Chapter 2 Section B
More than a House, My Home!
"Did you know a family moved your old house to Burrton?" Marion, my cousin, reported to me one day. "They cut the top off, removed the porches, divided it in two pieces and hauled it away. What do you think about that?"
I couldn't believe it! My old home where my grandparents, aunts, parents, brother, sister and I had lived was gone forever. I could hardly wait until I made a trip back to Kansas to see what had happened to it.
Not too long after Marion called me, we made a trip in our motorhome
back to Kansas. Our first stop was to see what happened to our old family
house south of Hutchinson. Sure enough, when I got to the farm, the house
that had been my home for so many years was gone..gone! I don't think I'll
ever pass that way again.
What a nerve that guy had, taking away my old home and transporting it twenty miles east to Burrton. And to think he bought it for only one dollar. That's what I was told. I was also told it cost ten thousand dollars to move it to its new foundation.
Secretly, I'd hoped that he had paid one hundred thousand for it. Maybe I would have felt better about things that way. I knew Dad, Mom and the other members of my family, long since dead, would have rested better.
Wait a minute! What difference did it really make that its roof was now flat, its rooms rearranged and the doors reset, or that the old cellar that protected me from those terrible storms had been filled up and covered over? I still have many great memories of that old house!
Our house faced the south, and was on a slight rise about 500 feet in from the highway between Hutchinson and Wichita. It was always painted white, but through the years for lack of a new coat of paint, it often looked weather-beaten. The folks didn't want it that way, but many times they couldn't afford the paint. I only remember its being repainted once and that was when I was away from home in the Army Air Corps.
Mom sent this picture of our home to me. It shows the mortheast side of the house. Junior was in the process of giving the house a much-needed coat of paint. The house needed painting so badly that even the side that he had painted looked as if it would need a second coat.
The house remained without any remodeling during my kid days. That's what made it so special to me. I was familiar with every room. Each room in the house had a particular personality to me. Mom and Dad's bedroom was north of the living room. It had a window on the north and another one on the east. Their bed was placed in the northwest corner of the room.
The folks' bedroom wasn't exactly square. The cellar and upstairs steps
had to be somewhere so they were stuck in the southwest corner of that
room. While I was a baby, I slept in a little baby bed under the dropped
ceiling that accommodated the stairwell. I don't know how long I slept
there, but it was long enough to give me a lifelong image of that sloping
ceiling above me.
The Saga of the Cedar Chest and the Needle
Mom's prized cedar chest was placed on the east wall of the bedroom. Mom had always wanted a cedar chest in which she could store her nice linens. She got her wish when she joined the Larkin Club. The club met each month as a social group. The company supplied them with a catalog showing all kinds of Larkin products. For each item one ordered so many points were given. The hostess for each meeting was also awarded points. Mom finally accumulated enough points to get her cherished cedar chest. She was very protective of it and didn't allow anyone to sit on it, especially us kids. As a matter of fact, we were to keep our distance from it so it wouldn't be scuffed or scratched. I'll never forget that chest.
One day when I was about two years old Mom announced, "Dr. Roberts is coming today."
I knew something different was up because the doctor came only when someone was very sick. Soon he arrived and Mom let him into the house. He always had an odor of medicine about him. I hated that smell. I knew it meant some kind of awful medicine for me to take.
"Glenn, Dr. Roberts is going to give us our diphtheria shots," Mom informed us.
Oh, no. No one is going to give me a shot, I thought!
About that time, Mom grabbed me as she sat me down on the cedar chest. She pulled my pants down exposing my bare butt and held me on her lap. I began to kick, bawl and yell bloody murder. Then I saw him coming towards me.
"No, Momma, no!" I screamed when I saw that monstrous needle in the doctor's hand.
"Glenn, hold still. It won't hurt."
I wasn't going to take any chances. I didn't believe that it wouldn't
hurt, so I screamed and kicked even more. No doctor was going to jab me
if I could help it.
To get the job done, Dr. Roberts finally had to sit on my legs to keep me from kicking. In fact, he almost had to lie down on me to keep me from squirming. I could see I wasn't going to win that battle, but I certainly tried everything I could think of to keep him from jabbing me.
Finally it happened! Wow! Then it was all over and was I ever glad.
Mom and the doctor were also relieved, I'm sure.
"There, now that wasn't so bad, was it?" Mom asked, trying to console me.
"Oh, yes, it was!" I said, still bawling. Although I knew perfectly
well that it wasn't really as bad as I thought it was going to be, I wasn't
about to admit that.
That was the day Mom broke her no-sitting-on-her-cedar-chest rule. As a matter of fact, all three of us, Mom, the doctor, and I sat on that chest, and it held us all quite well.
For sure, I never forgot that cedar chest and that needle the doctor
jabbed into my bare butt!
Upstairs to Bed, You Kids
When I was about six years old, I started sleeping upstairs. I suppose Helen and Junior had already been sleeping up there. When I was moved upstairs, I shared a room with my brother. Helen had a room of her own across the hall from us.
Each night Mom went upstairs and tucked us kids into bed. Each night we would repeat the prayer: "Now, I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."
During the summertime the nights were unbearably hot and humid. When there was no breeze to move the air, it was hard to get a good night's sleep. The windows were always kept open unless it started to rain. When they had to be closed, we were really hot and uncomfortable. Many nights I'd sleep naked and even then I'd awaken in a pool of sweat.
The heat and humidity weren't the only problems.
"Fred, we've got to repair those screens or get new ones," Mom often complained. "I was all bitten up with the mosquitoes last night."
The screen wire those days rusted easily. Mom was continually patching them with small squares of screen wire. Still the mosquitoes got in. Replacing the rusted-out screens with new ones was a regular routine.
Those pesky mosquitoes followed me everywhere. A single one could drive me crazy.
"Rub some salt on the welts and they won't itch," someone suggested.
Now who's going to carry salt around at a time like that? After all,
by that time the damage had already been done. Those darned mosquitoes
had already awakened me and likely as not more than one was buzzing around
over my head. I couldn't see in the dark so all I could do was swat at
them. Covering my head with the sheet helped, but even then they'd still
find a place to bite me. Sometimes I'd swat at them and hurt myself more
than the mosquito bite.
After my sister Helen died, Mom moved me to the south upstairs room by myself. I was growing up and felt it was great to have my very own room. One particular night, shortly after I began sleeping in my new room, is vivid in my memory. That was the night I walked in my sleep. When I awakened, I was feeling along the walls of the adjoining hall with my hands. I had left my room and wandered into the hall. I had just missed the flight of stairs. I was really scared as I realized I could easily have fallen down those stairs. Something guided me away from the stairs. I guess it's true that people rarely hurt themselves while sleep-walking. At least that's what I was told to comfort me when I related my sleep-walking incident.
I don't remember ever walking in my sleep again. I've often wondered
whether Helen's death might have had something to do with that sleeping-walking
experience. Losing my sister was a traumatic time for me. We had played
together day after day. Now I was alone. Junior was older and we didn't
have such a close relationship.
Wetting the Bed, Horror of Horrors
After all these years, I can finally admit that I had a bed-wetting problem as a kid. Of course, at the time, I didn't want anyone to know about it. If there was anything that I hated, it was wetting my bed. Dad and Mom were very concerned about my problem. They took me to Dr. Roberts to get his opinion.
"Don't worry, he'll grow out of it," he assured them. "Don't let him drink water after six o'clock and be sure he empties his bladder before going to bed."
Of course, we followed his advice, but it didn't do any good. I still manufactured enough water to sink a battleship.
If I can just turn a spigot off some way when I go to bed, I would think, everything will be OK. Of course, I could never seem to find a way to do that. For some reason, known only to God, I'd often wake with a wet bed.
