Table of Contents
as told by Frances Benson Kahn
Benson Family Tree This family history was taped while on vacation on the North Shore in Minnesota, summer of 1994, and finally transcribed in March of 2002. Interviewer and transcriber was Sharon Kahn, Francesí oldest daughter. Occasionally there are comments interpolated by other family members. Interviewer comments are included only where necessary to explain the direction of the narration, and are shown <like this>.
Tape 1 Recorded on North Shore, 1994
|Tape 1: Benson and Rough||
Top of Page
The first house that Grandpa and Grandma Benson lived in was a dugout soddy. Grandpa was not eligible for a homestead because he was not a citizen when he first arrived. Grandpa and Grandma both got their citizenship around 1875, as early as they could. They spoke Swedish in the home up until the time my father started to school. Dad was the 6th of 12 children, 11 of whom survived infancy and grew to adulthood. He was proud of the fact that of the 11 children 8 of them survived to be past 80, in good health. When Dad started to school he was a little shocked to discover that Swedish was not the language of the land. He was so annoyed by this that he refused to speak Swedish again, and at the time that I knew him, he knew less Swedish than my mother [who was not Swedish] who taught in a Swedish town when she was teaching before she was married. The interesting thing to me is that of the 5 children who were older than Dad, none of them finished high school. But of the ones that were younger than Dad, all of them not only finished high school but went on to college. I know that Dad got a college scholarship to Doane University, same as my mother, because Doane (which was a Congregational Church college) gave a scholarship to the valedictorian of every high school in Nebraska. Doane is in Crete, Nebraska. Both mother and dad were born in Nebraska. And, incidentally, I was born in Nebraska, and so was my sister, and so was Harry, although Harry and I didnít meet until much later in Maryland.
<Isnít there anything more to say about that side of the family besides they were healthy and long-lived?> We didnít go out to visit Dadís family, we went to visit Motherís a lot more. And I grew up with my motherís.... the cousins on that side I knew much better. <Your father was a Mason, wasnít he? Why?> I have no idea, but I know that he got his 50-year certificate as a Mason. <what degree was he?> oh.... master., I donít know. [weíre talking about] Leonard Rudolph Benson, or Poppi as he was known to his grandchildren. He finished high school and went on to teach Mechanical Engineering. However, he did not get his original degree in that. He graduated from Doane with a B.A. in Arts and Science. He had started a small company as an electrician. That was what he was doing when he went off to war. He enlisted in WWI. When he came back the business was gone, and he became a superintendent of schools.
My mother had taught for two years, then she was principal of her high school for two years, then for two years she was superintendent of the schools in the small town in Nebraska. She was the only woman superintendent of schools they had ever had up until the time of her death. At her funeral, every surviving of the class she had sponsored their entire 4 years through high school came to her funeral. This was kind of surprising to me. Mother actually had two funerals: one in Austin that everybody came to, and then we went back to Nehawka for the burial. She had bought a burial lot in Nehawka, one of the last few that was available in the cemetery there were her parents were buried. <we have a picture of the tombstone> My great-grandfather and his wife were also buried there. When we went to that family reunion [where we took the picture] remember we went to some of the other cemeteries that had some other members of the family going further back. My great-grandfather [Grandpa Bates] had come out to Nebraska after the Civil War. He bought a farm, and then went back to Vermont and married my great-grandmother, who was Eunice Amelia Bates (I donít know what her maiden name was) and brought her back to Nebraska to the farm there.
[some discussion of a "relative" who had walked from Nebraska back to Wisconsin to get a wife and then brought her back to Nebraska. No, they didnít walk on the trip back to Nebraska. Weíre not sure how this individual is related to the family, but Poppi had found his diary and kept it because he thought it was interesting for itís "primitive conditions."]
.... [back to talking about Poppi again].. and this was a man who was born in 1893, who remembers things like Halleyís Comet. He wasnít excited about it at all. He remarked that the one time he got a good look at it was when he was going back to the farm after working there to help out. <he never got excited about anything, did he?> He got excited about saving the world for democracy. Thatís why he joined the army in WWI. <then didnít he send all these frustrated letters that he never got to...> He did get overseas. He was never actually involved in fighting. He was on his way to the front lines a couple of times and then they sent him back to Officerís candidate school, which is where he was when the Armistice was signed. What he got a little frustrated about was when he was in Deming, NM, and he said, "There was nothing but sand."
Of course, much later his family back in Nebraska kept writing him letters about "Nothing but dirt coming in the house." We didnít have as much trouble with dust storms as... <are we suddenly jumping forward to the 1930ís here?> Yes, weíre jumping up to the Depression years [amused]. I was thinking of it because of that book you have ["The Dirty Thirties."] <okay, letís talk about the Depression>
The house that we lived in was catty-corner across the street from the school. We did not have running water, even though it was in town. We did not have a basement. <and this was 1928?> We moved there in 1925, when I was 3. My sister was a baby. We did not have a basement, and as soon as the drought started we started having trouble with dust storms. Every time my mother saw a dust storm approaching, she assumed it was a tornado, having grown up in tornado country, where everybody has a storm cellar if they donít have a basement. Our next door neighbor had a basement, so every time there was a dust storm, Mother would herd me and my little sister over to the neighborís house and [laughing] ask if we could sit in the basement. The people who were living in that house were, I think, a little confused. I HATED this. I absolutely hated this. It was one of those basements with a dirt floor and damp walls, a real cellar. It had a very distinct damp odor. And we would just have to sit there, and I would hear the woman bustling around above us. <didnít she wonder why you were doing this?> Iím sure she did. I wondered too. I thought it was utterly ridiculous!
<did she keep this up through the entire dust bowl years?> Fortunately we moved [laughing]. Shortly after the dust storms started. To a house that was away from South Dakota; we moved to Iowa City. In Iowa City we did have a basement. And running water. We had a gas stove (a rather old one) instead of the wood stove we had in... we did not have central heating in South Dakota. A house without a basement, no insulation, no central heating can get pretty chilly in SD. We had a big kitchen range in the kitchen that Mother cooked on, whether it was hot in the summer (which it can be) or cold in the winter. There was a pot-bellied stove in the dining room. We had a little kerosene stove that was about 2 feet tall and 8" around and had little perforations in the top of it. The light would shine through, and when it was dark and it was on you could see the light shining through onto the ceiling. I spent a lot of time looking at the reflection on the ceiling, because when we got cold we got stuffed into a tent that my mother would make with a blanket over the chair backs over my sisterís crib. This was in the dining room, which was the warmest room in the house. The living room did not have a stove. The kerosene stove would be brought in and a teakettle would be set on it, and the steam would be directed under the tent for us to breathe. No electric lights. We had kerosene lamps, which get very smoky and have to have the chimneys washed every day.
<how big was this house?> There were 2 bedrooms, but the bedrooms were unheated. They were downstairs. When it snowed in the winter my father would dig a path all around the house. I thought, as a child, that he dug this path just so we could walk around the house when we went outside without getting snow in our noses. But later on I realized that he had dug the path so that the doors could be opened and so that light would come through the windows.
It was very flat in Colme, but we had sleds, and we would slide on the hills that were made by the snow packing up against either the barn or the neighborís chicken house. It was one of those places where you would swear thereís nothing between you and the North Pole except a barb wire fence.
I was 5 when I started school, because my mother knew we wouldnít learn to read until 2nd grade and I was dying to learn to read. In fact, when I came home from my first day of school my mother said "How did you like school?" I said, "Oh, it was okay. Give me a book." She gave me a book, and I opened it up and said, "No, school is no good. I still canít read." When I moved to Iowa City and started 2nd grade my mother didnít tell the school that I hadnít learned to read because she didnít want them to put me back in 1st grade again. So, I was never really taught to read. What happened was, in those days, in the morning we would read a new section of the reader, and we had little books and a little strip of cardboard that you put under the line of type you were reading. And you went to the next line, everybody moved their little strip down a line. I didnít want to tell anybody I couldnít read, so whenever everybody else moved their little strip down I moved my little strip down. And I would watch and I would listen. My mother had taught speech in SD, and I would sit and listen. We didnít have radio since we didnít have electricity, so listening to the students practicing their speeches or their stories or whatever they were reciting, and I would memorize by listening to them. So when I got to school, in the morning we would read the new part of the lesson, and in the afternoon we would read the part we had read the day before. So in the morning I would watch the words as we went down. In the afternoon, as soon as she started calling on people, I would wave my hand wildly to get called on, since I remembered it from the morning. Well, every so often I would make a little mistake Ė I would have the words out of order or I would use a synonym. But it would be close enough that the teacher never realized I was reciting the words from memory. Sometime after about the first 6 weeks I started recognizing the same words repeated a number of times, so after a while I would catch on. It was obvious what the first and last word in the line was because thatís when the cardboard moved down.
