Roxie Spencer

Roxie Spencer FB Linda Spencer 2019Without Roxie, the city of St. Thomas likely wouldn’t have a dog park. At least not in 2010 when the first one was built. Because, a couple of years earlier, Joe and Linda Spencer wouldn’t have been looking for somewhere their young dog Roxie could run and play with other dogs. They wouldn’t have found a spot in town where lots of people and dogs came every day.

So they wouldn’t have met Luanne Demers, who also came with her dogs. Standing around while dogs played, a lot of us talked about how nice it would be to have a fenced area where we could legally let our dogs run. Lots of people had tried over the years to get a dog park. But no one got very far.

Joe and Luanne, though, had steely determination in their eyes when they talked about it. This time we’ll get it, I remember them both saying. And they did.

There now are two dog parks in St. Thomas, the first Lions Club Dog Park in the west end of downtown and a second at Dan Patterson’s Conservation Area on Highbury Ave north. Plans are being finalized for a third in the south end of town.

Foster mom

Joe and Linda also met Lois Jackson, an animal welfare advocate in St. Thomas. She is a founder of All Breed Canine Rescue (ABCR) that takes in dogs and places them in foster homes while seeking permanent adopters. We could do that, Joe and Linda thought. So they began fostering dogs. Roxie, until then an only dog, loved having canine company.

four Spencer dogs in St ThomasSome fosters were short term, some longer term. One, Forte, became a permanent member of the household. He and Roxie took it upon themselves to look after the other ones and teach them proper manners. Especially puppies! For over a decade, many litters of puppies have come to the Spencer home. Roxie was their foster mom. She loved her job.

Sadly, Roxie passed away a few days ago. She was nearly 12 years old. She will be missed by her canine, feline and human family and friends.

Linda Spencer wrote Roxie’s obituary:

Roxie Spencer, October 2007-September 19, 2019

With great sadness we have lost our best friend. Roxie was only 3 weeks old when we found her in the gully by our house. Not knowing what to do we went to our local vet, and mentioned we would like to foster more dogs. Lois from ABCR was there to guide us.

Roxie with foster pup RileyThere embarked a 12 year long foster home that Roxie was proud to help out with. With over 100 fosters passing through the door, she was a mother, a sister, a friend, a teacher, a companion, a leader, and that one dog that could set anyone straight.

We remember the good times, the car rides, the ones she helped, the raccoons and skunks she kept away – we wouldn’t change a thing. You could be sure to get a smile, wagging tail, a big sloppy tongue kiss and you were never to forget – a belly to rub as you came through the door!

She became the expert at training all the dogs to be good citizens, and not afraid to put the run on them if they dared test her. So many good times, good friends, and the perfect companion.

She will be dearly missed by her family. We ask you, in her memory, to share a local rescue’s post looking for fosters or ask about fostering, and enjoy a car ride with your pup. She loved that!

Swiss Steak

dishing up swiss steak photo-d-stewartHere is a recipe for Swiss steak as made by Elizabeth (McDonald) Smock, and written down by her daughter Marji Stewart. That’s Elizabeth’s grandson who is cooking the Swiss steak in these pictures. The notes in brackets in the recipe are Marji’s.

Elizabeth’s Swiss Steak

I large round steak, bone removed
flour, salt, pepper, spices as desired
chopped onion
potatoes, carrots

Place steak on floured breadboard (I take it outside with newspapers under board to catch flying flour.)
Beat steak with mallet or edge of small saucer until very tender.
Work in salt and pepper.
(When your wrist is about to fall off it probably is tender!)

Cut meat in 4-6 pieces

Brown in hot oil on both sides, then remove, but leave oil in pan. (I use an electric frying pan.)

Have on hand:

1 can beef broth
1 cup water
steak sauce
1/4 – 1/2 cup cooked tomatoes
hot sauce
1/2 cup red wine

Add steak back to pan with about 1/4 cup or less of the hot oil.
Cover with chopped onion.

Add liquids a small amount at a time.

Simmer about 3 hours.

swiss steak served with peas photo-d-stewartAbout 45 minutes prior to serving, add 3-4 potatoes and 4 peeled carrots.

You don’t want soup but a tasty gravy to develop. Keep temperature low enough to simmer, not boil. Add more liquid ingredients to taste.

At Monroe Smock, Kentucky you can read more about Elizabeth and her family.

35 Cent Grilled Cheese

Part VII, Finding the Rivers, Marji Stewart: Grilled cheese fortunes

Our trip out west in 1946 was a real honeymoon. We were gone a month or longer and made some stupid blunders. One I recall is that we drove that old car up a washboard road to Monument Valley in Arizona with only a bag of water tied to the bumper. The bag fell off so we lost our water.

