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The Life of Richard Shafer
©1988 Glenn Shafer
CHAPTER II. FARM BOY
From 1924, when I was two years old, until early 1935, when I turned thirteen, my parents and my sister and I lived on the Shafer place, the farm my grandfather had bought in 1902. I was a farm boy, always at my father's heels. We were never rich, and after the Depression hit we had little money for extras. But I remember the farm as a happy place.
MOVING TO THE FARM
By 1924, my father was tired of working for his brother for wages. He had already farmed a fair bit, usually for his father or brother, or in partnership with them. Now he was ready to try it full-time. G.W., who had moved to town five years before, was renting his farm out, and he had been complaining that he was not getting enough from the rent to pay the taxes. "I'll take it for the taxes," my father told G.W. It may have seemed like a causal conversation at the time. The exact words became a matter of contention later.
Daddy must have been attracted by the idea of working the farm where he had lived as a child and where his father had made his fortune. Perhaps he dreamed of repeating his father's success. Unfortunately, he didn't have a big family of boys to work for him. And the times were different. The farm economy had boomed in the 1910s, partly because of the war in Europe. The 1920s were already depression years for farmers. And Caney was no longer a boom town. The natural gas had played out, and the industry was gone.
Daddy was 31 years old when he moved to the farm, and he had some savings to get started. He already owned some farm equipment jointly with G.W. and Elmer: a 1917 Emerson tractor with a three-bottom plow (a plow with three moldboards) and a Woods Brothers threshing machine. Daddy wanted the equipment and the other two were willing to sell him their interest in it, but they had to agree on a price. So each of them put down a sealed bid, with the understanding that the highest bidder would buy out the other two at the price he bid. Daddy was the highest bidder. I think the price was $1,800.
He also bought a wheat drill, a corn planter, a new set of harness, and a horse named Nig.
My mother didn't want to move to the country. I was just learning to talk then, and the story is that my father taught me to say, "I want to go to the farm." Mother agreed to go on one condition. She would have natural gas to cook with. That seemed reasonable, because there was a natural gas well nearby on the Crawford place. It was "free gas." The owners didn't care if we used it. All my father had to do was repair the old pipeline that ran from the well to the house on the Shafer place. Unfortunately, the gas played out as soon as we got out there.
THE SHAFER PLACE
The Shafer place occupied the northeast corner of the intersection of two section roads. The east-west road, the one the farmhouse was on, was the main road between Caney and Coffeyville. It was a busy road. Besides local farmers driving their teams to town and Caney people driving their cars to Coffeyville, I remember people traveling cross country in covered wagons.
When I was six years old, the road was widened and blacktopped. I remember a crew pulling out hedge trees with a block and tackle. The tractor they were using looked as big as a steam engine to me. I also remember the big roller. Perhaps it was then that the road became part of U.S. Highway 166. It remained part of U.S. 166 until 1955, when the highway was moved a mile north.
If you went a little more than a mile north on the north-south road, past where U.S. 166 is now, you reached Cobb Station, a pumping station for Prairie Pipelines. The tanks there are still used for oil, but the station itself, the building where the gauges were, has since been turned to other uses. In the 1960s, Joe Halligan used it for laying hens. Later it housed a factory that made boxes for ammunition for Vietnam. Now they make wooden pallets there.
If you went south, you reached the Oklahoma border in a little more than a mile, after going past the house where I live now. You can't get through to the south now. Twenty years ago, the township closed the part of the road that goes up Jack's hairpin hill.
Bands of gypsies would often go by on the road, and sometimes they would stop at the house. One of them would come to the door and talk to Daddy, while the others spread out all over the yard, looking for something loose to steal. Mother and we kids would hide inside the house and watch out the windows. The gypsy talking to Daddy would occupy him with all kinds of proposals to trade or sell. One of them sold Daddy a horse once. He was a beautiful horse. We called him Black Beauty. There were two problems with him. He couldn't be used on a team because he wouldn't back up. He would stand straight up on his hind legs if you pulled back on his bridle. And he would not stay in. He could jump every fence we had. Daddy finally took him to a sale.
The farm held a lot of family history. I knew where all the dry oil and water wells were. One of the water wells was only twenty feet deep, because a charge of dynamite they had tried to use at that depth had failed to go off, and they had been afraid to go down to retrieve it. We always steered clear of that one.
The farmhouse had three bedrooms. Grandpa Esson used one of them when he was with us. My bedroom was the small one off the living room. When we were little, Helen slept there, too. Later she used the other bedroom, and my parents put their bed in the living room. It wasn't used much as a living room, but I remember the big library table with the red RCA Victrola phonograph. My parents had some old 78 rpm records that they played on the phonograph. I remember "Roamin' in the Gloamin'," "Peoria Tonight," "It's a long, long ways to Tipperary when you're travelin' all alone," and "Old King Cole was a merry old soul." The horn on the phonograph was two or three feet wide.
Between the dining room and my bedroom, there was a little room we called the "world room." We called it that because we kept everything in the world there. The incubators were there. So was the kids' potty, which was kept in a corner where it would be hidden by two doors when they were open.
We had no electricity, of course. There was no running water, but there was a cistern under Grandpa Esson's bedroom, next to the kitchen. Daddy installed a hand pump from it into the kitchen so that Mother could pump water directly into the sink.
It must have been a drafty house. There wasn't any insulation in it. We heated with firewood cut by hand from a little woodlot east of the house.
Daddy turned his father's berry house, where the strawberries and blackberries had been sorted, into a mill house. He put grain mills at both ends, setting them by the doors so they could be powered by tractors from outside. They were burr mills, not hammer mills; the grain was ground by rotating disks. It was a small business. Neighbors would bring corn, wheat, and oats for him to grind. He also ground for Grandpa and Uncle Elmer.
There were lean-tos along the north and south sides of the mill house. Daddy parked his cars in the lean-to on the north side, and he kept his tools on the south side.
