Mom's Missouri Childhood and Later Family Memories
(As shared by Helen Isabell Silvey (Mitchiner) with her son Tom Mitchiner on September 10, 2003)
The Silvey Home Place
It was during the first World War on April 11, 1916 that I was born in my grandparents home on their farm in the Missouri Ozarks where my parents were then living. My grandparents farm was located seven miles south of Seymour in Webster Co, Missouri on the Seymour to Dogwood road near Finley Creek. Seymour claimed to be the highest point in the Missouri Ozarks. Being the oldest of four sisters and my mom suffering from various illnesses, I was given household responsibilities at an early age which I accepted as being normal. My three sisters are Blanche, Velma and Eunice.
My paternal great-grandparents, George Washington and Minerva Jane (Denny) Silvey, had homesteaded the farm across the road from my grandparents farm. My paternal great-grandfather was known as Wash Silvey. He came to Missouri with his parents, Charles and Lutitia (Howard) Silvey around 1845 from Roane Co., Tennessee near an area called Silvey Gap by Oliver Springs. Their original homestead in Missouri remained in the family down to my generation. After my great-grandfather died, my grandfather and his wife, Jackson and Rebecca Ann (Embrery) Silvey, built a house on their farm across the road from where his parents had built. Their house that was larger and finer than most of the houses in that part of the country. It was a two-story painted clapboard house. His parents house was called 'the old house'. After his father, Wash Silvey, died his widowed mother, Minerva Jane, lived with him and his family until she died on November 18, 1914. None of my relatives were openly affectionate which seemed to be characteristic of that part of the country but we knew that we were loved.
My grandfather, Jackson Silvey, divided his land among his three oldest sons: Charlie, John and my father, Lloyd. Uncle Charlie was very outgoing. In 1950, he was re-elected Judge of the county court eastern district as a Democrat incumbent. When the farmers organized the local Missouri Farmers Association (MFA) back in 1936, my dad was elected vice-president and Uncle Charlie was elected President. The youngest son, Luther, lived with my grandfather and inherited his remaining land and buildings after my grandfather died on October 9, 1949. The boys didnt start farming the land until after they were married. My dad and mom built all the buildings on the land they were given. His brothers, however, already had buildings on the lands they were given.
After my grandparents moved into their new house, they built an addition to the old house of my great-grandparents. It was used as a blacksmiths shop for shoeing horses and mules and for repairing farm equipment. It was also used to make coffins for funerals. The very best lumber was selected which was black walnut. The handles and materials for the inside lining were purchased. The men varnished the outside walnut color and the women lined the inside with white satin cloth and made a pillow covered with white satin.
When someone was critically ill, neighbors took turns sitting up with them during the nighttime. Neighbors dug graves and local preachers conducted the funerals. Some of the cemeteries were on the family farms and some in churchyards. My grandparents had a cemetery on their farm known as the Silvey Cemetery. All my known ancestors are buried there starting with my great-great-grandfather, Charles Silvey, from Tennessee .
The downstairs of the old house was used to park buggies and later cars. The upstairs was used for discarded clothing, catalogs, old newspapers, and canning jars. The mice used the papers to make nests. My cousins and I looked through the catalogs to see the style of clothing. We also dressed up in the old discarded clothing.
My grandparents raised their four sons and one daughter, Ethel, on the farm. They also raised two Denney boys from the neighborhood after their father remarried. Their mother had died when the boys were young. The Denney boys had a sister also named Ethel. After her husband died, she and her two sons lived with my grandparents until she remarried. My cousin, Ruby, lived with my grandparents after her mother died. Her sister, Cleo, lived with my grandparents when her father, my Uncle John, remarried. After my grandmother Rebecca died, my cousin Aaron, brother of Ruby and Cleo, lived with my grandfather. Divorce was uncommon, but the death of a spouse while still raising a family was not. It seemed a common practice for the children of a first marriage to be raised by their relatives if a parent remarried.
My grandparents had water piped into their kitchen from a spring above the house. After the spring went dry, they had a well drilled in the yard and the water had to be carried into the house after that. All the boys shared one large bedroom. The girls had their own. Sometimes a hired hand stayed overnight if there was an extra bed. Occasionally a widow with children needed a place to live. My grandparents would allow them to move in and the widow was paid a small salary for helping my grandmother. Often the money was used to buy clothes for her children. From time to time my grandma had help from girls at the orphanage in Springfield. These girls ranged in age from eleven to fifteen. I remember one eleven year old that was rebellious. Another one was a fifteen year old. I liked it when she had a couple of hours off in the afternoon and she would play with us. By the time I was in third grade my grandparents hired neighborhood girls to help grandma. They were around sixteen years of age and always had Sunday afternoon off. They entertained their boyfriends in the parlor if it wasnt occupied by the neighborhood women. That activity was called sparking instead of courting or dating.
Some Sunday afternoons we went to my grandparents house. The women sat in the parlor and the men sat on the other side of the hall in the living room with a large wood burning fireplace. The women talked about raising children and how well the chickens were laying and the price of eggs. They got their spending money from selling the eggs. The men smoked and chewed tobacco and talked politics. Their conversations were boring to me. My cousins thought that going to the barn to play with the boys would be fun, but we were not allowed to do that. Sometimes we would sit in a car parked in front of the house and sing songs.
The house my parents built went up fast. It was made of oak lumber clapboard on the outside and smaller pine boards on the inside. I wished it had been painted white. After I left home my parents had the outside covered with tar paper in a gray brick design. Before our house was built, we had been living in Uncle Charlie's house while he served in the first World War. He returned from the war and occupied his house and worked his land. The lumber for my parents house was used soon after it had been cut. Because the wood had not dried before it was used for building the house, cracks around the windows and doors were a problem. The front faced North and the front door didnt fit tight. If we had a cold North wind in the winter, we stuffed socks in the cracks. The outside had large planks for the siding and smaller ones on the inside. The walls were covered with tar paper inside and a light canvas cloth over this. All of our walls were covered with wallpaper. Some people couldnt afford wallpaper and covered the walls with newspaper. There was a small two room log cabin on our property that was occupied by farm help. Those walls were covered with newspaper. At times, I read the newspaper on the walls and I liked doing that.
None of the houses had electricity, closets or built in cabinets. In the bedrooms our clothes were hung on nails or hooks. In the kitchen, our dishes could be seen through the glass doors of the safe. I wondered what the house would look like if our clothes and dishes could not be seen. I dreamed of my house having closets and cabinets but never saw a house that did. The kitchen had a portable cabinet with a breadboard and two large bins, one for flour and one for meal, which was bought in large cloth sacks. The sacks were washed and some were used for dish towels and the ones with flower designs were used for making dresses, aprons, quilts and window curtains. Most of the floors were made from pine lumber and covered with linoleum similar to vinyl. We scrubbed them every week and sometimes more often. My grandparents had a party line telephone that hung on the wall for a short time. The lines were not kept up so my parents never had a telephone. On my parents farm, I often climbed up on the lower branches of the large tree by the cellar to sit and watch little birds hatch in their nests.
My parents decided to move to Fort Morgan, Colorado when I was about two and a half years old. In Colorado, my dad worked in a sugar beet factory and did road construction work. When things did not work out as they had hoped in Colorado, we moved back to Uncle Charlie's farm. My grandmother, Rebecca Silvey, came by train for a visit but we all returned to Missouri together. During the return train ride, I sat in the seat beside my grandmother. She let me sit next to the window. My mother was busy caring for my sister, Blanche, who was about a year old. Blanche had an ear infection and often cried during the trip.
I didn't get to see my mom's relatives very often. My maternal grandmother died when my mom was three years old and her grandma and Aunt Nealie, her father's sister, raised her. I only remember my great-grandmother being ill and lying in bed or sitting in bed. When my grandpa Johns married for the third time, they moved seventy miles from us to a new farm that he bought. He raised tomatoes and sold them to a processing plant that was located there. When I was three years old, we went in a covered wagon to see them. We stayed overnight near a town named Ozark and camped by a big spring by the road. Later we went in the 1924 Model-T Ford. There were cars stuck in the mud ruts on Highway 14. My Aunt Agnes, from grandpa's third marriage, would walk with us along the highway to town. The railroad ran across the highway. The train engineer would always wave at us. We slept on corn shuck mattresses at grandpa's.
A Country Road Well Traveled
My grandparents home was something like a free hotel for travelers. They could stay one night and get free meals and a bed. Their horses also were fed and watered. Most of them were traveling west. When travelers were at my grandparents, my dad went over in the evening after we had eaten supper and the chores were done. He enjoyed hearing about where they had come from and about their journey.
