by Lois Berry Barnett Ellis
Reprinted with permission.
HATTON, SASKATCHEWAN, CANADA
By Lois (Berry) Barnett Ellis Swiderski
Reprinted with permission. Edited by Diana McGinness.
It must have been a cold and rainy day in April when I was born in the little town of Kane, Illinois, with a population of 5OO, at my Grandfather and Grandmother’s home. My grandparents were Christa Columbus Berry and Nancy Jane (Carrico) Berry.
I was born April 28th, 1911. I was the second daughter born to John Clark and Clara Bell (Burch) Berry. My oldest sister, Geneva, was 16 months older than I. My Mother came down with the measles just before I was born. It settled in her lungs and she came down with T.B. Her doctor advised my father to take her to a dry climate, if she was to get better. So he took us to North Dakota and leased 16 acres near Steel. My father farmed there for about a year. I was about 16 months old and I seem to recall playing in the sand and there were small pine trees around.
On July 5th, 1912, my father went to Medicine Hat and took out a homestead near Hatton (Farris) Canada of 160 acres. My Mother wasn’t getting any better where we were at, and the air was much drier up there. The land had a dug out [dirt basement] on it with a house built over it. I don’t think we moved up there till the following spring. I remember we lived in a tent, while my father built the house. It would of been too cold to live in a tent in the wintertime, so it had to be the year of 1913. He couldn’t find water on that first 160 acres, but found water on the adjoining 160 acres, so he homesteaded another 160, so we could have water. This [the deed] was dated November 10th, 1916. In the meantime, a new brother was born on July 13th, l9l1. My father was overjoyed that he now had a son. They named him Russell Lavern. My father dug a well on those 160 acres and put up a windmill to draw water for the stock, and then he dug a basement near the water [for the new home site].
We had three neighbors, all Norwegians and none could speak English, and so my Mother and father taught them all they knew.
Then all the neighbors came and jacked up the house and put skids under it to pull it, with their horses, to the new home site over the basement.
I remember all the excitement that day. My sister, Geneva, and I were running and dancing along as they pulled the house. What fun we were having!
I can remember my father clearing the field of rocks. Some were so large he would have to roll them on to the sled with a crowbar. The horse would pull them to the edge of the field where he stacked them up in a fencerow to keep wild horses and stray cattle out of the field. There were no herd 1aws; all open range.
He started hauling lumber to build our barn. It was a 28 mile round-trip to Hatton, so he would leave early in the morning for Hatton by wagon. He would have to stay over night and rest the horses for a fresh start the next day. When all the lumber was there, our neighbors came, with saws and hammers, and helped build our barn.
After it was all finished my father gave a big dance and feast. My father was quite a musician and bad a good voice. He played by ear. He could play about any thing be could get his hands on and could he ever play the French Harp! One neighbor had a violin and one an accordion. We had a real good Canadian hoe down. I remember my Mother and all the ladies were getting afraid the floor wouldn’t hold up, but it didn’t fall down, and a good time was bad by all.
There was a lake about half mile from our home that we ran our cattle on in the summer time. But the water was bitter, as it was alkali, and you could not drink it. The lake was called Bitter Lake. There was a well up from the lake; we drew water there fore the stock in the summer time, when the water was low in our well. We had to draw the water with a bucket on a rope.
On the other side of the lake, my Mother’s brother had a homestead of 160 acres; he raised wheat. He was a deaf mute; we all loved our uncle Andy Burch.
My father and uncle decided to run a ferry across the lake, as it would cut off seven or eight miles to Hatton.
I remember one day I was down there when they were taking a wagon with a team of horses across. One had a small colt, and it fell off the ferry into the lake. The men tried to lasso it, but it was too far out, we all thought it would drown, but it swam all the way across. I remember how frightened I was for the little colt.
This is a picture of the barn that the neighbors helped build. My father and one of my older half brothers are standing with the horses and my oldest sister and I are standing by the barn door. This was taken in 1914 or 1915.
My Mother was getting a lot better, the climate was agreeing with her. The following September 28th, 1915, my sister, Nancy Jane, was born. They named her after my father’s Mother; then came another sister on November 9th, 1916; they named her Dorothy Lucille.
In the fall my father would sew his winter wheat. My Mother raised all our chickens and turkeys. My father always had a cow and a hog to butcher in the fall after we had a hard freeze. He would hang the meat in he meat house, where it would stay frozen all winter. Mother would fry sausage and put it in five-gallon crocks, pour hot grease over them and store them in the cellar. She also stored eggs in a water glass placed in a large crock, as we got very few eggs in the wintertime.
In 1914, World War I had broken out. By 1917, my father was getting afraid he might be drafted. That fall my father sold out and put us all on the train for Illinois.
We stayed that winter with Grandfather and Grandmother at Fieldon, Illinois. I’ll never forget the night my brother was born. My Grandpa and Grandma were up in the middle of the night running around, building a fire, Grandpa putting the horse to the buggy and going for the doctor.
My sister and I were awakened by all the commotion and came out of our bedroom. Grandma said, “What are you girls doing up? Go back to bed!” We could hear our Mother groaning in the next room as we were lying there listening. I remember we were lying there with our arms out from under the cover crossed across our chests. Grandma looked in on us, saw our arms out from under the blankets and as she pulled the covers up over them, said; “Now you girls keep yours arms under the covers and go to sleep.”
Finally, we heard Grandpa come in with the doctor. The baby must have been almost there when the doctor arrived, because it wasn’t long when we heard the baby cry. We had a new baby brother. Then named him Allen Auger after the storekeeper in Hatton, Canada. Somehow we got to calling him “Allie” and he is still called that to this day.
I remember my Grandpa sitting in the kitchen, playing his violin. He played “Turkey in the Straw,” “Little Brown Jug” and many more, while my Mother and Grandma fixed breakfast.
One morning, while my Grandpa was playing his violin, Geneva and I were sent out to play. We could hear his playing from outside, so Geneva and I found a pair of corn stocks and sat down by the kitchen window and acted like we were playing along with our Grandpa. The violin was getting louder and we turned our heads to look up at the window. We were shocked to see our Mother, Grandma and Grandpa all watching us from the window. Geneva and I threw our corn stocks in the air and ran. We were afraid we would get a scolding for mocking our Grandpa, but they were all laughing about it, thinking it was cute.
In the spring, my father came down from Canada. He bought or leased 60 acres near Elsah, Illinois and moved us there. Then he went back to Canada to wait out the war.
I remember one evening when my father was still in Canada; there was an old man who came by in an old wagon calling for old bones and rags. He asked my Mother if he could make camp down by the creek that night. My mother told him it would be all right.
We had an apple tree down below the house us kids had been knocking apples out of the tree with a garden rake, and left it lying on the ground with the tines up.
That evening us kids were playing hide and go seek. As Geneva was running for base, she stepped on the rake and almost ran it through her foot. She started screaming. Mother ran to her, but couldn’t pull the rake out. The old man, who had made camp down by the creek, heard the screams and came running. He pulled the rake out and carried Geneva to the house and doctored her foot.
That fall my father came down from Canada after the war ended in 1918. He started farming. Geneva and I started school. We were the tallest ones in school in the first grade, so the kids made fun of us. As I was brought up on the prairie in Canada, I was very shy around people.
On November 26, 1919, we had another sister. They named her Lola Violet, after my aunt who lived down the road from us.
Memory of School Days
My first and second years in school were in a one-room schoolhouse a mile from our farm near Dow, Illinois. It was just after World War I and every one was poor.
My mother always bought flour in 100 pounds sacks with pretty prints on them. I remember she always bought yards of black satin cloth that she used to make our bloomers .We wore black-netted stockings. I wasn’t embarrassed about my clothes, as all the rest of the kids wore the same kind of clothes. The boys all went bare footed until it got too cold; they all wore bib overalls with patched bottoms and knees.
Our one room schoolhouse consisted of the teacher’s desk up front, a black board, and a potbellied stove in back of the room. Up front in the left hand corner was a high stool with a dunce hat on it. If you were bad, you got the privilege of wearing the hat and sitting on the stool.
We always had spelling bees. One day we were all lined up for a spelling bee. I was always at the bottom of the row, as I was a bad speller. The teacher gave us a word to spell and started at the head of the row. Everyone was missing it. By the time it got to me, my heart was pounding so hard I could hardly breathe. I knew how to spell the word! I spelled it right and walked to the head of the class. That was a very proud moment in my life.
The next two years were at Elsah School. It was a two-story schoolhouse, grade school on the ground floor and high school on the second.
When I was in third grade, we had a Christmas play at the town hall at Elsah. As I was shy around people, I was the last one on stage, so all the seats were filled.
The teacher said, “Will you children move down, so Lois can have a seat?” One of the boys in a higher grade then said in a loud voice, “She can sit on my lap, if she wants to.” I was so embarrassed, my face turned a deep red and the audience laughed.
