Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Child's Life on a Nebraska Farm, 1920s

At a young age, my father, Verne Troutman, and his siblings were expected to help with the farm work. Dad used to tell about his father, Clint. sending him to town driving a team of horses and a wagon to deliver a load of corn. He was seven years old. His father gave him a dime, and he bought himself a cheese sandwich and an ice cream cone to eat while he waited for the wagon to be unloaded. Then he drove the empty wagon home. Mission accomplished. He was proud, a little man.

He remembers: “I had work to do from seven years old: raked hay, drove a team of horses, swept hay, cultivated corn, cut weeds, brought in wood and cobs [for the fire], fed pigs, fed calves, and so forth.

“It was hard to keep cool in summer on a hot Nebraska day. We would cool off by sitting in the shade of a tree or haystack sometimes while taking a break from farm work.”1
Carl and Verne and their 4-H calves.
Neville's duties were less risky: “As a child, I set the table and waited on my brothers at the table, did dishes and helped clean house. I also ironed my brothers’ work shirts. Outside, I gathered eggs, fed the chickens, ducks and dog, carried water from the well, and picked fruit and berries. I picked wild flowers for my Mother when I walked home from Country School.

“I also took sandwiches and cold drinks to the men working in the fields. The boys worked hard in the fields. Carl and Verne cranked the separator (to separate the cream from the milk) and I washed it. I didn’t like carrying water from the well. One time Carl and I had to go down a small hill through a gate to carry a pail of water from the well. We got in an argument about closing the gate. Dad spanked both of us.

“My brothers caught muskrats. My Dad showed them how to skin them and stretch them on boards. Then they sold the hides for their fur.”1

Clint, Mary, Virginia, James, Neville, and Verne.

Virginia helped with beehives, potatoes, and corn: “My dad kept bees, and he had quite a few colonies. I remember he had to order the queen bee, and I remember him going to the mailbox and hearing the bees humming in a container that had bees in it. Then he would put the queen bee in the hive. In the fall he took the honey from the bees and he cooked it in a big metal kettle. . . . The comb melted and it all came to the top, three to four inches thick. Dad would have to check the bins, and [then] we’d turn it off, and we’d get the honey.

“One time I got stung. When I was about seven years old, I was going barefoot and I stepped on a bee. My mother ran out into the cornfield to tell Dad that I needed to go to the doctor.  The doctor didn’t really do anything but remove the stinger. My brother Carl said, “The only reason you lived was because of Mother’s prayers.” The doctor told my dad never to let me get stung by a bee again because a bee sting was as poisonous to me as a rattlesnake bite to most people.

Clint and a load of apples. The older man looks like Mary's father, Eli Waggoner. Actually, this was probably taken in Missouri about 1910-13, but I included it because it shows the work methods.
“Dad planted lots of potatoes, and in the fall we took a plow, a single horse plow, and plowed these out. And then the five kids each had a pail and we walked down the potato rows picking up the potatoes. When we were done we took the pail to the wagon and emptied it. By the time we were finished, we had a wagonload of potatoes. And we’d take it up to the cave [root cellar]. We’d carry it a bushel basket of potatoes at a time. We had a potato bin in our cave. It was a big cave with a lot of steps and I remember thinking how strong my brothers were to carry those potatoes down there. Then by the time spring came we’d have to go down there, and that was one of my jobs to sprout all those potatoes. I don’t remember why, but Mother couldn’t give those sprouts to the chickens. She’d have to take those someplace where the chickens couldn’t get them. [At least, Grandma knew that potato sprouts are toxic.]

“When the corn was tall enough we went through the cornfield with hoes and chopped out all the cockleburs and other weeds. We helped my dad pick corn.”2

Verne remembers picking corn on Thanksgiving Day: “We went hunting on Thanksgiving if we were not picking corn. If we were not through picking corn, we all [worked] that day, Mother and two boys on one wagon, Dad and one boy on another. When school was out Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we really went after that cornfield. Dad had to scoop it all in the crib, as we boys were too little to scoop. We would throw some of it off for him.”3
Clint and a wagon load of corn.
Neville picked corn to earn a pair of shoes: “I wore heels for some time. I mean high heels. One time my Dad said if I would pick corn he would give me money for a new pair of high heels. I hated picking corn and the sandburs. I suppose I got the shoes.”4

Clint and Mary believed in the adage, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Though work was necessary, play times were plentiful. Next time.

