Neighbors were few and far between on farm | Jean Gillespie

One time dad went to “the shack” to work. He went alone with the horses and wagon and took his dinner. Some of us kids usually went with him on these trips but this time we chose to stay home.

  • Tuesday, February 17, 2009 12:16pm
  • Life


One time dad went to “the shack” to work. He went alone with the horses and wagon and took his dinner. Some of us kids usually went with him on these trips but this time we chose to stay home.

It was a nice summer day so Dick, Kathlene and I decided among ourselves to go swimming in the pond. We were talking and Irene, who was 3 years old, with us. We didn’t own swimsuits so just stripped off our clothes and left them on the bank of the pond and went swimming in the nude. Not one of us knew how to swim.

Anyway, dad came home earlier than expected and he had to pass the pond so he just picked up our clothes and took them to the house and we had to go home in the nude. When we got there mother was waiting with plum branches.

She said, “l told you not to go near the pond so maybe now you’ll think twice before you do it again.”

We got a good licking that I’ve never forgotten.


Our neighbors were few but two families stand out vividly in my mind.

Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hardin lived about a mile from us. They were an older couple whose children were grown and lived some distance from them. They had two grandchildren, a boy and a girl. Their granddaughter, Dorothy, used to come and stay with them quite a bit and my sisters and I would go to the Hardins’ to play every chance we got. We loved to go through Mrs Hardin’s garden. It was so beautiful because she grew more flowers than vegetables. Later in my life I had a secret crush on their grandson.

Mrs. Hardin had a huge loom that she wove rag rugs on. The loom filled one whole room and she wove rugs for the entire house except the kitchen. The Hardins had wall to wall rag rugs.

My parents and the Hardins were very close.

At one time there was a tiny graveyard on the Hardin place but no one ever came to see the graves so after a time Mr. Hardin just buried the little tombstones and plowed over the graves and planted corn. No one knew the difference except Mother and Dad. There was also a tiny graveyard on our farm where “the shack” was located but dad always kept it fenced although no one visited it. We had a special reverence for the dead and we just didn’t walk on the graves much less plow over them and plant corn.

Mrs. Hardln died when I was about 13 years old so Mr. Hardin asked mother if I could clean his house for him on Saturday because his daughter always came to visit him every Sunday and he wanted the house to look nice. He said that he would give me 50 cents a day and Kathlene, my sister, could come along and help me.

Mother reckoned this would be all right; we were getting 50 cents a day.

Anyway, we worked so hard. It was unbelievable to me how one person could make such a mess from Saturday to Saturday. He never washed a dish nor did he carry out any papers or garbage. I also had to change his bed and do his washin’.

He had a shepherd dog that had the run of the house and the whole house smelled of barnyard.

I didn’t mind work, but one day when Kathlene was in another room doing something and he was helping me to take up the carpet to spray for moths he asked me to kiss him and that did it.

I shoved him away and ran to Kathlene and told her to stay right beside me the rest of the day.

“Don’t get two feet away from me,” I told her. But I wouldn’t tell her why. She stayed near me until the house cleaning was done and a cake baked. Then we got our 50 cents and went home.

The following Saturday I told mother I wouldn’t clean Mr. Hardin’s house anymore.

She asked me, “Why won’t you clean it anymore,?”

“Because I don’t want to,” I told her.

“You’re just lazy. You have a chance to earn 50 cents and you just won’t do it. You’re lazy, that’s what.”

She kept nagging me. I think she suspected something because she wouldn’t quit her nagging so finally, I told her.

“He wanted me to kiss him.”

Boy, that did it. She ran to the kitchen door and yelled, “Dan, come here.”

Dad stopped milking and came to the house.

Then mother relayed all our conversation and then said, “I’ll clean his house today myself and tell him we’re through.” So she did just that and it was many a year before I could even speak to Mr. Hardin; however, his granddaughter and I remained good friends.


Every spring mother dragged out the incubator and set it up in one corner of the living room because there was just no place else to put it and it was time to hatch chicks for the summer. The incubator held 150 eggs and was kept warm, about 102 to 105 degrees, by a kerosene lamp. It had a place on it that had to kept filled with water so the humidity would be just right for the eggs.

Mother took great care in choosing the eggs that went into the incubator to be hatched. She would use fresh eggs that had been laid that day and check each see that the eggs were shaped just right and didn’t have cracks. If an egg was misshapen it might hatch a deformed chicken.

We would let some hens set on eggs at the same time as when the eggs in the incubator hatched we would give the baby chicks from the incubator to the old settin’ hens take to care of. Each mother hen had a little house of her own and could take care of a lot of baby chicks. When it was cold the baby chicks would get under mother hens’ wings to keep warm. We didn’t have a brooder house. Each night the mother hen’s house was shut tightly to keep the varmints out and in the morning opened so the mother hen and baby chicks could run. We fed them a mash and later on cracked corn both morning and evening.