A stream of water ran across the road between my grandparents place and our house. The Gypsies used that area to camp. They watered their horses and parked their wagons. I was afraid of them so I would climb over a gate and through a field on the way home from school. The Gypsy men didnt work. They sent the women to the farmhouse for eggs, milk, and canned fruit. They didnt pay for anything. I was always glad when they left as had a reputation for being good at stealing.
When I was a baby my parents still lived with my grandparents. A Negro woman came to the house one day and asked to stay and work. She took care of me when I was a baby so I don't remember her. I was told that she was very neat and clean and that she disappeared in the middle of the night and they never saw her again. Although the Civil War was long over, they decided she must have been something like a run-away slave. No one knew where she went after she left our home.
While our part of Missouri was not known as cattle country, people drove their beef cattle to the market on the country road from as far away as Arkansas to Seymour where there was a train depot. They rode saddled horses and had sheep dogs to herd the cattle. When they arrived in Seymour, the cattle were loaded in boxcars and were sent to a packing house in Springfield.
Eating What You Pick, Raise, Or Shoot
We ate flour gravy and hot biscuits for breakfast everyday. The gravy was made from bacon pieces, flour, salt and milk. We ate eggs, bacon or sausage, butter, jams and jellies. We had two kinds of syrup. Corn syrup was made from corn and sorghum molasses was made from sugar cane. When we ate oatmeal, we used sugar, butter and cream to improve the taste. Care was taken to keep cattle out of the sugar cane fields because if they had eaten the sugar cane, they would have died from bloating. When the sorghum molasses was made, cane stalks were put in a pressing device powered by a horse that walked in a circle. The juice from the cane was collected and put in kettles and boiled until the right consistency.
Our main meal was eaten at noon and we always had cornbread. This was made with what we called clabbermilk, baking soda, salt, eggs, and cornmeal. It was baked in the oven until the crust was brown then cut into square pieces. We had white corn and yellow corn, but my mom would only use the yellow cornmeal to make cornbread. In the Spring we ate leaf lettuce, radishes and green onions from the garden. The vegetables for the salad were picked from the garden then cleaned and washed in cold water by the cellar. Each person made their own salad at the table by cutting the lettuce in bite size pieces, then they added radishes and onions. We put brown grease from the bacon over the salad then added salt, sugar and vinegar. Enough new small potatoes were dug up from the garden for one meal. They were washed and scraped and cooked with fresh peas from the garden. A sauce was made to cover them. Bacon grease was used for many things. It was mostly from the brown part that came from the lean part of bacon and was called brown gravy.
On the way home from school, we generally stopped at our grandparents. They gave us apples in the fall and winter, and melons in the early fall. My grandparents had a peach and apple orchard. When the winters were severe, the fruit crop would not be good. If it was a good year they shared the fruit with their sons' families. Of course melons were waiting for us at home. Sometimes if we were very hungry, we made a bacon and cornbread sandwich. Mom usually told us not to eat too much before supper.
For supper we ate the leftovers from dinner. But during the winter we sometimes made cornmeal mush. This was made by putting cornmeal in boiling water and cooking it until it was thick. We added butter, sugar and milk to suit our taste. When the mush sat and got cold, it was sliced and fried. It was good with syrup or honey spread over it. Daddy liked to crumble cornbread in a glass of milk for supper. We had milk with every meal.
In the Summer we picked wild gooseberries and blackberries. Mom baked pies and cobblers with them and canned what was leftover. Before we picked blackberries we rubbed sulfur powder on our arms and legs to help protect us from the ticks and chiggers. We wore stockings with the feet cut off and the tops pinned to the tops of our dress sleeves. This protected our arms from the sun and blackberry briars. We wore bonnets to protect our face and neck. We were always on the lookout for snakes.
My dad used a shotgun to kill squirrels. Sometimes the dogs would tree a squirrel. The squirrels could jump from one tree to another. I helped him skin the squirrels by holding the hind legs. He removed the entrails and mom washed and cut up the meat for frying. During the winter, rabbits left their tracks in the snow. They were hunted and used for food. Their hides were stretched on a board to dry and sold for fur. The fur was used on winter coat collars. The boys trapped rabbits along with opossums, minks and skunks. They earned their money by selling the pelts. They checked the traps before going to school. If they caught a skunk the odor would be on their clothing. If they got near the stove the odor would be stronger. The boys thought it was fun to see the girls reaction. I thought the idea of trapping animals to sell their furs for spending money was a good one. I tried to use a trap, but I was not able to catch anything.
After Summer thunderstorms, my mother built a fire in the cook stove and popped popcorn. The rain cooled the temperature enough that she could build the fire. Otherwise it would have been too hot. During the Spring months, we had fried chicken on Sundays. Early Sunday morning, my dad chopped off their heads with an ax and mom would dip them in boiling water and picked the feathers off. I removed the little feathers. She folded a newspaper over the kitchen stove firebox and set it on fire. She held the chicken over the flame to singe the tiny feathers that could not be removed easily. All the young Spring roosters were eaten or sold. The hens were kept for laying eggs.
By August we were eating beefsteak tomatoes and field corn roast ears (corn on the cob). We also ate blackberry and peach cobblers and coleslaw. We ate sauerkraut that we helped mom make from cabbage. We peeled many potatoes as we ate potatoes at every noonday meal the year round. Sometimes we would whip the potatoes and serve them with generous portions of butter, cream or milk, but most of the time they were fried.
In the Fall we picked the beans after they dried on the bush. We pounded the pods with a large stick to release the beans from the pods. We scooped the beans up in a pan and held them high over a tub for the wind to blow out the broken pod pieces, then stored them in a dry place. Before we cooked them, we inspected them for insect bites and pieces of pods and then washed the beans. We soaked them overnight in water and baking soda before cooking the next day.
In the Fall, people from the surrounding area came to hunt quail on our property. In those days no one asked permission. We did not know that they were there until we heard the shots. We did not mind if they hunted on our property. When we picked blackberries during the summer, we would sometimes see a mother quail leave her nest that had been built on the ground. She would pretend to be crippled by hopping on one foot. She did that to lead us away from her nest. We could never get close enough to catch her. Quail was not a regular part of our diet. Years later I left home when I was nineteen to work in Jefferson City. During a visit home we ate a delicious meal that my mom had made. My dad asked me if I knew what I had eaten. I thought maybe it was quail, but he told me it was pigeon.
We were fortunate to have a cold spring located inside a storm cellar in our yard. The runoff water was contained in a trough which we used to set food in to keep fresh. The cellar had shelves around the walls where canned fruit and vegetables were stored. There were two large bins located under the shelves. One was used for storing potatoes and the other one for apples. The sweet potatoes were stored in the house attic. Sauerkraut, lard, and sausage was kept in large stone crocks on the floor in the cellar.
We used the cellar for shelter during electrical storms and tornadoes. One time after a cloud burst we had to wade through water from the springs and hills above the cellar. The water washed large rocks from the field above the house to behind the garage and water ran through the barn. It cut a large gully between the house and barn which was four feet deep and four feet wide. My parents put planks down to walk across the ditch. The storm only covered about one square mile.
During the Fall after laying season the older hens were sold. We kept a few for cooking and homemade dumplings were added to the broth. We gathered eggs every day. We washed and dried and put them in thirty dozen egg crates and sold them. We ate eggs for breakfast or boiled some for school lunches or put them in potato salad. They were an important ingredient for making cornbread and cakes. Sometimes my mom let the hens hatch their own eggs and sometimes the eggs were put into an incubator. The incubator was heated with a kerosene lamp and had to be kept at a certain temperature. The eggs were marked on each side with a different letter or number. The egg tray was placed on top of the incubator and the eggs were turned twice a day and placed back in the incubator after each turning. It held several dozen eggs. Later people ordered Spring chickens from the hatchery. I remember the mail carrier delivering ours. During the summer storms we would bring young turkeys to the house half drowned. Turkeys would sometimes hold their heads up and drown themselves during a thunder rainstorm.
The geese hens would lay their eggs away from the house. It was hard to find their nests without following them. They tried to avoid us. If we didnt pick up their eggs, a crow or some other animal would. We ate some of the eggs and some were put under a sitting chicken hen and she would adopt them. During the summer mom would pick the soft down feathers from the stomachs of the geese. Two or three of us would chase the geese into the barn lot and catch them one at a time by a leg with a long hook. A stocking was pulled over their head to keep it from biting. One of us girls held the goose down on the table while mom plucked the feathers. The feathers were used for making featherbeds and pillows.
