We had a lot of animals around when I was a kid, but mostly they were food-producing livestock. We lived in the country and the cow, the pigs, the rabbits and chickens were an important food source for our family of eight. Of course we had the usual dogs and cats too.
Earlier when my mother was growing up, she had a rather unusual pet. A badger. I wish we had a photo of her with the badger, but she described it so well in her story, that I can picture him in my mind. This is an animal so unique that you would expect to only see it in a zoo.
You can read Jolly Was a Badger on my Mom’s author page. Jolly lived in the wash-house and liked to dig tunnels in the dirt floor. That must have been a trial for my grandmother.
Here’s Gail (center) with some cousins and her older sister. The wooden building in the background is the wash-house.
You can read more about badgers on a page I created. There are even some videos so you can see badgers in action. For more photos of my mom with kittens, puppies and even a young coyote, check out these vintage photos in an earlier post on this blog.
Times past held special meaning for my mama. It wasn’t just her childhood years that she treasured and saved by writing them down. She also collected memories of the previous generation by writing down the stories told to her by her aunts and uncles.
Collected into her memoir, the stories bring the past alive for the next generation. You can read excerpts like From Melbourne, Arkansas to Tyro, Kansas.
Not content with that, she searched further back for the pioneers in the family tree and turned their lives into words on paper for others to read. Blackjack along the Santa Fe Trail shows what she accomplished with the genealogy information she uncovered.
She passed along to her daughters this love of history, her appreciation for family and an interest in writing. Hopefully we can collect and preserve many more family stories that she didn’t get time to write.
Photo taken by Virginia Allain
When Mom plunged into genealogy research, she kept the Xerox machine at the public library busy. She worked hard tracking down ancestors and filling out charts with all the dates and names she found.
To share her discoveries with her six children, she created family books for each of us. These decorated notebooks contained copies of the ancestor charts, photocopies of family photographs and other memorabilia.
Family history for the notebooks Mom created.
Here’s an example of one of the decorative notebooks Mom created.
Another example of the genealogy notebooks Gail Lee Martin made for her children.
In retirement, Mom and Dad had time to spend on craft projects. Mom went through the macrame craze earlier and before that she made balsa wood and colored twine birdcages artfully filled with silk flowers.
The two of them tried a lot of yarn crafts and scrap crafting. With the yarn, they made Santa faces with yarn beards, yarn pom-pom candy canes, and pom-pom cats.
Together they mastered a craft that almost died out, wagon wheel rugs. This involves tying strips of old sheets on an iron wagon wheel. Then you weave more strips through the tied ones. It required a lot of care to get the resulting round rug to turn out flat. The size of the wagon wheel limited the size of your rug.
Here’s Gail Martin demonstrating the craft at a pioneer days.
I remember asking Mom’s advice when I wrote an article on getting organized. Here’s her reply:
“Now you know I probably couldn’t live without my clutter. All of this stuff is what makes me, ME. Because once it’s gone, it is gone for good. I remember in one of our moves I threw away all my stencils I used in painting pillowcases etc. I had quit doing them because we were busy with 4-H. But oh, by golly I wish I had them now.
Same way with my early writings. All the pieces I wrote during study hall and later while you little kids were trying to take naps. I must have tossed them when we moved to Arkansas City. That was a rushed move & Howard was the mover. So many crafts and styles come back in style again years later.
Oh yes, there is one phase of the moon (so just one week each month) that encourages you to sort and file etc. I have forgotten which one that is but I always recognize it when it comes. I would check with Karen & Cindy and they would be cleaning and organizing their houses too.
Maybe you could stress to do this all though out your life and not wait until you are old & decrepit like me. There is always so much else I’d rather do. I am the world’s worst procrastinator. Sorry I’m not much help. I guess I have always been too involved to be organized. Good luck, Mom”
This is one of the prairie dolls made from rags that Mom made during their retirement years
I think my mother was a bit shy growing up. Even as an adult, she carried some of the insecurities of being the kid from the Phillips Camp. She learned over the years to overcome that and had the admirable ability of being able to talk to anyone about anything.
My sister said once, “I thought Mom knew everyone, but it turned out that she just talked to everyone as though she knew them.” Intrigued by people and their interests, she could easily launch into a conversation.
I noticed that she made good use of this friendliness to draw in customers at the farmers market. She greeted browsers, shared a little anecdote about the produce for sale or asked them about themselves. Before they realized it, they were in a full-blown chat. The only way to escape was to buy a jar of her homemade jam or some of Clyde’s tomatoes and then they could continue to the other booths.
Gail with their farmers market booth
My mother survived a bite by a rattlesnake when she was young. It was a story that we made her tell us over and over. We never tired of hearing how her father and the dog would scare up a rabbit so it would run into a culvert.
Her role was to hold a gunny sack over the opening at the opposite end. Her father would tap a stick on his end of the pipe which frightened the rabbit into running into the sack.
This worked well and they would have rabbit for dinner, but one time there was a snake that bit her on the cheek. You can read the episode in her memoir online.
My mother’s mother, Ruth Vining, was the last child of a large family. Her father died a month and a half after her birth in 1897. That left the 45-year-old widow, Nancy Jane Vining with an infant and nine other children to raise.
The older sons were working as farmers on rented land according to the 1900 census. That may have kept the wolf from the door. There was no aid to dependent children or social security in those days. It’s possible that those were hungry times for the family without their principle bread-winner. A later census shows Nancy working as a laundress.
Ruth grew up in Tyro, Kansas and eventually married the boy next door, Clarence McGhee, just before he left for France in World War I. Upon his return, they started their family.
Gail Martin’s parents on their wedding day.
From little stories my mother told about her childhood, I suspect her mother, Ruth, was fairly rigid in bringing up her three daughters. Mom was more of a daddy’s girl and loved to follow her father around.
Gail with her mother, Ruth McGhee – Easter Sunday, I believe.
Gail made a number of quilts as a young homemaker. I can’t think how she found the time for it with six children to manage. Perhaps while we were at school, she spent her time at the sewing machine. My sister’s bed and mine had matching light yellow quilts with butterfly appliques stitched on them.
The quilt shown below contains blocks made by Mom’s mother, Ruth Vining McGhee, and some aunts. Other women in the church made blocks for this autograph quilt as well.
Gail shows explains the names on the autograph quilt.
With quilters on both sides of my family, I thought I should be a quilter too. It turned out that I lacked the patience required for a good needlewoman. I do love the vintage quilts and ended up collecting some instead of making them. It’s a small collection since quilts take quite a bit of room to store or display. I don’t use my vintage quilts on the beds.