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THE MAN AND WOMAN GOD CHOSE TO BE MY PARENTS
My parents were very special. I was a lucky little girl when God chose to send me to them.
Ray and Minnie Woodring were married February 11, 1914, and were blessed with three children: Harold Lowell, LaVera Mae, and Willis Wayne. Seventeen years passed between the birth of their first and last child, and I was in the middle.
Minnie Gail Forster was born in Smithfield, Nebraska, February 7, 1897, the daughter of George Forster and Anna (Tomasek) Forster. Minnie was a tiny baby when she moved, with her parents and two-year-old sister Elsie Mae, to a sod house sitting on a hill a mile north of Smithfield. In the late eighteen hundreds many of the houses in Gosper County, Nebraska, were "soddies." Lumber was scarce and expensive; sod was plentiful and cheap. The floors were dirt and soon became so packed down that they were not so dusty; however, bed bugs and sand fleas still lived in the dirt. The floors were scrubbed with milk to make them shiny. At one time, a wall of Forster's soddy caved in. They stayed with the Bartchers, across the field, while it was being rebuilt.
The Bartchers also had a baby girl, Vida Joy. Mrs. Bartcher "wet nursed" my mother. In those days there were no bottles with nipples. The mothers ran back and forth, across the field, for Vida Joy to share her mother's breast milk with my mother, Minnie. It must have bonded the two babies, as Vida and Minnie were life-long friends. Vida visited my mother in the nursing home, in Holdrege, Nebraska, not long before my mother's death from arteriosclerosis on December 26, 1976, at age 79.
As a child, Minnie had a frightening experience. While carving a face on a pumpkin, the jack-knife she was using slipped, severing an artery between the thumb and forefinger. Herman Scheels, a Forster neighbor, owned a car in the days cars were rare. Mom remembered, they wrapped a sheet around her hand and headed for town. Dr. Leese, in Smithfield, told this little girl that she was a "bleeder" and to never have surgery or she would die. My mother went through three pregnancies, afraid of dying with each one. Her babies were, no doubt, spaced years apart and all difficult births because of the words of an unthinking doctor spoken to a child.
Minnie graduated from the two years of high school offered in Smithfield at that time. It was a very special time in young Minnie's life. Her artistic talent was displayed in the calligraphy she used to sign her calling cards. Many homes had calling card tables. When a guest called and found the lady of the house not home, a calling card was left on that table. Mom must have talked to me often about those days, as I recall the name of her teacher and the story about her. Sarah Gainsforth was pregnant the last few months of school, but kept her "corset" so tightly laced, as was the style, that no one suspected she was carrying a baby until after graduation. The girls wore smelling salts in little vials around their necks to help revive them from the fainting spells brought on as the result of tightly laced corsets. Velvet covered fainting couches were found in almost every parlor.
My mother was a beautiful young lady, with fancy dresses, bouffant hairdos and fabulous hats. The hairdo was enhanced by hair gathered from the combs and brushes, saved in celluloid hair receivers, and made into "switches" to give a bouffant look. Curls were added with a curling iron which had been heated by hanging it on the chimney of the kerosene boudoir lamp.
It was not until the Roaring Twenties, the era of the "Charleston" and the "Flapper," that girls dared cut their hair and wear dresses above their knees. Even though Minnie had been married for several years, she was reluctant for her parents to see her new "bobbed" hairdo and short dress.
Mom often told me that she weighed less than a hundred pounds until she gave birth to me, at age 28. She said, "My waistline was never the same after a nine pound baby." As a young high school girl her cinched in waistline was less than eighteen inches. At that time neighborhood invitational dances were the vogue. The boy paid admission for them, a penny an inch for the girl's waistline measurement. Minnie must have been a cheap date.
My father, christened Cyrus Raymond, but always called Ray, was born in Smithfield, Nebraska, March 19, 1894, the oldest son of Charles Wilson Woodring and Minnie Belle (Graham) Woodring.
I recall my dad saying he had croup a lot as a child, today probably called asthma. As a toddler, he was accidently scalded by boiling water, leaving his chest badly scared. In another incident, at age 10, he and his cousins were caught smoking behind a shed when the shed itself began smoking. On October 22, 1963, at 69 years of age, he died of emphysema.