1 Verne Troutman, “Grandpa Verne’s Story,” edited by Z. T. Noble, computer files, “Dad’s Story2.”
2 Neville Troutman, “Neville’s Memory Book with Virginia’s Memories of Country School,” compiled by Sharon Lamson, Troutman Family Newsletter: This One’s a Keeper!, 1998, privately held, Z. T. Noble [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana, 2016.
3 Virginia Nelsen, “Aunt Virginia's Stories,” audiotape, privately held, Z. T. Noble [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana, 2016.
4 Verne Troutman, “Grandpa Verne’s Story."
5 Neville Troutman, “Neville’s Memory Book.”

© 2016, Z. T. Noble

Thursday, February 18, 2016

More Stories: A Belt, Pants on Fire, and a Christmas Tree

One year between 2000 and 2005—I can’t remember exactly which one—when my husband and I drove from Indiana to the Troutman family reunion in Nebraska, my Aunt Virginia didn’t show up. She didn’t feel well enough to travel all the way from Arkansas, her son reported. Aunt Neville had died in 2000 at age 90, and Virginia was about 85 or so. She was the only one of my father’s siblings left. I worried that I wouldn’t see her again. I felt drawn to Arkansas, but we had planned to vacation in South Dakota after the reunion. When I expressed my concerns to my husband, he agreed to head south instead.

Except for lots of aches and pains, Aunt Virginia’s health didn’t seem to be as fragile as I had feared. We spent a delightful day with her and Uncle Leo. Her ready smile, her dark eyes brimming with love, Aunt Virginia nudged us with questions about our lives. At my request, however, she told stories about her childhood, which I recorded. I’ve already shared a few of them. Here are a couple more school days stories, mostly in her words, but edited a bit.

“There was a girl in school named Hilda Runge. I don’t know if Verne sort of liked her or disliked her, but anyhow he pulled [the] belt off of her coat. I think this was during the winter, and then hit her with the belt, and the belt buckle hurt her. Her dad—I guess she showed [her injury] to him. He wrote a note to the teacher, and said, ‘If you can’t take care of those Troutman boys, I’ll do it for you.’"

Leave it to little sister to tell tales on her naughty brother.
Virginia and Neville, c. 1920.
Virginia (center), her friends and their kittens, c. 1925.
Virginia continued, “When I was in seventh grade and Verne was in eighth, [our teacher required us to raise] our hand to recite, and when she called on us, we were expected to stand. That morning, Verne had some matches in his pocket, [which he had used to help] burn off the cornfield for Dad. . . . He raised his hand to recite and stood up. And as he stood up, his back pocket brushed against his seat, the seat of his desk, and started some matches on fire. [Suddenly, he began] pounding his pocket because the fire was burning through.” What a disturbance that must have made in the classroom!

Virginia's stories included other topics, too:

“One time, Mother’s brother Uncle Jake—Jacob  Waggoner—lived with us. The five of us were very small and all of us had small pox at the same time except Mother. She had had the vaccination when she was in college, so she took care of all of us. Uncle Jake was sort of a clown, he gave us all nicknames, and Verne’s nickname was Jack Rock.”

Aunt Amanda, James and Neville, c. 1912.
“We had our first Christmas tree when I was about seven and Verne was about nine, and I remember how thrilled we were with it. We all sat down [with] colored strips of paper and made colored chains, and we popped popcorn and strung it and decorated our tree. Each of us made (or Aunt Amanda sent each of us) a cardboard decoration with a string attached and with the same picture on each side. Mine was a little drummer boy. I still have mine. . . . We were so thrilled to have a Christmas tree that we joined hands and danced around the tree to the tune of ‘Here we Go Round the Mulberry Bush.’”

Virginia began singing, “’Here we go round the Christmas Tree, the Christmas Tree, the Christmas Tree. Here we go round the Christmas tree so early in the morning.’

"I remember that very well," she said. "I remember that Mom and Dad hung a watch on the tree from Jim [Clint’s brother in Virginia], a pocket watch."