My father put in a truck garden, as we had a summer resort near us. We could sell vegetables, chickens, milk, eggs and butter there. He also raised wheat, corn and hogs.
In 1921 my mother started failing in health again. The next spring, 1922, my father decided to put in a sugar cane crop and make sorghum.
My sister and I were put to work in the field that spring. Geneva went to work on the walking plow and me on the disk and harrow. After the fields were all done, we had to plant 35 acres of cane. When it was up, we had to hoe it and cultivate it was layed by in July and ready for harvest in the fall.
Meantime, my father put in a sorghum mill, a steam boiler with two long stainless steel vats, around 2 ½ feet deep and about 4 feet wide and 10 to 14 feet long, with steam pipes running through it to cook the juice. He put the boiler close to the creek bank, so we wouldn’t have to carry the water so far.
When the mill was all set up and the cane was ready, it must have been near October, as we were already in school. It was time to cut their heads off and strip them of their leaves. Then we had to cut them and load them onto a wagon and haul them to the mill where we ran them through a press to extract their juice.
When we got home from school, we had the chores to do. We had to get the cows in and help with the milking. We carried water to fill two large barrows 2/3 full of water, as my father dumped his bran in them to soak overnight for the hogs the next day.
After supper, we had the supper dishes to do and usually we got into a fight over who washed them last. Mother would have to straighten us out. Mother would be getting the rest of the kids their baths and getting them ready for bed. Sis and I would have to do our homework by lamplight, as there was no electricity on the farm in those days.
My father would get Geneva and I up at 4 a.m. to help run the cane through the press till the vats were full, before we could go get our breakfast and go to school. We had to walk a mile to school.
I can’t remember just when I started getting afraid of my father; maybe it was because he was so mean to the animals. He had a terrible temper. He would go into a rage over nothing. He would keep me out of school to help him cut wood for the winter with a six foot cross cut saw. I would get so tired I would get to leaning on the saw and he would yell at me.
My father was having success with is sorghum; he sold it for $1.00 a gallon. But mother was pregnant again and was losing weight and coughing. That October 25, 1922, my brother Thomas was born and she never regained her health.
My mother came down with pneumonia and passed away January 23, 1923. My oldest sister was 13 and I was 11 at that time. There were eight of us without a mother, and Tommie only three months old.
With my mother gone my whole world just collapsed from under me. Being frightened was no word for it. I was terrified. What was going to happen to us now? And Tommie was only three months old. I dared to think.
But the people of Elsah, Illinois; I’ll always be grateful for their hospitality. They’ll always have a warm spot in my heart.
Back to the Homestead
When school was out that spring, my father gathered us all up and took us to his sister, who lived about a mile outside of Kane, Illinois.
There, I found he had built a house on an old Dodge truck. He was planning on taking us back to Canada to the old homestead. Tommie was now six months old. I was 12 and Geneva was 14. Mother had taught Geneva how to cook and bake bread, how to churn butter, make cheese plus how to do the washing and mending. We had lots of experience taking care of babies.
Left to right: Lola, Allie, Dorothy, Nancy, Russell, Lois, Geneva, John C. Berry holding Thomas, six months old.
I sometimes wonder if she knew she might not be with us someday. So she taught us two girls how to take care of the rest of our sisters and brothers.
Sometime in early June, my father loaded us all up in that truck and we headed for Canada. We camped at night where we could find water. We cooked on a kerosene stove.
I have a post card that my father sent to his sister telling her he had made 80 miles in four hours that day.
We came to Davenport, Iowa and my father was trying to find a campsite for the night. He found a small park where we could get water, so we stayed there. We had a nice clean park to play in. Some people across the street were watching us and decided to investigate.
They found out there were eight children and a small baby and no mother. Their hearts went out to us. They insisted on taking us all in. They gave us supper and a good bath and put us to bed. The next morning they fed us breakfast before we left.
This is the truck we drove back to Canada in 1923
We finally crossed over into Minnesota. My father was looking for another campsite. We came to a big farm with a white house and pretty trees, with a white picket fence around it. My father asked if we could make camp there that night and they said we could. When they found out there were eight kids and no mother, they showered us with food and gave us permission to bring our dirty clothes in to wash in their machine. Believe me, we were in need of clean clothes. It was quite a job trying to keep a small baby in clean dry diapers. We were two days getting everything clean and ready to start again.
It wasn’t long before we crossed over into Canada. We began to see the prairie. There was along narrow dusty road with gopher and jackrabbits everywhere. What a desert like place. My heart sank. We seemed to travel for days without seeing anything but prairie.
We finally arrived at the old homestead and moved in. What a mess it was. No one had lived there since we lived there before. The only thing that was there was the old cook stove and he potbelly stove in the living room. My father took the old Dodge truck and told us he was going into Hatton and would be back in a few days. But, he was gone over a week and still hadn’t come home. We were getting out of food and getting worried because he hadn’t come back.
Just about the time we had given up on ever seeing him again, here he came. He had traded the old truck off for four head of horses, harness for them, a wagon, a cow, some chickens, and groceries. Were we ever glad to see them. In a few days he went back and bought more cows, a separator, and cream cans. After he got all the cows, he gave me one of the riding horses. I named her Mollie. I was put to herding the cows. There were still no herd laws, only fences around the fields; all open range.
They had built a one-room schoolhouse while we were gone. We had to go to school in the summer time, because of the hard winters. It would get 60 below zero and blizzards could come without warning.
I remember my father hauling a barrel of water from the well. The water would slop over the side and be frozen by the time it hit the sled.
Taken on the old homestead near Hatton
Allie, Nancy and Lola
There were no trees to cut for firewood, so we burned coal in the wintertime. In the summer, we picked up cow chips to cook with. I remember one morning we woke up to a terrible blizzard. We couldn’t see the barn. After breakfast, it still hadn’t let up. We had to get to the barn to milk the cows. Finally, my father said, “Get your coats on, we’re going to try to get to the barn.” My father put a bucket between us and yelled to hold on, no matter what happened. We made it, but ran into the barn before we saw it. I remember after the storm was over, the snow was higher than my head.
We had the job of digging a path to the barn, coal shed and out house. We didn’t do much the rest of the winter, but care for stock and try to keep warm. My father brought the horses’ harness in and oiled and repaired them by the stove, so they would be ready for spring.
But next spring, we didn’t get much rain. The wheat only got six or seven inches high.
I remember around June that year, my father made his weekly trip to Hatton with the cream. The horses go loose and we could not find them. We were afraid of what our father would do to us, if he found out the horses were gone. But, we could not find them. I had my riding horse, but we had never ridden her double, so I did not know if she would let us both ride or not. So, Geneva was walking. The coyotes were yelling so loudly and sounded so near, we were afraid. She tried to get me off the horse, so she could pull me up. I was so terrified; I wouldn’t get off. Finally, she got so desperate; she pulled me off. Then she pulled me up. I don’t know why we were out there, when we couldn’t see our hands before our faces. But, we were afraid of what our father would do to us, if we didn’t find the horses. We finally gave up at daybreak and went home to face our father. Well, we got what we expected when we got home; a good whipping with is belt. Then, I was sent back to look for them again. I found them in the neighbor’s wheat field. I don’t know what made my father turn so mean. Now that I’m older, I think maybe it was the pressure of losing our mother and being left with eight howling kids to feed and the crops failing. He started taking it out on us kids.
Allie, Thomas and Lola 1924
If our sisters and brothers started getting into a fight, or our baby brother would start crying, he would take it out on Geneva and I.
My sister and I were beginning to smell liquor on his breath. He was always meaner, when he was drinking. One day, after he got home late, we were having breakfast; Tommie was sitting in his highchair and spilled his milk. My father went into a rage. My sister Geneva had gone down to the barn to bring up the slop bucket. I got the dishcloth and started wiping up the milk. He jumped up from the table in a rage and headed for the wagon, where he had a buggy whip. Geneva was about halfway between the barn and the house with the slop bucket. He ran to her with the whip and started whipping her. Poor sis was screaming so loudly, I thought he was killing her. Finally, he let up and headed for the house. I knew I was next. I ran to the back bedroom and crawled under the bed, but that didn’t save me. He whipped me until I was black and blue and so was Geneva.
My mother’s brother lived on the other side of the lake from us. He came over one day to see how we were. He was a deaf mute and had taught us to talk with our hands. When we told him what was happening, he was horrified.
Geneva holding Thomas 1924
One day my father told me I would have to herd the cow on foot the next day, as he would have to work my horse in the field. I told him I was afraid to go on foot, but he said, “Well, you go out there with those cows, there’s nothing out there that will hurt you.”
