My memory dates back to when I was 3 years old (1916). The earliest thing I remember is sitting in my highchair by the big, round, hard coal, self-feeding heater with all the isinglass in the door and Pa saying, "You've got a new baby sister," early on the morning of August 18, 1916. [4.8-1]
I also vaguely remember being put in bed with the hired girl (Judith Hoff) either that night or the night after, but I caught on to where I was, and it didn't work. I kicked and screamed until they took me out again. I don't know where I spent that night -- probably with Pa in the spare bedroom. [4.8-2]
I had a sister, Laura, born about 11 months before I was, but she only lived about three weeks. I never heard any details about what was wrong with her, but I always gathered that there was something. (Laura Johnson, Nov. 22, 1912 - Dec. 12, 1912) [4.7-2]
I also remember having the measles that winter or spring. I can remember lying on my back and looking at my big, speckled stomach. I always heard that I had had the measles real hard and was real red. [4.8-3]
I was born upstairs in the same house and room as Marjory, October 21, 1913, and Doc Randall came up in the night to get me officially born. His bill was $10. [4.8-5]
As far as I know, that was my only medical expense until probably the year Marj was born. Then one night I was apparently in great pain and screamed bloody murder unless Pa walked up and down the stairs with me, or let me stir with the dipper in the water pail. [4.8-6]
Everybody had a water pail and everybody drank out of the same dipper in those days, and just put the dipper back in the pail again. Not a drop was wasted. After all, the pail had to be carried a block or two, at least, to be filled at the pump in the livery barn. [4.8-7]
Pa thought I must have a terrible bellyache, so he called Doc Randall about 2 or 3 in the morning. Doc walked up and checked me all over and said, "I can't find a thing wrong with him; maybe a spanking would help."
I remember playing with the dipper, but I don't remember getting a spanking; maybe I was just tired enough to go back to sleep by that time. [4.8-8]
Spankings always were a part of my daily life. I think the first Bible verse Ma memorized was "Spare the rod and spoil the child." Ma always said I had them coming and wished she had started giving them to me sooner, but as it was, I got some good ones, at least before I was 4 years old. [4.9-1]
When I was little, I would wake up in the night and ask for a cookie. I suppose that is when Ma wished she had started licking me, but it was easier on the nerves to get what I wanted than to listen to me, so she or Pa would get me a cookie from downstairs. And if they got me a white (sugar) cookie, I hollered for a black (molasses) cookie and vice versa. Then I would holler for a drink, and if they got a glass of water I hollered for milk, or the other way around. So when we went upstairs to bed, they took a black cookie and a white cookie and a glass of water and a glass of milk along. I was too young to know about anything else to holler for, so that took care of anything. [4.9-2]
One day when I was 3, Pa bought a big, ripe watermelon and thought he was bringing home something that would really take my eye, but I wouldn't even taste it. I guess he was really let down, but I never have been very crazy about watermelons -- just too much work for what you get out of it, I guess. [4.9-3]
Pa bought the farm in 1917 for $35 an acre for 114 acres, which was mostly oak woods, and put in a new furnace in our house in town to burn wood. It was one of those wonderful things with a big, square, register in the floor, where women delighted in standing in the morning in their nightgowns or dresses. Even Ma was tempted that way quite often, though she always preached, "Don't stand around and waste your time in the morning! [4.8-4]
We always used to hear stories about bad kids being taken to the woodshed and "whaled" by their Dads, but we never had a woodshed so Ma had to take care of that chore herself in the house. She would go out and get a branch off one of the boxelder trees, but when we got to the farm she found the top half of an old buggy whip that had gotten along from the old buggy shed in town. She kept that handy behind the stove in the kitchen.
