Tag Archives: Kentucky

After the farm

Final part of Marji Smock Stewart’s Finding the Rivers.

The years on the farm (1960-1969), the academic years (1968-1982), seven years in Henderson (1985-1992, then ten years moving from place to place. They meld together before me today, in 2002. These were forty-two years of good times, hard work, heartbreak and joys.

Elizabeth and Monroe Smock 1971In 1971 when my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary, they lived in Florida. Their sixteen years there were really the second golden years for them. But my sister Betty was terminally ill with cancer. I had a few days leave from the University of Kentucky. Throughout Betty’s illness, my chairman had been generous with short leave breaks for me.

Loss

So, in Florida for the 50th anniversary dinner at home, Betty directed me to buy a prime rib roast and all the proper trimmings betty-smock-ca-1940and told me exactly how to cook it to perfection. This I did with the help of her young children. We had a lovely meal and toasted Monroe and Elizabeth Smock on December 1, 1971. It was sad for all of us but we tried to make it a happy occasion. I flew back to Lexington the next day. Two weeks later, I received the call that Betty was gone. That was a traumatic time for my parents, for all of us.

Nearly nine years later, my Daddy died suddenly May 18, 1980 leaving Mother feeling lost after 59 years of marriage. Mother chose “Precious Memories” to be played at his service. I chose “Jesus, Savior, pilot me.” There were a few old river pilots at the funeral, and many teary eyes.

Daddy wasn’t an outwardly religious man but, as my daddy, he taught me more about the love of a heavenly father than I could ever have learned in church. Mother adjusted but never ceased missing him. I too was devastated but thought I had to keep a stuff upper lip to help her and to continue to function myself. I regret now that I didn’t just spent time holding her hand and reminiscing instead of constantly trying to take care of business. I realize now that what she really needed was just me and her link with Monroe, not so much my projects and caregiving efforts!

Leaving Kentucky

Bill and Marji Stewart Henderson KY 1988 photo R AngerI took early retirement at the end of 1982 as Dean of the College of Home Economics at the University of Kentucky. Bill and I drove out West searching for an ideal place to relocate.

But we couldn’t leave my mother alone in Kentucky and we couldn’t ask her to go with us, away from her memories. So we stayed in Kentucky. In 1985 we built a duplex in Henderson to take her close to her roots, the rivers and those remaining family members she loved.

Mother died in 1991. Bill and I then spent ten years moving here and yon. Fun times such as rafting down the Colorado River, exploring archeological sites in Utah, Israel and Jordan, rock hounding and trout fishing in Utah, feasting our eyes on natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon. Visits from nephews, nieces, and our son and grandsons.

bill-marji-river-1992-photo-j-stewartWe kept looking for our Shangri-La to settle in. Finally, in the spring of 2002, we realized there is no perfect place. Bill wrote his thoughts out late one night the previous December:

Midnight Meditations

When shadows fall and trees whisper “day is ending,”
My thought are ever wending – home.
When crickets call and birds hurry to their bowers,
Dew slips in, and kisses all the flowers.

When the hills conceal the setting sun,
Stars begin their peeping, one by one.
Night covers all; and though fortune may forsake me,
Sweet dreams will ever take me – home.

Back to Kentucky

I knew then he was longing to be home. In Kentucky. June 17, 1992 we had left Henderson KY for Utah. June 17, 2002 we arrived back from Texas to make our home in Kentucky again. Ten years to the day and almost to the hour. In between, all over the west and even in Ontario for a few wonderful years.

Now we’ve come full circle. We’ve grown old and somehow the spark is missing that ignited our early adventures and restlessness. But we have peace.

Bill Stewart with pup 1988 photo M StewartLastly, I wish to make a tribute to Bill. I am grateful to God for that first meeting in July 1944 when I looked out the second story window of the business college on Frederica Street in Owensboro KY. Bill stood there, in khaki uniform with silver wings pinned over his heart, and looked up and smiled.

It hasn’t always been a smooth life and we have disagreed about many things. But we always agreed on the important things and we worked through our problems. We had good role models and trust that we too will pass that 59 year mark together enjoyed by both our Stewart and Smock parents.

Strength

Proverbs 31:10 always intimidated me because it was translated as “Who can find a virtuous woman…?” I knew I could never be virtuous or worthy. But in learning Hebrew I realized that the word is not virtuous or worthy, but strong. Strong as in army. In fact, it is the same Hebrew word as “army”.