Dad had a back problem for years. When Dad's back "went out," he would visit Dr. Shook, a noted osteopath. The doctor would yank Dad around and manipulate his back. He always seemed to make Dad feel better after that tortuous treatment.
"Glenn," Mom said one day, "Dr. Shook says he can make you stop wetting the bed."
Oh, no! Dr. Shook seemed to have a cure for any ailment known to man. I certainly didn't want him to get me on his table and yank me around.
Of course, he promised not to hurt me, but I wouldn't say he exactly kept his promise. However, after a few treatments, he gave up on me. I still wet the bed.
"I read in a magazine that if you'd sleep on your side you'd not wet the bed," Mom said one day. She proceeded to try several methods of arranging my bedding so I'd stay on my side after I went to sleep. Of course, nothing helped.
I knew I had done something really bad and was being punished for doing it. What I was doing to cause this terrible curse, I didn't know. I got more and more sensitive over my problem. I never wanted to sleep in a strange bed for fear I'd wet it.
Of course, Dr. Roberts prediction finally did come true. I finally "grew
out of it."
Wetting the bed wasn't my only bedtime problem. There was no modern bathroom in our home when I was a kid. I didn't even have a "store-bought" pot to use at night. I used a gallon tin can. My problem was I'd forget to empty it in the morning. The next night I'd find my can filled to the brim and I couldn't use it. That left me two alternatives. I could either just pee out the window or climb downstairs and go outside.
One window was above the east porch and the other one was right over the bay window. I'd try to let my water out carefully to keep my folks from hearing the sound of water trickling down from the window to the sidewalk. I don't believe they ever knew I used the windows. If they did, they never did say anything to me about the practice.
Going downstairs and outside was an awful experience. I didn't want anyone to know what I was doing so I'd try to keep the steps from creaking. I knew which steps creaked so I'd try to step close to the wall to keep from making a noise. Then, opening the doors was another problem. I had to open three doors to get outside. Each door had its particular noise, click or squeak, making me even more uncomfortable. Of course, during that trek, I was getting more and more anxious to relieve myself.
On moonless nights, it was very dark in the house, and when I got outside it seemed even darker. Of course, I then had to get back upstairs without anyone hearing me.
At the time I thought it was very important that no one knew what I was doing. Now that I think about it, it really didn't make any difference to anyone. At least, my going outside didn't make any difference. Of course, I'm sure the folks wouldn't have approved of my using the windows, and my Mom's advice would have been,
"Glenn, empty your can each morning!"
The Cubbyhole Closets
Originally the upstairs had low ceilings. Grandpa McMurry fixed that. He had the roof on the house raised, making the ceilings higher so people wouldn't bump their heads if they walked upright. That was a long time before I was born, but Dad told me what had happened.
Grandpa had built cubbyhole closets in the north and south bedrooms to take advantage of the space left when he framed around the upstairs steps. They were not tall enough for hanging clothes, but they were large enough to store some interesting things.
In the south room cubbyhole was a featherbed made of duck feathers. With great effort, I'd pull it from the cubbyhole and drag it to my bed. When it came to sleeping with the featherbed, I never figured out whether I should put it under me or on top of me. It was too hot for anything but really cold weather. Even then, I'd usually get too hot under it. I tried sleeping on it sometime, but I didn't really like that either. Being the creative type, I tried other things like jumping on it. That proved to be fun. However, returning that featherbed to its "roost" before Mom found I was jumping on it was no mean trick. I'd almost get smothered trying to stuff it into its cubbyhole storage place.
It was hard for me to believe that people "plucked" ducks to make featherbeds and pillows. That actually meant they yanked the nice fluffy feathers from their breasts. That's what I called taking advantage of a fowl. I figured it must hurt the duck terribly until my Mom set me straight.
"No, Glenn, when a duck's breast feathers are ready to be plucked, they come out very easily and it doesn't hurt the duck at all," Mom assured me.
We didn't keep ducks for plucking, but apparently in past years Grandpa McMurry had raised them. Considering the featherbed, and all the pillows my Grandma, my aunts, and my Mom had, apparently someone had done lots of plucking through the years.
I don't remember eating duck meat when a kid, but I was told how good it is by my aunts. Apparently they'd yank off the feathers while the ducks were still alive, then wait a few weeks, kill them, and yank off the rest of their feathers. I didn't appreciate hearing about it. They were too cute to kill and eat. Like little chickens and rabbits, little ducks were made to be cuddled, I thought.
I remember one time when my desire to cuddle cute little animals turned out to be a disaster.
"Glenn, you killed that little baby rabbit. You squeezed it too hard," Dad said. "You held it so tight it couldn't breathe."
Sure enough that is what had happened. I cried over that. I really had killed that little baby rabbit. After that I always remembered to be careful when handling little rabbits, chickens and ducks.
The cubbyhole closet in the north room held a number of interesting
things. There were some old picture books that my grandma had made for
my Dad when he was a kid. They were now yellow from age and falling apart.
I always enjoyed looking at them anyway. They were full of greeting cards
he had received over the years.
One day I found an old wooden box camera in the north room closet. I immediately took it to my Dad and asked questions about it. He told me how he took pictures with it.
"I used glass plates that I coated with the a light-sensitive substance. When they were dry, they were ready to use in the camera," Dad explained. He also told me about his flash gun that he loaded with a phosphorus powder. When ignited, it would make a "pouffe" as it exploded. Although it provided enough light to expose a picture, it temporarily blinded all those who were being photographed. Besides the noise it made, it also filled the room with smoke.
When Mom heard Dad telling me all about the old camera, she joined in the conversation to let me know Dad was well-known for his picture taking. He was the one who took pictures at their parties and other activities.
Do you suppose I inherited my fascination with pictures from my Dad?
I know I was eager to get a camera and be the one who took the pictures
everywhere I went.
My Daring Escapades
Below the window of the east upstairs room was the roof over the porch below. I figured this roof had to have some use other than just shedding rain water. Why not walk around on it and see what I could see? I'd climb out the window and carefully step down to the roof. I knew it wasn't very safe, but that added to the adventure. I felt especially daring when I'd go close to the edge and look down. Then the idea came. Why not jump from the roof? That would be lots faster than going all the way down the stairs.
I figured that if I'd stare at the ground long enough I'd get the courage to jump. Then I decided that if I bent my legs slightly as I hit, they would absorb the shock and I wouldn't break a bone. After considering for several days all the techniques needed, I finally got the courage to jump.
It worked! I didn't break any bones. In fact, it didn't really hurt at all. I was proud of myself. So I tried it again and again. What a brave kid I was!
Of course, the day that Mom caught me in the act, she didn't like what I was doing at all. She even predicted that I might break my neck if I landed wrong. After considering Mom's warning, I decided she was probably right and I stopped jumping off the roof. I must say, however, that it was fun while it lasted.
When we got electricity I was fascinated with the switches and light sockets. I discovered that I could stick my finger in any light socket and not get hurt. My Mom was horrified.
"It's nothing, Mom," I'd say. "It doesn't hurt at all."
I didn't realize how dangerous it really was. I never did get much of
a shock. I learned to be careful to touch the inside rim of the socket
first. That way it acted as a ground. When I put the tip of my finger inside,
I would feel only a tingle. I thought that was a pretty smart trick, but,
of course, my Mom didn't think it was so smart.
Playing with Marbles
When I was a kid I had lots of marbles, small and large, clay and glass. They were among my favorite toys. One of my fun things was playing with them on the stairs. Our stairs had a landing half way down and I liked to watch those marbles bounce from step to step and finally hit the wall on the landing. Then, I'd rush down after the last marble had stopped rolling and shove them from that level to the living room below.
"Glenn, you nut!" Junior would yell at me. "I stepped on one of those
darned marbles you left on the steps and it hurt my foot."