I remember when I was in 3rd grade I started reading Treasure Island. And since I wasnít a very advanced reader yet, I read it verrry slowly. I was very disturbed by the first part, where Billy Bones gets killed. I remember all about the Black Spot, and the pirates.... <thatís why you were always telling me about the Black Spot when I was a kid!> By the time I got to the last part I was moving a little faster, so it didnít impress me quite so much. I think I had nightmares about that Black Spot. [more talk about Treasure Island]
<So tell us about the house in Iowa City. It must have seemed like a palace> Oh, yes! We were very pleased with it. Dad had gone to Iowa City because my motherís sister, Ethel,
[digression about Aunt Beniís name change]
Ethelís husband was Harold. Harold Dane is rather a legend in the family, but weíll go into that later on. He owned a coal yard in Iowa City, and he had decided to open a gas station, and he hired Dad to come down and manage the station for him. Shortly after we moved Ė the Depression had started in SD in í28, which is when we moved Ė but in í29 the rest of the country got hit. So things werenít doing well and the gas station eventually was closed.
<did you own the house in Iowa City> No, we just rented for $35 a month. In the meantime, Uncle Harold had decided that the coal yard was great, but that oil was going to cut into the sales of coal in the future. <hmm, Uncle Harold was no fool> Uncle Harold was an entrepreneur. So he decided he was going to expand into oil. But most of the people in town still had coal-burning furnaces. So he decided that he was going to sell oil-burners and retrofit coal-burning furnaces to burn oil. But he didnít know how to do it. So he asked Dad to do it. So Dad got interested in doing it, and whenever Dad went to do something he felt he should do it the proper way, study up on it. Studying up on the proper way to convert a coal-burning furnace to an oil-burning one got him interested in heat transfer and things like that, so he decided to go back to school and get a degree in mechanical engineering. He went back nights while he was doing the conversion of coal to oil in the daytime. He took some classes in daytime too, since it turned out not to be a full time job. There turned out not to be enough people with money to convert right away. So we were still burning coal, and money was tight.
I know that one year our total income for the year was $600, and the rent was $35 and we had to buy most of our food. When we went to heat the house in winter, we did a very minimal job of heating. It was a hot-air furnace, and we closed all the registers in most of the rooms.
<If you only had $600 a year and spent $420 on rent, you didnít have much left for food>
Yes. But we got our milk for $.15/gallon; weíd take our own containers down. We bought day-old bread, which was $.05 a loaf instead of $.10, and we ate an awful lot of [sigh] cabbage. I still donít like cabbage much. We had carrots in bushel baskets of sand in the basement. The basement had one cement floor in the front part of the basement, and the coal furnace was in that room. The coal furnace was in that room, and then there was a coal bin behind that. Then you went into the next part of the basement, and there was a light in that room, but the light switch didnít have a plate over it, and it was one of those light switches that you punch instead of flipping the switch. And you had to punch it in the pretty much dark. And if your finger slipped while you were doing this youíd get a shock.
<Couldnít your father the engineer put a plate on the
thing?> You would have had to pay for the plate. And it was $.25 to go
buy one of those little plates. There were many other things that seemed
much more important to spend that $.25 on. They kept saying, "Oh, itís
not a bad shock, it wonít hurt you." And when we were sent downstairs to
get some canned tomatoes or applesauce Ė Mother made some delicious Bankston
plums preserves Ė apparently kind of a wild plum. Not good to eat but they
made wonderful preserves. Most of the time when I had to go down in the
basement and it was dark enough that I would have to turn on the switch
in the dark I would not want to go and Mother would say, "You can bring
up a jar of preserves, too."
<Unintelligible> Grandpa Bates was...there were 5 boys in Grandpa Batesí family and the youngest one, Uncle Will, was too young to fight in the Civil War at any point. Everyone always said that Grandpa Bates had lost 20 years off his life because of the things that happened to him in the Civil War, and Uncle Will, last I heard of him at the age of 99, was contemplating moving into a retirement home. Grandpa Bates only lived to be 85, so maybe they were right.
Grandpa Bates had always refused to talk about his serious experiences during the Civil War. He did talk about things that he thought were funny. Like one time when the Vermont regiment was guarding Washington, DC and this terrific storm came up, and during the night the tents were blown down flat. GG Bates was sound sleeper when he got the chance to sleep. When he woke up in the morning he discovered that he was lying in the ditch that had been dug around the tent, the tent was lying on top of him, and the ditch was full of water. He thought this was highly amusing, that heíd been able to sleep through this terrific storm, which everyone else was still talking about, and he really didnít know what had happened except it had blown his tent down and rolled him over into the drainage ditch.
He also talked about the time when he and his best buddy, who did die during the war, were out on guard duty along the Potomac. The two of them were together, and they were still teenage boys, and the squirrels were scampering around in the trees just daring them to take a shot. Finally they couldnít stand it any longer and they each shot a squirrel. Immediately, people boiled out of both the Confederate camps across the river and the Union camp (especially out of the Union camp) and started "shooting back." No shots hit anyone, fortunately, but afterwards this is one of those engagements that the Union "won," primarily because it was fought almost entirely against an imaginary enemy, or one that was out of gunshot range, at any rate.
After their tour of duty was over they snuck back to their
tents, joined the group that had been shooting, asking, "Whatís going on?
Nothing happened at our guard post! We didnít see any enemy!" And they
never told anyone that they had started the engagement. This meant that
they were not able to cook up their squirrels, which they badly wanted,
because meat was in short supply in the army.
Eating Squirrel Top of Page
<You can eat squirrels?> Yes, you can eat squirrels! In fact, even after your father and I were married... <you ate squirrels?> Yes, we did occasionally. We were living on a his $1,000 that he did as teaching as a grad student--this is when you were a baby, Sharon, in Pennsylvaniaóplus his ¾ allotment for the GI Bill. Plus I went back to school. I was going to work as either a teacher or a nurse. However, he was one of the later ones to be discharged and it seems as if ¾ of the veterans were married to either nurses or teachers, so most of the nursing and teaching jobs had long since been filled and had long waiting lists. So instead, I went back to school and got a lot of graduate credits. I could have gotten a masters degree if Iíd settled down and worked at it, but mostly I just took courses that had always appealed to me. If I signed up as a general graduate I could take courses that I didnít have to have the prereqs for. One of the things I wanted was to take the anatomy and physiology course that the premed students took because I had not yet taken my examination for RN in Maryland and I had not had any anatomy or physiology before I went to Hopkins, and I felt I didnít know as much [of these subjects] as the other students in my class. However, it turns out that the Hopkins students learned a lot more anatomy and physiology than nursing students elsewhere in Maryland, so that everything that was asked about either of those subjects on the RN examination were more than covered by the courses that I had had there.
<so, about the squirrel> So we got a hunting license our first year... <you need a license for squirrel?> You need a license to hunt ANYTHING in Pennsylvania. We got a hunting license, or rather, Harry did, and he went out hunting at the beginning of hunting season. There were many, many squirrels, etc. around our property, but the first part of hunting season, all the wildlife in the area turned and ran like mad for the penitentiary grounds fence, and once they were on the other side (an honor farm, so they had a lot of land) nobody was allowed to shoot them. And if they did shoot something and wounded it and it got to the other side, they werenít allowed to collect it. Anyway, he did not see a single squirrel, but he said he saw a large number of other hunters. And in the little store/post-office/gas-station that was the center of Oak Hall Station he overheard someone saying, "I didnít get any sight shots, but I got several sound shots," He asked whatís a sound shot Ė "Itís when you shoot at something you hear," at which point he decided that hunting really wasnít worth it as a way to try to increase the larder. We did get one rabbit, which he shot out in an open field and skinned and he hung it up on the clothes pole that the LeBarrons had in the back yard and had to fight off the cats while he was skinning the rabbit. One of the cats climbed up the metal clothes pole (he never figured out how) and sat on the crossbar and was batting at the rabbit, which was hanging from a rope. The other two cats sat on the ground and leaped from the ground. The skin went to the cats in the end, and we ate the rabbit. And when the LeBarrons killed their first little billy goat, because they didnít want to keep a billy goat since they were keeping goats for milk, so they gave it to us and we cooked it and ate it. We gave them some of the cooked meat, and they liked it so well that we never got another billy kid from them.
