - I know I did because I came home from school very sick. Mother told me to go and lay on the bed. My head was hurting very badly, and I couldn't remember when I was that sick before. Only when I had measles, when I was younger. My sister, Lois, was born with measles, and Mother had them at the same time. My sister is only 18 months younger than me, so I was almost two years old when I had them. I don't remember having them, only what I was told. The next morning, the whole family was sick in bed. Only me, for I wasn't sick enough to stay in bed. My Dad got up, too, with a headache, like I had had the night before. Dad and I waited on the rest of the family. We soon heard the flu was going around the country. In a week, we were all up and going again.
WHEN MOM DIED, 1923
Mother seemed to get better, but not like the rest of us. I was staying at home again to help Mother with my baby brother, Tommie. One day, Mother was laying in bed in the living room, and I was sitting talking to her. She picked up the clock to wind it, and as she looked up, she said, "You know, Geneva, this clock is so heavy I can hardly lift if. I must be awful weak because I know it's not very heavy. You know, I wouldn't mind dying, if I didn't have to leave you children. I just don't know what will become of you. Your father will never be able to take care of you." Then she said maybe I had better go tell Dad that she wanted him to come home and send for the doctor. Dad was about a half mile up in the woods. I ran to tell him. When I got near him, I called to him and told him what Mother had said.
He said, "Alright, tell her I'll be there." Soon Dad came in and talked to Mother. He did go get the doctor to come and see her. I don't think the doctor got there that day. Anyway, he did come.
After he went in and checked Mother over, Dad and the doctor were walking around the yard talking. Suddenly, Dad called to Lois and me, telling us to catch a chicken for the doctor. Lois and I had quite a time catching that old hen. That old hen ran like she was young. We finally ran her down and gave her to the doctor.
After the doctor left, Dad went back to the house to talk to Mother. I wanted to know what the doctor said, so I sneaked in the house to listen to them. To my surprise, I heard Dad tell her the doctor said there was nothing wrong with her, that she was just a lazy mother. I knew that was a lie, she wouldn't be in bed if she felt like getting up. That made me so mad. I wish I hadn't run after that old chicken. I guess Dad told her the truth because the doctor didn't leave her anymore pills to take.
A few days later, it was evening because it was already dark. Mother asked us to go to a neighbor's house and have her call the doctor. Our Dad was not home. Lois and I lit the lantern and took off to the neighbor's. It was about a half mile from our house. When we reached her house, we told her to call the doctor for Mother. She called him, and then told us he wasn't coming. Lois and I went back home wondering why the doctor wouldn't come and why he said there was nothing wrong with Mother. Dad came home about the time we arrived home. He understood that Mother really was sick. He told Mother he would get a doctor for her and he did. He also brought a lady to come and work after that morning.
Grandpa and Grandma Burch also came the next day. Mother was now taking some pills the doctor left for her. I thought now Mother was going to be okay. The preacher, Brother Dell Canto, and the "singer" also came out from Elsah to visit Mother. They brought the things Mother needed to make her comfortable. I really liked the Singer. He played with us one day. We even had a pillow fight before they left. The doctor came back a couple of times to see Mother.
One night Lois and I were putting wood on the fire making a lot of noise. Dad came out and said, "You kids lay that down easy. You know your Mother is awfully sick." The doctor came again and left more pills. Mrs. Falkerson was heating hot towels and putting them on Mother's chest. Grandma and Grandpa were both in bed. All the rest of the children were in bed, but me. I was worried about Mother and had no desire to go to bed. Mother kept telling me I should go to bed.
The time came when she was to have another pill. Dad was afraid to give it to her. He called Grandpa and asked him what he thought the doctor had said, "Not to give it to her unless there was change." Grandpa and Dad talked it over, and they decided not to give it to her. They would wait an hour and a half to figure if they thought she was better. They waited the hour and a half and saw she was no better, so they gave her the pill.
It was long after, that I heard the gallon buckets Dad had bought to put sorghum syrup in. They were stacked in the back bedroom several buckets high. It sounded like they all had come toppling down. Such a noise! Mrs. Falkerson heard them, too. She picked up the coal lamp, and she and I went to see what had happened. When we got to the door and opened it, we were both shocked to find they all looked like not a bucket had moved. We were standing there, and I didn't see any buckets out of place. About that time, we heard Mother calling. We hurried back to her room to see what we could do for her. Mother started talking like she was in a ditch with a baby buggy, and she thought it was raining and she was drowning. She came out of talking that way and saw me in the corner of the room and said, "Geneva, will you go see if the baby is covered up?"
I said, "Yes, Mother, he's covered."
Mrs. Falkerson said to me to go and look anyway for her, so I went to the baby crib. Dad called Eugene and told him to go some place and get the doctor. He was standing at the foot of Mother's bed with one foot on the rail putting his socks on. When I returned to Mother's room, Mother was dying. The doctor and the undertaker came. They took down Mother's bed and brought a coffin in. They laid her out in her room with Mrs. Falkerson's help. I got a lock of Mother's hair. Mom had had such a high fever that her cheeks were purple. Poor Mother. She had told me the only reason she had to live was her children. She was so worried about how we would get along without her.
Brother Del Canto and the Singer came and brought us children shoes for the funeral. Mother was to be buried at the home town graveyard. She was taken to Kane, Illinois, to the Church of Christ. Grandpa Roady and Brother Del preached the funeral. We like not to made it to Kane that day. It had rained, and the road was very muddy. The hearse got stuck in the ditch. They had to take the coffin out to get the hearse out of the ditch. Mother was buried in Lax Cemetery.
After the funeral, Grandpa Roady told my Dad, "Did you know that the Singer is a woman?"
Dad said, "No, surely not."
Grandpa Roady said, "Yes, he is. I knew the minute I took his hand he was a woman."
Dad didn't believe it. After we got home, Mrs. Falkerson took Tom, our baby boy, home with her. Russ went home with Brother Del and the Singer, who lived in Elsah. Sister, Dorothy, went to live in Elsah, too, as well as me. Tom was on the bluff of the river at Elsah. So Russell, Dorothy, and I started school in Elsah. I can't remember where my brother, Allie, and three sisters, Lola, Nancy, and Lois, went to stay. I asked Lois once, and she thinks around Kane, but didn't remember where. Studying this out, I don't believe Dorothy did go to school. I was thirteen years old and the youngest was Tom. He was only three months old.
I kept thinking about home, so one day I slipped off and went to see our house. It was only a mile from Elsah. When I got there, I found Dad had a lady staying there with two small children. That did it. I was very mad at my Dad. I went back to where I was staying.
One day there was a big explosion at the powder mill up the river near Grafton. That shocked the whole town. I was at school that day, and everyone was running towards the river. Some were crying and some had just gone crazy. The kids at school started running towards the river, too. I ran, too, and as I got to the corner store, a car ran over a dog and killed it. I finally made it to the river and people were running up the railroad tracks along the river to see what happened. People were crying. A woman was having a fit trying to get by the guards. Later that night, I learned the husband of the lady who was keeping my sister, Dorothy, was killed. Several were killed and many were hurt.
Spring was around the corner, and Dad had a sale at our house. I was there when he had the sale. I wanted so badly to just take the things I saw being sold.
WE RETURN TO BITTER LAKE
Dad bought a Dodge panel truck and built a "house" on the back. Dad picked up all the children and took all eight of us to his sister's house. While at Aunt Emma's house, we had our picture taken beside the truck. Dad was holding Tom. Tom was about six months old when we left for Canada.
Some lady in Kane was so mad at my Dad. She threatened to burn his truck and camper. I have been told this camper truck was probably the first ever made. Dad built it in 1923. He put in two mattresses and a feather bed piled on top of one another, a coal oil burner stove in one corner, two or three pots, a skillet and some dishes. After he loaded up, Dad let some of us sit in front. The rest all sat in the camper. Tom had his bed on top of the two mattresses and the feather bed.
After we left Aunt Emma's, Dad drove out to one of his brothers’. Uncle Theodore and Aunt Lucy were expecting a new baby. Uncle Theodore said we should stay for dinner, as his children would be in for dinner soon. It was the first time I had seen my cousins. It wasn't long until I saw them coming across the field, Lucy, Henryetta, Bill and Granville. Uncle Theodore was setting the table, and he couldn't find the tableware. He had my cousin go look in the yard where the other children were playing house. The children found some more, but not enough. It was our first meeting with our cousins, and it would be a long time before I would see them again because we were on our way to Canada. I liked my cousins during the little time we had together, playing and eating. We had dinner together then they had to go back to school. Dad told his brother goodbye, and we were on our way again.
We made another stop to see Dad's uncle, Marion Carrico. He seemed to be old. He was sitting in a rocking chair. Dad had us all come and meet him. Dad and his uncle had a long talk. I don't remember what they talked about. We all go back in the camper. As we were going down a small hill, a large sow ran across the road, and Dad ran over it. She ran off, apparently no bone broken. Dad hated it but kept on driving.
We really got on the road then. I probably don't remember all the times we stopped. Tom was a doll, the only time he made a fuss was when he was wet or hungry. He lay on that feather bed, and as Dad drove on dirt roads, the camper just rocked him to sleep. My biggest job was to keep all his bottles washed up. Dad would do an inspection every time. If they didn't look clean enough, I'd have to wash them over.
In Minnesota, we stopped at a big pond of water. We had plenty of room to play. I couldn't get over the rocks there. I asked my Dad, "Gee, Dad, how do they ever plow ground here with so many rocks?" I didn't see how they could grow anything there. Dad said they did anyway.
Dad let me ride up front with him. We were driving though the town, and I spotted a sports car. I had not seen one like that and pointed it out to Dad. I don't think we hardly stopped talking about the car when he heard a horn blowing. The sports car was trying to pass us on a one-lane, dirt road. He drove his front wheels under our front wheel which locked our truck wheels and pushed us off into the right ditch. When we got out to look it over, our truck had mashed the sports car's front end. It looked awful. No one was hurt. There were two men in the sports car. They were telling Dad it was his fault because they blew the horn for him to move over. Dad said, "You didn't blow your horn until you were along side." By the time Dad saw them, they were already locked into our wheel. Well, the police came, and there was another car coming behind. They had seen what happened, and they talked to the police. They asked me as I was sitting beside my Dad. I told them also that the sports car was beside us before they blew the horn. Well, the police said Dad, being from out of town, he would have to pay for their car. By that time, it seemed that half the town was out there. Dad said he didn't have any more money than it would take to reach his farm in Canada.