Then he'd complain to Mom, "Make Glenn stop leaving marbles on the steps."
Actually, his complaints didn't do too much good. I would just tell
him to watch where he walked. Mom didn't pay too much attention to his
complaints either, and I continued to play with my marbles on the stairs
and also in the front room. Our rugs were never wall-to-wall so there was
a bare spot around the room where I'd herd my marbles. What fun I had moving
a hundred or so marbles down the stairs and around the room. Of course,
the time would come when I had to pick all of them up in order to start
the process all over. That was never as much fun as bouncing them down
The Dining Room
Our dining room was quite plain. The items I remember were the wall telephone on the south wall, a calendar on the west wall just north of the cupboard and a large painting Aunt Nelle had made for the folks as a wedding present on the east wall. It was a scene of a forest fire. That painting still hangs in my home where I can see it daily.
Since there was nothing on the north wall, I felt that was my space
where I would stick my art. I loved to make paper people and animals and
mount them with common pins. Mom always had plenty of those around since
she did a lot of sewing for her family.
In the center of the room was our five-legged table. Four of the legs were Queen Anne style. The fifth one was straight. It supported the table in its center, especially when it was completely extended. It was fun to help pull the thing apart for inserting extra boards to make it longer. There were six or seven leaves that could be put in it.
There were always several straight wooden chairs around the table. Sometimes
when a special occasion warranted it, we'd have ten or twelve people or
even more sitting around that table. If there were too many to sit around
the table, we kids had to eat in the kitchen.
Big family dinners were always exciting. While the cooks were preparing the dinner, the men exchanged ideas about such things as the state fair and various farming methods. There was always lots of story telling and laughing.
The women not assisting with the dinner always had plenty of gossip
to spread around. That was their job. After all, men didn't gossip, they
had genuine man-talk.
We kids stayed outside until the last moment before rushing to the table.
"You kids go right to the sink and wash your hands and face," Mom ordered. "And don't try to wipe your hands on that roller towel until you have washed them good. I just put up a clean one."
We used our dining room table three times a day. Every member of my family had a place to sit and it was a ritual. Dad always sat on the east side of the table, Junior and Helen sat on the west, and Mom and I sat on the south. I think Mom had me sit by her so she could see that I ate right. When we had a live-in hired man, he usually sat on the north end of the table. It was a right down conventional arrangement, I thought.
One evening when we had fish for supper is vivid in my memory.
"Glenn," Dad said that evening, "you have to taste that fish. You can't leave the table until you taste at least one little piece of fish."
There were lots of things that I didn't like, such as fish, beans, peas, and anything I considered odd like eggplant or sorghum. I was a meat, potatoes, and gravy kid. Oh, yes, I liked eggs and I loved ground wheat. We called it graham, and ate it often for breakfast. In fact, Mom declared that I'd eat a dish of it three times a day if she'd let me.
Any different kind of food was "bawling" time for me. I knew sometime during the meal either Mom or Dad was going to demand that I taste something different. Of course, I resisted and tried to use my bawling technique to get out of eating things I didn't want to eat. After all "there might be worms or bugs in that stuff," I'd think, and I'd shove it away from me.
After so much bawling I'd finally have to give up and I'd simply swallow whatever it was whole. That caused considerable coughing and gagging.
"Now that wasn't so bad, was it?" Dad would always say.
"Heck yes, it was awful," I'd think. I didn't dare say anything like that, however. Even today I'm not fond of trying strange foods.
In many ways, Mom catered to my funny eating ways. For instance, I didn't like strong chocolate. She liked to make sheet cakes with a thin coat of chocolate frosting on them.
"Don't worry, Glenn, it's a white cake topped with chocolate frosting," Mom would assure me. "I knew you wouldn't eat it with chocolate so I covered it with a layer of white frosting first and then a coat of chocolate. See I left a white square for you in the corner." She knew well that I'd never touch it if a crumb of chocolate showed on it.
Mom knew I liked angel food cake. I liked it covered with fluffy white frosting sprinkled with coconut. No cake could be more to my liking. It took lots of her time to make an angel food cake. In those days there was no prepackaged stuff. The egg whites had to be separated from the yolks, and care had to be taken so not one bit of the yolk got mixed in with the whites. Then the whites had to be beaten until stiff. After that the other ingredients were folded in carefully so the air would not escape from the stiffly beaten whites.
"Don't run through the kitchen. I have my cake in the oven and I don't want it to fall. You know what happens if it falls," Mom would caution. "It'll come out flat as a pancake."
Now who'd want a flat angel food cake? I certainly didn't!
"Remember, no chocolate!" I always ordered.
The East Front Room
Most of my kid days when I looked out the windows of the downstairs east room, known as the parlor, I could see three things: the rows of beautiful cedar trees stretching between the house and the highway, the long bushy lilacs to the left and about fifty feet away, and the lone black walnut tree directly in front of me. It was a terrific scene any time of the year, but especially in the spring when the lilacs were in bloom, and in the winter when the snow covered everything. One Christmas I thought I had a great idea.
"Why can't we have one of the cedars for our Christmas tree, Dad?"
"It would be too large for our room, Glenn. Anyway you wouldn't want me to cut down one of those nice cedar trees, now would you?"
I knew he had me, because I knew I didn't want a single cedar tree cut
down. It wouldn't be right. I just didn't think!
Unfortunately, years later, after I was married, a cyclone took out those beautiful cedar trees. What a loss we all felt!
Probably my most vivid memory of the parlor when I was very young, was my make-believe circus. My two boxes of tinker toys were just what I needed. My imagination went rampant.
Sugar sacks, flour sacks and chicken feed sacks were always closed with
string sewed with a chain stitch. Pull one end just right and off the string
would come. Mom always saved those strings and wound them into a ball.
I used lots of her string along with my tinkertoys to erect my circus tent.
Sometimes I had such a large skeleton arrangement that I'd have trouble
getting around it. I'd have string stretched from pole to pole for high
wire acts, and swings for the trapeze people. I cut pictures of people
from catalogs and imagined they were really doing stunts on my equipment.
In order to make my circus tent look more real, I once tried covering it
with paper. Then with it covered, it did look more real, but I had trouble
getting inside without tearing the paper.
Bent pins made great stakes. I could suspend the rigging all around the rug.
"Mom," I begged, "will you leave my circus up for a few days? Please, Mom."
Sometimes my "few days" dragged on until she'd make me take it down. Probably she had to clean the room or something.
"Do I have to take down my paper circus parade from the wall, too?"
Mom said that it had to go, too. She was going to have a Ladies Aid meeting next week. However, she did consent that I could move it to the north wall of the dining room.
That paper parade was on that dining room wall for days.
The Kitchen Cabinet
Mom's kitchen was furnished with an upright kitchen cabinet, typical of those days, a small table, a stove and a sink. Between the kitchen and the dining room was a pantry. There were no built-in cabinets, of course, so except for the few things that fit in the kitchen cabinet, everything was stored in the pantry. It was a genuine walk-in pantry, but very small. Mom couldn't really go in and shut the door, but I could. That pantry was a great place to hide when playing hide- and-seek on a dreary, cold, wet day.
There were shelves from about the center of the pantry on up. In the bottom larger items could be stored. There was one shelf that went all the way through the pantry so items on it could be reached from either the dining room or the kitchen. On the kitchen-side shelves Mom kept such things as crackers and cookies. On the dining room side, the upper shelves were used to display the nice glassware and china dishes. Fortunately, we didn't have earthquakes in Kansas or they probably would have tumbled down.