We had a telephone on a party line. The number was 1012F. That was the number you gave the operator when you called anyone on the party line. You also told her who you wanted, and she rang a different number of rings depending on who the call was for. My parents were the agent for the party line; they collected from everyone else to pay the monthly bill. That included Wink Edwards, south of the road and to the east, the Zinn's, who lived in the old Jack place directly to the south, Andy Jack, who had twenty-six acres out of the old Jack place, Alf and May Sanders, who lived where I live now, and Ray Jack, who lived on the Hub Roe place west of the Sanders. I remember Daddy going to some of their houses to work on their phones. Most people were afraid to open up a phone.
Another neighbor we saw often was Everett Purdue, who lived a mile north and a mile east. We also had neighbors on the Crawford place. The Shafer place was only 120 acres, not quite a quarter-section. The forty acres in the northwest corner of the quarter-section had already been sold off when Grandpa Shafer bought it. That forty acres was the Crawford place. There has always been a little house there.
FARMING WITH DADDY
By the time I was five or six years old, I was at my father's heels all the time. When Daddy was plowing, I was on the Emerson with him. When he was fixing fence, I was handing him staples. When he was working on something with his tools, I was running errands for him. Whatever he was doing, I was there.
I remember being on the Emerson with Daddy while he used a block and tackle to pull down old fruit trees in the orchard. There was a lot of room on the platform around the driver's seat on that big old tractor. There wasn't much danger of falling into the wheels, because the platform was enclosed with plate steel on the front and both sides.
In addition to the Emerson, Daddy had a Case tractor. He bought it at a sale in bad repair, and he left it setting for years behind his tools on the west end of the south lean-to. When I was about eight, he finally found the money to repair it. I rode with him on it many times. It was an unusual tractor. The motor on it set sideways, so the exhaust manifold was right in front of the driver. I once had to be taken to the doctor because I fell forward and burned my hand on that manifold when he stopped to shoot a rabbit. A tractor pulling a plow stops suddenly when you throw in the clutch.
Daddy always had his eye out for animals. Besides carrying his .22 so that he could shoot rabbits while he was plowing, he also kept his eye out for snakes. When he saw one, he would jump off the tractor, grab it by the tail, and kill it by snapping it like a whip to crack its head open.
When Daddy drilled wheat, I was on the drill. I remember sitting once on the drill with brand new shoes. School was about to start. It must have been the first or second grade. I was letting my foot go up and down as the cog wheel turned, and suddenly my shoe got caught. "Daddy, stop the horses." My foot wasn't hurt. I had curled up my toes. But the toe of that new shoe was all ground up. Years later, when I started farming, I used that same drill, but I pulled it with a tractor.
Daddy had a checked corn planter. You could use it to plant corn in a checked pattern, with the plants lined up both straight and diagonally. I never had the patience to do that myself. When I plant corn, I just want to get it planted. Daddy would plant a whole field of corn in a perfect checked pattern. He liked to do things neat.
I remember helping Daddy build a pigpen once. We dug deep holes for the posts, and we carried water to use when we tamped down the dirt we threw back in the holes around the posts. He used a hatchet to square the sides of the posts, and he made sure every board he nailed to the posts was straight and square. Everything he built had to be just so.
Besides the grain crops - wheat, oats, and corn - Daddy raised a lot of produce - radishes, onions, beets, lettuce, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. He even sold sweet potato plants. I remember helping him bunch radishes. We sold a lot of the produce to Caney stores, and we sometimes took some to Coffeyville.
There was a famous story in our family about driving our Star touring car to Coffeyville loaded down with sweet potatoes. The car coughed and struggled so climbing Dead Man's hill that it scared Helen. She cried and begged to be allowed to walk up the hill instead of riding. That was before U.S. 166 was blacktopped.
Daddy had gardening in his heart. He was still picking out spots for ponds and truck gardens on my farm just before he died. I was never so interested in serious gardening. It's livestock and farming with horses and machinery that I love. I enjoy cultivating corn and seeing it grow.
The part of farming I have always liked best is haying. As a child, I enjoyed watching the hay baler work. Everett Purdue usually baled for us. At first Everett had an old horse powered baler, one with horses walking in a circle to supply the power. Later he got a gasoline powered one. He was always coming to get Daddy to tune up the motor for him. I loved to watch the horse head plunger on that gasoline baler. Most of all, of course, I loved to ride on the hayrack. The first few years, Daddy didn't even have a hayrack. He just mounted two big planks on his wagon and loaded one row of bales atop them. I remember him and me sitting on top of those bales and him driving the team back to the barn. I don't know how high the bales were stacked, but to me they were really tall.
Daddy always milked six to eight cows. We sold cream, and we fed the separated milk to the pigs. We never had sows, but we always bought pigs to feed out with milk and corn.
We sold most of our pigs, but usually we would save one or two to butcher. Uncle Elmer and Daddy would butcher them and divide the meat. They cured the hams, rendered the lard, fried down the sausage, and stored the sausage in the lard. They cured most of the sides for bacon. They didn't make pork chops, because they couldn't keep them. Instead they put the underside into sausage and just stripped out the tenderloin from the top to eat fresh. It was really tender.
Daddy never kept a bull. In the early years there was usually a dairy bull on the Crawford place, and the fences were never good enough to keep it home if we had a cow in heat. Dairy bulls are mean. One time the people on the Crawford place had a bull so mean and impossible to get back home that they came over and shot and butchered it in our garden. I remember another one of those bulls chasing Mother and me back to the house once when we tried to go see Daddy in the field. Of course, that bull would only have had to raise his head to send Mother running.
I also remember Daddy leading cows over to Everett Purdue's to be bred. He would go diagonally across the section to get there. Since Everett's bulls were white-faced, we began to get half white-faced calves towards the end of our time on the farm. Daddy never tried to raise beef, but during the Depression he began to accumulate a nurse herd, just because the calves weren't worth anything to sell.
We always raised a lot of chickens. We usually had 100 or 150 laying hens. All the grocery stores in town bought eggs then. There was a cash price, and the store would give a penny or two per dozen more in trade. My parents sold a little to all the stores, because they also wanted to sell them produce, but mostly they sold to Cliff Fuqua. Cliff was an old soldier like Daddy. I think they had been drafted about the same time.
One night one spring, probably about 1932, we had 110 real nice Rhode Island Red pullets stolen. Daddy took his German Luger and shot over the heads of the thieves as they ran off. He thought he knew who did it. He found the pullets in a poultry house downtown, and he found out who sold them to the poultry house. But he didn't have any proof. Losing all those chicks was a real blow.
