Sam Anger was “the best durn fiddle player in seventeen counties.” That’s what an ad for Winger’s Crescent Park Entertainers called him. He worked as a blacksmith in Ridgeway, just outside Fort Erie in Ontario. He also was my 3rd cousin, thrice removed.
Samuel Anger was born 10 December 1862 in Brantford Ontario. He moved to Welland where he ran the Arlington Hotel, later Hotel Reeta. Then he moved to Ridgeway, his father’s hometown, and worked as a blacksmith. He died in Ridgeway on 18 January 1933.
His parents were Lorenzo Anger and Catherine Buck. Loren was the great-grandson of Georg Frederick Anger who had come from Pennsylvania to Bertie Township as a United Empire Loyalist after the American Revolution.
Sam Anger married his second cousin Jeanette Mathews. Her parents were Charles Mathews and Louisa Anger. Louisa’s parents were William Anger and Margaret Ellsworth. Sam’s father Loren was the son of Henry Frederick Anger and Sarah Ellsworth. Sarah and Margaret were sisters and Frederick and William were brothers. Louisa and Loren, therefore, were double first cousins.
Sam Anger family chart
Sam and Jeanette had two sons, Charles Sherman and Gordon. Gordon Anger was born and died in the Niagara region. Sherman was born in Buffalo, New York and died in Pennsylvania, thereby completing the circle started by his UEL 3x great grandfather a century and a half earlier.
Sam Anger also closed that circle, not geographically but musically. The Winger’s Crescent Park Entertainers played “hillbilly music,” which originated in the Appalachian Mountains. Georg Frederick Anger, after his arrival from Germany, settled in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley in the Appalachians. It is coal-mining country, the same area and industry that produced hillbilly music. It, in turn, produced country music.
Winger’s Crescent Park Entertainers were Red Tubbs, Howard Brandel, Ernie Clare (or Clue), George Marshall, Millie Downs and Garnet Jansen in addition to Sam Anger and, to some extent, his wife Jennie. Their name came from Ward A. Winger, a local real estate developer, and a housing subdivision he built in the 1920s. Crescent Park extends from Highway 3 to Lake Erie east of Ridgeway. It had been the farm of George Krafft, father of Kraft Foods founder J. L. Kraft.
Winger’s Crescent Park Entertainers crossed the bridge to Buffalo, New York, every Friday to play on the radio station WGR. Their show was called The Village Blacksmith Shop. It always opened with the ringing of Sam Anger’s anvil.
They played fiddle, guitar, dulcimer and piano. In addition to the music, their shows included square dance calling and comedy skits. This was the stuff of radio broadcasts across the United States in the first half of the 1900s.
The most famous of these shows is the Grand Ole Opry, which started on WSM in Nashville. It is both a business empire and musical dynasty. “Hillbilly music” as played by Sam Anger’s “orchestry” and so many others, may not exist today but it is the foundation stone of country music.
Country Music by Ken Burns
The Rub, first episode of Country Music by Ken Burns, is about the popularization of “hillbilly music” through bands playing live on radio stations. It’s airing again on PBS and also streaming (or DVD at right). It’s worth watching, and recording. There’s a lot of information in there and you’ll want to keep up. Subsequent episodes show the musical building on that foundation and how the circle remained unbroken.
By Marji Smock Stewart, Finding the Rivers. The conclusion of her mother’s parents Lum and Sarah (Brogan) McDonald’s story.
My grandfather Lum owned a small farm near Curdsville KY and all he did for a living was farm until his death in 1920. Farming then was the old mule and plow method, not mechanized in any form. In their small house there was never any electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. Heat probably was a grate fireplace. None of the conveniences we have today, but a loving home for raising 13 wonderful babies.
Sarah always raised a garden and had lovely flowers too. She raised hops – a magnet for neighbor women who came to Sally for starters for their homemade “light” bread. Her daughters did the cleaning and laundry, which they did outside with a big black iron pot of boiling water over an open fire.
Mamaw cooked and gardened and preserved, or “put by”, for winter. And oh, could Mamaw cook! All the clothing was handmade for the girls. As far as I know, Mamaw never had any money. She had no retirement income or any assets as we would measure them today. But she left her family with an irreplaceable legacy.