There finally came the time when I was bigger than she was and one day Marj and I sneaked the whip to the basement. We hid it behind the pressure tank and it stayed there for several years. After that, the rod was spared and we got it in other ways. [4.9-4]
After I got too old to have the rod used on me, Ma had one more way of venting her feelings when I got out of line. She had always cut my hair, since the beginning, and if I had it coming for anything she evened the score when she cut my hair. She would quit squeezing the handles of the hand clipper just before the end of every cut, and jerk the last clipperful out by the roots. It seemed I always needed a haircut after I had been extra bad, too. [4.9-5]
Ma had a different way of getting Marj. She got hers on washday when they washed with the old scrub board. That was the day when she had the "captive" where she could vent her feelings about her and everything else in the world. Then she wondered why Marj was so crazy to work outside in the field or wherever! [4.87-1]
I got one spanking that I never felt was justified. I had been ordered never to leave the yard without asking. I didn't think I would ever get old enough to put on my cap like Pa did and go out without asking Ma if I could go first. [4.10-2]
One day Ma was in the house, and I was in the front yard and the gate was unlatched. There was a commotion around the front porch of Mrs. Marden's house across the street. Mrs. Marden, a little old widow about 60 years old, and three or four neighbor kids were out there and one of the kids hollered over to me and said, "There's a kitten under the porch." [4.10-3]
I couldn't take time to go and ask Ma first, not with such an exciting emergency, so I crossed the street to see for myself.
About that time, Ma looked out the front window and here she came, with a boxelder switch. I got switched all the way home, and I never did see the kitten. I don't know if they got it poked out from under the porch or not.
It wasn't that dangerous to cross the street, but I'd had my orders not to cross it. [4.10-4]
The street was a dead end street up to the railroad track and was two ruts with grass between them. Only very rarely a Model T or an old Maxwell or something would go up it. The only foreign traffic was a few guys going up to see a young woman who lived with her mother in the last house up on the hill across the street. They were watched with deep interest and sarcastic comments by the neighbor women.
There were only six houses on the street then, and we were the middle one on the east side with four barn gables for a roof. Pa built it about 1911, before they got married, as there was no vacant place to live in Ashby. [4.10-5]
One day four or five of us neighbor kids were idling around on the grass in front of our place, and I started to pretend I was a mad sheep buck. I butted one of the neighbor kids three or four years younger than me, and he went backwards on his butt. I only butted real gentle, and it sure didn't hurt him any, but he was a regular cry baby (an only child.)
Of course he cried, kind of a manufactured cry, something like "ca-hunk, ca-hunk," etc. and his Ma came out on the upstairs landing (they lived in the upstairs rooms in the house down on the corner) and hollered, "You leave Lyle alone!"
Ma came flying out of our front door and chased me in and up the stairs, and I got one on the ankles with the boxelder switch for every step of the stairs.
I tried to out-jump her rhythm, but she was pretty accurate, and then I had to go to bed at 10 o'clock in the morning. I suppose I was allowed up again at noon, but going to bed in the morning was worse than the switch, and humiliating in front of the other kids. I'm sure I had had a full night's rest in bed the night before, too! [4.11-1]
The most memorable licking I ever got was one Sunday. We went to the Presbyterian Church then, and we sat near the back because Marj was a baby yet in the spring, probably 9 months old or so, and she started to fuss.
Pa just got up and carried her home. We had walked down because you didn't crank up a Model T just to drive two or three blocks in balmy spring weather. I wanted to go home, too -- I was already plenty bored -- but Ma held onto me.
I knew the secret of getting out, so I just screamed until the preacher had to quit talking because I drowned him out. Ma got me shut up some way, and I had to sit it out. She didn't say much on the way home, but she told Pa to get her a boxelder branch and I really got it. She gave me that one herself. I remember every detail and I must have been only 3-1/2 years old. I know it was in the spring; the boxelders hadn't leafed out yet. [4.11-2]
One Sunday, when I was a 2-year-old or so, we sat in the pew behind Mrs. Everts, the retired banker's wife, and she had a real fancy hat with big feathers on it. I can faintly remember it, but Pa said I kept trying to reach the feathers, so he held my hands. The next thing he knew I had my foot up and was trying to touch the feathers with my foot.