I was down at the lake bottom with the cows. I had a little black and white dog with me, and he had run a jackrabbit into a hole. He was trying to dig it out, while I sat there watching him. There was a high bluff to my left along the lake bottom. My eyes traveled along the rim of the bluff and I saw four wolves laying up on the edge of the bluff watching me. I grabbed the dog and started running towards the cows, staying close to them for protection. I gathered up the cows and herded them towards home. There was my father, with a shocked look on his face, yelling at me, “What are you doing bringing the cows in at two [o’clock]?” I started crying and told him the wolves were after me. To my amazement, he just walked away. But the next day, he gave me back my horse.
The Prairie Fire
It was about July or August 1924; I was about 14, and we were living on the old homestead in Canada.
It was evening, milking time. I was on my way from the barn to the house, when I smelled smoke. I started looking around to see where it was coming from, when I saw smoke over in the west. I ran back to the barn to tell my father that it looked like there was a fire over in the west. My father came out and looked at it, and yelled, “My God, a prairie fire! RUN, and tell Ringdahls. I ran as fast as I could. I could see the flames from the fire now. A wall of fire 10 to 12 feet high. I was so frightened, I wanted to turn back, but I knew I had to keep going. I was so out of breath, when I got there, I could hardly talk. Since they were Norwegians, I couldn’t make them understand me. Mr. Randall was in the barn milking. I yelled, “FIRE! And pointed to the west. He said, “Yew,” and kept on milking.
I desperation, I grabbed his arm and pointed and yelled, “FIRE!” I pulled at him and he finally got up. I dragged him to the barn door and pointed at the fire and yelled, “FIRE!” When he saw the wall of fire, he threw his arms over his head and ran to the house to tell his wife. I started running for home. My father had already harnessed the horses and was out plowing firebreaks.
Our neighbors all came and helped put out the fire, just before it reached our farm. We were all spared.
Because of the drought, my father decided to move to the other side of the lake, where my uncle had his homestead. Our wheat was only about hand high. When the stock had eaten all the grass, my uncle told my father to bring our stock to his place, as he hadn’t put his stock out to graze yet. We loaded up the wagons and I went to the barn to get the old cat and her two kittens. I was putting them in the wagon when my father said, “Get those cats out of there. We’re not taking those cats.” I was terribly upset; without milk, how could they live? I don’t know why I was so worried about the cats, when their mother could catch the thousands of rabbits and gophers. Also, they could go to our neighbors, the Christenson’s, they always put out milk for the cats.
We started out early in the morning with two wagons. I was on old Mollie, driving the cows. We went around the east end of Bitter Lake. I don’t know how many miles it was, but it was almost dark by the time we arrived at our uncle’s place.
They had built a corral to do the milking in. I have a painful memory of that barbed wire fence. We had a cow that had a baby calf. It had been taken away from the mother so we could milk
her for cream. The calf broke loose and got through the fence. My father yelled at me to get the calf out of there. I ran after it, and made a grab for its tail. I missed and grabbed the barbed wire instead. It cut a four-inch gash across my left hand. No one ever paid any attention to it, not even a bandage. So it became infected badly.
My father had bought two greyhound pups and I always loved animals. I had made friends with the pups and wherever I went, they went.
Uncle Andy Burch’s home and barn
One day I was sitting out by the corral on a box, crying because my hand was hurting so badly. One of the greyhounds came over and smelled my hand. He started licking it, I started to jerk away, but it felt good, so I let him clean it out. My hand seemed to quit hurting and to my amazement, it started to get better. When I milked the cows, I’d wash out the wound with the fresh milk and every day my hand got better. I still have the scar.
My Walk Across Bitter Lake
One day I was herding the cattle near the lake. I looked out across the lake towards the old homestead. I worried about the old cat and her two kittens. I noticed how low the lake was. It was a calm, hot summer day. I couldn’t swim a lick, but could I wade across the lake? I found a long pole, and then I picked out a place where the lake was narrow. How deep was the water? I took the pole and test the lake bottom, as I walked out into it. Finally, I was half way across the water and it was up to my shoulders. When the pole started hitting higher ground, I knew I could cross. I got over to the other side and headed for our homestead to see how the kittens were. They were fine. Still, I decided I would take them back with me.
But, time had passed. I didn’t realize how late it was getting. When I got back to the lake, the wind was up and the water was choppy. I was afraid, but I had to cross the lake. So, with the kittens wrapped in my blouse and pole in hand, I started out. In the meantime, my oldest sister, Geneva, was worried because I hadn’t come home with the cows. She came down to the lake. She saw my head bobbing in the water and was horrified. Because the water was choppy, my head appeared to be bobbing in the water. It was hitting me in the face, but I hung onto my pole and the kittens. I could hear Geneva screaming at me, that I was going to drown. I was afraid she was right. But, I kept going. Finally, I felt the bottom going up again. I made it. But, did my sister every bawl me out. God surely held me in his hand that day.
We Travel 100 Miles From Hatton to Eastend by Wagon
That fall there was no feed on my uncle’s farm. My father found a place to lease at Eastend, Saskatchewan. We packed and headed for a new home by wagon. I rode old Mollie and drove the cattle and horses. We didn’t get half a mile from home, when we ran into trouble. We had some yearling colts that didn’t want to leave home. A neighbor had a wheat field that ran along the road and had left his gate down.
The colts bolted through the gate and headed back towards home. When the neighbor saw the colts bolt through, he ran and closed the gate and wouldn’t let me out with the colts. I asked him to open the gate, so I could drive the colts through, but he refused. My father came back to see what was the trouble, but no amount of arguing did any good.
My father went into Hatton and got the sheriff. But, that didn’t do any good. They set up the court for a hearing that afternoon. Well, I was never in a court in my life. My mother always taught us never to swear, that God would punish us, if we did.
They put me on the stand, put my hand on the Bible and asked me to swear on it. That was a no no. I was horrified. When my father told them what the trouble was, the courtroom roared with laughter. We got the horses back and didn’t have to pay a fine, either. The next day, we were on our way and everything went pretty smooth from there on.
The Reservation and Cypress Lake
One evening we came to an Indian Reservation. My father asked if we could camp there that night. They told my father we could, so he bought some bread from them. I can still remember how good that bread was. It was baked in round loaves. I believe it was called Shepard’s bread. We stayed there a couple of days and rested before moving on. There was a nice Indian boy there that helped me herd the cows and horses. I rode bare back like he did. We had a lot of fun racing our horses. I can still see him sitting on his horse as we drove away and waving goodbye.
The trip from Hatton to Eastend was around 100 miles. I don’t remember how many miles we made a day, but I think it was 10-12. We had to stop and rest the stock and fix our dinner. I rode and drove the cows and horses all the way. I think the Indian village was about half way.
I can remember very well when we got to Cypress Lake. It reminded me of Bitter Lake, with a high bluff overlooking the lake and a beautiful green valley. I never saw so many cattle in my life. When they saw our cattle coming through, they all came running and bellowing and the dust was flying. They locked horns and the fight was on. My father called, “Come to the wagon and wait till they quit fighting.” After about an hour they had had enough and the herd separated and I gathered up our cattle. We were on our way once more.
We finally arrived at the farm my father had leased. It was about 14 miles beyond Eastend. It was a nice place, red out buildings and a white house, with a white picket fence around it. It had a big blacksmith shop and machine shed, with a forge in one corner and a huge tub to temper the steel with after it was bent into the shapes he wanted. I would bring the horses in there to be shod. I loved to watch him put the shoes on. Sometimes, I would help him put them on.
The crops were still in the field, when we got there. So we helped the owner get his crop harvested that fall before he left.
As soon as he was gone, my father put in his winter wheat. That spring he put his spring oats in. We had a big wheat and oat crop that fall. Geneva and I walked behind the binder and shocked the wheat. It was so heavy we could hardly set it up. We couldn’t get the thrashing machine then, so we had to stack it. That made a lot of extra work.
My father kept us out of school that summer and no one said anything about it.
The next winter was a bad one. Our pump froze up. We had a creek about a half-mile from the house. I had to wrap my feet in burlap sacks to keep me from sinking into the snow. It also helped keep my feet warm; I had no boots.
One morning, I had to take the cows down to the creek for water. I took my axe along to chop a hole through the ice so the cows could drink. I had to chop all the way to the bottom and still there was no water. The cows were standing around waiting. I didn’t know what to do, so I started over to the bank to think things out, when I fell knee deep into the water. The cows heard the splash. They almost had me surrounded before I could get out. I had to wait till they all filled up with water. By that time my jeans were frozen stiff.
When I got home, my sister pulled my jeans off and started rubbing my feet and legs. I howled with pain, as the blood started back down into my legs and feet.
