After Graduation in 1942

In May of 1942 I graduated (barely) from Hamilton High School in Greenwood County, Kansas. I lived with my folks in the Seeley school district where Daddy worked as an oil field pumper for Phillips Petroleum Company. By the time school started in September I was offered a job caring for three-year-old Ann Neumayer and doing light house work for her family. Her mother taught at the Seeley grade school, her dad was a pumper for the Ohio Oil company, and she had an older brother, Robert and an older sister, Peggy, who went to school with their mother.

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Hamilton High School in Kansas where Gail Lee McGhee graduated.

My job was like any babysitter of today. Ann was a darling toddler, who loved to tag-a-long doing whatever I was doing. That family ate big servings of fried potatoes every night for supper, with fried meat and gravy. I used to say after peeling that big pile of potatoes every night, “I might as well be on KP in the army.”

At the start of the next school year, Mrs. Neumayer was allowed to take Ann to school with her. So I was wondering what I was to do, then we heard about the government’’s NYA program for the young people of America. The closest school for girls was at Winfield, Kansas. My folks agreed for me to go and they took me down there. My boyfriend, Johnny Faylor, had been sent to Fort Leonardwood for training in the army. Our friend Clyde Martin was rejected when he was called up because he was a farm boy and was needed on the farm as his older brother, Ralph was already in the air force. He went to the boy’’s camp in Cherryvale and took welding classes.

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1942 postcard of Cherryvale, Kansas’ downtown.

My parents took me down to Winfield shortly after school was out in May of 1943. There they tried to teach me to be a riveter. But I was a skinny kid weighing only ninety-nine pounds so I couldn’’t hold up the big heavy rivet gun. So they tried to teach me to hold the bucking bar on the back side of the sheet metal. I couldn’’t even do that the way they wanted. I was so disappointed that I wasn’’t going to be one of the famous ‘Rosie the Riveters.’

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NYA poster  (source)

Due to politics and shortage of funding the NYA closed down July 12, 1943, just a week or two after I arrived. Most of the girls decided to take the bus to Wichita and try to get jobs in the aircraft factories. I went with them. I was lucky and got a job with Boeing helping build the B-29s in the electrical wiring department. I was thankful that Boeing was not union! After all the Phillip’s employees trouble with City Service union guys, I didn‘’t want anything to do with unions.

I found a room in a castle looking house at 1313 N. Emporia. I was on the second floor and in the north turret. The biggest problem was having to go downstairs to the basement for the communal bathroom.

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Photo by Karen Kolavalli. The rooming house that Gail Lee McGhee stayed in during WWII while working at Boeing.

My paycheck sure looked good but the money disappeared so fast. I had to pay for my room and all my meals plus bus rides to work and back. No matter where I went I had to ride the bus or walk. The winter approached and I had to buy a warm coat, mittens and a stocking cap that would pull down around my ears. I bought a few things for Christmas presents but also had to save money to buy my bus ticket to Emporia in Lyon County for the holidays. My parents and little sister, Carol drove up from our home in Greenwood County to  Emporia to pick me up. Being with my loved ones was so good that I do not remember what gifts were given to whom.

After working in the electric wiring department for several months I became unhappy when the inspectors ran a slight electrical charge to see if my work was OK. They didn’’t tell me when they were going to do it and I became scared that the charge might get stronger so I asked to be transferred to another department.

The next department was in the tool shed, where the employees checked out tools they needed to work with. I enjoyed this after learning what each tool was called and where each was stored. It was kinda like working in a library only at the end of the shift all tools had to be checked back in and I had only a short time to get them put where they belonged before I could check out.

(Aug 11, 2012 email from Gail Lee Martin to daughter, Virginia Allain)

 

Gail’s Early WWII Memories

On December the 7th, we were all shocked when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Now World War II was not just looming, it was a reality. Rationing became a way of life; my friends older brothers were inducted into the army, navy or the air force. All eighteen-year-old males had to register for the draft. Everyone was worried. My friend, Clyde Martin’s brother Ralph, who had been working at Boeing Aircraft in Wichita, enlisted in the air force.

