The Old Storm Cellar

Some of these still linger on in Kansas backyards and some are still used when the sky turns ominous and a tornado funnel starts to form. This particular one was in the yard where Gail’s daughter, Karen, lived for a number of years in El Dorado, Kansas. The house dated back to 1918 and perhaps the old storm cellar was of that vintage too.


Possibly, the doors had been replaced a few times over the years. It’s been painted but then that weathers away over the years.

It’s a fact of life if you live in Kansas, you need to know where the nearest tornado shelter is. Living in tornado alley means learning how to read the clouds and recognize a tornado funnel forming. It means knowing the siren tones to know which is a tornado alert and which is a “take cover.”

A vintage storm cellar like this one might have a dirt floor or could have been improved over the years. Some people stock them with chairs, a lantern, a weather radio, and other comforts to get through dangerous times. Sometimes the walls are lined with rough shelving to hold canned foods from the vegetable garden and have bins for potatoes and other root crops.

There’s a handle to make it easier to pull open the wooden doors. Fear lends you strength to haul it open as the wind howls around you and the rain pelts down.

Memories from Other Folks of Storm Shelters

  • Sara Sluss – We had one at the farm – long gone. I hated going into it – for potatoes, onions, or apples or because there were tornados in the area. Spiders, dark, dank, ick.
  • Nicholas C. – My grandparents had one in Maple Hill, Kansas. A lantern hung on the back porch to take when it stormed at night. It was used for canned goods and vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.) and crocks of sauerkraut. There were always toads! There was a vent in the top which made the wind and thunder sound strange and ominous! Thank heavens, I never saw a snake! I fell down the concrete steps when I was 5 and broke my left eardrum. Lots of memories!
  • Mary M. – My Aunt has one inside an outbuilding (which was a smokehouse at one time) in her backyard in Towanda. It started to cave in so she had to fill it with dirt.
  • Mike M. – We had one in western Linn County where I grew up. We kept our potatoes and onions from the garden in it and I learned to ride a bike by coasting off the top of it.
  • Beverly M. – Some called them ‘fraidy’ holes.
  • Robinette G. – We still have our cellar on the farmstead of my great-grandparents. The 6th generation now lives here. When I was a kid, this was my playhouse in the summer because it was cool in the western Kansas heat. We’d always go through the doorway really fast to avoid spiders, then checked for snakes! It’s covered by a silver lace vine.
  • Dorothy L. – We called them caves. Although we had a basement, our neighbor had a cave. During one tornado scare, several people from town gathered in that small space. I was in grade school and counted twenty-four people taking shelter while our local policeman, Officer Holder, drive through town in his police car sounding his siren or horn as a warning. No Shawnee County sirens in those days.
  • John F. – My grandparents had one just like it. I loved the smell of brick and earth and the dozens of mason jars full of fruit and vegetables. This was in the late 60s early 70s.
All Concrete storm cellar 1910 -

The Daily Republican 
Burlington, Kansas 09 May 1910, Mon  •  Page 8

Gail, Age 14


1938 – Pauline Bolte, Melba McGhee, Twyla Yeager, Gail McGhee, and little Carol McGhee.

The three on the right are the McGhee sisters. Older sis, Melba, married Norman Harlan a few years after this photo. Gail McGhee would have been 14. Younger sis, Carol would have just been 4-years-old.

The two on the left are cousins of the McGhee sisters. Pauline Bolte, age 17, was the daughter of Lucy Vining. Twyla Yeager, age 16, was the daughter of Laura Mae Vining. Laura and Lucy were sisters of Ruth Vining McGhee (mother of Carol, Gail, and Melba).
Here are Carol’s thoughts about the time a few years after this, “I went to the country Seeley School, smack on the prairie of the Flint Hills, from 2nd to mid-6th grade. Walked the mile or so back and forth when weather permitted. Always left early so I’d have time to chase rabbits and throw pebbles in the creek. Don’t remember it having a bell. Later photos show an oil well in front of it. 
Seeley school

View of the Seeley School with an oil pump jack in front.

Letting Go of Stuff

My mother, Gail Lee Martin, lived into her late 80s. She was the family archivist carefully preserving her uncles’ WWI helmet, her father’s moth-eaten wool bathing suit from the early 1900s, and many more items entrusted to her care as the previous generation died.

Now, I’m 70 and as a Baby Boomer find that it makes me sad to let go of the earlier generations’ belongings. At some point, one realizes that you can’t keep everything, but choosing what to preserve and what to let go is very difficult.

I saw this in The Estate Lady’s blog and it hit the spot.

The older Boomers are so traditional and as loyal as their parents; they generally have a difficult time letting go of stuff.  They may feel a profound sadness in letting go of previous generations’ things, even as they realize the younger generation no longer wants these things.  They are in the middle of making tough decisions to keep or sell these items.

