Undaunted by the Microphone

Gail Lee Martin spoke to a variety of audiences from school children, to seniors, to other writers. She prepared her talk well in advance and rehearsed it. She selected her outfit for the occasion and went to the hairdresser as the event approached.

She prepared handouts and visuals to use. Below, you’ll see her giving one of these talks. I note how composed she looks and I wonder why I didn’t inherit that sangfroid. When I give a talk, I’m a nervous wreck. Preparing for a presentation makes me quite anxious.

Gail Lee Martin

Gail Lee Martin giving a talk

Looking at these photos, I’m trying to figure out the occasion. It’s not her Margaret Hill McCarter impersonation, as she wore a costume for that. It’s not her author talk, as her books are not on display.

It might be some sort of presentation at a historical museum, possibly in Eureka. That’s the Greenwood County history that she’s holding up. She wrote some of the essays for it on the Martin and the McGhee families. The framed photo on the table shows Prairie Belle school which her husband, Clyde Martin, attended as a child.

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Gail and the Greenwood County history book

Other talks that she gave included the Rosemary Hour at the Kansas Authors Club annual convention. It honored Kansas authors who had passed away in the last year. She was the archivist for KAC for over 10 years.

Gail also gave talks about the history of aprons which was a popular presentation at senior centers and nursing homes. For a number of years, she led classes in memory writing at the Shepherd Center in Wichita.

I wish I had video recordings of some of these talks.

T is for Tornado Memories

Gail Martin saved not just her own memories of early days, but collected memories from her aunts and extended family as well. This is one she inspired her Aunt Bertha McGhee to write and send to ‘The Golden Years‘ magazine for East Central Kansas for Aging.   She was so pleased they published this March 1994.

In 1932, when they had the WPA, I worked for a year as a caseworker in Chase County. Once I was caught in a tornado and got stuck in a ditch.

The tornado, whose funnel cloud we could see north of us, picked up a farm house and set it back down on the other side of the barn with the lady of the house inside.

She said that when things settled down she found herself under the dining room table, in shock but unhurt. Her husband was in the barn and he and the animals were all OK. Outside the trees were stripped of all their leaves till they were as bare as December
even though it was summer.

Down the road about a quarter of a mile, an old rural school building, that was being used for hay storage, was blown away and only fragments could ever be found.

The ditch where I was was an unbridged ravine that only had water when it rained.   The WPA did put a cement crossing there later but not a bridge because it was a
back road that didn’t carry much traffic.

gail and mcghee cousins aunts

Gail Martin in the blue shirt. Her aunt, Bertha McGhee in front of her. A McGhee family reunion.

Summer Food Memories

(This post written by Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain, for the Our Echo site.)
Many childhood memories of Mom are centered on food. Perhaps that’s natural since motherly caregiving included keeping six children well-fed. We probably seemed like bottomless pits to her. After playing around the farm for hours, wading in the creek and wandering the pastures, we were ravenous. Many of our games involved running like wild yahoos through the sparse Kansas woods or galloping our pretend horses across the prairie. These activities guaranteed a good appetite.

Many childhood memories of Mom are centered on food. Perhaps that’s natural since motherly caregiving included keeping six children well-fed. We probably seemed like bottomless pits to her. After playing around the farm for hours, wading in the creek and wandering the pastures, we were ravenous. Many of our games involved running like wild yahoos through the sparse Kansas woods or galloping our pretend horses across the prairie. These activities guaranteed a good appetite.

To stave off the hunger pangs until supper time, we had some favorite snacks to fill the void. Bread with a liberal layer of white sugar, saturated with rich cream, was a favorite. We spooned the cream onto the sugar since it was too thick to pour. The golden cream from our jersey cow soaked into the sugar coating in a most satisfying way. Probably a nutritionist would cringe, but we worked off the extra calories running around the countryside, working in the garden and hauling buckets of water to the rabbits. Chubbiness was not a worry.

The garden yielded another favorite snack of tomato sandwiches. We sliced an oversized beefsteak tomato and placed the slices between two pieces of white bread. Of course, we slathered Miracle Whip salad dressing on the Rainbow bread first. We didn’t mind when the juicy tomato and excess Miracle Whip dripped down our chins. We ate the sandwiches outside anyway. When we couldn’t wait to return to our play, we just grabbed a tomato and bit into it. A little sprinkle of salt enhanced the flavor.