One gander goose liked to eat shelled corn with the hogs. One evening when I was six years old, I walked through the area where daddy had just fed the hogs. The gander attacked me. I was wearing a long heavy coat and the gander grabbed hold of the bottom of my coat and was flapping his wings against my legs. Daddy came out of the barn at the right time and kicked the goose away.
Spring was always sheepshearing time. They were driven inside the barn lot and caught one at a time. They were placed on a table and their legs were tied together. Mom or one of us girls held their head down on the table. We turned them until all the wool had been clipped with hand shears. We rolled the wool as it was clipped and put it in gunnysacks and sold it. Markets wouldnt buy lambs with long tails so they were cut off to about two inches long. A lamb with a long tail is hard to keep clean. Sheep were put in fields that had weeds and sprouts. They ate close to the ground which killed the weeds. Sheep require the least care of farm animals and produce two crops each year of lambs and wool.
My parents gave us girls one Spring lamb. When the lamb was sold the money was divided. That was our yearly allowance. One year we ordered Mama Crying Dolls. Some of my sisters wore their dolls out playing with them. I managed to find pieces of material left from our dresses that mom had made. I made clothes for my doll from the scraps of cloth. I still have my doll but it has deteriorated somewhat. During the Spring my parents would sometimes bring newborn lambs, calves, or pigs to the house to thaw out. Often these baby animals were delivered by lantern light in the middle of the night. My parents fed them from a bottle. Usually one feeding was all that was necessary and they were taken back to the barn. One time a mother sheep rejected her lamb. We kept the lamb in the yard and fed her milk from a bottle and named her Susie May. She liked to follow us and we had fun playing with her. We would run around the house and jump off the front porch. We would then stay down and Susie May would jump over our heads. One day our cousin came for a visit and wanted to see Susie eat. Since it wasnt feeding time we fed her water. She didnt know when to stop and her sides looked like they were going to burst. Mom told us to stop feeding her before we killed her. When Susie May was older, daddy said it was time for her to run with the other sheep. She didnt like being in the pasture with the other sheep. She would stand near the gate and bleat for us. She finally adjusted being away from us and was later sold.
Hogs were butchered during Christmas week when we were out of school for a few days. Several families went together to do this. Most of them were our relatives and our renters. Several pigs for each family were butchered usually at our place because water was available from the stream provided from the spring. They were driven into a pen and shot one at a time with a rifle. A sharp butcher knife was stabbed above the shoulder so the hog would bleed. The men got up early and started a fire to heat water which was put in a barrel to scald the hogs. A rope was attached by one end to a tree limb and the other end to the hogs hind legs. The hog was scalded in the hot water in the barrel and lifted out by the rope and pulley. Then the hair was scraped off and the entrails removed. The hog was thoroughly washed, then placed on a table and cut into sections. Bacon and ribs were cut from the sides and the shoulders and hams were separated. The heart and liver were eaten first. They were dusted with flour and fried. The feet were pickled in vinegar and spices. The meat from the head was ground with a hand food grinder. This meat was used for headcheese and mincemeat.
The headcheese was seasoned with salt, pepper and sage. Mincemeat was made by adding dried apples, peaches and raisins and sugar. This was used for pies. The women removed the fat from the inside of the hog and rendered that lard. This was done in a large black kettle set over a fire in the yard. The lard was used for making pies, biscuits and for frying. The scraps that were cut off were used for sausage. Meat was ground and made into patties and laid on a long board in the kitchen. One of us girls helped daddy to grind the sausage and the others to make patties. Mama fried the sausage using two cast iron skillets. She then placed the sausage in a large stone jar or in canning jars. They were then covered with grease.
After the hog was cut up it was salted and hung in the smokehouse. A fire was made of hickory wood in a stove or large can. It took all day to smoke the meat After that the hams, shoulders and sides were wrapped in brown paper. The sides and shoulders were hung and the hams were stored in a large wooden box. The skin was cut in small pieces and cooked outside in a large iron kettle. Some of the cracklins were removed and used in cornbread. The grease was used for making lye soap. A can of lye was added to the grease in the large black kettle and cooked most of the day in the yard. After the soap was cold, it was cut in pieces and laid on a long board to dry and harden. The soap was used for washing dishes, clothes, and floors. Some people used it as a shampoo to make their hair shine.
The Never Ending Chores
I remember my grandmother washing clothes on a washboard. They were put through the rinse water twice and wrung on wooden rollers turned by hand. She washed outside during the summer and in the kitchen during the winter. I remember my mother using the washboard also. My mother's first washing machine had a gasoline motor. Since we had no electricity we had no radio or electric lights.
We had kerosene lamps and lanterns. The wicks were trimmed everyday to keep them from smoking, the chimneys washed, and kerosene checked in the bowl. In the winter after supper dad would read the daily paper while mom and we girls cleaned up the dishes. We sat around the kitchen table to do our homework. Dad helped with math and mom with grammar. After we moved to the living room dad would practice singing Stamps songs, written with shape notes from the newest book. The Stamps Quartet was known throughout the country for their Southern Gospel music. Mom would mend socks.
Blanche and Eunice slept in the smallest bedroom near the heating stove that was in the living room. The door between that bedroom and the living room was always kept open. Velma and I slept in the bedroom where the door was kept closed to keep the cold North wind from the rest of the house. We warmed the beds with heated flat irons that were used for ironing clothes. They were wrapped in newspaper and towels, then placed in the beds. We dressed for bed near the stove, then ran and jumped in bed. There were feather beds and pillows on all the beds so that made them warmer. If the weather was extremely cold we four girls all got into the bed near the stove. Two slept at the head and two at the foot. The door between the living room and kitchen was closed at night. Sometimes there would be ice in the waterpail in the kitchen. During the warm weather, during summer, the feather beds were taken off the beds. Sometimes a feather bed would be placed on the floor for us to sleep on. We always wanted to sleep on the floor if a cousin or friend stayed overnight. We talked and sang until my parents reminded us that it was time to go to sleep.
We went to bed by 8:00 p.m. and got up early. Mom got up first. She started the fires and started cooking breakfast. She got up by 4:00 a.m. and daddy followed shortly afterwards. We dressed by the stove, ate a hot breakfast, then prepared school lunches. We washed the dishes, made the beds, swept the floors, and dusted the furniture while our parents milked the cows and fed the livestock and chickens. Blanche helped to milk twice a day as she had rather do that than housework. I helped with the outdoor chores in the summer evenings by milking the cows and feeding the chickens or driving the cattle from the pasture to the barn when daddy worked late in the field. Moving the cattle was easy with the help from the farm dogs. Growing up on a farm I didnt have to ask: Where do babies come from? After breakfast we walked the two miles to school if the weather wasnt too bad.
Cows were milked twice a day by hand into half gallon and one gallon syrup pails that we used as buckets. The milk was then poured into large five gallon cans. The cans were placed in a tub of cold water or a water trough to keep the milk cool. The next morning the cans were picked up by a truck and taken to a cheese factory in Seymour. The cheese was made into 12 by 12 blocks. Cottage cheese and butter was also made. Some factories made ice cream. Whey was brought back the next morning and the milk was picked up again. Whey is left after all the butter fat and milk has been removed. We fed the whey to the hogs.
We made our own butter. The first churn we had was a stone crock that set on the floor. It had a paddle with a long handle that we pulled up and down by hand. It took about thirty minutes for butter to form. The butter was taken from the jar and worked with a wooden paddle to remove the milk. It was rinsed several times with cold water. It was put into a butter bowl. We drank the buttermilk. Sometimes we made butter by putting whole milk into a large canning jar and shaking it. Later butter was made in a glass container about 12 by 12. The metal wheel was turned by hand that made the butter. Some of the brick or block cheese made at the factory was sold to local people. We took cheese sandwiches to school. We would buy a quarter of a block and slice it. We made sandwiches by putting a slice between soda crackers.
Before there was a factory, we had a cream separator. The milk was poured into a bowl on top of the machine. The motor was turned by hand and the milk passed through metal disks which separated the cream from the milk. The milk was fed to the cats, chickens and pigs. It was mixed with feed for the chicken and pigs. The cream was sold. A gallon of whole milk was set aside for our own use. The heavy cream was skimmed off for making butter, whipped cream or snow ice cream. Mom made our own cottage cheese. Milk was set on the back of the stove to curdle. The curds were mashed with a fork then rinsed with water until all the whey was washed out then salt, pepper, milk or cream was added.