Uncle Earl, my dad's brother, at age ninety told me about their childhood companion, a collie dog named Carlos. Ray made a harness for Carlos and hitched him to a wagon so little Earl could go for rides.
Dad recalled riding in a covered wagon when he was very young. His mother and her sister, Jeanette (Graham) Birt, with their two little boys, Ray and John, traveled over 100 miles to Concordia, Kansas, to visit the boys' grandmother, Lucinda (McBurney) Graham. Dad remembered that it was so cold that the wagon slid on ice and they had to unharness the oxen in order to save them. They must have been very courageous women to have attempted such an undertaking.
Ray dropped out of school when he was a sixth grader to help out at home. He never complained about leaving school but instead spent his life educating himself. He was an avid reader and a "whiz" at math.
One summer, as a teen-ager, Ray worked at an International Harvester plant for his uncle Will Woodring, who lived near Chicago, Illinois. Uncle Will bought him several outfits of clothing from his wages because he knew all of Ray's money would be given to his parents when he got home.
Ray left his sweetheart Minnie Forster in Smithfield when he and his family moved to San Diego, California, in September, 1912. Most of their courtship was by letter. After Minnie graduated from high school, Ray went back to marry her. Minnie was just seventeen, Ray was nineteen. George Forster said "no" when Ray asked for his daughter's hand in marriage. Ray's cousin Ruth remembered a very unhappy young man asking her father, "What shall I do?" His Uncle Hiram Woodring answered, "Well, if you truly love one another, get a ladder and elope." That's what they did! With Ray's father as a witness they were married in Norton, Kansas. Their honeymoon was spent on a train headed back to San Diego.
Minnie went to work at a tuna canning plant (my mother never ate a tuna sandwich, or served tuna at her home; as a matter of fact, she didn't even like to watch gold fish swim.) Ray worked as a roofer, on flat roofs that were covered with tar.
Minnie's baby brother, Delmar Leo, died shortly after she left home and she missed him so much. That was probably the reason she became friends with a little neighbor boy named Lowell, and his mother. I never tired of hearing my mother tell this story when I was a child. It seemed that Lowell's mother was frying chicken and ran out of pepper. Talking to herself, as busy mothers often do, she said, "Oh darn, I'm out of pepper!" They lived on busy Imperial Avenue, across the street from Mr. Booker's little grocery store. She hadn't noticed three year old Lowell leave the house, until he tugged at her skirt saying, "Mr. Booky says to write a "peppi" on a "papi" den I get a "peppi." She panicked when she realized he had crossed a very busy street, twice, by himself. Many years later, my parents named their first child Harold Lowell.
Living with Ray's parents was not easy for Minnie; she missed her parents and wanted to go back home. They planned and saved their money. By early 1915, they had saved $300.00 dollars and bought two one way train tickets back to Nebraska. The money left over was all they had to start up housekeeping and farming. They rented the Hanlin farm between Smithfield and Elwood, in the Quakerville area. They didn't have the money for much furniture, but a Singer treadle sewing machine was one of their first purchases. (It is now proudly displayed in the home of their granddaughter Carolyn and is covered with a scarf her grandmother Minnie had embroidered with roses.) Most of their clothes were made on that machine as well as baby diapers and blankets, sheets and pillow cases, curtains, bedspreads, quilts, tablecloths, napkins and even handkerchiefs. (Disposable paper items such as these were as yet unheard of; can you imagine life without Kleenex?)
My mother told stories of her early days as a housewife. Striving to please her husband with her homemaking skills, she made a batch of chokecherry jelly. Something went wrong and it wouldn't jell. What should she do? She decided she would just feed it to the chickens so Ray wouldn't know, since that's what they did with all the kitchen food scraps. As the story goes, it was very, very sticky and the chickens got stuck in it! When Ray came in from the field, he found Minnie in tears, trying to unstick the chickens by washing their feet.
In 1918, Harold, as a little boy, knew that ducks were supposed to swim. He thought maybe he needed to teach them how, so he held them, one by one, in a tub of water and sure enough, they swam, or rather floated, on top. When his mother found him, he cried, "Look Mommy, they're swimming."