A man standing in the crowd took off his hat and started through the crowd. He said, "This man has eight children. Throw in what you can give and let this man take his children home." I don't think there was anyone out there who didn't put money in that hat. Dad thanked them very much, and we got back in the truck, out of the ditch and drove away. I don't know how much money was put in that hat.
At Minneapolis, we finally ran into some cold weather. We were wondering if we could stay warm for the night. Dad had parked at one of the city parks beside a lake. The snow was beginning to fall. A woman, who lived nearby, brought us a large bowl that we thought was full of jelly. Dad told her it was too much jelly for the children; it would make us sick. She assured him it was Jello, not jelly. She told us we could eat it like pudding. We took it and had our supper. That was our first experience eating Jello.
The snow was coming faster, and it was getting colder. Then the same lady and her husband came and knocked on our door. They told Dad they came to invite us to the house. They told Dad they worried about the children getting too cold. So we spent the night with them. The road was all dirt, and I told Dad that half the time it just seemed like we were going towards Aunt Emma's house. He said, "Oh yes, we would get to Canada."
After driving a long time, the children got out of water and began to ask for it. Dad said, "Okay, the next house we come to, we'll ask for water." The houses were not very close together, but finally we saw one. He said, "Now, I'll get you a drink." He pulled into this farmhouse and a farmer came out. Dad told him he had eight children in his camper and they all needed a little water. To Dad's surprise, the farmer said, "You can't get any water here unless you pay for it."
Dad told him, "We'll pay for it." The man still wouldn't give us water so we had to drive away. It seemed like a long time before we came to a place where they were selling buckets of water. It was a windmill, and you had to get in line with your bucket. Then you paid for the water. Well, everyone had a big drink, and we were on our way again.
Soon we were driving past a house. There was something about that house that I had a feeling I had lived there and that I had hid something there in the side yard. I tried my best to get Dad to stop and let me go to that house. Dad thought I'd gone crazy. Maybe, I had, but since I have grown up and hear of reincarnation, I wonder.
Well, it wasn't long until we were at the Canadian line. Of course, we were all counted, but for some reason, Dad had to bring the camper back across the line. I really don't know why that was, since he already had a farm in Canada.
A day or two later, we made it to our home. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon. Dad was wondering if our windmill would still be standing. He jumped out of the car, and walked down a slope, and there it was. We all ran down there, and Dad couldn't believe it was in such good shape. Then we went into the house and found it was also in good shape. We started to unload our camper. Since we didn't have bedsteads, we placed the mattresses on the floor. For the kitchen, we had the two-burner oil stove, pots and pans, and dishes.
Later, our neighbor came down to see us. Mrs. Ringdahl was our old neighbor and the lady who delivered by sister, Nancy. It pleased her very much to see Nancy. She was a Norwegian person. She only had one daughter, called Sofia. She was our only playmate. She always came to our house to play. We liked to play house. She could always talk the Norwegian language. She would tell us what they called butter and so forth.
The next day, Dad said he had to go to town to get some groceries and see about some business. He depended on me to see after the seven children. From that day on I became the lady of the house. Dad came home that night with the groceries. He told me he had to go back to town to see about getting furniture and farm tools. In a week our Dad came home and told me he had traded the truck and camper to some people who were going back to the United States. He told me he got all their household furniture plus all their farming tools and some horses and a cow. Could have been more than cow, because Dad kept bringing more. The catch was, Dad had to drive the truck and camper back over the Canadian line. He had made a good trade, but he hated to be gone so long. If anything went wrong or one of us became sick, we could call on Mrs. Ringdahl for help. I felt a little lost, knowing our Dad was going to be gone so long, but I knew I could depend on Mrs. Ringdahl.
In a week, Dad was back moving furniture, horses, cows, and farming tools. What I was tickled about was that now Tommie had a baby crib. We also got a cook stove, a riding pony, and two of the largest horses I ever saw. The two big horses were named Tom and Jerry. The riding horse was named Molly. Mr. Ringdahl got his daughter a riding horse. Sofia rode it down to show Lois her horse. It was so poor; it looked awful. It had a lot of white spots all over it. Molly was fat with four white feet and a white stripe down her face. Lois told Sofia her horse was pretty. Lois called Molly her horse because she was the one who atched the cows on the prairie. Sofia did, too, and that was why her Dad had gotten her a horse. Sofia said, "Well, mine will be pretty by spring because Dad is going to feed her out - you just wait and see." She was right, by spring she rode the horse down again. We couldn't believe it was the same horse. It was beautiful! So Lois and Sofia became cow herders that summer. They kept the cows pretty close together so they could be together a lot.
I don't know where my Uncle Andy was. I don't think he knew we were there. I was tickled to death the first time he came over. Then he came every once in a while. I remember one time he came; he was riding the prettiest white horse. I begged my uncle to let me ride it. He didn't think it would be safe. He told me the horse was fast. I could get hurt. I told him I could handle the horse. Finally, he gave in. Little did I know Uncle Andy had loosened the saddle girth. I rode him real slow until I got to the hill. Then came the slope down to Bitter Lake. As soon as I thought Uncle couldn't see me, I kicked the horse in the side and said, "Come on, let's go!" Well, I rode about one hundred feet and the saddle started slipping on the horse. By the time I was under the horse, the horse had stopped. I fell, and the impact threw me through the front legs of the horse. The fall didn't hurt me a bit and the horse didn't move. I put the saddle back on and got back on. Did we ever ride fast. Uncle Andy was right. I had never ridden a horse that could run so fast. Of course, I slowed down as soon as I figured Uncle could see me. I don't think he ever remembered loosening the girth, because he loosened it again when I got back.
The cows just ate grass down by Bitter Lake. The water was salty and just plain bitter, and the stock couldn't drink it. It could not be used in the house for cooking or anything. The lake also had quicksand around the edges.
Uncle Andy came over quite often after he found out we were back. They planted the wheat in the spring up there. Because of the bad winter, they brought the horses and plowed the snow off so the grass could be eaten. They had straw, and there was still wheat in this straw. There were piles of straw for a windbreak, and the animals would eat the wheat and straw. The only ones we fed in the barn were the saddle horse and the team we drove in case we wanted to go to a neighbor or into town. Not very often did people go to town in the winter. I suppose Dad went more than any farmer up there because he had dairy cows. He had to take milk to town to get groceries for home. Dad just put up enough hay for feed for the cows and the three horses we kept in the barn.
Lois and Dad usually did the milking, but one morning Lois came to the house crying. I was doing the cooking because Dad thought I could cook better. Dad told me maybe I could stand the cold better, and we made out with Lois' cooking. The snow was so high when you walked, you couldn't see over it. So next morning, I went to milk, and I don't blame Lois for crying. As I milked the cow, the milk made icicles from the bail down into the bucket. It didn't bother me so much while I was milking because the cow's milk was warm.
In the summer, we had a milk house at the barn where we separated the milk. In the winter, we did this at the house because of the cold. Tom was just walking around now, calling me Mom. There was no guard on the separator wheel. I was about through turning when Tom put his hand on the wheel. The wheel ran his thumb and finger right into the middle of it. I turned and saw what he had done. I backed his hand out of it, and there were three marks between the thumb and finger. I put coal oil on and wrapped up his hand. It didn't seem to get very sore, but the marks stayed for days. I was wondering if they would ever go away.
When it was cold, Sophia never came down. I learned that they sent her away to school. Every night we heard the coyotes barking. Sometimes we could shine a light and see a whole bunch just a few feet from the house. Most of the time we wouldn't see or hear them. Our sheep herder was gone, but the old sheep shed was still standing. We didn't have any sheep like we did the first time we lived there.
Uncle Andy came over often. He and Dad got into the picture business. You see, Uncle Andy could develop the pictures, and Dad rode a horse around getting people to let him take pictures of their farms and houses. Uncle Andy made a darkroom. He waited until the kids went to bed before he developed the pictures. I got him to let me help with the pictures he took around the place.
We had a red calf with a white stripe down its face. The kids had lots of fun with him. They would harness him like a horse and hitch him to boxes to pull them. They would ride him and even lay down and sleep with him. We had chickens that stayed in the barn loft. After Tom got to walking around and playing with the rest of the kids, he always called me Mom until about six months before we left Canada.
Because there was now a school about a mile away, Dad got a lady to come to keep house so we could got to school. School started early in the fall, and I was in fourth grade, Lois and Russell in third, and Nancy was in second grade. I don't think Dorothy, Allie, Lola, or Tom were ready to go to school. Uncle Andy was staying at our house. He was such a sweet uncle. He started teaching us how to talk on our hands because he was a deaf mute. All the kids that were going to school were Norwegian and, of course, we couldn't understand them. When it came time to play, they would talk Norwegian, and we got all mixed up in the games. So one morning, when we were going to school, we talked it over, and I told my sisters, "Okay, let's talk on our hands." Lois and Russ said we don't know how to do that either. I told them, "You know your ABC's on your hands, don't you? Doesn't matter what we say, just make some letters." We all acted like we knew what we were saying and tried to win the games. Well that worked out well. We began to win some games, but the Norwegians didn't like it. They went to the teacher and told her we were talking on our hands. It finally got so bad, the teacher was making us keep our hands on top of the desk, so we couldn't tell our sister or brother how to spell words. It was funny because the kids wouldn't know even if I told them. We were just learning the words at home.
One morning, Lois and I had a ball. We had to pass a windmill on our way to school. We saw a lot of gophers running into holes. We thought it would be fun to drown them out, so we picked up a bucket and got rock. One of us would pour water in the hole and the other would hit the gopher with a rock when it came out. First thing we knew, we were late for school!
I was watching the kids at the house. Somehow, I didn't have to go out to the field to work, like I did in the States. Uncle Andy brought his horses, and he and Dad did the plowing. He was always finding duck eggs. He would bring home his hat full of duck eggs.
Eugene and Robert didn't return to Canada with us, and we missed them a lot. After the crop was in, Dad took his horses over to Uncle Andy's farm and put in his crops, but we weren't getting any rain. The wind blew a lot and tumble weeds came rolling by. Our water became bitter, like the lake water. We had to start hauling water. I know I dug potatoes, and I used the bitter water to wash them even though we couldn't drink the water. The bitter taste went right through the potatoes, and I had to throw them away.
I think things must of started getting next to Dad because he seemed to fly off mad over nothing and whipped us a lot. One time, we had all been working in the field and we came in to fix dinner. He found the skillet had not been cleaned and he hit Lois in the head with it. To his surprise, the handle broke. He got to where he cussed us a lot, and anything he wanted us to do was on the double. If we were just walking, he yelled, "Run do it. Run."