Daddy worked the horses and the mules. Farming was not possible without these animals. They were used for plowing the garden and the fields. They pulled the machinery to harvest the hay crops. They were used for transportation, for logging and pulling anything that was heavy and had to be moved. We always had at least two animals at any one time. My dad used horses. My grandpa used mules. I didn't like mules because when they were in the same pasture, they chased the calves until the calves dropped dead. If I saw a mule, I jumped over the first fence I came to in order to get away from them. Once at Uncle Charlie's, a horse and a mule were teamed together but the mule didn't want to work. The men didn't know what to do to get it going. My dad picked up a board and hit it in the nose. It sure got up fast and cooperated after that. My dad had a way of breaking horses to ride. He put the horse in the barn lot and climbed on the fence and got on the horse while talking to the horse.
Monday was wash day. We carried water from the spring the evening before in half gallon and one gallon syrup buckets that were used as water pails. The next morning after breakfast it was poured into a large galvanized tub on top of the cook stove to heat. After the water was hot, lye soap was cupped up and placed in the water. The water was dipped out in pails and poured into the washing machine bowl. More water was heated in the large dish pan with soap and white clothes were placed in it after being washed. This was for making them whiter. Extra water was heated in a tea kettle and in a reservoir on the back of the stove. All of the clothes were run through two tubs of rinse water. Bluing was adding to the last tub to make the clothes whiter. Clothes went through the roller ringer each time they left the tub. This meant three times before they went in the large basket to be hung on the clothes line to dry. Mom would never think of hanging clothes on the line that looked dingy. I like to smell fresh dried clothes dried outside on the line. All our clothes, sheets and towels had to be hung a certain way. During the winter, clothes sometimes froze stiff on the lines and had to be brought into the house to thaw and dry. They hung on a rack and over the door to dry. After the washing was done, the rinse water was used to scrub the back porch floor and for watering flowers and plants in the garden.
Tuesday was ironing day. Mom did it when we were at school and we girls did it during the summer. We ironed in the morning as it was too warm to have a fire in the afternoons. Flat irons were heated on the kitchen stove. I enjoyed the chore of ironing the most.
When I was young, mom made light bread. She made this on Fridays. The starter was made from yeast. Some of the starter was kept for the next week for making bread. The dough had to be kneaded each time after rising. After the last kneading, it was shaped into loaves and baked. Some dough was kept out for cinnamon rolls. While the bread was baking, mom scrubbed the kitchen floor. We girls got a slice of buttered bread when it came out of the oven. Sometimes I took a loaf to a shut-in neighbor.
August was hay harvesting time. The hay was mowed, raked and loaded onto wagons and hauled to the front of the barn. A hay fork was attached to a rope and was thrust into the hay and pulled to the hayloft by a pulley. The other end of the rope was attached to horses at the rear of the barn that pulled the hay to the loft. Some of the hay was left in the field and made into a haystack. In the winter cattle would eat a hole in the side of the haystack and use the haystack as a shelter. We did a lot of cooking for the men and boys harvesting the hay. They ate first so we had to wash enough dishes for the woman and children to eat. Two of my cousins, Arnold and Aaron, who were teenagers wouldn't wear shirts and hats in the fields. My dad wore a long sleeve shirt, straw hat and overalls. He said a long sleeve shirt kept him cooler when soaked with perspiration. His straw hat also helped him to stay cooler. I don't think he liked the hay seed scratching him either. Sometimes my cousins would jump into a cold stream of water at the end of the day.
For bathing and general hygiene needs, water was heated on the stove. In the winter for our weekly bath, the washtub was placed by the kitchen stove. In the summer the tub was placed in the yard where the water was naturally heated by the sun. We moved the tub into the smokehouse to bathe. We washed our hair once a week when we took our bath. I had a regular toothbrush and used baking soda for toothpaste. I did not go to a dentist until I later moved to Jefferson City.
Country Medicine and Common Sayings
When a baby was born, it was always born in a home. Dr. Bruton from Seymour came to deliver each one of us girls. It was more common for a midwife to assist in the birth. It was not uncommon for babies to die shortly after birth or to be stillborn. The first child of my Uncle Luther and his wife my Aunt Opha was a large baby girl who died during a forced birth. My Aunt Opha recovered and she delivered three healthy children after that.
My maternal grandmother, Carolyn Patterson Johns, was called Sallie. She died of tuberculosis when my mom was four years old. My mom was afraid that one of us girls would die of tuberculosis. In that day, the advice from the doctor to treat tuberculosis was to mix raw eggs with milk and drink plenty of it. My moms sister, Essa, died of croup when she was two years old. When I was about eleven years old, my mom had a tooth pulled by a doctor and suffered complications. The next morning she began hemorrhaging. My dad brought the doctor from town and after he treated my mom, the doctor stayed for dinner that I prepared. In those days, the doctor took every opportunity offered them to eat a home cooked meal. Immediately following that, probably the same day, my dad brought a neighbor lady to help take care of mom and us girls. After I went to work in Jefferson City, my mom had a hysterectomy. She was about forty years old. She had the surgery at a hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Grandpa Silvey stayed with Blanche, Velma and Eunice although the girls did the daily chores. He was there in case they needed an adult. My grandmother, Rebecca, died March 3, 1930 at age sixty-two, from pneumonia. For many years she suffered from arthritis and took morphine shots for the pain. Morphine was used for pain relief and is addictive. She gave the injections to herself. I remember that she wore long sleeves because of the marks the morphine shots made on her arms.
There were several expressions or common sayings that provided the rural cultural expectations for behavior and consequences: "Practice what you preach." "Actions speak louder than words." "You made your own hard bed so lay on it." "If you get into trouble at school, you will get into trouble at home."
Grammar School Days
I started to grammar school when I was five years old but I only went a few months because the winter was so cold that my parents would not allow me to walk to school. Before the winter got so cold, I walked to my grandparents house to catch a ride with the teacher. She drove a horse and buggy. One day after school I climbed in the buggy while she was adjusting the horses bridle. The horse pulled the buggy very quickly and I fell out. I rolled away from the buggy and was embarrassed. I didn't tell anyone and she didn't either. The next year I walked the two miles part of the way with my cousin Irene. When I was in third grade I got the flu before Christmas and was unable to finish the third grade. So I repeated it the next year.
The school term began about the middle of August and was out around the first of May. We had a few days off around Christmas, so we could help with the hog butchering. The older boys didn't start to school at the beginning of the school term as they helped to harvest the hay and corn crops. School hours were from nine to four. We had two fifteen minute recesses and one hour for lunch. All eight grades were taught by one teacher in a one room building. When school started in the fall as many as fifty students attended. Small seats and desks were at the front of the room and the largest desk sat at the back of the room. We didn't do very much of our work on paper as we had to buy our own. Most of the lower grades were called to the front of the room and would sit on a seat with no desk. It was in front of the teacher's desk. They answered questions and read for her and worked with problems on the blackboard. We memorized poems such as those by Longfellow. For spelling the teacher would pronounce the word and the students would write the word on the blackboard or paper. The students would exchange work for corrections. The teacher would pronounce the word again and spell it correctly.
The arithmetic problems of division, subtraction, addition and multiplication were worked on the blackboard or on paper. Another student would grade your work. The blackboard and erasers had to be cleaned often. The erasers were taken outside for dusting. Students liked to do that to get out of class. In grammar school, we didn't have a library but only a set of The Book of Knowledge. The district was afraid of vandalism during the summer so one summer I got to take the whole set home for safekeeping. I read the whole set that summer.
The older boys sometimes made spit balls and flipped them with a finger to the ceiling. Some of them stuck to the ceiling. They played marbles and carried their marbles in tobacco pouches or in homemade drawstring bags. They played for keeps and everyone wanted to keep their lucky marble. The boys also made slingshots, kites and stilts. We made balls by wadding paper into a light ball and wrapping it with yarn. We unraveled socks for the yarn and wound them around the paper. Parachutes were made from a piece of cloth the size of a man's handkerchief. A string about eighteen inches in length was tied to each corner. The other end of the string was pulled together and tied to a small rock. The parachute was thrown up and opened when coming down to the ground. Most of us could fold our writing paper and make boats, arrows, airplanes, and paper cups.
We played a game called handover. Two sides were chosen and one side was on one side of the school building and the other team on the other side. A ball was thrown over the building. If someone on the other side caught the ball, they would all run around to the other side. The one that caught the ball, threw the ball and if it touched someone that person had to go to your side. The side that caught the most students won the game. We played jump rope, tic-tac-toe, ring around the rosey, London Bridge, cat and mouse and drop the handkerchief. Many kids could play these games at one time. There was never enough snow for sled riding or ice for ice skating. The boys sometimes played baseball. The girls played house. We laid sticks on the ground to mark off rooms.There was a hill by the school so we used tires and slid down the hill.