This story would have been much better if he had paid more attention to the preacher instead of me, and I could have kicked her hat off. [4.11-3]
A year or two later when I was probably about 5 years old, I was given the job of passing the collection plate in church. It was cloth with a handle like a frying pan, and the first Sunday I passed the plate the preacher's sermon was "A Little Child Shall Lead Them"! I know this was a fact because I heard it repeated many times afterward. [4.12-1]
The plate was always on a little table up front and I would march up there, real dignified-like, and get it and pass it from row to row and return it to the table. I was supposed to have been (or was) well brought up, I used to hear said at that time by Ma. But things always had a habit of eventually going wrong for me. [4.12-2]
I guess I never showed how much things going wrong really bothered me, but one "Communion" Sunday when I marched up to get the plate, there was no plate. There was a napkin over something, so I lifted up the napkin and peeked under, looking for it, and then turned around and looked perplexed. [4.12-3]
Someone on the front pew, probably the organist, motioned to me and there was the plate, having been carelessly tossed on the front pew. (I guess they knew nobody would be sitting there anyway) and things proceeded as usual. I'm sure the congregation appreciated having the routine spiced up a little. They had a real dry preacher. [4.12-4]
I don't remember Marj ever doing anything spectacular. It seemed like it was always me doing spectacular things, and paying for them by having the rod used on me. I do remember the first time Marj said two words together, they were "Piggy Donald," but I don't know what prompted her. [4.12-5]
I used to question whether we were rich or poor, and Ma always said we were neither, just in between. [4.20-5]
I don't remember how old I was when I got a new rocking horse. It was a good one, swung in a frame of some kind, solid wood, with a tacked on saddle and bridle, dappled gray, with red nostrils and a black mane and tail. The first thing I did was take the scissors or butcher knife and cut the tail off square across, about half of it, and trimmed the mane short. I had seen horses in the livery barn trimmed like that. For that, I got another memorable licking, with a strap, by Pa with Ma's coaching.
We both rode that horse for several years. You could really get momentum and I remember when Marj got old enough to talk and she was riding the rocking horse, if someone asked her where she was going, she always said, "To Sears Roebuck." [4.52.2]
We used to get "lump sugar" that had been cut out of big sheets by machine, and there were always some odd-sized ones mixed in. One of our special treats was to get a sugar lump and dip it into Pa's coffee. One day Pa handed out the sugar lumps, a big double size one for Daddy, a medium size one for Mama, and a little bitty one for Donald. I was sitting at the table in my highchair and I kicked and screamed until they thought I would kick the top right off the table. I faintly remember that episode, too. [4.52-3]
Uncle Edward sent us a big box of tangerines from California one year. They were kept at the bottom of the basement stairs and it was my job or privilege to go down and get three every night -- a big one for me, a middle-sized one for Daddy, and a small one for Mama. I've been told that I never got fooled on the size! [4.52-4]
I always was jealous of all the other boys I knew because I had a round head. Pa called it a Dutchman's head, and I had snow white hair then. It seemed all the other boys had longer faces and dark hair, and I always had the feeling that I was the homeliest boy in town. I wished I looked like any of the other kids, and I was absolutely sure no girl would ever look at me in my whole life. [4.12-6]
Along about then I had an accident that could have been serious. Pa had bought a hand-push garden cultivator that also had about a four-inch plow attachment, which nobody used. He hung that plow on a nail up under the roof in the car shed. I always looked up there and thought it would be fun to plow with it, so one day I got a long, cane fishing pole and pushed it off the nail.
It landed on my face just below my eye. The whole course of history could have been changed right there: I could have lost an eye and would have had only one to look at girls with. And I always figured none of them would have looked at me, either, in that case. [4.27-5]
I suffered many indignities those years in town, mostly because I was supposed to be one of the "better class" of town kids, and I wanted to be a plain, country kid. [4.31-2]
Ma insisted I was going to take piano lessons and she was going to give them to me. I had never heard of a boy taking piano lessons, that was for "dumb girls." But when I was about 7, I had to start and practice for half an hour every day.
One, two, three, four; one, two, three, four ... after 10 minutes or so I hollered, "Ma, what time is it?" about every two or three minutes. After a time or two I took the alarm clock and set it on the piano because I didn't trust Ma to tell me when my time was up. Then I could keep one eye on the clock and the other eye on the boys playing ball just one door down in the street. (It was more level there, and we had a pretty good ball diamond for smaller kids.)
