A Martin Family Thanksgiving

Ten years ago, Gail’s daughter Virginia wrote this memory of a long-ago Thanksgiving.

thanksgiving family photos

“Almost forty years ago. It’s hard to understand that so much time has passed. I look at the black and white photos. On the back of the photos, I’d written 1968 and the names of the people in the pictures. Of course, I knew their names without having to look on the back.

There’s Mom, looking so youthful. She would have been 44 then and years younger than I am now. She paused while removing the turkey and stuffing from the oven so I could snap this photo. She’s wearing the white sheath dress with the leaf pattern for the occasion.

Another shot shows Shannon, age 10, helping Dad fill the relish plate. There are olives, sweet gherkins, and cinnamon apple rings. Shannon looks so sweet in her jumper and a white blouse with a peter pan collar. Her black hair reflects the light and she’s wearing glasses. Her face is serious with the responsibility of helping with this holiday meal.

The round oak table is set with the white ironstone dishes. My grandparents gave that table to my father many years before. He ate at that table from childhood onward. Instead of a tablecloth, there are placemats. Beyond the big round table, a card table will accommodate the little ones. Even with the extra leaves in, the oak table couldn’t hold the expanding family.

The windows and curtains help me identify the house we lived in then. It was on North Emporia. The next summer we moved to State Street.

thanksgiving family photos

There’s a photo of me, looking much trimmer during those college years. All that walking across campus, I guess. In the photo, I’m setting out the desserts on the desk that was serving as a sideboard. I recognize Mom’s German chocolate cake. The four pies are probably rhubarb, pumpkin, cherry, and a pecan pie. Although the photo lacks color, my mind fills it in. I’m wearing olive green stretch pants, the kind with the stirrup, and an olive green paisley shirt. It looked good in the sixties.

There’s my older sister, Susan. She wears a navy maternity smock and there’s her son, Paul, just a toddler then. Peering into the shadowy background of the photo, I identify her husband, Ron. Only a few years after that, he died in a car accident. I wish I’d taken more photos.

Here he is again in the group photo of the family ready to sit down for the Thanksgiving feast. Larry and my sister, Cindy stand just beyond Ron. This was while they were dating and their marriage still a year away. Now their children are grown with families of their own. Next to them is Karen, who was still in high school. She’s wearing a polished cotton dress with wide cuffs that Mom made for her. Our brother, Owen, isn’t there. It’s the Vietnam War era and he’s away in the army.

The table is filled with serving bowls. I know their contents even though I can’t see the details in the photo. There is cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, deviled eggs, and stuffing. In later years, more favorites were added such as five-cup salad with the orange slices, whipped cream, bananas, maraschino cherries,and little marshmallows.

The next photo shows Mom and Dad as the meal finishes. The family always lingered around the table, telling stories and enjoying the company. Soon we put away the over-abundance of food for a few hours and cleared the table for card games. Nolo was a favorite and also Spoons. Later in the evening, the food reappeared for a buffet. Still sated from the earlier feast, everyone managed to nibble on their favorite dishes and squeeze in another piece of pie.

The final photo from that long ago day shows Mom and three of my sisters in the kitchen “washing up.” Actually, Mom was washing the dishes, Shannon drying them, Cindy putting them away. Karen brought the plates into the kitchen from the table.
I’m thankful that we had that time together and now I have the memories of those good times saved in these photos. Our lives have moved along. I live far away. We are older now. Marriages have come and gone. Health problems crop up. Shannon and Ron are gone.

Still, when that special Thursday in November comes around, I know my family will gather. They will eat turkey and sweet potatoes. They will share laughter and storytelling and card playing. The little ones help fill the relish plate. New toddlers sit at the children’s table. The women will clear the table and wash the dishes. There is still much to be thankful for.”

Comments from That Post on Our Echo:

What a great memory piece about a warm and loving family. I really enjoyed the way you used the photos as you told the story, and adding the part about what people were wearing was nice. Brought back memories of favorite outfits I had in the 60’s. Very nice writing. Nancy Kopp

Very nice! This piece has the feel of “remembering Manderley” from the novel Rebecca. (My memory tells me that Shannon’s jumper was red.) Karen Kolavalli

Hey, Virginia, your memories took me back as if it was yesterday. Almost like in the movie, “Fiddler on the Roof,” when he sang “Traditions.” The food is always great at Thanksgiving, but it truly is the getting together as a family and or with friends that make it so wonderful. After Larry and I married and moved out of state, coming home for Thanksgiving was always such a treat. Cynthia Jo Ross

I do have an earlier memory of a large family get together where we as little children set on a stairway with our plate on our knees. One child to a step all the way to the top. Cynthia Ross

I remember that one, too–I believe it was at Howard & Marge’s big house in Madison. Karen Kolavalli

Your story exudes a warm, familiar, family feeling. Yours was a family blessed. BJ Roan

Your story seems very similar to what I remember about the family gathering for Thanksgiving in 1988. I love the adds memories about the colors in the clothes and the description of the photos. K.D.

Oh Ginger, I read this through my tears. A wonderful, affectionate, joyous, nostalgic, heartbreaking memory of holiday dinners at my sister’s home, many of which are in my memories too. Carol J Garriott

Great memories from the black & white photos. Takes me back to last year when I posted my Thanksgiving memory “We Gave Thanks Prairie Style” where I added the pen & ink sketches that Shannon drew. Enjoyed your memories, Mom (Gail Lee Martin)

Missiles in the Wheat Fields

(post by Gail’s daughter, Virginia)

Travel Back in Time

Back in the early sixties, I attended a 2-room country school in south-central Kansas. We would see the military convoy going by while we were outside playing Red Rover and baseball at recess. We often paused our games to wave at the soldiers in their Army vehicles.