Verne, 2nd from r. (not sure of the others), c. 1922-24.
In addition to Virginia’s memories of the first tree, Verne remembered Christmas, perhaps, before the tree: “At Christmas, we hung our stockings on the wall behind the stove. We always got a few toys and some clothes. We didn’t get lots of toys like children do today. I don’t remember being disappointed at Christmas time so I guess I got all I deserved. We always had plenty of snow to sleigh ride and did lots of it.”

Verne, his sled, and his dog, c. 1925.
The stories continue.

Sources: Virginia Nelsen, “Aunt Virginia's Stories,” audiotape, privately held, Z. T. Noble [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana, 2016.
Verne Troutman, “Grandpa Verne’s Story,” edited by Z. T. Noble, computer files, Documents, Recovered, “Dad’s Story2.”

Thursday, February 11, 2016

School Days, Those Good Old Golden Rule Days

Verne could hardly wait until recess time. His clear blue eyes belied his impatience as he glanced at the girl standing at her desk. The only other student in his grade at the one room rural school in Wayne County, Nebraska, District 81,1 Irma Vonseggern twisted the corner of her apron tie as she slowly articulated each word of the preamble to the Constitution, today’s history lesson.

The snowy outdoors beckoned, and waiting was difficult for a ten-year-old boy. When Irma finished, they could go. Running his hand through hair the color of hay, he thought of the row of sleds leaning against the building outside. The snow was packed and perfect for sledding down the hill from the school. Finally, Irma sat down.

“You may close your books,” his teacher said. She dismissed the children by rows to don their coats and boots. His row was last. Jim, Carl, and Neville were already outside.

Finally! With sun sparkling on the snow, Verne blinked as his eyes adjusted to the light. Hat askew and scarf flapping, he charged outdoors. Grabbing his wooden sled, he and his best friend, Richard Moses, raced toward the road where other kids were already whizzing down the hill. Their shrieks and shouts and laughter filled the air. On some sleds as many as four children piled on top of each other, the top person shoving and flopping on when momentum picked up.

Verne and Richard took a running start. As Verne thumped the sled runners onto the snow and plopped stomach down, Richard landed on top of him, and off they went, snow spraying on either side and in their faces.  At the bottom of the hill, they rolled off the sled, brushed the snow off their clothes and dragged the sled back up for another ride.

With infrequent traffic on the country roads, especially during or after a snowfall, they gave little thought to cars even though partway down the hill was a cut-back that blocked the view of oncoming vehicles. This time, as Verne and Richard reached the cut-back, they whooshed in front of an oncoming car in the nick of time, the boys wide-eyed and the driver shaking his head. Fortunately, the car had been moving slowly because of the snow. They could hear the shouts of alarm from the teacher and the other children back at the school.

This is a scene I imagine from one of Aunt Virginia’s stories about school days. Telling this incident in later years, she thanked God for the boys’ safety.2

Just like children today, District 81 children mugged for the camera. In the photo below, I'd like to know who that little boy in center front is, but he's not my dad. Verne is the boy in the middle of row 3. Virginia is the first girl on the left of row 2, her white apron askew. This photo was taken about 1923-24. They certainly look like little, rag-tag farm kids.

Whatever it took, my paternal grandparents Mary and Clint Troutman made sure their children went to school.

Like most rural schools in those days, the building was a one-story, plain white, wood-sided structure usually standing on a corner lot donated by a local farmer. Three or four windows on each side provided light, perhaps a single bulb hanging from a cord if the school was lucky enough to be electrified. A hallway inside the front entrance sported metal hooks or wooden pegs where the children hung their coats, scarves, and mittens. On wet days in the spring and fall, a row of muddy boots, or snowy boots in winter, stood below the coats. If it wasn’t freezing, lunch pails sat on the hallway floor, but on cold days, the children carried their lunch pails inside the classroom, so the food wouldn’t freeze in the unheated entryway.3

On windy, winter days, the dads sometimes brought their children to school in horse-drawn sleighs or wagons filled with straw and heated bricks to keep the children’s feet warm.4 Clint’s children snuggled under a horse-hair blanket. Moisture from the horses' breath froze and hung in icicles from their noses.5