Sometimes we pulled out the standard peanut butter to spread on bread or saltines. Again we added extra sustenance by spreading home-churned butter on top of it all. Our peanut butter came in bucket-shaped tins, not in a jar. An oily layer rose to the top and had to be stirred in for creaminess. A topping of Mom’s jam or jelly or preserves completed the sandwich.

Mom kept the cookie jar full. She taught us all to make no-bake cookies, snickerdoodles, brownies and muffins. These weren’t the spongy, cakelike muffins served nowadays. Muffins in the 1950s were similar to hearty bread in texture. We also learned to make fudge, but it didn’t always stiffen properly.

karens muffins

Old-fashioned muffins like we ate in the 1950s and 1960s. Gail’s daughter, Karen, made these recently.

I tried raiding the cookie jar, but it was hard to lift the lid without making a clinking noise. Sneaking a piece of cake was even harder, especially since I cut so crookedly that it was easily detected.

Sometimes we had waffles or pancakes for supper. We looked forward to this treat, but I’m guessing it was a last minute measure when Mom forgot to defrost meat for the meal. She made the pancakes special by pouring the batter into odd shapes. Other families can have their stacks of round pancakes, but we had cloud shapes, turtle shapes, and even swans. Drowned in Log Cabin syrup, from the can that was shaped like a little cabin, the pancakes filled all our hungry tummies. Sometimes we spread jam on the pancakes or sprinkled on powdered sugar. I even remember putting peanut butter on pancakes.

log cabin syrup tin etsy

Photo of Log Cabin Syrup tin from Nutmeg Cottage on Etsy

Eating out was a rare treat. The A&W Root Beer stand was an occasional stop. They had 5 cent (was it really that cheap?) kid’s mugs of root beer. The mug was tiny but coated with frost and the tangy root beer tasted so good on a hot summer day. It was one of the few affordable places to take six children.

Sometimes we visited the Dairy Queen to get the soft serve vanilla ice cream cones. These were the ones with the curl on top. My Mom was a very brave woman to take a carload of kids there. We left with six of us licking our treat as fast as we could to keep the ice cream from melting in the searing Kansas heat. Even so, we always ended up with drips running down our arms and creating sticky spots on our clothing.

retro ice cream cone classic round sticker
retro ice cream cone  by doonidesigns

We sometimes went to a tiny diner where one day a week they had eight hamburgers for a dollar. They weren’t very large hamburgers, but it fit the family budget to eat there on the rare occasion. I think we drove the counter girl crazy when we ordered our eight hamburgers. Each child had their own preferences; with pickles, no pickles, ketchup, no ketchup, mustard, lettuce, etc.

I’d better stop now, as this is making me hungry for a tomato sandwich. I’d love to see other people’s food memories in the comment section.

Someone Has to be the Family Historian

(Virginia Allain wrote this 4 years ago shortly after her mother’s death)

When the keeper of the family history dies, it puts at risk the accumulated knowledge of many generations. Who will carry on the family stories, preserve the family photographs, and track the important family dates?

Although I’ll get some help from my sisters, it seems that I’m now the designated family historian. I’m honored that they entrusted me with the room full of family history files and genealogy binders and boxes of vintage photos. Our mom, Gail Lee Martin, worked diligently over the years accumulating and sorting all the information.

my writing notebooks

Gail’s shelves above her computer. Her son, Owen, built the shelving for her.

In the years before the Internet, she visited courthouses and cemeteries, wrote lots of letters, squinted over reels of microfilm and painstakingly recorded what she found into notebooks. Thank goodness I’m a librarian and fortunately, a retired one with the time to take it on. Carrying on the family history is right up my alley.

Last year I joined a genealogy club in my community and I’ve been researching with ancestry.com for several years. My mother and I worked on two books that I self-published for her. Three more were underway. I guess you could say that I’ve been in training to assume this role.

As I packed up her papers, I began to realize the days, weeks and years of research that it represented. Thank you, Mom, for all that you did to save the family stories for future generations.


The Martin/McGhee family history stored on shelves and in cupboards in its new home.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this, I’ve created a Martin/McGhee family blog called Then and Now. It has 58 family history stories so far that includes the Vining, Joy, Stone, Tower, and Kennedy lines as well.

This blog, Discovering Mom, was started in May 2013 and I have added 240 posts on it.

I hope to self-publish in 2017 a book about Gail Lee Martin’s 1940s years. This will include her last year of high school, the WWII years, and the first five years of marriage.

I’ve created our family tree on Ancestry so others can find the information Mom collected and what I’ve added to it. So far, it contains 4,810 people, 2,482 photos, and 230 stories.

