Gail’s Immigrant Roots

June was Immigrant Heritage Month! To celebrate America’s diversity and the monumental contributions immigrants make every day, I’m featuring my mother’s immigrant ancestors. I’ll have to go back quite far, as her family lines came to America many generations ago. Gail’s family name was McGhee and her mother’s maiden name was Vining.

Here’s the family tree showing the Vining line. John Vining was her immigrant ancestor for the Vining line, having been born in Wincanton, England in 1636. He died 49 years later in Weymouth in the Colony of Massachussets. Weymouth is just south of Boston.

vining family tree immigrant ancestor

As you can see, there are some gaps in the family tree for the Vining line. I’m working on it.

Of course, along the way, there were many other family lines joining in. Tower, Buckland, Ashcroft, Long, Pease, Stone, Prior, Marsh. About 250 years later, the Vining and the McGhee lines converged when Ruth Vining and Clarence McGhee met and married in Tyro, Kansas in 1918.

Gail Lee was their second child. When she was in her sixties, she plunged into tracing the family history back through the generations. Finding her immigrant ancestors and where they came from was a thrill for her.

mcghee martin family tree

McGhee – Martin family tree

Do you know when your immigrant ancestors arrived in America? Where did they come from? One wonders what motivated them to make such a big move.

The Abandoned School

Gail Lee Martin didn’t write many poems and often apologized for them. Here’s one she felt brave enough to post on the Our Echo website where she had so many friends.

Forgotten Heritage

Old abandoned school houses
left to rack and ruin.
windows broken, porches sagging,
surrounded with trash and tall weeds.

Built so long ago by our ancestors.
now no one cares that they once sheltered
the children of sturdy pioneers
who labored to learn from Mc Guffy readers.

We’ve flown to the moon,
talked across the seas and
can fly faster than sound and this
knowledge came from those humble beginnings.

All those old schoolhouses should be
shrines to our ancestors whose
thirst for knowledge of a better life
led us to fame and prosperity.

I wanted to find a picture that would match Gail’s poem. The one below was shared on Facebook by Mary Meyer. Here’s Mary’s description of it, “Breaks my heart to see the old stone school out on the Browning go up in flames due to a suspicious grass fire. Always hoped it could be restored.” Ross Clopton remembered that his dad went to school there.

A photo by Mary Meyer of a burned school near Madison Kansas.

Photo used with permission of Mary Meyer.

How Far Back Do Your Early Memories Go?

Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain, wrote this for another site. Reblogging it here.

My real memories only go back so far, so I don’t actually remember being me in the picture below. Since I was too young to store the memory of that moment, my knowledge of it comes from family stories and pictures. Those earliest times are framed in my mind by black and white photos, faded and with edges curling slightly.

It’s a time created by family stories making space in my memories.

I look at the picture of me sitting on an overturned red wagon. It had to be red, weren’t they all red in those days? On my lap, there’s a black and white puppy and my baby arms clasp him close to me. My memory bank contains no reference for the puppy. No one told me its name or where it came from.

I don’t know what happened to the puppy later. When we moved to the Big House, we had a dog named Tippy that I remember well. I was 4 or 5 years old then. Could this puppy be Tippy?

Memories of a 1950s childhood - Ginger Martin

Here I am, little Ginger, with a puppy and a red wagon.

I’m wearing a little girl’s dress just like all little 1950s toddlers wore. I never thought to ask as we looked through the family pictures, “who made the dress, Mama or Grandma?”

I never asked where were my shoes. The grass and weeds must have felt rough to my bare feet. Since it is Kansas, I’m sure there were chiggers and sandburs.

Given my approximate age in the picture, I know it was the yard at the Little House. My parents rented that from my grandparents who lived a quarter mile down the road in the Big House.  Another photo shows the Little House which couldn’t have had more than a few rooms in it. It’s a tiny box of a house. Where did four children sleep in such a small house?

Rental house - owned by Clarence McGhee in 1951

The little house that the Martins rented from the McGhees.

These old photos give me clues to a long-ago time. The people who could tell me more about that time are gone. It will always be an incomplete fragment of time in my mind.

In the photo of the Little House, the yard looks pretty bare. Perhaps that was right after the flood of 1951 had subsided.

Writing Family Histories (a BlogTalkRadio Interview)

Back in 2012, Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain, had the opportunity to go on BlogTalkRadio for an interview. The topic was Writing Family Histories.

It was a good opportunity to talk up Gail’s memoir, My Flint Hills Childhood.  You can hear the interview by clicking on the arrow below. It’s 13 minutes long, then they take a break for reading a poem, before getting back to the interview at the 16-minute point.