It wasn’t wartime, but America and the Soviet Union were engaged in a Cold War. As kids, we didn’t pay much attention to the news of Khrushchev, or the arms build-up. We lived in the country, belonged to 4-H, attended church, and the tensions of governments seemed very distant.

We saw jeeps like this heading for the missile silo in the 1960s

We saw jeeps like this heading for the missile silo in the 1960s (photo from Pixabay).

There we were, in the middle of Kansas, surrounded by wheat fields. The reason for the soldiers driving by? There was an underground missile silo out there in the middle of nowhere. It was 6625 miles from where we were to Moscow.

Little did we know that the very presence of that missile silo made our rural county a target if actual war did break out.

Four_Martin_Girls 1960s Kansas

The four Martin girls in the early 1960s.

Learn More About the Missile Silos

I was curious to see what had happened to those after the Cold War ended. Here are some examples.

One was made into an AirBnB. Another was blown up by a rancher after it was abandoned by the government. Some were converted into condos for those wanting a retreat in case of nuclear war.

I found one article that said, “In Kansas, the government constructed 12 Atlas F sites and nine Atlas E sites. The Atlas F sites – deep sites compared to Atlas E sites – cost about $14 million to $18 million each.” Read more about the missile sites. These sites were on high alert during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Apparently, the Atlas sites were all decommissioned by 1965.

Country School Memories

Memories of Attending a Country School – by Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain

I attended a two-room school for three years. That sounds quaint and old-fashioned, but Kansas in the 1950s and early 1960s hadn’t yet consolidated the rural schools. West Branch School, east of El Dorado, Kansas was a square brick building with a spacious basement and on the main floor, the two classrooms.


west branch school from real estate listing.png

West Branch School – rural Butler County, Kansas


Mrs. West taught the first four grades, where my younger sisters, Cindy and Karen attended. I was in the upper grades, taught by Mrs. Mildred Waltman. While I was in 6th grade, my sister Susan was in the 7th grade, and my brother, Owen was in 8th grade, all in the same room. Mrs. Waltman taught all three grades plus the 5th graders.

Those four grades shared one good-sized room. The blackboard covered one wall with some large maps on a roller above it. Classes took turns being instructed at the sturdy table placed in front of the blackboard. The teacher divided her time four ways, switching from math to English to geography and from one grade level to another.

When it wasn’t our grade’s turn at the front of the room, we worked at our desks on assigned work. If we finished our assignment, we could always listen in on the class being taught at the table or we could choose a book to read. The bookshelves ran all across the longest wall under the windows. Being an avid reader, I’d hasten to finish my class work so I’d have time to read.

At the end of the school year reading awards were given. Gold embossed seals, each representing five books read, almost completely covered the inside of my reading certificate in its royal blue fake-velvet cover.


It’s hard to imagine the workload for a teacher handling four grades at once, but Mrs. Waltman rose to the challenge. Each grade consisted of only two to four students, so essentially she customized the curriculum and we received individualized attention.

When West Branch students graduated from 8th grade, they took the bus into El Dorado Junior High to merge in with 400 students for 9th grade. The students from the country schools took placement tests and were assigned to math and English classes based on the results. I noticed that most of us ended up in the honors level classes.

The social adjustment of going from a small school to one so large was tough. Most of the town kids had attended grade schools together and had a two-year head start on Junior High when we arrived. The cliques and friendships formed over the years were not receptive to country kids. We felt like outsiders and I never overcame that feeling all through high school.

We missed the camaraderie of our cozy classroom and the freedom of the playground. In our country school, we knew everyone and they knew us. At recess, all ages from first grade through eighth grade played softball together or jumped rope or played running games. The school ground included a vintage merry-go-round that spun at dizzying speeds when the older boys pulled it round and round. You could sit on the splintery seat and grip the handrail or if you felt daring, you could stand on the seat and hold the upright pole. Sometimes centrifugal force took hold and your feet left the seat while you clung to the pole flying through the air.

When the weather was too bad, we could play in the basement of the school. I remember the 8th graders bringing a record player and we tried to learn the latest dances. This was just a few years before the Beatles took rock music by storm.

We rode the school bus to West Branch and brought our lunches in square metal lunch boxes. At our house fixing five lunches required an assembly line in the morning as we made sandwiches and packaged up homemade cookies. The school provided the square cartons of milk to go with our lunches. I think we had to bring “milk money” to pay for it, but I don’t remember how much it was.

Thank you, Mrs. Waltman, for making my years at a country school, ones that I remember so fondly.

(this has also been posted on the Our Echo website where people can share family stories)

Moving Back to Town

Gail Lee Martin’s memories of places they lived. 

We moved back into town in the year Owen went into the Army, 1968, I think, because Clyde was working away from home and it was hard for us girls to keep the wood fire burning, the car running, and keep the pump for the well from freezing in the winter.Owen_Martin_Acting_Sgt_Advanced_Training_Combat_Engineering_Ft_

We moved to 211 North Emporia. When the owner Mrs. Dillenbeck got divorced and moved back home, we then found a house on State Street, just north of the Kentucky Fried Chicken place.

At that house, we had Larry and Cindy’s wedding in our home in 1969. When Owen came home in 1970, the house still wasn’t big enough, even with Cindy and Susan married and Ginger at the Teacher’s College in Emporia.


Cynthia Martin and Larry Ross celebrate their wedding with a cup of punch.

A note from Gail’s daughter, Ginger: You can see from this memory piece, that Gail and Clyde’s children were growing up. 1968 through the early seventies included military service (the Vietnam War era), college, and marriage. Their daughter, Shannon was the only child still at home until Owen returned from the service.

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.


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 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.