Off to Town

A childhood memory by Gail’s daughter, Virginia.

What an ordeal the short trip to town must have been for my mother. Packing five contentious children into a medium-sized car wasn’t easy. This was before the days of mini-vans. After the sixth child came along, we finally got a station wagon. In the three mile trip into El Dorado, we’d bicker whenever a brother or sister infringed on our space. Within the confines of the car, sibling rivalry had the opportunity to even the score with subtle elbow digs and shoves. It was hard to tell what was normal energetic kid behavior and what was malice.

Butler County, Kansas courthouse

Photo by Virginia Allain – The Butler County Courthouse in El Dorado, KS.

El Dorado was an oil and cattle center east of Wichita, Kansas. It was also the county seat for Butler County, and our trips to town often included the century-old, brick courthouse. We’d climb the wide wooden steps to the third floor where the 4-H office was. Mom needed advice or pamphlets to use with the many project groups she led. Entomology, geology, cooking, gardening, and leadership were some of the topics she taught to groups of 4-H members.

Another frequent stop was the public library. In our younger years, it was the vintage Carnegie building on Central, but later it was the more modern building on Carr Street. The five of us, and later six, would fan out through the children’s section browsing for favorite series like The Borrowers or searching for a new dog book by Terhune or a horse story by Thomas C. Hinkle. My ambition was to read my way alphabetically through the fiction section. Hampered by the library’s limit of three books per child, I abandoned the goal after making it halfway through the A section. I did read all of Louisa May Alcott and Aldrich. Then I reverted to free range reading. While at the library, we lived in dread of fierce Miss Borger, the head dragon there, who shushed unruly children and accused them of having sticky hands.

Probably we did, as mom had a hard time corralling and getting all of us tidy and clean for a trip to town in the searing Kansas heat. No air conditioning in cars back in the 1950s. If we stopped at the Dairy Queen for a curly topped cone, then we were a sticky mess afterward. The ice cream melted faster in the 100-degree temperatures than we could eat it. The drips ran down our arms, spotted our shirts, and coated our cheeks and chins. No amount of scrubbing,  even with motherly spit applied on the flimsy paper napkins, could totally clean up the batch of us. Four_Martin_Girls

Another summer feature of trips to town was swimming lessons at the city pool. I don’t remember much of the teaching techniques, but they didn’t seem to work well for me. I did learn to dog paddle and actually can float quite well. Otherwise, I flounder my way, thrashing and flailing, from one side of the pool to the other. We had nowhere to practice our swimming since our creek was just ankle-deep.

I remember trips to Woolworths, which we simply called the dime store. There we selected our plastic cowboy and Indian figures. These became part of elaborate wild west games played out in our large sandbox at home. With our imaginations fueled by watching Roy Rodgers and Gene Autry movies, we constructed landscapes and re-enacted the chases and clashes with our small plastic figures.memories of visiting the shoe store - photo by pixabay

Also in town, we visited the shoe store that gave away pink and blue dyed chicks when we bought new shoes at Easter time. Probably town children took theirs home for a brief life span where an over-affectionate child squeezed the little fluff ball to death. Ours joined our flock of chickens on the farm, where they reverted to normal chicken colors as their feathers grew in.

For the kids, each trip to town was an adventure. For Mom, I’m sure, it couldn’t be over soon enough.

This story was previously published on the Our Echo website. 

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.

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?

The Cowboy with a Broken Arm

Did you have any childhood injuries or broken bones? I was pretty lucky and never broke anything as a kid, but my siblings sure had their share.

cowboy broken arm 1950s

Owen Martin doesn’t let a broken arm deter him from his cowboy games.

The photo shows my brother, Owen, with his arm in a sling. He broke that arm playing cowboy at my grandparent’s farm. There was a saddle hanging on a wooden rail and he climbed up on it. When it tipped off the fence, he ended up with the broken arm.

As you can see, it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for being a cowboy. Here he has on his cowboy hat and his pistol in his hand. The photo below shows him before the brangle with the saddle.

One of my sisters broke her collarbone when we lived in El Dorado. Later, when we lived in the country, my littlest sister suffered a broken leg when I tripped over her while playing softball in our driveway. I felt horrible about that. I was angry with her for getting in the way, then we realized something was wrong.

shirtless 1950s boy with saddle

Here’s Owen with that saddle, a gun, a cowboy hat and no shirt.

How about you? Did you fall and break any bones as a child?

(memory piece by Virginia Allain, Gail’s daughter)

Quick Definition, in case I stumped anyone with “brangle.” It means a brief squabble. 

Moving to the Country

Another excerpt from Gail Lee Martin’s story on the My History Is America’s History website. When the site closed, the stories were lost. Recently, we found this on the Wayback Machine so it could be saved on Gail’s blog. Photos added from the family album. 

west branch school from real estate listing

Photo of the West Branch School (from a recent real estate listing).

After living on Carr Street for two school years, we found a house in the country, three miles north on Highway 77. Moving in the summer of 1959. The kids went back to riding the bus school (West Branch School which had grades 1 through 8 in two rooms). They later rode the bus to El Dorado for high school.

