Saturday, October 15, 2016

Elsie Gould (Goldie) Smothermon Dixon

Goldie had a rep. Actually she had several, but none of them were bad.  She simply had been part of the small community for so long that everyone knew her, everyone respected her, everyone had been helped by her.  Still her rep – no, her reps – were varied.  Some thought of her as a gentle kind caring woman, those were the ones who were in need.   Others saw her as a tough old bird, those were the ones who had tried to take advantage of the poor widow woman living alone on the big farm, or those who tried to tell her what to do – never a good idea, and sure to produce no desired results. Many saw her as a rock, the person who could be counted on to do what needed to be done.  Others knew her as a genuine softy, who could be moved to tears by the pain others felt, or who needed so much to be loved. Still she was her own person, and a person to be reckoned with. 

This was the woman who called one day to report that she had killed seven rats.  Why? I asked. How?  Packrats were a part of life on the farm.  They were pretty things, as rats go, a soft blue-grey, with a longer fur than on the standard rats, giving them a kind of cuddly look.  They had a propensity for gathering things and hiding them in their nests.  They loved shiny things, but just about anything would do. When they build nests, the nests look like huge piles of sticks, and  include leaves, and tools, and pieces of glass and string, and metal, and cow pies and horse droppings and just about anything that wasn’t tied down, and some things that were.  Thus, they could sometimes be a problem.  Especially when they hauled off something you were looking for, or when they built nests in the chicken house or granary and consumed and contaminated the contents of those places.

But why had she killed seven of them, and why was she so proud of it? Then came the story… rats had been eating the wiring on her car and on her pickup.  The first hint was when she would crawl into the car to start it, but it didn’t start, or if it did, it ran badly.  Automatic response – to check under the hood, only to discover that the packrats had made a nest using pieces of the wiring as a base, or that they had chewed the vacuum hoses so the vehicle ran badly, missing and jerking down the road.  The first few times this happened, she simply had it repaired.  But then she got rat poison and built a rack for the block of poison so that it rested across the wires.  She began leaving the hood slightly ajar, so that the rats would feel exposed.  

But the poor rats made a fatal mistake, they kept coming back, and that little old frail lady got out her rifle and went on the hunt.  At first she watched from the wide, shaded front porch where she sat in the morning and evening, enjoying her coffee and nature. She had seen the rats on their voyages to and fro, but had never bothered them, until now, and soon she had eliminated some of them. She got a couple by lurking near the nest, and that could have been that.  But then they nibbled again so she set fire to the enormous lilac bush near the house and shot them as they came out. Seven of them. Frail little old lady, my foot.

Not too long ago, an email arrived with another story.

Goldie was born in a sod house across the fence from where she still lived. It was one of those houses once so common on the Great Plains that is dug into the side of a hill, boards or sod making up the fourth wall and sod laid on the roof. Her home now is built on the site of another soddy, dug into the side of another hill.  The basement is below ground level on one side, at ground level on the other, with a garage door leading out to the driveway.  The stairs leading to the basement are quite steep, her knees are sore, so when she goes down stairs anymore, it is definitely on a mission.

The furnace had recently been acting up so she went down the stairs to check on it.  She hadn’t turned on the light because it was just starting to get dark and the clerestory windows provided enough light to see what she needed to see.  As she got to the bottom of the steps, she saw a small, coiled snake near the furnace.  First reaction, turn a bucket upside down and put it over the snake and go ahead with the furnace repair. Later she would deal with the snake.  And she did return with a piece of tin to slide under the bucket so she could take the snake outside (don’t hurt things unless they hurt you!).  Unfortunately for the snake, it tried to escape, sneaking its head out from under the edge of the bucket.  She reached over to the furnace, grabbed a pair of pliers and pinched the snake’s head hard. By this time, she knew it was a rattlesnake. It continued to wiggle.  She stood there, holding the snake, thinking - and then made her way though the garage, and out onto the driveway, where she tossed the snake onto the grass. Still the snake continued to wiggle, so she climbed on the lawn mower tractor and drove over him.  She ended the story by telling me he was snake salad now.

