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.”

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