This thrills me because I can be strong. Strength isn’t simply a physical trait; it is elusive, a choice one makes. Strength is in my marjorie-smock-stewartgenes. My Daddy was very strong. Betty was strong and Mother too was strong. Bill and my son both are strong. I bless God for all of them.

Marji Stewart was probably the strongest woman I’ve ever met. Virtuous and elegant too. Bill died in 2005 in Owensboro KY. They had celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary the previous November. Marji returned to Ontario to live near us. She died there in 2009.

Ohio County Farm

By Marji Smock Stewart, from Climbing the Hills and Finding the Rivers. This continues her story on from Just the Three of Us.

The weather New Year’s day in 1960 was mild and balmy. Almost weirdly warm. It was a good day for moving into our Ohio County bill-with-cattle-sep-1966 photo M Stewartfarmhouse. I had rounded up furniture from both our folks’ attics and bought new appliances to be delivered after the move. My parents helped us move.

Bill’s dad was opposed to the farm purchase. He almost cried. Robert thought farm work was physically too hard for a guy starting out at age 45. He also thought Bill was mentally capable of much more challenging work.

As it turned out, Robert and Mabel both loved the farm and enjoyed many a pleasant day there in the years to come. Robert especially loved the cattle. Nine and one half years later when we sold it, smocks-stewarts-mothers-day-1968Robert was unhappy again. He wanted us to keep it. It was all he had dreamed of having when he was young. They and Bill’s sister Lillian were jewels, the best grandparents and in-laws a person could have.

With the help of Duke’s store in Dundee, we began remodeling. We had a bathroom installed on the main floor and, in the basement for the guys, a shower. Storage areas and desks were built in upstairs in our son’s room and the guest bedroom which doubled as my sewing area. Hardwood floors were refinished. A deep water well was drilled.

My California city kid and I refinished furniture, partly to keep us warm! We braided wool rugs for the floors and learned the fine points of country living. These and our camping experiences provided better learning than any Boy Scout troop could muster. We cleaned and burnished a heavy antique brass bed until it shone like gold. Mother later made a “wedding ring” quilt for that beautiful bed. He now has the quilt but, sadly, the bed was auctioned when we sold the farm in 1969.

elizabeth-smock-wedding-ring-quilt photo d stewartInstallation of a coal furnace was completed in mid-March. Immediately. the balmy weather changed radically. About March 16th we had a record snowfall. Bill couldn’t even get down our lane in a tractor for three weeks. Schools were closed at least that long. The snow was pristine and beautiful. But, better yet, our farm home now had furnace heat and indoor plumbing.

What more could we want?

Jack-Feb-1966 Stewart photosSometime that spring, Daddy told us about a place in Indiana that raised English sheep dogs. So we drove over there and chose two pups. We gave them the oh so original names of Jack and Jill. Outdoor dogs, but part of the family.

Melody-on-Farm-photo-M-StewartA horse rounded out our boy’s wish list. Melody was a Tennessee Walker. We didn’t know that, or what it meant. We just wanted a nice quiet horse who would teach him to ride. She did that and they became inseparable. Then one day our neighbor, a knowledgeable horseman, came for a visit. He saddled Melody up and together they showed us her full range of gaits.

In early May, the Ohio County Extension Agent made a visit to help Bill evaluate and plan for future farming needs. Naturally I invited him for lunch – a simple meal of beans, cornbread and the usual. Mr. Ridley was very friendly and asked a lot of questions of me. He seemed quite interested to learn I had a degree in Home Economics.

Farm and school

Out of the blue the following day, I received a call from the County Superintendent of Schools asking about my credentials and background. He asked if I would meet with some of the local board members regarding a teaching position in Fordsville High School.

I was enjoying my role as country homemaker but, by now, Bill and I were aware that farming required much more money than we could ever have to spend. The main drawback was that I did not have a teaching certificate. This meant that, if I accepted, I would have to spend eight weeks doing student teaching under Agnes Foster in Hartford. I also would have to pay for my substitute in Fordsville and do double bus duty and lesson plans for both schools. Bill and I discussed the situation and decided to accept the offer.

Thus the real merry-go-round began in July 1960. My first monthly paycheck was net $215.27. I still have the yellowed stub. I probably spent nearly 12 hours a day either in class or preparation for, or duties connected with, teaching. Mathematically, this averaged less than one dollar per hour! But this was not uncommon; teachers were quite dedicated.

The ten month teaching schedule was followed by three summers at Dr Marjorie Stewart OSU 1968 Stewart Photosuniversity in Lexington, earning my MS in 1963. I taught in the secondary schools and supervised student teachers for Western Kentucky State University until the summer of 1966. It was then I left my family on the farm and drove over six hours to Columbus OH for nine quarters of full-time study at the Ohio State University for a PhD in Aug 1968.