My main chores were to feed the calves and pump water. There was always a lot of water to pump. I also remember counting out ears of corn to feed the horses. It was also my job to milk Dora. She was a gentle cow. Helen milked Frances. The two of us would ride her. I don't remember being made to work in the garden. I did pull a few weeds, but that was just for fun.
Daddy did expect me to do a good job when I was helping him. I remember once when he was working on his mowing machine and he sent me for a wrench. I strolled off and strolled back. When I got back he looked at me with disgust and said, "I could have crawled after it by now." I can still see him saying those words.He told me about Roosevelt's New Deal while he was working on that mowing machine. He didn't think much of it. He didn't care too much about politics, but he was a Republican like everyone else. Uncle Wiley was the only Democrat in our family.
Any tool Daddy had I could use. I was expected to take care of it, but it wasn't a crime if I broke something. Once I dropped and broke his plane, which wasn't even his. It was his father's, and he had to pay his father for it. I don't remember what he said to me about it, but I know he wasn't mean to me. He never was.
Despite the variety of things we sold off the farm, we depended on Daddy's earning other money, too. He made money working on cars and machinery for neighbors. He also ran machinery for people, and he put in occasional days working for his dad or brother. Some years, he made quite a bit of money taking his threshing machine on threshing runs. My mother's account book shows that in 1925 he got 8¢ a bushel for threshing wheat or kafir corn, and 5¢ for oats. Usually he threshed only a few hundred bushels at a time.
Twenty-five years later, I got 10¢ for wheat and 7¢ for oats. It seems strange that the prices didn't go up more, but the later prices were better than they looked, because fields and yields tended to be bigger then, and we could thresh more at a setting.
My mother was the reader in the family. She read letters aloud to us, and she would read the newspaper to us over breakfast. My father wasn't much of a reader, though he could spend hours looking over the manuals that came with his tractors. Sometimes my mother would hide them so he would talk to her.
Mother was the main disciplinarian. She would use a switch on my legs. Things would really be bad the first few weeks after school was out in the spring. I would be in trouble all the time for climbing trees and tearing my shirts. I would climb up in a tree and not answer when she called. I would just sit there and laugh.
When Mother got really mad, she would threaten me with a whipping from Daddy. "I'm going to have your father give you a whipping when he comes in from the field," she would say. But somehow when he came in nothing ever happened. I can't remember ever being whipped by my father.
I don't remember being given too much to do in the house. I did dry a few dishes, but Helen did most of the helping in the house. One job my mother did give me was to keep the chicken droppings off the back step. I hated that.
My mother didn't care for housework. What she liked best was being out in the field with my father. She loved to ride on the binder and bind wheat and oats. And she loved to walk behind the wagon shucking corn. She had plenty of housework to do, though. Washing our clothes on a washboard was an all day job. My father would often help.
They worked a lot together. Mother was involved in selling the eggs and cream and produce. She and Daddy took care of the incubators together. They both turned the eggs. My job was to stay away from the incubator. "Don't jar it." They incubated eggs every spring. They had one incubator that held 150 eggs and another that held 250. Some of the eggs were ours. Others we incubated for other people. We kept enough chicks to keep up the laying flock and to raise fryers for eating and selling. The others we sold as newborn chicks.
Mother cooked on a wood stove on the farm. She burned a lot of corn cobs in that stove. She always made cocoa for us for breakfast, but we usually ate Post Toasties. Occasionally she made eggs and toast. Sometimes my father made pancakes. That was a treat. Mother made pies when there were threshers to feed, or when her sister Evelyn visited.
Mother baked quite a bit of bread after we moved back to town and she had natural gas again. But even then, she didn't enjoy baking. She didn't really enjoy any kind of cooking.
We didn't have a great variety in our diet. A lot of what we ate, we raised ourselves. We always had eggs, and we ate plenty of fried chicken. In those days we fried the chicken feet. If a kid got a second piece of chicken, it was a foot. We ate a lot of peas. Mother would pay us a penny a pint to shell them for her to can. We also had a lot of vegetable soup, but otherwise we didn't eat a lot of vegetables.
We had plenty of milk, of course. We kept a crock of whole milk in the cellar for drinking. We churned some butter, but not every day. I remember buying oleo in the store. In those days, it came uncolored, with a capsule of dye inside the waxed-paper package. You broke the capsule inside the package with your thumb and kneaded the package until the oleo was all yellow.
We ate a lot of pork, but not much beef. Even during the Depression, when cattle got so cheap, we didn't butcher any. We had no way to keep beef. Pork we could cure.
TIME FOR PLAY
There weren't any other children to play with in the neighborhood, and Helen wouldn't play very much with me. "Come out and play with me," I would say. But she had to stay in the house and help Momma. So I played a lot by myself.
I had a little play wagon with no sides - I still have it - and I remember fixing wooden sides and a canvas cover for it so that it would look like the covered wagons that went by our house all the time. I would even line that wagon up with rows of boxes in the back yard, so that I would have a whole wagon train. Our back yard was pretty sandy, so it was as if I had a giant sand box.
I loved to nail things together. Daddy never seemed to mind how many nails I used. I thought I was a carpenter. As soon as I had two boards nailed together, I thought I had an airplane. I would nail two boards in a T and use it to roll a hoop from a wagon hub. All the kids then had a hoop and roller to play with on the way to school.
I loved mechanical things. I remember Henry Thomelson, the fellow Daddy hired to work in the garden, bringing me an old alarm clock. I used the motor in it with my tinker toys.
I went fishing a lot in the pond on the farm. On Sunday afternoons, the whole family would fish. Other times, I went fishing by myself. Looking back, I'm surprised my mother let me do it. I caught a lot of fish, but they usually weren't big enough to eat. I just put them back in and caught them again. I don't have the patience to enjoy fishing now, but I really enjoyed it then.
After I started to school, I got real interested in track. I was going to be a real star. I laid out a track in the front yard. I made a pit for a broad jump with sand from the back yard. I even set up a bamboo fishing pole for the high jump.
