The Depression left the Storer family with plenty to work for just to keep afloat. Their oldest daughter, Merna Mae, was just six years old in 1930. It was time for school to begin. Would her father be able to take time from his daily farm schedule to get her to the one room schoolhouse? Would her mother with an infant daughter be able to get her there? The parents decided that they would teach their Mae Mae (Merna’s nickname) to be independent. They would teach her how to ride her horse Beauty to school. Her father Andrew would help her practice the route as he rode along on his horse. He would show her the dirt roads to travel and landmarks for which to spot. She would be able to do this on her own each school day…the little six year old.
Each school morning, little Mae Mae and Beauty were traveling companions. Most days, they spotted a red fox peeping out of the brush at them. The two would pause to study the fox. He just stared back. So it was that Mae Mae looked for friends in nature to greet them each morning.
Mae Mae graduated from her one room schoolhouse in 1938. Her school records show that she had no absences or tardies. She won an art contest while in 8th grade that set her future sights on painting and creating.
Throughout her life, Mae Mae was very proud of the fact that her school transportation was her beloved horse Beauty. Also, she wanted to remember her foxy friend. She purchased a print by artist Bonnie Marris to display in her living room.
Now big yellow school buses transport the students of Osborne County, Kansas, to daily classes. One room school houses are an educational memory. And the great grand kits of the peeping fox sleep in the sun of the plains.
Note: Twenty years later, Mae Mae would become my mother. Her stories of Beauty and the rides to school are treasured memories.
Recently in two of her podcasts, Amy Johnson Crow discussed downsizing and treasuring genealogical goodies that may be found. She told about her parents’ home and the level of feelings one might experience when going through this process. I could relate to many of the observations she made. So…I am presenting a companion piece to her work.
More than five years ago, I downsized my widowed mother’s house after she had suffered a major stroke and relocated to assisted living. Each day that I spent in her home became an adventure and a treasure hunt of sorts. Each time, I uncovered an item that I had not previously seen, touched, and enjoyed. Since she had given me permission to take what I wanted, I took her up on that.
My mother had been a decorative tole (French for tin) painter for 30 years. She sold most of her wares at craft shows and kept some things for herself. At the back of her pantry, I found five unique pieces that were exquisitely painted. Why were they hidden away? Bringing them to our house, they were lovingly placed in an antique baker’s cabinet with glass doors. These are treasures that tell the story of my mom’s artistic talents.
In the linen closet, there was a heavy plastic case. I could see a purple and white quilt. Through the window of the case, I saw a stitched signature of the creator. Since my mom loved purple and frequented craft shows, I assumed it was a purchase she had made. Taking the quilt out, I saw that each white square had a woman’s signature. Oh my goodness, there were my grandmother’s and great grandmother’s signatures! They belonged to a sewing circle during the Depression…this was a project that was made. Each lady would have a signature quilt. Why was this hidden away? This was a treasure that told the story of my grammy’s sewing talents. It now rests on a quilt rack in a bedroom.
In a dresser drawer, I discovered two of my father’s treasures: his wallet and his high school graduation yearbook. I had never seen this yearbook! My dad was a senior in 1941-1942. His class would be the first to graduate after Pearl Harbor. Inside, classmates had written messages like “See ya in Tokyo” and “Let’s go get them”. I discovered what clubs and sports he participated in. I saw his friends and read their messages. Why was this hidden away? It was a treasure that told the story of an immigrants’ son who was the first to graduate from high school.
One of the last goodies that was uncovered was almost thrown away. Down in the basement, I had sifted through junk that needed to be pitched. I was exhausted and just wanted to trash it all so this could be over. In an old dresser was a long manila envelope…more trash? My husband told me to open the envelope…I almost said “no”. Inside was a panoramic picture of my great grandparents’ Kansas farm. Outside in the yard, my great grandmother had piled the little kids in the family Model T. My great grandfather sat on his tractor. My grandfather was holding the bridle of one of the horses. The teenaged children had gathered up the dogs and cats. The picture was dated 17 February 1917. Six months later, my grandfather would enlist in the Army for World War I. (Five years later, my grandfather would marry my grandmother.) Why was this hidden away? It was a treasure that told the story of family pride and love. Since its discovery, the picture has been framed and hangs proudly in our home.
What an adventure this task of cleaning and organizing became! Why were all of these hidden away? They were hidden away so they would be venerated by the family historian…that is where I come in!
Folded into the rich context of her life was a secret compartment of memories. They stemmed from childhood in France and followed her across the grasslands of Kansas. How did those memories all meld together? What did they prophesize about the core of her being?
Maria Magdalina Kramer was born in 1828 in a region of France that is nestled near the border of Germany. Her ears heard sprinklings of French and German, and she spoke a smattering of each. Her memories would take her back to the convent school where the nuns taught her how to be proficient in needlework. Exactly when and with whom she immigrated to Manhattan, New York, in the early 1840’s is not known. What did her memory record about that ship voyage across the Atlantic?
Somehow while living in Manhattan, she met an Army private who was stationed at Fort Columbus. Her memories would take her back to that meeting and their marriage…she was 15 years old while he was 25. Her groom was Amos Howell Boultinghouse. He was from White County, Illinois. What did her memory record about their journey in 1843 to his home where they would start their family and farm?
Married for almost 20 years, the couple would be separated when Amos reenlisted to once again be a Army private…the Civil War was pulling them apart. Her memories would take her back to those days with the children on the farm…a woman alone. Amos would return back to his family at the end of the war…unharmed. What did her memory record about their reunion back into each other’s arms?
In 1871, Maria was bound on another journey. Amos had gained a new farmland for the family in Osborne County, Kansas, through the Homestead Act. Why did the family decide to move on westward and leave their adult married children behind? Her memories would take her back to how it felt to be carrying a child as they moved on. What did her memory record about giving birth the day after they arrived in Kansas?
Through the years, Maria and Amos farmed the land…suffered several tragedies…Amos dying of exhaustion eight years before her. Her memories would take her back to those days of hardship and parting from her beloved Amos. What did her memory record about those final days and her final journey?
Taking any of her memories out of context still highlights the richness of her life…my beloved second great grandmother…Maria (Mary) Kramer Boultinghouse.
This morning, our friend and neighbor Walter Simpson brought us the most awful news. Just what everyone feared! We are trying to grasp what this can mean for us. This horrible happening took place a few hundred miles from us, but the heartbreak and devastation have shrouded us in terror and uncertainty. Will we be saved from Mother Nature’s wrath for not caring for her soil after the harvest?
Walter told us that yesterday is being called Black Sunday. The sky brought a storm of soil so thick through the air that those outside could barely breath or see to find their ways home. More farms will be abandoned as their occupants pack up and move westward…they cannot feed their families and livestock. It is so incomprehensible to me how this all happened right here in the land we call “the bread basket of America”. Granted we have not made much profit from this farm we rent from Andrew’s uncle’s people in Mississippi.
My husband Andrew and I need to discuss if we will hold steadfast to our idea of farming and living on these Kansas plains. After all, our parents and grandparents came to this land in the 1870’s with nothing but dreams. With two young daughters, we have to plan how we will care for all four of us. Our president FDR has only been in office for a short amount of time…will he be able to save us from this next disaster of the Depression? The conservationists state that there is an answer to caring for the land, but it will take time.
The state motto of “Ad astra per aspera…to the stars through difficulties” reminds us that we are gifted with perseverance and resiliency. May Almighty God grant us those graces.
~Isabella Mary Boultinghouse Storer
Tilden Township, Osborne County, Kansas
Note: Isabella is my maternal grandmother. This writing is her imagined reaction to the news of Black Sunday.