We had brought two feather ticks from Illinois. As the bedrooms were large, we had two beds in each room. There was a window broken in our room, so Geneva had stuck a pillow in it. One night we had a big snowstorm and the temperature must have been 30 below. Nancy, Dorothy, and Lola slept in one bed and Geneva and I in the other one. It got so cold the girls in the other bed started crying that they were cold. So we all crowded under the feather tick to keep warm. When we woke up the next morning, we found the pillow had blown out of the window and the snow was all over us. God surely must have been with us that night to live and tell about it.
Spring finally broke and I as back on my horse herding cattle.
My father had been working on an invention of a machine to separate the wheat from the shaft (hulls). That spring he took it to town to try and get a patent on it. He was spending a lot of time in town and leaving us kids alone.
One Sunday a lawyer and his wife came from Eastend to visit us. They fell in love with Tommie and offered to take care of him for us. My father said they could. Then it wasn’t long before they wanted to adopt him. My father said, “NO!”
That summer my father was in town and didn’t come home with the groceries. We were out of food, not even any flour or yeast to bake with and our clothes were in rags.
Two men drove up to the house and went through our cupboards. They checked our clothes and found them in rags. I was herding the cows not far from the house. I saw my sister pointing to where I was. My jeans were in rags and I remember trying to cover up my legs with the ragged jeans. They just looked at me and drove away.
In a few days they came back with clothes and shoes for us all. My father was home, but wasn’t saying much. He told me to put the horse away, that we were going into town. I was bewildered. What were we going into town for?
When they got us into town, they took us to the courthouse. They put my father on the stand and asked him a lot of questions. When it was all over, they put us on the train. I didn’t know where we were going or what was happening to us. The same two men were overseeing us. When we came into Shaunavon, we were taken off the train and to a hotel, where a woman met us. She gave us all a bath, and then took us all to have our hair cut. They cut mine off to a short bob. How I hated it. When I got back to the hotel, I cried. That night the men came and took us all to a movie, the first one I ever saw. The next day, we were back on the train again and, the next day we came into Moose Jaw. We were swished away to the children’s home.
If my memory is right, the Salvation Army met the train and took us to the children’s home. They told us we would stay there until either we were adopted or our father made other arrangements for us.
The Children’s Home
It had to be near September when we arrived at the children’s home. As soon as we were settled in, with our black dresses and white collars, we started school. They put me in the fifth grade, but soon found out I had missed so much school. They put me back into the forth grade. I was sick with disappointment. I tried to catch up by not going out at recess. I wanted to study. Finally, my teacher made me go out, but I would slip back in to my books.
I enjoyed my school. We had basket weaving and singing lessons and I was catching up. But we always had the fear that we kids would be separated. And, we all feared our supervisor. She was mean and stern. I, for one, was scared of her. She always put me in the laundry to work. That winter was a cold one, it was way below freezing. But, she made me hang out the clothes anyway. The cloth would freeze before I could pin them on the line. My hands were freezing and I was crying when the janitor saw me and came out. He brought me inside and got a bucket of snow and was rubbing my hands when she saw me. She jumped all over me and said if I weren’t so slow, I could have had those clothes hung up. The janitor was so mad, they went at it. I hear him say, “You had better let up on those kids or I’ll see to it you lose your job.”
One morning several of the kids broke out with the measles. They were put in a large attic where there were about 14 cots. Some of the children were my own sisters and brothers. The measles started spreading fast. The attic began to fill up. Finally, Sis needed help and asked if I could come and help her, as I had had measles before I was born. So they came and got me and put me up here to help her. Finally, Sis came down with them and I had all of them to care for. The only thing I could give them was warm water. I would work all night putting cold wet cloths on their heads to try and keep their fevers down and try to keep them covered up.
One morning, I was so tired; I had had no sleep. Everything seemed to be quiet. I sat down on my sister’s cot and fell asleep. The next thing I knew, the matron was shaking me, saying, “What are you doing asleep? Why weren’t you taking care of those children?” The only thing I can remember saying was, “I was so tired, I fell asleep.” “Well, see you don’t do it again,” she snapped. I was sick from exhaustion from lack of sleep, but finally everyone was over them and I could go back downstairs to my dormitory and to bed.
In January 1926, we got a letter from our father saying we would all be released to go back to the United States. I was sick about leaving, although I was glad to get away from the children’s home. The day I had to quit school, I cried all day. I asked my teacher if I could have my books. She said she couldn’t do that, as they belonged to the school. But, she finally let me have one, a reader. I still have that book. I will treasure it always.
We were taken to Regina to get our passports and have our pictures taken. After that, they put us on the train for Illinois. Our father met us at the border with Tommie, who had been at the Stevenson’s at Eastend. The immigration officers stayed with us until we were across the border into the States.
Arriving Back in Illinois
We arrived back in Illinois in January 1926. When we all piled off the train at Kane, there was no one to meet us. They didn’t get the telegram until the next day. My uncle was surprised when he got a call that we were at the station. My uncle came and took us to his house.
I found out later we were all supposed to have homes to go to and be sent to school. I had the understanding that they signed papers to that effect, in order to get us back to the States.
We all had homes to go to, except Geneva and I. They decided that Geneva and I were too big to go to school. We would have to work and help support the rest of the family. They found a place for me at $5 per week with room and board. I think I was there about two months, when they said they didn’t need me any more. I went back to my uncle’s place, as he was my guardian. They took me out to Aunt Mollie Carrico, as she was not able to care for herself. I guess I was there about three months, when she went to live with a son. So, I went back to my uncle’s again.
My Trip to Oklahoma
My cousin from Oklahoma, who was visiting my aunt, had a small son. She asked me if I would like to go home with her and help with the baby for my room and board. Well, I had to go somewhere, so I accepted her offer. But, after I was there about a month, I became so lonesome and miserable; I could hardly stand it.
My father had two brothers who lived out there. One was a doctor, and the other ran a grocery store with a lunchroom added on. His place was right across from the high school. He sold hamburgers, hot dogs and pop.
He had five children, three boys and two girls. They were the ones that lived her us in Elsah, Illinois. It was one of the girls that told sis and I to put a handful of corn in each hill of corn [they were planting], so we could get done quicker and go to her house to play. So when her father asked me if I would like to live with them, I was delighted. I thought I would like it there better as I would have five cousins to talk to and I wouldn’t be so lonesome. So, I went to live with my uncle and his family.
Well, I sure didn’t have time to get lonesome there. Besides taking care of their two year old, I had to help out at the store and help at the hamburger stand at noon. There was no time to be lonesome. When school was out, he put up a stand on the highway and sold more hamburgers, pop and candy that summer.
When school started that fall, we moved back into town and set up the hamburger stand across from the high school again.
Then I got a letter from Geneva telling me she had a job at the Crenshaw Hospital in St. Louis and she was making $50.00 a month. She said if I could come, she would get me on with her. Well, I was bubbling all over with excitement. I ran to tell my uncle. He said, “No. How are you planning on getting there?” I told him my sister said she would send me the money for the fare. Well, he didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to go, but said I needed some shoes, as the ones I had were completely worn out. Finally, he said I could go and he would buy me some shoes, which he did. Soon, I was on my way to St. Louis, Missouri.
The Crenshaw General Hospital
My sister met me at the station and took me to the hospital where she worked. The floorwalker came down and gave me a black dress with short sleeves and a white collar, white apron and straps over the shoulder and black stockings. I was ready for work.
I had to work a month before I got paid. Then a letter came from my uncle wanting $5 for the shoes he had bought me. I just couldn’t believe what I was reading. After I had worked for him for almost a year, for just room and board. I mailed him the money.
One day there was a knock at the door. I was our father with one of his brothers. He said he needed our money to buy our sisters some clothes. After we had worked there about five months, with our father coming every payday and taking our money, we went to Kane to see how our sisters and brothers were doing. The first thing we heard was, “Why weren’t we sending some money for the kids?” They needed clothes. We told them we had been giving it to our father to buy clothes for them. They had never seen him.
We knew we had been taken. Before our next month was up, we answered a help wanted ad and got a job for $60 a month. I was the maid and sis was the cook. We left the hospital and didn’t leave a forwarding address. We had just worked there a month and drew our first pay. We didn’t have coats for the winter, so we went to town. I bought a coat, but Geneva couldn’t find one she liked, so we went home.
We were serving supper, when the doorbell rang and I went to answer it. To my sorrow, it was my father standing there, yelling at me. The people came running to see what was going on and he told them we were runaways. He didn’t leave until he had all of Geneva’s money. He wanted mine, but I told him I didn’t have any, as I had bought a coat that day. When he left, we were fired. We went back to Kane and told them what had happened.
I can’t remember where my sister went, but I went to my uncle’s place, the one that always came with our father, when he came to get our money.