By the time my mother, Elizabeth, appeared in 1899, some of the older children were married and had babies of their own. Or they were off rebelling in the army.
After Lum died
My grandfather died at the age of 78 on Jun 20, 1920 after fathering 14 fine children. Only one child, Earnest Heavrin, did not survive until adulthood.
With the help of two sons, Homer and Joe, Mamaw disposed of the farm. After that she lived one year at a time with her children. But she never complained. She was always busy helping whatever family she lived with.
I only remember one year Mamaw spent with us. About 1932 at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. The only treasure I have left is a flower garden quilt made for my 6th or 7th birthday. As a young homemaker, I never fully appreciated the quilt’s value and used it heavily so now it is almost in shreds. Tears roll down my cheeks as I write, thinking of her aching back and arthritic fingers leaning over the big quilting frame to leave a tangible bit of love for me.
Mamaw loved being in the lake area that year. There were fish to catch year around and abundant game in season. My dad was a skillful fisherman and hunter. Mamaw cleaned fish patiently, handily dressed ducks, geese, quail and maybe deer, and helped my mother learn to cook each properly. These were Depression years but our little enclave at the lake had an abundance of fresh food to enjoy. Back in Kentucky and Oklahoma where most of her other family lived, people were hungry. In the cities soup lines sprung up for the unemployed. So, for Mamaw, this was a glory year.
Elizabeth grows up
But to go back a bit, to my mother’s girlhood. Elizabeth went to Oklahoma for her freshman year of high school. There she lived with her sister-in-law Pearl and son, little Joe McDonald. Pearl was the young widow of Claude McDonald. I believe Claude was one of Elizabeth’s older brothers who rebelled at her birth. Along with his brother Ben, Claude was a railroad detective. Claude was shot and killed by a vagrant one night while on duty. He was 30 years old; his son was only 12 months old.
Pearl asked Elizabeth to stay in Oklahoma and go another year to high school. Then Elizabeth could qualify for an elementary teacher’s license in Oklahoma. Tempting to a country girl. But Mother missed her parents, Sarah and Lum. Lum had suffered a stroke and Elizabeth felt she was needed closer to home.
She moved to Louisville during the latter half of World War I when she was not yet 19. She enrolled in secretarial school and roomed at the YWCA. Mother had very little money, but living at the Y was unbelievably cheap and safe.
In about 1919 Mother learned to drive. With her brother Homer, she bought a car. Not many women were that brave in those days, and that might show a side to Elizabeth most never knew?
After she finished secretarial school and was still living at the YWCA, Mother had a good job with Kaufman Straus Co. in Louisville. She later quit to return to Curdsville.
So Elizabeth became secretary/bookkeper to brothers Joe and Homer. They owned a coal mine near Henderson KY. Mother lived on one side of Green River with her parents and the coal mine was on the other side. I don’t recall the specifics, but Mother told me she would row a boat across to get to and from work or else pilot a small motor boat or ferry.
It was during this time that she and Monroe Smock started going out together. They married in 1921. Soon after this, Elizabeth’s brothers Joe and Homer named their new towboat after their mother, the Sarah Mac. [see Monroe Smock, Kentucky]
Capt. Claude McDonald, River Pilot
Capt. Claude McDonald wrote a poem about the “then” and “now” of working on the rivers. Claude was my first cousin, son of Joe McDonald. Claude’s lifelong career was piloting on the Green and Ohio Rivers. Even in retirement, Claude daily drove by the river for a silent salute. He died in July 1999, the last of the pilots in our family. The hearse carrying Claude’s body detoured down by the Ohio River for a last goodbye and tribute.
William Stewart, a US Army Air Force Captain in World War II, tells about his flight across the English Channel on December 15, 1944. Enemy planes were a risk, yes, but so too was the weather.
I was standing back of the pilot in a B17 stripped down bomber with about 17 pilots on board. I was flight operations officer for our squadron. We all were riding as passengers, flying over the English Channel and back to our base in England.
I was not trying to tell the pilot how to fly the plane. He was a better pilot than I. But I wanted to see the weather ahead through the pilot’s window.