Unfortunately, due to a technical issue, the interview cut off the last 15 minutes. The host was quite apologetic, but at least it did get a little air time promoting the book.

2012-01-15 april 2014 001

Virginia Allain, Gail and Clyde’s daughter.

Planning a Road Trip

In January 2012, Gail Martin’s younger sister, CJ contemplated the idea of moving back to Kansas. She had lived many years in the Austin area and later in Seadrift, Texas by the coast. Her nieces encouraged her to move back to her home state.

Gail chimed in with some enticements. “We could take a trip this spring to Teterville and where we used to live when the rattlesnake bit me? Or over to Seeley and Burkett leases and oh yes, the bridge east of Madison that you drew one time, Carol that isn’t there anymore. I’ll bet the Madison Museum would love to have that picture!

Then we could go to the Locke lease or out the Kenbro where Viola and Roy used to live. The Greenwood County Museum in Eureka is an interesting place to spend a day or so.

Gail’s daughter, Cindy, added her thoughts too, “Yes, yes and yes again! I like the idea very much of Carol moving to Kansas.  (still afraid to get my hopes up) I know it will be rather heartbreaking for you to leave Seadrift & your beloved coast.”

CJ chimed in on the discussion, “Good ideas, Big Sis! You know, the Madison Museum just might like to have a print of that picture. I still have it. I’d love prowling around all those spots, refreshing my memories, which, oddly, seem to be full of gaps.”

bridge picture

Imthur Bridge, near Madison, KS (drawn in 1954 approx.) by CJ Garriott. The bridge is no longer there.

Here’s the bridge picture that CJ made and her description of it. “I’m posting my drawing of Imthurn Bridge, east of Madison, KS, for Father’s Day 2016 to honor my Daddy. In my teens, I signed up for a by-mail drawing class. One of the advanced tasks assigned was to draw a pen & ink from real life. This bridge piqued my interest as we drove back and forth to town across it. Once I decided the bridge would be my subject, Daddy checked out the area where I would sit to draw, cleared brush and weeds to make a space and made a sitting-drawing thing out of a bucket with a board across the top, and a little folding table to hold the drawing pad. Thank you, Daddy, for always supporting my varied interests! Mother too, the both of you made me believe I could do anything.”

Another Blogger in the Family

Gail’s granddaughter, Diana Hyle started a blog about cooking. It’s called Lick the Beater which immediately brought to mind my mother, Gail Lee Martin, making a cake with her Mixmaster. Of course, we all wanted to lick the beaters after she finished pouring the batter into the pans.

Here’s what one post looks like. Isn’t that tempting!

Lick the Beater diana's blog

Diana is a librarian, so baking is not her main job, just her passion. She brings to her blog lots of tempting photos to illustrate the steps in the recipe. Along with that, she infuses the blog with a breezy wit that reminds me of her mother and with down-home descriptions that remind me of her grandmother’s writing.

This is not just a recipe blog, it has lots of personality and storytelling to entertain the reader along with all the information you’ll need to create some of these challenging projects yourself.

Sample a few of the posts, and see for yourself what a fun blog, Lick the Beaters is. You’ll enjoy On Your Mark, Get Set, Bake or try the Cheery Cherry Cake.

Try not to salivate on your keyboard as you read her tempting descriptions and view photos of the luscious results of her baking.

Photo of mixer beaters and whipped cream courtesy of Pixabay

Lovers of good food will love the blog:


Picking Sandhill Plums

Cynthia Ross sparked some nostalgia with this email, “I remember the times spent picking sandhill plums with Larry, his mom and dad, Nora and Silas Ross, while in Oklahoma. It seemed like easy picking along the side roads or in the pastures. But we had to keep an eye out for the rattlesnakes and a curious steer or two. We took our share of the plums back to my folks, Gail and Clyde Martin, who canned them for jelly. They made great Christmas gifts several years in a row. Love the sweet flavor of those sandhill plums! I know our parents believed in the saying, “Waste not, want not!”

sandhill plums FB photo

Sandhill plums – Photo courtesy of June Seimears Ary.

There was a great article in the Wichita Eagle back in 2014, but it has disappeared from their online site. I finally tracked it down with the Wayback Machine. You can read it at Sandhill Treat Is Plum Full of Taste, Memories.

Mom made the jelly a number of times, but I didn’t find what recipe she used. Probably one from the Ball canning booklet. Here’s a very detailed recipe in the Everyday Home Cook for sandhill plum jelly. If you can find the plums, go ahead and give it a try.