What if…?

What began in the spring of 1960 with the casual visit of the County Agent never stopped until I left the University of Kentucky over 22 years later [as Dean of the College of Home Economics]. I do regret that I was gone so much. I was so mentally or physically involved with work, or distracted by it, most of the time that I didn’t take time to be more involved with my son, Bill and our other family.

I often wondered what if…? What if I hadn’t invited Mr. Ridley to share lunch? If I hadn’t accepted that offer and instead remained on the farm, churning butter, planting gardens and joining the local Homemakers Club as my mother did in Daviess County? What if I had never gone on to earn further degrees? What if we were still on the Ohio County farm?

1970 on kawasaki 350 Stewart photosOur son grew up and went to the University of Kentucky. For two summers, he worked as a deckhand on riverboats. Secretly I hoped he might follow the family river tradition. But it was the time of the Vietnam War. He followed his conscience and went to Canada. Looking back, I would not change this but I wish things had been different for him – for all of us.

It still amazes me all the talents my son has, and that so many of the things he learned on the farm he still practices. I’m sure he has a different take on the farm years and those that followed. That’s ok, this narrative is through our eyes.

Next time, the conclusion of Marji and Bill’s story, the years after the farm.

Just The Three Of Us

By Marji Smock Stewart, from Climbing the Hills and Finding the Rivers. This continues her story on from 35 Cent Grilled Cheese.

Marji and Bill Stewart in CaliforniaI kept working well into my pregnancy. At a juice stand where I got off the bus, I drank almost a quart of freshly squeezed orange juice each morning, either the 10 or 15 cent size. I craved tacos, so I learned to make them.

Bill and I had a ball buying baby things. We bought a used crib. It fit in the hallway, just like having a nursery. I got a Pfaff sewing machine and managed to make a couple of maternity dresses. Mostly I just let out the waistlines of current clothing. My sister Betty made me a couple of pretty smocks. I felt rich.

I bought yards of white “birdseye” fabric and sewed diapers, shaped like an hourglass with more fabric in the middle. It seemed logical to me. This was many years before the industry got wise and manufactured disposable ones shaped the same way.

Bill got the ingenious idea of painting the clothespins a bright orange. The clothesline at our apartment in Avalon Village was a community one and we kept losing clothespins. Now one couldn’t miss our orange pins anywhere in the big project, or later my odd shaped diapers.orange-clothespins-photo-d-stewart

A new Chevy for a new baby

Then a baby boy. Bill cried with joy.  A few days later when he picked us up from the hospital, did he have a surprise for us! He had bought a brand new maroon colored Chevrolet. Didn’t want to take his new baby home in an old car, he said. The little prince rode home in his new carriage but, for all he cared, it could have been an old pumpkin with wheels. He slept the whole way home.

Bill and Marji Stewart with babyAt home, I felt more helpless than the new baby. I fully expected him to disintegrate with the first bath. The only baby care advice Dr. Barksdale gave me was, “One of you is going to be boss; you decide now which one it will be.” It is fortunate that babies don’t come in boxes with S.A.R. – some assembly required. But they don’t come with instruction manuals either. Both of us had so much to learn. We did – and still are all these years later.

Bill Stewart and babyWith three in our family, we now were eligible for a larger apartment in Avalon Village. So we had a real bedroom, plus living room and kitchen. A bed still pulled down from the wall in the living room, so we even had a guest room.

We used that Murphy bed plus cots when both sets of parents drove from Kentucky to visit us. We did a lot of sightseeing, including a boat trip to Catalina Island. They had never been out west before. They stopped in Oklahoma briefly. Mabel and Robert visited her Brown relatives in Norman OK. My parents drove on up to El Reno and Calumet and visited with Aunt Matt and other family.

Soon after their visit we had an offer to house-sit for a year in Wilmington while the owners were in Guam. Rent was $25 a month. We cared for their dog, Sally, a big old Collie. We had a yard which was great for a small kid. There was an old front-loading washer on the front porch and clothes line in the back yard.

Two things stand out in my mind about that year. The time I locked myself out of the house while my toddler was inside. And the time that toddler put half a can of dog food, can and all, in the washer. What a mess!

Home and School

By the time our year was up we had bought our first house. It was on Linda Drive in Torrance, California, not far from 101 highway. Bill financed it via the GI bill. Very low interest rates like 4%; with a monthly payment of $89; total cost being in the range of $5,000. The house had two bedrooms and one bath, and we thought it was a mansion.