Fog and clouds were the major nemeses for countries surrounded by water. Most of the deaths in my squadron were caused by fog or poor weather and only a few by mechanical failure. I was surprised to have spent so many hours over France and Germany – flying gasoline, ammo and bombs in and wounded out – and not taken any gunfire to my airplane. But, while flying over Muenster in Germany one day, I struck a balloon cable between my fuselage and right engine. This ripped all the de-icing boot off my right wing but it didn’t bring me down. I was flying an old dependable DC3 or, as some call it, a C47.
Foggy English Channel
So, this December day, crossing the English Channel, I was looking out the front of the cockpit to see how bad it was ahead of us. The weather was terrible to say the least. Most think of the weather as moving from west to east. But it forms and changes all the time in place.
We were flying about 100 feet off the water in what looked like a tunnel. This tunnel obviously was made by the heat of aircraft engines ahead of us; there was no air movement.
Suddenly the pilot said “That looks like an airplane on the water down there.” I had not seen anything. Maybe we had met another plane or overtaken another. Things happen quickly when you meet head on, each going over 150 miles per hour.
I asked the pilot if we had enough gasoline to get back to Paris and he said “No.” This is an example of a difficult and tight situation. Most are not as bad as this but there are many bad ones.
The pilot continued to fly ahead. Soon we could see the cliffs of Dover or a similar place dead ahead. When we got close to the cliffs, the pilot turned north. The tide was out, thus we had a sandy beach if we had to crash. We all had to look up to see the church steeples and houses on top of the cliffs. The pilot was an excellent flyer and, by radio, the co-pilot somehow located a control tower and airfield close by. This was one of the most difficult situations I was ever in during my years of flying in England.
Glenn Miller, Air Force Major and band leader
We landed at some RAF base near the coast. Only a superb pilot could have found it and lined up with the runway in near zero visibility. Later the next morning we learned that a plane flying Glenn Miller had disappeared over the channel.
There may not be any air movement, yet fog just forms in still air. You don’t realize that, unless you are flying in it. Over water, fog is a real killer for pilots. The pilot has no horizons.
Bill Stewart (1915-2005) is my father-in-law. This is from an unpublished memoir he and his wife, Marji Smock Stewart, wrote. He never knew if the plane that pilot saw in the water was Glenn Miller’s plane. But it was that same day, same place.
By Marji Smock Stewart in Finding the Rivers. This is the maternal side of her family history, centring on Sarah Brogan.
My grandmother was Sarah Clementine Brogan McDonald
She was Sally to friends and family, but Mamaw to me. I was the youngest of her many grandkids. Mamaw pampered me as only a grandmother will. Mine, I thought, was an exalted position!
Sarah’s skin and hair were fair but her eyes were her jewels; deep pools of blue violet. She was tall; almost 6 foot as was her youngest child, my mother Elizabeth.
Elijah Brogan and Jane Rutherford
Sarah’s dad was Elijah Brogan. He was born in 1832 either in Anderson County, Tennessee, or Ireland. He married Jane Rutherford in 1853. She was born in 1837 to Isaac Rutherford and Sarah Dew.
Probably the Dews and Rutherfords had been Tennesseans for years. Sarah Dew, so family said, was part or all Cherokee. My grandmother Sarah had so many skills and such knowledge of the woods, plants and natural things that I can believe that she learned these from her grandmother.
Elijah and Jane had four children. Sarah, born Mar 7 1855, was the eldest. Jane Rutherford died about 1865, near the end of the Civil War. Likely Sarah took over the care of her two younger brothers and sister, skills that would serve her well for the next 70 years.
Civil War Tennessee
There was turmoil and unrest in the States in the mid-1800s. Tennessee was a bloody battleground just waiting to happen. The climax came in 1861-1865 with the war between the North and South, aka the Civil War. Sarah told her children later that, as a child, she heard gunshots and sounds of war near her home.
The Brogan family lived in northeast Tennessee, near the Kentucky/Virginia line, almost in the Cumberland Gap area (Anderson and Campbell Counties). It was rugged territory then and still is. The people were warm, friendly and helpful. But most, including Elijah, struggled to make a living. Education was not readily available nor especially desirable. Independence and survival skills were.