We learned to cook all kinds of things that were inexpensive while Harry was going to school. <Road kill?> Yes, as a matter of fact we did. Harry ran over a woodchuck on his motorcycle one time. Heís the one who killed it and heís the one who skinned it and ate it, so it hadnít been lying there dead for any length of time. <who cooked it?> I cooked it. <did you eat it?> Yes, I ate it. And it did taste better than that snapping turtle! It was not tough, Ďcause I marinated it, using recipes from an old cookbook. When I was born my mother bought from her church group in Doane a cookbook published in 1921, the year I was born. Mother bought a copy and saved it for me, and when I got married we had this cookbook as our cookbook. We did find a lot of useful recipes which we used; it also was a source of entertainment. Harry occasionally would pull it out if a party got dull and read them some of the recipes, including one for biscuits that we especially liked. It started out, "Take a quart of potato water left from lunch," and ended up, a day-and-a-half later, with 5 dozen yeast rolls ready at 4 in the morning. Three guesses as to what the occupation of the wife that cooked these was. We also had a number of recipes that were very useful. And of course all the recipes used measures like "butter the size of a walnut," and "a pinch of salt" <we still have that cookbook> one of the recipes that I continued to use for many years was for cornbread and another the recipe for one-egg cake that I used as the basis for shortcake.
|Tape2: Grandpa Bates & Grandpa Rough||
Top of Page
Bainbridge Walker Bates, my great-grandfather, was born in Vermont. His father also lived in the area. His father was Warner Bates. I believe that the Walker Bates who founded the school in Redding, over on Wayside Lane, was Great-Grandpaís uncle. He was also Walker Bates, and may have been the one that Grandpa was named for. <when was he born?> Iím not sure. Itís on the genealogy that... <was he about 21 when he went off to war?> No, he was in his teens. His father was also very interesting. Warner Bates was a Vermont farmer who was taking care of his own animals and did such a good job of it that others in the neighborhood seemed to call on him when they had sick animals. Then his medical expertise seemed to increase, probably from observation. He did doctor his own family when they were ill. When neighbors were ill and there was no doctor available they would come for him. During the diptheria epidemic, Great-Great-Grandpa Bates was very proud of the fact that not a single one of the children that he doctored died, whereas...<did anyone ever find out what he did for them?> Apparently it was primarily just supportive care. But more than 50% of diptheria patients died. In the case of a large family that had several sick children he went and stayed there, and Iím sure one of the things he would have done would be to remove the film from the throat that closes it off and makes them unable to breathe.
Certainly he saved the lives of my great-grandfather and one of his brothers when they were sent home from the Union army after the Battle of Gettysburg. They were sent home to die. They were suffering from one of the many diseases that killed most of the soldiers in the Civil War: dysentery, or cholera or some version thereof. Great-Grandpa had been a 3-day march from Gettysburg when the battle was on the horizon, and the Vermont Regiment was given a hurry-up order to get to Gettysburg to relieve the Union troops. They were doing forced marches during the day, and at night they would stop for a meal and to sleep. But there was always the cook tent to take down and a lot of chores that had to be done every night. And every night they would ask him to do it because he was the strongest man in the regiment. <was he a really big guy?> Oh, he wasnít as huge as all that. One reason he was so popular was because he was the wrestling champ of the regiment, and when the regiment would meet up with another group that didnít know them, they would have a wrestling match between him and the other groupís champion. His soldier mates would always win a lot of money by betting on him, because apparently he didnít look like as good a wrestler as he was.
But he wasnít small, either. When he had moved into town and was living with Grandpa and Grandma Rough, they had three leather rockers made up especially for them. There was a very large rocker, like Papa Bearís, that was for Great-Grandpa Bates. Then there was a medium-sized one (well, actually it was still pretty large, but smaller than the other one), and there was one that was just a little smaller for Grandma Rough. I always thought of them as the Three Bearsí Leather Rockers. All of them were good-sized rockers Ė 2 or 3 of us kids could sit in one. <so they were all big people> Yes. Grandma Rough was a good-sized woman. She was tall. Sheís the one I suspect of having some Indian ancestry, because she had very, very black, very, very straight hair and very very dark eyes. <she was supposed to be English, wasnít she? What was her maiden name?> Bates. She married Grandpa Rough. <???> Frances Amelia Bates married James Stuart Rough. Bainbridge Walker Bates was her father. He was married to Eunice Amelia Bates. I donít know what her maiden name was. Itís on the genealogy sheet. <where would the Indian blood have come from?> The family had been here since before the Revolutionary War... I donít remember Great-Grandma Bates Ė she died the year I was born. There is a picture that I have of GrGrandpa and GrGrandpa Bates and Grandpa and Grandma Rough and my motherís older (and only brother) Stuart, his wife Caroline and their first child Caroline. It was 4 generations of the family, taken on the front porch of the family farm. It shows once again, large, stocky people, but you canít see any particularly Indian features on any of them. I suspect that if there was some Indian blood it comes from way back, from shortly before or after the Revolutionary War, and not on the side that traces back to the War Ė the ancestor that we know fought in the war. Of the 5 children, two of them had very dark hair and eyes, and only one of those had the very straight hair. The other 3 were all of the Scottish coloring that Grandpa Rough had. One of these "children" Iím talking about is my mother (who did not have the dark hair). Grandpa Rough had dark hair, but whenever he grew a mustache it was red. This kind of coloring seems to pop up fairly frequently among the Scottish people.
<back to the Civil War, with GrGrandpa Bates marching towards Gettysburg...> All three nights, he had to stay up all night, and each time they said, "If youíll just help us again tonight, tomorrow you can stay in the hospital wagon." But each day there were always people who were so much sicker than he was that he had to march again. He got to where he was sleeping while they marched. When they stopped for a rest, heíd bump into the person ahead of him, which would knock him down, and heíd fall asleep on the ground. They would have to shake him to get him up again. They got to Gettysburg on the 3rd day of the battle, which was the last day. They were pinned down the entire day by sniper fire and they had no water. The only water in front of them was a stagnant pool. One of the soldiers had crawled out toward it to try to get a drink of water, although it was undoubtedly water like that that had made so many of them sick, and was shot by a Confederate sniper up in a tree. For the entire day he lay there moaning and screaming, and no one dared crawl out to him because of the sniper.
But it was not a war wound from which GrGrandpa was not expected to recover; it was the sickness. His best friend had died the same way, but before the battle. In his case, they had sent for his father to come down and take him home, but he died before the father arrived, and GrGrandpa had paid for a coffin and burial for his friend. So when the father arrived, there was nothing to take home.
GrGrandpa and his brother were sent to a railroad station in the general area of their farm, and GrGrGrandpa Bates went in to pick them up. When he got there, he couldnít recognize either of his boys, and the boys did not recognize each other. They were lying on the station platform, and they looked so bad that they couldnít even find each other. GrGrGrandpa walked along the platform shaking each one and rousing them enough so that they recognized their father. Neither one of them had been mustered out of the army because they were not expected to live. So after my GrGrandfatherís brother (I think it was Orrin) recovered, they went back to the place theyíd been mustered in, and they decided they didnít want him back in the Army since he still wasnít in good enough shape to fight. So he was given his discharge papers and also the discharge papers for his brother. GrGrandpa Bates was not in condition even at that point to go back and pick up his papers. This was about the time the family decided heíd had at least 20 years taken off his life by the Civil War. He was never quite as strong again. And itís true that his youngest brother Will, who was too young too enter the Army, last time we heard from him he was considering entering a rest home somewhere in Oregon. <how did Orrin do?> Oh, he recovered. But I never knew him personally. And GrGrandpa Bates lived to be in his mid-eighties. Mother said 85, but looking at his obituary it looked more like 83, but I wonít guarantee that.
Mother had gotten the stories of the Civil War from GrGrandpa
Bates the year before he died, at Christmastime. We were all there. He
died in í28, I believe, and I was born in November of 21, so I was 5 or
6 or 7 at the time. Up until that time, he had always refused to tell the
stories of the serious things that happened during the war. That night
visit he said to my mother, "Elizabeth, this will probably be the last
time you ever see me. If you want, I will tell you my stories of the Civil
War." So Mother said, "Can I go get paper and pencil and take notes?" and
he said yes. So when she came back he told her things such as Iíve been
relating to you. After he was through talking she said, "What do you mean,
this will be the last time I see you?" and he said, "Iíve decided that
I cannot live through another Nebraska summer. When the weather turns really
hot this year, I intend to die." Mother said, "What??" <what his health
like?> Pretty good for his age. She expressed complete confusion about
his remark, and he said, "My father always told me that the way to live
to an old age is to get up every morning with chores you have to do. Thatís
why I have the cow." When heíd moved in from the farm to live with Grandpa
and Grandma (who had also moved in from the farm, which was being farmed
by a tenant farmer, although Grandpa Rough was still deciding what crops
would be planted and so forth) heíd insisted that he wouldnít come unless
a barn was built so he could keep a cow. That was so heíd have to get up
every day and take care of the cow, so heíd keep moving. He learned this
from his father, Warner Bates, who was the old Vermont Doctor. He said
his father had told him that if you just went to bed and didnít get up,
presumably in old age, that it would take 3 days to die. So, when spring
came and it was a hot day, Grandpa called the man he had arranged to sell
the cow to and went back to bed. And 3 days later he was dead.