About a mile from his place, there was a tannery. They made leather for shoes. I walked in all kinds of weather every morning trying to get hired. I was cold and miserable, and the employer would hire everyone but me. He kept asking me how old I was and I would say, “Fifteen.” Finally one day, after he had hired everyone, there I sat. He said, “Well, how old are you?” “Fifteen,” I said. He threw his pencil down on his desk and said, “Well, can’t you ever say your sixteen?” I stood there in shock. “I’ll give you a job, but don’t you ever tell anyone you’re under sixteen, and if anyone finds out, you pick up and quit.” I went to work.
I worked there about a month, when my uncle told my father I was working at the tannery. He found me on a weekend and he called me everything under the sun. He said he wasn’t going to have a daughter of his working in a factory. I got so scared he would make trouble for that nice man, I gave up my job and went back to my uncle’s.
Then, I saw an ad in the paper for a job to help with housework for $5 a week. I got the job. There were eight in the family. Four of them worked at the Standard Oil Company at Wood River. The rest were still in school. They treated me like one of the family. They were Catholic and went to church every Sunday. They always insisted I go with them. I really enjoyed working for them.
One day, he noticed my shoes were badly worn and said, “Lois, how come you don’t buy some new shoes?” I told him I didn’t have any money. “What are you doing with the money I’m paying you?” I told him my father came and took all the money. I had never seen Mr. Hallaran mad before. He said, “When does he come for your money?” When I told him, he said, “I’ll be waiting for him.” When Mr. Hallaran got though with my father, he was almost running down the street. He never came back after my money again.
I was past 17 when my sister went to work at the Illinois Glass Company at Alton, Illinois. She wanted me to come to work there, so we could be together again. I would be making more money, but I found out after I paid for room and board, I was making less. We lived at the Y.M.C.A. in Alton and I had to work the 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. shift. After working there about six months, my grandmother and aunt wanted to go to California for a month. They asked sis and I to come and stay with grandpa while they were gone. After four weeks of staying with grandpa and working the 11-7 shift, it was getting me down. I knew I couldn’t stand it much longer.
I heard they were hiring at the Western Cartridge Co at East Alton, so instead of going home, I went to see if I could get on there. I was standing in a back of a room that was jammed with women. I guess I was about half asleep, I didn’t see the employer come out of his office. Someone grabbed me and said, “He’s talking to you.” “Me?” “Yes,” they said. Then I heard him say, “Come up here.” The ladies started pushing me forward. He took me in his office. He had a big red apple on his desk. He must have seen me looking at it. He said, “Would you like that apple?” “Yes,” I said. “Help yourself,” he said. So I told him I hadn’t had breakfast yet and I thanked him. After asking me the usual questions, he sent me to the company doctor for a physical. The doctor sat looking at me for a few minutes, then stuck a thermometer in my mouth. After a few minutes, he checked it, then said, “Stand up and shut your eyes.” I did, but I was so dizzy I could hardly stand up. “Were you dizzy?” I said, “No.” I knew if I had said yes, I wouldn’t get the job. So I told a little white lie. He passed me and I went to work. I believe I worked there about a week, getting sicker all the time.
To get home, I had to take the train from East Alton to Alton, the transfer to the streetcar and ride it to the end of the line. My Grandfather’s place was still three blocks away. When I got off the streetcar, I was so dizzy and weak; I could hardly walk. There was a stonewall along the sidewalk. I put my hand t steady myself. My Grandfather’s house was on the next street over. I had to walk across the lot to the back of his house. I didn’t think I would make it. I got about halfway across the lot, when I saw my aunt standing on the back porch. I hear her cry out to my Grandmother, “Here’s Lois and she is awful sick.”
I don’t remember much of anything else. I must have been rattled. I kept saying, “My job. I’ve got to hold onto work.” They were having a hard time keeping me in bed. I finally woke up about 10 o’clock one morning. They had put me on the davenport in the front room. I could see my aunt in the kitchen. I felt cool and rested. I called to my aunt and said, “Aunt Mae, I’m hungry.”
She jumped and ran to me and said, “Well, it’s about time. How are you feeling?” I said, “Fine, but I’m awful weak.” She went back to the kitchen and came back with some hot broth. Then she told me that I had had pneumonia and had been awful sick.
I began to worry about my job. She said she had called and told them I was very sick and they said that was all right, not to worry. I was still weak, when I went back to work to pack shells. The floor boss said, “I thought you had quit.” I said, “No, I’ve been sick.”
After she had me standing for most of an hour, the sweat was running off me, since I was so weak.
She said, “Good Lord, girl, you’re still sick.” “No,” I insisted, “I’m just weak.” So she gave me a chair and said, “I’ll see where I can put you.” She finally took me to a table where I could sit and hand pack lead slugs into shot gun shells. She left me there about two weeks before she put me back on the packing table. My sister changed her job, too. She wanted to work for the Western, also. She got a job in a different department. We were doing well.
I had heard from our folks that our father was sick; there was something the matter with his lungs. My foreman came to me one morning and said, “Lois, I have bad news for you. Your father just passed away.” I didn’t have much remorse, only relief for sis and I. We wouldn’t be cussed out in public any more, or have our money taken away.
After my Grandmother and Aunt came back from California and I was better, Sis and I found a boarding house at Mrs. Brown’s at 4th and State. There were two brothers and a sister that boarded there. They were the McDaniels. Mary Dumeas was another girl that boarded there. Sis and I found out later, it was Mrs. McDaniels who had helped prepare our mother and helped us kids get ready for our mother’s funeral in Elsah.
Sis finally got married and left the boarding house, so Ethel and I became good friends. She was leaving the boarding house and moving to a private home. She needed a roommate. I moved with her to upper Alton. I was pretty happy there. I guess I would say I was happy for the first time in my life. My whole life was wrapped up in my church.
My Marriage 1932
My sister and her husband moved to East Alton to be closer to her work. One day she met me after work and asked me to come to her house. Her husband’s brother was visiting, looking for work. He was hoping to get on at the steel mill where his brother worked. So, I went to meet him.
When we got to her house, we went in the back door. There he stood, a dishtowel over his shoulder and a skillet in his right hand. She said, “This is my husband’s brother from East Prairie, Missouri, Herbert Barnett.” I guess it was love at first sight.
It was spring, 1931; just after the banks closed and most everyone had lost their money, the last days of Hoover’s presidency. There were no jobs for anyone. I was lucky; I still had one. Herb found at the Navy was recruiting. When he couldn’t find a job, he decided to enlist in the Navy. He was sent to Chicago, Illinois for boot training for six weeks. We wrote each other.
When his six weeks were up, he came back on two weeks furlough, before going to San Pedro to report for duty on the U.S.S. Texas.
In July 1932, he came home on leave and asked me to marry him. My answer was, “Yes!” We just wanted a simple wedding at the parsonage. I called Reverend Kennedy and asked him if he would marry us at the parsonage. “Of course,” he said, “but I have a deacon’s meeting at six, would seven be all right?” We said, “Yes.” I called my Sunday school teacher and told her I was getting married at the parsonage at seven. She asked me if we could come by her house before the wedding, as she wanted to meet Herb. When we got there, seven of the girls from my Sunday school class were there.
Seven o’clock came and the deacon’s meeting wasn’t over. About eight o’clock, I was getting nervous. I wanted to go over to the church and find out what was going on. One of the girls said, “You can’t go now. You’ve wrinkled your dress.” They insisted on ironing the dress. When they were through, Reverend Kennedy was ready. We walked over to the church. As we entered, the organ started playing, “Here Comes the Bride” and the church was filled. I was so shocked I cried all the way down the aisle. As we were going out the door, we were showered with rice. They had tied old shoes and tin cans to my sister’s car and painted a “Just Married” sign. They sure were busy. They even sewed up our pajamas so we couldn’t get into them.
Herb had two more weeks leave coming before he was to report to the U.S.S. Texas. As I had never met his folks, his brother and my sister, Geneva, drove us to East Prairie, Missouri.
His mother sold candy and school items and anything else she could sell. His father raised cotton, corn and peas. An aunt lived nearby. She ran a small country store. We were there about a week and then we went back to Illinois. I had to stay behind and work until Herb made another rating, second-class seaman. Then he could find a place for me to live. Finally, the day came when I got a letter telling me he had found a place for us to live. I left my job and took a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles. I arrived on Thanksgiving Day. Herb was there to meet me. What a wonderful joy to see him again. We went to a restaurant for Thanksgiving Dinner before going on to San Diego. I saw the ocean for the first time.
We were together during the Thanksgiving holiday, and then he had to go back to the ship. They were going out on maneuvers and would have duty that next weekend. So, it would be two weeks before I could see him again.
I thought I could find work, but because of the Depression, and so many other Navy wives, all in the same boat with me, there were no jobs.
After I was there a month, I became pregnant. When I told my husband, he became depressed; he didn’t know how we could afford a baby. I didn’t know either, but because of my faith in God, I knew there would be a way. My husband was only making $35 a month in the Navy. Then Roosevelt, cut the Navy’s pay by $5, leaving us with $30 a month to live on. At that time, you could by vegetables in California for 1¢ a bunch. Bread was 10¢ and so on. There was plenty to eat. My husband started standing by for someone else to make up the extra $5 we lost.
