Shannon’s Country Memories

This post was written by Gail’s youngest daughter, Shannon Marie Hyle. The date is meaningful, as it was about 2 weeks before Shannon’s death in early December 2006. Gail shared it on the Our Echo website in 2007. Ten years has passed since Shannon wrote this memory piece.


Shannon Marie Martin (later, Hyle)

Growing Up Garden
by Shannon (Martin) Hyle


Living in the country was wonderful time in my life. I had all the space I could ever want, a sandbox, a creek and a pond to grub in and around, and a barn for the cow. There was fresh food to pick and eat, baby rabbits and wonderful trees to dream under. I was too young to recognize any bad things that happened so the farm was a glorious island.

We rented the farmhouse and surrounding land from a local farmer. Mother must have loved it. It had a huge fenced yard that would have kept me confined without getting into trouble. There was a big sandbox for me to bury my toys in.

The biggest part of our life on the farm was taking care of the garden. It was an enormous garden and we all had to work every day to keep it in hand. Dad had a pump hooked into the creek so we could pump water from the creek instead of dragging it up bucket by bucket. We raised the produce during the summer and preserved it to use during the winter. We all knew better than to goof off instead of completing our chores. If we didn’t raise a good crop, it might be a slim winter.

From what I recall, we planted almost everything we could find. There was corn, peas, beans, potatoes, asparagus, pumpkins, squash, rhubarb, strawberries, swiss chard, watermelons, cantaloupe, beets, peppers, okra, carrots, and turnips. That seems like an awful lot, but I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. Ah, tomatoes of course.

I remember digging potatoes with Dad. At least Daddy would dig and I would follow along behind him with the bucket, gathering potatoes. Daddy usually only needed one push with the shovel to unearth the dirt crusted tubers. You had to gather the biggest ones and re-root the plant to let the rest of the potatoes grow. We all looked forward to the first fresh meal out of the garden. It was usually new peas and new potatoes in cream sauce, both vegetables very young and tender.

Mom and I would harvest asparagus; Mom slicing it cleanly at the base of the stalk and me gathering it in the bucket. Later on I got to cut them, too.

Weeding was a big thing also. My particular target was a woody-stemmed villain we called cottonweed because of its soft, furry leaves. They infested our garden, growing like, well, weeds. They were easy enough to pull when they were tiny, but by the time I would work from one side of the garden to the other, I would be tackling nasty, snarling killer weeds that were taller than me. I think I was supposed to get a penny for each weed I pulled, but I can’t remember where the money went.

There were a lot of things to be learned in the garden. I think farm kids get the jump on city kids. As a toddler, I was out in the garden, learning sorting, sizing, colors, and physical coordination. It all came in picking the biggest and leaving the smaller, shelling, cleaning and things like that. It was quite an education.

The garden was not just work though; it was also a magic playground. Filled with sunlight and shadows, it was an exhilarating place to be. Between rows of green corn, taller than me, I could run or hide. The leaves would dance over me, flickering sunlight on my face. The freshly turned, crumbly earth always smelled; umm, fantastic!

Sometimes the yellow and brown striped garden spiders would set up shop between the rows, stringing their intricate webs from stalk to stalk. Some of them were as big as my hand, my hand when it was younger anyhow. The web strands would glisten in the sun and we tried not to disturb them for they were good spiders preying on the enemies of our vegetables.

The insects seemed magic, too. There were multicolored dragonflies and damselflies that floated above the garden and brilliantly hued ladybugs that policed the plants. And I could never forget the pests; nasty grubs, cabbage worms and all sorts of beetles and bugs that swarmed over the plants.

All of this is probably the reason I garden today with my two girls; teaching them planting and weeding. Together we watch miracles unfold in the garden.


Shannon and the kittens, 1963.

Memories of Pearl Harbor

My aunt, CJ Garriott, was quite young when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. She still remembers that day.

I was 7 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked; Mother & Daddy were listening to the radio. I didn’t understand exactly what had happened, but somebody, I didn’t know who (the “Japanese”? Did they live in KS?) had done something really, really bad to Americans.