Death of Grandpa Rough (and Dave West) Top of Page
Actually, the same thing was repeated in the next generation. In 1941 when my grandfather was very ill (Grandpa Rough) he was going to have to have an operation to remove his prostate and he was not looking forward to it. <How old was he?> About 77, I believe. We didnít know this, but he had told his best friend across the street, the only surviving friend of his age group, Dave West, that he did not intend to have that operation. What he told his children was that he wanted to put it off until fall. Mother had gone up to stay with him for the summer. That was a rather interesting story. My father was teaching Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at a that time. Every summer, the professors were offered jobs by various companies that hired graduates of the department. They were paid the regular wage of people who did similar jobs. But they didnít do just one thing. They would go up and spend a week or two at every job that the companies might want to hire a graduate for. That way the professors would have more idea of what to teach their students. Dad was going to Midland, Texas, to work for one of these companies and we were going to stay in Austin. All of a sudden one morning a couple of days before my dad was due to leave for Midland my mother got up and said, "Papa wants to go home, and he wants me to come home and stay with him for the summer." Dad said, "You didnít say anything about this before we went to bed last night." And Mother said, "No, of course not. I only learned about it during the night." Dad said, "The phone didnít ring." Mother said, "I donít know how I know, but I know that he wants me to come." Dad said, "Tell you what. Before you go up there, why donít you call first?"
At that time, the arrangement had been for him to spend the summer with Aunt Ethel and Uncle Harold. Uncle Harold had decided that Grandpa was going to spend the summer with them in Iowa City on Haldane Farm instead of going back to Nehawka to his own house. Heíd told all the other children that without stopping to find out if Grandpa thought it was a good idea. Heíd TOLD Grandpa, but he hadnít asked him. This was a change in plans, since every winter after Grandma died, Grandpa had been going out to California to spend the winter with his only son, Stuart Bates Rough, in Montibello. He was supposed to come back by train to Iowa City. He came back to Iowa City as planned, got off the train there, and after two days announced he was going on to Nehawka. Uncle Harold said, "But youíre spending the summer here," and Grandpa said, "Oh, no, Iím not. Iím going home." Both Aunt Ethel and Uncle Harold thought it wasnít a good idea. So the compromise was finally reached that heíd go into the University of Iowa medical school hospital and have a complete examination by the doctors there. If they felt he was in sufficiently good health to go back to Nehawka by himself, they would let him go. Mother tried to call Uncle Harold and Auntie Ethel, but there was no answer and no answer.
Meanwhile, she wanted to buy the tickets, she wanted to rent out our house for the summer. She couldnít get in touch with him, so she went ahead and put an ad on the University bulletin board to sublet her house for the summer to someone coming down for the summer. A family came down and looked at the house and agreed to rent it. <what about you kids?> Actually, my sister was going with her, and I was in college. I was going to be a counselor at Girl Scout Camp for the first part of the summer, and then take the train to Nehawka to join them when camp was over. I had quite a time getting in from Scout Camp too, but thatís another story. It involved riding with the milkman, and other things...
Finally, in the evening, after she had already agreed to rent out the house, she got in touch with Aunt Ethel and Uncle Harold and they said that Grandpa was insisting on going back to Nehawka, and Mother said, "Thatís all right, Iím coming up to stay with him." So Mother and Ethel Mae (now known as Elizabeth) left for Nehawka, and I left for Girl Scout Camp, and Dad left for Midland. Grandpa had gone to the hospital for the exam. He did need to have a prostate operation, but they didnít consider it an emergency at that time. But they did say that he had cataracts that had to be removed. They said, "Thereís no way this man can see through these clouded lenses. We have to remove the cataracts." Grandpa said, "Absolutely not." They said, "But you canít see. We canít even see your retinas at all." Grandpa said, "Call my opthalmologist in Nebraska City and heíll tell you about my eyes." So the doctor called the doctor in Nebraska and was informed that since the age of 6 Grandpa had been legally blind <and he never told anybody?> He had told his wife, before they were married. It was from a smallpox vaccination; he had scars on the cornea. He had probably rubbed his eye with his hand after touching the vaccination, and got pox on the eyes that left permanent scars. So at this point there was nothing to stop him from going anywhere. But Uncle Harold immediately jumped in and contacted every single relative to tell them about Grandpaís eyes. News Flash! Heís been blind since the age of 7!
So Grandpa went back to Nehawka and Mother went out to take care of him. As the summer went on, his doctors decided that he did have to have his prostate removed. The urinary tract closed down completely, and he had to have a tube and a little jar that he carried around, which he didnít like. But he kept postponing the operation until fall. Then, when he knew that Mother was going to get ready to go back to Texas, he said, okay, heíd go in and have the operation.
But he told [his friend] Dave West that he wasnít coming home. They took him to the hospital by ambulance, the hospital in Nebraska City. When the ambulance pulled up by the house to get him, Dave West (who was 80 at the time, and lived across the street) was up and dressed and ready to go down to his bank. He was the president and founder of the small local bank. He had retired from active duty, and his son was now doing all the work. But every day he would get dressed and go downtown and sit on benches that the bank provided in front of the bank and greet all the customers as they came. And some of the customers would sit down on the bench facing his and talk to him. But when he saw that the ambulance was there, he went back to his room, undressed and got into bed. After a short time, his family realized that he hadnít gone down to the bank. So they went to his room and knocked on his door, and he said "Come in," and they went in, and heís in bed. They said, "Whatís wrong?" and he said, "Iíve gone back to bed." They said, "Why?" ...... <abrupt end of side1 of the tape>
With Grandpa, the night before the operation they gave
him a blood transfusion. They said that they didnít know why, but some
people didnít do well with blood transfusion. They figured he would need
one after the operation, but if they gave it to him first he might be able
to handle it better while he was still strong. But, according to my cousin
Betty, as soon as he got the blood transfusion, he started having what
the family decided was a "malaria relapse," because heíd had malaria as
a child in Indiana. They couldnít think of what else it was. Actually,
once they discovered the Rh factor, which was about a month-and-a-half
later, the reaction that he had was exactly typical of Rh incompatibility
reaction. <Did anyone ever figure out what Dave West died of, other
than sheer competitiveness?> No. He just didnít want to be the last one
left. Grandpa hadnít really wanted to leave Nehawka again, and he WAS in
poorer shape than Dave West.
Death of Grandma Benson Top of Page
<wasnít there another story like this about a grandmother...?> My grandmother Benson, who didnít know the Bates. This is my motherís mother, who lived in central Nebraska. I donít think they ever even met Grandpa Bates. Anyway, in 1936, my grandmother was suffering terrible from what she referred to as stomach problems. She was 72. She had lost weight down to 88 pounds, and anything she ate seemed to disagree with her. So the children said she should go to see the doctor and asked him for a diet of food that she could eat that wouldnít disagree with her. They insisted on doing tests, thinking it was an ulcer. But the tests came back positive for stomach cancer. So they informed her that she had to have an operation to remove the stomach cancer. My grandmother said, "I have never spent a night in a hospital. I never intend to spend a night in a hospital. If you operate on me and remove my stomach, I will die. And I will not sign a permission slip for the operation." So the hospital contacted all of Grandmotherís 11 living children that they could reach and asked them to sign a permission slip. Each one of them said, "If you want a permission signed, have Mother sign it." The hospital said, "She refuses." And they said, "Well, if she doesnít want the operation, Iím not going to sign."
So Grandma kept saying, "Give me a diet of food that will disagree with me the least and send me home." They said, "But youíll die." She said, "So? My husband is dead, my children are grown, and most of my grandchildren are grown. Everyone dies eventually. Probably my time has come." They said, "You will suffer terribly," and she said, "Iíll pray." So they gave up, gave her a diet of bland food, and sent her home. About 7 years later (by which time she had regained her weight, back up to 100 pounds or so), she fell and broke her hip. They took her back to the hospital and put her in a body cast. She didnít want to stay, but she couldnít go home. She said, "If you keep me here, Iíll die." 3 days later, she was dead.
So, you see, there were strong-willed people behind me. If you ever get the feeling that your mother is a little stubborn, donít be surprised. Donít argue with me.
When we moved to Connecticut we had maple trees, and your father decided that we should make maple syrup. So I told him how they did it in Vermont. I said that one of the things that you had to have was a sugaring shack, because you have this big fire and a big pot of sap boiling on there. The steam that would rise off of it would have a lot of sugar content, and when it would come down it would make everything in the area sticky. So this needs to be done outside. And your father said, "But we have an exhaust fan over the stove. Thereís no reason we canít do it in the kitchen." So we spent DAYS boiling down gallons and gallons of sap, and at the end of all that we ended up with about a pint of maple syrup. And I spent days scrubbing up afterwards.