When I was about seven months along, we had a big earthquake. It was the first one I was ever in. It knocked me over a chair and I couldn’t get up. Finally, I crawled to the front door and pulled myself up. The house seemed to be rolling toward the sea. The trees and telephone poles were swaying to and fro. I was terrified and thought I was going into the sea and drown.
One of my neighbors knew I was expecting. She and her husband came over to see about me and took me to their home. My husband was aboard ship on duty. His captain came up to him and said, “Barnett, is your wife okay?” “I don’t know, Sir,” he told him, “and she is seven months along.” “Good God, man, go ashore and see about her.” He caught the next launch and tried to find me. He finally asked a neighbor and learned where I was. He took me home and put me to bed. The house kept jarring with other quakes and I would jump straight up. He would put his arm over me to keep my laying down. The after shocks kept up for about two weeks. San Pedro and Long Beach looked like a war zone. You couldn’t go downtown as the buildings were all cracked and bricks were so loose it was dangerous to be there. The walls could collapse and you might get killed.
A Son is Born 1933
After the big quake began to settle down again, my husband came home one evening and told me his ship was going to Bremerton, Washington for an overhaul in July. I was due in August and I wanted him to be with me when the baby was born. I decided I would go to Bremerton and he would follow shortly aboard ship. About three weeks before the ship left, he put me on the buss for Bremerton.
I didn’t have much money, so I didn’t have much to spend on an apartment. I had a terrible time trying to find one. The landlady would take one look at me and say, ”Sorry, no children.” I finally found a room with a hot plate to cook on. By the time Herb arrived, I was out of food. He got paid and we bought groceries. We found a small house where we could cook. My baby was born August 11, 1933. He was just two weeks old when I went back to San Pedro. Herb told me his ship would be leaving on a shakedown cruise and would be gone for a year. They would go through the locks at Panama and to South American, New York and back. I was shocked. Now, what would I do? After the ship left, I packed up and with my son went back to Illinois for the summer to show him off.
That fall I returned to San Pedro to wait for the ship to return. I continued to check out books at the library to pass the time away.
The ship arrived home in November 1934 and the next thing I knew, I was pregnant again. When I told my husband, he hit the ceiling and told me to get an abortion. It was against my religion and I said, “No!” Besides, I wanted a daughter. I was hoping for a girl. I was shocked he could suggest such a thing. We quarreled. He said we couldn’t afford another baby, but I was strong in my faith that God would provide once again. He still insisted on having an abortion. I cried and prayed, but I my conscience would not let me do it. We quarreled more and he threatened to leave me, but I still refused. He didn’t leave, I won the battle, but he had hurt me so badly. I couldn’t believe this was the man I had married and trusted my life with.
When I was about seven months along, his ship again had to go to Bremerton for an overhaul. He would be gone two months. His ship was to be back before the baby was born. My due date came. Still no ship. I needed him to care for our son, while I was in the hospital. He got leave and came home. He insisted on sleeping on the davenport. He said he was afraid he would hurt the baby, so I accepted that. But when I found stains on his sheets, he confessed. I was never so shocked in my life. He promised he would never mess around with another woman again. What was I to do, but stay? My baby was due any time and I had no job. So I stayed.
My baby was born on September 6th, 1935, a girl. I named her Beverly Ann. I had my family.
My two babies kept me so busy; I had no time to think of anything else. I tried to forgive and forget, but couldn’t love and trust my husband like I used to. There was always that nagging hurt deep in my heart, but I tried to keep our marriage solvent.
When his four years were up, the depression was still bad, so he re-enlisted for two more years. When his next two years were up, he left the Navy and found a job in Los Angeles rebuilding electric motors. But he was unhappy with his job.
His mother and father wanted him to come back to Missouri and live on their place until we could find jobs or a place to live. We packed everything up on a pickup and started out. It was wintertime and cold. When we arrived in Denver, Colorado, it was night. We got a room there. The next morning, everything was frozen. We finally got the pickup thawed out and started out again about noon that day. We were getting short of money, so we decided to drive all night. By the time we reached Arkansas, we were getting sleepy. Just before dawn, we found a place to get some coffee, but that didn’t help. We were just outside of Blytheville, Arkansas; Herb went to sleep and ran into a steel bridge. No one was hurt except me. I received a concussion from the accident. They told me I was walking around asking, “Where am I? What happened?” I came out of it for a few seconds as they were putting me in a wrecker and I heard someone say, “Get her to a hospital.” I don’t remember anything more until I woke up 24 hours later. Then, it all came back to me. I started asking for my children, were they all right? The nurse said they were fine, but they couldn’t quiet me until they brought them to me. They released me the next day and we caught the bus for New Madrid, Missouri. Every now and then, I still didn’t know where I was or where I was going. Herb’s father met us at New Madrid, but it was several days before I finally came to my senses and knew where I was.
My husband tried to find a farm for us to move to, but didn’t have the money to rent one until he could find a job. His folks had a large grain shed that had a good roof on it and the outside wasn’t so bad. So we decided to divide it into two rooms, a kitchen and a living room-bedroom combination. We put cardboard boxes up inside. We went to town and bought some pretty wallpaper and papered it. We put linoleum on the floors. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was clean. It would have to do until Herb could find work and find us another place to live.
We rented five acres from his father and put it into cotton. We had to hoe all of it three times (this is called chopping cotton). After we got the land cleaned out, we chopped cotton for other people for $1 a day. With both us of working, we made $2 a day. Finally, Herb got a job logging cypress on the river. He bought a team of horses to log with. That fall, I started picking cotton. That was back breaking work. Your back would give out and you would go down on your knees, dragging a long canvass sack over your shoulder. When you got to the end of the row, you could hardly drag it, but you had to drag it to the scale to be weighed. The cotton hulls would cut your fingers till they bled and you’d be so sore the next day, you could hardly pick. I got to where I could pick 300 pounds a day.
Herb finally made enough money to buy a truck to haul the logs to the mill. I put in a big garden and canned all our food. We bought a cow, a sow and some chickens, but he still couldn’t find a farm.
My husband found out the Navy was recruiting again and he decided to re-enlist. He had had all the farming he wanted. He told me to see out everything and he would send for me when he got settled. I sold everything, but there was no word from him as to when I was to come.
I had to go or I would have any money left for the bus or to rent a place when I got to San Diego. I sent him a wire telling him when the children and I would arrive at National City. It was about a half-mile from his base. I must have waited two hours. I was getting nervous and the children were tired and cross from traveling.
There was a real estate office just behind us. The lady came out and asked me if someone was to meet me. I told her, “Yes, my husband was supposed to have been here two hours ago. I’m afraid he couldn’t get off.” Just about that time, he walked up. The lady introduced herself and asked if we had a place to live. I said, “No, we still have to find a place.” She said she had a place, but there was no bedding or dishes to go with it. She said she would look around and see if she could find someone to loan us bedding and dishes until our trunks arrived. She did.
I will never forget Mrs. Allison. She surely was a Good Samaritan. We became good friends. The rent on that place was more than I could pay, so I had t find another one that was a little cheaper.
I knew I had to find work and I would have to find someone I could trust to watch my children. There was an old Spanish War veteran that lived across from me. He said he heard I was looking for someone to watch my children in case I found work. I finally found a housekeeping job where the lady’s husband had heart trouble and needed someone to watch him. The old veteran watched the kids for $2 a week. I was only making $5, so that left me three. Then I heard the Sweet Water High School was having night classes. I went to see about it. I wanted to take math and English classes. I started to school two hours every night. I gave the old veteran the other three dollars for his help.
That fall, the Navy built some low cost housing near the base. My husband got another raise in pay and I applied for one of the houses and got it. We moved into Navy housing and my children started school in the fall.
Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
They had a childcare center at the Base for Navy wives, who wanted to work. With the children in school, it took a lot of extra money for their clothes and lunches.
One day, I saw in the paper that Consolidated was having training classes for people who wanted to go to work. I was worried about what I should put down for my education.
I went to see a Mr. Hastings at the employment office. I asked him what I should put down as my education level and he told me not to put down less than the eighth grade. After two weeks training, they put me to work in the plant for 98¢ an hour. That was better than chopping cotton for $1 a day. I worked there six months and had two major operations. The insurance company said I was unable to work because of my health and I was terminated.
Now what was I to do? I saw in the paper that Ryan Aircraft was hiring and I went to see them. I got hired. They put me to work riveting wings on the B24.
Then came the bombing of Pearl Harbor. All the ships were blowing their sirens and loud speakers and the radio said all servicemen were to report to their ships immediately. The Navy men all came running out of their homes, some putting on their uniforms as they ran.