One day we were all at the dinner table eating. Dad left the table and was reading the newspaper in the front room. Nancy asked me to bake a cake. I told Nancy I didn't mind, only I didn't have any eggs. So Nancy thought maybe we could find one in the barn. She was ready, so I got up and left with her and left the rest of the children at the table. As Nancy and I came out of the hayloft through the milk house, there was Dad with a binder whip, and he began hitting me like I was a horse. I didn't even know what he was whipping me for, until I got into the house. Then he started on Lois, and she ran under the bed. He took the whip and lashed her with the end of it. All he told me was he would teach me not to leave the table until they all left. I asked Lois what happened to cause Dad to whip us. She said one of the children had turned over a glass of milk. She had cleaned it up before I got into the house. He didn't whip us every day, but we never knew when he would get mad, and we became afraid of him. We all obeyed him at work and never back talked him. He would slap our head off. Lois and I were the ones that got it the worst. Lois was his pet. He always had her in his arms loving her. She would tell on us if we disobeyed him while he was away. He was gone a lot of the time, often three days at a time.
I had run out of anything to cook for supper. The only thing I could think of was we could have milk. The cows were down by the lake, so I started after them, and on my way I saw a big jack rabbit. He hopped under a sage bush. I was too far away from him. I just stood still and thought, "Now, if I could kill that rabbit, I could have it for supper." Standing very still, looking at the rabbit, I glanced to the ground and saw a rock. The rabbit still didn't move. I bent my knee down until I reached the rock, took aim, and hit the rabbit on the side of the head. It knocked the rabbit over. I didn't know if I had killed it, so I ran and got him by the hind legs and beat his head on a rock until I killed it. I went on a little further and got the cows. When I got back home, the children were very pleased that I had something to eat. Don't tell me that God is not with you when you are in trouble. I told the children I was going to make rabbit dumplings. Only thing, I didn't have any flour. I told some of the children, I don't remember which ones, to go to Mrs. Ringdahl's and borrow the flour. I cut up the rabbit and put it in Mom's old pressure cooker. I think Lois went out to pick up some cow chips and got the fire going in the cook stove. By the time the rest of the children got back from Mrs. Ringdahl's, I had made the dumplings. Believe me, we were "full up." The next day Dad came home. He had already stopped at the Ringdahl's and knew we were without of groceries. I told Dad about the rabbit and the flour. I suppose the children told him we were without anything to eat, so he left again and brought back some groceries that night.
THE MOVE TO UNCLE ANDY'S HOMESTEAD
As I said before, everything was getting dry. Uncle Andy's farm was just across the lake, and he still had good water. Dad decided to move to Uncle Andy's house, since Dad was helping Uncle Andy put in his crop. So we moved, but had to go 12 miles around the lake because they didn't have the barge anymore. Lois was still the cow herder and I was the cook and dishwasher, and I had to look after the kids. We found some new neighbors. They "fell in" with our sister, Dorothy, so Dad told them they could keep her for a while. He probably let her stay with them because Uncle Andy's house was so small, just three rooms. To
think about it now, I wonder how we ever did find room to sleep. Lois and I talked about it one time. Lois said Uncle Andy had a "lean-to" on the side of his house, where he kept the horses in winter. She said she slept in the manger. Probably, more than Lois slept there. I slept in the house in one bedroom with Tom and some of the other kids. I couldn't go to sleep until real late. Every night I could hear something go "hop, hop, hop" across the ceiling, and it kept me awake. Dad couldn't even hear it thunder after he went to sleep. You could hear him snore.
One night Dad came home and asked us if we had watered the cows. Lois and I told him, "Yes, we did." We couldn't let him find out we had left them in the lot. We waited until he had gone to bed. When he snored, we knew he was asleep. We stole out to the cows and watered them. Boy, we didn't let that happen again because the coyotes started barking until we both though we were had. Of course, Uncle Andy was deaf, so he couldn't hear either of us.
One night, I heard the "hop, hop, hop" again. I got up and went outside and stood near where I had been hearing it. Here came a long thing that looked like a snake, but it had four feet. It ran away. I told our Dad what I had seen, and he told me it was a weasel. It was the only one I ever saw.
Lois missed her friend, Sofia. Sofia had helped her herd the cows to the lake and then would come home to play. Every once in a while, she would ride out to see where they were.
Most of the time, after the crop was in, Dad and Uncle Andy would go away for a day. They were probably helping other farmers put up hay. They had to do some things to keep groceries on the table. A time or two we had visitors come saying our cows were in their fields. Lois wasn't watching them close enough. The grass by the lake was drying out as summer wasn't putting out any rain.
I began to miss Dorothy. We kept asking Dad when Dorothy was coming home. Then we asked him where she was and he said, "Not too far. You go down to the lake, but before you get there, you'll see a road and about a mile down the road, you'll see a farm. That's where she is. She is okay and happy, and don't you go looking for her." Well, that was all we wanted to know. One day, I got my chance, and I went looking for Dorothy. I don’t remember if any of the rest of the kids went with me. I'm sure some of the kids went along to find Dorothy, and, sure enough, we found the house. I know if the rest were with me, I didn't let them go all the way to the house. Anyway, I knocked at the door and a lady opened it, and I said, "Do you have a little girl named Dorothy?"
She said, "Yes, but who are you?"
I said, "I'm her sister. I'd like to see her."
"Oh", she said, " well come in. She is here in the kitchen." There was Dorothy, churning butter. I talked to her, and she seemed
happy. It didn't seem like she missed us much, but we sure missed her.
We told our Dad that night about the trip to see her. He said, "I though I told you not to go there."
I told him, "We just had to know if she was okay. She was well and churning butter." Dorothy was around 6 1/2 years old then.
Dad said, "Well, if you all miss her that much, I'll get her home soon." Sure enough, he did.
Tommie was two years old, but he was never any trouble. He would go play with Lola, Allie, and Dorothy. Dorothy and Allie both stayed the same height for years. Most people that saw them thought they were twins. The kids hardly ever had confusion over any of the things they were playing with. They never came crying to me, unless they were hurt.
Then the kids began to miss our cats. We had to leave them at our farm across Bitter Lake when we moved to Uncle Andy's. Nothing was growing around the shore, and the lake looked almost dry. Uncle Andy kept a boat at the lake to cross over from one farm to the other. So the kids were talking about our cats. One day, we decided to go over to the old farm, find our cats, and bring them to Uncle Andy's farm. We waited until Dad and Uncle had gone. Then, we all went down to the lake to cross in the boat. The lake was not very big, probably 150 or 200 feet across. There hadn't been any trouble about quick sand, like I heard about in the early days. We weren't afraid of that, and we took some wheat sacks along to put the cats in. When we got down to the boat and started to put the children in, the boat was too small for all of us. We waded out in the water, and it didn't seem too deep for Lois and me. So we piled the kids into the boat, and I tied the rope Dad had used to tie up the boat with around my waist and started pulling the boat, while Lois pushed it. For a good ways, the water was only knee deep, but as we got to the middle, the water began getting deeper. I kept telling Lois to take it easy as the water was up to my chin. Then by holding my head back, I kept my nose out of the water. I couldn't see where the water was on Lois. She was almost as tall as I was. I couldn't look back to see what the water was doing to her. She was holding onto the boat and, if she didn't sink it, she would keep above the water. That deep place was only a few steps. Boy, was I glad when we were safe from it. Well, we pulled the boat on dry land and all jumped out and ran up the hill to what we felt was home. We had a field day. The cats were wild. As Lois said, we made them wild by trying to run and catch them. There were cats there we had never seen before. The older cats stayed their distance, and we still hadn't got one cat to take back with us. I told the kids we had better get back to Uncle Andy's house before our Dad got back or we would all be in trouble. I was afraid of that water and hoped nothing would go wrong going back. You know, going back, we didn't hit quite as high of water. It didn't take long until we were back to Uncle Andy's.
I started supper, and Lois went after the cows. There was milking to be done, and separating the milk, water to get, calves to be fed, supper to eat, and dishes to wash. Sometimes there was yeast to be set for bread baking. Then it was time to go to bed. Of course, the next morning there were cows to milk, horses to harness, breakfast to make, knead the bread, take care of the milk and cream, cream to sell, and milk for the house and calves.
Dad didn't have any hogs the last year we lived in Canada. I remember one time a cow had calved, and the cow didn't live. There were little strips of hair all around the calf's feet. The rest of the foot was just bare flesh. Dad said we should just as well do away with this one, since it would never get well. Us kids begged for the calf's life and told Dad we would doctor it. He thought a little, and then said, "Okay, see what you can do with it." We tied a rope around the calf's feet and put whatever we could find for medicine on it. Before very long, the skin began to grow on, and you could hardly tell how they had been. Believe me when Dad went to sell that one, he had a very bad feeling family, to say the least. I had to see if I could make the kids understand, for the calf was the children's best pet ever.
Nothing was said about us going after the cats. Really, I had just forgotten about them. I didn't think we could ever catch them. Lois had taken the cows down to the lake, and the kids just found something to do around there. To our surprise, Lois came home with a wheat sack full of cats. She got the old Mama cat and some of the kittens. It was real funny, when Dad came home. The cats were running all over the place. Dad asked where all those damned cats came from. All eight of us kept our big mouths shut. Not even our little tattletale sister told on Lois. She may not have known Lois brought them. They were sure wild for a few days. But, it wasn't long until the children got them tame enough to play with and love.
Dad and Uncle Andy went off every day to work someplace and came home at night. There was no rain all summer, and everything was burning up. Uncle Andy had a pasture out from the barn fenced in. Tom and Jerry was in the pasture. All of a sudden, Jerry came running up to the barn. He was raising his front feet up high, then came down and kicked back with his back feet. First, we thought there were horse flies after him, but we couldn't see any. He finally got in the barn and started kicking the barn down. He was kicking the side out, so we opened the gate and let him out to the road and he started toward town. Lois got on old Molly and said she would see if she could turn him back home. She rode off on high to see if she could catch up with him. I wasn't worried about how she was going to handle him. We didn't know where Dad and Uncle Andy were. After a while, I saw Lois riding back home. She didn't have the horse. When she got back, I said, "Where did you get to him?" She said she ran him almost into town. It was a job to start him back, and he was a little ways down the road, and she thought he was dead. He had just stopped running in the middle of the road, shook all over, and fell down. Finally, he got quite. We all walked up the road to look at him and, sure enough, Lois was right, he was dead. He was such a pretty horse. He was one of the horses Dad had traded the truck and camper for. So that left us with just Tom. He was a taller horse than Jerry. Lois wondered what we should do with
Jerry, since he was just laying in the road. I told her it wouldn't be long until Dad and Uncle Andy would be home. Let's let them decide what to do. When Dad got home, he wanted to know the whole story. If I remember right, he said only one thing, "He must have had the staggers." He really hated to lose that horse. The next day Uncle Andy and Dad took a team and drug the horse off in the prairie someplace where the coyotes could eat it.