The next year, he tapped the trees again, and got ready to make syrup. But in the meantime, we had found out that the Indians had a method. I said, "They must have had a method for making syrup that didnít involve boiling it for days, because they did a lot of their cooking in birch bark pans that they just kept wet to keep them from burning. You canít boil anything for days in pots like that." So we looked it up and discovered that one of the things they did was to set the ....Sap starts to run when itís still frosty at night, but the days are sunshiny. So they set the syrup out under the open sky at night and it would partially freeze. And the next day they threw away the ice, because that was the water part. The next night they would set it out again until they froze out all the water. So we did that. And it worked, although it was not as sweet and thick a syrup as we wanted, so we boiled it down a little bit at the end. But that wasnít so bad, just a little boiling at the end.
He had been sitting on one of his 3-legged stools at the time Elmer came back across the street and made that remark, but he got up from the stool and really looked very annoyed. I remember one time when he was sitting on one of these little 3-legged stools that I came up to him and for some reason I got very angry with him, and for some reason I raised my hand to hit him. And he looked at me, and smiled, and said, "Donít strike, child." And I stopped. Not because heíd told me not to, but because Iíd never heard "strike" used that way. Iíd only heard of "strike" being when you didnít get a hit in baseball. Remember, I was under 5 at the time. So, by the time I had puzzled that one out, I wasnít angry any more. <*laughing* thereís a moral there somewhere, but Iím not sure what it is. Confuse your kids and they won't hit you?>
I asked Grandpa once why he made his stools with only 3 legs, and he said, "Because itís easier, when youíre milking a cow, to sit on a 3-legged stool on a hill than on a 4-legged one, because then you have to have all the legs even." His 3-legged stools were made by taking a piece of wood and cutting it square and putting 3 holes in it, and putting branches up through the holes. Just like the table we had in Macedon made out of that great big slab of wood. I was never able to balance very well on a 3-legged stool even on level ground, but then I was only 5 years old.
<back to the move to Nebraska> He went to Nebraska because other people from his town , some of them relatives, some just townspeople, had gone west before the Civil War in í49 at the time of the Gold Strike. They had gone cross-country, and they had traveled through Eastern Nebraska and Weeping Water Creek, and that was the area they liked best. They went to California, but they didnít necessarily become rich, and some of them went back to Nebraska and homesteaded that land on the banks of the Weeping Water Creek. Nehwawka means "weeping water" in Indian. My sister and I wondered why they would have picked it out, since there were very few trees when they first came there. By the time we came along, the trees the settlers had planted were great big trees. But I finally realized, after I moved to New England. No Stones. Some of the pastures in Connecticut around Easton were in pasture and had never been farmed, and we asked people who had lived there for many years why those fields had never been plowed, and they said, "The only crop anyone has ever been able to raise in that field is grass and stones."
She died when Grandpa was still fairly young. When he was 14 his father remarried. This upset Grandpa very much; he couldnít live in the house when his father was married to someone new. So he went out west to ... he had relatives in Nebraska. So he and cousin Dick DeLastineer Ė eventually shortened to "Dick Dallas" batched together, were hired out together for a number of years. He worked and earned money, and saved money. When he went to Nebraska he got off at the train station closest to the farm that he was headed for and he was walking to the farm. As he was walking he got very thirsty, and wasnít really sure about the exact location of the farm. He passed a farm where there was a little girl playing in the yard making mud pies. This, as it turned out, was Frances Bates at the age of 5 (he was only 14, remember). She got him a cup of water from the well; she pumped it herself and brought it to him. She told him how to find the farm. This was the first time he ever saw Grandma. She was the only child of [Great] Grandpa and Grandma Bates. After Grandpa Rough and Frances were married, her parents moved into town. They had a huge garden Ė about the size that Orville [Richard Tatgeís father] has there in Benson <Richard chuckles>. They had grape vines, and trumpet vines that grew up the side of the house, a nice little privy out behind the house and a nice little pump that you pumped by hand. The house was heated by wood. [Great]Grandpa and Grandma Bates lived there while Grandpa and Grandma Rough farmed the home place. [Great]Grandma Bates died about the time I was born. Grandpa and Grandma Rough decided that her father should come and live with them, which is when they came up with the agreement that if he could have a woodpile where he could chop wood and a barn to keep a cow he would do it. This was about 1921.
<where did all those Dunbars come in that you always talk about? Great Aunts?> Great Aunt Maggie Dunbar, yes. She was a relative Ė an aunt Ė probably my motherís Great Aunt. I never actually MET Great Aunt Maggie Dunbar, I just kept hearing about her. <Sharon is amazed, having spent much of HER childhood hearing about Aunt Maggie Dunbar. Apparently quite an unforgettable individual.> She was absolutely incensed if anyone referred to the family as "Scotch-Irish." She'd say, "Thereís not a DROP of Irish blood in me!" <Sharon Ė thatís just what MY mother used to say. Iíd ask "Are we at all Irish, and she'd say, "Thereís not a DROP of Irish blood in me! Weíre Scottish!" and Iíd say, "I thought you were half Swedish?">
<How did Stuart and Elizabeth get together?> After the drink of water thereís a big gap in the history. They must have visited back and forth... She was about 18 when they were married.
Well, Grandpa had one of the very first cars in the neighborhood,
but before he got his car they had horses, and even afterwards. When Mother
went to school there was a grammar school that went through 8th
grade that was local. But when they graduated from that there was no high
school, and they had to go to Weeping Water Academy, which was a private
school. Weeping Water was a much larger town than Nehawka. In order to
get there, every Monday morning Grandpa would hitch up the team and drive
them to the railroad station, and they would get on the train and go to
Weeping Water. They lived at the academy during the week. This was my mother,
her oldest sister Ethel, her older and only brother Stuart. They all graduated
from college in the same class. Mother skipped a grade.
|Tape 3: Grandpa Rough, Iowa City, Austin||
Top of Page
Side A: Grandpa RoughTop of Page
Then later, when Grandpa decided to get a car, he went into town, I guess to Nebraska City, where there was a Ford agent. Or maybe something else. Iím not sure what kind of car it was, maybe one of those kinds that no longer exist. Anyway, he picked out a car <when was this?> Iím not sure. Mother thought it was about 1911. No, about 1915. Anyway, he went into town and picked out his car, and then the salesman took him out into a pasture behind the agency Ė a big pasture that they kept just for teaching people how to drive. And there he showed him how to drive the car, and how to change the tires and he showed him how to start the car. Of course it was quite hard to start the cars in those days. Somebody had to crank the car from the front and somebody had to jiggle the starter Ė very difficult to start one by yourself. So anyway, Grandpa was driving the thing around in the pasture and was starting and stopping it and knew how everything worked, and then Grandpa took his car and drove home. Grandma was with him. It was a good many years after that before they started requiring licenses for people who drove. Because in the beginning there were very few cars on the roads, and the roads were terribly bad, so if the weather was really muddy you took your team out anyway. When they finally passed a law requiring that you had to have a driverís license and take a test to get the license they grandfathered in people who had been driving for 5 or 10 years without accidents. Grandpa never had an accident when he was driving in his life. So he got the driverís license. But when the time came where he had moved into town and was going out to California to visit Uncle Stuart, if Stuart would say, "Why donít you take my car and do such and such?" Grandpa would say, "I donít have a California driverís license," and Stuart would say, "Well, Iíll take you down to get one, " and Grandpa would say, "No, I donít drive except in Nebraska." He never told Stuart why.
So the first thing that Stuart said when Uncle Harold called him up and told him that Grandpa was legally blind was, "So THATíS why he wouldnít drive in California!" Actually, of course, he was legally blind but not totally blind, and people at home werenít all that concerned about people driving slowly. But Grandpa never drove alone Ė he always took Grandma with him. That may be one of the reasons that he hitched the team up to take him to the station even when he already had a car Ė Grandma stayed home that early in the morning. Everybody thought Grandma was a terrible back seat driver. <When, in fact, she was an excellent back seat driver.> She would say, "Slow down, Stuart, youíre coming to a corner. Youíll have to move over to the right a little for that other car to pass you. Stuart, weíre coming close to our turn." and he always would say, "Thank you," and follow the directions. After Grandma died, people thought he had gone into a depression, because he wouldnít drive anywhere very far from home. He wouldnít drive to Nebraska City unless somebody was with him. When we were there that summer and we would go somewhere, he would always say, "Elizabeth, would you please drive?" and give her the car keys and she would drive. By that time, Mother knew he was blind, but nobody discussed it with Grandpa. At least Mother did not. I donít know about Uncle Harold.