When they came to pick up their children on those snowy days, the dads would stand in the hallway and chat about their crops or their animals or another pressing farm issue. One of those days, Virginia overheard her dad talking, and for the first time, she noticed that his Virginia accent stood out from the others. She remembers: “The farmers were talking about shelling corn, a winter job when one man said he would need help. Instead of saying, ‘I’ll help you,’ [my dad] said, “Ah’l hep ya.’” Even so, some of the dads spoke with a German brogue, so her dad was not so unusual.6

Inside the classroom, the double desks, supplied with inkwells, were arranged in rows facing the teacher’s desk.  Each child had a seatmate. A black board and rolls of pull-down maps covered the wall behind the teacher. Above the board hung the American Flag plus portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln solemnly eyeing the students.7 Every morning, the children recited the pledge to the flag. They used the board to write their math problems or perhaps diagram a sentence.

In the middle of the room stood a big, black pot-bellied stove.8 Whoever sat closest to it toasted in winter, while the ones seated around the edges of the room shivered from the drafty walls.

Many of Aunt Virginia's storied came out of that school. More to come.

1 Virginia Nelsen, “Virginia Remembers Country School,” Troutman Family Newsletter: This One’s a Keeper!, 1998, Troutman: Family Newsletters and Other Historical Info, binder, privately held, Z. T. Noble [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana, 2016. Also, Neville Troutman, “Neville’s Memory Book with Virginia’s Memories of Country School,” compiled by Sharon Lamson, Troutman Family Newsletter: This One’s a Keeper!, 1998. Also, Verne Troutman, “Grandpa Verne’s Story,” edited by Z. T. Noble, computer files, Documents, Recovered, “Dad’s Story2.”
2 Virginia Nelsen, “Virginia Remembers.”
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid. Also, Verne Troutman, “Grandpa Verne’s Stories.”
5 Verne Troutman, “Grandpa Verne’s Stories.”
6 Virginia Nelsen, “Virginia Remembers Country School.”
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.

© 2016, Z. T. Noble

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Clint and Mary: Early Years

The romance of my paternal grandparents, Clint and Mary, is legendary in our family: their parents’ objections, Mary’s family moving to Missouri, Clint’s walk over the mountain to board a train to follow his love to Missouri, his stop to take one last look over the valley of his home, the lump in his throat. Months ago, I wrote about it. To review, click here. Clint and Mary have also entered the picture as their stories have intersected with Clint’s sisters, Estelle and Daisy in the December and January blog posts.

But there’s more.

After their marriage in Audrain County on 27 October 1909,1 Clint and Mary lived in Missouri for three years or so.

Clint worked as a farm hand near Mexico, Audrain County where their first two children, Neville America and James Gordon, were born, Neville on 22 August 1910,2 and James on 24 September 1911.3 Then they moved south to West Plains, Howell County, where Clint’s sister’s family lived, Stelle and Tell Worley. Clint’s and Mary’s third child Carl Justin was born near West Plains on 4 December 1912.4

Mary, Clint and baby Neville, c. 1910.

 They must not have prospered as well as they would have liked, for about 1913, they moved on to the rolling hills of northeast Nebraska, both families traveling on a train together, the women and children in passenger cars and the men in the boxcars with their horses and cattle.5 Clint and Mary first rented a farm near Pilger in Stanton County where their fourth child, Verne Clinton (my dad), was born on 13 April 1914.6 By the time their fifth child, Virginia Ovella was born 5 March 1916, they had rented a farm in Brenna Precinct, Wayne County and moved again.7

Verne, James, Neville, Carl, and Virginia, c. 1917.

