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PROLOGUE

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emories of my early farm life have often visited me as an adult. However, about ten years ago they increased so much that I decided to record some of them. A few months passed and I found myself with a collection of stories that came alive with details. I shared them with friends and relatives who found them more interesting than I imagined they could be. I was inspired to consider a serious effort to publish them. Sixty chapters came together a few years later and became Spatzies and Brass BBs: Life in a One-Room Country School. The first edition quickly sold out and a second printing continues to be popular and available today. This unlikely adventure vividly began in September, 1943 when I first met my one-room school teacher, Miss Dalton. That eventful day was filled with firsts. Reading my first word and participating in my first recess stand out among the rest. The kindness of Miss Dalton is, however, unforgettable. My schools were among more than 5,000 one-room schools across Kansas at this time. Strategically placed about 5 miles apart, the planned walking distance was no more than 2 ½ miles each way from home to school. The walking distance to my two schools measured nearly 1 ½ miles. Daily farm chores, coupled with walks to school, provided physiiii


cal exercise not found in most families today. These latter days of the Depression and the “Dust Bowl” provided a stark beginning to my life. I recall no snow-release days either at Sunnyside or Stony Ridge schools and remember the only vacation time fell during the Thanksgiving weekend and the week between Christmas and New Years. After Spatzies, I once again became haunted by additional memorable events from that same Depression and World War II era. Four years later, Ducks across the Moon: Life on Eighty Acres in the Flint Hills was published and added another sixty fresh farm chapters and images from long-ago years. Both books continue to be favorites to thousands of readers and recently joined Kindle and Nook as e-book offerings. Further, in 2011, the 150th anniversary of Kansas statehood, the Kansas State Library recognized both books as included in the “150 Best Books of Kansas.” My dear friend and editor of the two books, Don Pady, joined me in the next writing adventure. After several years of consultation, we co-authored our novel Hidden Gold: Lost Treasure in the Flint Hills. It was a wonderful writing experience and we continue to receive numerous, positive reviews. During the years writing Hidden Gold, memories from my two Flint Hills farms continued to flood my consciousness, somehow requiring me to further share them to an ever-expanding reading audience. So now, in this third and final volume, Spirit of the Flint Hills offers 60 new chapters to the previous 120. I hope a serious student of late Depression and World War II times, as well as anyone interested in their cultural heritage and the rich, rural roots of our country, will now find a fairly complete picture of a farmer’s daily life—at least from the perspective of a grown up 10-year old! A faithful and talented fan of my books, musician Richard iv


Dieker provides an audio summary of some of those times, as he laments the disappearance of the one-room school and its rural neighborhood. The website for his song is: http://www.soundclick.com/player/single_player.cfm?son gid=5102630&q=hi&newref=1 Might teamwork, tolerance, commitment, self-sufficiency, and the concept of democracy be enhanced by reading and listening to these stories and messages? Dr. Ken Ohm Summer, 2014 Ken.Ohm@hotmail.com www.flinthillsstories.com Topeka, Kansas

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TABLE OF CONTENTS Prologue........................................................................... iii Section one — Wisdom, Honor and Sparkle 1 Driving at Age Eight.................................................. 1 2 After a While or Pretty Soon?..................................... 5 3 J.C. Penney: The Candy Man..................................... 9 4 A Barn Raising and a Quilting Bee........................... 13 5 Taffy Pulls................................................................ 17 6 Peanut Brittle Parties................................................ 21 7 War Savings Bonds................................................... 25 8 War Ration Books.................................................... 29 9 My Goodness........................................................... 33 10 The Word of God..................................................... 37 11 No Hugs.................................................................. 41 12 Shivarees.................................................................. 45 13 My First Restaurant.................................................. 49 14 Hornets, Bees and Fly Strips..................................... 53 Section two — Soft Skills and Hard Work 15 An Old Spinning Wheel in the Parlor...................... 59 16 Doilies, Lace and Darning Eggs................................ 63 17 Button Jars and Whirligigs....................................... 67 18 An Anvil in the Clouds............................................ 71 19 The Musical Saw...................................................... 75 20 Sharpening and Setting a Hand Saw......................... 79 21 The Smell of Rain..................................................... 83 22 The Big, Old, Greasy Workbench............................. 87 23 Nose to the Grindstone............................................ 91 24 A Prairie Grass Waltz................................................ 93 vii


25 26 27 28

The Sad Iron............................................................ 97 Three Grandparents I Never Knew......................... 101 The Playground Bully............................................. 105 Whistle While You Work........................................ 111

Section three — Living off the Land 29 Dark, Bruised and Wormy..................................... 117 30 Persimmons............................................................ 121 31 Oleo, Margarine, or Butter..................................... 125 32 Exploding Lard...................................................... 127 33 Fritzie the Bee-Keeper............................................ 131 34 A Menu for the Week............................................. 135 35 Cute Little Chicks.................................................. 141 36 Our Last 37-Cents................................................. 147 37 Shoe Leather and Bare Feet.................................... 151 38 Bats, Cats, and Rabies............................................ 155 39 Chiggers and Sulfur................................................ 159 40 Salt and Baking Soda.............................................. 163 41 Poison Ivy, Poison Oak?.......................................... 167 42 Mercurochrome, Merthiolate, or Iodine................. 171 43 Home Remedies on the Schroeder Farm................. 173 44 Schroeder Farm Superstitions................................. 179 45 A Brown Thrasher and a Bull Moose...................... 183 46 Sun Time............................................................... 187 Section four — Farm Games 47 Rollin’ in the Tire................................................... 193 48 The Cellar Door..................................................... 197 49 The Wicked Red Mulberry Tree.............................. 201 50 Thread Spools and Tinker Toys............................... 205 51 A Taste of Paste...................................................... 209 52 Mud Balls and Willow Branches............................. 213 viii