There was always something for me to munch on in Mom's pantry. If I
couldn't find a cookie or piece of cake, I'd open the kitchen cabinet and
make myself a bread and jelly sandwich. I didn't think much of peanut butter
at that time. It was too gooey. Crackers and milk was also one of my favorite
The Kitchen Stoves
Mom's stove was on the east wall of the kitchen. The red brick chimney Grandpa had built extended from the roof through the attic and about eighteen inches down into the bathroom which was next to our kitchen. There it ended, resting on a wooden shelf-like arrangement. There was a hole in it on the kitchen wall side and a hole in the wall itself. The stovepipe of Mom's stove was stuck through the wall and into the chimney. I don't know why he did it that way. Maybe the bathroom was partitioned off the kitchen after he built the chimney, causing it to be in the bathroom instead of the kitchen. All I know was that stovepipe had two turns in it and was always causing problems. The kitchen floor wasn't strong enough to hold that heavy cook stove and that was part of the problem. Our continual walking around the stove would loosen the stovepipe. Finally Dad wired it to the wall and that helped. It was certainly a mess when that stovepipe slipped out. Mom worked for hours cleaning the room from the soot.
That cooking stove was something of a marvel. Not only did it cook our food and heat the room, it also had a water tank built into its left side. If there was any fire at all in the stove, there was hot water in that tank. I'd just open the iron lid and dip out the hot water I needed.
The cast iron top of the stove had an abundance of removable lids. As I remember, the stove had six round holes in its top containing a like number of round lids. They could be removed with a little "lifter." The handle of the lifter had a coil of wire around it to keep it from getting "too hot to handle." Even then, Mom would often have to use a pot holder.
One of the stove lids had three or four little removable lids built into it. Each little lid had a place for the "lifter." If Mom wanted to heat something small like the coffee pot, she'd take the smallest lid off. If the pot was larger, she'd take off a larger lid, and so on. What an interesting invention.
During wash or bath days, Mom would put a copper washtub full of water on the stove. The stove was large enough for the washtub and a couple kettles to be used at the same time.
That stove had a wonderful warming oven across the top and a large oven below that Mom used to bake bread and roast chicken. Opening the oven door wide was also a quick way to heat the kitchen.
The flames from the fire were directed all around the inside of the stove to heat each part of it. There was a damper arrangement that allowed one to turn the heat either to the top of the stove or to the lower oven. The farther the hot gasses got away from the fire itself, the less hot that part of the stove got. The warming oven was the farthest from the fire. It was heated by the stovepipe that went through it. For sure, it got pretty hot around there when that old iron stove got "het up."
"I can still hear Mom call, "Glenn, go out to the porch and bring in some wood for the kitchen stove. Don't wait too long, now." That wasn't a fun job so often I'd take my time getting started.
"Gul-len-n-n," Mom would then call, stretching my name out. "Get that
wood right now. The fire is dying down and I need it. I'm baking bread.
When I'd get in the house with the wood, she'd caution, "Be careful about that hot pot of beans simmering there. Slide it over carefully and don't scald yourself while you're putting the wood in the stove."
For a long time we had no trouble getting fire wood. Years ago Grandpa and Dad had planted cottonwood trees along the road and the fences on the farm. When they began to die out, they made great fire wood.
Wood-cutting day was an event to remember.
Dad had a belt-driven circular saw about three feet in diameter. He'd bring the old Avery tractor up and connect its engine to the saw with a long circular belt. When he started that engine, the whole world knew we were sawing wood. The teeth of that saw would cause a high- pitched tone that drove Helen mad. She couldn't stand it and immediately started to cry. Mom always told her to watch the sawing from the bay window.
When Junior was old enough, he'd help Dad put the limbs on the saw bench. That fast whining saw sent lots of sawdust flying all around and in no time Dad cut a pile of wood to last for several months. Then it was my turn to help.
"Glenn," Mom would call, "come with your wagon and help me haul some wood to the back porch." It was fun for a while, but hauling wood from the pile to the back porch wasn't one of my more choice jobs. I had to be urged to keep going until Mom had all she wanted on her pile.
When the folks' cottonwood tree supply began to run out, they had to buy coal. It was then they had to convert their stoves by putting in a different kind of grate. While Dad was changing the grates, we really had soot and ashes all over everything!
At one time we had three coal-burning stoves. The one in the kitchen was used year around. Of course, the sitting-room and dining room stoves were used only in winter.
Although coal was more efficient for heating stoves, it was expensive. It was also a mess to deal with. It was so dirty to handle. Unless I wore a pair of gloves, I'd always get my hands dirty and, consequently, everything I touched also got dirty. I remember Mom telling me that when she was little and wood became scarce, they burned cow chips. I was glad we had coal to use even if it was dirty. I'm sure I would have been the one who had to gather the cow chips from the pasture.
During the summertime Mom's cast iron stove made the kitchen really hot. I could hardly stand being in the kitchen. How Mom stood it, I don't know. I guess she was used to it. Finally, the folks got a kerosene cook stove for her to use during the summertime.
That kerosene stove was made of iron and tin. It had four burners equally spaced in a straight line. The glass supply jar of kerosene, or coal oil, as it was more commonly known, was hung bottom-side-up on one end of the stove so the oil could leak out through a little pipe supplying the four fiber wicks in the burners. Mom had to keep those wicks properly trimmed or they didn't function properly. She had a square tin oven to set on one of the burners. It had a little round glass in front with a thermometer to show how hot the oven was. Of course, it didn't regulate the heat. It only told you when to turn the fire up or down. Nevertheless, Mom made good bread, cakes and cookies in it. When she wasn't baking something, she'd set it off onto the floor.
Both of those kitchen stoves served the family well for many years.
When we moved to western Kansas, they went right along with us.
My High Chair
I mustn't forget another item in the kitchen. It was my high chair. At least, I always considered it as "my" high chair. I still remember the day Mom informed me otherwise when some discussion arose about what to do with it. I wanted to have my say-so about "my" high chair. Mom explained that it was the one I used, but that Helen and Junior had both used it before I was born. I was slightly disappointed. My only memories were of it being moved from kitchen to dining room and back again depending upon where Mom wanted to feed me.
The Kitchen Sink
The main door leading from the kitchen to the back porch was on the west side near the north wall. In wet weather we always had to remove our boots and shoes on the porch. Mom didn't want her family tracking into her kitchen. Just inside the door on that wall were hooks used to hang coats and caps. Dad had placed a nail lower down on the wall for me to hang my things.
Next on the wall, mounted conveniently close to the sink, was a very interesting endless towel holder. Grandpa McMurry had made that towel rack long before I was born. It was an item I took care to save from the farm when my Mom moved out. I intend to keep it for the rest of my life. I've not used it in my present house, but give me more time and I'll find an appropriate place for it one of these days.
When I think about that towel rack, I can still hear my Mom. "Glenn, do you see the dirt on that towel? I just hung it up and now you've messed it all up. When are you going to learn to use a little soap and water while washing up."
"Aw, Mom," I'd say, trying to pass the blame on to someone else, "I
didn't do that. Junior must have made that mess."
I probably had been the guilty one, but just didn't want to admit it. My real error was failing to move the dirty part of the towel to another place hiding the dirty place. Of course, even when I did remember to pull the towel around to a clean part, that dirty part would come back to haunt me later on.
"Goodness," Mom would say, "I simply can't keep enough clean towels around these days."
Next to the towel rack was the rectangular porcelain sink with a mirror above it. A hairbrush and comb holder and a soap dish were mounted on either side of it. For sure, the bar of Lava soap was waiting to be used. After all, Lava was the only stuff that could cut the dirt and grease from hands. We all went through the same routine before eating. Clean hands and face, and a brushed head of hair were important. Who wanted to be looking at an uncouth person while eating?
I was washing my hands one day when Grandpa came in from outside. I was having great fun soaping my hands. Crack! That was Grandpa's knuckles coming in contact with my head.
"Don't waste the soap!" he said. As I looked up into his face, I knew he meant it. He repeated, "Don't waste the soap!"