In the winter, we played pussy in the corner in the bell room. We had no musical instruments but we sang folk songs. On Friday afternoons, we had spelling bees and arithmetic contests also reading and geography contests. Some years we had a Christmas program for our parents. We had one act plays with several scenes. One of the students sang or did readings. For the play, students pulled the curtain after each scene. The curtains were made from bed sheets hung from a wire stretched across the front of the room. We sometimes had a tree, but no lights. It was decorated with popcorn, cranberries and paper chains. We drew names to exchange gifts and our gifts were not to cost over ten cents. The teacher gave the students a small amount of candy.
For Valentines Day, we used a box and cut a slit at the top to drop the Valentines in. The box was decorated with paper. We drew names so everyone would get a Valentine. Of course, the most popular students got more. The Valentines were homemade. We had pie suppers. The girl students and the young girls in the community brought a pie in a decorated box with no name on the box. Fathers usually bought the young girls pies and boyfriends bought their girlfriends pies. Of course other boys gave the boyfriends competition to get them to bid higher. The mothers brought small plates, knives and forks. The pies were cut and everyone enjoyed a piece of pie. The money was used to buy textbooks.
For Halloween, we had a party in the afternoon. My cousin, Aaron, would draw a picture of a donkey on the blackboard. The students took turns trying to draw a tail on the donkey. The student was always blindfolded and had to walk about eight feet to the board. There were no refreshments or prizes. Sometimes the boys in the community would overturn the outdoor toilets and soap the schoolhouse windows.
If it was raining when we got out of school, my dad came for us in our 1924 model-T Ford car. The curtains on each side were pulled up during the winter. The car had no heat or air-conditioning and was started by turning a hand crank. The teacher built the fire in the morning and swept the floors and dusted the desks after school was out. During the school hours, the students were glad to keep the water tank filled and the wood carried in. The district furnished our books and we brought our own paper, pencils and crayons.
If my sister, Blanche, was ill and couldn't go to school, I walked alone as far as Uncle Charlie's house to see if my cousin, Irene, was there. I was afraid to walk the rest of the way as the road went through a wooded area. Sometimes Irene stayed at her other grandparents house which was near the schoolhouse. We were afraid of kidnappers. We had never heard of a kidnapper until the Charles Lindbergh baby was kidnapped. Years before I was born, one of my grandfathers sister had disappeared without a trace when she was a teenager. No one ever heard from her again. We remembered hearing about her disappearance. When we heard a wagon or car coming, we tried to hide in a ditch beside the road. We were also afraid of mad dogs and tried to hide behind trees. When the weather was cold we would put our tongues against the telephone poles and they would stick. If we put our ears against a telephone pole we would hear a roaring noise. We broke ice in the potholes in the road and would run and slide on the ice. At home most afternoons we made a fire in the kitchen stove to heat water in the tea kettle and to keep the water warm in the stove reservoir. We put kerosene on corn cobs with a brush. When I was about ten years old I tried to make a fire to warm the leftover food from dinner for supper. I put too much kerosene on the cobs and put them in the firebox where there were live coals. There was an explosion. Dad heard it and found me at the back of the kitchen away from the stove with singed hair and in a daze.
If it was too cold to go to school, we played hide the thimble or with paper dolls at home. We cut pictures from catalogs of clothing, dolls and anything to furnish a house. The pictures were placed around the room. In our imagination we had a nice house and car. Sometimes we added a town and churches. Sometimes we played under the kitchen table.
In the summer school break we caught fireflies or laid on a quilt on the front lawn and watched the twinkling stars and the man in the moon. We watched bats and whippoorwills flying about. I knew the stars were grouped into different shapes but didn't know what to call them until I was in high school. While daddy practiced the Stamps songs in the winter indoors, he sat on the front porch and practiced the Stamps songs in the summer. Their books were published twice each year and he bought every copy. His interest in music was from his connection to the church. Mom shelled peas or broke green beans. We girls helped with that chore. We had lots of flies during the summer. We drove them out of the house with branches cut from brush or with towels. Sometimes we bought spray for the flies and used it on the screen door and on the porch ceiling.
One summer my dad decided to take the family to a four-ring Barnham and Bailey Circus in Springfield. The cows were milked early and chickens fed so we could drive to my dad's uncles house that evening. When we passed Uncle Charlie's house, he asked where we were going. Mom said, "crazy". She didn't think we should spend so much money to see the circus. My dad really wanted to see it. The first show was in the morning. I enjoyed it and always had something to write about the rest of my school years.
At grammar school we played church. We sang and students took turns being the preacher. Two girls and I became convicted of our sins. Aunt Verba heard about this and said the family should get together at their house for a prayer meeting. We all went and all three of us gave ourselves to the Lord. Later all three of us were baptized in Finley Creek. An interesting thing is that our teacher at that time, Mr. Miller, was obviously under conviction but he did not get baptized.
When I was in grammar school, I enjoyed looking for arrowheads the Indians had used for hunting. It was also fun to catch crawfish and minnows in the branches after the high water subsided. One time when I was in grammar school, a tramp came and wanted something to eat. Mom made him a sandwich and gave him a glass of milk. He sat down in the shade by the side of the house to eat. I was watching him from a bedroom window. I turned my head to tell mom and Aunt Mattie he was giving thanks to God for the food. When I looked again, he was gone. We girls looked out of the doors and windows for him and mom looked out the back of the house and in the chicken house, smoke house and cellar. Aunt Mattie looked in the garage and barn. We didn't find him and none of the neighbors saw him. That has been a mystery.
Saints, Sinners and Celebrations
The country pastor came and we went to church the second Sunday of every month if the weather was permissible. During the summer months we had Sunday School most Sundays. In the winter, because the weather would not permit, we went less often. During church services, the children sat on the front row in front of the preacher. That way our parents could keep an eye on us. Sometimes things were funny and we had a hard time not giggling. Some of the men sat at the back and went outside when the altar call was given. A revival meeting was held in the fall. It went on for two weeks. The church and school were located close together. Services were held a couple of times during the day so school kids could attend. Some of the kids came to the Lord at those meetings. My fourth grade teacher, Miss Frances Westner, read the Bible to the students before class began. She gave each student a New Testament which I still have. She wrote a poem in my copy "Tis only a little remembrance, I'm leaving dear pupil with you, But it carries a load of good wishes, For happiness all your life through." and added "My greatest wish for you is that as you grow older you will read and heed the precious words of this little book". Every year on the second Sunday in May, all day services were held. Dinner was spread out on tablecloths on the ground or on church seats pushed together. In the afternoon there was communion and foot washing. I didn't understand the foot washing. We went to a Freewill Baptist Church. My grandfather, uncles, and daddy built the building and grandma and Uncle John were charter members.
In the month of August, the Dogwood Holiness Church held a camp meeting. The ministers and people who sang slept in a building near where the camp meeting was held. Women in the community cooked and served meals for all the helpers for the meetings. That went on for ten days. They preached that it was a sin for women to wear short hair, short dresses, makeup, dance or play cards. Some men rode saddled horses to the meetings. When they got on their horses to go home, they were thrown off because rocks had been put under the saddles by some of the teenage boys. My grandpa Johns said he never had any trouble as he rode a bare back mule.
During the winter someone would have a square dance at their house. Only grown-ups were allowed to go. I can understand why the church thought it was a sin to dance as whiskey was brought to the dances and some of the men got drunk. A few men would visit a moonshine still and show up liquored. There was usually a fist fight as some fellows were jealous that other men danced with their wives or girlfriends. As for playing cards, that was done by the men who sat up all night by a campfire and played or they played on Sundays while their wives did the chores. It was under the influence of alcohol that my grandfather Silvey and some of his relatives were involved in baldknobber activities when he was a young single man.
One time a man in the community got drunk and stopped at grandpa's house. My grandpa had never driven a car but was going to take the man home. They had to make a turn by the garden and grandpa lost control of the car and ended up in the middle of the garden. He never tried to drive a car again. Maybe he thought it was better to sit on the front porch in a straight back chair and read the large King James Bible. I tried sitting in a straight back chair and leaned against the wall like grandpa, but mom said that was dangerous as I could fall. My dad's brother, Uncle John, came to know the Lord during a revival when he was young. He was a gifted preacher. He never pastored a church but served as an evangelist preaching at different churches and conducted revival meetings.