Stuartís oldest child Caroline was getting married that summer. He came out to visit, and Grandpa said, "Iím not gonna die! Go home for Carolineís wedding, for heavenís sake!" So Stuart went home and then right at the time of the wedding, Uncle Harold decided that Grandpa had taken a turn for the worse, so he cabled Uncle Stuart and said, "Youíve got to come straight back," and signed the telegram with somebody elseís name, maybe Ethel, his wife. So Stuart was very upset and stayed for the wedding, but all through the wedding his mind was on the fact that his father was dying and he wasnít there. As soon as the wedding was over, he took off like a shot, I donít think he even stayed for the reception. He got back, and Grandpa said, "Whatíre you doing back so soon?" And, oh, everybody was mad at Uncle Harold for that one!
But actually, within a couple of weeks, Grandpa WAS dead.
<Grandpa was in Nehawka at that point?> Oh, yes, but Harold would come
out to visit. And every time Uncle Harold came to visit, he felt that Stuart
should come out and visit too. Partly because he thought we should get
all the grandchildren together. Which is a nice idea, except that itís
a long trip from California. <Why only Stuart? What about the girls?>
Oh, everybody else lived closer. Myrtle.... the one that was just a little
younger than mother.... the 3 older children were very close in age, and
Aunt Ethel and Uncle Harold lived in Iowa City, which was across Iowa from
the farm. Myrtle had married Martin Ross, and she lived on a farm that
was very close to the home farm. In fact, we ate at her house a number
of times. Genevra was married to Dick Wilson, who was a flour salesman
for a mill in Crete, Nebraska. She must have met him when she was at Doane.
I told you that my father was proud of the fact that of the 11 children that survived infancy, 8 lived to be more than 80 years of age in good health. One of these was one of his sisters. He had 3 sisters. One of them was married and had 7 children, and then during WWI in the world-wide flu epidemic, she died. One of the other sisters married the husband and took in her sisterís children. Another one of the sisters was married and living next door to the house that Grandma was living in after she moved off the farm. When Grandpa Benson died, he wanted to leave 80 acres of land to each of his children. He had 8 boys. He left 80 acres Ė a quarter section Ė to each of the boys and $500 to each of the girls (just 2 left alive at that time). Dad sold his section to one of his brothers. Then, during the Depression, the dust bowl years, it became a dust farm and the bank foreclosed on the farm and I remember that Dad felt very badly about the fact that his brother had lost his farm. So we wore our clothes until they were outgrown or worn out. But anything that wasnít worn out when we outgrew them was packed up in a box and sent off to the farm family there. Anything that we had Ė weíd send books that we had read Ė weíd send packages off until they had recovered. They did eventually buy the farm back from the bank and the farm started making money again in WWII.
One of Dadís brothers had gone west, and he was Ė Iím not sure what he was doing, working as a farmer or what Ė but he was helping a neighbor one time just as a friendly gesture, put a roof on his house. And they were putting big pieces of plywood on first, and then were going to nail the shingles on top of that. And he was up on top of the roof holding one of these pieces of plywood when a big gust of wind came up. They were living in Montana or Wyoming or someplace like that. And the wind really blew hard. The wind caught the plywood and blew him off the barn and broke his back, and left him paraplegic in a wheelchair. So after that, he started a lumberyard. First he started just doing carpentry in his garage and selling the things. Then, as he got enough money together, he bought a lumberyard and he and one of his sons ran it together. He continued to do all kinds of active things, and lived to be over 80.
I remember one of my aunts (maybe Aunt Agnes, although we also had a Great-Aunt-Agnes on my grandfatherís side, but this was an aunt and I thought her name was Agnes too. At the time she was 95 she decided that she really didnít live in her little apartment any more and moved into a nursing home. To keep herself busy she was delivering the mail every day to the "older people" who couldnít get around. She would do errands for them. <just like Poppi> Yes, he used to drive around his "elderly friends," but he stopped that when he got to be 90. Agnes, last we heard of her was busily doing all these things, and writing letters to Dad to cheer him up in his old age. I donít know how long she lived, but I know she was an excellent <unintelligible> at the age of 95. <This was one of your fatherís sisters?> Yes.
<How did your father end up being a teacher?> From the oil burners he got interested in heat transfer and so on, so he got the degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Iowa. And after he graduated Ė this was in 1936 or 1937 Ė still not very good times Ė one of the offers he got was as an instructor at the University of Texas. I was in high school at the time. Apparently I wasnít as well educated as I thought. My mother said to me, "We are moving to the capitol city of Texas," so I went to school the next day and told people we were moving to Capitol City, Texas, instead of Austin, which is the capitol of Texas.
<What about Liz Carpenter?> Liz Carpenter was a year ahead of me. I knew her as Mary Elizabeth Sutherland, also called Lizzie. She was the editor of the newspaper. I was a junior in high school when I moved there and she was a senior and she was the editor of the Austin Maroon, which came out every week. I was selling ads. That year they called me advertising manager and the next year they called me business manager. I did not write for the paper. I wanted to write for the paper, but I didnít write very well.
However, the journalism teacher did like me. At one time I would sometimes take roll for the class, or sometimes a girl named Polly did it. One time I had the book and I was marking down who was absent on a little slip that was put outside the door, and Polly leaned over and said, "Donít write down Scotty Wolmak as absent. Sheís not, sheís just cutting class." I handed her the book and said, "If you donít want me to take the roll the way I see it, you take the roll," and Polly said, "No, you do it." I said, "Then Iím going to mark her as absent." So I went ahead and wrote it down. Polly said, "If you do that, youíll never get into Hypatiens," which was one of the so-called literary clubs, but was really a social thing. I shrugged and said, "So?" This made her even more angry, so she sulked all through class, so much that the journalism teacher, who was not the most observant in the world, noticed that she was sulking about something, and he said, "Whatís wrong with you today, Polly?" She pointed at me and said, "Ask her!" So he asked me, and I said, "Itís nothing that I want to tell," so he asked Polly again, and she kept saying, "Youíll have to ask her." Nothing more was said about it until the end of class. This was the last period of the day, and when we were ready to leave, he asked me to stay after class. Apparently he was just dying of curiosity. So he said, "What was Polly making such a fuss about?" and I said, "I really donít want to tell you," and he said, "Well, youíre going to have to stay here until you do." So I sat around and listened to him talk to various people about the newspaper. Finally I said, "I really have to get home," and so I finally told him. I said, "I told her she could take the roll, but I wasnít really going to tell anybody Scotty was skipping." He complimented me for sticking by my guns and for doing what I thought was right. I said, "Yes, I didnít really want to be a Hypatien anyway." Anyway, we had a feature in the paper that was "Best Student" or something like that. The editor of the paper chose the student. 2 weeks after this incident Mr. Markham decided we should have a second feature called "Outstanding Student of the Week," and I was the first one chosen, because I had just made first team on the debate team, after having started out on the fourth team. So he thought that was a good excuse. <did you ever get into Hypatiens?> No. But in the meantime....
<discussion with Thorin about the meaning of the episode with the class roll> "I didnít think it was right to take advantage of Mr. Markham, who was an especially conscientious teacher." <you were teacherís pet - Sharon> Well, maybe I was one of the teacherís pets. But anyway, at the end of that year we went up to a journalism conference and he had me taken along. It was fun, and I enjoyed it very much. That was the year Mary Elizabeth Sutherland was editor. And at that time, Leslie Carpenter was sports editor. Year later, when I saw things written about Liz Carpenter as press secretary for Lady Bird Johnson when Lyndon Johnson was president, I wrote my mother and asked, "Is this Liz Carpenter my Mary Elizabeth Sutherland?" And it was. I knew that Les Carpenter and Mary Elizabeth had been very good friends in high school. They hadnít really dated, but they were good friends, and it seemed to me that she might have gone ahead and married him. And she did, but not until a good 6 years after we were on the paper together.
Talking of being on the Red Dragons Cheerleaders for the football team reminds me of the time in college when my sister was a freshman and I was a Senior. I was walking across the campus one day and I spotted my sister, and I waved to her and she stopped dead in her tracks and came directly towards me, pointing her finger at me accusingly and saying, "You have ruined my life!" I said, "What have I done?" "You just elected a junior Phi Beta Kappa and all my friends know it!" I said, "I donít think so, I havenít heard anything about it." <did it ruin her life because it was embarrassing that you were smart, or because she was competing with you?> It embarrassed her that all her friends now knew she was smart. When she graduated from high school .... <she was embarrassed that someone in the family was smart? She could have been the stupid one in the family for all her friends knew> No, no, she was smart. Our debate team was 2nd in the State Tournament. She went out for Extemporaneous Speech, since she didnít want to do any of the same things I had done. She won first in Extemporaneous Speech and got a great big cup that was almost as tall as she was.