However, it is important that you realize that she is not normally a crazed killer.  Remember, this is a frail little old lady, maybe five foot tall, probably all of 100 pounds, in her eighties.  She is beloved by most people who know her, she has taken in so many kids that she would have to rent a hall to have them all come visit.  She spent years working as a nurse, and taking care of neighbors who needed advice, help or just general mothering.  Yet she was tough.  Goldie grew up in central Oklahoma, and moved to the panhandle in 1929.  In her words…

That year I was about 10 when we moved to Beaver County from Eddy.  We drove out there in a Model T Ford.  I don’t know how we all got there because it was probably a two seater.  And some how we got our furniture out there too.  Dolores and I had a white enameled iron bed.  I guess maybe we moved out and stayed with Aunt Lily while they moved.
Boss took a job working harvest near Waka Texas and I thought it was the flattest place I had ever seen.  You know how it looks around Ponca City, streams and trees and such.  It was a shock to adjust to the Texas plains.
Well, Boss worked there all summer, that was back in the days when it took all summer to do harvest, we didn’t have combines and most of the work was done with mules.  But the Boss did drive a big old steam tractor 
I remember we lived in a house with dirt floors, there was Ma and Delores and me, and Ma and Dolores were working in a cafĂ© waiting tables.  I don’t remember Gene being there, but he must have been.  He didn’t leave home until he helped Dolores run away and get married and he was about 15 then. That summer, Boss earned $300 and used it to buy the station in Knowles.
The station was west of town on the corner of Uncle Clyde’s place.  When the highway came through town we moved to the other side of the highway, but still west of town in that triangle by the intersection.  Then when I was a senior in high school we moved to where the station is now.
The station down by Uncle Clyde’s was where Grandpa Hochstetler built the croquet course.  He was really good, he hardly ever lost.  All the kids from town came out to play croquet.  I was pretty good once.  Grandpa Hochstetler was a nice man.  Grandma died when I was about twelve.
I was born in 1918, In Zelma Oklahoma to Charlie Louis Smothermon and Lena Alice Hostetler Smothermon.  I had a brother, Eugene Louis Smothermon (Gene), born in Oakland, California in 1913, and a sister, Delores Pauline Smothermon, born in Zelma in 1915.  I also had an older half brother, Robert Eli Moore, born in Missouri in 1911.
            My earliest memory was of staying at Uncle Fred’s, and his daughter Opal and I were pushing our fingers thru the burned lantern mantles.  They took our pennies because we had to pay for the mantles.  I was staying there because I was sick, I had pleurisy.  Aunt Hattie had a phonograph that had those black records. 
            Then we went to stay at a people’s place where they were going to be gone.  Then we went to the McIntirf (?) place.  Daddy was shucking corn and I was putting the cobs on the stairs.  I fell down the stairs ‘cause I stepped on one of them.  That was when they bought us that white metal bed.  Delores and I slept in it. One night I dreamed I was falling thru space and I fell out of the bed.  That’s why I always thought it would be nice to parachute jump and fall thru the sky.  I’m not so sure any more.
            Uncle Fred’s kids went to school at Narden and we went to school in Eddy. I went to school there for one year.  My teacher was named Mr. Hendricks and he was wonderful.  He babied me.  We walked 2 1/2 miles to school.  It was a one-room school, first through eighth grade, so I knew the other kids’ answers too.  We lived on the Miller place south of Eddy when I finished first grade.  We lived there until I was in the second grade. 
            We moved to Knowles for half a year and lived on the Waitheman place.  That was where we had chickens and pet skunks and two mules named Fanny and Nett.  There was a swimming hole there too.  We rode in wagons to programs in the evening.
            One night we were going to a program at the school in the wagon and while we were crossing the bridge a car hit one of the mules and tore her open.  I don’t remember how we got home.
             Then we went to Wichita and I was glad because my teacher at Knowles was mean. We stayed with Grandma and Grandpa Hostetler at 1150 South Sainte Claire.  It was a big old house with a front porch.  One time I had a ball bearing and I swallowed it and kept saying “Oh I’m going to die, I’m going to die” and Grandma got after me. 
I remember the pan she used to mix oleo and color.  I also remember the time that Gene put a slug in a gum machine and I was afraid the police were going to get us.    I went to a Seventh Day Adventist school in Wichita and I didn’t like it there either.  The kids weren’t nice.  Third and fourth grade I went to Meridian School, in Wichita.  Gene and Delores went to Allison School.
            Grandpa always had a nice garden.  He took stove ashes and worked them into the soil.  He had fruit trees and vegetables.
            We moved back to Knowles in 1929 when I started fifth grade. 
            When we left the Miller place, we went to Texas and Boss worked the harvest and made $300.  We moved back to Knowles and started the station.  I lived there until I went to nurses’ training in Wichita in 1937.