Yes, these are tough decisions. Sometimes you have to decide that a photo of an item will serve to keep the memory fresh even if you have no room for the what-not shelf that your great-uncle made. It isn’t that we don’t care about these ancestors, but recognizing that integrating dozens, even hundreds of their possessions into our already full home isn’t practical.

As it is, I’m clearing out lots of stuff that I’ve bought and no longer use.  It makes no sense for me to keep my own junk like a broken vacuum cleaner that I’ve already replaced while giving up something that is meaningful in my family. Decluttering meaningless modern stuff makes some room for treasured family items.

I’m also using some of the photos in nostalgic blog posts and in making some family history books. Hopefully, even when an item is no longer in the family’s possession, they will enjoy the memories in the blog and in the books which take up minimal space. 

4th of July

Stashed away in Gail Martin’s boxes of memorabilia are tokens of affection from children and grandchildren and even from the great-grandchildren. This item deserved to be brought out for the holiday today.

nikki flag art

It probably was displayed on Gail and Clyde’s bookshelf in the living room for some weeks before being preserved in the folder with cards, letters, and other bits and pieces. Let’s see, this one is from 43 years ago. That little grandchild who wielded the crayons is now a nursing home administrator with almost gown-up children of her own.

Hollyhock Dolls

When I think of Hollyhocks, I picture in my mind a cottage garden in England with all kinds of old-fashioned flowers crowding together. The Hollyhocks with their long flower stalks stand out from the mounds of lower-growing flowers.

Gail’s sister, CJ thinks of her childhood. “When I was a youngster, I made “dolls” with the flowers for skirts.” She said that the hollyhocks were there when she moved into her home in Kansas. Her niece, that she rents from and who lived there first must have planted them.
CJ says, “I totally ignore them, and they seem to thrive! They’re extremely self-sufficient. I do nothing to or for them; they come up every year, and this year (like a lot of other flowers) are more bountiful with flowers. My local horticulturist says it is due to the weird & long winter we had. Even the maple tree had way more “spinning” seeds than usual.”
Cj-Garriott pics of hollyhocks

Photos of the hollyhocks by C.J. Garriott

Her friend commented, “I only know Hollyhocks from the song, “English Country Garden.” So good to finally know what they actually look like! They’re beautiful.”

Browsing online, I found some pictures of children making the flower dollies. They put a toothpick through the center of the flower base and use a bud for the head. Some put a toothpick sideways through the base of the flower to serve as arms.

Plants From Your Pantry

(post by Virginia Allain) Last year in the spring, I took cuttings from some sweet potatoes that sprouted in my pantry. Covering them with a little soil in my patio pots enabled them to start growing. Before long they sent out nice vines that trailed nicely down the sides of the pots.

Sweet potato vine on the patio

Sweet potato vine on the patio

Now and then, I trimmed them back so they wouldn’t get too jungle-like. It reminded me of childhood times when Mom showed us how a carrot top or sweet potato cutting would put out roots if you placed it in some water.

That fall, I turned up the soil in some of the planters to put in fresh plants. To my surprise, my trowel struck something large and solid. Digging around the object, I turned up a large sweet potato. I checked all the pots where I’d put the cuttings and ended up with about 5 meals worth of the tubers.

Cooking sweet potatoes

I boil the sweet potatoes, then remove the skin, and mash them. Then I add cinnamon, nutmeg, milk, and brown sugar before baking it in a casserole dish.

I don’t usually grow vegetables in my containers on the patio, but since it was so easy to raise some sweet potatoes, I planted more this year. My crop wasn’t quite as big, but it took only a minimal amount of effort and it was free.

Have you tried planting anything from your kitchen scraps?


A Card for Dad

It’s Father’s Day which can be rather sad when your father is no longer there to hug or give a card or gift to. It always embarrassed Dad to have a fuss made over him, but I think deep down, he appreciated the attention. Even though he is gone, this special day gives us time to pause and remember what a special man our father was.

clyde and father's day card

Clyde Martin and a card that his daughter Karen sent him some years ago.

The rest of the message inside the card was well-chosen. It said, “for all the things that helped me grow, the staying close, the letting go, the honesty and humor too… for being real and being you.”

Too many cards featured images that just didn’t fit our dad. The sailboats, the formal tie, the golf scenes… Sis did a good job choosing this one with its thoughtful verse and earth-tone colors. Clyde Martin was a down-to-earth sort of guy.

The last part of the verse said, “for all your love, the gifts you give, the man you are, the life you live, for all these things and so much more, you’re the dad I’m thankful for. Happy Father’s Day.” Many thanks to Hallmark for this thoughtful, not-too-gushy card. Just right for our Dad.

karen and dad

I’ve always liked this photo of Karen and Dad. They are in the side yard of the El Dorado house.