After Jane died and the war ended, Elijah moved his young family by open wagon to Missouri. Mamaw remembered that trip vividly. One can assume it wasn’t too comfy! Soon after arriving there, Elijah remarried. His new wife was Malinda Fickas, daughter of Adam Fickas and Susan McDonald.
MIssouri was rocky, alluvial ice age soil, with lakes and rivers providing wonderful opportunities for fish and game. Elijah and Malinda lived either in the village of Clinton or in Johnson County. Both are in the west central part of the state. Kansas City was the nearest big town.
Ellijah and Malinda soon had four children, so Sarah had a new set of siblings to nurture. Elijah died in Warrensburg MO in 1874 about age 40. Their eldest child was Martha, called Matt. She and her husband, George McDonald, homesteaded and raised a fine family in El Reno OK.
Aunt Matt visited us in Wilmington CA in the early 1950s. Two of their sons lived in Fallbrook near San Diego. So son Baylis McDonald, an avocado rancher, brought Aunt Matt to meet her niece Elizabeth’s daughter. I was honoured to have such an elder visit my home. Aunt Matt was wrinkled and darkened by working in the Oklahoma sun. Her naturally black hair was pulled back in a knot. Homesteading in Oklahoma was not a soft life in the early twentieth century!
Sarah’s brothers, Broun and Isaac Brogan, went to Colorado when young men in the late 1880s. They hoped to strike it rich in silver and gold. I doubt that they ever saw their father Elijah or sister Sarah again. They probably never struck it rich either. On a postcard they sent to Sarah from Leadville CO, they said they were homesick. Life in the raw mining towns and mountains was rough compared to the warm nests in Tennessee and Missouri.
I don’t know if my grandmother ever went to school, but she could write nicely and was an avid reader of the Bible. She was gifted artistically and had talents not easily explained. Maybe her years of nurturing young ones, plus what she had learned from her mother Jane and grandmother Sarah Dew, gave her a broad education in life.
At 17, Sarah’s life took another direction. A tall young widower from Kentucky came to visit the Brogans in Missouri. He was Hiram Columbus McDonald, known as Lum. Of a Scottish immigrant family, he was a great-nephew of Malinda’s mother. He had three young children, aged 6, 7 and 9.
Lum was thirteen years Sarah’s senior. But apparently the chemistry between them was right. They married in 1872. The Civil War had been over for 7 years. The South was in the Reconstruction period.
Sarah would return to the South where Lum lived in Daviess County, Kentucky. The seventeen year old would assume a new role, stepmother and wife. Sarah would epitomize the words of Proverbs 31:10-31: “Who can find a strong wife; her price is far above rubies…” Lum had found himself a ruby!
Their first child was born 13 months later. There would be ten more in 26 years until Mamaw was 44. In early 1899 my grandmother announced she was pregnant. Two of her sons, disgusted that their parents would “do such things,” left home and joined the army to fight in the Spanish American War! That baby whose birth they so resented turned out to be their favorite in later life – my mother Elizabeth.
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.
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.
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 could 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!
There 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.
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.
There 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.
Occasionally 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.
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.
On 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
Part V, Finding the rivers, Marji Smock Stewart: River Pilot, Air Pilot
Let me explain a bit about working on the river. The crew had to stay on 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, working 6 hours on and 6 hours off. The “dog” shift, or midnight to 6 a.m., was the hardest. Pilots usually drank a lot of coffee and smoked a lot. Keeping your eyes on the long barges way down in front of you wasn’t easy, especially in foul weather and moonless nights. You had to stay wide awake.
However, there was one big plus about working on the river: wonderful food. The cooks were always the top of the line and the crew were fed three solid meals per day, plus snacks in the galley any time. When guys worked 12 hours per day, good food was like jet fuel for a 747. Everyone ate together rather than separate areas for crew and officers. It really was one big family.
Crew earned days off and would be home for a longer time than ordinary workers would be. But at the same time, they were gone a long time. Actually their families could live almost anywhere as long as it was close to a river and other transportation means. As in the military, usually mothers had the entire responsibility for raising the kids and managing the home.