I can still hear mother calling, “Biddy, Biddy, Biddy.” The chicks knew it was time to eat and would come running.

When we could see a rain storm coming we would call the chicks and lock them up until the storm passed. After the rain mother would send my sisters and I through the grass and weeds gathering up the stray chicks that were collasped or near death from drowning and mother would give the chick mouth to mouth resuscitation and bring them back to life. At least it was a type of mouth to mouth resuscitation. She would open their beaks and blow air into their lungs and massage them. She saved many chicks by doing this and I got so I could do it, too.

Sometimes we had two-legged varmints get into our chicken houses. To get to our place they had to walk at least a mile because there was no road. One time dad almost caught them in the act. We heard the chickens squalking in the middle of the night but by the time dad got dressed and grabbed his gun they had gotten away. The next day we found a gunny sack full of chickens a little way from the house where the thief had dropped them in his haste to escape. The chickens were all dead. They had smothered.

Our chickens meant a great deal to us. They furnished eggs and meat and sometimes we could sell a few eggs and chickens. Occasionally, if one of us kids needed a tablet and we didn’t have any money we would gather a dozen eggs and exchange them at the store.

Eighth Grade Graduation and High School

After I completed the seventh grade I received notice in the mail to come to the county seat to receive my eighth grade graduation certificate.

I said, “Mother, I’ve never had the eighth grade.” Mother said, “That’s all right. If they want to give you the certificate take it and don’t argue.”

I really never wanted to go through the exercises because I just knew there was a mistake but mother insisted and got me a new dress for the graduation exercises. I got the certificate but was the subject of much conversation among those who knew and shortly the word got back to the county superintendent of schools, Hiss Groseclose, who came rushing to me across the courthouse lawn to retreive the certificate before I had left town. I was embarrassed but relieved because I was wondering how I could explain my graduation to my other seventh-grade classmates. I graduated legitamately the following year. I’ve often wondered why mother was so anxious to have me graduate from grade school so soon, anyway, because we had no idea how I was going to high school.

My brother, Dick, had graduated from the eighth grade the year before and was walking to Glenwood High School which was seven miles from home. He walked both morning and afternoon but mother said that it was just too far for a girl to walk.

I said, “I can do it if Dick can do it.”

There was no bus service and most kids only went to the eighth grade unless they had a relative living near a high school with whom they could stay.

This arguing between mother and me went on all summer and I told her that I was going to high school if I had to sneak out in the morning before she got up and I meant every word of what I was saying but a strange thing happened the Saturday evening before school started on Monday.

It was just getting dark and we saw a car turn in our lane and come to our home. It was not often someone came to see us in a car and naturally we were curious. Two strange well dressed men approached and knocked on the door. Mother went to the door and as was us kids’ custom we eavesdropped to see what these men wanted. I heard one of them say, “I’m Mr. King of the Lancaster High School and this is Mr. Krionderis, one of our teachers. I hear you have a daughter who wants to go to high school.”

Bother said, “Yes, but we just can’t afford to board her in town and Glenwood High is too far for a girl to walk.”

I was all ears. Maybe I could go to high school after all and not have to run away to do it. I listened more carefully.

Hr. King said, “We have found a one room apartment for 50 cents a week if you could afford that and you could send food from home perhaps.”

I made promises to mother that I wouldn’t go to any movies, go to any parties or dances at school and would definitely not date one boy before tbey consented to my going to high school. I kept the promises.

Mother and Dad finally agreed and come Monday morning we loaded my scant belongings in the Model T and went to Lancaster which was 10 miles from home, dropping my brother off at Glenwood High along the way.

Mr. King met us and took us to meet Mrs. Showalter, my landlady. The little apartment was really a part of her home and she would look after me.

I never will forget this place. The very first day I was there a man knocked on my door and asked for food. I am ashamed to say but I don’t recall giving him anything.

Mother and dad gave me 50 cents a week besides the 50 cents for the apartment and mother would send potatoes, beans and molasses cookies. If I wanted to go home on the weekend I had to save 18 cents out of the 50 cents for train fare. There was a train that went through Lancaster and would stop at the Dean Crossing and that was only three miles from home.

I worked real hard on my studies and made straight As.

I was happy to be in school and I found myself quite popular. I thought this was because of my grades because I always helped anyone else with their studies if they asked me.

Mr. Krionderis was always coming over and sitting with me in study hall. He was very encouraging. He was Greek. He told me he came to the United States and worked in the coal mines and went to school.

The following year school bus service was started between Coatsville and Lancaster High School. I don’t know why we didn’t go to Glenwood High since it was closer but the bus went to Lancaster. My brother went to Lancaster High during his junior and senior year, too.

All the kids taking the school bus congregated in front of the Coatsville post office until time to board the bus except in the winter when we waited inside the post office to keep warm. The first two or three weeks we didn’t have a bus so we all rode in a cattle truck, about 30 of us.

