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. 

Vintage Westerns: My Dad’s Favorite Reads

Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, B.M. Bower, William McLeod Raine… do those names ring a bell? These are authors whose vintage westerns continue to have a strong appeal.

Westerns were in heavy demand at my library when the retirees flocked to the area for the warm winters. These older men grew up watching Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry weekly at the movies. Cowboys wore white hats and overcame the bad guys. From the 1920s to the 1950s youngsters imitated their favorite cowboy, wearing a vest and a cowboy hat, and gripping a six-gun in each hand.

Vintage Humor, Cowboy Singing Music to his Horse Classic Round Sticker Vintage Cowboy Singing to his Horse Round Sticker

Their movie heroes are long gone, but the western novel remains popular with this audience. The faithful readers may be seventy, eighty or ninety but as long as their eyesight holds out, they’ll read their westerns.

B.M. Bower Western books

Dad’s collection of B.M. Bower westerns.

Memory Flashback to 2007: Reading is a pastime that brings lifelong pleasure. My dad keeps a stack of his favorite westerns on a bookshelf near his comfortable chair. They are ready for re-reading at any time. In between, he goes through lots of paperback westerns. His family keeps him well-supplied with the paperbacks picked up at yard sales. Eventually, those get recycled to the used bookstore in town or donated to the library’s book sale. Then he returns to reading Zane Grey and B.M. Bower once again.

reading a vintage western

Clyde Martin, reading once again an old favorite western by William McLeod Raine.

I Loved Reading Vintage Westerns Too

Back when I was in school, I started reading the old westerns that filled the shelves in our home. Those were favorites of Dad’s. I found I liked them a lot, so started picking up additional titles at the public library that were missing from Dad’s collection. Later, I’d watch for the old hardcover classics from the 1930s and 1940s whenever I visited a flea market.

I still had a lot of those vintage westerns on my book shelves but needed to thin down my collection. Since I didn’t want to just give them to the thrift shop, I started passing them along to Dad the last few years of his life. Even if he had read them several times before, he was always glad to read one again.

 

I should have gotten Dad a mug like this for his coffee.

Thundering Herd 1925 movie ad Mug

Thundering Herd 1925 movie ad Mug

(This essay was previously published on Squidoo by Gail Martin’s daughter, Virginia Allain)

A Life Tip from My Mom

Maybe we should all make a list of truths that we discover during our lives. We could leave these lists for our children to guide them through the pitfalls they are sure to encounter.

In trying to think what life tip my mother might wish for me to know, my mind swirled around the importance of reading, of writing, of memories… Perhaps she would have said:

A good book will last you longer than a tidy house. Hmm, that doesn’t flow quite right. How about “Do what you love and don’t worry about cooking and cleaning.”

Mom often raced to get a meal on the table for her hungry husband and six children. Supper time sneaked up on her as she worked on a craft project, read a book or helped a child with their 4-H activity.

Although we loved her pot roast and the pancakes made in creative shapes, we’ll probably remember most the hours she spent showing us how to make a butterfly net or driving us to a remote location where we could find geodes for our rock collection.

As I turn the page of the book I’m reading, I silently thank my mother and father for being readers. They set the example in our home and all their children became lifelong lovers of books.

My whole career evolved from a love of reading. I spent thirty years as a librarian ensuring that communities had access to books through their public library.

We may not have had the neatest house around and our meals weren’t always on time, but we learned to create things and to love books. That’s a legacy that I’m glad I have.

three silly kittens

The Three Silly Kittens – favorite stories from childhood.

Having Librarian Genes

I became a librarian, spending 30 years as a children’s librarian, reference librarian and library director. Interestingly, many of my sisters worked in libraries over the years as well. My older sister worked the check out desk at the local library, another sister helped organize a church library and a third sister became a children’s librarian. Mom’s sister worked at the Seadrift Public Library and was instrumental in their getting a new library there. My niece, Diana went to library school for her master’s degree and works in the Kansas City Public Library.

Mom never worked in a library but she organized her home library with the authors and types of books grouped together. Dad built a bookshelf unit that covered a long wall in their living room. The top shelf displayed Dad’s collection of Lincoln biographies. Other shelves showed off their vintage favorites like Zane Grey, B.M. Bower, and other classic westerns that Dad liked to read over and over.

There was a section for books on Norman Rockwell, William Allen White and Will Rogers.  A stack of 1940s Saturday Evening Posts sat on the bottom shelf. The books and magazines spilled over into other rooms with bookshelves in the bedroom, the computer room and even the enclosed back porch.

Mom cataloged the books in a brown spiral notebook. Lists arranged by author filled the lined pages. There were even lists showing the runs they had of magazines like Organic Gardening with the dates they owned and the ones they needed to fill out their collection. I’m guessing she took the list with her to yard sales so she knew what to buy and what they already had.

Librarian genes definitely run in our family.

mom's book list notebook