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1992, Bill Stewart on trip through Arizona and Utah where he and Marji lived at the time.

No water, no food and no blanket or emergency supplies in July. People who are much better prepared than we were die in that environment! The scenery in Monument Valley is breathtaking.

In California we visited with Bill’s sister Lillian who was staying with her friend Claudine. We just barged in as people thoughtlessly did back then. We saw the usual California sights, such as Knott’s Berry Farm which was incredible then. The time I remember best was dinner and dancing for just the two of us at the famous Ambassador Hotel when a big band was playing – Freddie Martin. That was heavenly music and food for this river rat.

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Cocoanut Grove in Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, 1948 postcard

However, the time wasn’t right then for us to stay in California. We headed back to Kentucky, sightseeing all the way. Glorious simple days. No air conditioning, so often driving at night to avoid the heat. There were very few choices of places to sleep and once or twice we simply slept in the car. Who would dare do that today? Also all highways were two lane. A real drag to be stuck behind a truck going up a mountain road!

Grilled cheese fortunes

Perusing the menu in a cafe somewhere in Arkansas, we thought the price of a simple grilled cheese sandwich was too costly. All of 35 cents. Driving along Route 66 we toyed with the idea of starting a business in Kentucky. What kind, though? What about a restaurant, Bill asked me. Sure, but where?

Back home to Owensboro – and to Bill’s Mom and Dad. Perhaps they Grilled cheese sandwich_on_white_plate-Senator2029-wikicommonscould spare a piece of their small property to let him build? I had no experience in food service but Bill had paid his way through the University of Minnesota working in kitchens. A fortune could be made charging 35 cents for a mere grilled cheese sandwich. It cost no more than 2 cents to prepare. So why not? Did we have a lot to learn!

Whether the Stewarts really wanted to give up an acre of land, I honestly don’t know. But give they did. We moved in with them, into Lillian’s bedroom upstairs. In the tiny room adjoining it, we made a small kitchen. We put a two burner kerosene stove and an old card table with three chairs in the little room. I washed dishes in the bathroom. Orange crates held our kitchen stuff. Not that we ate there much. Mostly we ate with the Stewarts or the Smocks. Both mothers did our laundry. Did I ever properly thank them?

I got a job as a teller in a Savings and Loan institution on Frederica Street but I had no transportation. Bill would take me to work and his dad would pick me up in the afternoon. Robert would patiently wait in his car even if it took hours to balance the books so I could leave the bank.

We finally managed to get a loan to build a restaurant, after being turned down by the “big” bank in town. Bill did all the blueprints, planning and consulting. I simply worked and my meager salary kept us afloat.

Uncle Clarence Brown, the city engineer, advised us to build a building which could be turned into a residence if we failed or changed our minds. He was Bill’s mother Mabel’s older brother. But these two greenhorns thought we knew more than the wise engineer. We decided to do it our way. We wouldn’t fail. Famous last words!

Strawberries

Allens-1963_book_of_berries-wikicommonsThere was one crisis time while Bill was building. He had ordered enough strawberry plants for another acre of land. They arrived just when Bill had a serious case of poison ivy from clearing the land. He was so sick I even had to shave him! But the strawberries couldn’t wait to be planted.

A dear older neighbor, Guy Barlow, and I planted those Tennessee Beauties. That spring of 1947 saw a prolific crop of berries. Bill and I had to pick, prepare, make jam and freeze them. We gave away a lot and sold the best ones. Do you have any idea of how many strawberries are in an acre? A lot. A whole lot. It was years before I could enjoy strawberries again.

Stewart’s Drive In

In the early summer of 1947 “Stewart’s Drive In” had its grand opening. It wasn’t long until our glazed eyes were opened too. Yes, we served grilled cheese. But. Running a small restaurant required almost 20 hours per day, seven days per week. And then we barely met our small payroll.

grilled cheese hopes at stewarts-drive-in-1948
Stewart’s Drive 1947-1948 on Stewart Court in Owensboro KY

Bill worked in the kitchen and dish area and I waited tables, worked the soda fountain and car hopped. We both worked after closing until we went home in the wee hours of the morning and crashed. Business would be great one day and zilch the next. The first winter was rough, weather-wise and financially. I served cars outdoors even when there was snow on the ground.

In the fall of 1948 Bill decided we would close for the season and go out west until early spring. We settled in Long Beach, California. Both of us got jobs. Working only eight hours a days, we felt as if we really were on vacation. Bill worked at the Union Oil refinery in blue collar work and I “slung hash” in a diner.

Uncle Clarence was right

When it came time to return to our drive in in the spring of 1949, both of us were ready to throw in the towel. Yes, I must admit we were quitters. Uncle Clarence was right, we should have built a multipurpose building.