 

The farmhouse was a big two-story house and the farm had lots of space for our kids to roam around. It had close to 50 acres of woods and pasture.

ginger childhood

The Martin girls – Cindy, Karen, Ginger, and Susan.

We went into the rabbit business again. Each of the kids had a different breed. We had New Zealand White and Reds, California, Chinchilla, and even some Dutch. They did great at the county fair and on to the state fair for many years.

rabbit-hutches

Our rabbitry on a chill winter day. Fortunately, there was no snow

Note from Gail’s daughter, Ginger: The stone wall in front of the rabbitry was a huge family project. These are the foundation stones from the old farm house, I think. It took a lot of labor to maneuver them into place. There were three rows of rabbit hutches. Behind there, was a bank that dropped down steeply to a small creek.

The Carr Street Years

Gail Lee Martin created this story on the My History Is America’s History website. When the site closed, the stories were lost. Recently, we found this on the Wayback Machine so it could be saved on Gail’s blog. Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain added the photos to go with it. 

Oil drilling around Arkansas City became slow so Clyde went to work for Red Wilson, who drilled around the El Dorado area. We moved to 715 W. Carr Street in El Dorado in August 1957. The move was just in time for the kids to start to school with Karen in kindergarten. She was the only one to have that opportunity.

Cindy Susan Owen Ginger Karen_715 W Carr_El Dorado KS_Aug 1958

The Martin kids – Owen, Susan, Ginger, Cindy, and Karen. This photo is probably taken the year before the family moved from Ark City to El Dorado.

Going to school here in El Dorado was no hardship as our house was on the same block as Washington School. We all joined scout troops. Karen and Cindy in Brownies; Susan and Ginger in Girl Scouts and Owen in Boy Scouts. Since I couldn’t be with each of our children to help with their scout activities, I was getting discouraged.

In the spring of 1958, Clyde was injured in a car accident near Ark City and he was still in the El Dorado hospital when Shannon was born, June 1. When she was 10 days old, a killer tornado tore up the town, just a few blocks west of our home.

Shannon was with Dorothy Jones and they went to the Gas Service basement. I was visiting Clyde in the hospital, where we watched it go through town. The rest of the kids were with relatives and friends, while I was in the hospital having Shannon. Karen, Cindy, and Susan were with Clyde’s sister, Zella, going to Vacation Bible School in Madison. Howard Martin brought them home the evening after the storm. Owen and Ginger were with Dorothy and Wayne Baysinger in Oklahoma.

ginger childhood

The Carr Street house in the background. Ginger, Cindy, Susan, and Karen Martin. Summertime.

We discovered 4-H and joined the Prospect Wranglers group in 1959 where all the kids could be in the same group. That solved the scouting issue.

We lived on Carr Street for two school years before we found a house in the country. It was three miles north on Highway 77 and we moved there in the summer of 1959.

Martin kids 1959 Easter

The Martin kids – Cindy, Ginger, Owen, Karen, with Susan holding baby Shannon.

Ark City Days

I recently found some family stories that Mom (Gail Lee Martin) published on a site called My History Is America’s History. Sadly, the site disappeared along with everyone’s stories.

“When Clyde’s oil field job in 1956 took him to Arkansas City, Kansas, we moved to a house on State Line Road. The Shelaka Indian School was across the road in Oklahoma. (note: the actual name of the school was Chilocco Indian Agricultural School and it had about 1,300 students)

The children went to a county school called IXL which was a mile north and 1/4 mile east of our house. Cindy was in first grade; Ginger, third grade; Susan, fourth grade; and Owen in the fifth grade.

The school had a great art teacher that taught clay molding. Cindy made a plaque of her hand print; Ginger made a plaque with a horse. Susan made elephant head bookends & Owen made a small lion and a circus wagon. We were proud of how nice they looked when they were fired with a glaze finish.

I babysat for money for the first time taking care of a neighbor’s son Danny. He was the same age as Karen. When Danny’s sister was born, I cared for her from 6 weeks old until we moved.

scouting owen susan ginger gail

Ginger and Susan in their Brownie uniforms and Owen in his scout uniform. Gail Martin in her den mother cap and scarf. This must be the front landing for the Ark City house. (blame the sun for the sullen looks on our faces)

I’d become a den mother for the scouts in Madison, so Owen and I were still in Cub Scouts in Ark City. Since we lived close to the Indian reservation, the pack took a trip there.

 

Owen_susan_Virginia_Karan_Cindy_1954_Woolaroc_Museum__Okla

1956 – Susan, Virginia (Ginger), Owen with Karen and Cindy in front. This is the Woolaroc Museum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Susan was invited to take part on the IXL float for the Arkalalah parade that Ark City has every Halloween. The girls were all in pale yellow fancy dresses. Just beautiful.

Owen caught scarlet fever and gave it to Ginger and Cindy. All the children had to stay home until it was past.

Just before school started the next year, we moved to El Dorado, Kansas.”