Helen and I enjoyed playing in the mill house. We liked the clean, slick, wood floors, which had been oiled and polished by the grain being swept up. There was an upstairs, and we liked to carry the pussy cat up and throw it out and watch it land on its feet.
The mill house was also fun because it was full of boxes of junk that Daddy had picked up at auctions. He loved to buy the boxes they would sell for a nickel or dime, just to see what was in them. He would stack them up neatly on the shelves of the mill house, figuring that their contents would come in handy sometime. He had something in mind for a lot of it. He was always that way. Even the scraps of iron in his iron pile meant something to him; he had a design in his mind for using every one of them. He was the same way about my iron pile after I started to farm. I think he still had something in mind for every piece in it when he died.
I remember riding old Nig together with Helen. We would often ride her out to get the cows in the evening. She was a gentle old horse. If one of us fell off, she would stop dead still.
One summer Grandpa Esson came back from working in the wheat harvest in western Kansas pulling a grain wagon with a team of matched bays. They were named Jeff and Daisy. Daddy bought the team from him. Daisy died a year or two later, but we kept Jeff for years. He was a western type of horse. He would whistle at you when you went in the barn. My father worked him, often together with a horse borrowed from Grandpa or Elmer, but he was built more like a saddle horse than a work horse. About the last year we were on the farm, I found that he was broke to ride, and I rode him around quite a bit.
Once I bought a bicycle from a classmate named Elmer Davis. It had been run over. The front wheel was ruined, and one of the pedals was broken off. So he gave it to me for 75¢ and a bale of Daddy's hay. From Daddy's iron pile, I found a heavy old iron wheel that had come off a commercial sewing machine. It was about the right size, but it was really heavy. I rode that bicycle all over the place with one pedal, even down to the greenhouse and back. If you turned south at the intersection of the section roads and crossed Mud Creek, the road would turn east to Andy Jack's driveway and then sharply back to the west and up a steep hill. That was Jack's hairpin hill. Once I pushed that bicycle to the top and rode back down. I was going too fast at the bottom of the hill to make the sharp left turn, but I was able to turn up Andy's driveway. So I tried it again. The second time I couldn't hold it back enough to make it up Andy's driveway, and I hit his old pear tree. The bicycle must have gone three feet or more up that tree. I hit the ground off to the left, about as hard as I have ever hit anything. It didn't hurt that old iron wheel a bit.
When I was eight or nine, Daddy taught me how to trap rabbits. We built a box trap, a box with a sliding door that fell down when the rabbit pushed a wooden trigger. We would put corn in it and set it along a hedgerow. Daddy and I dressed the rabbits together. I would hold the hind legs apart, and he would slit the belly and pull off the hide in one motion. We could dress a rabbit in a couple minutes. Uncle Elmer would pay me 15¢ a rabbit dressed. We ate a lot of rabbits, too.
Later, after we moved to town, the family got wary of wild rabbits. I had a friend whose dad was real sick from rabbit fever. When Daddy and I went hunting for rabbits right after the war, we wore rubber gloves to dress them. The disease wasn't a problem once the rabbits were cooked.
Since Helen was in school two years before me, I was anxious to go too. I felt especially bad about not going the second year. The cutoff date was New Years, and I had to wait a whole more year because my birthday was just one week after New Years. I got really involved with my father's farming that second year, though. I trailed after him all the time. By the time I did get to go to school, when I was six, I no longer wanted to go. I wanted to stay home with Daddy.
During the first year or so, Mother or someone would always drive us to school, but by the second or third grade, we were walking a lot. I had to run to keep up with Helen, and I got so I could trot all the way. Often we would catch a ride with Mrs. Frost, who lived about a quarter mile down the road and always drove her kids. It would be "Hurry up, hurry up," in the morning so that we would get to the Frosts soon enough to catch a ride.
In the fall of 1931, Daddy installed a boiler and built a smokestack for Elmer at the greenhouse. I think he did the whole thing himself, and he was at it for several weeks. I would stop on the way home from school and play on the scaffolding while he was laying the bricks. One evening during that time a kid playing in Truey Booth's salvage yard at Smith and Third caught me in the right eye as I walked by with a nut shot from a beany flipper. I ran from there to the greenhouse. Daddy put me in the car and went back to tell Truey, who put a stop to the game. Unfortunately, nothing was done about my eye. I never saw real well out of that eye after that.
My first grade teacher at McKinley School was Miss Cramer. She was just a girl, but I didn't realize that then. I really liked her. She always let me play the drums or the cymbals. A lot of the other kids were only allowed to play with the triangles. I also enjoyed the drawing with crayons.
Unfortunately, I missed the last three weeks of the first grade with chicken pox. I have sometimes blamed my poor showing in school on that and on my wanting to stay home with Daddy.
I don't remember so much about my teachers after the first grade. I don't think they liked me so much. I got a lot of whippings. I remember once in the fifth grade when the teacher was out of the classroom, and one of the smartie girls who was the monitor started to look in her desk for something. I said, "Don't look in there. You'll find cigarettes." I knew the teacher smoked, because I had crawled up the fire escape during recess and seen her smoking in the office. The girl told the teacher when she came back, and I was sent up to get a whipping from the principal. In those days, a teacher smoking was a pretty big deal to the kids. Nobody's mother smoked.
I had to repeat the fifth grade. Being put back really hurt at the time, but I suppose it was one of the better things that have happened to me. School wasn't so hard after that, at least for a few years.
In spite of my poor showing, I was always full of self-confidence in school. Helen would always talk about how badly she had done on a test she had just taken, and it would turn out that she had gotten an A. I would always think that I had done great, and it would turn out that I had flunked it. I think I was so confident because some things came easily. Someone told me something a couple times, and I had it. I never understood how to study to get something that didn't stick automatically.
I've gone into other things in life with a lot of confidence, too. I remember talking to Grandpa Shafer before the war, telling him how much money I was going to make farming and ranching. I said I was going to make so much money that I would have to bale $10 bills. He asked me if he could rake scatterings for me. After the war, when I was setting out to buy a farm, I talked the same way to my mother. She just grinned. She had been through it before.
One painful problem during my school years was my ears. I had a lot of earaches. My eardrums would burst, and the fluid would run down my cheeks. I remember being just miserable in the fourth and fifth grades, sitting at my desk holding my aching and running ears.
