Friday, May 31, 2013

The Latch String's Always Out

by Audrey Barclay

"The latch string's always out," is an expression commonly used in the early part of this [20th] century when inviting anyone to visit you. This expression came about by the use of a narrow leather thong that was fastened to the latch near the edge of the front door on most houses in those days. The door was latched by loosely bolting a narrow board to the door near one end, letting it extend far enough beyond the edge to fall into a deep notch cut into a matching board nailed to the door facing opposite. A tug on the thong from outside raised the latch, hence the expression, "The latch string's always out."

The latch string was always out on my grandfather's house. He built the house in 1896 from timber cut from the land on which it stood, including the milled lumber. The only exception was the "ceiling boards" with which the huge room was finished inside. An enclosed corner stairway led to the attic room above, with its sloping roof. It was dimly lighted by a small window in each gable end; otherwise it was unfinished. The room provided space for two beds, besides being a wonderful place for a little girl to play on a rainy day. The farmhouse was of hand-hewn logs, the marks of the adz plainly visible between the chinking of mud-like mortar used outside in the crevices to seal out the weather. They were held firmly in place by notches cut near either end, making walls that were sturdy and strong. Today, houses are manufactured and pre-packaged to resemble the log houses of yesterday, and one wonders, will the same warmth be generated from these houses as those of my grandfather's day? Surely, "the latch string will always be out."


Editor's note: I don't know which of Audrey's grandfathers--West or Smith--built the house she wrote about in the above piece, but when I first read this story, the house I pictured in my mind was this one:

That's Audrey's paternal grandmother, Amy Lucinda (Hagadorn) Smith, in the picture, along with Amy's son (and Audrey's uncle), Arba. Audrey's grandfather, Samuel S. Smith, most likely did build this house, probably with the assistance of all of his sons, especially Audrey's father, Ernest. Sam and Ernest were professional carpenters whose travel to building sites often kept them away from home for long stretches at a time. Here they are, father and son, in one of my favorite family photos (Sam on the left, Ernest on the right):

Don't forget you can click on photos to enlarge them.

Friday, May 24, 2013

When the Sun Sets Red

by Audrey Barclay

When the sun sets red fair weather is ahead
Say the sailors as they sail the sea.
But a red sunrise in the morning skies
Means a storm will soon be raging on the deep.
So on that day in May, just at the close of day
When I met you and gazed into your eyes
I knew I loved you true, and that you loved me too,
Then I kissed you while the sun set red.

When the sun set red in the evening
I asked you if you'd be my bride
And the sun set red in the evening
As we said our vows while we stood side by side.
So when we are grey and old, memories of love our gold
I shall love you while our sun sets red.

It was on an autumn day that I heard the parson say
As the sun sank in the western sky:
"Let no man put asunder." And I gazed at you in wonder
For you were such a bonny, blushing bride.
Then I gave my heart, anew, vowed forever I'd be true
That the omen God had given us would last.
And I blessed that happy day; happiness had come to stay
For I wed you while the sun set red.


Editor's Note:  It's interesting to me that Grandma wrote this poem from a man's point of view. Makes me wonder if she wrote it just for the sake of writing or, perhaps, on behalf of one of the men in her life. A son maybe? 

If she did "ghostwrite" it for another person, she wouldn't have been the only member of our family to have done that. Her third child (my father) once acknowledged that he'd earned extra money that way. If you're interested in that story, you can click here to read it.

Erna's Nearest Ancestors

Audrey's Nearest Ancestors

Audrey and Erna

Erna and Audrey Barclay on their wedding day - July 4, 1918

Erna and Audrey - Undated
(If you know when this photo was taken, please tell us.)

Erna and Audrey - December 1958

Audrey and Erna in 1968

Editor's Note: The 50th Anniversary newspaper clipping above included the full names and street addresses of Audrey and Erna's children. That information has been cropped from the image out of respect for privacy.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Man Hunt

by Audrey L. Barclay

Phil Johnson picked up the jangling telephone from the table beside him and handed it to his mother, making a wry face as he did so. There went their Carom game, probably.

Mrs. Johnson listened a moment, then told her neighbor up the road, "Don't be alarmed, Alice. I'm sure every possible precaution is being taken to see that no harm comes to anyone." She replaced the instrument then, answering their unspoken questions, she quietly told them, "There's been a break at State prison. Six convicts shot their way out about an hour ago. Alice is afraid they're hiding somewhere nearby, but I'm sure we've nothing to worry about; that's forty miles away, and they're sure to be caught before they get this far."

Twelve-year-old Phil was instantly alert. "Oh, boy! A prison break!" His vivid imagination immediately went into action. Bill, being more realistic, moved across the room and turned on the television just in time to hear the announcer say that all Sunday evening programs would yield priority to further news of the escape. Sheriff Walker was asking that everyone remain off the streets after dark, and keep their doors and windows locked until the prisoners were apprehended. Sixteen-year-old Bill, while Dad was away, felt his responsibility as man of the house.