From that day on I felt guilty if I used too much soap.
We were a lucky family. At least, I thought so. We had a pitcher pump inside our kitchen. It was mounted on the right side of the sink. That little red pitcher pump was a miracle to me. It was nearly always primed and ready to give us some of that wonderful Kansas well water.
There were two items in the sink, the white enamel wash pan and the water bucket for fresh water. In the bucket was a long-handled drinking cup. There was also a large aluminum drinking cup hanging on a nearby nail. We all drank from those same two cups.
I lost track of that aluminum cup. Perhaps one of my brother's children
has it. I hope it's still somewhere in the family.
The most pleasurable drinks of water were those I drank directly from the mouth of the pump. By cupping my left hand over the lip of the pump, and using my right hand to operate the pump handle, I could drink directly from the mouth of the pump. That water was nice and cold. I felt that it had to be much better than what was in the bucket. Of course, I didn't stop to think about whether or not my hand was hygienically clean.
Once in a while the pump would cease to operate. Until we could fix it, we had to carry water by the bucketful from the milk house about a hundred or so feet west of the house. The first well had been sunk directly below the little pitcher pump in the kitchen. When the sand point clogged, Dad found it easier to sink another well a few feet north of the house and run a pipe under the house to the pitcher pump.
Fortunately we were close to water. The Arkansas River ran about four miles to the northeast of our farm. During normal seasons the river always had water running in it and that kept the water table constant. I can't remember a time when we pumped our wells dry. Of course, during the very dry years we lived in western Kansas, the situation was quite different.
First Dad dug a hole about four feet in diameter and five feet deep. Then he used a six-inch post hole auger to drill down until he reached water. When he hit gravel, he knew he could finish the job by driving a length of special pointed pipe into the water-bearing sand. His job was now to test the well by screwing on the pitcher pump. Usually we had water pouring out of the pump right away.
The first time I watched him dig a new well and saw the yellow water being pumped out, I thought something was wrong.
"I don't want to drink water like that," I told my Dad. "Why is it so yellow?"
"A new well has to be pumped out until all the fine sand is out of the water," he explained. My Dad was always ready with good explanations when I asked questions. I learned many interesting things from him through the years. That sand point was perforated and covered with a fine brass screen. That screen kept all except the finest sand from coming up with the water.
"Don't worry, Glenn, keep pumping and pretty soon all of that fine yellow
sand will be pumped out. Then, the water will be clear and drinkable."
Dad knew it would be months before he'd have to replace that point with a new one. When he finished, he carefully filled in the hole he had dug. He certainly didn't want to leave a dangerous hole that someone, especially we kids, might fall into.
In our bathroom was one thing, a tub which sat on four curved legs. There was no toilet in the room for a very good reason, no running water. At least we had a private place to take our baths as long as the weather was warm. However, during winter that room was cold as an iceberg. On cold days we put the wash tub right in the middle of the kitchen and took our baths in it.
I hated the thought of having to take off all my clothes during the winter to take my bath. During warm weather, I'd play in the tub and have fun splashing water all around.
The older I got, the more sensitive I became about having Mom help me with my bath.
"Aw, Mom," I complained, "do I really have to take a bath? I'm not dirty. Look at me."
Mom could always find dirt on my body somewhere, and there was no way I could get out of my bath.
"Look, young man, see that elbow? It's filthy."
"Come, Mom, Helen and I just got out of the horse tank. How can I possibly be dirty?" I pleaded.
"For heaven's sake, Glenn, that's no way to take a bath. You stink. Come on now take off your clothes and get into that bathtub."
"Mom, I don't stink. That water in the horse tank wasn't dirty. Smell my arm right there."
"Look, Glenn, you need a bath and I've going to give you one. Get at it!"
Most of the time taking baths seemed so unnecessary. I didn't mind taking a bath if I had fallen into a mud puddle, but having to take a bath just because it was
Saturday night didn't make sense to me.
I knew my growling wouldn't make any difference to Mom. I'd have to take my turn. She had a reason! It was Saturday night and everyone in our house took a bath on Saturday night so we'd be ready to go to church the next morning.
"Mom, that water's too cold," I'd call out. "It's freezing."
On Saturday bath water was heated in our big copper tub on the cook stove. The warming reservoir on the stove would also be full. Mom would dip out some more hot water and pour it into the bathtub until I quit complaining.
"There! How about that? Is it all right now?" she'd asked.
As I grew older and began to discover myself, I would be embarrassed being naked and having my Mom scrub me from head to foot.
After I was thoroughly soaped, Mom would get a bucketful of clean water and pour it over me. I would squirm around and try to cover my private parts with my hands.
"Look here, young man," I remember my Mom saying one day. "I've been giving you baths from the day you were born and there isn't a square inch of your body I haven't seen. Now get out and stand still so I can dry you."
I was really glad when the time came that Mom trusted me to take my
The Sewer System
Who needed a special sewer system just for sink and bathtub water, especially out on a farm miles from anyone else? For years our sewer system consisted of simple pipes, one running from the bathtub and one from the sink in the kitchen to the outside of the house. There the water would sink into the ground or maybe be directed to some flowers or garden plants by an attached hose.
At times the ground would get soaked and then the standing water would stink to high heaven. Also periodically the pipes would get clogged shut with soap and other gunk and have to be cleaned.
Cleaning out the sewer pipe was one of those distasteful jobs. My Dad
would get a long wire to stick through the pipe. Then he'd wiggle it and
pull it back and forth until the stuff in the pipe would be loosened and
the water could run out again. When I was older, that job would sometimes
be given to me. It was a job I really disliked, and I vowed that some day
I'd help my folks get running water and a good sewer system.
I also dreamed of the day when we would have a toilet in the bathroom. During my growing up days, like most of our farm neighbors, our toilet was a little square outside building that stunk. I hated to go there, and avoided it whenever possible. After all, on the farm there was always a hide-away place that one could use. In town things were different. My Grandparents had two toilets in their home, one upstairs and one off the kitchen. It was fun to go there and use them.
The first toilet on our farm that I remember was really rather primitive, and, as I said before, it often didn't smell very good. It was equipped with the usual Sears catalog. Later on the United States government got into the act of designing more sanitary toilets. My folks built a new one with the new plans. With proper ventilation and the use of lime, the toilet became a more respectable place to go.
Through the years I've learned many terms for a toilet. Out of curiosity, I took the time to check the thesaurus in my computer for the word. Several synonyms were listed, such as water closet,(usually abbreviated "WC,") lavatory, washroom, restroom, outhouse, powder room, bathroom, can, head, "john", loo and potty. However, the slang words my older friends at Elmer school contributed were much more colorful, such as privy, crapper, shit-house and backhouse. During World War II our toilets were often slit trenches. If we had more proper ones, they were called latrines.
In my travels, later, to Greece, Italy and Japan, I learned about several entirely different types of toilets. In some places they are on the public sidewalks. In some there are no seats, just places marked for placement of your feet. Some toilets are used by both men and women, and even where there are separate places for male and female patrons, the doors are left wide open. Some of those toilets were quite a shock to me. I refused to use them until my body demanded otherwise. Go there or else!
It's common for people to just "go to the bathroom." They don't seem to feel comfortable "going to the toilet." For many years of my life our bathroom was exactly that, a place to take a bath. Not a place to "go."
After returning to the old farm in the early fifties, we got an electric
pump and running water in the house, I helped my folks install a regular
toilet and a septic tank for sewage. Then, we were able to act like real
city people. The old wooden privy was retired and not used at all except
in emergencies. Dad seemed to like to use it from time to time. I think
he found it hard to get used to having the toilet in the house. It's funny
how a guy gets used to the feel and smell of an outside toilet. A genuine
farmer boy knows about those things. People in modern cities have missed
out on such experiences!