It was surely a dirty ride but fun. Finally, we got our bus; a homemade one. It looked like a big wooden box, which it was, painted orange with three windows on each side. In the winter it was quite a chilly ride but no one seemed to mind. I rode the same bus until I finished high school.

In the summer between my junior and senior year I found a jub doing housework for the Ford family who lived about three miles from home. The jub paid $3 a week and I could go home on Saturday evening and come back Monday morning. I could hardly wait to get started but I was in for a terrible shock.

The Ford home was a huge, two-story structure with a covered, round-pillared porch on two sides. It reminded me of a southern plantation owner’s home although I had never seen one – only pictures. The downstairs consisted of the kitchen, dining room, living room, parlor, one bedroom and a bathroom. A winding staircase in the parlor led to the upstairs but there was a stalMvay off the kitchen and it was this stairway that the hired help use and also the Fords. All the Fords except Grandpa Ford slept upstairs. Upstairs consisted of seven bedrooms and a den. Logan, Grandpa Ford’s youngest son, and his wife, Gusta, spent much time in the den where the only radio in the house was located. Tom, Logan’s half brother, had a bedroom upstairs. One bedroom upstairs was reserved for company. I had one bedroom and the other three were occupied by the hired men.

The men worked in the fields and helped care for the livestock. The Fords had lots of hogs from whence came fleas and no effort was made to limit the domain of these creatures. Tom, the oldest brother, specialized in raising Black Angus cattle and he had a sizeable herd and was well known in northeast Missouri for them.

My job was to cook the meals, clean the house and in the summer cut the grass.

Tom got up about 3:30 every morning and in the winter built the fire in the coal and wood range. (In the summer a gas range was used for cooking.) Then I was called at 4 o’clock to make breakfast. I don’t know why we got up so early unless they wanted to be sure they got a full days vwrk from everyone. After breakfast all the men just sat around waiting for it to get daylight so they could go to work. Breakfast consisted of hot biscuits, sausage or ham and eggs every day. Gusta did the laundry and polished the furniture. She polished the furniture every day. Logan was an expert furniture maker and he had made every piece of furniture in the house and it was beautiful. Gusta was very proud of her husband’s work and kept all the furniture polished to a T.

I worked all summer and saved $24 dollars. I kept it in my bank, a shoe box under my bed.

When it was near time for school to start I asked Gusta, as Mrs. Ford wanted to be called, if I could have Thursday afternoon off to go to Leancaster with one of their neighbors to look for a place where I might work for my room and board and go to school. She didn’t let me have the afternoon off so I was really upset and was trying to figure out what I should do but a few days before school started she said to me: “I’ve talked it over with Logan and we’ve decided you could stay here and work for your room and board and go to school. The school bus stops only half a mile up the road. You’ll be expected to make breakfast, the raisin pies every day, wash the dishes and scrub the kitchen floor before going to school.” I agreed to the arrangement.

I was delighted to have a place to stay so I could finish high school. I knew I would have to do without a few things but I was used to that. One thing I really hated to give up was my typing class but I couldn’t see my way clear to take it because I would have to rent a typewriter at a dollar a month. I really couldn’t afford that, since I had to buy all my textbooks, too. There were also other things I needed desperately. I didn’t have a coat and I only had one skirt and blouse and one dress which I had sewed. I wanted to be able to get a class ring and graduation pictures… seniors always got these things and I wanted to be able to have them, too.

I decided to ask my high school principal if he could get me on the NYA (National Youth Administration) program. I received an answer immediately that I would be eligible and tl:at meant I would do some work during the school hours and would receive three dollars a month. I worked in the school library one hour every day. I was very careful in the way I spent my money. I can still itemize it. It was spent like this:

Winter coat (from Sears Roebuck) $7.98

Mittens & Scarf 98 cents

Blue taffeta dress (for good) $2.98

1 pair of shoes $1.98

1 pair of overshoes $8.00

text books (second hand) $5.00

class ring $8.00

Graduation pictures $5.00

Year book $3.00

Rent of cap & gown $1.50

One 5¢ candy bar for lunch every day (Fords never suggested I carry a lunch and I was afraid to ask).

I went to the senior banquet attired in my blue taffeta dress, the same dress I had bought at the beginning of the school year and kept for special occas:Lons. The banquet was not a “formal attire” event but almost everyone was in party dress.

I went to the baccalaureate and comencement exercises wearing my blue taffeta dress but I had a cap and gown so it really never concerned me that I never had a new dress. None of my relatives nor any of the Fords attended exercises but I never gave it a second thought. I was happy to be graduating.

Since my graduation I have felt there has never been a more trying, time in my life. No obstacle has seemed too difficult to overcome.

Jean Gillespie grew up in northeast Missouri and graduated from Lancaster High School. Now nearing 90, she wrote these memoirs 40 years ago. She is an active volunteer and member at the Enumclaw Senior Activity Center and various other groups around the community.

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