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Scrap metal and rubber collected during WWII for the war effort. (photo taken at WWII museum in NH by Virginia Allain)

Life struggled on as we all tried to be patriotic by saving scrap metal and grease. We went on scrap hunts to find unused and abandoned metal. Sugar, meat, oil, gasoline, and rubber went on the ration list. Families were issued ration booklets to keep everybody honest.

War slogans became my classmate’s secret passwords, “If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT” and we interpreted that slogan to mean we did not need any more studies; we wanted to help win the war.

 

Christmas was very quiet that year. Packages of home baked goodies were mailed early to our relatives, friends, and neighbors in boot camp or overseas. No one went any place unnecessary because of the shortage of gasoline and tires. My family usually had relatives come to our home for Christmas for lots of good food, togetherness, and exchange of homemade gifts, but not the Christmas of 1941.

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The spring semester dragged on and I managed somehow to get good enough grades to let me graduate. No one knows how worried I was about passing the 12th-grade exam. However, I must have known more than my teachers and I had every thought of. As long as I was not rushed or having to recite out loud I did well. This exam was a written test; anyway, I passed and attended baccalaureate ceremony and the graduation ceremony. Back in those days, we did not wear floor-length dresses except for fancy weddings. At least in the Midwest and in a county that was made up mostly of farmers and oil workers.

(emailed to daughter, Virginia, on Saturday, August 11, 2012)

Gail Lee Martin – In the Spotlight

In 2006, the Our Echo website featured Gail Lee Martin in their monthly In the Spotlight. Here’s that story.

“I learned early to cherish the written word. I am the middle daughter of Clarence & Ruth McGhee’s three girls and we were a reading family. My folks told me I was named after characters in a book like Barbara Carpenter was. My namesakes were heroine Gail Ormsby and hero Lee Purdy in The Enchanted Hill by Peter B. Kyne published in 1924 the year I was born.

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Gail Lee Martin, writer for the Our Echo website and webmaster.

I grew up living in Phillips Petroleum Company oil field camps, helping fight prairie fires and worrying about labor unions and survived a prairie rattlesnake bite as a six-year-old. I kept the rattles from that snake for years. I graduated from high school in the tiny town of Hamilton nestled among the oil fields in the Flint Hills of Kansas. During WWII, I helped build B-29 bombers at Boeing Aircraft factory in Wichita. After the war, I returned home and married my high school, farming boyfriend and we are still together after 61 years.

Many things spark my writing instincts. When I saw a 100-year-old friendship quilt in the Butler County museum, I wanted to know the story behind it. I researched everything I could find about the twelve-year-old girl who made it. Besides making each block with material from different neighbors, school teachers, schoolmates, and relatives, she documented each piece of material. Whenever I look at this one-of-a-kind quilt in the museum, I see a vision of a lonely little girl spending days, weeks, even years on her great masterpiece. Now my husband wants me to write about the twenty-five-pound grass carp I caught. It took me longer to catch than it will take me to write about it.

Many of my stories are written because of a family connection. I researched and wrote ‘Landscaping With A Hobby’ because of interest in bricks, especially Kansas bricks. My father, uncle, and grandfather worked at one of the brick factories in Tyro, Kansas in the early 1900s. Such fun exploring the backyard of a brick collector in my own hometown. I took my granddaughter, Kristy Ross along as my photographer. Her photos made my article come to life.

My teenage dream of being an airplane pilot like Amelia Earhart resulted in taking a flight over Wichita in a small airplane and my fear of heights made me realize I could never follow Amelia’s steps to fame. Instead, I researched and wrote a story about Jack Thomas, El Dorado’s World War II Flying Ace. His flying fights with the enemy scared me all over again.

I never thought about being a writer. I was always just writing something. During study hall in high school; while my children took naps in the 1940s and in waiting rooms everywhere. I have kept a daily journal of happenings around me for many years. Now here I am at the age of 81 with a writing biography that impresses my children as well as myself and earned me the Kansas Authors Club’s state writing achievement award in 1997.