53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60

Willow Whistles and Kites..................................... 217 Kicking the Can..................................................... 221 Penmanship Lost.................................................... 225 Uncle Carl’s Coins.................................................. 229 Rodeo Time .......................................................... 233 Green Silks............................................................. 237 The Little Leather Box Camera............................... 241 Animal Instinct...................................................... 245

Epilogue........................................................................ 249 Acknowledgements....................................................... 253 About The Author......................................................... 255

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SECTION 1

WISDOM, HONOR AND SPARKLE In the late 1930s and 40s, farm homes were situated several miles apart. Daily contact among families was rare. Telephones were new to the area and had a shaky reliability. Although churches and schools offered centers for some shared community activities, families still relied primarily on the wisdom of their generations past to solve daily problems. On occasion, though, opportunities to gather with other families for group projects, or to travel to a nearby town, were accepted as a welcome change to their routine and a chance to widen their horizons.


Chapter 1

DRIVING AT AGE EIGHT Today I get to drive the horses behind the harrow! I’m a little scared, but Missy and Clyde will help me with my work. Dad said we will get them from the barn and walk to the plowed field. We will then hook them up to the harrow. I have played on the harrow many times since it is always on the field pretty close to our house. I know I can do this. I watched Dad a bunch of times.

E

arlier generations of my family were dirt farmers in Germany and Russia. Children of their very large families frequently started farm chores as early as five years. They matured quickly as they gained more and more responsibility. My dad was a product of that culture and felt that my sister and I should help with light work. I recall a rather large jump in my work assignment on that spring day in my eighth year. I see it as the beginning of a lifetime of driving experiences. Our two horses were very old and offered no danger as runaways, so Dad was confident that I could safely handle them. We located the harrow at the near edge of the field just across the road to the west of our house. The harrow was 1


Spirit of the Flint Hills a heavy frame set with spike-like teeth dragged over recently disked ground to break up clods and smooth out the surface. Once we connected it with the horses, Dad gave me a few instructions, handed me the reins, and said, “Go!” I was soon “flying” off on a most exciting adventure. Within seconds of having reins in my hands, I found myself comfortably following the harrow as we bumped along the rough field. A surge of great independence fell over me unlike any I ever had until years later during my first solo flight in a private aircraft or when sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. One of Dad’s instructions was to find an object at the far end of the field and keep my eyes on it, looking over the backs of the horses. This way I would likely travel in a straight line and not meander across the field. I did this and was pleased with myself when I reached the far end and looked back at the rather straight track I had left on the dirt field. I had practiced guiding the horses in the barnyard so had no difficulty turning them back across the field. Suddenly, Dad broke my trance when he appeared near my starting

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Spirit of the Flint Hills point. With a wave of his hand I knew it was time to quit. I felt disappointed. I had been having so much fun. I yelled “ho” to the horses and they stopped immediately. Dad complimented me on a fine job and then spelled out the next step in the process. To my surprise he said that I was not nearly done, as harrowing required several criss-crosses over the field. I could now choose about any path I wanted and direct the horses either in straight lines or might even curve them a bit. Boy was this fun! It was truly a random adventure, traveling back and forth over the field. After what seemed to be only minutes, but likely an hour or so, Dad halted my operation, collected the reins and assumed a final tune-up here and there. I felt like a real farmer that night and had trouble sleeping as I tried to remember each trip across that beautiful field. We had another small field to the north of our house which had recently been plowed and needed disking before harrowing. Dad suggested the next day that we might hook up the horses to our disk and if I wanted to try this more dangerous chore, he would help me get started. It was a failure. I soon found myself on the riding seat high above the grinding wheels of the disk, and felt a noticeable fear and was near panic. I waved frantically to Dad and he stopped the team and gently lifted me from the seat. That concluded my early experience with harrowing and disking, but imprinted on me the need for constant attention while riding on a moving machine. Several years later, after Dad became foreman of a ranch west of Saffordville, I was introduced to driving a John Deere tractor. I plowed, disked and harrowed fields, cultivated corn, cut hay and pulled all types of wagons on almost daily tractor rides. I loved the characteristic sound of the John Deere’s engines’ “put-put,” but learned also the seriousness and danger 3


Spirit of the Flint Hills of this very powerful machine. Over and over Dad reminded me that if the tractor was pulling an overweight load, it would react quicker than “a blink of an eye.” The front of the tractor, with the heavy engine, would flip up and over and onto the driver. This had me scared to the point of never accelerating the tractor to its full capability. However, I heard of a number of incidents where drivers were not so lucky. At about the same time, when I was fifteen-years-old, my sister and I decided to drive back and forth to high school in Emporia each day, a round-trip of some thirty miles. We never missed a single day that year as I drove our 1948 Chevrolet through all kinds of weather. We had a few narrow escapes on terrifying “black ice” pavements as well as spinning through heavy mud on miles of dirt roads. Somehow, my experiences behind horses and on tractors carried through to safely driving highways and back roads throughout the last nearly seventy years. Those spring days in 1944, however, stick in my mind as the singular time when I started my lifelong relationship with all forms of transportation. Yes, just following a couple of old horses, but what an impact!

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ISBN 978-1-4951-1737-4

51695>

9 781495 117374

Profile for Mennonite Press Inc

Spirit of Flint Hills  

With this last of three volumes, Ohm once again sheds light into the mystery and reality of life in rural Midwestern America in the 1930s an...

Spirit of Flint Hills  

With this last of three volumes, Ohm once again sheds light into the mystery and reality of life in rural Midwestern America in the 1930s an...

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