Granddaddy Smock died
On March 6, 1944 we got a call from Daddy’s sister Leora. Granddaddy Smock had died of heart failure. Mother quickly contacted Daddy who was somewhere on the Mississippi River. She, Betty and I drove to meet him somewhere and then we headed for the big farm house as fast as Daddy dared drive.
At Granddaddy’s funeral I felt as if a giant had died. He had so many friends and family. John Thomas Smock was 81. He had never been ill except for an abscessed tooth. What a life!
It must have been that trip home for Granddaddy’s funeral when the folks decided to leave Evansville and move to Owensboro. I had quit school only a few days after my 16th birthday. I helped Mother and cleaned the apartment next door after the couple left each day for work. That paid a quarter a day! But my wise mother knew I needed to be in school. Did they feel a smaller town in the hospitable Blue Grass state would benefit me more?
Pilot of MV Sohioan
So soon afterward Daddy began working for the Standard Oil Company of Ohio. He was made Master of their new top of the line boat, the MV Sohioan. That was a proud moment. Mother and Daddy were wined and dined in Ohio and Daddy received a nice raise. Towing barges of oil to their destination, usually New Orleans, was sorely needed in the WWII effort.
We moved to a house in Owensboro probably in April 1944. It was too late now to get in the local high school year. So Mother and I decided a stint at the local business college would be good for me. The skills I learned would be useful all my life; typing and bookkeeping. I learned shorthand too but used it very little, except while working in an attorney’s office.
At the business college I made several friends; it was a small group. One of my friends was Georgia. She was a bit older but we became quite close. Georgia had a friend Lillian.
Lillian had a brother Bill who was a pilot in the Air Force. He would be home for a brief visit from overseas in July 1944. Would I be interested in writing him and perhaps meeting him when he came home? It was a common practice to write to servicemen to help boost their morale. Of course I said yes. I think we exchanged two or three letters, the very thin airmail type.
Capt. Bill Stewart, US Army Air Forces* Pilot
Sometime in July Georgia called and said Bill had flown in from England and we were to meet him the next day. So about 2 in the afternoon, Georgia looked out the second story window of the business college and said, “He’s there.” Sure enough, my blind date was standing on the sidewalk looking up. A handsome fellow in US Army uniform. I stuck my head out the window and we were introduced.
A whirlwind week followed. We dated every evening. I’m sure his parents longed for him to be with them every moment. But this guy had been overseas a long time and wanted to live every moment to the fullest. We went dancing at night at a nightclub on the river.
Friends had loaned him their car to drive while home. On the weekend he took me out in his motor boat and we swam in the Ohio River. Bill’s home was on the river. His mom would prepare delicious meals and of course I ate with them. Lots of friends and family came to greet him and they were all over the place.
The river was prominent in Bill’s family’s lives too. The house had a huge yard, lots of trees and a big swing between two big oaks. Much of that yard is gone now, lost to erosion from the river. But it surely was a romantic setting.
This was heady stuff for a 16 year old high school dropout; dating a college graduate who held the rank of Captain and was a pilot too! I honestly think that neither of us expected to see the other again. Would we?
Part IV, Finding the rivers, Marji Smock Stewart: Back to the Ohio River
We left Texas in the summer of 1938, heading back to the river. We must have looked like the Grapes of Wrath crowd as we sadly headed back to where was always home: Kentucky. Or at least to the Ohio River.
Daddy built a small open trailer (courtesy of the local junk yard) to carry our stuff and we took off. I do remember this trip. Uncle Ben pressed some bills in Mother’s hands as they said a tearful goodbye. He knew we needed it.
The trip was uneventful except for continual flat tires on the trailer. But what can one expect for free? Finally I heard Daddy use a word I had never heard from him – damn! More flat tires. In those days, tires had inner tubes too, so double trouble.
Finally there was no way he could repair the repairs any more. In Little Rock, Arkansas, Daddy pulled in to a small gas station. After a brief conversation with the owner, he backed the trailer onto the station lot. He had arranged to leave it with all our earthly possessions. Later he would borrow a truck and come back, unload the stuff and take it home. The station owner would inherit the trailer.
It wasn’t easy pulling away from our bedding, wicker furniture and kitchen stuff. But we did. None of us expected ever to see our things again. But guess what? When Daddy went back a month or so later, it was still intact! The owner had guarded it as if it were his own. There are good people all over the world!