There is still much work to do in preserving the family history and making it accessible to others.

R is for Ruth McGhee – In Sympathy

Gail Martin’s mother, Ruth McGhee died on the 25th of July in 1960 in Emporia, Kansas. It was a shock to everyone. Cards poured in to let the family know that she would be missed by everyone who knew her.

She’d had a heart attack and was in the hospital. The next month, she would have been 63 years old. Gone too soon.


Ruth McGhee sympathy cards

Some observations on the cards. Greeting card styles have changed since 1960. The cards were smaller and of lightweight paper. Some embellishment like glitter, a ribbon or flocking made a few cards stand out.

For the most part, the custom was to put just a signature, often the formal “Mr. & Mrs.” which we don’t use much now in signing a card. Usually, there was no additional note, and when there was, the expressions of sympathy sounded more formal then.

Here are the signatures on the cards. If you are from Madison, Kansas, many of these names will be familiar. Some come from further afield from family and friends in Oklahoma, Oregon, and California.

  • Russell, Dorothy & Don Andrew
  • Virgil & Bernice Armstrong – “with the deepest of sympathy for you & your family. May God be with you & comfort you at this time of great sorrow.
  • Frank J. Barker & Family
  • Mr. & Mrs. Otey Bill
  • Otho & Freida Buster
  • Frank & Inis Castoe
  • Cheerful Worker’s Class, Madison Christian Church
  • The George Cloptons
  • The Crawfords – “You have had a great loss and we have lost a dear friend.
  • Floyd & Millie Culver
  • Ralph Dobson
  • Essie Dunham
  • Mr. & Mrs. Earl Dyer
  • Tom & Ruth Edwards
  • The Engles
  • The Flemings – “Rich & I both want you to know that we are thinking of you & your family & extend our very deepest sympathy.
  • Mr. & Mrs. T.G. French
  • B.H. & Doris Gaines & family – “Our deepest sympathy to you, Clarence, in your great loss.
  • Mr. & Mrs. C.W. Galbraith
  • Mrs. Pearl Garvin
  • Anna Haas (Lamont, KS) – “with deepest understanding sympathy”
  • Lloyd & Betty Haas – “Have thought of you often in the past weeks.
  • Edna Mae & Austin Hailey (Barker)
  • Mr. & Mrs. Roy Harlan
  • Harold, Melba Lu & Janice Hauser – “God Bless you & keep you as you go on – the way Aunt Ruth would want it. With all our love.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Ray Hess
  • The James-Sill-Brown Post, No. 124, Madison, Kansas (American Legion)
  • Mr. & Mrs. Geo Jester
  • Roy & Blanche Kennedy of Wichita – “So little I can say at a time like this, so nice of you to call me. I would of come if possible. I’m thankful that Ruth and I had such a nice visit last fall at her sister’s & Ruth gave me a crocheted apron she just made. I appreciate it even more now. If you are in Wichita, come see us & if there is ever anything I can do, rest assured, I would. It’s nice you have the girls and grandchildren to help ease your burden.  Write when convenient.
  • Conley & Mrs. Kindley – “God Bless and Comfort You
  • James King & Family
  • Seth & Mildred Lindberg
  • Coy & Lois Lindsey, Paula & Brenda
  • Harley & Carmon McClure (Heston, Kansas)
  • The C.C. McCollum family
  • W.E. McGiluray
  • Bud, Rosa & Arminta McGoyne
  • Mr. & Mrs Arthur Moore
  • Norman & Bonnie Morray & Family
  • Mrs. Earl Mullen
  • Mr. & Mrs. John Ogilvie
  • Treva, Dee-Wayne, Leslie, Lynn, Louis, & Lyle Paugh
  • Irene & Hugh Palmer – “our sincere sympathy
  • Kermit & Velva Pope
  • The Fletcher Powells (more names below the photo)ruth-mcghee-card-2
  • Ernest & Lois Reynolds – “Dear Clarence, we are so sorry to hear of your loss. Our sincere sympathy.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Ray Richards, Ken & Myrna
  • Charles & Milla Ritchey
  • Mr. & Mrs. Theo Richter
  • The Robert E. Sanders
  • Mr. & Mrs. L Sauder (Beulah & Doc) – “Dear Friend, You know you have our deepest sympathy but wanted to send you a card. We appreciated cards sent us when mother passed away and liked to take them out and look at them at times.
  • Janice Schmidt
  • Mr. & Mrs. Clarence Schwab
  • Oscar & Hazel Skaggs – “Mrs. Lour just called & told us of the sad news of the death of your wife. We are happy we got to know her at Trenton last year. We are surely praying that you and your family will gain much comfort from God at this time.
  • Opal Smith of Woodward OK
  • The Snyders
  • Herb & Mabel Staten
  • Mr. & Mrs. Fred Storrer
  • Mr. & Mrs. G.O. Towns
  • Hallie Umbarger
  • The Williamsons – “We are sorry not to be able to attend the services, but Roy is still not feeling well. Our sincere sympathy to all of you.
  • Frances Yawn of Orlando FL
  • Ardale, Earleen & Girls
  • Erma & Hubert
  • Irene & Shy
  • Leslie & Lula
  • Lafe & Verna
  • Hiram & Elizabeth – “Dear Clarence, Dewey told me about your great loss. We are truly sorry to hear it. Know it must be hard to bear, but it is one thing we all have to face sooner or later. Would like to see you, but we do not get out much these hot days. May God bless you in your sorrow.
  • Leonard, Violet & family