I was very scared, and went out, got my cat, went to my bedroom, and got under the bed. I was afraid they were coming to our house.

She was 10 years younger than my mom, Gail. I have several posts about Gail McGhee’s wartime experiences.


Radio from the World War II era.

A Long Ago Christmas

a-long-ago-christmas-bubblewsI’m the keeper of the family photos now since my mother died. I need to add the stories to them before it is time to pass them along to the next generation.

Three of the people in this 1971 photo are already gone. Remaining are my sister, brother and me. We are all in our sixties now. Some forty years have passed since we were standing here for this Christmas picture. We were just in our twenties then and our parents were in their forties.

Little did we dream that Shannon would die before my parents. She is so young in this picture, the baby of the family.

My brother, so handsome and vital in this photo is now in a nursing home. He had a stroke and must use a wheelchair. Just thinking of how restricted his life has become due to health issues makes me sad.

My sister, in the blue sweater, has moved to another state. She’s made a new life there and enjoying exploring new territory. In this photo, she was still in college and so was I. I’m the one in navy blue. Yes, back then I had red hair.

Two of our sisters aren’t in this photo. I’m sure they were there for the family gathering.

Little did we know the paths that our lives would take. Maybe it is best that we don’t know.

(post originally published on Bubblews – by Virginia Allain)

The 7 Memory Challenge

Here’s a short exercise for you. Take a piece of paper and write seven sentences about your childhood. Each sentence must start with “I remember.” You might be surprised what comes to your mind.

Here are mine:

  • I remember how excited we were when our cousins sent over a batch of their outgrown dresses.
  • I remember hanging clothes on the clothesline on freezing winter days. The clothes froze stiff and were hard to carry into the house later.
  • I remember learning to iron, starting with handkerchiefs. Eventually, we worked up to ironing blouses with sleeves and those gathered skirts on shirtwaist dresses.
  • I remember pretending we were ice skating on our frozen creek, even though we didn’t have skates.
  • I remember the horror of seeing our dog, Tippy, hit by a passing car. We were waiting by the highway for the school bus.
  • I remember churning our own butter in the glass Daisy churn.

    Daisy Churn_edited

    I browsed around on eBay and found this picture. It’s exactly what our churn looked like.

  • I remember learning to make muffins back when they were like a bread, not the cake-like kind they make now.

I hope you will give it a try. Date and save your memory page to share with children and grandchildren later.



Potato Cakes – A Heritage Recipe

frying pans

Gail and Clyde Martin used these cast iron frying pans a lot.

In 1999, Mom started sending recipes to an online site called Kitchen Happenings and More. She proposed that they add a section for heritage recipes and she would supply them with recipes and the stories that went with them.

A Heritage Recipe June 10th, 1999
Margaret, publisher and editor of Kitchen Happenings and More wrote, “Gail Martin shares another of her favorite recipes from yesteryear.”

Mother’s Potato Cakes
by Gail Martin
One of my favorite recipes handed down from my frugal mother, who never let a bit of food go to waste, is potato cakes. She used a cup or more of leftover mashed potatoes, with two farm fresh eggs, 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder and a dash of salt and pepper. Then mixed all together and dropped by the spoonful on a greased, hot, iron skillet. She would reduce the heat and fry until brown, turn them over and brown the other side. Mother used a dab of plain lard or bacon drippings to fry the small cakes. Of course bacon drippings add to the flavor.

The eggs Mother used were from her own New Hampshire Red hens. This breed of chickens laid large, brown shelled eggs and Mother’s chickens ranged on the open prairies of Greenwood county, Kansas where they ate grasshoppers, bugs and Bluestem grass. If you haven’t experienced the joy of fresh farm country eggs you are in for the treat of your life. In the summer time the yolks will be a brilliant orange globe. No comparison to the store bought eggs that have been in cold storage for who knows for how long.

My daughter Cindy says she always peels an extra potato or two when she is making mashed potatoes so she will have leftovers to make Grandmother’s potato cakes.