Finally, with the impatience of ten years, Tom demanded, "come on, you guys! Just because me and Mom are beatin' ya I guess ya wanna quit. Pikers!" No one moved to resume the game, so the disgruntled lad banged the board with his fist, making the rings bounce, and went to his room, muttering to himself as he went. Who cared about any ole prison break, anyway?

No trace of the escapees was found throughout the ensuing week. Except for the healing wounds of the two guards they had shot, it was if it had never happened. The general consensus of opinion was that there had been help from the outside in making their way across the state line, although a few individuals remembered--and heeded--the sheriff's warning for caution.

Phil, to the detriment of lessons and the exasperation of teachers, sat in class dreaming of the grand new game he could play when he went hiking Saturday. He'd go on a manhunt! He knew just where to go first:  the culvert about a mile down from the railroad track. The big round pipe was big enough a man could stand up in it--a dandy place to hide.

The lad arose early that morning. He packed his knapsack with the sandwiches his mother had ready, cookies, apples, and eyed the lone piece of pie miraculously left over, then decided it was too messy. Instead, he dropped another handful of cookies in his shirt pocket, slung the bulging bag over his shoulder on the sturdy stick he always carried, and was off across the pasture. He didn't hear his mother's admonition to brush his rumpled brown hair and tuck his shirttail in.

Reaching the pasture fence Phil crawled between the barbed wires, climbed the embankment to the railroad track, where he balanced himself atop a rail and went teetering off towards his hideout, counting crossties as he went. He nibbled at the apple he had fished from his knapsack, and tried to decide who he was today. Usually, he was General Custer, Kit Carson, or some equally fascinating character, but he wasn't quite sure today who he should be. He guessed, though, if he was going to hunt escaped prisoners, he'd better be Sheriff Walker.

Reaching his destination, the boy scrambled down the embankment to the culvert and found it already occupied. Forgetting momentarily for whom he was looking, he supposed the tall, dirty, unshaven man who stood facing him from inside the tunnel was a tramp. The man stared silently at the boy, making no response when Phil greeted him with a friendly, "Hi!"

Seating himself some ten feet away, Phil opened his knapsack, removed two sandwiches, and offered one to the hungry looking stranger who made no move to accept it. Shrugging slightly, he replaced the sandwich and began to eat, covertly watching the man as he did so. He began to feel sorry for the fellow as he saw him lick his lips hungrily from time to time. Dark circles beneath his eyes made him look tired, too. Again Phil offered food, and this time it was accepted, still without comment.

Watching the fellow greedily devour two of the sandwiches, Phil took further inventory:  he must be about forty years old, and looked awfully strong. The heavy rough work shoes were quite worn, the coarse cotton shirt and pants faded and soiled. Then he saw the short ugly knife stuck beneath the belt. The blue eyes bulged, the hand flew to his mouth to stifle a scream. Golly! A convict! He hadn't expected to find one, not really. What would Sheriff Walker do?

Finishing the food, the man spoke for the first time, "Where does this railroad go to?"

"Canada," was the shaky reply.

"Will there be a train today?"

"Yes, right after noon. Are you planning to catch a ride on it?"

"That's none of your business," was the surly response.

Sometime later, trying to think of something to talk about, Phil told the man, "I know the engineer on that train. He'll stop and let you ride, if I want him to."

The guy was skeptical. "I don't believe you. Are you sure?"

"Oh, yes! I'm sure."

"All right, then, you stop it. And you'd better be right!"

When the whistle of the approaching train was heard as it rounded the curve, Phil scrambled up the embankment, pulled the red bandana from around his neck, and waved it wildly until the engineer had brought his train almost to a stop. Without a word to the boy who had befriended him, the unkempt stranger climbed aboard and hid himself in an open boxcar.


Editor's Note:  Maybe you know what game the Johnsons were playing at the beginning of this story, but I'd never heard of it, so I turned to Google for an introduction. Carrom (Grandma left out an R) is a board game that has been around for well over a century. You can click on this link to view a modern, inexpensive version of the game that uses rings for pieces (like the pieces in Grandma's story), and, if you're still curious, you can watch a short, soundless video of a game in progress (played with "coins" instead of rings) by clicking right here.

Fact or Fiction?

It's hard to tell which of Grandma Audrey's stories are factual and which are purely fiction. Grandma apparently had a habit of writing fact-based stories, changing the names of the people involved, and presenting the stories and their characters as fiction. Those who were there when one of those stories happened could probably give us the scoop, but, even as interested as I am, I won't ask anyone to name names. There has probably never been an aspiring writer who hasn't been instructed, "Write what you know." That's what Audrey did. If she chose to call it fiction, then I'm willing to go along with her. Besides, maybe some of her stories really did come entirely from her imagination.