But when she was a senior in high school, she had been .... <what is Extemporaneous Speech?> They had list topics, and you had to pick one to speak on. When you got to the competition everyone drew slips, each with a topic on it. Then you had 10 or 20 minutes to get your speech together and then you got up and gave your speech on that topic. Which is not that easy to do. It was really quite an honor to be first. She had been to the drama club, and had played a part in "The Importance of Being Earnest." She had enjoyed the drama club. Most of the ones in the Drama Club were not the best students. So just for the fun of it, she decided to pretend that she wasnít sure whether or not sheíd graduate. Austin High School had a rather embarrassing system. They didnít tell you ahead of time whether or not you had graduated. You hadnít gotten your final report card until after the graduation ceremony.....<abrupt end of tape>
Barbara [Harryís sister] made one interesting observation. She thought that maybe Grandma had not been born in this country. There were 2 girls in the family. Grandmaís father had been a blacksmith but he died, I think, of pneumonia shortly after they moved here. Apparently they were married before they came over. Weíre not sure from what country. Georgia, who was supposed to be Grandmaís [older] sister, was born in this country and does have a birth certificate, we think. However, one of the suspicious reasons for wondering whether either one of them had the proper places and birth dates recorded is that Grandmaís birthday was Fourth of July, and Georgiaís birthday was George Washingtonís birthday, February 22. Itís quite likely that Georgia was born in this country on Washingtonís birthday, which is why she was given the name Georgia. Grandma, in all the pictures I have seen (Barbara latched on to them. Barbaraís father told me before he died that I could have any pictures I wanted, but better take them now. I said, "Oh, letís leave them here for now so you can show them to people." He said, "You may never get them then." and that turned out to be true. Barbara wouldnít let me take them.) Anyway, all the pictures of Mary and Georgia when they were young, before the age of 10 or 12, Mary looks much bigger than Georgia. Mary was supposed to be the younger one, which would have definitely have made her an American citizen [since they were definitely in this country by the time Georgia was born].
Much later, they had planned to take a trip to the Far
East. Harryís cousin Myra was married to Harryís fatherís youngest brother
and they were going to make a trip to the Far East and Harryís father and
mother [Grandpa and Grandma Kahn] were going to go with them. But they
abandoned the idea and they said they couldnít get a passport for Harryís
mother because they couldnít find a copy of her birth certificate. I said,
"You can use school records and other such things." But she didnít seem
to want to discuss it. And after she had died, Barbara said that she though
her mother was actually the older child and had been born abroad and had
not been naturalized. It would explain the reason we have so little information.
Harryís Fatherís Family Top of Page
Harryís father came from a family of 6 children Ė 4 boys and 2 girls. Harryís father was the youngest one. His brother Louis, who was married to Myra, was the next youngest. The oldest one was named Sam, and he was always picking on Harryís father [David]. It got to the point where Harryís grandmother drove Sam out of the house with a broom when he was in his teens and told him he couldnít come back until he stopped picking on his little brother.
The parents came from another country. In the past there was a certain hierarchy among Jewish immigrants. German Jews were supposed to be the top of the ladder and Russian Jews the next. From what Harry said, he thinks that somebody came from Rumania, somebody came from Russia, somebody came from Germany, but he couldnít get any fixed places for any of them. <Barbara seemed to be fairly sure that her fatherís father came from Russia, but seemed to be a little less sure about the others> This is quite possible. <I think she said something about an old-fashioned arranged marriage in this country within the Jewish community here Ė in Chicago?> more likely Sioux City, Iowa..... Harry was born in Omaha, Nebraska, so we assume his parents lived there at some point, but they moved around quite a bit. Harryís father had gotten married before .... heíd gotten out of high school and had to get a job because he had no money to go to college because his family didnít think it was worth spending money on. Then ... well, none of them had gone to college. ....
I met both of Harryís grandmothers. His fatherís mother was living with Sam, the oldest brother. Maybe it wasnít Sam that was the oldest brother. He may or may not have been the one she chased out with the broom. He had brought her down from Detroit and called up the bus station and asked what time the bus left Detroit and what time it got to Brevard or someplace close to it [where we lived at the time Ė she was visiting] and was told it left in the morning and arrived in the afternoon and he assumed it was on the same day it left. Actually, it was the following day. Harryís grandmother came in just as furious as she could be because sheíd had to spend the night and two days on the bus when she thought sheíd only be spending one day and it was so stupid not to have gotten the days right.... She was apparently a pretty feisty old lady. She was not happy when she arrived. The whole trip had turned out to be something of a fiasco, because we had visitors from Alabama who were Fova and Charles Prevo who had been in grad school with us at Penn State. We had been very good friends and we had known their older boy and were glad to see them again and their new babies. But the house was full. We were living in NC in a one-story house. It did have 3 bedrooms, but they were small. We managed to find enough beds by borrowing things from the neighbors, when Grandpa and Grandma and Barbara showed up, but at that point we had 4 Prevos, 4 of us, and 3 of Harryís relatives, which made a pretty full house. Then we were told that we were going to have a great-grandmother and an uncle show up. So we decided to rent a motel room for the first night while the Prevos were still there. They were going to leave early and go back to Alabama. They werenít too happy, having made this long trip, being displaced by inlaws they had no desire to meet. Then it turned out that the people who were supposed to stay in the hotel room didnít come in. So around midnight, Grandpa and Grandma decided to sleep there where they would have a little more space to stretch out. It was still crowded when the others showed up. So we started out at a disadvantage. Iím not sure I could say that I really got to know the real personality of Harryís fatherís mother.
Harryís motherís mother however I knew better. She was in her 60ís when I met her Ė she died of a heart attack at the age of 65. She had beautiful white hair and the bluest blue eyes. Her eyes were big and blue, like Harryís mother and the fairest complexion. She really looked beautiful and she was really an interesting little old lady. Her husband had died not too long after she came to this country leaving her with two little girls and no money to speak of. Eventually the girls were put into an orphanage for a few years, and Harryís mother was left-handed. In the orphanage they tied her left hand behind her back to force her to use her right hand and learn to write with her right hand. As a result, she insisted that she had some of the strange inversions in her thought patterns that forced her to say things like.... when Harry was at Penn State College, she would say he was at the State Penn. <she had a lot of malapropisms.... "in like a lion and out like a light."> Yes. Another one was, "Itís two of one and half a dozen of the other." Harry thought she exaggerated it, because at that time they listened to a program on radio that was Mr. and Mrs. Ace and Jane Ace said all sorts of silly things like that. Harryís father thought this was awfully cute, so Harry thought she exaggerated it. <Barbara told me... Grandma had out-scored Grandma on an IQ test and begged her not to tell Grandpa.> Oh, she said, "It must be a mistake."
Grandpa Kahn had had an opportunity to go back to college when he was living in Denver with tuition paid because he had been assisting Ė he had taken chemistry in adult school and had done so well in the chemistry and math that he had taken there that he was given a part-time teaching assistantship, but since he had only a high school diploma they couldnít really hire him for the job that he was doing. So they offered to pay his tuition to go back to college. But at that time Harry was a baby and Harryís mother said, "No, no no, you canít go back to college. Youíve got a wife and baby to support and you must keep working." He worked at a number of jobs, and eventually he took a stenographic course and became a court stenographer. This is a very difficult operation, really, because you have this funny little machine that makes abbreviations. Itís kind of like a machine that writes in shorthand. You have to record whatís being said at the speed that witnesses are talking. Lawyers and witnesses do not like being asked to repeat. Harryís father had such a good memory and such a good vocabulary that he was able to carry a full minute of testimony in his head when he fell behind. So when he had to change the tape he would not ask them to stop their testimony while he was changing it. On several occasions the judge or lawyer would notice that he changing the tape and not actually recording. So they would stop and ask him to read back the testimony, and he would read back what was on the end of the tape he had been using, and then, at the same time his fingers were typing it in, play back the last minute of conversation. And by the time he started reading it back, he was more than caught up. He had a tremendous vocabulary. He really was quite intelligent and rather proud about it. And so I can understand Barbaraís mother felt she could not have told him....
My sister, a whole generation younger, did the same thing to be attractive to men. This was not the era when.... <comments heard from Barbara about the awful orphanage Grandma Mary had been in> They only lived in the orphanage for a couple of years. Then their mother remarried to a man that owned a fish market on Fulton St. in Chicago. He apparently was a very successful merchant, since after he died he left Great-Grandma with the store and a fair amount of money in the bank. Apparently she operated the store for a while, then sold it, and she was living on her own money, independently, when I met her. Her second husband was the one that Harryís mother and her sister thought of as their father, since he was the one that took them out of the orphanage, for which they were eternally grateful, and raised them. I guess he didnít die until they were at least out of high school. <Another orphanage story. When I was little, I recited that silly poem about "donít let the bedbugs bite" and she got really angry and said, "Donít make jokes about bedbugs! Bedbugs are terrible, terrible things! Never make jokes about bedbugs!" I didnít understand it at the time.> Yes, she really was imprinted for life by that experience in the orphanage. Several years after Harryís grandmotherís second husband died she met and married a Mr. Marcus.. who had also died before I met her. I was told by Harry that when his grandmother was getting remarried, his mother [Mary] and her sister Georgia were VERY upset about the fact that she was remarrying. They kept saying to their mother Ė this was when Harry was old enough to remember the conversations Ė "Heís just marrying you for your money!" and her mother saying, "Well, thereís worse things than having a pleasant companion in your old age. More of the money is yours than his." I think that part of the real bitterness they felt about the remarriage was because they had such a strong feeling of gratitude toward the 2nd husband that had taken them out of the orphanage. Apparently he was actually a very pleasant man. At one point Harryís grandmother was telling me that after her husband [her 3rd husband]had a heart attack he couldnít have salt in his food. For years she had been keeping kosher and treating meat with salt to make non-kosher meat kosher. She said, "I didnít think I could change my habits at that point, so I still soaked the meat in salt. Then, after it had become kosher, then I soaked it again to soak all of the salt out of it to make it safe to eat."