Soon enough our “baby” was starting kindergarten. A big moment for him, and for me. I started college. I remember being mesmerized that first day on campus. I couldn’t get enough, but I always rushed home to be there when school got out. Bill bought me a little used car. Between church and social life, Bill’s work, my classes and all our homework, the treadmill started and it never stopped.

home in Torrance CaliforniaThe next year I transferred to UCLA, over an hour’s drive away. I would leave at 6 a.m. to get to Westwood and find a parking place. I have often thought the most difficult thing about getting a college education is finding a place to park! Bill didn’t need to be in the office until 10, so he looked after morning duties.

Bill did well selling real estate in Rolling Hills and was known to be an honest realtor. But the work demanded showing houses on weekends until dark or later. It seemed there was very little family time. I never knew when he could get home for dinner. He insisted that I stay at UCLA until I finished and then we might consider something else. I combined classroom courses with correspondence courses in summer so that I had more time at home – and less driving.

About that time, it was obvious that Southern California was no longer the quiet, serene orange grove location it had been for years. Gangs began popping up, kids got involved in drugs and alcohol even in junior high. Crime was increasing. This was heavy on our minds.

When I finished my BS in Home Economics at UCLA in August 1958, we began to think of returning to Kentucky to be near grandparents. Bill was wanting to do something that would not take him away from home so much. I enrolled in graduate school until the time came when we could make a move.

Selling up

We sold our home to a couple who had been living in a trailer. So they bought all our furniture, appliances, everything. Of course we each kept a few treasures. Mine were the big Kitchen Aid mixer Bill had bought me, my typewriter and sewing machine.

In 1957 Bill had bought a new Ford station wagon and built a plywood rack on top to hold our luggage. So off the imaginary treadmill by the summer of 1959. We headed straight to Kentucky to unload all our stuff. We wanted to then make one last big trip across the western US that we’d all remember forever. But how? School would begin in August.

In Owensboro we went to one of the schools and got all the grade four textbooks. I would be the teacher. The personnel there weren’t too happy. This was “home schooling” before home schooling was popular.

The_Mount_Rushmore-2015-Aafaque-wikicommonsThen we loaded camping gear and drove through the Dakotas, Colorado, Wyoming and other areas that we dearly loved. I’m not sure we got much schooling in. It was awfully hard to get serious about working math problems when looking up at the presidents carved in the stone in South Dakota at Mount Rushmore or gazing at the geysers in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone Bears

We had a special memento from Yellowstone: the bears. We had placed our food in coolers on the wooden rack on top of the station wagon. Stuff like bacon, dried apricots, sugar and fruit. While we were sleeping inside the wagon, a commotion awakened us from above. Our stuff was being tossed in the air from the top of the car to the ground.

The-Meating-of_the_Bear_Yellowstone_Park_NYPL_wikicommonsLeaning on the horn didn’t bother the bear but probably irritated nearby campers. Bill got out and threw a brick at the bear but it missed her and dented the car. That really angered Bill. But in a fight against nature, nature usually wins.

Afterwards I picked up the box of dried apricots the bear had flung into the woods. It was still warm and wet with her saliva and had a hole the size of my little finger through it. That could have been my son’s arm instead of dried fruit. We gave up and left the area. Complaining to the park authorities yielded no sympathy. The bears were there first! We honestly hadn’t realized that bears could demolish a vehicle – even destroy the humans inside it if they wished.

This trip was a glorious time of fishing and sightseeing. But in the Colorado mountains, it was getting cold. I had to break the ice to melt stream water for a pot of coffee for breakfast. I was getting cranky. Real cranky. I was hankering for a real bed and no ice to break for water.

A Farm in Kentucky

So we headed back to Kentucky. We stayed with my parents who were living on Highway 60 east of Owensboro. Bill took off by himself and drove throughout Kentucky and Missouri searching for a farm. It seemed to us a farm would be a good place to raise a kid and have a good home life. The kid in question didn’t care as long as he could have a dog and, he hoped, a horse.

Stewart farm Ohio Co KYIn early December, Bill drove up in Ohio County, Kentucky and found the farm he wanted. It was near Fordsville, backing up to Rough Creek, approximately 200 acres. Bill finalized the deal and we could move in January 1, 1960.

Next time: The Stewarts learn farming.