WE MOVE TO EASTEND RIVER FARM
Fall was coming on, and by now you could plainly see there was not going to be any harvest done. The next thing I knew, we were to move. Dad was busy with Uncle Andy making a cover for the wagon. Dad said he had rented a farm near the town of Eastend, 100 miles from us. They had good crops there and plenty of rain. The morning came, and we were to start. Dad had us milk all the cows while he and Uncle Andy were loading the wagon. When we got done milking, Dad had already loaded the cream separator. I asked what he wanted done with the milk. Dad said to "Pour it onto the ground, we can't take it along, it would just sour." To pour it out went against my grain, but I did as he said. They saddled up three horses, one horse for Lois, one for Russell, and one for Uncle Andy. Dad took the lead wagon and drove one behind him.
We had only driven half a mile when out came four guys on saddle horses trying to take our cows and horses away from us. Uncle Andy, Lois, and Russ tried their best to keep them from taking them, and they were doing a good job of it. So the men rode up the road a little ways, and then here they came again. This time they ran Lois' horse until they could reach out and catch Lois' horse bridle, and then they just held her horse. Another man got Russ' horse. Uncle Andy kept fighting, but against two men, he didn't have a chance. The men ran all the stock into a lot and locked the gate. They told my dad he would have to pay to get them out. They claimed that our stock ate up their crop. My Dad asked, "What crop?" There was no crop in this whole country. Dad said, "I'll see you in court first." Dad and I drove the wagons on down the road away from their place. We parked the wagons. Then Dad and Uncle Andy took Lois with them to town to see what could be done about them holding our stock. They were gone most of the day. They came back by nightfall and some police came out and served papers on the four men to come to Hatton the next day to court. "By ten o'clock," Dad said. So we had to camp the first night in walking distance of Uncle Andy's farm.
Next morning, Dad, Lois, and Uncle Andy rode off to town. They were back by noon, and the police came along and made the four men turn all our stock out, and Dad didn't have to pay a thing. I asked Lois what she did in town, and she said they had her repeat what Uncle Andy had to say, since they couldn't understand a deaf man's sign. So Lois, Russ, and Uncle Andy drove the stock. Dad drove the first wagon, and I drove the second. We drove all day, and traveled slowly. We stopped to let the cows eat and drink. After walking all day, the cows would lay down. When most of them were bedded down, we all went to bed. Next morning, we had one cow missing. Uncle Andy saddled his horse and went after it, all the way back to his house before he caught up with her. The cow was tired, but Dad said we would move on anyway, maybe she would not be so foxy to run off again.
About halfway to Eastend, we came to the Cypress Hills, which was then Indian Territory. We saw Indian boys riding horses bareback with no bridle, and they were living in Indian teepees. I had seen a few on our way to Canada, but nothing like this in my life. I had seen them in movies, and now when I saw them, it was just like a movie. They seemed friendly, and Dad bought some bread. The bread was in large round loaves, and fresh and very good eating. Dad told me he would like me to see how they baked it. The Indian boys surely put on a show for us. Riding their horses, they seemed to just fly up on the back even while the horse was running full blast. Our cows were tired, and all lay down pretty early. We always had too much milk everyday and had to throw milk away. All the next day we traveled through Indian ground and teepees here and there. We finally landed on a high hill or maybe it was more like a bluff. Anyway, looking over in the valley, we saw a town close to where we were going. We camped where we were that night. We sat on the hill and enjoyed the town lights. Dad saddled a horse and rode into town and brought back some food for us to eat. The next morning, we drove the cows, with the horses tied on the back of the covered wagon.
We arrived at our new home around noon. We found the people had not moved out yet. I was surprised to see such a nice place. A nice house with a large front porch and a big red barn with fenced in lots, a long milking shed, and a long granary with a tool room on the end. Everything was painted pretty, and in back of the house there was a grove of trees. The trees looked good, since I hadn't seen any since we left the States. Later, I understood that the trees were planted there for a winter windbreak. There was a creek, Frenchman River, just over a slope where we could take the stock to water. It was all fenced in so stock could be pastured with plenty of water. Just over the creek was another farmhouse. A close neighbor, but you couldn't see them from the house.
Since the people hadn't moved yet, we had to move into the granary until we could get into the house. It was about three weeks before they moved out. Dad was sure getting after them because it was the beginning to be cold weather. Dad and Uncle Andy were working in the harvest. That was where he got the money to live on through the winter. It was much different living here near Eastend. The neighbors came over to visit us. They were also Norwegian people. Dad told me one day to fix a good supper because that night we were going to have company. Now, I had not fixed a meal for company before. I told Dad I didn't know what to fix, so he helped me "line out" what to make. I don't remember what I cooked. We had a large table in the front room, as the kitchen was sure small for our large family. I thought I was doing well - had the table all set before the company arrived. All I had to do was take up the food and put it on the table. Dad asked the company to the table, and when they all set down, there wasn't anything to eat with. Dad made fun of me, and I was embarrassed to death to say the least. The company told me that was all right, and that I had made a good meal. I thought I had done well for my age. Tommie was still calling me "Mama", and Dad explained that I was his daughter, that I took care of the baby, and Tom didn't know any better.
We still had our cows to milk and cream to separate so Dad could take it to town and sell it to buy groceries. One time Dad went to town, for we were out of coal for heat. Before he got back, he got lost. He didn’t find home until very late. Uncle Andy was very worried about him as the wind was blowing. That meant you couldn't see the road as snow covered it all. You had to go by the houses. He was nearly frozen when he got home. He said the next time, he had to go out, he thought he would get a pole and put it on top of the barn. Then we could tie a lantern on a rope and pull it up to the top so he could drive toward the light to keep from getting lost.
We began to be invited out to our neighbors. One family was the Hansons. They had some young boys. I guess that they had eyes for Lois and me. We were both quite grown up in size, but not boy crazy yet. First Dad didn't want us to go as he wasn't used to taking us children anyplace. They made it plain to him it was a family party and he wouldn't be welcome unless he brought his two girls. He decided we could go this once. We all got into our sleigh. The sleigh was all enclosed like a car with a glass windshield. It had an opening under the glass for the lines to come in so you could drive the horses. We had a lantern for light. We drove quite a ways, and he and Uncle Andy couldn't see the house, so they gave up saying that we had better get back home before the sleigh tracks were covered up by the snow. I was pretty downhearted because it was my first party and, now, I wasn't going to get to go after all. We were driving back home, and Dad looked out and there was the house we had been looking for. Dad turned around and drove right up to the house. There was a man that took Dad's team and put them in the barn and helped us into the house. They had a very long table full of food of every kind. The house was full of people. Some were playing the piano and singing songs. After that, we went dancing out in the granary. There were shocks of seed wheat setting around the walls. They had a coal stove for heat. The children lay on wheat sacks and went to sleep. They had a banjo and French harp for music. The next thing I knew, they had Dad playing the guitar.
I always knew Dad could play an organ. His sister, Aunt Emma, had one, and he bought one for us at Elsah. He had had Lois and me hold the French harp, while he used his hands to play the organ. One day, he traded the organ off for some hogs. He said Lois and I weren't going to learn to play it.
This was the first time I saw my dad play at a dance. Lois and I had not ever danced before, and we were afraid of what our dad would say as different ones would take us out on the floor to show us how. It was hard anyway because they danced to songs I had never heard before, "FLIES IN THE SUGAR BOWL, TWO BY TWO, SKIP TO MY LOU, MY DARLING." It was sure like playing, "Ring Around the Rosy" at school. They sang a Norwegian song to dance by. I can sing part of it today, but I don't know what I'm singing. We all had a good time. I know my dad did. He was a very good mixer. At the end of the dance, they gave Dad $200.00. They told him they wanted to give it to him so we could have school clothes and for him to accept it, as they
knew he had a large family. The gift was from all of our neighbors. Dad couldn't get over the gift. Just couldn't believe it. In the next few days, he went to town and bought us clothes. I especially liked my shoes, black patent leather with straps across the instep. And, for once, they fit well.
Dad had a team he kept in the barn to go to town in. Since we sold cream, he had to take it in quite often. One day, nearing spring, a young man came and asked me if he could borrow a saddle horse. He had been coming down to visit Lois and me. He always rode a horse down and, of course, Lois always had her horse saddled up. We would play around with the horses and ride them around awhile. Uncle Andy would never say anything. When Dad came home and found out, he would always say, "Well, what did he want?" Lois and I never thought of him as a boyfriend, just someone to talk to. Then when he wanted to borrow a horse, I let Uncle Andy decide if he should have it. He promised Uncle he would bring it back the next day. Uncle Andy let him
have his riding bridle. Well, Dad just had a fit saying he had heard things about that boy, and he wasn't any good, and he was probably running away. The next morning Dad saddled another horse and said he didn't know when he would get back. He was going to try and find that boy and get the horse back. Well, Dad was gone all that day and night and got back the next night. He said he rode all the streets in town and finally found him at a barn dance. He did have the horse up and fed, and he was planning on running away. Dad just talked to him and told him he wasn't taking the horse any further. Dad told the boy to either turn over the horse or he would call the law. Dad said he sure felt sorry for the boy. He was only a nephew of the Hansons. Dad and the young man seemed to be on good terms all the rest of the summer.
One day, Dad bought two young greyhounds. They were around two months old. He was very fond of them. The coyotes didn't come around close enough so we could see them like they did in Hatton. We could hear the coyotes over the hill near the creek where the stock watered. A few of the farmers had corn, but Dad didn't have any. Sometimes they put the greyhounds in the back seat or in the trunk and then you could drive right up to the coyotes. They fixed a rope you could pull and let the dogs out right on top of the coyotes. Even if the dogs didn't kill them, I heard they had lots of fun watching the dogs take them over.
