Gail’s Memories of the Flood of ’51

Last month, I posted a pieced-together account of the 1951 flood, but now I have recovered Mom’s account of it using the Wayback Machine. Here is Gail Lee Martin’s story of that event.

“My husband and I with our four children were living 3 miles northwest of Madison in northern Greenwood County, Kansas in the summer of 1951. We had never had to worry about the river, as it was a good half-mile away. But in 1951, after several days of steady rain, the Verdigris river became fuller than ever before.

While we were asleep the river started backing up every creek and stream that normally flowed into it. When our youngest woke up in her baby bed and began to cry at the sight of water in our bedroom, she woke us up. What a shock it was to swing my warm feet into cold, muddy, river water.

The river had silently backed up the tiny stream nearby and overflowed everywhere. It had slowly crept into our back porch on the ground level, then up higher and higher above the two cement block high foundation, before spreading its dirty mess into our house.

We waded around through the house trying to put everything up high on cabinets, the sink, and the stove because they were already standing in two foot of water.

When we first discovered the situation, the water in the county road was already three foot deep, so all we could do was watch the water rise higher and higher to the door handles of our car, parked in the driveway.

Our children, Owen, Susan, Ginger and the baby, Cindy were wild with the excitement of actually ‘wading’ in the house, until they saw the rabbit hutches had tipped over into the water drowning their beloved pets. We never had swift water, I think my terror came from the silence as the water just steadily flowed backward, rising higher all the time.

My brother-in-law, Norman Harlan, waded in from the shallowest west side and helped carry the children to safety. Our toddler ran out to jump into his arms and not being able to tell where the floor ended, she stepped off into the water and would have sunk if he hadn’t been quick to grab her.


Gail’s sister, Melba and Melba’s husband, Norman Harlan in 1949. Their children – Vicki, Tim and Bob.

I’ll never forget the beautiful breakfast my sister, Melba, had ready when my bedraggled, wet family arrived on her doorstep.

Of course, the rain did quit, the water went slowly away and we were left to clean out the mud and haul away what couldn’t be saved. Our children held a quiet funeral and mass burial of their pets.

To this day, some of our furniture has knee-high water marks, sad reminders of what can happen while you sleep.”

Ark City Days

I recently found some family stories that Mom (Gail Lee Martin) published on a site called My History Is America’s History. Sadly, the site disappeared along with everyone’s stories.

“When Clyde’s oil field job in 1956 took him to Arkansas City, Kansas, we moved to a house on State Line Road. The Shelaka Indian School was across the road in Oklahoma. (note: the actual name of the school was Chilocco Indian Agricultural School and it had about 1,300 students)

The children went to a county school called IXL which was a mile north and 1/4 mile east of our house. Cindy was in first grade; Ginger, third grade; Susan, fourth grade; and Owen in the fifth grade.

The school had a great art teacher that taught clay molding. Cindy made a plaque of her hand print; Ginger made a plaque with a horse. Susan made elephant head bookends & Owen made a small lion and a circus wagon. We were proud of how nice they looked when they were fired with a glaze finish.

I babysat for money for the first time taking care of a neighbor’s son Danny. He was the same age as Karen. When Danny’s sister was born, I cared for her from 6 weeks old until we moved.

scouting owen susan ginger gail

Ginger and Susan in their Brownie uniforms and Owen in his scout uniform. Gail Martin in her den mother cap and scarf. This must be the front landing for the Ark City house. (blame the sun for the sullen looks on our faces)

I’d become a den mother for the scouts in Madison, so Owen and I were still in Cub Scouts in Ark City. Since we lived close to the Indian reservation, the pack took a trip there.



1956 – Susan, Virginia (Ginger), Owen with Karen and Cindy in front. This is the Woolaroc Museum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Susan was invited to take part on the IXL float for the Arkalalah parade that Ark City has every Halloween. The girls were all in pale yellow fancy dresses. Just beautiful.

Owen caught scarlet fever and gave it to Ginger and Cindy. All the children had to stay home until it was past.

Just before school started the next year, we moved to El Dorado, Kansas.”

From Gail’s Bookshelf – As I Remember It

Esther Imhof was born in 1914 and recounts her family’s efforts to turn virgin Kansas prairie into a productive farm. Her memories are preserved in As I Remember It.

Their hard work brings some success until the drought and dust storms of the 1930s come along. The memoir contains fascinating details of daily life of a farm family with activities like hog butchering, wheat threshing and raising chickens and eggs for a cash crop. (review by Virginia Allain)

Ray Imhof encouraged his mother, Esther, to write her memories which he compiled to make this book. Esther Imhof died in 1996. I wonder if my mother, Gail Lee Martin, met Esther or her son, Ray. Esther and Mom would have had a great time talking about the old days.

Saving the Cooking Grease

As long as I can remember, mama drained the bacon grease into a container kept handy on the stove. The next day, the saved grease was added while heating up home-canned green beans. It made that vegetable super-tasty. It was also used when frying eggs for breakfast. I’m guessing many women who grew up during the Great Depression, not just Gail Lee Martin, saved their leftover cooking grease.

Grease can gallery

Vintage grease container from Catnutti’s shop on Etsy.

During WWII, housewives were urged to Save Your Waste Fats to Make Explosives. Previously, the U.S. imported a lot of vegetable fats from the Far East, but the war disrupted that supply. The fats were needed to make glycerine which was used in explosives for the Allies.