Man o’ War

Man o War winning_Belmont-12-Jun-1920-wikicommonsIn 1920, the most promising 3 year old horse in the United States did not run in the Kentucky Derby. Later in May, that horse – Man o’ War – won the Preakness Stakes. In June, the Belmont Stakes became a match race. All the other horses, except for Donnaconna, dropped out. Man o’ War won by 20 lengths in world record time.

sir-barton-plaque-belmont-twinspires.comBut we’ll never see Man o’ War’s black and yellow silks in the lineup of Triple Crown winners in the Belmont infield. His name is always there, though, in my mind. Right between 1919’s Sir Barton and 1930’s Gallant Fox. The odds were in Man o’ War’s favour had he run. In 1919 he had been named American Champion Two-Year-Old Colt.

Owner Samuel D. Riddle thought that the distance of 1 1/4 mile was too long for a three year old at the beginning of the season. It was too close in time to the Preakness, that year only ten days later. And Kentucky was a long way to travel from his home in New York. So aim for the Preakness, he decided.

Three races, not a crown

Man o War with_trainer_Joseph_Bryan_Martin-8-May-1918-Nursery-Stud-Lexington-wikicommonsAt that time, there was no reason to think you were missing the chance at a historic event. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes were just three dates on the racing calendar. It wasn’t until 1930 when Gallant Fox won all three that they became popularly known as the Triple Crown. Sir Barton, who won the three races in 1919, was posthumously honoured as the first Triple Crown winner in 1950.

Man o’ War ran 10 races as a two year old, with one loss. He ran 11 races in his 3 year old season. He won them all and set world records.

His most spectacular win was in September 1920. He won the Lawrence Realization Stakes at Belmont Park by 100 lengths. That’s a quarter of a mile in a long 1 5/8 mile race. Turf writer B. K. Beckwith said Man o’ War “was like a big red sheet of flame running before a prairie wind.”

The_Race_of_the_Age_1920_Exhibitors-Herald-detail-wikicommonsWhen the 1920 racing season ended, Man o’ War retired to stud. He would be required to carry a tremendous amount of weight If he raced the next year. Under handicapping rules, he had already carried much more weight in both his racing years than any of his competitors. With every win, the weight would increase. Mr. Riddle did not want to do that to him.

“The colt is not for sale”

In 1921, Texas oil- and horseman William Waggoner offered Riddle $500,000 for Man o’ War. That’s over $6.5 million in today’s dollars. Remember, Man o’ War was no longer racing and his record as a sire couldn’t yet be known. When that offer was refused, Mr. Waggoner increased it to $1 million, then offered a blank cheque. The one-sided auction ended when Mr. Riddle said “The colt is not for sale.”

war admiral triple_crown plaque belmont twinspires.comIn his fifteen years at stud, Man o’ War proved to be a great sire. His foals became champions or themselves produced champions. Look at the pedigree of any Thoroughbred. You will likely find Man o’ War. His son War Admiral, also owned by Sam Riddle, won the Triple Crown in 1937. His grandson Seabiscuit defeated War Admiral in the famous match race of 1938.

The late nineteen-teens were a bad time in the USA. A World War, a flu pandemic. Even horse racing was at a low. Many tracks were closed due to anti-gambling legislation. Man o’ War brought horse racing back to life in the US, and then he brought the whole country to life. Gave people something to cheer about. On his own and through his progeny, he was a maker of legends.

“The mostest horse”

He stayed a hero long after his races made news. He died on November 1, 1947. His well-attended funeral at Faraway Farms was broadcast nation-wide on radio. A bronze statue of him was placed on his grave in October 1948. It and his remains were moved to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington in 1977. It still stands there, magnificently by itself, a moving memorial to maybe the greatest racehorse ever.

Man o War KY Horse Park-Dec-2007-photo-d-stewart“The death of Man o’ War marks the end of an era in American Thoroughbred breeding history…. Few will remember him as a foal, or a yearling, or even on the racetrack… But one thing they all remember – that he brought an exaltation into their hearts,” said breeder Ira Dryman in his eulogy to him. It had then been 27 years since Man o’ War had raced.

will harbut man o war findagrave-alex-hudsonHis groom Will Harbut said about him: “He’s got everything a horse ought to have, and he’s got it where a horse ought to have it. He’s the mostest horse.” Mr. Harbut died just one month before Man o’ War. They were together 17 years.

6 things you may not have known about Man o’ War is a great article in Equus.

The 146th Kentucky Derby, which should be today, is delayed for the first time since 1945. They’ll run for the roses September 5, 2020 instead. The Preakness and Belmont Stakes are postponed too, with no dates yet set. You can watch all the Triple Crown winners run the Derby in a computer simulation on NBC 3-6 pm ET on May 2nd.