I did have a lot of fun at recess. We spun tops, and we played a lot of softball and football.
We were all great top spinners in those days. Kids would take tops to school and play with them at recess. I'm talking about the old-fashioned wooden tops that you spun by throwing out while you held a string that had been wound around them. There were several kinds. The ones with nice round bottoms were called Sally Walkers. Those with spikes on the bottom were called spikers. The spike was designed to split another top. We would draw a circle in the dirt, and someone would begin by throwing their top in. Then each of the others would throw theirs in, trying to hit a top already there with the spike hard enough to split it. The top had to come in spinning, so it was hard to hit one already there, let alone split it. When it did happen, it wasn't a tragedy. Tops didn't cost much. I had lots of them.
I wasn't a hard hitter in softball, like my cousin Charlie Scott, but I was always a fair catcher. We would play teams at recess. Sometimes the boys and girls played separately, and sometimes they played together. At noon, we would play work-up. You started in the outfield, and you moved up a position every time there was a new batter, until it was your turn to bat. That way kids coming back to school from lunch could join in at any time.
I also had a lot of fun playing football, especially in the third, fourth, and fifth grades. I was pretty tough, and I was always chosen. I don't remember running with the ball very much, but I could really tackle. I hit them low. There were always a lot of boys on each team, and we would really pile up.
THE SHAFER FAMILY
I saw a lot of aunts and uncles and cousins on the Shafer side in those years.
Elmer was the uncle I knew best. Daddy and Elmer were very close. They were always doing things together. When one of them had a sick cow, the other one would come over to help with it. When one of them had a cow or a horse that had to be shot, the other one would do it.
Elmer's own children were all girls, so he did some things with me that he might have wanted to do with a son. Once, when it had just snowed, he came in and said, "Dick, go get that .22 and let's get us a rabbit." Then he showed me how to shoot rabbits with Daddy's gun. I was about 10. Maybe Elmer didn't know my father hadn't shown me how to shoot because my mother didn't approve. Or maybe he did. Elmer also took me horseback riding. You never saw Daddy on a horse.
Elmer and his wife Jessie had four girls, Marie, Margie, Treva, and Maxine. Treva was two years older and Maxine was a year younger than me. We were around each other a lot. I walked home from school every day with Maxine.
We also saw a lot of the Scotts and their kids. My father's sister Ethel was married to Wiley Scott, and they lived on another farm that G.W. owned, on the Oklahoma border, about a mile south of the McKinley School. The family called it the "south place." The Scott's oldest boy, Wiley Ralph, was just two days older than me. Lucille was a year younger than us, Charles was about two years younger than Lucille, and Homer was about three years younger than Charles. Much later Aunt Ethel and Uncle Wiley had another son, Johnny, who I also got to know well.
It was fun to visit the Scott place. But one thing that always struck me there was that the boys were forbidden to use most of their father's tools. It wasn't like that at my house.
We would visit Grandma Shafer's house about once a week, and usually Aunt Ethel and Uncle Wiley would visit the same evening. I would always get in a fight with Wiley Ralph. He was a pretty chunky boy, and at first I would always get the short end. It got so I would cry not to go. "I want to stay home. Wiley Ralph will beat me up." Part of the problem was that I didn't have permission from my mother to fight back. "If you get in a fight, you will get a licking when you get home," she would tell me. Finally one day she said, "All right, if he hits you, you can hit back." That evening, I gave him a good beating. He was so surprised that he didn't put up a very good defense. We got under Grandma's big old desk, and I got astraddle of him and beat the dickens out of him. Everyone thought I was pretty terrible. They had never seen him hit me. He always did that out of sight.
After that Wiley Ralph and I fought every time we saw each other. After we started school we fought every day. I had to wait after school for Helen to get out, and he would stay to fight with me. Sometimes he would win, and sometimes I would win. Finally, he got to be a little bigger than me, and it got so he would always win, so we stopped. I suppose another reason we stopped was because I fell behind him in school. After I repeated the fifth grade, I didn't see so much of Wiley Ralph and the other kids I had been in class with the first five years.
After I started fighting with Wiley Ralph, nobody ever bullied me. I'm a little fellow - only 5'4". But nobody in school ever got away with bullying me, because they knew I would fight back. It didn't matter whether I was going to win or get beat. I didn't care. I would fight.
Elmer's and Ethel's children were the ones I saw the most, but I would see a whole houseful of other Shafer cousins every Christmas at Grandma's house.
My Uncle Ben Shafer and his wife Emma had four children, Robert, Clifford, Bernice and Carl. They lived up at Havana, and later southeast of Tyro, but we only saw them at Christmas. Their first three children were quite a bit older than me. Carl was about three years younger than me, and I did see more of him later, just before the war. He was killed during the war.
Ben was the black sheep in the family. Dennis Foote, who grew up and lived all his life on the Foote place on the state line east of the south place, once told me that his first encounter with the Shafers was with Ben, who was down hoeing on the south place. Ben was a big, strapping, boy then. When he saw Dennis on the other side of the draw, he came over and said, "How would you like me to kill you with this hoe?" Apparently he wasn't very happy about having to hoe G.W.'s fields. When he was still a teenager, Ben once took after his father with a scoop shovel. My dad took the shovel away from him. Ben's temper stayed with him in later life. There were stories about gun battles between Ben and his wife. Supposedly the family split up, a couple of the kids in the barn with Ben and a couple in the house with Emma, and the two groups shot at each other. Elmer was supposed to have negotiated a settlement. Everybody respected Elmer for his good sense, since he made so much money.
My Aunt Lillian and her husband Earl Williams also lived up by Havana. They only had two children in those days, Virginia and Polly. Virginia was about two years younger than me. Later they had James, who was the same age as Johnny Scott, and Jean Ellen, who was even younger.
My Aunt Anna and her husband Merle Alt had six children, Ethel, Dorothy, Jack, Ray, Marian, and Betty. Dorothy was about Helen's age, Jack was two years younger than me, and Ray was about a year younger than him. We only saw them at Christmas. They lived in Holdenville, Oklahoma, where Merle owned some drilling rigs. He and Daddy were special friends. Around 1915, they had worked together drilling for oil on Grandpa's farm with a rig Grandpa had rented. After that, still before the war, they had gone out drilling for oil together in Texas. Daddy hurt his back and had to give it up after only three weeks.