I See a Little Smile

Gail’s daughter, Cindy shared this memory, “When we were kids and got caught fighting: I remember Mom saying “If you guys don’t stop that I’m going to make you kiss and make up!” I think the thought of doing that while still mad made us stop and think about what we were doing and wonder was it worth the risk of continuing.”

child cry pixabay

That reminded me of the times that Mom would coax us out of a sulk by saying “I see a little smile.” The grumpy one would have a hard time maintaining their anger or sullen feelings as she would try to tease a smile out of our frowning look.

Sometimes when one of us was feeling belligerent or huffy, Mom would say, “watch out that you don’t trip over that lip.” She would also use that classic momism, “be careful, or your face might freeze like that.”

Her quips were designed to distract us from whatever was aggravating us. Usually, they worked. As a last resort when we had carried on too long with our squabbling or sulking or whining, she would resort to “if you don’t stop that crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.”

What techniques worked for defusing the situation with your children when they had a meltdown or were fussy?

Vintage Pressure Cooker Booklets

There’s a trend right now to add an Instant-Pot to our kitchen appliances. They are electric and programmable. Big marketing is pushing the trend, but basically, it’s a pressure cooker. Cooks used them a lot for canning or for quick cooking to tenderize tougher meats.
My sister ended up with Mom’s collection of vintage pressure cooker manuals after she passed away in 2014.  Gail and Clyde had multiple pressure cookers that they used for canning produce from their large garden, but those were sold at auction.  “I hope whoever bought them gets them checked out for safety at the local extension office!” remarked my sister.
pressure cooker books kk

Vintage pressure cooker booklets collected by Gail and Clyde Martin. Photo by Karen Kolavalli.

“I took some photos because I think they’re pretty cool!  They range in date from 1946 to 1972 and include Presto, Wear-Ever, Mirro-Matic and Montgomery Ward’s.  There’s even a hardcover Mirro Cook Book (1954, 4th Edition) with a chapter on pressure cooking.  These books are well-worn (to say the least!), but fun to have and look through—a veritable history of American mid-century pressure cookers.  Karen”
pressure cooker 1 Presto 1946 PC Manual

pressure cooker 2 Presto 1946 PC Manual_endpapers
Here’s one of their pressure cookers. It’s pretty vintage too, but they still canned with it. Even into their eighties, they were still canning.
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Make Meatloaf in a Jar

Gail and Clyde Martin’s Canned Meatloaf

This recipe makes meatloaf for canning in jars. It’s great to have in the pantry for an easy meal.

In our retirement years, my husband and I traveled together more than ever did when we had a car full of six kids. We even got a small camper and a small boat called a Scamper, built just for two. As we provisioned the camper to travel to Eastern Kansas we took food from our pantry that we had canned ourselves. We took canned green beans, pickled beets, okra, dilled green beans, stewed tomatoes, swiss chard and other greens, new potatoes.

When we discovered the Kerr Canning book also told us how to can beef, pork, chicken, fish, nuts meats, onions, hominy, and mushrooms, we expanded our menus of home-canned foods.

meatloaf in a jar
One that we liked best was the canned meatloaf. We found the recipe in our well-worn Kerr Canning book. We doubled the recipe to use a five-pound chub of hamburger that most grocery stores carry pre-packaged.

I like taking our own canned food when we go camping. Then when we catch any fish or grew too much garden at our summer home in Prescott, Kansas, we have the empty jars from eating the quick-to-fix good food we brought. We refill the jars with fish we catch or produce we grow, to take back home to fill our pantry for the coming winter.
So we were having more fun than when we canned for out big family.

Meatloaf in a Jar

The recipe goes like this: Get your biggest mixing pan. As my husband says “I suppose they mean a clean pan.”
Combine the following ingredients.
5 pounds of ground meat
2 ½ cups of cracker crumbs
1¼ cup milk
5 eggs, we prefer fresh farm grown eggs
5 tablespoon of chopped onions
5 teaspoons of salt or less if your diet calls for low salt
1¼ teaspoons of pepper (optional)
¾ teaspoon ground sage
1¼ teaspoons celery salt

Mix all very thoroughly. Pack the mix loosely in wide-mouth Kerr pint jars to within an inch of the top. With a damp cloth, wipe the rim, then put on the flat top and add the screw band firmly tight. This will yield around 8 or 9 pints.

Use 10 pounds of pressure in the pressure cooker.

Place a rack inside the pressure cooker, set the jars on that, and carefully follow the cooker’s instructions. Pints of meat require 75 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.

To serve the meatloaf, remove the ring and with a pop opener snap the flat lid off. Place the open jar of meat into the microwave for three minutes, then slide the small, round loaf onto a plate. Slice into five or six servings and enjoy.