Kentucky to Minnesota

amanda-chappell-stewartMy grandmother Amanda Chappell Stewart died 06 December 1923. She was born on 03 October 1859; thus she lived 64 years. She lived in Ohio County, approximately eight miles from our house. Robert, my dad, was the eldest of her five children. Dad’s younger siblings were: Chris, Melville, Beulah and Frank. My grandfather William Minor Stewart was born 19 March 1861 and died June 16, 1907 when he was 46.

In about the year 1922-23 good fortune came to Grandma Stewart. Oil was found on her small hill farm. Oil wells in that area were not abundant producers; I remember the price of oil was fifty cents per barrel. The oil money was divided between the five children.

Ford-Touring-Car-1923-american-automobiles.com_Ford_1923Mom and Dad began to formulate a change in plans. Dad purchased a new 1923 Ford touring car, probably costing $200 or less. Touring cars had canvas tops and side curtains, supposedly to keep out the wind and rain. My parents made plans to lease the farm and move to Owensboro so Lillian and I could go to high school.

There was a precedent for doing this: Grandpa and Grandma Brown had moved to Owensboro so that my mother, Mabel, could continue her education. We had no access to high school where we lived in the country. No buses and very few autos. Four-party telephone lines came in the late 1920s.

From the farm to Owensboro

Dad worked as a laborer for Kendall-Hill produce company in Owensboro, twelve hours per day, six days a week for $2 per day. Shared poverty lessens its intensity. We didn’t know we were that poor because most others were in the same situation.

We lived on Crittenden Street in Owensboro in a small duplex and paid $15 a month rent. The shared toilet and bathtub were on the back porch. There was a small kerosene heater for warmth when bathing in the winter.

We again had wonderful neighbours because our house backed up to the Tinius family on Lewis Street. The Tinius family had three girls and one boy named Charles. He was my best friend. Charles died of scarlet fever or diphtheria during our first year of high school. Ada Tinius married Noble Midkiff. Ada’s sisters’ names were Mildred and Emma.

Later, Marji taught with Noble at Fordsville High School in 1960-63. Noble was the “Ag” teacher. One Sunday in the early sixties we invited the Midkiff and Tinius families for dinner. I remember serving country ham and fresh strawberries from our farm. Mr. Tinius sat and cried when he talked to me because he could visualize what his son Charles might have been had he lived. The elder Tiniuses are gone now but we still keep in touch with Ada and Noble by phone and letters. What wonderful friends.

Brown and Stewart Courts

Now, back a few decades. From Crittenden Street we moved to an old two room tenant farm house. We had running water in the lean-to kitchen but an outdoor privy. The house was at the back of my maternal grandfather John Lester Brown’s property on Highway 60 East, which goes through Owensboro. The street was also known as Brown Court.

stewart-court-owensboro-google-maps
Red arrow marks Stewart Court. Brown Court is at far left. (tap to enlarge Google map)

Mother and Dad obviously lived in a very frugal manner but they saved enough money to make the down payment on a new house to be built on approximately six acres of Grandpa Brown’s land. He gave them part of the acreage and they paid him for part. The house was finished in 1933, located at 211 Stewart Court as the street was named.

stewart-court-1930s-bill-stewart-picsThat house is no longer standing. It was of modest brick construction but the location was a treasure. The huge side yard faced the Ohio River. Mother could stand at her kitchen window and watch the towboats go by.

The folks raised a large garden. We all worked in the garden to plant, care for, harvest and sell most of the produce in the city. My parents were good role models for me.

High School Graduation

I graduated from Owensboro Senior High School in 1933. The Great Depression was in full swing and widespread. After watching Mother and Dad work so hard with very little cash income, I decided to try to get a college degree and establish myself in some kind of profession.

Owensboro-High-grads-1933-Bill-Stewart-pics
Tap image to see names. Bill Stewart is 2nd from right in middle row.

Through contacts at church, I was hired at Kenrad Tube Corporation working in the chemistry lab. Kenrad later became part of GE. My wages were 37 cents per hour.

By living at home and being very conservative, I saved all the money I could. In March 1937 I was ready to start my studies. Dad agreed to co-sign a note for $1,000 with the Bank of Whitesville KY. Dad had a good reputation with this bank and he did not even have to give security. This small bank did not close its doors during the Depression. I later repaid the loan from my soldier’s pay.