My Uncle Claude Shafer worked for Merle at Holdenville and lived at Wewoka, near there. He was always Uncle Tom to me, but Tom was just his nickname. When he was a boy, Mr. Glatfelder, who lived on the hill just east of the Shafer place, would give him a ride to school, and he always asked, "Is the Tommy ready?" The name just stuck. Uncle Tom and his wife Helen adopted a daughter named Mary Louise, who was my sister Helen's age. I only saw her at Christmas, too, but I really liked her. She took up for me when I got into scrapes with other big kids.
My Uncle George was also at Grandpa's house at Christmas, but he and Aunt Mrytle were just starting their family in those years. Their oldest daughter, Evelyn, was just a baby. Later, he had another daughter, Betty, and two sons, Bobby and Tommy. Tommy was in my son Glenn's class.
Daddy always enjoyed his younger brother George. George shared Daddy's passion for gardening, and he also loved cars. He would bring old cars out to the farm, and Daddy would help him tinker with them. When George would talk about how fast he could drive with a pint of whiskey under his belt, Daddy would shake his head and say "George, George, George."
The only one of Grandpa and Grandma's children who didn't come for Christmas was Uncle Fred. He lived in Oregon, and I never really remember seeing him. There was also Louella. I remember her, but she died in childbirth in 1933.
Christmas was fun at Grandpa's house. It was an all-day affair. We had a big dinner, and then we had the left-overs for supper. But I always resented that I couldn't play with my toys after I opened them on Christmas morning. I always had to leave them aside and go to Grandpa's for the rest of the day. I have always made a point of my own family being at home on Christmas.
My Grandpa and Grandma never played with me very much. When we were at their house, the adults talked and the children played with each other. Grandpa did have something to say to me once in a while, and I always had the feeling he liked me. He had a lot of grandchildren, but aside from Ben's boys, I was the only Shafer boy of that generation. And he didn't care for Ben.
Grandpa came out to the farm to talk to Daddy fairly often. I remember the time he came out to take up the foundation of his old greenhouse, because I still have the scar on the little finger of my left hand. Grandpa was using a jack, and I stuck my finger into it just as he flipped the trigger to let it down. Another time, when I was six or seven, he made me a little cow from a corn stalk with his pocket knife while he was standing talking to Daddy, who was milking. Yet another time he showed me how to split two corn stalks to make a little fiddle.
Grandma and Grandpa always called me Richard instead of Dick. They had had horses named Dick, and they considered Dick a horse's name. They didn't think I should have been named Richard in the first place, since boys named Richard were always nicknamed Dick. My mother had a big argument with Grandma about it at the time. The younger children, Uncle George and Aunt Lillian, still call me Richard.
There was a real personality clash between Grandma and my mother, and I always got the feeling that Grandma liked the Scott kids better than me. They and the Alt kids certainly got nicer Christmas presents.
THE ESSON FAMILY
The family I saw the most of on my mother's side was Aunt Georgia's. (Her name was pronounced "Georgie.") She and her husband Allen Eastman had three children, Electa, Jimmy (three years older than me), and Mary Joan (five years younger than me). Aunt Georgia was a big, friendly, and somewhat dominating woman - quite a contrast to her husband, who was quiet and unassuming. She was always happy. She always had a new story to tell, and she could never resist embroidering it. Georgia lived downtown, but she came out to the farm a lot. It was always fun to have her come. She always had a hug and some sweet talk for you. I didn't play with Jimmy too much, though. He read a lot.
Uncle Allen had a good job. He was a pipeline walker for Prairie Pipelines. I'm not sure what all ran in those pipelines. Gasoline was in some of them. Uncle Allen had a route he covered every week, checking for leaks. That meant that he was away from home at least one night a week. So Aunt Georgia had to take charge with the kids. After World War II, they started using airplanes to check the pipelines.
Since she had the money, Aunt Georgia sometimes took us to movies in the Gregg Theatre in Caney. The first movies we saw there were silent, but then the talkies came. Much later, around 1937, Aunt Georgia and Uncle Allen moved to Bolton, a little settlement northeast of Wayside on the way to Independence. There were only a few houses there. We always said that Aunt Georgia was the mayor of Bolton.
We also saw my Aunt Vivian and her husband John Coltharp frequently. Their son Duane was a couple years younger than me. He had had polio as an infant, but he was very strong, and we played together a lot. Their son Ted was about four years younger than me. He was killed while training as a pilot during the Korean War. The twins, Paul and Prudence, were much younger; they were born in 1937.
Uncle John was hunch-backed from being dropped on the floor by one of his older brothers or sisters when he was an infant. He was a dry cleaner. He worked for Lingle's Dry Cleaning, and later he and Aunt Vivian opened their own dry cleaning shop. They made a go of it by working incredibly hard. But John's real calling was being a preacher. He was Timothy to Reverend McKinney's Paul. McKinney was the long-time preacher at the Christian Church, the preacher who married my folks and later both Helen and me. Uncle John loved Reverend McKinney, and he got started preaching to help him. Eventually, while he was still in dry cleaning, he started his own little congregation at the Pleasant Hill Schoolhouse, about four miles east of Caney. During World War II, he finally found work in some small churches in Missouri as a full-time preacher. He was the only preacher our Caney Christian Church ever produced.
I didn't see much of my other cousins on my mother's side. Uncle Roy did have two boys that I knew, Scott and Milo. Milo was three years older than me, and Scott was a lot older. He also had a girl named Georgia - little Georgia she was called. Roy was in and out of Caney in those days. The family's way of putting it was that he was the next thing to an outlaw. Always one step ahead of the sheriff. He settled down in later years.
Uncle Forrest didn't have any children of his own, but he and his wife Ruth did adopt two children in later years. Aunt Evelyn never had any children. Aunt Inice had eleven or twelve children, but they lived in Michigan. I saw just three of them once, when they visited us at the greenhouse. Bessie had two children, Earl and Vera. Vera burned to death in a fire that she and her brother started by playing with matches.