In 1920 two new amendments to the Constitution turned the nation upside down. The eighteenth amendment prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. The nineteenth amendment gave women the right to vote. World War I had ended. Effigies of the Kaiser were being burned, and victory parades were held throughout the land. Nebraska famers were prospering, because crops were yielding well and prices were high. My parents had moved to the farm where I was born and had purchased a black (they were all black) 1914 Model T Ford touring car (a Tin Lizzie). Both my parents learned to drive. It seems Dad was a somewhat fast and reckless driver. His Uncle Wayne Hood dubbed him "Barnie," the first name of a famous race car driver of the day.
In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, The Great Gatsby. The Montmartre in Paris was a gathering place for American artists and writers.
On the other side of the world, in the tiny town of Smithfield, Nebraska, a storm raged. Flashes of lightening, claps of thunder and lashing wind and rain made the night of September 10th unforgettable. Only one light burned in the farmhouse just east of town, and that was a kerosene lamp on a nightstand next to a brass bed. There my mother lay in labor with me, her second child. Dr. Guy Clark, a country doctor with a crippled arm, had arrived hours earlier. My little Bohemian grandmother, Anna (Tomasek) Forster, and a midwife, Mrs. August Lavene, were also in the room. My father Ray and my nine-year-old brother Harold were in another part of the house, as expectant fathers were not allowed in the birthing room in those days.
Dr. Clark was worried because, as he later admitted, he was afraid of losing both mother and baby. He asked for someone to boil water to sterilize the instruments, but my grandmother was nowhere to be found. She had apparently chosen the stormy weather outside and was walking down the muddy lane towards the road, rather than face the stormy atmosphere inside. Mrs. Lavene boiled the water and with the aid of forceps, I was born, a nine pound baby girl, with chubby arms and legs and dark hair sticking into the creases of my neck. I had my first haircut when I was only a day old.
I was christened LaVera Mae. One of my parents wanted to name me Vera and the other didn't, so they compromised and called me La Vera. Mae was the middle name of the only sister of each of my parents and of my grandfather's sister, Clara Mae.
My mother must have been a very busy lady, with a family to care for, and a large garden to plant, hoe and harvest. She set hens, raised chickens, helped husk the corn and yet somehow still found time to record the stepping stones in the early life of her baby girl. In a baby book handed down to me many years later, I found these notations:
"First smiled at four weeks"
"Coos and laughs aloud at two months"
"Weighed sixteen and a half pounds at six months"
"Says Mama and Da Da at seven months"
"Took first steps at ten months"
"Says baby, doll and kitty at ten months"
"Hollers at Harold and tries to say his name at eleven months"
"At eleven and a half months goes on a run"
"At twenty one months, climbs up to the sewing machine, calls it a "seam-a sewmer," unwinds the thread and says, "Me working hard, Daddy," when her daddy came in from the field.
At twenty-two months says "Go milk the cow," "Go bye town buy candy" and "Don't cut Harold's overalls, Mama."
Dad was injured when his team of horses ran wild, dragging him and mangling his right arm. The doctor who made a house call to change the bandage on Dad's infected arm, at the same time performed mastoid surgery on me on the kitchen table. Mastoiditis started with a common cold; an infection from the throat spread to the inner ear, causing pain and inflammation and very often required surgery. The antibiotics today usually prevent the need of surgery for such an infection. I often had earaches and sat on my dad's lap so that he could blow cigarette smoke in my ear. I don't know if the smoke helped or if it was the comforting feeling of sitting on my dad's lap.
I recall my dad telling me I could catch that pretty bird if I put salt on its tail. He must have chuckled when he saw me running around the yard with a salt shaker in my hand. I always believed everything my dad told me!
One of my earliest memories is riding in our Model T on a windy day. I was wrapped in a blanket on my mother's lap. With one hand she held me, and with the other tried to hold the car curtain closed. On very cold winter days we used lap robes of horse and buffalo hide and hair to keep us warm.
After Dad injured his arm, he couldn't do farm work and had to hire help. Mom came to the rescue, and made extra money by proving her ability as a sales lady. I rode along when Dad drove her around the area to sell aluminum cookware and furniture polish (made by a local man and packaged in quart fruit jars). I can remember having a sliver in my finger and one of mother's customers promising me a treat if I would allow her to use a needle to remove it. The treat was a prune.