During our retirement years, we went back to Clyde’s farming roots and planted gardens that got bigger each year even though our children had all married and had homes of their own. When nature let us grow too much produce to give away to our family, friends, and neighbors, we would preserve the rest for the winter months the way our mothers did. Then we found and joined a local farmer’s market to sell the rest of the surplus produce. This provided some extra money to supplement our Social Security paycheck. I soon was delving into the twenty-year history of the market. I’ll share the results of that project in a post real soon. I find time to write almost every day and learning to use the word processor on the computer makes it so much easier. But that is another story. Everyday life has given me more interesting topics than I can find time to write about.”

Decorate for Christmas the Old-Fashioned Way

Gail Lee Martin first published this article on the eHow website some years ago.

Here’s how to celebrate Christmas just like a prairie family in the 1930s.  If you want a Christmas with an old-fashioned feel, just try the steps below.

 Things You’ll Need:
  • a cedar tree
  • cranberries
  • popcorn
  • thin cardboard
  • silver foil
  • a magazine
THE TREE: The arrival of our Christmas Tree was the beginning of the holiday season for my family. I remember the first time I experienced the thrill of going with Daddy to locate an appropriate tree for Christmas. On a nice sunny Sunday after a heavy snow and shortly before Christmas, Daddy would have us bundle up warmly in four buckle overshoes, hand knitted mittens, stocking caps and long scarves wrapped around our necks. Then we would follow in his footprints as he trekked through the snow-drifted Bluestem grass to a canyon in the fold of the hills almost a mile from our home.
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Scattered along the rocky sides of the canyon were many cedars of all sizes. We would select a well-rounded tree about my height. After scraping the snow from around the tree, Daddy dug out around the tree roots. The snow kept the ground from being frozen solid, so the digging went well even in the rocky soil. Daddy carefully packed the tree in a container and placed it on our small sled. We would take turns pulling our treasure home. This living tree stayed on our front porch until the day before Christmas.
Clarence McGhee pulling toddlers on a sled. Kansas Flint Hills.

Clarence McGhee pulling toddlers on a sled. Kansas Flint Hills.

CRANBERRY CHAINS: When the Christmas season neared our home on the snow-covered prairies, our house would take on a cheery atmosphere as we began making lustrous long, red garlands using fresh, whole cranberries. We would thread a large darning needle with string from Mother’s string ball. Our mother saved string through the year. Every time Daddy opened the hundred pound cotton sacks of flour or chicken feed, Mother would unravel the string that the sacks were sewn shut with, to add to her ball.

POPCORN STRINGS: Stringing cranberries and popcorn took many long hours to get the strands long enough for a big tree. But the evenings of family togetherness around the living room stove were lots of fun as we enjoyed big bowls of popcorn drizzled with golden home-made butter. Daddy was in charge of popping the corn, that he had grown and as we munched, we would carefully thread unbuttered kernels into white garlands to drape in contrast with the ruby-red cranberries.

SILVER STARS: Then we made bright silver stars. We would go to Mother’s hoarding drawer and get our small supply of foil we’d saved from spearmint chewing gum wrappers. Back then each stick of gum was in a foil and wax paper wrapper and we had to carefully peel them apart. With the resulting thin silver foil we covered cardboard stars cut from the backs of our Big Chief writing tablets. The first one we made was a large star that went on top of the tree each year. We covered smaller stars to hang here and there on the tree. With the darning needle, we would poke a tiny hole in one point of each star to thread a piece of string to hang them with. Each year we were able to make a few new ones.

PAPER CHAINS: Mother showed us girls how to cut magazines ads and turn them into glossy, paper chains. We would cut many rectangles, one-half by five inches long, from the colorful ads. Then we would start by making a loop by lapping the ends and sticking them together with paste, we made from flour and water. Next, we would loop another strip of paper through the first loop, then pasted the ends and so on until the gleaming chain was the length we wanted. Draped in scallops on the tree or across the windows they were eye-catching.