We were all afraid they would bomb us next. The Navy men were restricted to their ships and their bases. We didn’t know where our husbands were or when we would see them again. It was a terrible frightening time for us all.
World War II 1942
When school was out that spring, the childcare center closed. I had to find a sitter. I no more than had one broken in, when they would go to work at the defense plant. My next-door neighbor would always help me out until I could find another one.
My husband finally came home and told me they were shipping out to San Francisco and then the fleet was leaving for the south pacific. I was so afraid I might never see him again.
I decided to go to San Francisco to be with him before he left. I knew he wouldn’t have duty that weekend, but I didn’t know what I would do with the kids. I was telling my neighbor about my problem. She said, “Barney, I’ll take care of the kids, if you want to go.” I was delighted she would do this for me. What would I do without Burnis coming to my rescue! I took off on Friday evening, but when I arrived, he wasn’t there to meet me. I called the ship about nine and they informed me he was ashore. Why hadn’t he come to meet me? I waited all night and about four a.m. he showed up. He was drinking and mad because I had come. We went to a hotel and got a room, but as soon as we were inside the room, he turned on me telling me he didn’t care for the kids or me anymore; that he was in love with another woman. I was so shocked, I cried and cried until there were no more tears to shed. He took me to breakfast about noon, but I couldn’t eat. I could only drink coffee. He took me back to the hotel and said he had to go back to the ship and would be back that evening.
I was so sick and torn I could hardly think. I started walking and came to the Golden Gate Bridge. I started walking out on it and the only thing I could think of was doing myself in. I couldn’t see any sense in trying to live any longer.
As I was standing there looking at the turbulent water below, Jesus must have been beside me. All of a sudden, my mind grasped what it was I was about to do. I said to myself, “What am I thinking? Who will raise my children and take care of them?” I had to go back to my children and take care of them. I couldn’t leave them all alone as I had been.
Lois Berry Barnett, San Diego, CA 1944
Coming home from Ryan Aircraft
So I turned around and went back. I arrived in San Diego Sunday evening and when I told Burnis, we both had a good cry.
I went back to work on Monday and buried myself in my work. I got a raise, plus I was one of the six or seven that was selected to work on the first jet engine that was still in the experimental stage. I was given a pretty stiff screening process before I was accepted, but I passed and went to work on the jet. I had to be searched by two security guards going in and going out. We had to learn to read blue prints. We put the engine together and then took it outside to test for leaks in the oil lines. One day we had an engine outside to test. It was all tied down and Fay was ready to throw the switch. We gave her the signal, just as the dispatcher came flying out the side door on his bike. Too late, Fay hit the switch and it blew him about 30 feet. He jumped up and ran and we never saw him again.
My Divorce and My New Home
My husband’s ship came back to San Diego and he came home demanding a divorce. I was hoping he would get over the other woman and come to his senses, but no way. He even slept on the davenport and was just as cold to the children as he was to me. He left for about a month and came back to pick up his clothes and again demanded I go get the divorce. I told him, “You’re the one who wants the divorce, you get it.” “Well, I don’t have any grounds, you have,” he said. I asked, “What about the children?” “Send them to my mother.” “Over my dead body,” I told him. “Well, do what you want,” he replied.
There was another month of fighting. I finally gave up. I had lost weight, down to 135 pounds, plus I got ulcers, so I gave him his divorce. After I filed for the divorce, I was no longer eligible to live at the base.
My neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Con Anderson came over with some friends. He had been transferred to the air base in San Diego. They couldn’t find a place to live. I liked them right away. We got to talking about by trying to find a place to live and my not being able to find one either. I guessed I’d have to buy a place. They asked if I could buy a three-bedroom house, they would keep house and care for the children for their room and board. That sounded good to me. I went house hunting, and, of course, I went straight to Mrs. Allison.
She went to work and found me a new three-bedroom home. They wanted $1500 for the down payment, but I only had $500. She went to the old Connelly Loan in San Diego and got me $1000. The F.H.A. did the rest and we moved in.
I started having problems with my son. He would not stay in school. I could not be out looking for him and work, too. I heard about the Brown Military School and went to see them. I enrolled him. He loved it and was making good grades. I was using my alimony and the $50 child support payment to pay his tuition.
After a year, I didn’t have alimony any more and had to take him out of the school. He had a fit and said he would run away. I finally got it through his had that I didn’t have the money to keep him there any longer. There was a new school just three blocks from our house. I enrolled him there and he did well.
Finally, the war was over and so was my job.
Trying to Cope
After the war was over, we were all laid off. I drew my unemployment. There were just no jobs.
I had met a man who was divorced. I had written to him during the war and when he came home, he asked me to marry him. We were both alone and lonesome. I tried to find work, but found nothing. My unemployment was running out. I finally agreed that we would marry and I would stay home with the children. He was an electrician and made good money.
We hadn’t been married six months when he wanted to sell out and move to Washington State. He was born and raised there. I gave in and we packed up and moved to Washington. We bought a place in Pe Ell. He found work at a sawmill and I found work at a restaurant. He couldn’t find work as an electrician, so he was unhappy. He became moody and began drinking. He started abusing the children and me. I was afraid of him.
One night, I woke up and he was not in bed. I got up to see what he was doing. He was running around the house with his revolver. I asked, “What in the world are you doing?” “I thought I heard someone outside,” he said. My blood just froze. I went back to bed, but I didn’t sleep. I sometimes thought he was still in the south pacific fighting the war. The way he was acting, I was afraid he might turn the gun on us.
I knew I had to get away from him, but I didn’t know how. When he came home from work that night, he brought a case of beer. He went into the living room and started drinking. I could see he was getting in a foul mood. My children were in the kitchen, where I was preparing supper. He said he didn’t want anything to eat.
We started eating without him and then he came into the kitchen roaring mad and started shoving me around. The children ran out he back door and I ran after them. We ran downtown and told the sheriff. They put us up in a hotel for the night. They asked if he had a gun. I told them, “Yes, he does.” They went to the house the next day and took him to jail. I went to the house and got our clothes and we moved to Chehalis. I filed for divorce. I could never trust him or feel safe with him again.
I found a job as a shirt finisher at the laundry. Then my house burned down and I lost all my furnishings. The insurance covered the loan I had on the house. My property was sold and I only got $1000 for my part of the settlement. What a price to pay for my mistake.
I took the money and went to Longview. I got a part-time job at Weyerhauser cleaning offices. I rented a three-bedroom house in Columbia Heights and I learned to pick ferns on the side to make extra money. My daughter quit high school and got married. My son was working at the Fibre. He partied all night, went to sleep on the job and was fired. He was in the [National] Guard and he and another buddy from Kelso joined the 82nd Airborne. I was alone.
I met an old couple that lived on a farm on Coal Creek Road. He had heart trouble and she needed someone to help her with the chores. I was there about six months when he died and she went to live with her son in California. She left me to care for the farm until it was sold.
There was a restaurant near Weyerhauser where I always stopped for a hamburger before going to work. There were always loggers coming in there to eat. One day I was having my usual hamburger, when a big logger came over and said, “How long has it been since you’ve eaten a steak?” Well, I didn’t know what business it was of his, but I answered, “I can’t remember. Why?” “Well, I’m Ray Ellis. Will you put that hamburger away and let me buy you a steak?”
And that’s how I met Ray Ellis. I was still staying on the farm on Coal Creek. Ray would come over to see how I was getting along. One day near Christmas, we had a bad snowstorm and I was snowed in. Here came Ray, driving a team of horses, pulling a sled. He went out to the woodshed to split logs for me. I was carrying the firewood up on the porch, when he said, “Say, I’m getting awful tired of worrying about you over here. How about us getting married?” I accepted and we were married on January 13, 1954.
My Life With Ray
When Ray and I were married, we moved to 409 Stella Road, where I still live. He had 21 acres, an old lean-to barn, a woodshed, an old outhouse and a three-room cabin. Except for the cabin, woodshed and barn, the entire place was covered with wild blackberries, vine maple and alders. I thought, “Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into now?” He must have seen the dismay on my face, because he said, “We’ll live here and save that rent money to fix this place up and we’ll build a house.”
There was no electricity, no telephone. He had an old gasoline pump in the creek to pump water to the stock and the house. He hauled water from town to drink and cook with. The first thing to be done was put a new roof on the cabin. I wallpapered the living room and bedroom and painted the kitchen. I kept my job at Weyerhauser and picked ferns on the side. Ray logged with his horses.
My daughter had her baby, my first grandson. Me, a Grandmother; it was hard for me to believe. When Roger, my grandson, was about a year old, she started having trouble with her marriage. She ended up in a divorce and she had to go to work. She asked if I would take care of Roger, while she worked. Ray was against it because he said he would get attached to Roger and it would break his heart to give him up. But, Beverly was having such a hard time, Ray finally consented and I brought Roger home. Of course, that big lumberjack fell in love with him. My daughter would pick him up on her days off.