We managed to lease the drive in and stayed in California. We moved to Wilmington to be close to the refinery. Our big apartment was two rooms plus a hall and small bath. This was a housing project, Avalon Village, a prototype of later public housing but privately owned then. The bed was a Murphy bed that pulled out from the wall in the living room. [Maybe Avalon Gardens.]

We made lots of friends but most of our fun was either on the beach or, for Bill, fishing. He went out on day trips for deep sea fishing and usually made a nice catch. Maybe a 10 pound Albacore or tuna.

California Dreamin’

marji-stewart-redondo-beach-pier-ca-1949There weren’t any decent rivers near us but there was the Pacific Ocean. Our favorite day off activity was spending the day at the beach. We had two large cloth bags (air mattresses) which we would run along the beach and hold in the wind. They filled with air and we quickly tied them. We carried them out in the surf and then rode them in to the shore before the air leaked out. Great, innocent, cheap – but very sandy – fun. Often we went dancing later somewhere in LA or to the Coliseum for special events. Always more than one hour’s drive.

To make ends meet I worked at jobs like selling home products. My territory was Watts. Even then it was a minority neighborhood, gentle and peaceful. Could it actually rock with riots, violence and murder? Yes, sixteen years later, it could and it did.

Of course I never made enough money to pay my expenses. Gasoline was less than 39 cents per gallon, sometimes 19 cents! One of my friends and I tried to get jobs at the local fish canning factory but they wouldn’t hire us. Helen said perhaps we looked too “refined”? I think they more likely thought we wouldn’t stay.

Finally Bill got into real estate and quit his job at the refinery. He was told to be prepared to survive a year before any income would start coming in. He worked in Rolling Hills, a lovely area.

Size 10 to 14

I took a job as a secretary and jill of all trades with a suit manufacturer in downtown LA. During the interview, I was told that the job required being a size 14. I was a size 10 so I told the employer “I’ll grow into it!” He laughed and hired me anyway. I doubt that I made even $35 per week and had to ride the buses downtown to the garment district, now almost in Skid Row. That was January 1950.

marji-and-bill-stewart-xmas-day-cal-1950, beyond grilled cheeseOccasionally I would have to wear the newest suit and go meet with a prospective buyer for the boss and model the garment. Lest this sound like a glamorous job, it wasn’t. I was the only person in the office and often felt the wrath of someone – customers, employees or bosses. But I was glad to have a job. However, my plans backfired for working until Bill could make it financially in real estate. When we were least expecting it, we were expecting! You could say I really did “grow into” the size 14.

We’ll leave Marji and Bill for now. See Monroe Smock, Kentucky for the beginning of this story. In a few weeks we’ll go back to the story of Marji’s mother Elizabeth and the McDonald family of Kentucky and Texas.

1945 A Year to Remember

Part VI, Finding the Rivers, Marji Smock Stewart: 1945

My final year of high school (1944-1945) was at Owensboro Senior High. It was not especially outstanding. I felt older than the other students in my class, although I only turned 17.

Owensboro-High-School-postcard-kentucktravels.blogspot.com-2012-04-15On my birthday, Bill’s mother called me to come up to their house on Stewart Court. She had a gift from Bill. He was overseas in England and I was leading my own life. Dating and doing all the things that most teenagers do.

I always loved going to the Stewart home on the Ohio River. It was heaven on earth to me. My wonderful future mother-in-law had chosen a gold heart-shaped locket for me with two tiny pictures of her son inside. I still have it. With the locket was a note from Bill. He had known my age all along. How embarrassing. Oh, to be young again and longing to be older!

I received my diploma in May 1945 and enrolled in the summer session at Southeast Missouri State Teacher’s College in Cape Girardeau MO. My sister Betty and husband Bill Vogel were in college there. I lived in a girls’ dorm, had friends and dated but nothing special. Bill and I exchanged letters regularly but it was not terribly serious. The war was winding down.

V-J Day, Aug. 14, 1945

VJ Day 1945 vernon-b-smith-1946-jackxjoy-wikicommons
VJ Day, 1945 Orleans MA USA, painting by Vernon B Smith 1946 (tap to enlarge)

I was back in Owensboro by that memorable day in August when the Japanese surrendered. (Official surrender ceremony was held September 2, 1945.) A friend of Betty and Bill’s was visiting us; Dwight was a navigator in the Air Force. We were having our usual tasty Sunday dinner when the news came. People ran shouting into the streets, blowing car horns, etc. Dwight just kept eating. After all, homemade rolls and pot roast were hot and inviting. To a guy who had seen too much action, this celebration was a non-event. He continued eating Mother’s rolls until they were gone. Meanwhile, us noncombatants continued making fools of ourselves out in the street. The war was over!