DECORATING: When he brought the tree inside and placed in the living room corner, the day before Christmas, we would transform it into a shimmering dream with all the scallops of red berries and white popcorn and little silver stars. In between, we arranged the glistening paper chains. At the very last, Daddy placed the large star at the top and our plain old Kansas cedar tree was a sight to remember. Best of all, it didn’t cost very much, just the cranberries had to be bought.

AFTER CHRISTMAS: The week after Christmas we removed the stars and stored for another year. Then Daddy moved the tree to the front yard where we could watch the brave winter birds feasting on a banquet of popcorn and berries. Each year Daddy replanted our Christmas trees to make a much-needed windbreak and shelter for the birds.

Here are some comments from when it was posted on eHow:  “This is enchanting! I was there with you, munching the buttery popcorn and sliding the cranberries onto the string . . . I just love the way you recount the simpler times of days gone by. Thank you for sharing. Five well-deserved stars!”

Here’s another comment – “I loved this article. The glimpse of your life in those days was so interesting and wonderful. What a contrast to the commercial holiday of today.”

Susan H on 9/2/2008 – “This article is so precious and wonderful. My brother and I made paper chains every year for our tree. We would put them on the tree and our mantel. I echo JMKnudson when I say, ‘Please keep writing’.”

Another comment on 9/1/2008 –  “What beautiful memories you have. I will be adopting some of your traditions this Christmas season.”

The Christmas of Our First TV

Gail Lee Martin posted this to the Our Echo website in 2011. Here it is for your Christmas reading enjoyment. If it triggers some Christmas memories for you, please share them in the comment section at the end.

The advent of the TV in our home happened the first Christmas we lived on the Greene farm three miles north of El Dorado. This was in 1960 and Clyde had a good job and working regularly so we decided to get a brand new television for a Christmas for a present for all our six kids! We keep it hid in that old garage under some junk until Christmas morning. Clyde and I went out and brought it in before the kids woke up.

We had an end table to put it on and one of us had the idea that we ought to have it turned on when the kids got up. So making sure the volume was turned real low we turned it on. Now remember it was Christmas time and colder than blue blazes outside. Clyde and I were really excited as we turned on the TV on and snap, crackle, and pop the cold tubes broke as the hot electricity hit each tube. What a bummer of a Christmas this was for the Martin family as we hadn’t bought anything else for anyone. All they had was their filled up stockings.

But the kid’s Dad came to the rescue and wrote down the numbers from each broken tube and as soon as the stores opened he went into the Graves Drugstore on the west side of north Main and was able to buy every TV tube we needed. He came back home and replaced the burned out tubes and put in the new ones and PRESTO we had television to watch for Christmas.

I know it is hard to believe this but that was the way TVs were built back then and not every store closed even on Christmas. Totally different world 50 years ago.

Second-Hand Christmas Tree

(A Christmas memory by Gail and Clyde’s daughter, Virginia Allain)

Some families face a spartan Christmas, particularly if they are out of work. Thinking of that brought to mind a Christmas where the generosity of others saved our family from a bleak holiday.

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An earlier Christmas in the Martin home – Cindy and Clyde. I’m sure Dad made the rocking horse in the picture.

My dad had been in a car accident and was hospitalized for almost six months. My mother was expecting and with five children to care for, she couldn’t go out and work. It looked like there would be few gifts and certainly, money couldn’t be wasted on a Christmas tree when there was barely food for the table.

When our school closed for the Christmas break, my fifth-grade teacher brought the tree from the classroom to our house. Also that week, some kind soul left a box filled with holiday foods on our front porch.

It must have been a frightening and sad time for my mother trying to cope with it all. I’m thankful that the second-hand tree and the food brought some Christmas spirit to our home that year.

When I shared this memory with my younger sister, Karen, she said,

“I would have been 5 that Christmas. Don’t remember any of those things! That was in the days when kids weren’t allowed to visit in the hospital, so I remember not seeing Dad for a long time. The father of another kid in the neighborhood was an over-the-road truck driver–I remember thinking maybe that’s what my Dad was doing since he was gone for so long.”

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.

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Shannon Marie Martin (later, Hyle)

Growing Up Garden
by Shannon (Martin) Hyle

11/26/06

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.

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Shannon and the kittens, 1963.