In 1927, while our family was experiencing its own adventures on the farm, Babe Ruth, who at one time was married to a Woodring girl, hit sixty home runs.
In 1928, when I was three, my parents bought the small dry land farm where I grew up, four miles west of Smithfield in the Quakerville School District of Gosper County, Nebraska.
I was three when my parents, my twelve-year-old brother Harold and I moved from the rented farm, east of Smithfield, to one owned by my parents and the Mortgage Company, in the Quakerville School District.
It was a small, dry land (non-irrigated) farm with a large house, a storm-root cellar and an outhouse. Across the yard, some distance from the house, stood a big red barn with a well, a windmill and a cistern with a hand pump. The well was made by digging a hole into the earth to reach an underground water supply then lined with cement to hold water. The windmill acted as a wind-driven water pump. The cistern was an underground water storage tank, filled from the well. The cistern pump had to be primed each time it was used; a tin drinking cup always hung nearby.
Some fifty years earlier, this area had been a Quaker settlement, known as Quakerville. Old timers told that our house was built in those years by a Quaker from the East. The first family of Quakers was soon followed by more members of the same religion. Their church, which also served as their school, was built just a mile north of our farm home. It was sod, with a roof of poles hauled from Plum Creek (later to become Lexington) and again covered with sod. The construction of this building was a neighborhood project. Two of the family names were Hibbs and Birt. The wives, Temperance Hibbs and Janette Birt were "Graham" girls and sisters of my father's mother, Minnie Belle (Graham) Woodring.
Excerpted from FOUR SCORE and MORE by LAVERA EDICK. Copyright © 2013 LaVera Edick. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Chapter 1 The Man and Woman God Chose to Be My Parents.................... 1
Chapter 2 Quakerville.................... 15
Chapter 3 Smithfield.................... 39
Chapter 4 He Was German, She Was Bohemian.................... 61
Chapter 5 The Great Depression, Dust Bowl Days And My Baby Brother......... 81
Chapter 6 Route 66, From Nebraska to California and Back................... 118
Chapter 7 Married at 17 During World War II.................... 137
Chapter 8 Sharllyn and Her Little Sister Carolyn.................... 148
Chapter 9 A POW Barracks Becomes Our Dream Home.................... 167
Chapter 10 Stanley Versus Ike.................... 183
Chapter 11 Michael Ray, Beckie Jo and a Promotion.................... 202
Chapter 12 First Lady of Provident Life.................... 222
Chapter 13 Blessed With My Fifth Baby, Robert Allan.................... 240
Chapter 14 My Love of Art and Sisters at Heart.................... 261
Chapter 15 My Other Mother.................... 285
Chapter 16 Indian Summer.................... 305
Chapter 17 It Changed My Life.................... 314
Chapter 18 My Family—My Legacy.................... 325
Chapter 19 What's In a Dash?.................... 346
Chapter 20 Then It's Winter.................... 375
Posted June 18, 2013
Reviewed by Denise Stern for Readers' Favorite
“Fourscore and More: a Memoir, History and a Family Legacy” offers an all-in-one fascinating glimpse into a bygone era. LaVera Edick has penned an interesting history of her family that makes for interesting reading, even if you are not related to her. The story begins in 1914 with the wedding of her parents. The author, born in 1925, offers a richly detailed, and fascinating glimpse into growing up on a farm and her family dynamics. She takes the reader through the years of the Depression, a World War, and the struggles of one woman as she grows beyond farm life to marriage, family, and the challenges of a modern era. The story is filled with personal reflections, often amusing memories, and oh-so-personal glimpses into family life in a simpler (or so we think) time.
The stories Ms. Edick relates, and the photographs she includes in her book, immerse the reader into a history that is not displayed in history or geography books. The story is touching, very personal, and filled with a myriad of emotions as one woman describes her life and the lives of her family and ancestors; lives of sacrifice, dedication, fortitude, and most of all, determination to succeed and thrive. Ms. Edick’s use of descriptive language, narrative, and dialogue blend to create an interesting, and easy to read work that pulls the reader in from the first page. She evokes the emotions of readers with little obvious effort, and her prose is not only entertaining, but also well-constructed and conceived. "Four Score and More" offers much more than a family's genealogy, the heart and soul of an American family as well.