I apologize for any misspelled names. For the most part, the handwriting was very clear and readable but I struggled with a few of them.

Q is for Quilts

In the photo below, you see my mother with an antique quilt that’s been passed down in the family. The signatures stitched into the quilt include her mother, great-aunts and their neighbors from the 1930s. What a treasure!

Gail Martin and autograph quilt

Gail explains the names on the autograph quilt.

When I was a child, I remember Mom making two Sunbonnet Sue quilts with yellow squares between the designs. Those decorated the room that I shared with Susan. Those wore out years ago, but recently, I saw the one shown below and it reminded me of the pretty one Mom made.


On my father’s side of the family, there were notable quilters, including his mom, Cora Joy Martin, and his sister Dorothy (Martin) Jones. One of our cousins even opened a quilt shop that sold fabric and held quilting classes.

When I lived in Baltimore, I was president of the large quilt guild there and organized some of their quilt shows and was the newsletter editor also. Then we lived for a few years in Australia and I was delighted to find the small town of Alice Springs had a very active quilt club.

Even more than the quilting itself, I’m passionate about old quilts. They speak to me.

Here’s a gallery of family quilts.


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Shannon (Martin) Hyle with a Martin family quilt. The design is called cathedral windows.


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Cynthia Ross with a quilt made by an aunt, Dorothy Jones.


vicki grandmas quilt

A quilt made by Cora Martin


P is for Pancakes

Cora Joy Martin shared some of her recipes with her daughter-in-law, Gail. She raised eight children and when the crops were ready, Cora fed a whole harvest crew. One of the recipes that Gail Martin inherited from her was her hardy sourdough pancake recipe.

You need to plan ahead to make these. The night before, you mix the milk, flour, salt and sourdough starter. Leave that in a warm place overnight. Check out the rest of the ingredients and instructions below.

Art Deco Glenwood Stove Poster

Art Deco Glenwood Stove Poster by Vintage_Obsession

Hearty Sourdough Pancakes Ingredients

2 cups milk
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup active sourdough starter
2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
3 tbsp melted lard
2 tbsp sugar

Mix the first 4 ingredients and let stand overnight in a warm place. In the morning, remove one cup of the mixture, to replenish the sourdough starter. To the remaining mixture,

pancakes-white plate pixabay

Pancake photo courtesy of Pixabay.

To the remaining mixture, add the baking soda, the eggs, lard, and sugar. Mix well, then bake on a hot frying pan or griddle that has been greased. This serves 6 people.

Sourdough Starter (Cora’s Version)

1 cup milk, 1 cup flour

Let the milk stand at room temperature in a glass bowl for 24 hours. Do not use a metal container. Then mix in the cup of flour and place it in a warm, but not hot place for 3 or 4 days. It is ready when it begins to smell sour and bubbles.

After that, keep it in a cool dark place when not in use. Stir twice daily. This was used before packaged yeast was available.

eggs bowl pixabay

Eggs in a bowl – photo from Pixabay

You can make the sourdough starter another way. Below is the recipe passed down to Gail Lee Martin by her mother.

Kansas Sourdough Starter (Ruth McGhee’s Version)

1 potato, peeled and grated
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
3 cups flour

Combine the grated potato, sugar, water, and flour. Let stand in a gallon crock, lightly covered with a cloth for 3 days. Every time you remove a cup of starter for a recipe, add 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/2 cup flour to the starter.

Gail Martin shared these recipes when the Butler County Historical Society collected 1920’s and 1930’s recipes. They were published in the cookbook, Grandmother’s Legacy.