Harryís parents never kept kosher <they werenít very religious at all, were they?> Yes, they belonged to the Jewish group called Reform Jews. Thereís Orthodox Jews, who are quite strict, Hasidic Jews with their little hornlocks and skullcaps are representatives of Orthodox. Theyíre the extreme end of the Orthodox wing. Then thereís the Conservative Jews who keep kosher but if theyíre invited out they can eat what theyíre served. Theyíre the ones who make the kinds of jokes like: a rabbi and a priest were talking and the priest says "why wonít you eat pork," and the rabbi says, "Well, Iíll tell you, Iíll eat pork if youíll eat it with me next Friday."
The Reform Jews felt that kosher had been a very important part of the history of Jews, that this is the reason that Jews never got trichinosis, and that probably those dietary laws helped keep them strong and kept them a separate group even after they had lost their country and were persecuted from one country to another. They also had the strong ethic for studying, therefore they were smarter, and did not believe it was a sin to charge interest, so they became moneylenders and were accepted for that reason... <weíre off track here> This was the reason that kosher laws had been important in the years before ....
They were very active in Bínai Bírith which is sort of the social wing of the Reform Synagogue. Bínai Bírith is the one which has the group thatís out to prevent persecution of Jews, and one thatís active in all kinds of civil rights legislation and was in the forefront of the civil rights fight for Negroes which makes it kind of ironic that now a lot of the reactive Negro groups are anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic. If it hadnít been for the push from the Jews, the Civil Rights movement wouldnít have gotten whites to join them.
Grandpa was president of Bínai Bírith in his area for some time. They were more interested in it from the social aspect than the religious. However, Harry had been sent to Hebrew school where he learned just enough Hebrew to go through the Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Harryís father had always wanted to go through Bar Mitzvah, and his family would not spend the money to send him to Hebrew school or to pay for the ceremony. So he was very anxious to provide this, and scraped to get the money to send Harry and have a big ceremony. Harry learned everything, but refused to go through the ceremony, because he saw no reason to spend the money on a ceremony that had no religious significance for him. <that wasnít very nice> Well actually, his folks at that time were really skimping.... he would much rather have had some way to get to college without having to ride his bicycle on icy roads.
Barbara went through Bat Mitzvah and had a great big ceremony.
Barbara had money lavished on her. Harryís parents were quite poor when
he was growing up. There was 13 years difference in age between Harry and
Barbara. Harryís mother developed a real interest in child psychology.
The child psychologist that was the In Person when Harry was growing up
was someone called Watson who said that you should treat your children
like miniature adults. When you greeted them when you came home from that
work you were not to pick them up and hug them, you were to shake hands
with them. By the time Barbara was born, Harryís mother had advanced to
Dr. Spock and Geselle, who was in New Haven, who said you canít give too
much love to your children. They really overdid the Watson, and Harry was
treated very coldly and very much on an intellectual basis. If he was told
that he couldnít do something he was given a law to support that. Barbara
on the other hand, was never told no. Harryís father confided to us that
at one time when Barbara was just walking and climbing and would crawl
along the back of the couch, he said, "I would just sit there with my hands
clenched so tight that my knuckles turned white because I was afraid she
was going to fall off. But I wasnít allowed to interfere because it might
inhibit her." <I remember when Sandra was little, he applied some sort
of weird combination of those approaches. He had this theory that you should
never use the word No to a child, but instead give them a long-winded,
|Tape 4 Secrets of Sharonís Childhood||
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Do you remember the time in Maine you made up the song ďCrash Kaboom, No More Sandy in the Room?Ē <it was Ricky. It used to drive Ricky crazy. <singing>ďCrash Bang Kavorty Kaboom... it used to drive Ricky crazy.> Well, first you sang it about Sandy, and she came down in tears, and I thought it was a cute song and went up to hear you sing it. I donít think she appreciated that. <Amberís gotten bored. She wants us to tell more embarrassing stories about her Mom.>
What was it you were playing when youíd go over to those
fence posts and rock on the concrete base? <I donít know Ė they were
just really fun to rock on.> Theyíd go down the hill! <Oh, right, that
was FUN! They were big tall metal spikes with balls of concrete on the
bottom, and theyíd been left on the side of a hill, and we could rock them
down the hill. We were outside all the time in Maine, just runnin' around.>
The House In Maine
The house we had in Maine was a very big old house that had been built before the turn of the century [WAY before Ė in the 1840ís, I think] The playhouse was a very Victorian little structure. It had an 8-foot ceiling, double sliding doors... <We didnít really spend much time in the playhouse that I remember, except to watch the hummingbirds. I think it was intended as more of a gazebo for people to sit in than as a playhouse.> It had been built for the only daughter of the Rankins. Professor Rankin taught at the college there in Sanford. <Didnít you suspect that he was the one who developed the golden raspberries in the back yard?> Yes, I always thought it might have been him. They were SO delicious, and big Ė longer than the end of your thumb. They were as big as boysenberries. I have never ever seen raspberries like them any other place.
<Anyway, we used to climb that big horse chestnut tree in the back, and go down the hill and play in the stream, and catch frogs, and build little rafts. It was a great place to be a kid. You could walk up the road to where that swimming place was... > At the time we bought the house, it [I think she means the big field next to our house, not the swimming hole] was owned by real estate people, and they intended to put in a development. If you recall, when you went back to Maine there was a road through there... <They bulldozed the hill off!> Right. Well, they had been intending to do that right away when we bought the house. The playhouse was sitting right in the middle of where they were going to put the road. We paid to have it moved around back. But until they decided to put in the road, there was this big open field that was all your playground. <Yeah, well, actually I think what was more important was the back, with the hillside down to the creek and the woods on the other side.
We also owned land across the road that ran down to the Mill Pond [thatís the swimming hole that Sharon referred to later]. We bought that because we wanted land on the Mill Pond. Remember the rowboat we had? <um...a little bit> We took the rowboat with us when we moved to Connecticut, and put it out on the pond in Easton. Eventually it got water-logged and sank. But we bought it in Maine. We would take the rowboat out on the Millpond. And we had six truckloads of sand trucked down to the bottom of the hill trying to make a sand beach, but it kept sinking in the muck. Every spring when the snow melted the Mill Pond would get so much higher and would wash away a lot of the sand. So we never were able to establish a sand beach there. But we used to take you kids out in the rowboat, and you liked that. There was a big log that you thought was an alligator. <Oh, yeah, I remember that.>
One time, Rich and the little boy he played with who lived 3 houses up the road came running in, and they had just seen a moose crossing our land and getting into the Mill Pond and swimming across. <Oh, right, it was Maine.> And at that time, Sanford was quite rural. I just couldnít believe it when we went back...<We used to have to drive to get from Springvale to Sanford, through a very rural area>. Right, Springvale was actually a separate town, and now you cannot tell the difference. The high school for Springvale and Sanford was being built at the time we were in Maine, and it was on land that was in between the two towns. Now itís all built up around it. Sanford had had mills. The union and the management had been feuding for years, and the management said if the union wouldnít accept this thing or that they were going to move the mill south. They did this enough times that nobody believed them anymore. Finally the union pushed a little too far, and they did move the mills south, and the town became an official disaster area.
<Do you remember Wasco House, where we stayed when we first went up there?> Oh, it was a BEAUTIFUL place to stay. <Is it still there?> No. Well, if it is still there, itís been changed so much I didnít recognize it. They would have taken away the big semi-circular drive that was in front and the pine-studded lawns on both sides.
Our house was quite big, too. Another thing we had done for winter play was to put a playground in the loft of the barn. <Oh, I remember that.> ... with trapezes and... of course that was the place that Rich fell off the rafters and got the concussion.
<Sharon attempts to start another conversation on Omaís
childhood, but the tape goes goofy and then quits. There is nothing on
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Site Last Updated - Oct 19, 2002
By Sharon Kahn