Ohio River: Jeffersonville IN
We stayed with Aunt Luss [Celeste Steele] in Jeffersonville, Indiana for a brief time until we could rent a bungalow in Jeffersonville [across Ohio River from Louisville KY]. The basement still had mud baked on the floor from recent flood damage. Daddy drove to Little Rock to get our stuff.
Betty and I started school. I was in junior high and Betty probably her third year of high school. Those were not remarkable years for me. Daddy was piloting on the Ohio River and the Mississippi. Mother just calmly kept the family together during all our girlish traumas. She made all our clothing and, as usual, prepared wonderful food. Mother was a superb cook; I still remember the aromas in the house when we can in from school. Also we saw a lot of Aunt Luss and her boys. Aunt Luss, too, was a natural born cook.
In those Great Depression years we had very few treats. But one special day I remember was when Mother, Aunt Luss, Betty, Jack and I went to Louisville to the big Loews theater to see Gone with the Wind. Along with an untold number of others, I immediately fell in love with Clark Gable! That day we had a studio picture made too. I had on a handmade rose gabardine blouse and long hair.
When Daddy was home he spent a lot of time studying. He bought a roll of white shelf paper and began drawing the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, with all the sand bars, bends, locks and vital information on the map. That map was spread all though the house. That must have been when he was studying to pass his exams for the advanced “Master, Mates and Pilots” license. The rivers had to be drawn from memory during the exam. He was over forty years old, with limited formal education but he passed.
Mississippi River: Cape Girardeau MO
Very soon after Betty finished high school, we moved to Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Daddy had the offer to master one of the boats headquartered there. Cape was a boat town as well as a college town. Nice. Lots of big trees, curved streets and gentle hills. The Mississippi River dominated the town landscape and planning.
We rented a modest two bedroom apartment above a Mrs. Latimer. She owned the local business college and Betty enrolled. Betty rode to the school daily with Mrs. Latimer. In a rush to get home for lunch one day, they collided with the daily noon train. Both were injured but recovered.
Ohio River: Evansville IN
After Betty’s accident our enthusiasm for Cape waned and Mother wanted to go back closer to home. I think we settled on Evansville Indiana because another of Mother’s sisters, Aunt Grace [Kidd, Jones], lived there. It also was on the Ohio River, across from family in Daviess County, Kentucky. Evansville hosted a “ways” for repair or perhaps building new boats. (There was a shipyard there in WWII.)
On Nov. 7 1941 Mother, Daddy, Betty and I made a quick trip in our old Studebaker to Evansville and Kentucky. On the road, the engine began smoking. We quickly got out of the car with our tomcat Prettything. (A beautiful yellow Persian we thought was a she when we named him.) The car didn’t go up in flames but almost. When the oil had been changed just before the trip, the mechanic had not secured the plug. There wasn’t a drop of oil left. Daddy knew too much about engines to think it could be salvaged. What to do?
We managed to get to an old hotel. Betty cleverly draped Prettything over her arm like a fur stole. All went well until Prettything began balking while going up on the old elevator. The elevator operator looked but said nothing; our secret was safe!
Next morning we had a brand new car. The folks had to buy it “on time”, something Mother never liked. But we had to go on and then get back for school and Daddy’s job. In another month, however, we saw the burned out bearings as a blessing. You couldn’t buy a new car for more than five years! Pearl Harbor changed everyone’s lives.
After Pearl Harbor
Betty got a job offer with the Department of Navy in Washington DC. It wasn’t easy for Elizabeth to part with her oldest girl, who not yet 18, went to work in a faraway BIG city. Perhaps Mother’s own experiences had prepared her for this big day?
So I began high school in Evansville IN. Honestly I remember little about the school. With Betty in DC and Daddy off on the river, Mother and I were alone most of the time. We spent a lot of time meeting boats or parked on the river bank for hours waiting for the boat to arrive.
One time the boat was delayed and there we were, far from home. We spent the night in a desolate small town. There was an old hotel. We had a room with a window facing the river. There was a brick on the floor, chained to the window sill. The instructions were: “In case of fire, throw the brick through the window and jump.” I slept soundly. But I doubt Mother got a wink in, between worrying about Daddy and possibility of being burned alive in this firetrap.