There were also churches called Holy Rollers. They never owned a building of their own. They met in a tent during the summer or in an old building. They said they got the gift of speaking in tongues and would roll on the floor. Every congregation "gabbled" differently. All day singing was held at different churches during the summer. All had choirs and took turns singing. My dad always had a choir. Children would get tired of sitting and wanted to go outside to play. Teenagers sat in cars and flirted. I wasn't interested in singing but wanted to play the piano. We didn't have the money to buy one so I bought a secondhand one with my first paycheck. I left home to work shortly after that. Velma and Eunice took lessons and learned to play. Blanche enjoyed singing in a choir. Now she sings with a quartet for nursing homes.
Easter Day was not celebrated then as it is today. Easter Sunday was just another Sunday. Good Friday was the day used to plant gardens because it was believed that a good crop would follow. We attended school on Good Friday.
On the fourth of July, Seymour sometimes celebrated in the town park. Church choirs sang and there was jig dancing , fiddling and hog calling contests. They always had sack races and greased poles for children to climb. If it was an election year, a political speech was made. One year a man parachuted from a small airplane. Each of us girls were given twenty-five cents to spend. Ice cream cones or a bottle of soda pop cost five cents each. We bought balloons, and the boys liked to burst them. Being fair complexioned, I always got a sunburn. Families brought picnic dinners and several families got together to share their meal. We spread tablecloths on someone's lawn and placed the food on it.
Christmas was the major Christian observance. Before going to bed the night of Christmas Eve our shoes were put under the chair and our stocking hung on the back of the chair. On Christmas morning we would find candy in the stocking. We always ate it before breakfast on Christmas morning. I remember getting sick from eating too much candy. We got one gift each and we found them on Christmas morning in or by our shoes. They were practical gifts such as gloves or mittens. The most expensive gift I ever got was a doll with hair that I still have.
My dad remembered the birthday of everyone in the community and how old they were. On our birthday he would tell us that today is your birthday but no special celebration was observed.
My happiest memories are of playing with my cousins at my grandparents. My grandmother, Rebecca, enjoyed playing with us. My grandpa Johns would also play with us girls when we would visit with him.
High School and Harder Times
I started to high school during the dustbowl storms and depression. Some days the dust clouds from Texas and Oklahoma would black out the sun and the dust dropped and covered everything. Our area had stands of timber so the dust wasn't blown from the soil. Because of the drought, many springs and streams dried up. People sold their livestock cheap as there was no feed for them. Since there was no rain, we had no fresh fruit or vegetables and ate dried beans and canned vegetables and fruit. People came in trucks to get water from the spring on our place. Our clothing was hand-me-down or made from mom's skirts and dresses. I had two dresses for each year of school.
When my parents bought their first car, a 1924 Model -T Ford, a neighbor drove it from town and took daddy to a open field to teach him how to drive which took about thirty minutes. My parents bought a 1934 Chevrolet for me to drive to school. Other students rode with me and paid me one dollar per week. I gave the money to my dad. If a neighbor needed a ride to town, they walked down to the main road and was never charged for the ride. Some of the men wanted to know how I dodged the potholes and crossed Finley Creek when the water was high. They drove the rode about once a week but I drove the road twice a day. Finley Creek had a concrete slab and my dad told me to start upstream on the concrete slab and drive diagonally across where I would just barely come out on the downstream side of the slab. That way the water was diverted off the wheels and the car would not be swept downstream. If the water was just too high and the other passage that I sometimes took near the head waters of Finley Creek, I would stay in town with my Uncle Frank and Aunt Nettie Goss. He owned the general store that we called 'the candy store'. In the winter, my dad said to keep from getting the car stuck on an icy hill, put the car in second gear and give the car plenty of gas before starting up and not to slow down or stop. I did and it worked, but some people got stuck. I drove the car to a garage in downtown Seymour and walked the two blocks to school across the Frisco Railroad tracks. I parked in the garage to keep the radiator from freezing and if I had trouble starting the car, the garage man would help me. Many tramps and men without jobs rode in empty boxcars on the train.
During the depression most people voted for Democrats. President Roosevelt started work projects and some men found jobs. One project was known as the Works Progress Administration (WPA). They paved Highway 60 that went by the High School. Some of these men rode to town with me so that meant I had to leave home by 4:00 am in order for them to get to work on time. Mr. Goss, married to Catharine Silvey, was the school janitor. He came to school early to build a fire in the furnace so I could get in the building. One day after the highway was paved, we saw a couple with two children walking in the snow and on the wet pavement. The children were not wearing shoes.
Many schools closed as there was no money to pay the teachers. Teachers in Seymour were paid $35.00 a month. The year I started to high school was the first year that we didn't have to pay tuition. We did buy our books, paper and pencils. After I graduated, Blanche drove the car. My dad and mom repaired many tires by lantern light. The Ragsdale school district then consolidated with the Seymour school district. Velma and Eunice rode the bus for a couple of years or roomed in town with Ruby (Silvey) Lockhart or Orville's sister, Gladys Blevins.
There were quite a few teenagers in the community when I was in high school. After the Sunday morning church services, we went to someone's house and ate dinner. All the mothers had enough food prepared for a group. We stayed until the evening church service. After dinner the girls washed the dishes and that was the only time that we saw boys dry the dishes. Sunday was a day when we got out of doing chores at home. One Sunday we went to my girlfriends house and after the dinner dishes were washed, the boys decided we should have a rodeo. They drove good sized calves into the barn lot and rode them. I don't remember anyone being thrown off.
It was during the depression that my grandmother, Rebecca Silvey, passed away. Life in that house was never the same. She was the heart and soul of the family. She was a mother to my mother and grandma's death was very hard for my mother to bear. My grandmother had a strong Christian influence on my grandfather, their children, and their grandchildren. My grandfather went almost everyday to visit her grave in the Silvey cemetery on his farm.
From School House to State House
After I completed high school, I was asked to teach in the one room schoolhouse that I had attended growing up. The common practice was to hire someone they knew from the community. That kept them from saying "no" to about ten teachers that would apply for the job. First I had to take an exam which took two days. Some of it was very difficult. My high school teachers said they wouldn't be able to pass it. I think that the only reason I could was that I had not been out of school long and still remembered much of what I had learned. To prepare for the state of Missouri elementary examine for teachers I studied a book published by the State Board of Education on the different methods of teaching and the state laws. The school I had attended in grammer school and then taught at had first through eighth grade. The first and second graders were my favorite students to teach. They were eager to learn and I could see their progress from day to day. Women teachers had to be single. It was okay for a male teacher to be married. A few weeks before school was out our state representative came to the school after it was dismissed for the day. He offered me a job in Jefferson City working for the state in the sales tax department. Good paying jobs were scarce during the depression. Many people applied for state jobs. He wanted someone to represent him that had a good reputation. He knew that I did because he knew my grandparents and uncles. I was pleased to get the job. I took bookkeeping and accounting correspondence classes on my own at night. A women working in the sales tax department taught me shorthand and I practiced my typing. There were no junior colleges or night classes at the high schools or colleges. I worked in Jefferson City for the state for five years from the ages of nineteen to twenty-four. It was expected that if one member of the family had a job or any means that they would help the other members needing assistance.
From State House to DC
The summer before World War II started my sister, Velma, attended business college in Springfield. The FBI went to her college and interviewed her for the Bureau in DC. They said she would have to go there for further interviews. I had not taken my vacation, so I said "I will go with you to DC and we can do some sightseeing." While I was there, I also put in my application for a job with the Bureau. After I got back to Jefferson City, the next step in the hiring process was to go to Kansas City for an interview. I went there by train for the interview and later returned to Kansas City to take the civil service test. I continued to work for the sales tax department while the FBI did background checks on me. They talked to the people of the Ragsdale school district and to my neighbors, and to my teachers from high school. They also went to talk to my neighbors where I was living in Jefferson City, then talked to my office manager in the sales tax department. One day my supervisor said he had a couple of gentlemen that would like for me to explain to them what each department did. Since there were people from other states that often came in to see how the department worked, I didn't give it a lot of thought. However, I wondered why my boss asked me to do that when that was always his secretary's job.
About two weeks later, while I was in a restaurant eating lunch, a Western Union boy came in calling my name. The telegram stated that I had the job and for me to report for work. That caused a lot of excitement back at the office. I decided that the FBI knew more about what people thought about me than I knew. I went to Washington DC and worked there about two and a half years. I was there when Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941. After the war started, things changed in the city. It became overcrowded and crime increased. Velma and I roomed together and moved several times. Eunice came after graduating from high school and we all shared the same room. Our landlady and her husband rented a three bedroom apartment with one bath, kitchen and living room that we all shared. My two sisters and I shared one bedroom with one closet and one dresser. We slept on single beds. Another bedroom was rented to two girls. We usually ate out.
