Family Memories -Part 3
My mom, Rachel Marguerite Anderson and my dad, John Eddie Gatewood were married in March of 1940 (I think). One of Mom’s favorite stories is about their wedding:
There is a little dirt road just a mile or so east of Bancroft, Nebraska and if she was ever in the car with you when you drove past it, she’d point to a spot on that road and say, “That’s where I got married.” You might think she would go on to say that there used to be a house there or a church or something, but, no – they got married in a parked car on a dirt road outside of Bancroft. It seems the ceremony was held at her Mom & Dad’s in Lyons, but when the minister sat down to sign the Marriage License, he saw that it had been purchased in Cuming County, rather than Burt County (which is where Lyons is). He said the marriage wouldn’t be legal unless it took place in Cuming County. So Mom and Dad, their two witnesses and the minister got into a car, drove til they crossed the county line and repeated the vows.
Their first night together was spent on Dad’s farm west of Decatur, NE and thunderstorms were rolling through the area. Dad had a big old mutt of a dog who was afraid of storms and when Mom woke up in the morning, there was this big, wet dog in bed with them. Apparently, the winds had blown open the door of the house and he came in and made himself at home.
They had six children - of which I am the youngest. The first four were born two years apart each – two girls in April, (one on Palm Sunday and one on Easter) two boys in October, and then two girls in November. Four years each separates the two youngest from the boys. The two oldest were “The Big Girls”, then “The Boys” and then “The Little Girls.”
I think I was about 4 years old (in 1959) when Mom took a job ‘off the place.’ She went to work for the Campbell Soup Company in Fremont, carpooling in to Fremont with a group of ladies from Lyons. Her job there was to bone the chicken.
Dad and Mom farmed until about 1962. We moved to Lyons, Nebraska and Dad became a jack-of-all-trades. I remember some of the jobs he had, not necessarily in chronological order:
The first one I remember was at the creamery in Lyons. It was only about a block away from where we lived. They processed milk into powdered milk. I think it was called the Lyons Creamery. One of the perks of this job was that once in a while he would bring home a pint jar of pure, thick cream – literally the “crème de la crème.” I still like the taste of cream.
I don’t know how long he worked there, but eventually, Dad went to work for the Morrison & Quirk Company at an alfalfa mill near Bancroft. They dehydrated alfalfa hay into pellets. They trucked in the hay and dumped it into huge, round furnaces that glowed red in the night and if you stood too close to the furnace, the heat sucked your breath away. Sometimes, he worked night shift and my sister and I (The Little Girls) would go with Mom to take him a lunch around midnight. They had a pop machine in the shop/office area. It was a big, oval tank with glass bottles of pop sunk into ice cold water. Each brand of pop had its own ‘alley,’ where the bottles were hung from the neck. You’d put your money in and slide your selection through a little ‘gate’ at one end. If you touched this pop machine when you were barefooted, you got an electric shock! The other clear memory I have of the alfalfa mill was the smell of the burning hay and the green dust that clung to Dad’s overalls.
Mom continued to work outside the home. After Campbell Soup, she waited on tables or cooked in some of the local cafes in Lyons. She also worked in the kitchen at the brand new nursing home -the Logan Valley Manor- when it opened in the early 70s.
During the racing season, Dad worked for his father as a thoroughbred race horse trainer, which I told about in an earlier post (February 22, 2007)
Mom and Dad both took jobs with a company called Golden Sun Frozen Foods in the late 60s. They made frozen fried chicken there and Dad drove the truck, making deliveries all over Nebraska, probably Iowa, and sometimes to Denver.
One thing Mom and Dad liked to do was bowl. Lyons had a ten-lane bowling alley – “Lyons Lanes.” Mom was on a women’s league, Dad was on at least one men’s league and they bowled together every Friday on a mixed league. (I still have his bowling shirt.) Dad won a traveling trophy for high score or something two years in a row and I used to love to look at the little gold guy bowling with dad’s name – twice - at the top of the list of engraved names. It sat on top of our piano.
We went to church most every Sunday at the Lyons Methodist. Mom taught Sunday school for several years, but Dad usually stayed home and watched “Bowling for Dollars” on TV. His cousin, Joe Gatewood, was a frequent contestant and even won a brand new convertible. Mom always slow-cooked a beef roast with potatoes and carrots and a jello salad for Sunday dinner.
Their favorite place to go out to eat on a Saturday night was the Green Lantern in Decatur, a steak house that still serves good food and drink.
Dad and Mom welcomed “just passing through town, so we thought we’d drop by” visitors with a pot of coffee and conversation. Frequent guests included Dad’s cousin and his wife, Ray and Tamsey Gatewood and the widow of Mom’s brother, Milton, whom I knew as Aunt Babe; their close friends Tom and Marybelle Connealy. But by far, their favorite guests were their grandchildren. Both The Big Girls and The Boys were out on their own by this time and they all started presenting Dad and Mom with grandchildren in rapid succession. The oldest two grandkids never lived near enough to just “drop in”, but the rest were in Lincoln or Oakland, Nebraska. Of all of the grandkids, I think Cindy and Tammie would rank among Dad’s favorites. I remember him playing “Peek-a-boo” or “I’m gonna GIT you” or tickling them and singing a falsetto “Gitchy gitchy goo” with them until they were giggling and squealing.
One mild day in September of 1969, Dad set out in the Golden Sun truck to make a delivery to Denver. While parked at the loading dock in Denver, he was struck down by a massive heart attack and died instantly. He was 56; I was 13. Mom was widowed at the age of 51 and finished raising The Little Girls alone. She continued her life much the same way as she had when Dad was with her; working, bowling, going to church, welcoming visitors and enjoying her grandchildren -19 of them by the time we were all finished (21 when you count the two already in heaven).
One of the things she especially enjoyed in her later years was the local Senior Center., where she ate lunch most every day, played cards and delivered meals to “those old folks” who couldn’t get out. She was in her 70s at the time. Several of these Senior citizens formed a “Kitchen Band” and they played kazooes (a piece of paper wrapped around a fine tooth comb), pots and pans, an old washboard and Mom, of course, on the piano.
When Alzheimers began to rob Mom of her memories, she made a heroic effort to hold onto the names of her children. Most of us, she remembered by where we lived: “the one from Omaha,” or “the one in Norfolk.” I was always “the one with the horses.”
She died in September of 2005 in a nursing home in Omaha, two of her daughters at her bedside. I had gone home only hours before, intending to return in the early morning. The home, St. Joseph’s Villa, was a converted hospital. It may have been the same one her own mother was in when she passed away in 1962.
Well, my friend, your simple question several days ago, “What are your family memories?” has opened a floodgate. Thank you for doing that. I miss my folks, but writing these things down brings them back to life for me, and, hopefully, for anyone who reads this.
(To be continued)