In the spring of 1943 Betty wrote she had a surprise. Bill Vogel had proposed and they weren’t going to wait until the war was over to marry. She and Bill had been dating since they were in high school together in Jeffersonville IN. He had joined the army and was stationed in Michigan.
Betty rode the train home from DC and Mother quickly made her some lovely outfits for her new life. Because Betty was 18 inches around her waist and 5’8″ tall, it was difficult to find ready made clothing to fit. Mother and I saw Betty off on a train to Michigan.
Next time: Working on the river, and Marji meets a pilot.
Part III, Finding the Rivers, by Marji Smock Stewart: Gladewater TX
In 1936 we moved to East Texas, to Gladewater where oil had been discovered. Uncle Ben [McDonald] and his family had relocated to nearby Longview and had been quite successful.
Daddy worked in the booming oil fields as a “roughneck” or laborer who worked right on the rigs. He would come home soaked in perspiration and dirt. It was as hard a job as the name implies.
East Texas was hot and humid, engulfed in oil everywhere. My memory is poor regarding a river to find. There was some sort of river – Sabine or Big Sandy – but it did not affect our lives. [Glade Creek, a tributary of the Sabine, runs through the town.]
Betty especially loved the new school and was in the band; she became a clarinet player. High school football games were great in Texas then and still are. The Gladewater band starred at the games. Betty began the 7th or 8th grade and I began the 4th. A picture of me on a pony was taken at Gladewater.
For the first time we could buy our lunch at school; away with the bothersome lunch box! My fifteen cents was supposed to get a sandwich and fruit and milk or something to drink. As often happens, I stopped at the snack stand first and indulged in candy – Milky Way, Babe Ruth, and heavenly junk. But my sins found me out. Mother discovered my indulgences so back to the lunch box. Is this the same creature who grew up to have a profound personal and professional interest in nutrition? [Ph.D. Home Economics, Ohio State University 1968]
A traumatic event happened on March 18, 1937, a community disaster. At 3:17 PM in a nearby town, New London TX, an event happened that changed its history. In a new consolidated school (1-12 grades) a gas line explosion occurred. Of the 540 students and teachers, 298 were killed. Imagine losing 55% of a school!
All the workers and volunteer groups for miles around rushed there to aid in the rescue. The governor even sent the Texas Rangers. After 17 hours, working through darkness and rainfall, they had accounted for all victims. Daddy was among the rescue teams and was understandably sobered by the experience. He bought home a discarded text book as a reminder. It was so badly battered it was unreadable. I got involved in my own school’s efforts to send things to the families, but really wasn’t old enough to be deeply affected. Daddy, Mother and Betty were.
Back in Kentucky and Indiana our family suffered, as many others did, in the great flood of 1937. Because most population centers were close to the rivers, it affected many people. Not only along the big rivers like the Ohio and Mississippi but also the many tributaries. The Depression had impacted them too so this was a double whammy.
Mother and Daddy both felt they should help their loved ones in some way. But how? They had almost no money and what would Daddy do? As always, the river beckoned. It has a powerful tug to those smitten by it.
It must have been the summer of 1938 that the folks decided we should leave Texas the second time. Daddy’s clothing drenched in perspiration convinced Mother that a man would kill himself working in that hot humid climate out on the oil rigs. Monroe had passed his 40th birthday; was this what they wanted for the rest of their lives?
But decisions to relocate are never easy; especially with children and their educational needs. I was always ready to move; Betty never was.
Next: Back to the river and Kentucky
On April 30, 1955 Elvis Presley, Johnny Horton, Jim Reeves and many others played at the Gladewater school gymnasium. The Louisiana Hayride, from Shreveport, was on tour. See Scotty Moore, Elvis’ guitarist, for what it was like. In 1956 Johnny Cash wrote the lyrics of“I Walk the Line” in Gladewater. He was backstage, waiting to perform maybe also at the school and another show featuring a huge line-up of artists. If you haven’t seen it, watch the movie Walk the Line to get an idea of what those shows, and the touring, were like.