Aside from family, most of my parents' social life centered around the Christian Church. My parents had me going to church from the time I was nine days old. I have a certificate signed by my Aunt Vivian enrolling me in the "Cradle-Roll Sunday School" on that date. That was the nursery. I suppose Vivian, who was nineteen then, was taking care of it. I enjoyed Sunday School, but I do remember hating the knickers that my mother made me wear. She thought they were really fashionable, and I suppose they were, but most of the kids thought they were sissy. You got a lot of teasing in anything but long pants.
The new church building was built in 1921, and in those days the congregation was still working to pay off the mortgage. The church women would serve "penny dinners," with the proceeds going to the mortgage. The name came from the fact that the individual items in the meal were each priced at a few pennies. My mother would be up to church at noontime several days a week to help cook and serve those dinners.
She also participated in the "canneries" they had during the Depression. The church women would take their pressure cookers up to the church basement and can produce to donate to the poor. Not everyone had a pressure cooker in those days, but my mother had a four-quart one.
We would often have family get-togethers for birthdays. I remember once when we had weeny roast on the farm for my father's birthday. Uncle Elmer and Uncle Wiley got together and decided to give Daddy a whipping, but he got the best of them.
We would sometimes have big Shafer get-togethers in the spring in the city park. I don't know what the occasion was - perhaps someone's birthday. What I remember was that I could have all the pop I could drink.
My parents would sometimes play rook, a card game, with other couples they had met at church. I remember their playing a lot with Bill and Elsie Romig, and with the Romigs' friends the Tiners. Later they played with Leo and Olive McClure, who became very good friends. They also played dominoes and Chinese checkers with the McClures. Leo was domino crazy, and Daddy really liked Chinese checkers. I still have a plywood Chinese checker board that Daddy made.
Rook was a card game, but it was played with a special deck. My mother would never have had anything to do with "playing cards," the kind you play poker or bridge with. Those were gambling games.
There were a few family friends with children who came out to the farm. Bud and Bonnie Wells' mother was a good friend of Mother's, and she would sometimes bring them out to play.
We sometimes went to Tyro and Havana to see the free shows. A free show was a silent movie shown on a big screen set up in a vacant lot. They were paid for by local merchants, whose advertising would be inserted into the movie. The viewers would sit on blankets on the grass. Typically, we would go with another family, perhaps the McClures or the Purdues or Elmer's family. Daddy would take his car, and the other family would contribute a quarter for the gas.
I remember going to the fair in Sedan once with the Purdues. That's the only fair I remember. The fair in Coffeyville got big after World War II, but I don't remember it before the war.
In the very last years on the farm, my mother joined the Farm Bureau. She enjoyed going to their meetings. She stuck with that even through the war.
Daddy never did do as well as he had hoped on the farm. I have an old journal in which my mother kept track day by day of all their income and expenses, down to the very penny, for 1926 and 1927. For 1926, it shows $1,617.92 for total income and $1,743.24 for total expenses. For 1927, it shows $1,489.77 for total income and $1,426.51 for total expenses.
There were a lot of things we couldn't afford. One of them, apparently, was film. My father had a fine camera, but my folks didn't take many pictures in those years. We couldn't find many pictures of my childhood for this book.
Somehow, Daddy did always manage to keep a good car. Many of the prosperous farmers in the area didn't even have a car or a truck in those days. I remember Roy Broom going to town every Saturday with his team and wagon. But Daddy had always been fond of cars. Perhaps it was because he was a rich man's son that he thought a good car was so important. I never felt that way. For me, a car is just transportation.
The Overland was pretty drafty in the winter, and after my mother started driving us to school she thought we really needed an enclosed car. So in 1927, Daddy bought a five-year old Star. It had a nice little four-cylinder engine.
In 1933, Daddy bought a two-year old Velie, one of the big luxury cars of its day. It would cruise at 60 miles per hour. It used a lot of gas. I don't suppose Daddy paid too much for the Velie. Nobody else wanted such a big car then.
I remember Daddy going to Elmer to borrow the money to buy the Velie. I imagine he borrowed money from Elmer fairly often. Elmer was more or less his banker. He probably paid Elmer back in work or in commodities more often than in cash. I have borrowed a lot of money for automobiles myself, but otherwise I have tried to limit my borrowing to business. "Only borrow money to make money" was always my rule.
In those years, Daddy never got rid of an old car when he bought a new one. He didn't keep them running, but he kept them setting around. After he left the farm, he took both the Overland and the Star to his house in Caney, and he converted the Overland to a buzz saw there. I still have the motor and frame. Just after I bought my farm, in 1946, Daddy and I stripped the Velie down and made a wagon for a hayrack. I used it for several years, until it got about impossible to buy used tires the right size for it. They were big old tires, and the newer cars all used smaller sizes. I sold the Star for junk for my mother after Daddy died.
Things did get tight when the Depression hit. Since we raised so much of our own food, the Depression didn't make much difference in the way we ate, and we didn't seem to go without anything we really needed. But we couldn't afford anything extra. I remember some boys wanting to sell Daddy a bicycle for me for $3. He didn't have $3. I also had to give up on the pony they had talked about getting me.
One winter Daddy shelled and cleaned three hundred pounds of popcorn we had raised and pulled it to town on my play sled, because he couldn't afford the gasoline to drive. He sold that three hundred pounds of popcorn to Joe Eliott for three silver dollars. I think he spent one of them for groceries and brought the other two home. The family was really tickled to have two whole silver dollars then. The trouble was they didn't want to spend them.
We heard a lot about the problems of farmers when the Depression hit. Prices went down overnight. One week people were getting good prices for their milk and eggs, and the next week they could hardly give them away. People would dump out their cream and break their eggs on the sidewalks in front of the stores in protest.
During the Depression, the people on W.P.A. and welfare got free clothes for their families. One item they got in Caney was corduroy pants. They were beautiful. My mother thought they were wonderful, and she bought me a pair. I hated wearing them, because I didn't want anyone to think I was on welfare.
Uncle George was on the W.P.A., and when we visited with him, he would tell us about how the guys on it would stand around and do nothing. He thought it was funny. I guess we did too, but those of us not on it resented the fact that those on it seemed to have more money than we did.