MY DOG, ROVER
As a kid, I always had a dog. I had two different dogs named "Rover." The first Rover didn't last long. He wandered out to the highway and was hit by a car. It was my first experience of losing a pet. However, since I didn't have him long, my grief was nothing compared to the grief our whole family felt when my second dog named Rover died. After you have read my stories about him, you will understand how much we loved that dog.
My first dog named Rover
Every boy should have a dog. Yes, Sir! I suppose one should say every girl should have a cat! I don't know why either is true because I had a great cat also. All you had to do was look at my cat, Diffy, and tell he was smart. He knew how to run the entire household and everyone knew it!
For some reason after the first dog was killed, my dad thought I needed another one. Where he found another dog that looked so much like the first one, I don't know. Dad probably told me where he got him, but I don't remember for sure. The feed store was a good place to dispose of a litter of pups.
Rover, the second, wasn't just any collie. He was a mixture of collie and shepherd which made him a smaller dog, minus the conventional collie nose. He was marked beautifully with all shades of brown and white. Also, he was no ordinary dog. He had no pedigree or papers of any form, but he was a great dog and I loved him. Who cared for papers! He always looked for ways to please me. He always wanted my attention and he got it!
Rover as a Puppy
Rover knew where home was. He was always around the farm. He would greet the family when we came home from town, church or visiting. Rover was sad when I went off to school in the mornings, but always happy when I got back. We were always together.
Mom would always say, "A dog's place is outdoors, and that's that!"
So Rover stayed outdoors, although close to any door he thought was apt
to be opened next.
The whole family learned to love Rover, especially Mom. She knew he was a smart dog and she had a lot of respect for him, even if she did insist he stay outside. In fact, when I would put on a pout or act bad, she would say to me, "Land sakes, Rover minds better than you!" I considered such a statement a compliment from Mom to Rover.
My memories of Rover are many. I taught him to do many things. He could perform tricks, such as roll over on command, jump though hoops and from pedestal to pedestal, and jump over various things. I made a harness for him and taught him to pull my coaster wagon just like a horse. He never quite got used to a harness and halter, however. The humiliation and shame of it usually made him sad.
Cats were disgusting to Rover. He would chase a stray with a fervor. Cats were born to be treed or holed up under the granary. However, Diffy was different. He ignored Rover and Rover usually ignored him, and that was that! But, I had to have Rover involved with the cat. One of the super-super tricks I taught Rover was to have him stand perfectly still while Diffy sat "perched" on his back. Now that was an embarrassing experience for Rover.
Actually, I had a cat problem, not a dog problem. Getting Diffy to understand he was to "stay put" was the difficult part. Frankly, I believe the cat was the smartest of the trio, but I do have a picture in my album to prove I was successful some of the time. The "down-beaten" expression on Rover's face and the "whipped-like" position of his tail reveal how he felt about the experience. I almost feel ashamed the way I treated him.
Rover was a wonderful watch dog. He barked at anyone walking toward the house. At night, it was disturbing to have him bark, but most of the time he had a good reason. Perhaps the visitor was a neighbor or someone who had run out of gas, or maybe it was a bum wanting a hand-out.
We learned to interpret Rover's bark. When I heard a distant bark, slightly different from his everyday one, I knew he had treed a skunk or an opossum, more commonly called a "possum."
Possums usually nest in hollow trees, but they come to the ground for food. If there are young ones, it is not unusual to see them riding on the adult possum's back with their little tails tightly wrapped around their mother's tail, which she has turned up over her back. They especially like watermelons and cantaloupes, and a single opossum can cause havoc in a patch of melons. Hardly a melon is left without large gapping holes.
When Rover would scent a possum, he would go after it in a hurry. If the animal was in a tree, he kept it treed, barking continually until I got there; or, if I didn't come, he would wear himself out barking and finally return home. If I did go to him, usually I would find the possum was too high for me to retrieve. I'd tell Rover to forget it and get him to come home with me.
If Rover was lucky enough to find a possum on the ground looking for food, he would chase it as it ran to the closest tree. Since possums are slow runners, they seldom beat Rover to the tree. If they were trapped on the ground, they would "play possum."
Playing dead, or "playing possum" as it is commonly known, is an interesting phenomenon. When a possum finds himself in danger, his reflexes take over. The expression "scared to death" is almost correct, but not quite! The first time I experienced the phenomenon, I thought the possum was really dead. He bares his teeth and tongue, a foam of white saliva comes from his mouth, and nothing causes him to move.
When a possum played dead for Rover, he would attack the animal and try to shake it to pieces. The possum would remain in his trance, taking all of the "wallowing around" that Rover could give him. A big dog can really kill a possum, but Rover could never succeed. All he could do was bark until I got there to do the job. I didn't always kill the possum, but sometimes when I felt like it and pelts were valuable, I would either shoot or club one to death. When we got home, I would skin it and take the pelt to town to an outfit that bought all kinds of hides.
If I didn't respond to Rover's bark, after a while, thinking the animal
was dead, he would walk away and forget the whole episode. When all danger
was gone, coming out of his trance, the possum would sneak away to safety.
Now about skunks! If you are going to mess around with them, you should beware of getting "whacked!" Although possums give out a queer odor when bothered, skunk odor is different. Both skunks and civets have stink sacs. Although civets are much smaller animals, don't kid yourself, they can "stink you" just as badly as skunks. And, if you should find a baby skunk or civet, don't think you are safe. Baby ones are just as potent as old ones.
In case you're not familiar with a skunk's physical peculiarities, I might describe briefly his very effective defensive system. In his posterior region, more specifically in his anus, is a very unique mechanism for holding and dispensing an extremely vile and nauseous liquid. Should you be unfortunate enough to see the liquid at close range, you would see that it is a yellow substance the odor of which defies all description.
The wonder of it is the skunk's penis-like nozzle for spurting that odious liquid from its rear. Now just how does this mechanism work and how accurate can he be? I'll tell you something about it.
Although I have never examined a skunk's mechanism for dispensing its liquid, I do know that it is very directional. Therefore, when the skunk is ready to "fire," he turns directly toward his target with tail high. After giving a warning of the on-coming attack by approaching his victim with a few cautious steps to ascertain the real seriousness of the situation, he runs towards his target a few inches, and applies all his brakes. The force of his quick stop causes his rear end to raise up and point straight ahead.
Somehow the skunk's reflex system is geared to his eyes, nose and "doohickey" in such a way as to guide the dispensing system with great accuracy. Only a skilled gunslinger can hit a dime at ten feet, or even further, but a skunk can perform such a feat with ease. Furthermore, a gunslinger will have only six shots, but the skunk fires his gun many, many times without running out of "lead." Whatever and whoever happens to be around at that moment, will get it! Even if you don't receive a direct hit, you most certainly will be hit by the fall-out. The only thing that will save the skunk from hitting his target is the wind. Make certain that the wind is in your favor before provoking an attack.
A skunk makes a good pet if you train him early as a kitten. Incidentally,
I have never heard of anyone taming a civet. Really a "tame" skunk is not
completely tame! If you are going to keep a skunk for a pet, you will,
if you are wise, have him de-saced or de-odorized. Be sure to get an experienced
vet to do the operation.
Whether de-odorized or not, when the skunk is scared or startled he will, almost without fail, raise his tail quickly, and prepare to defend himself in the natural manner.
Skunks are nocturnal animals. They roam about and seek food under cover of darkness. They are excellent hunters. Since they like grubs and insects, and are especially fond of mice, they are valuable animals for the farmer to have around.
Now back to Rover and skunks. He hated them! He thought skunks were born to be barked at and be disposed of. They don't climb trees like possums do. At least, I never saw one do it. Rover would bark and chase around a skunk for hours until he wore himself out or I joined the fracas.