            Knowles was a busy little place.  It had three grocery stores, two lumber yards, a cream station, a gazebo, two churches, two parsonages, the school, two banks, a barber shop, a pool hall, a drug store, a hardware, a telephone office, Jack’s Garage, Cities Service bulk plant where Att Helmulth delivered gas, and Charlie’s Service Station.   Actually it was at Uncle Clyde’s at first, on the railroad tracks on the west side of town.  When the highway came thru, Uncle Clyde moved the station up to the highway west of town on the Bruner place on the north side of the highway.  When I was a senior, before school was out, we stayed in the Beard house while they were building the station where it still is.  At graduation, we slept on the floor in a kind of unslumber party and next day left on the senior trip to El Paso, Carlsbad Caverns, along the Rio Grande River and somewhere up in Colorado. 
            During that time, I went with Daddy off and on, and Charles Avery,  Jack Helmuth and Himmie, even went with Orphus Parker once or twice. And with Nicky Nickerson from Turpin.  He’s dead too.
            We used to go to parties.  We would walk to Vernon Bond’s house and play skip to my lou.  We would go to the north grove or the south grove and play in the water.  Jesse and Gert were my best friends.
            The high way used to follow the road by the Huey place, around Hilkie’s corner, to town and then straight west past Fred Barby’s, down thru the pasture and met up with the highway somewhere down there.
            When I was in the second grade I went to the old school, but when I moved back they had built the one that was there til the 1980’s.  I met Buster in the fifth grade. 
            Grandma died when I was 12, and Grandpa came and stayed with us a lot.  That was where I had the croquet court.  Grandpa played with everybody, and he kept that court as smooth as could be.  He didn’t eat pork, so Ma kept a special skillet for him.  He drank hot water instead of coffee.  Eileen was just a baby when Grandma died. 
            Carl Poorbaugh was my teacher from the time I was in the seventh grade.  Hunke was my teacher in junior and senior year.  Dick Evans was my teacher, too.  He was married and had two little girls, but was separated.  We went out, but now that I think about it I think Daddy talked to him and told it wasn’t a good idea.
            One time Jesse Rambo and I were at a basketball tournament in Balko.  After we got beat, we were waiting for the boys to finish their game and we started drinking. We had gone to John Pemberton’s - he was a bootlegger - and got a pint.   Somehow they caught us because we were riding in Mr. Poorbaugh’s car.  We got suspended for three days.  Jesse was so mad at Miss Pratt, because she told her “shame on you girls!”  Miss Pratt was the schoolteacher, and she had dated Gene.  That was the year that Gene married Yula Waldron from Walsh Colorado.  I remember I was with Jack Helmuth that day.  Daddy and I were both on the first teams and played in every game.  Himmie is the only one of the boys that is still alive and he’s 83.
            When Delores ran off and got married, he helped her so he left too.  I was home alone then.  After Delores had Eileen, she was there quite a lot, but only in the day time.
            I was kind of a coward.  In nurse’s training, people were slipping out at night and not obeying the rules. I couldn’t think of anything worse than getting kicked out of nurse’s training and having to go home.
            I was in nurse’s training for three years and never got to come home very much.  We had peas and carrots an awful lot and I got tired of them.  I don’t eat them to this day.  It’s kind of like Daddy and scrambled eggs and cheese.
Dickie was my roommate in nurse’s training, her and Kimberly.  I haven’t heard from her for three years now.  Last time I heard from her she was taking chemo for cancer.
            Daddy started to college at Alva, and Wanda Kamas and her friend were there too.  He ran around and didn’t last long at college.  When he got out, he went to CC Camp.  When he got out of CC Camp he had some money, so he went to Chicago.
            When I got out of nurse’s training, I worked in Wichita for the summer for $2 a day and lived in the nurse’s home.  When fall came and the new students came we had to leave so I went to New Orleans to work in charity hospital, which was 20 stories high.  That was where the medical students trained. It had a white side and a colored side, and three wings – one each for LSU and Tulane and the independent wing for other students.
            I got my radio from the folks for Christmas that year, in 1940.  It still worked last time I tried.  We got our laundry done and one meal a day.  I lived in a boarding house on Tulane Avenue, then we got a bedroom/front room/bathroom apartment.  I lived with Vera Mason.  We had to eat out, but we lived above a drug store.  I went with a Dr. Crowe for a while, and then I met Dr. Jim Mullins who wrote to my mother for years after. He was an intern, and then was a doctor at New Boston, Texas.  He had a daughter and two sons who were schoolteachers (that’s how long he wrote to her!)  He took me to Dallas and the folks were there visiting Gertrude and Oliver.  She needed new teeth, so she went home with me.  She stayed with me for two or three weeks, I don’t remember how long, but he buttered her up.  Took her airplane riding and everything. 
I came home on vacation the first year and Buster had been married and had Butch.  That wicked old witch Alexander brought Butch up to show me.  Then Buster and June separated and he bought Ma a book about George Burns and Gracie Allen if he would give her my address.  Gloria gave him money to go to Chicago to see June so he wouldn’t come see me. 
Dickie got married and came to see me in New Orleans.  Himmie was in the army and he came to see me.
            Dickie was named Adalia Dickie and she married a publisher Edwin Wood in Eureka Kansas. She had a boy and a girl, Madeline and George.
Kimberly got married and lived in Greensburg Kansas.  She got hooked on drugs and got fired.  She stopped writing to me.  Kimberly and I just breezed thru our studies, but poor little Dickie had to study hard.  She was a good nurse but it was hard for her to learn.