I had different work experiences and responsibilities during my tenure with the FBI in Washington. I first worked on the night shift for the Bureau in the filing department on espionage and extortion cases. After a couple of months I was transferred to work on the evening shift in the cryptography and telegraph department. I did not have prior experience in either cryptography or telegraphing. Cryptography was where messages were coded and decoded. I learned to tell the time of day in other parts of the world, how to code and decode, and how to receive and send messages on the teletype machine. I was the only girl in this department but there were twelve married men with young families who didn't want to be drafted. This was all secret work so there was a lot of tension. Nobody talked.
One evening my supervisor handed me a message and told me he didn't want any mistakes in my typing as this message was to be typed and sent to J. Edgar Hoover. I was not a good typist and he kept standing behind my chair and watching me. That made me nervous and I knew I would make mistakes. I told him there was not a person living that hadn't made mistakes. He had a nervous breakdown a few weeks later and was off work for six months. After he came back he apologized.
My next transfer was to the telegraph department on the first floor where there were four men working on the evening shift. One Sunday evening they sat up the teletype machine to listen to a conference between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. I didn't want to listen to all that secret information but we had to listen. I thought ,"I hope I don't talk in my sleep or no spies see me leaving this building at eleven o'clock tonight and demand that I tell them what I know." I am sure some of that fear was just my imagination but I wanted out of that department. I asked to go to the bookkeeping department as I would be able to use that experience working for a private business. I was then transferred to the payroll department where I learned to use a bookkeeping machine, which I wanted to learn. I didn't, however, get to stay there.
I was next transferred to the laboratory and photograph department where articles were examined and photographed that were used to prosecute spies in espionage cases. The jobs were classified in this department and it was my job to see that the work got to the right people. One day an agent from the department handed me some photographs and told me to take them to the judge in the courtroom. I didn't know why he chose me. Security was high. There was only one elevator that went to the basement. I took it. Security checked me before I got on and after I got off. When I got off the elevator the hall was very dark and there were guards standing on each side of the door to the courtroom. I didn't know eight spies were being tried that day and I had never been in a courtroom. It dawned on me that the trial for the spies had started and they would probably get the death sentence. My assignment was to give the judge the photos of the equipment and messages the eight spies had used. I took a quick glance at the photo evidence I was to deliver. I was too uncomfortable to give it to the judge in open court where all the attention would be on me. I took the elevator back up to the office and being the overseer for that department, I asked a twenty year old fellow to do the job. I could not have asked him to do anything that he enjoyed more than that. No one ever said anything to me about who took the evidence to the judge. It really didn't matter who delivered the information as long as it got there.
By this time I was working on the day shift and could ride a bus to work, I didn't like standing on Pennsylvania Ave. at eleven or twelve o'clock at night flagging down a cab to take me home. There were many cabs to choose from but I didn't trust some of the companies or their drivers. One fellow in the office was telling me that there was nothing to be afraid of. I asked him if he would like for his sister to be taking a cab home those hours. He said, "No."
There was a young single fellow in the laboratory and photograph department that didn't want to be drafted. He decided he wanted my job. He passed around a memo saying he was having a meeting after working hours and we were all to be there. Most of my co-workers walked out. They could see he was trying to promote himself to get my job and to avoid the draft and they had brothers that couldn't avoid it, so why should he. They said they were told there would be no office politics and since there was some politics even in the FBI some decided to resign and go back home to college. I knew I had to have time to think over what I should do. I stayed a couple of weeks to see what the guy would try next. I made up my mind to report what had happened to the manager of personnel office. I decided I wanted to leave DC as I had a lot of sinus infections and didn't like the climate in addition to the unpleasant working environment. Since I was told there would be no office politics and that I could go to Hoover anytime, I took them at their word. I also wondered if the personnel office knew what was going on. Well, I didn't ask for permission to talk to the personnel manager. I walked to his office and knocked on the door and told him I wanted to talk to him. He didn't know what was going on and thanked me for telling him. The next day my office got a memo from him.
While I was in his office I also told him I wanted a transfer to Los Angeles. I had heard people say that the climate in Los Angeles was good and I thought the climate might correct my sinus problems. He told me I could not be transferred to a field office so I told him I was resigning. Before I left DC they asked me if I would like to learn the Morse Code and work in the radio department. It would have been for better pay, but I knew I would be under a lot of pressure so I told them, "No."
From DC to Los Angeles
My cousins, Cleo and Arnold, were living near San Diego, California, but I did not know anyone in Los Angeles. Los Angeles also had a housing shortage, but not as bad as in DC. I went to Los Angeles by train. Trains were always crowded during the war. During my trip from DC to LA, there were G I's lying or sitting on the floor between the seats as there were not enough seats on the train. The cars were filled with smoke and I was very tired when I arrived. Since I didn't know anything about the city, I called a taxi and had them take me to the YMCA to see if they could find me a place to live. While I was being interviewed, a lady in the room was listening and walked over and said, "I'll take this girl." Her name was Ruby Jones and she was there to register a room that she had for rent. I went home with her on the street car and she treated me like her daughter.
When I got to Los Angeles, I sent my address to the FBI as they had requested. After I arrived I found a job with a travel agency near where I lived but with less pay. The day before I was to go to work for the travel agency I received a telegram from the Bureau telling me to report to work and that I had a raise in salary. Of course I went back to work for them. The state and federal employees were paid a higher salary than private business. I made $110 a month as a state employee and started at $120 a month as a federal employee. In LA I was paid $130 a month to work for the FBI. Private companies paid from $30 to $60 a month and school teachers received from $30 to $50 a month. Clerks were paid even less. Today employees could be fired for doing some of the things I did working during World War II. I didn't like the pressure with some of the work and asked for transfers but they also transferred me in DC and the FBI even rehired me in LA.
At the FBI field office in Los Angeles I worked for the filing department and the telegraph departments. I was the only person that knew how to receive and send messages on the telegraph machine. A few days before going back to work for the FBI in LA, I decided to do volunteer work for the YMCA. There were six other volunteer girls in the office and I was the only one that was working. There was a lot of typing to be done but they sat around talking about the girls in DC saying that they just sat around and drew big salaries and did nothing. They also talked about how they were sacrificing for the war. One girl said that she had even donated her fur coat. I didn't do any more volunteer work. I did go to a YMCA party once on a Friday evening. The girls at this party talked about the farms boys in the Midwest that didn't even know how to dance. When I came out to catch the street car to go home I talked to a girl who was from North Dakota. She said her brother was in the service and that she was very angry about what she had heard and would never go back to the YMCA again.
People learned during the war how people in other states lived and talked and that included me. I had seen the movie, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." It was about a family in Brooklyn, New York. They lived in a very small apartment surrounded with brick walls and cement and they all spoke in slang. I worked with people from Brooklyn that didn't live like that or talk like that and were well educated. On the other hand I met people from NY that thought all people from the Ozarks couldnt read or write, wore gingham dresses and went bare-footed. I met one person that thought all farm people were illiterate because they couldn't speak French. I told him that cows are only interested in being fed and milked and not what languages the farmer can speak . Some thought people west of the Mississippi River were still fighting the Indians. Some couldn't name one state west of the River. Most people working for the Bureau knew better.
Marriage, Family and Faith
I met my husband, Thomas Richard (Dick) Mitchiner, in Los Angeles where we married on February 13, 1944. We got married at the Wee Kirk of the Heather Chapel located in Forest Lawn Cemetery. We went to Blue Jay in the San Bernardino Mountains for our honeymoon. As the war was going on our friends gave us their gas ration coupons for the trip. We married on my mother's and my sister, Eunice's, birthday. I was twenty-seven and he was thirty-five years old when we married and we were set in our ways. He worked for the telephone company and continued to work there after we married. He retired from the company after forty-three years at the age of sixty-five. While I was very reserved, Dick was very outgoing and enjoyed social functions and being with people.