After such encounters, I wanted Rover to know that he was appreciated and wanted. So, after petting him, I would tell him that everything was all right. It wasn't easy for him to leave the animal he had found, but he would come home with me, happy he had a performed good job for me.
Since skunks can't run very fast, when they sense trouble, they head for the closest hole in the ground, a pile of trash, or an old building where they can hide and be protected. If they can't make it to cover, they will stand and defend themselves. With the mechanism nature has given them, they do a very good job of it.
Rover nearly always got stunk with the skunk odor. When he got close
enough to them, he would try to bite or shake them. Shaking a skunk is
the worst thing in the world to do, because it causes him to turn on his
faucet full force. Look out! If Rover got it real good in the mouth, he
would be so busy rolling around on the ground trying to get rid of the
taste, the skunk would get away. Then, of course, as I petted Rover and
tried to console him over his loss, I too shared the skunk's "perfume."
I have had many encounters with skunks, some accidental and others purposefully provoked.
Our family home had a bay window. Directly beneath the window was a small window leading to the basement or cellar below. This area beneath the bay window was an excellent spot for a skunk to sleep during the day. One balmy Sunday afternoon Rover found a sleeping skunk under the bay window. Now a wise person would have said, "Fine, leave it alone" and left it at that. But my family was not that wise, I guess, and skunks, bull snakes and hawks were all classed with rattlesnakes. The idea was kill them before they do any mischief.
A family conference was called and it was decided to forcibly remove the skunk from the premises. The plan, presented by my brother, was to awaken the skunk abruptly and force him into the open where he could be promptly shot.
Since his idea, on the surface, sounded good to all concerned, the plan was adopted. To startle the sleeping skunk, and drive him out into the open, we decided to carefully open the cellar window from the inside and toss a pail of hot water on him. What we didn't take into consideration was the stubborn disposition of the animal. Having been asleep, he was drowsy and wasn't about to be aroused and frightened easily.
Again, we should have taken the first attempt as the last one and forgotten the whole matter, but, no! Not at this stage of the attack. We persisted with more water, and therefore got a more confused and disturbed skunk. Our old house was certainly a good target. Every room got its share of the vile odor and even clothes were saturated.
Almost nothing can stop the penetrating affects of skunk odor. Its residual effects are amazing. If a perfume manufacturer could learn the secret of our skunk friends about "lasting effects," he would surely make a fortune. Getting rid of skunk odor is near futile. A skunk hit by a car on the highway will stink for days afterwards. Even when your car passes over the dead skunk at high speed, you are more than likely to smell it.
Late that Sunday afternoon after we had disposed of our skunk, we dressed for a trip to the city to deliver some farm products to Aunt Florence and Aunt Myrtle, dad's sisters. We arrived, delivered our products and told them of our private war with the skunk. It was no surprise to my aunts, however. They had already recognized the presence of the odor as we entered the house. However, according to them, the odor wasn't too objectionable. Being regular church attenders, Aunt Florence and Aunt Myrtle were planning to go that evening. As we didn't have evening services in our little church at Elmer, they invited us to go with them. It was some special program they thought we would enjoy.
May I stop here and say what I said before, that wise people would have said "No, thank you," and gone on home. But, not my family. We simply had to take advantage of the situation at hand.
Realizing, however, that we did carry, shall I say, a slight odor of skunk, a thorough "sniffing" program was initiated.
After dousing ourselves with all the available perfume, we passed the sniffing test and drove to the church. As was the custom, we kids begged to sit alone some distance away from our parents and aunts.
What happened over a period of one hour would hardly be described as
exciting by our parents and aunts. To us kids, however, it was a side-splitting
It was a late fall evening and the steam heat had been turned on to take the chill off the auditorium. It is amazing how a damp, steam- heated room spreads odors.
And, you can imagine, our odor was unique to all odors and particularly suited to this type of dissipation.
Very shortly an elderly lady sitting near my mom got up and moved to another seat. No one would have thought much about it had she been the only one. But no! Before the service ended, we were sitting in two small islands, isolated from the others.
To end this skunk story, I should say that it was an evening of evenings! Glee for the kids and humility for the adults. Again, I repeat, you never win a battle with a skunk. Dead or alive they have the last word--er, well, stink!
At times I would try to capture live skunks, and keep them in captivity until their coats were prime. In this way I could get the best price when I sold their pelts to a local trader.
I should say here, that the old garbage about a skunk not being able to spray you if his rear feet are off the ground is just that--garbage! I tried it and I know! In that position he seems to unload in all directions like a water hose with a nozzle that flops all around when the water is turned on and no one is holding the hose.
Finding that my technique of sneaking up behind and grabbing the skunk by the tail to raise his hind feet was disastrous, I had to develop a different method. After careful thought and planning, I invented a "skunk pole." It was pole with a strap at the end. There was a wire attached to the strap so I could manipulate it when I had caught the skunk.
While the dog attracted the skunk's attention, I slipped around behind. I loosened the strap at the end of the pole, carefully slipped it over the skunk's tail, and then yanked the wire, closing the strap. With a quick, upward flip and a few quick turns, I would have the skunk's tail twisted around the pole and pulled under his body. In this way he could not raise his tail and spray his odorous liquid.
The next problem was getting the skunk into the gunny sack carried for that purpose. We won't discuss that. I think that it is quite evident that keeping the skunk's tail twisted just right was almost impossible and that he often got his revenge.
A day-time skunk hunt is different from a night-time hunt. In the evenings they are on the prowl. Granaries, corn bins, straw stacks and other such spots are great for skunks. During the day, skunks take their naps in badger or coyote holes or under a building. Rover loved to sniff holes. He would run from one to another carefully hunting the "live" holes and ignoring the "empty" ones.
I remember one particular skunk hunt which took place after we moved to western Kansas. It took place one Sunday afternoon when Kuhny, one of my Hanston High School friends, was visiting us. It turned out to be an eventful occasion, especially for Kuhny.
One learns much from hunting skunks. One thing you learn is to observe the rules. Stay clear and up wind, or else! It is something rather basic, like observing a stop sign. If you don't observe it, you are going to suffer the results.
Our day-time hunt required some special supplies in addition to my skunk pole and sacks. We took along a couple fifty-five gallon drums of water for routing the skunk from his hole. These we mounted on the Model-T Ford truck of about 1925 vintage. We also took the 22 caliber Winchester rifle. We might run across a badger, rabbit or rattlesnake, and there were always plenty of opportunities for target practice on ground hogs, gophers, owls and just plain cow chips. With all the proper equipment, and, of course, Rover, we headed for the pasture.
It wasn't long before Rover discovered a "live" hole. Preparations were begun to rout out whatever animal might be in it. Rover seemed to think it was a skunk. He had a particular bark for skunks and he was using it.
Kuhny's job was to help empty the barrels of water into the mouth of the hole. He was also briefed on the rules--stay clear and up wind.
Everything went according to schedule and soon a very wet and almost drowned skunk appeared at the mouth of the hole. He was gasping for breath as he appeared. One experienced in such matters could see that the skunk was not only relieved to reach air, but he was plenty mad at the world in general and ready to get even with the first thing he saw.
What do you think the skunk saw first? My friend Kuhny! He had tossed
aside all the rules of the road, and was watching with excitement all that
was happening. Even Rover knew this wasn't the time to throw caution to
the wind. But, alas, Kuhny was having too much fun to be cautious. However,
as was his custom, he was at church that evening, odor and all!
Our horses and Rover didn't get along together very well. He had fun trying to nip at their hind legs. It doesn't take much of a nip to move a horse around. Sometimes the horse being nipped by Rover would kick violently with one or both feet. I have seen Rover miss his footing and find himself directly in the line of a horse's foot. A good horse kick could move Rover several feet and cause him to yelp. It didn't deter him long, however. After gaining his footing, he would go right back to the horse and start bothering him again. Sometimes he would get the wind kicked out of him and go home yelping. Despite his troubles with the horses, I don't remember Rover ever getting injured severely by one.