            One time JD and Janeece Riggins came over, and JD was drinking.  Janeece had some sleeping pills in her purse and we put one in his beer.  He went to sleep and we couldn’t wake him up.  We thought we had killed him.
Lena Alice Hochstetler Moore Smothermon

Ma was born in 1894 in Zincite, Missouri..  Her father Elias Hochstetler was born in 1857 in Clay City Indiana. Her mother was Paulina Jane (Aunt Pine) Gould Franklin Hochstetler,  and she was born in New Version, Pennsylvania in 1857.
Ma was one of 5 children, two of whom survived to adulthood: her brother Bert (Albert Varley Hochstetler) was born in 1901 in Zincite.
Piney had previously been married to Hewett Baker Franklin, who was a doctor in Pennsylvania. They had 5 children of whom 2 survived, John Mortimer Franklin and Celia Willimina Franklin. Uncle John ran an antique shop in Miami, Oklahoma, until his death in 1965.  I don’t remember Celia.
Piney and Elias moved to the newly formed state of Oklahoma in 1911 and settled in Zelma (Oklahoma) where Piney ran the post office out of her home.

The first Ma story I ever heard was that after the death of her father, she dropped out of school in the second grade.  However the woman never stopped learning.  She eventually began taking college courses in her 70s and was an excellent student. 
In 1910, at the age of 13, she married Lloyd Moore and had a child, Robert Eli Moore, in 1911. I don’t know what happened to Lloyd Moore, but she remarried in 1913 to The Boss, Charles Lewis Smothermon.

I don’t know how she did it, but the woman was a magician.  I always knew I was her favorite grandchild, everything she did told me so.  I felt sorry for the other kids, but I relished my position as the baby of my generation, and as Ma’s favorite.  Yet years later, I discovered that all the other kids felt as if THEY were the favorites! How could this be?!? The woman was a magician.

Growing up, I was the bookish kid.  I was sort of an only child, my half brother arrived and departed at the whim of his mother who wanted him around only at her convenience. We lived first in a converted boxcar across the road from the gas station where my grandparents lived and worked, then moved to the family farm nine miles out of town. Once we moved to the farm, I was often alone, as both my parents worked in town (Liberal Kansas) 55 miles away, and arrived home two or three hours after I got home following an hour-long school bus ride.  I read.  I played with my toys, I read. I did my chores.  I read.

Ma was a reader as well.  She always wanted to know what I was reading.  She had suggestions.  She saved special books for me from the little library in the main room of the station where people donated books they had finished and took ones they wanted to read. 

And when I spent the night with her, we did forbidden things.  We crept into the darkened sales room, took ice cold Cokes from the icy water of the cooler, and returned to her bedroom clutching bags of potato chips.  We would crawl into bed, rip open the chip bags and EAT POTATO CHIPS IN BED! Then we would pretend to read, but instead we talked and giggled until we began to get sleepy. Only then would we begin to read until we each fell asleep.

When I was a teenager, we left Knowles and moved to a town near Wichita Kansas.  One of my treats then was to return home for the weekend and have a chips and read session.  There was never any chance that I would stay with my other grandmother and my parents.  I had to stay with Ma.  And she insisted that I do so.  Because I was her favorite.

That was when she began to encourage me to write.  I don’t know that she envisioned me becoming a recorder of my life, perhaps she had a more Agatha Christie vision of my writing, but when I was in college and writing articles for the school paper, she collected the articles in a scrapbook.  Because I was her favorite.

My cousin Marian was musically and artistically talented.  She had a beautiful voice.  She and Ma spent hours playing the piano in Ma’s bedroom.  They talked about painting, and Ma showed her special techniques she had used in her County fair award winning paintings of ships and landscapes. They had a very special bond.  She thought SHE was her favorite.

Victor, as the only boy grandchild, held a kind of special position.  He loved sports and Ma loved the Kansas City Athletics. We all listened to the games as she watched the business at the station, but sometimes she would take Victor to Wichita to watch the minor league team that played there.  She encouraged him to follow his dream of being a sports announcer and followed him as he progressed through college and announced games on the local station.  Of course she couldn’t listen to him because that was 200 miles away. But he thought that HE was her favorite. 

The other five cousins each had their own special niche in her life.  Eileen was also a musician and the first to produce great grand children.  Connie was an ice skater of some renown.  Loretta was a beauty queen.  Peggy was the rebel that you could count on to make any meeting interesting.  I haven’t had that discussion with them

The last time we three met, Victor, Marian and I, five years ago, 44 years after Ma died, we discovered the terrible truth.  We weren’t her only favorites, but we were her favorites. Everyone one of us.  I don’t know how she did it, but the woman was a magician.