One night, I set yeast out to make bread. It was getting cold, and I probably didn't cover it enough. When I looked at it, it hadn't risen a bit. I was afraid to add more flour, and it still wouldn't rise. I would catch the devil from my dad, wasting flour. He sure didn't like flat bread. I could have warmed it up, and it would have been okay, but at that time, I didn't know that. I figured my best bet was to throw it out and make a new batch. I didn't want my Dad to know I threw it out either. I'd still get into trouble. I went outside to figure out where I could put it without Dad finding it. Since the ground was still frozen, I couldn't bury it. I saw the ash pit, so I dug a hole in the middle of it and poured in the yeast and flour mix and covered it up. I made a new batch and set it on the back of the stove where it would stay warm. I had to hurry with it or we wouldn't have bread for supper. By noon, it
raised so I made up the bread and let it raise a couple of times. By supper, I had fresh bread cooked. I never thought any more about the yeast I threw away. That night Dad missed his greyhounds. He started looking for them, and he found them in the tree grove in back of the house. Their stomachs had swollen up like they were going to have pups, but both were boy dogs. Well, I went out to look at them, and I didn't know either what was wrong with them. They lay out there all night. The next morning I went again to look at the dogs. They still lay there. They couldn't walk. I don't know why, but I thought I would go to the house and see if I could find something to give them. As I came around the house, I saw the ash pile. I saw where the dogs had dug my hole back out and had eaten the bread yeast. I went into the house and got a glass of warm water and put a teaspoon of baking soda in it and stirred it up. I took the spoon to use to pry the dogs’ mouths open. When I got outside, I tried to pull open their mouths, but I couldn't. So I used the spoon to pry the dogs’ mouth open and to my surprise, the air just blew out real strong. Then as I looked at the dog, his sides went flat. I opened it again to try to give him some soda. After fighting with him and getting his mouth open, he got up and walked off. I went to work on the other pup, and it turned out the same way; he got up and walked away, too. I went back in the house, and after a while they came back, and I fed them and gave them some water. The next time dad saw his dogs, he just couldn't believe it. He was sure they were going to die. Every time he saw them, he would talk about those greyhound dogs. At the time, I felt like telling him, but always something just held me back.
We enjoyed our Uncle Andy teaching us how to talk on our hands. Lois and I got pretty good at talking to him. He would always get into it at the supper table. The only thing that held us back was our spelling, or we would have been extra good.
Dad never sent us to school like the good people, that gave him the money, asked him to. He probably thought he needed us at home. He needed help with milking. He needed the sleigh to go to town in, and anyway we might get lost in the snow. Anyway, whatever he thought, he didn't send us to school. One day he brought a letter home from Mother's sister who had been living in Alberta, Canada. It seems they were moving back to North Dakota. She was sending a trunk with some bedding, and they planned to stop by on the way. We were thrilled to death. I hadn't seen Aunt Anna since we left Canada the first time, while she and Uncle Andy were still living there. They couldn't come home when Mother died. Well, we waited until one day we got another letter saying they got tied up in a snowstorm, and the trains didn't leave for days. The husband thought that now that the storm had broken, they had better go on while they could before they got lost in another snowstorm. They were sending the trunk on. As much as she would love to see us, it seemed impossible to come. Mother had had three children she had not seen, Allie, Lola and Tommie. Well, Dad became real angry that she wasn't coming. He even threatened not to pick up the trunk. I began to beg Uncle Andy to bring it as we were awfully short of covers. In fact, I think there was about five of us sleeping in one bed because we would get cold. One day, Uncle Andy and Dad both had been to town and they brought the trunk. Was I ever glad. Now I might get to sleep more peaceful. I soon put them on the children's bed. Dad was still fussing, and I asked him if he didn't even care that we were cold. He said, "Oh, we are getting along without her." So what, she was Mother's sister and I was sure she would come, if she could.
It wasn't too long after that that Dad and Uncle Andy got into it at the supper table. They were talking fast on their hands. The way they were acting, they were very mad. Dad left and Uncle Andy started packing his things in his wagon. He told me he was going back to live in his home. He wouldn't tell me what had gone wrong and my crying and begging still wouldn't make him stay. To me, it was like losing my Mother; he was so good to us.
Before Uncle Andy left, there was a Norwegian girl who came to see us a lot. Her name was Lena Bursham. My brother, Russell, got to liking her very much. She may have reminded him of his Mother, for he was old enough to remember her.
Lena had a sister, Martha, who was going with a pretty large man. Martha was also a large lady. They had been going together for sometime, so one evening they drove in and asked my dad to be best man at their wedding. They wanted him to come in the evening to stay all night. They had to drive about twenty miles to get married. They wanted him to bring me to help Mrs. Bursham cook the supper. They had asked a lot of friends in for supper and a dance in the granary. When we got there, they were living in a sod house. It had a wood roof on it. There was a square hole in the ceiling with a ladder to climb up. Dad told me to get Tommie ready to go with us, and we told Uncle Andy he could bring the rest of the children that night. Of course, Tommie was still calling me, "Mama". So, I took him up the ladder with me to sleep. The roof was so low you couldn't put a
bedstead in, so they had just laid a mattress on the floor. Well, it was hot up there, no need for a cover. I began to feel some things dropping on me and crawling on me, and Tommie kept turning and fussing. Finally, my dad said to hand the baby down to him; maybe he could get him to settle down. So, I handed Tommie down. Well, for me, I couldn't go to sleep either, but I didn't say anything. Next morning, when it got daylight, I could see why. Bed bugs were just falling out of that roof. I had blood spots all over me. So I wiped myself off, and dressed, and came downstairs. Mrs. Bursham was fixing breakfast. There was an old man sitting by the coal stove rocking. Of course, Tommie heard me and started calling me, "Mama". I tended to him and told him to stay put, as I had to go outside to the back house. So I left, and when I got back, this old man and Mrs. Bursham were arguing over me. Then he said to me that that was my husband that left with the wedding party wasn't it? I said, "No, that was my father." Then he asked who this boy was that was calling me, "Mama"? I said, "He just doesn’t know any better because I had taken care of him since Mother died, when he was only three months old."
Then, Mrs. Bursham said, "See, I tried to tell you." Well it's hard to believe, but he made me feel like an old woman.
I kept in touch with those people for years. Martha died at childbirth, and I believe Lena raised the baby. She married one of the Hanson boys. She sent me some pictures of Martha's baby. She looked to be about two years old. The home she was living in was surely much better than the one from which she came. Anyway, we stayed for supper, and there were a lot of sheepherders there that I had never met. They started playing the French harp and dancing. Dad thought we should take the kids home early.
About the time spring planting came in, Daddy came home one night with a lady. We were all in bed. But he woke me, and I knew it was Dad. I didn't know who he was talking to. Finally, he opened the bedroom door carrying a lamp. He called to me, "Geneva, are you awake?"
"Well, I want you to meet this lady. She is going to stay with us awhile to help keep house." He began to point to the children calling each by name. Then, he told me I could go back to sleep. The next morning, we all met the new housekeeper. From that moment, I had to go work in the fields. Even Russell had to help with the wheat. He had to watch to see if the wheat drill didn't get stopped up while I drove. Russell started getting sassy with Dad and would talk back to him. Somehow Dad just got a kick out of him. If it had been me, I'd have gotten my face slapped. However, Russell did what Dad said. We soon got the crops in, and then all we had to do was watch it grow. The lady cooked meals, even washed the windows and put up curtains, as Dad never got any for me. One day, the lady said she was leaving and told him whenever he had time he could take her to town. He paid her off that morning and told her he would take her in a day or two.
Dorothy and Allie always played a lot together, and I don't know whatever made them decide to crawl up a hole in the ceiling and play in the loft. The lady went into the bedroom and found them up there. Then she looked in her pocketbook and said there was money missing. My Dad always had a way of making kids talk, if they knew something. So he put them to the test, but all day they said her pocketbook was open, but none of us looked in it. We didn't take anything out of it. Dad made the kids go back in the loft to look for it, but they were both crying and said they didn't have it. They didn't know where to look for it. Well, he finally left them off, and he took her to town. I don't know if he paid her for the lost money, but my guess is, he did.
We got the wheat cut, and I shocked most of it. One day, Dad told me he was getting some threshers in. I would have to cook dinner for them. I was relieved because when they came, they had their own cook car. So I hauled in bundles of wheat like the rest. It was the first time I ever pitched the wheat bundles in the thresher machine. I was proud I could do it.
Tommie started changing my name. He began to call me "Geneva". None of the children called me Geneva. I don't think they could say it right and it came out "Glova".
Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson from Eastend came over to see us, and they fell in love with Tommie. I couldn't forget their name because it was like my two half brothers’ mother's name, Stevens. I didn't know it at the time, but they had adopted two children, a girl and a boy. Dad might have took to them for that reason. He let Tommie go home with them. I had no idea where they lived, but I believed Dad had given Tommie away for good. Like Dorothy, I didn't feel good about him going away. I missed him so much.
Dad had followed the threshing harvest. Guess he needed all the money he could get to keep us through the winter. So while he was away, we kids decided to have some fun. Lois, Russ, and I would get three horses and ride them to the end of the field. Then we would race the horses back to the house. We even made a mark across the road for them to put their front feet on. Those horses knew what we wanted them to do. We would fly, and it was a lot of fun, but we could have gotten hurt, too. The kids got along very well and played together good. The biggest fight I think that ever happened was when Lois and Russell both claimed a sled that had been left there at the house. Lois wanted Russ to go watch the cows and let her play with the sled. Lois got after him pretty strong, and Russell ran into the house with Lois after him. She saw the coal bucket full of coal and started to throw it at Russell, who was holding the sled over his face so she couldn't hurt him. I couldn't talk Lois into stopping, so I had to use force, which wasn't hard; she was ready to quit.
Dad came home and we were out of groceries again. He debated whether he should go to town and get some. He had sown rye to cut for hay and seemed to want to do that first. He said to me, "Don't you think we can get along until tomorrow? I'd like to mow that hay. We have plenty of cream and milk." So Lois went to herd the cows. The rest of us kids were playing in the straw piles. Dad was in the field mowing rye for hay. Two men rode in on horses. They came in the house and said they were officers of the law. They wanted to know where the rest of the children were and where our father was. I told them he was in the field. They wanted to look through the cupboard and asked me where the food was. What were we going to eat for supper? Well, we had milk and cream. Dad said he would go get groceries tomorrow. Lois saw the horses and came flying to see what was going on. They asked me if my father had sex with me. I told them, "No." Then they asked why I told our housekeeper he did. I said I didn't tell her that.
"Okay, you'll have to tell that to the court," they said. Then they went to the field to talk to Dad. My Dad said they talked to him like he was the last word in a man. They ordered us all into the wagon, and Dad drove it into town. They took us into a court hearing asking the same things. I told them I didn't care what the housekeeper said, it was not so. But they said they were taking us to Moose Jaw to the orphanage. I didn't know what Dad was doing so wrong that we were being taken away.