University of Minnesota

I chose to attend the University of Minnesota because it was one of the few institutions in this nation that offered courses in aeronautics. I studied business, business administration and took some courses in aeronautics. I was poor in calculus and advanced mathematics but did very well in other subjects; i. e. I learned I had weaknesses and strengths.

The faculty and staff at the University of Minnesota were very good to me. They helped me in many ways, mostly in getting a part time job and always having good food. Remember, this was a big university; one of the Big Ten.

Most of my jobs were washing dishes and waiting tables. But there were some fun times too. I was truly surprised in the spring of 1937 to go to the matinee dance at the University ballroom; there was the Lawrence Welk band. In those days, it was common for many big bands to appear there. Admission was probably less than fifty cents. I had problems learning the polka but loved smooth dancing.

I was introduced to White Castle hamburgers here. The stand was across the street from the main campus gates. Burgers were ten cents each or three for a quarter!

White_Castle_Building_8-Minneapolis-Nat-Reg-Historic-Places-Todd-Murray-wikicommons
Minneapolis White Castle on US Register of Historic Places. Now a jeweller and accordion shop.

My time at the University of Minnesota was the best of my life. It gave me confidence in myself, gave me rank in the military and opened doors in later life. It improved my ability to manage money, organize and plan; abilities which have gone with me all my life. If I have any legacy to pass on to my family, I couldn’t have done it without this education.

During my years at the University of Minnesota, I was in classes or working full time. I never had a vacation or break. The University was on the quarter system, in session year around.

Problem Solving Strategies

In Business and Marketing we had case studies regarding situations involving company and department problems with full discussion. This was problem solving from the bottom up. Essentially it was seeking a solution by discussion. The sessions were led by company representatives, faculty or guest speakers.

Later, upon induction in the Air Force, there was complete reversal of approach. The command structure was from the top down. But I have nothing but appreciation to the Air Force for teaching me to fly. At that time the standard cost of training a pilot was $50,000.

On 18 December 1941 I received the degree of Bachelor of Business Administration. Including the extra courses I had taken, with my hours in Engineering, my credits amounted to almost five years of scholastic work.

Next time: From Minneapolis as a student I went directly into another phase of life; induction into the military at Ft. Snelling, MN.

Previously, Pellville Kentucky. Also see Bill Stewart’s family tree.

Pellville, Kentucky

Written by Bill Stewart, my late father-in-law. It’s in a life history that he and his wife Marji Smock Stewart wrote. Her part is called Finding the Rivers. He called his Climbing the Hills. It starts on a farm near Pellville, Hancock County in western Kentucky.

Pellville Farm 1918

stewart house pellville ky stewart photos
“John Lester Brown lived here. Robert I Stewart ” “. William L Stewart born “. 2½ mi east Pellville at intersection Ky 69 and 144” – written on back by Bill Stewart

The year was late 1918. I stood in the front yard near the road in front of our house and held Mother’s hand. Standing near the edge of the road, both curious and scared, I waited as the approaching noise became louder and louder.

When the source of the noise came up the road to the front of our house it stopped. It was the first time either of us had ever seen an Second-Series-Liberty-Truck-us-signal-corps-wikipediaarmy lorry. Soldiers disembarked from the covered back portion of the truck: World War I soldiers were coming home. They were getting off at the nearest place to their homes. Mother would have drawn fresh water from the well and made biscuits and fried eggs as a quick meal. No one was expecting them. The lorry had solid rubber tires and rims about 16 inches wide. This was real Kentucky hill country and all the roads were narrow and dirt.

There was a small crossroad at our home. This was the house where I, William Lester Stewart, was born 17 November 1915. The house was built by John Lester Brown and Cordelia Brown, my mother Mabel’s parents. Built of logs, two stories high, it had a sandstone fireplace at each end of the house, horizontal weather boarding covered the exterior. All the houses had tin roofs. There was a wood burning stove in the kitchen, in the back of the house, used for cooking and heating. Two large maple trees grew in the front yard between the house and the road.

Cordelia and Lester Brown 1889
Cordelia and Lester Brown with baby Mabel, sons Clarence and Junius ca. 1889

This farm was about sixty acres in size; strictly subsistence living. We had a garden, chickens, hogs and two black horses to pull the farm implements. Best of all, we had a dog, Teddy. Teddy was my friend.

About half our farm acreage was hill; too steep to cultivate. The nearest paved road was twenty-five miles away and that was in Owensboro. The country road toward our house had some gravel two and one half miles toward our part of the county. All direct roads were practically impassable in inclement weather and dusty in dry weather. We had wonderful neighbors, Walter and Blanche Glover, who lived directly across the road.