Here’s how it worked, housewives were told to keep every single drop of used cooking fat. This included bacon grease, meat drippings, and frying fats. They strained the grease through a metal strainer and stored it in a tin. The grease was taken to a meat dealer once a pound or more was saved. They rewarded the housewife with two red points which were ration stamps for buying meat.

The meat dealer would pay for the waste fats and send them on to the war industries. They would have a sticker on the window or door that proclaimed, “Official Fat Collecting Station.”


Thanks to World War Era site for this poster. It can be purchased from them if you would like one for your kitchen.

Although Gail spent part of the war years in a rented room while she worked at Boeing, I’m sure she was very aware of this campaign to save fats for the war effort. On the occasional weekends back, she would see her mother carefully strain the hot grease to save.

Other home front contributions to the war effort included collecting scrap metal and cans, plus helping with paper drives and silk drives (silk stockings were reprocessed into parachutes). Driving was kept to a minimum to save rubber, which was another vital resource for the military.

Do you carry on the tradition from your grandmother and mother of saving used cooking grease for reuse?


How to Make Breaded Tomatoes

Gail Lee Martin originally shared this recipe on the eHow website in 2008. It’s a thrifty addition to a meal.

Breaded Tomatoes

This old-fashioned side dish is easy to fix when you need to fill everyone up cheaply. It’s one way to get more vegetables into your meals. Here’s how to make it.

Things You’ll Need:

  • jar of stewed tomatoes
  • bread
  • sugar or salt (your preference)
  1. Stewed tomatoes were just peeled tomatoes that are cut into chunks and cooked well before canning. You can buy canned tomato chunks at the store, but they probably need some extra cooking to soften them up. Put them in the microwave in a covered bowl and heat until soft.
  2. When serving just a jar or two of the plain stewed tomatoes, I usually heat them in a pot over a low fire. Add chunks of day-old bread (several slices). This is a good way to get rid of the heels of bread if no one will eat them.
  3. Salt to your taste. My husband likes his stewed tomatoes with a sprinkle of sugar. I never thought it needed anything but a slice of fresh bread and butter to go with it.
    Tile Vintage Kitchen Cook Retro Stylish Lady Chef

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Old Fashioned Muffins Made from Scratch

It seems like muffins evolved over the last 20 or 30 years into miniature cakes. They are baked in muffin tins in muffin-shaped paper linings, but they are different. They aren’t like the muffins we ate as children back in the 1950s and 1960s. Those were homemade from scratch, not from a mix and certainly not from a bakery or coffee shop.

Muffins often have fruit baked in them and are thus more of a breakfast food than cupcakes would be. They don’t have icing on top, so that distinguishes them from cupcakes too. The texture and sweetness of modern muffins seems more and more like cupcakes these days.


Old-fashioned muffins, not the cakelike ones. Photo by Virginia Allain. Muffins made by Karen Kolavalli.


Back when I grew up, we learned to make muffins in 4-H. They were bread-like, not sweet and cake-like. The old-style muffins benefited from liberal applications of butter then spread with jam or jelly. At times we put apple butter on them. These were the kind of muffins my mother ate as a child in the 1930s and baked for her young family in the 1940s.

Recently in a fit of nostalgia, my sister made some old-fashioned muffins for me. They tasted just as good as I remembered. She used the vintage Household Searchlight Recipe Book (published by Household Magazine)ir?t=ehow05-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B000ERQ30K that Mom always used.


searchlight cookbook

The 1940s Searchlight Recipe Book just like Mom had.

 (Originally published on the Daily Two Cents website by Virginia Allain)

Going, Going, Gone…

A Guest Post by Gail’s daughter, Karen Kolavalli (written in 2014 for Bubblews)

“I spent the afternoon sorting, sorting, sorting! It’s a seemingly unending job of sifting through boxes of photos, letters, and documents. In doing so, I came across a printout from a page at that shows a listing of my Mother’s stories that were archived there. It says that “Gail Martin created this page with the help of the ‘My History is America’s History’ website.”

I was able to pull up the page at with the list of her stories, but when I tried the links to go to the stories, all I got was “The connection has timed out.” And when I tried the link to “My History is America’s History,” it took me to a page showing that the domain name was for sale, so that site went belly up at some point.

I recognize many of the story titles as chapters in the books that my Mom published with the help of my sister, Virginia. There are some, though, that I’m not familiar with, such as Treasures from the Barnyard, More of the Treasure from the Barnyard, Carol’s Memory of the Flood of ’51, and Ginger’s Year 1948. I hope these stories survive in printed form and that my sister will be able to find them in my Mom’s files. Those files were transferred to her care and keeping after our Mother passed away a year and a half ago.
Mom didn’t start writing until she had all six kids raised and out on their own, and then she made up for lost time! From the late 1970s until her death in 2013, writing was her life and the stories poured out of her. Although she was an avid reader, she had always struggled in school and thought it was a miracle that she graduated from high school. So every award she received for her writing absolutely blew her away.

She loved to teach memoir writing classes at a senior center and was the much-loved moderator of a writers’ website, called Our Echo. When her daughter helped get her books published, she was over the moon. But at the end of the day, she was proudest just to be able to share her stories.”

gail and star writer

Gail Lee Martin hard at work on her Star Writer word processor.