THE ORPHANS’ HOME AT MOOSE JAW
My mother told me two year before she died that she didn't want to cut my hair. So my hair had not been cut in about five years. It was very blond and even so, it was taken care of. We were proud of our hair. In fact, none of us girls had had our hair cut. Lois, Nancy, and I had blond hair. Lola and Dorothy had dark hair with brown eyes. Russell and Tom had brown hair with brown eyes. Allie had blond hair and blue eyes. Well, they didn't make it to the home that night, so they stopped off at some town and put us up in a hotel. Next morning, the girls were taken to a barber where they cut our hair. I looked like a freak of some kind. I just hated it. The hair was cut above my ears, and I have one ear that turns out. I just cried. They told me it would grow. They said the reason it was cut was because it was so dirty, like it couldn't be washed.
So we arrived at Moose Jaw around noon the next day. I was worried about Dad, and what about Tommie. Would I ever see him again? In about a week, Dad came to the home to see us. He told me to look after the children and he would get us out soon. Also, he said we wouldn't leave without Tommie. He was going to have a sale and then take us back to the United States. Dad said the housekeeper had said he was the father of her twin babies. He said he damn soon shut her up and looked up the guy that introduced him to her. He had not known her long enough for them to be his babies, and no way could she make him marry her.
I got cards and letters regularly from my father. Some I still have. One day at the orphanage, they told me I was too old for school. They were going to send me out to do housework. Well, it was a nice house, and the lady had a parakeet that could talk. I only worked about a week, and one morning I was very sick at my stomach. When I told the lady, she said, "Well, if you’re going to be sick, I don't need you." So she called the home to tell them to come and get me.
The housekeeper put me down a long hall in the end room and told me to go to bed. Gosh sakes, I never was sick enough to go to bed, but I did as she told me. No doctor came, and she only brought me water and a bowl of soup, maybe vegetable or some other kind. I was getting so weak I figured I needed something to eat. Lois would slip down the hall and come in to see me. I kept pressing her to get me something to eat, but she said she was afraid. I figured I wasn't going to get well unless I made an effort to do something about it. I got up, and dressed, and started down the hall towards the kitchen. Who did I meet, but the housekeeper. She said, "What do you think your doing?"
I said, "I'm getting dressed for supper."
She said, "Well, if you think you're that well, you can go up to the attic and take care of your brother and sister that have the measles." When I got up to the top of the stairs, the first one I saw was my brother, Russell. He was lying naked, and you couldn't touch him with a pin without touching a red bump. I looked around the room and saw around 20 kids. Russell wanted water, so I looked all around the room and saw no water. I told Russell I'd go get some and be right back. I made it to the kitchen and got some water. When I started back up the stairs, I got about halfway and thought I was going to faint. I set down on the steps to let it pass over, and along came the housekeeper. She asked what I was doing there and I told her I was resting before I went the rest of the way up with the water.
"Give it to me, and you go back to bed," she said. "I knew you were up before you were ready."
I went back to my room, but I didn't go to bed. I told her, "No, I was coming out for supper." She said, "Well, don't think you're going to get anything extra just because you are at the table. I'll be watching you and you will eat just what I give you." That night I made it to the supper table, and you can guess; she had a bowl of broth for me. I didn't try to take anything else on the table, because, as she said, she was watching me. After supper was over, I started to take the dishes into the kitchen. She wanted to know what I thought I was doing. I said, "Oh, I'm going to help with the dishes."
She said, "Okay, if you think you are able." I got my chance to see what was left in the pots. I found some boiled potatoes. I got a dishtowel and started drying dishes. Every time I got a chance, I stole a potato. I put the whole thing in my mouth to hide it. After leaving the kitchen, I wasn't hungry anymore. For a about a week, she fed me broth and I stole food from the kitchen, until she decided to let me eat what the rest were having at the table.
(Editor's note: Although, mom did not write about it in her book, she told me that she also stole scraps off the plates to take to the children in the attic, who were sick with the measles.)
They changed my room to the second floor. It was a big room with cot after cot, one for each child. Every night, no matter how cold it was, the window was left open. I did not like the cold air blowing through. I never got used to it.
Lois, Russell, and Nancy all went to the King Edward School. They didn't send me out anymore. They found work for me in the kitchen. They learned I knew how to make bread. Some of the kitchen help would set the yeast, but everyday I had to knead the bread. They had two big washtubs to knead it in. The dining room had to be kept clean. It was just a board floor. We had to take a bucket of water and scrub brush it on our hands and knees with a bar of P and G soap.
At first they let us go to church. Then they stopped that and had Sunday School at the home, except for the Catholic children. They got them up real early before breakfast and took them to church.
The housekeeper seemed to let up on me. I could talk to her. Once I got her to give me some stamps to write to my dad.
Behind the orphanage, they had a large skating rink. It froze over in the winter, and they let me go ice skating. Some of them at the home were very good at it. I learned that two of the girls working in the laundry room had been raised there.
We only had the clothes we wore there, and they took us down to the sewing room. There were all kinds of clothing. You just had to pick out what you could wear. We had a locker room on the second floor. You could keep what you could there. One day, I went into the locker room, and one of the girls was having an argument with the housekeeper. After the housekeeper left, I asked her what the argument was about. The girl said she had a sore on her foot and the housekeeper said if it didn't get better, she was putting her up for adoption. The girl explained to me that the housekeeper couldn't do that because this was their home until the children were grown. She said her mother and father were killed in a car wreck, and insurance was paying their way there until they were grown. Anyway, the housekeeper didn't give her medicine to put on the sore. She said she had tired everything she could find and none of it did any good. Her little sister was staying with the old lady, who she thought, owned the home. The old lady's apartment was very pretty, and this little girl did not eat with the rest of us. When she came out, she was dressed really nice.
The kids finally got okay from the measles. At least my brother and sister did. If any of the children died, I didn't know it.
The saddest thing they did was to get all the children lined up in the hall when someone was coming to adopt one of the children. Some of the children would be crying, and as I stood by and watched, the adults would look them over. They would talk to the housekeeper and the children. Then they would spot a child and say he or she was a pretty thing. It really wasn't much more than selling the black children in the old days.
OUR RETURN TO ILLINOIS
To my surprise, Dad showed up with my brother, Tommie. Tommie hadn't forgotten me. He was so glad to see me, and I liked to love him to death. (Tommie had not been taken to the orphanage with the other children, because he had been staying with the Stevenson family at the time the children were taken away.) Dad told me he didn't want to give us up, but it would take a little doing. He said he was leaving Canada and we were going back to the States with him. He said he had a few more things to take care of, but he would be back soon to take us all back. The first night Tom was there, they let him sleep in the room with the rest of us. In the night he got to crying, and I got up and said, "Tommie, I'm here. What do you want?"
He said, "A drink of water." I went to the bathroom, but there was no glass or anything to drink out of. So I went to the kitchen to get him some water. He slept the rest of the night. The next morning, the housekeeper gave me a going over for getting Tommie water. I said to her, "He is my brother, what was I to do?"
"Well," she said, "you wouldn't do it for anyone else."
I said, "Yes, I would, if they asked me, but noone had ever asked me." At that, she turned and left.
Christmas came. I didn't know if anyone was going to receive a Christmas gift. Christmas morning they set up a long table and had it loaded with dolls, toys, games and what have you. At my age, I was 16 on the 23rd of December; there wasn't anything I thought I'd enjoy. I already knew what Christmas was and was glad the smaller children had something. Nothing had the kids name on it. The adults just let the children pick out what they liked.
A week or two later, Dad came to get us. I was glad to get to come home to the States. The orphanage people took us down to the railroad station, and while we were waiting for the train, Dad came to me and said, "Geneva, let's not leave. I really don't want to go back home."
I said, "Dad, you sold everything. What have we got to stay here with?"
He said, "Well, I'd make it, but what in the hell is there in the United States?" It seemed to be a long wait for the train to come. I was worried that Dad would change his mind and take us back to Hatton. He still had our home there. So, when the train came and we got on, I did a little wondering if we were really going back to the States or back to our home in Hatton.
When we got to the Canadian line, I knew then we were on our way to the States. The Canadian law had us checked to see that we did cross the line. Dad couldn't believe they would do this. I was surprised, now that I look back over it, the way Dad didn't want to leave Canada. I found out why the police made sure we went back to the States; our Uncle Wiley had made it possible for Dad to get us out of the home and back to the States. He had become our guardian. He was to see to it that we went to school.
A day or two more and we arrived in Kane, Illinois. Aunt Lettie and Grandma Roady had fixed a supper at Grandma Roady's. Grandma Roady was Aunt Lettie's mother. Aunt Lettie was Uncle Wiley's wife. It was Grandma Roady's husband who had preached my mother's funeral along with Brother Del Canto.
Dad seemed to be enjoying himself talking of thing that went on in Canada. He even brought up those greyhound dogs swelling up. I almost let out what I had done to cause the dogs to be that way. But, on second thought, I held my tongue. Just as well not. To this day, I never did tell my dad about those dogs.
We asked about Brother Del Canto and the Singer. Grandpa Roady told Dad, "You know I told you that Singer was a woman? They found they had swindled the church, and they were sent to prison." I never felt so bad about anything in my life. Those people were so good to my mother and took such good care of my brother, Russell. It was hard to believe. Nevertheless, I always will have a good feeling for them, and it taught me one thing, when you do good to at least some people, there will always be a warm spot for you. I believe God will forgive you for your wrong doing if it was wrong doing in the Lord's eyes. For I feel the Lord is a most forgiving Father. None on earth are as good as our Lord. I don't care what they say.
Anyway, most of us went to spend the night with our good old Aunt Emma. The second best mother, I loved her very much. I know Uncle Wiley and Aunt Lettie took Nancy home with them that night after supper. I think all the rest of us went to Aunt Emma's to stay until a home could be found for us. Lois went to Oklahoma to live with Uncle Elmer Berry. Russell went to live with Bob and Eugene's Aunt Clade (Stevens) Grizzle, and Allie lived with their Uncle Paddy Stevens for a time.
Aunt Lettie's Uncle Lump and Aunt Sarah Roady took Tommie. They told Aunt Emma they had had a long talk with John Berry and they believed he would not bother them in finishing raising Tom. They didn't want to take him unless they could keep him for good. They had one girl and a boy, who died, and they felt they wanted him to replace their son. I could tell Aunt Emma couldn't believe what she was hearing. They were getting quite old to raise a boy Tom's age. It broke my heart to see him taken away again, as I had only had him back such a short time. That left Dorothy and me at Aunt Emma's. Aunt Emma decided to keep Dorothy, so that left me. No one came for me. I just stayed on and started to school with Aunt Emma's daughter, Natalie.