Americans were still under food and gasoline rationing until up in 1946. We carefully guarded our sugar and meat coupons and never drove unless it was absolutely necessary. Servicemen started coming home and a major transition began for most people. Of course some families only experienced emptiness because their loved one(s) never returned, or returned in poor or maimed physical or psychological condition. That was sobering but, mostly, a new excitement filled the country. There was an exhilarating expectation that now, like prophesied in Isaiah 2:4, man would learn war no more. Sadly, almost 60 years later, man still hasn’t learned that.

Bill comes home

It was sometime after August 21, 1945 that Bill flew back to the States and went through official separation from army service in Camp Atterbury, Indiana. He arrived home not long after.

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USAAF, WWII. Bill Stewart is in back row, just left of propeller on left (tap to enlarge)

Bill also earned a Commercial Pilot’s license for multiengine planes. He trained as a fighter pilot but had his ear drums badly damaged by a loud cannon explosion. Therefore he was shifted to piloting big planes whose slower speeds would not further impair him. That change might have saved his life? Many of his original squadron went on to fight over Africa and did not survive. Twice in that summer of 1945 Bill flew his large transport plane to evacuate some of the ambulatory survivors and inspectors from the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp. Not an easy assignment.

A proposal

Back in Kentucky, it didn’t take long for romance to be ignited. Bill was so ready to settle down and have a wife and home; he was 29. At 17 I still wasn’t mature but there were stars in my eyes. Bill asked me to marry him a short time after he arrived home. Daddy wasn’t home, so Bill asked Mother “for my hand.” He expressed some concern about our age difference. Mother seemed to agree but shared that her father was 13 years older than her mother. Then she told him Sarah McDonald had eleven children. That should have frightened him away but it didn’t.

I was working in a local attorney’s office at 35 cents per hour (that’s $2.80 per day or $14 per week). Bill went to Cleveland and other areas searching for a job. But really, he wanted to be home. Bill had his fill of travel. He had been gone from home since before 1937 when he hitchhiked to Minneapolis to enroll in the University of Minnesota. So he returned to Evansville IN in October 1945 and took a job as a salesman with the National Cash Register Company.

November Wedding

By October we both were ready to tie the knot and we set a date of November 10, 1945. Rev. Rake, who had also married my folks, married us in his study. It was a very small wedding with our parents, Bill’s sister Lillian and the couple who stood up with us. Betty was expecting her first baby in Jeffersonville IN and was under doctor’s orders not to travel.

McCurdy-Hotel-1947-Sep-Donahue-Collection-historicevansville.com
McCurdy Hotel lobby in Sept. 1947, Evansville IN historicevansville.com

After the ceremony, Daddy hosted a lovely dinner at the Hotel McCurdy in Evansville IN. This was when my family began calling Bill “Stew” since Betty’s husband was also Bill. To add to the confusion, Bill Stewart’s family called him Lester, his middle name. So I had one husband with three names – Bill, Stew and Lester.

I wore a chocolate brown suit with a creme silk blouse and had a hat and veil. The hat was made of gold sequins; Bill had bought it in Paris. Bill gave me a lovely orchid, which had zero fragrance. Not to worry, he also brought me several bottles of French perfume. Never had a bride smelled so good!

Honeymoon weekend

There was no honeymoon for us. We had rented one room in a home in Evansville. We shared the kitchen and bath with the landlady, a war widow. She graciously arranged to be gone that weekend. As a dutiful bride I prepared breakfast the next morning. A total disaster. Bill wanted oatmeal which I didn’t have a clue how to prepare and I oversalted the sticky mess. Also I burned the bacon, which is the unpardonable sin. But Bill was sweet and did not complain.

We did walk to church on Sunday morning. Of course I wore my orchid and was dressed in my wedding suit plus coat with fur collar. I must have stood out like a Kmart Blue Light special. Someone came down from the choir and tried to get me to join the church and questioned my salvation. That embarrassed me. I think I was feeling pious for even being there, wed less than 24 hours. I still feel uncomfortable when well-intentioned people buttonhole a stranger, supposedly “witnessing”.

Four weeks, three moves

bill-stewart-17 nov 1945 photo Marji Stewart
Bill Stewart, Nov 1945 at parents’ home

In the next four weeks I moved us and our meager belongings three more times. Each time to a larger, more private place. All of this was via the bus or walking. Finally we had a small apartment with our own tiny kitchen and our own bath. What a luxury!

I had a job in a law office in Evansville and for the next nine months we stayed put. Of course we rode the Greyhound bus back to Owensboro many weekends. Bill probably needed that good mothers’ cooking to survive my efforts at k.p.

Next time: In July 1946 Bill decided he wanted to quit his job and take a trip out west. He received all his military training in the west and loved that country. So we bought a used car from a man in Fordsville KY.

(Previously on the Smocks: River Pilot, Air Pilot)