I was told that there was no doctor present when Dick was born on January 23, 1909 in Southmayd, Texas, during a snowstorm. He was a premature seven month baby. He was placed in the oven of a cook stove to keep warm. He was named after both of his grandfathers. Thomas, after his grandfather Mitchiner and Richard, after his grandfather Gardner. The Mitchiners were originally from Georgia and the Garners from South Carolina. After his oldest sister, Sheila, was born in Texas they moved to East Highlands, California where his mother's parents and brothers were already living. The Garners first moved to Texas from South Carolina before moving on to California. A brother, John (Jack), and his sister, Margaret (Marge), were born in the Highland area. His father, Ross, had gone to college and had taught school in Texas, but preferred working as a foreman for the orange ranch owners after moving to East Highlands. There were only two churches in Highland. As a young person Dick had gone forward in the Methodist Church that his parents attended and publicly accepted Christ as his Savior. His Garner grandparents and his uncles went to the Congregational Church. Dick was nine years old when his mother, Ressie Garner Mitchiner, died. Sheila was seven years old, Jack was five years old, and Marge was about three years old when their mother died. After their mother's death, Dick continued to live with his father. Sheila lived with her Uncle Willie and Aunt Eula Garner. Jack lived with his Uncle Jim and Aunt Mamie Garner. Marge lived with her Garner grandparents from age three until about twelve years old. His dad married Iva Almon that he knew from teacher's college in Texas. They had taught school together. His dad contacted her in Texas after his mother died. She taught school in Highland after she married his dad. Dick called his stepmom, 'Mom'.
After working for orange ranchers for a number of years, Dick's parents bought a five acre orange ranch near Del Rosa. They tried to harvest the crops before Christmas. Some years they used smudge pots to keep the oranges from freezing. All of the children went to grammar school in the East Highland area. Dick, Jack and Marge attended all four years at the San Bernardino High School and Sheila went three years to Redlands High School and one year to San Bernardino High School. Dick learned to irrigate the orange trees and when walking home from grammar school he would wade in the irrigation ditch when the weather was warm.
After high school Dick worked for the Santa Fe Railroad. He first worked in Peach Springs, Arizona. The second place was in the California desert. The third place was in Desert Hot Springs, California. He learned the Morse Code and learned how to telegraph. He had to report the numbers on the freight cars and was able to memorize the numbers as the trains passed by. While working for the Santa Fe Railroad he suffered with appendicitis and gangrene. He was hospitalized and he had surgery. His mother had died of appendicitis in childbirth. He liked to draw pictures and kept the other patients entertained. One nurse was real rough and seemed to have a chip on her shoulder. She wasn't getting along with her husband and she was not nice to her patients so they didn't like her. Dick drew a picture of the nurse with a cow body. The other patients got quite a kick out of the picture and laughed loudly. She came in and wanted to see the picture. Dick let her see it and it made her mad. That did not improve her disposition. His parents had not heard from him for sometime and began to worry. He was in the Santa Fe Hospital in Los Angeles. Iva said, "It is not like Dick to not write to us and let us know what has happened". When they found him, he said, "You have enough to think about and I didn't want to worry you."
After working for the Santa Fe Railroad for a number of years, he put in an application with the Pacific Telephone Company which was part of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). He was told that he didn't have a chance for a job. There was a tall stack of applications on the personnel desks so he said, "See that application on top? That is mine and you will be interested in hiring me." He knew he was qualified and knew he was what they were looking for. They did hire him and sent him to Los Angeles to work the night shift. He was deferred from the World War II draft because he was in communications. Because he was trained to work in any department, it would have taken seven years to train someone else to replace him. He was already helping the war effort.
Dick and I met on a Tuesday evening at the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles. My landlady belonged to that church and told me that on Tuesday evenings a home cooked dinner was served for unmarried people. Dick had already started going to the dinners at the church. Though the food shortage in Los Angeles was not as severe as it was in DC, Dick and I were both still eating restaurant food. We both welcomed these weekly homecooked meals at the church. A girl can not be too careful and since I was still working for the FBI I did a background check on Dick before we got married. He passed the background check. After we married Dick became special to Ruby and our children were treated like her grandchildren since she had never been married and had no children of her own. After she sold her house she moved into a retirement home, where she later passed away.
I was still having sinus trouble and since we both mainly continued to eat out, our diet was not very good. After we got our own apartment we decided it would be better for me to quit work and cook and to eat more fruits and vegetables. My landlady said there was a doctor whose office was near us who discovered that people with sinus trouble were often allergic to certain things. There was an article in The Reader's Digest about this doctor. I went to him and I was given skin tests. They found that I was allergic to house dust and mold and I started taking allergy shots. It seems I was also allergic to various types of paper. After I stopped working I got much better. Dick had dull looking hair when we got married from eating mainly a diet of steaks and french fries and sourdough bread at the Pantry Restaurant. I cooked carrots and spinach and we ate more salads. Dick's hair started looking healthier.
We were living in an apartment at 262 Rampart St. when our first child was born. We named her Carol since she was born close to Christmas in 1944. Shortly before our first son, Tom, was born in 1946 we moved into our first house at 408 E. 61st St. in southwest Los Angeles right after the war ended. After the war ended things really changed. Nothing had been manufactured for civilian living during the war so there were lots of manufacturing jobs. Lots of people were married during the war and they needed housing and furnishings. A lot of men chose to go to college on the GI Bill. People moved off farms and small towns and to other states. Most everyone bought cars, radios and had telephones. More people were traveling and most companies gave their employees vacations. The housing shortage, however, continued for some time after the war.
We invited my sister, Velma, and her husband, L D, to live with us while their house in Sylmar was being built and he was looking for work. L D was a veteran. He helped Dick paint and wash the kitchen of our house. When Tom was born, Dick was working. L D drove me to the hospital. He and Velma took care of Carol until I came home with the new baby. We lived in that house seven years until the state bought it for the Harbor Freeway. Our second son, John, was also born there in 1950. We bought a new house in Downey when he was two and a half years old. We looked for two years before we bought our new house in Downey in November 1953. Dick worked as a craftsman at the telephone company. We discovered that he did not earn enough income to qualify for a home loan but we saved and he had invested his money wisely so we paid cash for our home. Cash works! Downey had good neighborhoods and good schools. Our new neighbors were mostly younger, professionals and college educated. We had one car and when I needed the car Dick rode the bus to work. When Dick rode the bus I took him in the car to the bus stop and pick him up whether in the day or at night. Dick was often called in to work overtime. We managed. We had bought our car new in 1950 and drove it fifteen years. We did not get a second car until Carol needed a car to go to college. I lived in Downey for forty-five years but we made frequent visits back to Missouri and we often visited with my sister, Velma, in Sylmar. We also took a family vacation to Sequoia in 1950 and Yosemite in 1952. On the Yosemite vacation Dick took Carol and Tom for a walk along the cold rocky stream at the base of a waterfall. They were stepping from one rock to another when Dick fell on the rocks and into the stream. They were very slippery. Some of the people nearby scrambled to pull him out. That was the one thing the family remembered most about that vacation. I was sitting on the bank holding John and could do nothing to help. The only thing that he hurt was his pride.
Dick and I lived in our home in Downey for thirty years where he passed away on April 27, 1984 of bladder cancer. One of the things he is remembered for is his thankful spirit. I continued to live in our home until November 1998 when I moved near my daughter into a retirement community in Fullerton, California. I have enjoyed good health except for having rheumatic fever caused by strep throat in 1969. I reacted to the penicillin they gave me. That almost killed me but the doctor said the penicillin actually saved my life. Since then I have had rheumatoid arthritis that comes and goes. I did not teach public school again but for thirty years I worked with the Sunday School Kindergarten Department at Downey First Baptist Church. For twenty of those years I was the Sunday School Kindergarten Department Superintendent. Before I went back to work my neighbors expected me to watch their children. As my youngest child was finishing high school I went back to work part-time doing bookkeeping for a car parts distributor. It was the first time I used the correspondence course training in bookkeeping and accounting I took many years before when I lived in Jefferson City.
The way of life I knew growing up is a thing of the past except perhaps for the Amish people that have more recently moved into the area where I was raised. Now we travel much faster and are more depended on others than ever before for the necessities of life. That is both good and not so good. Buggies and wagons are not our mode of transportation. We do not have to harness our horses to go to town or work the fields. We do not need to have kerosene to light our lamps and lanterns. We do not need to have jars for canning home grown fruits and vegetables from the garden you planted and cared for to have food to eat during the winter. The way of life I knew as a stay at home wife and mother is also mostly a thing of the past where today it takes two incomes to raise a family and buy a home. While somethings have changed, the Lord has not. I can truly say the Lord has been good to me and He certainly took care of an inexperienced country girl. Since I came to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in grammer school, I have tried to serve Him and bring others into His Kingdom.
Copyright December 2003 by Thomas W. Mitchiner, Crossville, TN. These documents may be freely used for private purposes, and included in your own genealogy. However, this document is copyrighted as stated above and may not be sold, nor given to anyone, who may attempt to derive profit from same. Any verifiable information to substantiate changes or additions is welcomed by the author.
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