While I was at Aunt Emma's, there was an old man staying there. His name was Tom Means. He was without a home. He tried to help our Uncle Nat with the outside chores. He was splitting wood outside the house one day while I was in the kitchen helping Aunt Emma with the dishes. Someone knocked at the door, and Aunt Emma told me to see who was at the door. I opened the door, and there stood Tom Means holding his hand behind him. He asked me to get him a wash pan with water in it. Aunt Emma said, "Well, come on in, Tom. What's the matter?" I ran and picked up the wash pan and pumped a little water into it and took it to him. When he brought his hand from behind him I saw he had cut off his thumb. It was just hanging there by a piece of skin. Aunt Emma said, "Oh my Lord, you have got to go to town to the doctor with that." Arthur, her son, had just left in the wagon and there was no other team to take him. "Geneva, put on your coat and walk with him, and I'll pray someone will pick you up!" She wrapped his hand up in a white cloth. I started walking with him to town, which was a mile away, and the road was muddy. We had a hard time walking. Luck did help us. Someone did come driving up in a wagon and took us into the doctor. While the doctor was taking care of Tom Means, I took off uptown to find Arthur to get a ride back home. I finally located him and told him what had happened. I got in the wagon with him, and we drove around to the doctor's office to see how Tom was coming along. The doctor told Arthur that we just made it in time, that Tom could never have been able to walk all the way. The doctor let him come on back home with us. That man had the hardest chills I have ever seen. He shook so hard we could hardly keep him sitting on the wagon seat. We finally got back home with him, and Aunt Emma got him to bed. She nursed him back to health.
One day a neighbor of Aunt Emma's came to see us. They had two small children. They asked me to come and stay with them so I could walk the two children to school. I moved out to live with them. My teacher's name was Miss Louise Corey. I got along well and passed my grade with flying colors. So now I was ready for the 7th grade. Miss Corey told me if I got to come back, she would help me pass the seventh and eighth grades. She told me I would have to work hard and stay in at recess and noon hour. She was sure I could do it, and she would give me all the help she could. I was tickled to death. (Editor's note: Miss Corey was killed in an automobile accident that summer and mother was never able to finish her education.)
Once school was out, I moved back to Aunt Emma's. Poor Tom Means. They finally sent him to the poor farm. I was at Aunt Emma's a week or two until I was asked to do housework for a man whose wife was expecting. He said he would give me five dollars a week and board. I took the job. I loved his wife and family. I was there until I knew I was going to have trouble with her husband. I just knew it. He always came to my room to call me to get up. His eyes would take in everything he could see. I'd though of setting my shoes where I could reach them and let him have it some morning. They had two boys as old or older than me, and both of them treated me like a sister. Both of them got the measles while I was there, and they both had to go upstairs. I couldn't believe how nice they were. Their father was really their stepfather.
One Sunday came and I wanted to go over to Aunt Emma's. His wife wanted me to ride with her husband as she said he was going to town anyway. I told her I'd rather walk, but she wouldn't have it, and, of course, he was more than ready. He didn't really touch me on the way over, but when we arrived at Aunt Emma's, I was more than happy to get out of his wagon. I ran to the house as fast as I could go. To my surprise, they weren't home; they had all gone to church. As soon as he saw there was no one home, he grabbed me. I guess he figured he had gotten hold of a tiger because I let him have it. When he saw he would have to force me, he changed his mind and started trying to make up to me so I wouldn't tell Aunt Emma and his wife. He drove me on to church. I promised I wouldn't tell, if he would leave me alone. I went home with Aunt Emma after church. I thought about the mess I had gotten into and decided to tell Aunt Emma anyway. She said I didn't have to go back. So Uncle Nat said, "You can stay here, you can still plow corn, can't you?" I told Uncle Nat I hadn't plowed corn since I had left Illinois. They don't grow corn in Canada, but I didn't think I had forgotten how. He said his old arthritis was getting him down so he would be happy if I would just help him out. I stayed and did milking and regular farm work. After the corn was laid by, my dad came to see me. He told my aunt that he had a job for me at the St. Louis Hospital.
I had not seen my Grandma and Grandpa Burch since coming back to the States. Dad told me they now lived in Alton, and Uncle Andy was living there with them. I had not heard a word from Uncle Andy since he left us at Eastend in Canada. I was happy to see them all again. I liked living with Aunt Emma and Uncle Nat, but money those days was short and I knew they couldn't afford to keep me, even if I did the work for nothing but a place to live and eat. So I packed up and left with Dad to go to Grandpa Burch's house in Alton.
Up until this time, Aunt Mae Trimble was just someone I heard about. This was the first time I remember seeing her. I fell in love with her. Monday she took me with her to St. Louis. I was now 17 years old, and this was my first time in a big city. She took me to Grand and Delmar to the hospital. It was called Doctor Crenshaw's Hospital. She took me down to the housekeeper and introduced me to the head lady, who hired me. I was to have my own room and board, with twenty or twenty-five dollars a month. I really don't remember well how much money it was. I know you didn't draw [get paid] much anyplace you worked. Aunt Mae left for her job someplace where she worked as an office girl. When she left me, I felt like sitting down and crying my heart out. I had never felt so alone in my life. I was very scared. I thought if things don't go right here, I don't even know how to get back to Aunt Emma's. The housekeeper unfroze me by saying, "Now, I'll show you around and show you what I want you to do." She explained that they had nurses and doctors in training there. They had a big dining room for them to eat in. I was to set all the tables and take their orders and call them in and serve them at the table. Afterwards I was to clear off all the dishes and clean the tables, sweep the floors and mop. Everyday I was to clean and dust and mop the first floor and hallway.
I had never waited on tables before so I didn't know the job too good but the doctors and nurses were very nice to me. They kindly told me when I was making a mistake. I never left the hospital while I was there alone.
One day, the housekeeper told me she needed another girl. She asked me if I knew one. I told her I had a sister in Oklahoma who might like to come. She told me to get in touch with her. She would hold the job if my sister wanted it. I had a letter Lois had written to me while I was at Aunt Emma's, so I got it out and wrote Lois about the job. I got word back right way that she would be on a train and I should meet her. I hadn't been out of the hospital since Aunt Mae left me there, and I didn't know where the train station was in St. Louis. That was worrying me to death. I finally opened up to the dishwasher about my sister coming and that I was to meet her, but didn't know anything about St. Louis. Well, gee, she was a honey, she said, "I'll take you. I didn't know you didn't know the city." She took me to meet Lois. Boy, was I ever thrilled to see Lois coming down the ramp. I
knew I wouldn't be so lonesome, and I could feel like my old self again. After she came, she shared my room. We would go take walks down the street to see the shops and buy candy. We bought candy like crazy, as we had never had much candy in our lives. In fact, I ate so much of it for years after I didn't care for it at all.
Lois and I found a swimming pool indoors, so when we had time off from work, we would walk down to the corner and go swimming. We didn't know anything about swimming, but there was a bunch coming there all the time. They knew how to swim and showed us how. We enjoyed that a lot, and we got to be pretty good at swimming. We finally dared to get on the streetcar. We would count the blocks and get off to shop, then get back on the streetcar and count the blocks back to the hospital. I don't remember who told us how to go by block number. We finally got out of our dumb ways. My sister did a good job, too, and we both liked our jobs very much.
There was a dentist across the street, and my teeth were pretty bad. I had two front teeth that held my lips out on both sides of my mouth. I had them pulled and fillings put in my other teeth. I had just got them fixed, and next thing I knew, my father showed up and demanded my paycheck. He told me Lois could give me half of her paycheck and that was enough for both of us to get along on since we didn't have to pay room and board. I guess I was still a little girl, and I thought I had to mind him. I let him have my money, but I soon found out my sister was not happy to give me any of her money. I couldn't understand why he had to have my money. I was told he had a job with Standard Oil Company in Wood River. After that, he was there every payday the rest of that summer. So, I did without any money. My sister felt sorry for me and gave me a little now and then, and she would buy things to eat and share with me.
We started going to Forest Park where they had fun rides and funhouses. We would spend all our days off there and really enjoyed ourselves. With our swimming at the corner, we were fairly happy. I got a real kick out of my boss lady. One day she told us a story about a colored boy who was working for Dr. Crenshaw at the hospital. Dr. Crenshaw told this colored boy to clean the nameplate on the hospital. So he went out and cleaned it. The next morning, Dr. Crenshaw said to him, "Look here, boy, you didn't clean that nameplate."
The boy said, "Yes, sir, Doctor, I did!"
"Well, you didn't do a good job. Use some elbow grease on it," said the doctor. The housekeeper found the colored boy in the warehouse room just going through everything. She walked in on him and asked what in the world he was doing. He told her he was looking for some elbow grease to clean the nameplate. We got a big kick out of that for days.
Sometimes, when I was on the floor, I'd help the nurses when they needed help. One week, I felt sorry for a nurse. She went home over the weekend and had her hair cut short, and they put her back in her class. Back then, all the nurses had to wear long hair. I felt so sorry for her. It was one of the things I couldn't figure out. My mother had told me, "Geneva, you're getting to be a big girl now so I'm not going to cut your hair anymore." And, yet, when they took me to the home in Moose Jaw, Canada, three years later, they cut my hair to my ears. I felt I didn't have any hair. After getting back to the States, I was finding that some girls were getting their hair cut. But, oh, to hear some people talk, it was an awful sin. I was letting mine grow again. My hair grew slowly, and it was about to my shoulder. Because I'd gone through about what this nurse did, I felt sorry for her. I couldn't understand why she was put back a year in class over a haircut. It crossed my mind to try and be a nurse, but my schooling was very low. I figured I could not be one. Not without an eighth grade diploma.
Every good thing always comes to and end; the hospital decided to make the dinning room into a cafeteria. The nurses and doctors would pick up their own tray and walk through the line and get what they wanted to eat and take it to the tables themselves. They would take their own dishes back to the dishwasher. Therefore, they could lay off one girl. Who was that girl? The last one hired. So, Lois was without a job. Somehow, for an inexperienced girl, Lois soon had a job. A full block from the hospital, she became a maid. She wore a black dress with a white apron and a white cap.
They had a colored girl for cooking, but after the first week, the cook said she was leaving. So my sister put in for me to cook. When my sister told me about the job, I was shocked, to say the least. I told Lois I was no cook. She said, "Well, you did most of the cooking at home."