The family lived in four different farm homes in Nebraska. They had outdoor toilets and no refrigeration, no indoor water, except a small pump in a corner of one of the kitchens. They had a base-burner heating stove and a kitchen stove in which they burned wood and coal. Conditions improved when they moved to a farm with indoor plumbing north of Winside in 1926.8

Neville remembered, "When we lived on a farm north of Pilger, Mother and Dad took cream and eggs to Albert Pilger's store for groceries. Mr. Pilger looked like Santa Claus and always put in a sack of candy for us kids!"9

The Brenna Precinct farm must have been idyllic (except for lack of plumbing in the house). Virginia remembered fruit trees, and bee hives, and a big garden, and so on: “It was just about 10 miles from Winside and about 10 miles from Wayne. Southeast from Winside and southwest from Wayne. . . . That was Mother’s favorite house. We only lived there five years when Dad lost the farm. He couldn’t make the payments. He bought it right after World War I when the prices were high, so he lost the farm. Mother wanted us to move close to a town so we kids could go to high school. And so we did. We lived a mile and a half north of Winside.”10

 Virginia shared lots of stories about life on the farm:  “When I was probably two and Verne was probably four, he climbed up on a ladder and fell and almost cut his tongue off, so Mother and dad [took] him to a doctor in Tilden, and I cried so hard that they took me along, and the doctor stitched up his tongue, probably without medication to relieve the pain, and I just felt so sorry for him.”11

And another: “When we lived on the farm that Dad lost, when I was about five and Verne was about seven, the boys left to go fishing in the creek. And they went about a mile south of our house, and they had taken the horse and buggy and they went fishing. One night they came home late from fishing, and we said, ‘Where’s your fish?’ And they said, ‘We didn’t catch any fish, but we caught crawdads’—that’s what we called crayfish—‘and . . . we built a fire and we cooked them in the ashes and ate them.’ I said, ‘Didn’t you take out the insides?’ and they said, ‘No! They were good!’”12

That's just the start of Aunt Virginia's stories.

1 Missouri, Marriage Records, 1805-1902, digital image ( : accessed 27 January 2016), entry for Clint Troutman and Mary Waggoner,  27 October 1909.
2 Troutman, Mary, Family Bible Records, 1909-1979, The Holy Bible. Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Company, 1913. Privately held by Noble, [E-ADDRESS & STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Anderson, Indiana, 2016. Bible contains only the date. For birthplace: Neville Troutman, “Neville’s Memory Book with Virginia’s Memories of Country School,” compiled by Sharon Lamson, Troutman Family Letter, 1998. Privately held by Z. T. Noble, [E-ADDRESS & STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Anderson, Indiana. 2016.
3 Ibid. Also, Funeral leaflet, Wiltse Mortuaries, Winside, Nebraska, Services for James G. Troutman;  Troutman, James (Ruth Schindler) binder, privately held by Z. T. Noble, [E-ADDRESS & STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Anderson, Indiana. 2016.
4 Troutman, Mary, Family Bible Records, “Births.” For birth place: Carl Troutman, obituary, transcribed by Darrell Troutman from unknown newspaper, unknown date. Privately held by Z. T. Noble, [E-ADDRESS & STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Anderson, Indiana. 2016.
5 Neville Lamson, Omaha, Nebraska, to Zola T. Noble, Anderson, Indiana, letter, 25 August 1989, information on her father's family; Troutman, Neville (Max Lamson) binder, privately held by Z. T. Noble, [E-ADDRESS & STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Anderson, Indiana. 2016.
6 Troutman, Mary, Family Bible Records, “Births.” For birthplace: Neville Troutman, “Neville’s Memory Book with Virginia’s Memories of Country School,” 1998.
7 Ibid.
8 Neville Troutman, “Neville’s Memory Book with Virginia’s Memories of Country School,” 1998. Also, Virginia Nelsen, Fayetteville, Arkansas, to Zola Noble, Anderson, Indiana, letter, 2 March 1990, information on her life as a child; Troutman, Virginia (Leo Nelsen) binder; privately held, Z. T. Noble [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana. Neville dates the move at 1925, but Virginia dates it 1 March 1926. She says she remembers specifically because she turned 10 years old just four days after the move.
9 Neville Troutman, “Neville’s Memory Book with Virginia’s Memories of Country School,” 1998.
10 Virginia Nelsen, Rogers, Arkansas. Interview by Zola Noble, undated. Audiotape and transcript. Privately held by Z. T. Noble [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana.
11 Ibid. Also, Neville Troutman, “Neville’s Memory Book with Virginia’s Memories of Country School,” 1998. Neville's version of this story is that they took Verne to Dr. Reed in Pilger.
12 Ibid.

© 2016, Z. T. Noble