One evening Rover and I were enjoying a walk at the end of the corn rows. I don't remember where I was going or what I was going to do, but what happened did register permanently in my mind.
Rover was about fifty feet ahead me, trotting along, his tail wagging. The corn was higher than my head. Suddenly, out of one of the corn rows came a jackrabbit at full speed. In a split second Rover stepped in front of the rabbit and the rabbit hit him broadside with a thump you'd never believe. Rover, caught completely off guard, yelped and nearly fell over, but that rabbit never moved again!
Shortly thereafter, another dog came trotting out of the row with his quarry, a dead rabbit.
Rover's rabbit experience reminds me of another encounter I had with a rabbit. This time I had a gun with me.
The neighbor south of our farm was Jim Murray. As he and his wife had no children, I would sometimes visit him and help him with some job. In fact, he gave me the first dollar I ever earned. As he was planting alfalfa he needed a helper. He drove the tractor and I sat on the drill to guide it and keep the seed flowing freely. I would have to shake the drill occasionally to keep the seed from getting clogged.
One day when I was at his house I admired one of his guns. He explained that it was a 410 double-barrel shotgun. He asked if I would like to use it to see how good a shot I was. Of course, I was eager to accept the offer.
"Just remember," he warned me. "This gun has a peculiar problem. Unless you shoot the left barrel side first, the other side will also fire. If that happens, you will get a jolt. Be careful!"
I was thrilled that he would loan me his gun and at the first opportunity I decided to try to find a bird or rabbit to see just how straight I could shoot.
I well remember that fall day. I took the gun and went across our driveway into the grove of maple trees. There was a bed of fallen leaves on the ground, and there a few feet ahead of me I saw a rabbit. He was just sitting quietly among the leaves. I walked very slowly and carefully toward him, trying not to disturb him. I wanted to get close enough that I was sure not to miss him.
When I got about eight or nine feet away, I carefully pointed the gun right at the middle of his back. Of course, I was very excited and never once thought of Jim's instructions about firing that 410. I fired and before I knew what was happening, I was knocked back on my behind. Sure enough I had fired the right side first, and the left side had also fired, stunning me so that I lost my balance.
When I recovered my senses, I got up to see if I had hit my target.
There was the rabbit, still there. I crept up to it, but this time
I didn't need to be careful or quiet. When I picked him up by his
ears, I could see that I had hit my target. The blast had
split him right down the middle. Eke! He was a very dead rabbit!
I never shot that gun again.
I remember two different occasions when we thought we had lost Rover for good. The first happened on the Reno County farm, and the second in western Kansas.
One morning Rover wasn't at the door to greet us as usual. Walker, our hired man, said he had heard a dog crying, but didn't think about it being Rover. Upon searching, we found Rover caught by his hind leg in the top wires of a barbed wire fence. He was being held in the air by that one leg. It was horribly mutilated at the joint by the wire. We nursed Rover for days. Finally, the wound healed so he could run again.
Rover enjoyed the move from Hutchinson to Hanston. He now had a much bigger farm to enjoy. He loved to roam the fields and pastures, but one day, soon after the move, he got lost. We first lived in temporary quarters in town. The mode of transportation from town to farm was our Model-T truck. Rover's spot to ride was on the running board on the driver's side. Since there was no door on that side, that was a natural spot for him. As soon as Rover noticed that we were ready to go home, or any place for that matter, he would jump onto the running board, and cling to it as if he were glued there. Usually nothing would move him. One day, however, Rover must have seen a rabbit, or maybe he lost his grip when we went over a bump or around a corner. In any event, when we arrived home, Rover was missing!
We hadn't been in the area too long and to have Rover lost in a new country was terrifying to all of us. Quickly we retraced our drive back to town, but no Rover! Since he hadn't had time to become acquainted with the area, we felt sure he was lost for good. Grieving, we headed back home.
It was getting dark, but, still hoping for a miracle, we kept scanning the sides of the roadway and watching down the rows of corn in the fields. Suddenly, we saw a form darting out of the corn. When we called, Rover came rushing to us. He jumped in circles and wagged his tail in glee! We were very happy because we had found Rover, and he was very happy he had found us.
After that we were more careful when he was on the running board. We
avoided short curves and quick stops whenever possible, and kept an eye
on our dog to be sure he arrived when we did
I tried to teach Rover to round up the cows in the evening. When I would say "go get 'em," he would trot off ahead of me toward the cows. Sometimes, instead of helping get them to the barn, he caused them to start off in the wrong direction. They would scatter and head for the far side of the pasture to avoid Rover's bites at their heels. When they did come toward the barn, I had a feeling the fact that the cows knew where the barn was helped Rover do his job.
At times at the command "go get 'em" Rover would start running in a ferocious manner for a short while, and then gradually slow down and finally stop. He'd look back at me as if as to say, "Are you sure you want me to go all the way for those stupid cows?" My only means of communication as he got farther away from me was to yell louder, and gesture wildly. If I performed adequately, he might continue on his job without interruption. More often, he would forget all about the cows and come running back to me, extremely pleased with himself.
As Rover grew older, his ability to remember his various commands grew
less and less. When he'd start after the cows, he might go only a short
distance, stop, and seem to ask, "What did you say? I can't remember."
After this happened a second, or even a third time, I'd give up and round
up the cows myself. Of course, Rover would trot along beside me acting
as if that was his job.
Go Home, Rover!
To say that Rover was an unusual dog is putting it mildly. He understood many commands from me, but one had a special effect on him. I had learned the phrase "ga hame," meaning "go home" from my Amish friends who spoke a form of low German or Dutch. I would say it to Rover when we started home from wherever we happened to be. Somehow that phrase had a great impact on Rover, more than any of his other commands. If I said that phrase "ga hame," he knew that he was to stop immediately whatever he was doing, and head for the house, usually the south porch. It didn't matter whether he was going for the cows, playing with a stick or ball, or just barking at some animal, he would stop. He would look at me, drop his head, ears and tail as though I had beaten him with a club, and head home. Even if he were several feet away from me, the results were the same. My family and friends were astonished at the traumatic effect "ga hame" had on him. We all decided that I should be the only one to use the phrase, and that I should use it sparingly. Even as he got older, it was the one command to which he still responded.
Through all the years we had Rover, he always wanted my attention and I gave him all I could. I don't really know how old he was when he died, probably fourteen or fifteen. One night when I was home from college for Christmas vacation, I heard Rover whimpering in the distance. Dressing immediately, I went outside to see what was wrong. I discovered that Rover had fallen into the irrigation well. I quickly called for Dad to come. We dropped a rope into the well, and I climbed down to Rover. His rear legs were hanging in the well casing in the cold water. After tying the rope around him just behind his front legs, I quickly climbed back up and helped Dad pull Rover out of the well. We took him into the house, which was at that time our basement home in western Kansas. We dried him the best we could and tried to make him comfortable. That drop to the bottom of the well had broken Rover's back, and by morning he was dead.
Rover's death was a very sad time for the whole family. All work stopped that morning. Dad, Junior and I hitched old Bess and Ribbon to the wagon and laid Rover's body in it. As we drove out into the pasture on the slope of the long hill to the east, we couldn't hold back the tears. We buried him by the side of a small ravine close to a large rock and a clump of soapweed, which was so plentiful in that area. A part of me remained there at that spot that day. Rover had captured a place in my heart, there to remain to this day.
I had other dogs in my life, but none ever took the place of my dog,
Rover. Thank you, Rover, for being such a loving friend for all those years
as a member of our McMurry family.