I said, "Yes, but what did I cook. Country things, not fancy things they cook in cities. I can't do it."
Lois said, "Well, she wants to talk to you anyway. I think you can do it, and we can be together again." I gave in and I talked to the lady. I told her the truth, I didn't know much about cooking and, you know, I couldn't even get out of it. She said, "You can read, can't you?"
I told her, "Yes, I can read."
She said, "Well, you'll do alright. If I tell you to fix something you never fixed, I'll write it out. So come on and work for me." So, I told her I'd have to give the hospital a week's notice and then I would give it a try.
I went to the housekeeper and told her about the new job. She told me she hated to see me go and she was very sorry that she had had to lay Lois off. She knew how we two girls wanted to stay together. She wished me good luck with my new job. I asked her not to tell my father where we were. Well, she looked at me, and then said she would tell him only what street we were on, but that I hadn't told her the house number. I said, "okay" to her.
It was getting fall and I needed a winter coat very badly. I was getting paid every week, and I was pleasing the lady with my cooking. We were getting along fine. One day we were walking along the street, and I saw a police car, and I said to Lois, "Gee, I fee like those police are looking at us." Lois said she didn't think so. Somehow, every time we went out I'd spot a police car, and they seemed to be looking us over, but they never stopped to say a thing to us.
One afternoon someone was knocking on our front door. Our boss was out and, of course, Lois was the one to go to the door when the boss was away. Lois went to the door and before she opened it, she saw it was our father. He had found us. My sister came running to the kitchen and said, "Geneva, our Dad is at the door, what should we do?"
I told her, "Go open the door. We can't hide from him forever." When Lois opened the door, he didn't even know her at first, as she was dressed in that black dress with a white apron and cap.
He began saying to her, "You wouldn't happen to know two girls working in this neighborhood, would you?" Then he recognized her and said, "Good God, you're Lois!" When I walked in, he began to blow his top about us running away without telling anyone where we were. About the time he was at his high point, our boss and her husband walked in. Her husband took our dad by the arm and told him to leave. Her husband thought our dad was some guy we were dating. (Lois and I didn't have one date while we were in St. Louis together.) We told our boss he was our dad. Our boss told Dad to lower his voice as he was in his home now. So we asked him into our room to talk. Again, he asked for my money. This time I told him I had spent it on a coat. Oh yes, he also told us how worried he was, and he had asked the police to find us. He had found out from our former boss what street we were on, and he had knocked at every house on the street until he found us. After he left, our boss put us on the carpet and wanted to know what was going on. We just told them that our dad was always taking our money and I needed a coat, so we didn't want him to find us until I had my coat, then we would let him know where we were.
I have forgotten how much money we were paid. If it was less or more than the hospital paid, but it was probably not much difference. Wages were about the same any place you worked. If you made $30 dollars a month, you were in the money.
I was really worried by Aunt Emma. I hadn't stopped to think about the folks back home being worried about us. I just felt I had to go home and make it right. Sunday was my day off, so my sister and I decided I should go home and see Aunt Emma. When I got back, my sister told me the boss lady was quite upset that I was not there. I didn't think much about it until next morning. I went down to make breakfast and found the boss lady's two kids making breakfast. I went back upstairs and told my sister, "Well, I guess I'm fired. She has her kids getting breakfast. I guess you were right. She was mad at me."
My sister said, "Well, if you're fired, I quit." So we stayed in our room and packed our things until after they had breakfast. Then we came down with our baggage and asked her to pay us off. She seemed surprised that we had decided to leave. I told her what my sister said, that she didn't like it because I had gone home. Also, about finding the kids fixing breakfast and I figured she was firing me. She said she had no such thought and she just let the kids get breakfast because they seemed to like to do it. It was just fun for them. She first told us she had no money to pay us and asked us where were going. We told her we had no idea, only to look for another job. As I look back on this now, I know we were nuts to leave those people. We didn't even stop to think how hard it was to find jobs then. This was around 1924. I suppose we were shaken up by Dad's visit. We made it plain we thought it best to leave. So she gave in and paid us off. We took our baggage to the hospital and asked our former boss to keep it for us, while we looked for a job.
We got a paper and started looking, but by night we had nothing. Lois wanted to give up and go home. I couldn't see that. There was no job at home. She still wanted to go home and tried to get me to. I wouldn't, so I saw her off, and I went to the YMCA to try to get a bed. I was going to try one more day. The YWCA didn't have a bed, but I begged long enough until they said they would get me a cot and I could sleep in the hall for fifty cents. So I stayed the night, and the next day I found a restaurant job on Broadway, with a room upstairs. I thought I'd better report where I was before Dad got the cops looking for me. Of course, that was a mistake because here was my dad in about two weeks. He said he had come to take me back to Wood River. He had a job for me at the hotel dining room. He had a job for me, but I found out I was just supposed to work until a sick girl returned.
My next job was keeping house and babysitting. They were a Jewish couple that ran a clothing store in downtown Wood River. I liked working for those people, and the baby was the best baby I ever saw. She was so good; she put me in mind of my brother, Tom. I don't remember how much money I was getting there, probably five dollars a week and board and room. I don't remember any of the places I worked that paid anymore than that.
At first, a little money seemed like lots of money. I kept hearing others say they couldn't get enough money to pay the taxes and worrying about the government. Hoover was President at that time, and I began to see why Dad said, "Why go back to the States, there is nothing there." I don't think he asked me for money anymore. We seemed to be getting along pretty good. (Editor's note: Mom had complained to her half-brother, Eugene, about her Dad taking her money. Eugene confronted their father and threatened him so he would stop coming after mom's checks.)
Dad was living with a family that had two small boys. I'd go over to Dad's place once in a while, and Dad introduced me to my first boyfriend. That is, my first real one, that I dated for a year or so.
I'm leaving out a job my sister and I had. We got together again after the restaurant job that Dad found for me that only lasted a week or two. Lois and I went to our Uncle Charley Berry's, who lived in Wood River. We heard about a job in Hartford at a tannery. We both got jobs there. We worked there all summer and boarded with our uncle. Our uncle was sharing his house with a married son and his wife. The wife was expecting a baby. My uncle also had two sons at home. I don't really remember if those boys were working or not. Our uncle was working at the Standard Oil Company office.
We met a girl down the street who asked us to go to church with her. She was a likeable girl, but I didn't know she was wild. The boys she knew wanted us to go to bed with them. She seemed to know all the boys in town. One day, she walked with me over to my Dad's house. We were on our way back there when a car stopped to pick us up. I wouldn't go with them, telling her I didn't know them. After about four or five cars stopped, I found out why they were stopping. She was waving them down behind my back. Boy, did I tell her off! But she finally got me to go out with her. She said these two boys were nice. Oh yes, they were nice. This guy with me pulled me out of the car after they had driven us out by the graveyard. It turned out I had a real fight with this guy. Her boyfriend just sat in the car and laughed at me fighting with this guy. When I did get away, I made her get out of the car and stay with me. She did, and we told the boys to get lost. Well, they drove away, and we started to walk home. We heard a car coming back, and I grabbed her and pulled her into the weeds beside the road so they couldn't see us. Well, the boys went away. I figured they were gone for good. We started walking again, and by that time we had walked far enough. There wasn't anyplace to hide. The boys came back again. It was a long ways back to town, and the boys talked real good to us and promised to take us back to town. They wouldn't take us home. I gave in, and they did just take us to town and put us out on the street. We walked the rest of the way home. I stopped at the Standard Oil office to see if my uncle could take me to Alton. It was too late to get my boss out, and besides my clothes were torn and dirty after the fight. Uncle Charley got a kick out of that, teasing me about my fight. He said it would be a while before he got off work. There was a man working there that would get off in a little while, and he said he would drop me off. I was afraid to trust another guy, but Uncle Charley said it would be okay, so this man took me home. He also teased me a little, but did just fine.
I was working in Alton then, keeping house and taking care of school age children, a boy and a girl. Their mother ran a beauty shop, and she gave me my first permanent wave free. They were good people to work for, and I got along fine. My sister, Lois, was working in Wood River. She had a job cleaning houses for people. She talked like she made more money than I did. I was only getting five dollars a week with room and board. Things seemed to be going great until one weekend.
My lady boss gave me some money and told me to take her two children to the movie and have supper out. That was fine because I wasn't going with anyone since my friend had left. (The fellow my Dad had made me acquainted with, he had left to go to work in Chicago and somehow our mail got lost in my moving around. I didn't hear from him anymore.) I didn't mind taking the children to the show. I like that for myself, too, and she was paying my way. So, we took the streetcar and went to Alton. We decided to go eat first and then go to the show. We went into a restaurant, and there was my boss sitting at a table with her back to us with a guy. Another couple I did not know was facing us. I quickly put the kids at a table to keep them from seeing their mother. It was a surprise to me, as well as a shock. I had not dreamed she was seeing another man. She and her husband seemed to get along much better than some of the homes I had been in. I couldn't believe it. I had a bad time with the children, keeping them from going over to her table. I talked them out of it, telling them they were probably business people, and she wouldn't want us to cut in. That was why she had wanted us to eat out and go to the show. The children were quite disturbed over it and didn't want to stay until the show was over; they wanted to go home.
Lois came to see me one weekend and wanted me to go on a boat on the Mississippi River. We did, and had a good time dancing and eating. I told Lois about my boss, and Lois said her work was running out and said, "Why don’t' we get a room at the YMCA and try to get a factory job." So we did. Our money was low after we paid for our room.
Monday morning we went to the Western Cartridge Company for a job. I'll bet there were one hundred people there, and we didn't have a chance there. As our money was low, we walked back to Alton from East Alton to the Illinois Glass Company. My feet were hurting so bad I begged my sister to stop by the glass company. Lois didn't want to, saying, "You know they won't hire us." They didn’t this morning.
Well, my feet hurt and I wanted to rest and I said, "Who knows, somebody may have gotten fired today." I talked her into it. We sat down by the ticket office and it wasn't long until the employment office man came. He asked what we girls were doing there. I said, "Well, my feet hurt from walking from the Western Cartridge Company and I thought you might have a job by now. Someone might have quit or been fired."
"No," he said, "didn't I see you in this line this morning and I told you we didn't need anyone?"
"Yes, you told us, but as I said, maybe someone quit." He asked where we lived, and I said at the YMCA. That we didn't have a home, and our mother was dead, and my father didn't take care of us.
He said, "Wait here, I'll be right back." Pretty soon he came back and hired both of us for the box factory. He gave us a coupon book and told us to go get something to eat and be back to work that night. We got our job at the Illinois Glass Company, Alton, Illinois.