Ruth feeding chickens

Ruth Vining McGhee with the family chickens in the early 1900s. This is before the Rhode Island reds.

Mom also posted the story and recipe on the Our Echo website with this comment, “When this was published on June 10th I was so pleased as that was Mother’s birthday. I couldn’t have planned it better.”

I thought of this story and brought it here for more readers after my sister Cindy mentioned potato cakes today. “Using up the leftovers is part of the after Thanksgiving tradition: I fixed fried-potato-patties for breakfast this morning with the leftover mashed potatoes. They weren’t as good as Mom/ Gail used to make but I tried,” she said. Cindy said she adds a dash of garlic powder when she makes them.

Mom’s sister, C.J. remembers, “Ah, how this takes me back! Our Mother’s potato cakes were a sumptuous repast from the gods, and I’ve never been able to duplicate the taste. Not surprising since I only have access to store eggs, but perhaps not having Mother’s hand on the spoon has something to do with it!”



Old Dead Bird

My dad always made some remark at Thanksgiving or Christmas about the “old dead bird.” Well, our turkey fits that status now. He’s been stuffed and roasted and sliced and served.

Dad is carving the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Lil Cat looks on hopefully.

Dad is carving the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Lil Cat looks on hopefully.

After the feast, it gets totally dismembered. When it reappears tomorrow, it will be as turkey soup.

We don’t eat our holiday dinner until around 5 pm, so at noon I start chopping the onions, celery, and apples to mix into the dressing. Hubby cooks some sage sausage on the stove top to add. I throw in a few other things like raisins and dried cranberries. Combined with a package of seasoned stuffing mix (I apologize to any Australians reading this), and many cups of chicken broth, it goes inside the turkey.

By the time the 15-pound turkey is in the oven, I face a massive clean-up project. The whole kitchen reeks of Lysol when I’m done. I make sure that the faucet, the sinks, the counters, and even the kitchen cabinet knobs have been sanitized.

All that work is worth it, as we’ll have turkey re-run alternating with turkey soup for the next seven days. It’s amazingly cheap meat as stores sell it at a loss to get shoppers hooked into their store. Besides that, it’s a lower-fat meat. It’s quite versatile, easily transformed into turkey salad sandwiches, stir fries, all sorts of casseroles. Tastes good too.

My husband makes the turkey soup on the day after Thanksgiving. (photo by Virginia Allain)

My husband makes the turkey soup on the day after Thanksgiving. (photo by Virginia Allain)

We should eat it more often, but skip the umpteen side dishes that make the holiday meal so fattening.

(originally published on Bubblews by Virginia Allain)

Note from Mom

I looked back on an early blog post I wrote and found this comment from my mother on it.

November 7, 2008 at 6:53 pm

I started writing with a pencil and a big chief tablet with lines across the pages. Now I am writing on a computer and posting online. In between, I advanced to writing with pen and ink, ballpoint pens, typewriters, improved typewriters, and a Cannon Starwriter 80-word processor. I wore out at least three, so the repair tech said.

I began to receive requests to teach others my writing ideas. What a thrill! I also had five daughters who gladly critiqued my ramblings. Now I’m on my 4th computer with grammar, spellchecks, and a grandson who keeps my computers doing what they are supposed to do. What writer would ask for more!


Gail L. Martin


The image of the Big Chief changed over the years.

Here’s my 8-year old post that she was commenting on:

My Mom keeps busy writing family memory essays. At age 84, she’s not running out of material. Her essays posted at Our Echo make for great nostalgic reading. Take a look at them and leave comments for her. She loves hearing from anyone reading her work.

gail-salina-libraryLately, she’s started recording some favorite recipes and articles on how to live thriftily. You can read her recipes, crafts and thrifty tips at the Squidoo site (username: Gail Martin).

Update August 2009: Mom’s family memories have just been published in a book, My Flint Hills Childhood: Growing Up in 1930s Kansas. You can read an excerpt on her webpage and be sure to click on the link to preview fifteen pages of the book.