About a year and a half after we were married, there were some defense house being sold for $500 a piece, but it would cost $1000 to move it and put a foundation under it. We bought one through Northwest Homes. We had it moved up here and put the foundation under it. We put in electricity and a telephone, plus a septic tank. We bought a new electric pump and pressure tank for the creek that supplied water to the house. In the move, the house developed a leak in the roof, so we had to fix that. The chimney cracked, too, but the liner was okay. After all that was done, we added a utility room. We did away with the kitchen/living room and converted a bedroom into a kitchen. We put in new cabinets and added plumbing.
John, Ray’s brother, wanted to buy 3 ½ acres of land from us. My husband sold the land to him with a 20-foot easement to our house. He moved a house from Cathlamet on to the property. He drilled a well on his property and told us to run a pipe to the well, as there was enough water for both of us. We laid a 700-foot pipe to his well and did away with the old system at the creek. We now have good water.
Ray plowed a big garden spot by the house. We planted two pear, four apple and two cherry trees. We put in a big garden and I canned all our fruits and vegetables. I quit Weyerhauser and helped Ray log. We bought six or seven cows and were selling cream to the Standard Dairy. Later the Standard Dairy sold out to the Highland Dairy and the quit buying cream. We saw a dairy for lease at Willow Grove and asked Highland Dairy if we rented the dairy, would they buy milk from us? They said, “Yes, if we passed the A-1 grade.” So we moved to Willow Grove and started our dairy. We were there two years, when the Association decided to have stainless steel cooling tanks put in. It would cost $2,000 for the tanks and the owner wouldn’t put them in. We didn’t think it was our place to do it, unless we were buying the place. So, we cancelled our lease, sold the cattle and came back home.
Meantime, my daughter remarried and they came and took Roger. Poor Ray cried like a baby. They took him to California, where we couldn’t even see him. I went to work at the Longview Nursing Home.
I loved to work at the nursing home, taking care of the old people. But it was hard work because so many were in diapers and had to be changed every two hours. There was a lot of heavy lifting. We had to get them up for their dinner and as soon as visiting hours were over, we had to get them ready for bed. A lot of times you needed help lifting them into bed. It was hard to get anyone to help you, as they were all trying to get their own patients to bed. I ended up hurting my back.
After I was better, I decided I would have to find work where there was not so much lifting. I tried St. John’s, but they didn’t need anyone, so I went to Good Samaritan in Portland. I found work there. I worked for them for three years and I loved working for them. However, the long drive was getting me down and Ray kept after me to try St. John’s again, so I wouldn’t have to do the drive. One day, I stopped by St. John’s on my way to work and they hired me. I hated to quit Good Samaritan, and I had to take a cut in pay. Ray said I probably made it up by using less gas. I suppose he was right. But, I wasn’t happy there. A year passed and they never gave me a raise. Then I found out they had hired a new nurse’s aid and she was getting the same pay as I. I was pretty hurt.
One day I was in Portland and I went by Good Samaritan to see some of my old friends. As I went by the supervisor’s office, I stuck my head in the door to say, “Hi” to everyone. “How about a job,” I teased. We had a good visit and they wouldn’t let me go until I signed the papers to come back to work. They gave me more money than I was getting when I worked there before.
But my injury from the nursing home was getting worse. I got arthritis in my spine, my legs, and my feet. My legs and feet hurt so badly, I could hardly keep walking. I tried arch supports, but that didn’t help. I went to Dr. Hafner and he x-rayed my feet. He said it was arthritis causing all the trouble and sent me to a specialist in Portland. He just shook his head and said there were no arch supports that could help me. He didn’t even charge me for the office call. It just broke my heart, but I had to quit. I was home about a year when Dr. Hanger got me on disability at 61.
By now my daughter had five children: Roger, Tames, Teresa, Eddie, David and an adopted son, Craig. My son had to: Patricia and Herbert III.
My arthritis was so bad I was on crutches. My husband passed away in 1977. I changed doctors and he gave me Anson (sic) and I have been getting better ever since.
The following year the barn collapsed from a heavy snow. The insurance paid me $1800 for it. I had a new small barn built, but lost most all of my hay. When the weather broke, I started pulling nails and salvaging the pieces of lumber that weren’t too damaged. Then the old chicken house came down. I saved the good pieces and built a smaller one. The next fall, I sold all the cows, except some steer calves and got enough money to have half a pole barn put up. I had heard that sheep would keep tansy ragout from growing and it would not hurt them. The place was covered with them. So I bought four registered North County Cheviot sheep and a registered buck. I have two registered bucks and 12 head of ewes.
How God Intervened in My Life
When my first husband walked out on me, I couldn’t understand why God let such a thing happen to me. I had tried to be a good Christian. I became rebellious against God. I said there was no God or this would not have happened to me. I fell away from my church for about 18 years. I was wandering in the wilderness. Whatever I did turned sour and I didn’t care much about anything.
When I met and married Ray, then went to work at Good Samaritan, I walked past the Chapel going and coming to work everyday. Every time I walked it, I got a guilty feeling and tried to pass it off. Finally, one night I had a patient who was near death. I felt very bad about it. As I came upon the Chapel, I went in and I prayed for her and found I was praying for my own forgiveness. Things have been getting better ever since.
My Philosophy of Life
Since I have come from a long line of homesteaders, I guess hard work comes naturally to me. You work to survive and build your home, to prosper and try to do good to others who are less fortunate than you. No matter how many times you fall down, you pick yourself up and start again. You reach out for that dream, no matter what stands in your way, and you overcome it.
When things get tough and you are thinking of giving up, you ask God for help and start living one day at a time. You leave everything to God and you will see how things will change.
So my philosophy is work hard, keep your goal in sight. Trust in God for strength and courage.
Who Am I
As the saying goes, I am what I am and that is all that I am.
I was brought up on the farm until I was 13 years old. Somehow that always stuck. When I was 16, I went to work in a hide tanning plant, then for the Illinois Glass Company in Alton, Illinois. Then I went to work for the Western Cartridge Company in East Alton, Illinois. In 1932, I went to work at a defense plant. I was, “Rosie the Riveter” until I was transferred to assembly. Then I helped to build the first jet engine.
I’ve worked in a hospital for 8 years. I was a wife. I am a Grandmother and now a Great-Grandmother. I love gardening and working in my hothouse. Since my husband passed away, I sold the cattle, as they were too much to handle. I bought sheep to keep the farm from growing up in tansy and brush. That keeps me busy. Plus, I do almost all my own veterinary work.
Now I’m attending L. L. C. and learning to write my life’s story, which I am enjoying very much. I asked my son, “Who am I? What am I?’ His answer was, “You are my Mother and a very unique one.” I just hope I never disappoint him.
This is a little story about a lamb I one had. I named her Valley.
Once upon a time, there was and old lady who lived alone on a small farm. She had a few sheep to keep her company.
One spring, one of the ewes had a baby lamb, but she had no milk for her. The old lady went to the house and got a baby bottle and started feeding the lamb. She said, “What will I name this little lamb?” So she thought, “Why not Valentine?” The lamb had been born on February 14th. “No, I’ll call her Valley.”
One day several of the ewes broke out of their pasture and followed a path across a ravine to a neighbor’s house. The old lady found them there and when she called to them, they came running. But when they came back over the ravine, Valley was missing. She called, “Valley!” Then she heard a lamb crying; it sounded far off, so she called again, “Valley!” She heard another cry, “Baal” The lamb’s mother heard the cry and ran past the old lady, down to the bottom of the ravine and stood over a big hole. The ewe yelled as loud as she could, “BAAAAA!” Sure enough, there was valley down in the big hole. The old lady pulled Valley out and she and her mother ran for home as fast as they could. Valle and her mother were happy again.
We often look back and say, “If I had it to do over again…” Well, in my case, I don’t know if that would be a good idea or not. If I did, I wouldn’t have my two children of whom I am very proud.
Eight wonderful Grandchildren and four Great-Grandchildren. They are the joy of my heart.
I would never have come to Washington, a state that I love. I would never have met Ray. I wouldn’t have my little farm. I am like the Fiddler on the Roof, “On one hand. Well, then, on the other hand.”
My solitude is being up at sunrise to greet a new day. The dew is still n the grass, the birds are singing.
Sitting out on the deck with a cup of coffee, looking over the river and across the evergreens, until the world seems to turn out of sight.
Sitting under the plum tree, when it’s in full bloom, listening to the bees humming. Watching the baby lambs romp and play. Listening to soft music on the radio with a good book.
That is my solitude.
The Lord is My Shepherd
The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me lie down in green pastures,
He leadth me beside quiet waters. He restoreth my soul.
He guideth me in the path of righteousness for His name's sake.
My cup runneth over.