School and Church

Up the hill going east towards Patesville one fourth a mile was Brown school. Brown was a one room school house with a coal heated stove plus a water well outside and down the hill. Grades one through eight could go to school there but often boys or girls in the upper grades had quit school to work so it was mostly small children.

Continuing east on this road towards Patesville, seven-tenths of a mile from our house, was the nearest Baptist church. We had Sunday School every Sunday but church only once a month. A preacher would rotate among four churches.

wm-stewart-1922-oak-grove-baptist stewart photosIt was accepted practice for one of the families to invite the preacher home for Sunday dinner. Sometimes that included his family. Preferably the hosts had an automobile so he didn’t have to walk or ride horseback.

It was common practice on these roads and especially in inclement weather and winter to hitch our two black horses to a wagon. We put stiff backed chairs with cane bottoms in the wagon and rode in the wagon to church. But mostly our legs grew strong climbing hills to school or church or walking to visit friends and family.

At church, accompanied by an old pump organ, we sang the old songs such as “Old Rugged Cross,” “Shall We Gather At The River,” “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” “Love Lifted Me,” “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” With the windows full open in the summer and an enthusiastic crowd singing loudly, these country hills really were alive with the sound of music!

Pellville 2002

I went back with my nephew Tom Poole in October 2002. A country store has replaced the house where I was born. The house was torn down in the last ten years or so. The store and crossroad are our reference point now. On a Kentucky road map, #69 is from Fordsville to Hawesville and #144 from Pellville to Patesville. The roads are now black topped.

144-and-69-ky-google-street-viewTom and I went on a search for the site of the former Oak Grove Baptist Church and cemetery where two of my mother’s brothers are buried. Tom found it seven-tenths of a mile from the crossroads reference point, east on Highway 144, i.e. toward Patesville on the west side of the road. The church has been torn down.

Tom found the gravestones of the young uncles I never met. Junius E. Brown died Sept. 17, 1890 at the age of seven. Bertram Lee Brown died Nov. 6, 1898 two months before his second birthday.

Panther Creek Baptist Church

panther-creek-church-google-mapsNext, Tom and I looked for Panther Creek Baptist Church where my grandparents Stewart attended and where they are buried. This is on a road which runs from Pellville to Whitesville KY and is partially paved.

The cemetery is across the road from the church. To find my wm-stewart-amanda-chappel-grave-findagravegrandparents’ resting place do this: Enter the gate and turn left. Look in the front row for a large headstone which is prominent. William M. Stewart, born March 19, 1861; died June 16, 1907. Amanda W. (Chappel) Stewart, born October 3, 1859; died Dec. 6, 1923. On the stone were these words: “His words were kindness, his deeds were love, his spirit humbled, he rests above.”

See Bill’s Stewart Family Tree, also his Brown Family Tree.

Next, in Kentucky to Minnesota, growing up and university.

Lum and Sarah McDonald

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.

quilt-sarah-mcdonald-1930sSarah 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.

sarah-mcdonald-obit-jun-1935 widow of Lum
Sarah Brogan McDonald obituary, June 1935, widow of Hiram Columbus (Lum), (tap to enlarge)

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.

elizabeth-mcdonald-age-19-1918Pearl 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.

Louisville_Kaufman-Straus_Building-wikipediaSo 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

Dam46Owensboro-kentuckytravels.blogspot.com_2012_04Capt. 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.lum and sarah grandson claude-mcdonald-poem

Sarah Brogan McDonald

By Marji Smock Stewart in Finding the Rivers. This is the maternal side of her family history, centring on Sarah Brogan.

lum mcdonald and sarah brogan daughter-elizabeth-ca-1913My 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

General_view_of_the_Cumberland_Gap-TN-US-LOC-1862-Dr-B-Howard
General View of the Cumberland Gap, Tennessee 1862, Dr B Howard (tap to enlarge)

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.

Post-War Missouri

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.

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Anderson County TN to Clinton MO distance about 700 miles or 1126 km (tap to enlarge)

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.

Brogan siblings

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!

broun and isaac brogan apr-1883-Leadville COSarah’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.

Hiram McDonald

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.

Kentucky

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.

luss and elizabeth 1904, daughters of Lum and Sarah Brogan McDonald

Marji’s McDonald Family Tree has much more on Lum’s family. For Elizabeth’s adult life, you can start with Monroe Smock, Kentucky.

Next time: Elizabeth grows up.

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.

bill-stewart-western-usa-1992-photo-marji-stewart
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 even 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. We’ll go to Marji’s grandmother 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.

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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)