In the early years, Daddy had been paying his father $250 a year rent, which was the amount needed to cover the taxes. But when the Depression hit, and farm prices collapsed, he could no longer pay that much. The taxes on the place also went down, though, and what he did pay was enough to cover them. By 1931 or 1932, G.W. felt Daddy was about $700 behind in rent, but Daddy felt he had kept his agreement by paying enough to cover the taxes. They couldn't settle the disagreement, but they did agree that Daddy would begin farming the cropland on shares instead of paying cash rent. G.W. would get a third of the crops. Harry would also pay $100 cash rent for the house, garden, barn, and seven acres of pasture. That was still high. A farmer renting on shares usually gets the farmstead free.
The depression had hit G.W. hard. He had put most of his wealth into the stock market, and in 1929, when the market crashed and the value of Cities Service stock plummeted, he lost $30,000 in one day. He still lived well in his big house, but he no longer felt like the rich man he had been.
THE LAST YEARS ON THE FARM
I was getting to be of some use to my dad in the field in 1933 and '34. In the summer of '34, the last year we were on the farm, I cultivated most of the corn with Jeff and Elmer's gray horse Dick. I thought I was pretty important driving those horses down that long field and back. Actually the horses knew the routine pretty well by themselves.
In the fall of '33, Uncle Ben gave up the farm he was renting southeast of Tyro. He sold everything but the dairy cattle and equipment at an auction, and Daddy and Uncle Elmer bought the crops standing. I helped harvest those crops that fall. We hauled loads and loads of bundled grain sorghum to Elmer's and our house in Elmer's Model T Ford truck. We needed the grain and the roughage because Daddy was accumulating so many cattle.
I learned how to drive then. At least I learned how to steer and operate the foot pedals on a Model T. They had a pedal that you pushed in to make the automobile go. I got to drive the truck from shock to shock in the field. There's more involved in driving a Model T on the road. You have to use a hand lever to put it in high.
Elmer also bought Ben's horse, which was a real saddle horse. He would put me behind the saddle, and we would ride all over that farm at a gallop. It was sure fun sitting back there holding onto that saddle just tearing through the air. I had rode old Nig and Jeff a lot, but I had just trotted them. After that, Elmer had another saddle horse he let me ride a half dozen times, a long-legged bay that could really run. I liked that horse. Elmer probably didn't have it for more than a year. I don't know whether he had any use for it other than my riding it.
Around the end of our time on the farm, a fellow came to talk to Daddy about the blacks somebody had moved in across the road from the Brewer place. He wanted Daddy to help run them off. Daddy said no. They did run them off, of course. They burnt down the shacks they were living in. Caney was an all-white town, and that was how it had always been kept that way. But Daddy never wanted to have anything to do with that kind of thing. He was a live-and-let-live person.
During World War I, when people were suspicious of anyone with a German name, the rest of the family came up with a story that Shafer was actually a Scottish name. Daddy wouldn't have anything to do with that. He figured that if we were German we were German. Actually, no one really knew where the Shafer name came from. I still don't.
The issue between my father and his father over the rent for the farm came to a head in 1934, when Daddy got his bonus for being a veteran. It amounted to about $750, and that was about the amount G.W. figured Daddy owed him. I was there and heard the conversation. "Give me your bonus, Harry," G.W. said. "That's how much you owe me." "No, Boss," Daddy said. "I don't owe you anything." Shortly after that, Daddy left the farm.
It was really Daddy's mother May who felt so strongly that he owed them money, and the issue was so heated because of the personality clash between her and my mother. They had always fought.
One issue while we were on the farm was the cherry trees. We had a couple of fine cherry trees, and May and G.W. figured that the cherries were theirs even though Daddy was renting the farm. They would come out to pick them, and my mother would tell them off. Helen remembers once when May responded by calling my mother a red-headed witch.
The real issue was my father's working free for G.W. Daddy had always been the most pliable worker among G.W.'s sons. Yet May and G.W. felt that Daddy was more obliged to them for his food and board during those years than they were to him for his work. They also figured he owed them something for getting him out of the army. Supposedly getting home six months after the war was over was getting home early, and G.W. had pulled some strings to make it happen. The ingrate had left home and got married as soon as he got home.
Daddy still did a lot for his parents, though, and my mother listed it all whenever she was telling her mother-in-law off. Whenever they needed something fixed, Daddy fixed it. Elmer may have been their favorite, but Elmer wasn't handy.
When G.W. died, in 1945, his lawyer, George Wark, published his will in the Caney Chronicle. The will provided that after May died, what was left would be divided into shares. Elmer and Anna would each get five shares. Lillian and George would each get three. Fred would get one. The three children May was most angry with, Ben, Harry, and Ethel, would get just $1 each. Ethel, like Harry, was in trouble with her parents because of unpaid rent. Ben had a lot of marks against him.
The will was shocking and hurtful to Daddy. Despite the fight over the rent, he had still felt close to his father. When something had needed fixing, he had still fixed it.
The hard feelings caused by the will were pointless. By the time G.W. died there was not that much to divide, and even though May lived modestly until her death in 1960, she left little behind. Moreover, Elmer, who was the executor of the will, was unwilling to obey its provisions. When the will was published, Elmer said to Daddy, "It'll never happen, Harry." He was true to his word. When May died, Elmer and Anna took what was left and divided it equally among the children. Each of them got $390. Mother, Helen, and I divided Daddy's share equally. Each of us got $130. That was my share of the Shafer fortune. I spent about $60 of it to have the lettering on Grandma's tombstone completed.
The Shafer Cousins
Uncle Ben and Aunt Emma Shafer
Uncle Elmer and Aunt Jessie Shafer
Aunt Anna and Uncle Merle Alt
Uncle Tom and Aunt Helen Shafer
Aunt Ethel and Uncle Wiley Scott
Aunt Lillian and Uncle Earl Williams
Uncle George and Aunt Mrytle Shafer
The Esson Cousins
Uncle Roy and Aunt Laura Esson
Aunt Georgia and Uncle Allen Eastman
Aunt Vivian and Uncle John Coltharp
Richard Shafer Autobiography: toc | previous chapter | next chapter
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