I was practically a disgrace to the other kids, taking piano lessons. Most of them stated emphatically that they wouldn't do it, and I sure wished I could have traded Ma's with them to see if they would! [4.31-3]
Ma always said that as soon as we got settled on the farm she was going to give me piano lessons again, but we never did get that settled, I guess, and that, too, finally became a dead issue. I suppose it helped that Marj finally got old enough to practice on the piano and it took the pressure off me, thank goodness! I wasn't an only child and I was thankful every day of my life that I hadn't been born a girl. I couldn't even comprehend how awful that would have been. [4.87-2]
Earlier in life I had suffered the indignity of having to go to bed in broad daylight on summer nights. My bedroom was upstairs on the south side, and I could look right down on top of the same boys right from bed, as they played ball for another hour or two. [4.31-4]
Another grievous indignity was "knee pants." Ma dressed me in "waists" and knickers before I went to school. Later, I was one of the better dressed boys in school, meaning I had to wear knee pants and long, black stockings. But I didn't say "waist" more than once at school. I really got the laugh from the country kids. They wore shirts.
Long pants for small boys hadn't come out yet. (Get a 1920 or older Sears or Ward's catalogue and you'll see what I mean.) I got my first pair of long pants to wear the night I graduated from the 8th grade. [4.31-5]
The country kids could come to school in blue, bib overalls and I felt like a disgrace when I played with them. They were emphatic in stating that they wouldn't wear knee pants. [4.31-6]
Of course, I could wear bib overalls in the summer, especially after Pa bought the farm. I could wear them on those expeditions, and I could go barefoot all summer, too. That was really living, though it seemed like I spent most of the summers with a rag tied around my big toe from stubbing it on the sidewalk when we lived in town. [4.32-1]
I was trained not to fight or hit anybody. (I was especially cautioned not to hurt my little sister, but with her there were no holds barred. She could do anything because she was little and I was big.) One time, when we were probably 5 and 8, or 6 and 9, she raked both my cheeks and drew blood with all eight fingernails. I carried those marks for quite a while, and I don't even remember why she did it! [4.49-3]
One day when I was probably 7, coming 8, I was allowed to go over the hill and play with Marcus and Jimmie Peterson. Marcus was two or three years younger than I was, but we used to visit there as a family once in a while. We decided to play "horse" (which was one thing kids played a lot). They had a little hand-pushed garden cultivator, so we tied a rope to the front of it and, of course, I was the horse. [4.49-4]
They had a big, bachelor uncle (Bill) who farmed with their dad (Gamey) and lived with them. He was loud and bossy, but he had a heart of gold.
Marcus was pretending he was Bill, and we were cultivating the garden, which was about half grown. I couldn't do anything to please him. He said, "Get over there," and I said, "I can't, I'll step on the plants." He said, "That don't hurt, get over there," real loud like Bill, so I walked on the plants and he steered the cultivator handles.
About then, Bill came along and thundered at the top of his voice, "What have you been doing here?" and Marcus said, "Donald didn't know where to go." I never said a word. [4.49-5]
I don't know whether it was the same day or not, but Marcus Peterson and I decided to play "barber" and shave Jimmie. He wasn't very big yet (probably 1 to 2 years old), and we were going to use the potty chair for a barber chair, until his mother put a stop to it. We had him lying down with his head in the potty chair, but she said he might get stuck in it and then she'd have to have the chair sawed in two to get his head out. [4.50-1]
I guess the hardest lesson I had to learn (I really never have learned it) was that everyone doesn't tell the truth. I could hardly believe that, and I was always suffering for being so gullible. I had never had any experience with "kidders" and "stuffers" and liars and had never had any experience with anyone playing tricks or practical jokes in our family. So I usually took the bait and got laughed at a lot by the other kids. (Fibbing still isn't one of our family traits.) [4.104-1]
When I was still a little kid at home in town, Hulda (Paulson) Jacobson said, "Open your mouth and shut your eyes and I'll give you something good." I did, and when I bit down, expecting a piece of candy, I bit down on a mouthful of woolly bear caterpillar. Just try that once, and see what it's like! I should have learned right there, for life, never to trust anybody, but I didn't. [4.104-2]