My late Aunt Nina, Audrey's eldest child and a good writer herself, sent me an email about Grandma's stories several years ago. Nina has since gone home to God and Grandma, so I couldn't ask her permission, but I don't think she would have minded my sharing her words here:

"You mentioned wanting to read some of Grandma's writings. Shirley has some of them (maybe all) and I bet she would be happy to have some of the short stories and poems she wrote copied and sent to you. ... [They] definitely show a flair for putting words on paper. The problem's that she had only a tenth grade education, albeit, she was the top student in the class. She was awarded a scholarship to Chillicothe business college, but her mother would not consent to her 16 year old daughter leaving home to attend school. So she went to work in a garment factory in Springfield and lived with her grandparents until she met and married Daddy. One child after another kept her pretty busy and her life experiences so limited that the only thing she had to write about was her kids.

"One of her essays was about a woman with 9 kids and she named them all, using our middle names to disguise what she felt was fiction. The children were Lucy, [Leroy], Linvel, Lee, Arthur, Lloyd, Floyd, Erna and May. Right down the line in order of our birth. She showed me that so proudly, and when I started reading it, I could hardly restrain my mirth. That is just one example."

I'm telling you this now, dear readers, because I know you'll be as curious as I am when you read the story I've picked out to post later tonight. Did that incident really happen? Was that kid one of Audrey's?

Shhhh. If you know, don't tell. Unless that kid was you and you want to claim it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mama Earned Her Keep

By Audrey Barclay's youngest daughter, Shirley

My mother, Audrey Smith Barclay, was born October 26, 1900 in the small town of Galena, Stone Co., Mo. After her parents separated she moved to Stotts City with her mother to be closer to her mother's parents.

Mama only finished the 10th grade in school, because her parents couldn't afford to send her. (By this time her mother had remarried and there were four more girls in the family.) She had earned a small scholarship to attain a little more education, but was unable to take advantage of this, also.

When she was sixteen, Mama moved to Springfield, Mo. and lived with her grandparents who also had moved to Springfield. Mama began working in a garment factory, where she worked until she met my Dad and started a family.

Mama and Daddy were married on the 4th of July, 1917 and started their own Fourth of July celebration. In due time, babies started coming, usually one at a time, but on one occasion, two at a time, until there were nine of us, me being the youngest. I have often thought, if my parents had had access to birth control, or believed in abortion, I probably wouldn't be here, but apparently I was in God's plan.

Mama had many jobs back in those days, all of them pertaining to being a housewife and mother. Of course, there was the usual cooking, laundry, house cleaning, canning, and caring for nine children, the oldest being 15 by the time I came along. And, like  most households in those days, the oldest children had lots of responsibilities helping Mama with all those chores and watching the other children.

In addition to the regular chores, Mama made lots of our clothes: shirts for the six boys, dresses for the three girls. In Junior High School (what is called Middle School, now) I had two brand new home made dresses to start school in the fall. One of my friends commented on my new clothes. Of course, we wore lots of hand me downs, too, that is until I caught up with my sisters in size and couldn't wear theirs anymore.

One of my fondest memories is helping Mama tack quilts. Mama used left over scraps of material to cut quilt pieces and then sew them together to form a quilt top. She quilted the nicer ones, but for necessities, and because they were needed quickly, she tacked a lot of them. I remember following after Mama when she ran her needle full of heavy crochet thread through the quilt and I, or one of the other kids (even the boys) would follow behind her clipping the threads and then tying the ends into knots. This was one of the earliest assembly lines and we kids made a game out of it.

Mama's one outlet in life was her church. She thoroughly enjoyed attending church on Sunday, with whatever children were still at home. Later, she was able to become more involved in church activities and was the church treasurer for several years, as well as WMU director, Sunday School teacher, and she even sang in the choir.

Another activity Mama enjoyed was working at the polls on election day. It was one time when she could actually be away from home without feeling guilty. She earned a little bit of her own money, and got to use her skills with a pencil. She had a love affair with pencil and paper and often wrote her thoughts down on paper. I have several articles she wrote on her childhood and various family stories down through the years.

Mama taught me many lessons, one of which was how to do my budget. It was a very simple budget. Every payday, Mama would sit down with her pencil and paper and Daddy's paycheck and tally up all the bills and choose which ones to pay until the money was gone. If there was not enough to go around, she would make her appointed rounds to pay the bills, even going to those she couldn't pay that month and explaining to them that she would get them next time. Since Mama didn't drive and most of the time we had no car anyway, this meant several miles of walking since she couldn't afford bus fare.

Daddy worked for the railroad and was on call when there were train wrecks. He worked as hard to make the money as Mama did to make it go around. Many times when Daddy would be out of town on a train wreck, Mama decided it was a good time to clean house. Out would come the paint brushes, and the wall papering brushes, and Mama would start to work. We kids would help with the papering and painting and other projects.

Most of the time, Daddy kept a cow so we always had plenty of milk for our family. When Daddy couldn't be home to milk, one of the boys had to do it, so Mama never had to milk that I remember, but she did have to strain the milk and prepare it for our use. We usually had milk to sell to the neighbors, and I would deliver it to them. This was a way for me to make my spending money.

I don't remember coming home from school many days when Mama wasn't there.

Mama and Daddy made a good team. They were married for over 56 years before Daddy passed away. They had their share of joys and sorrows, but they stuck it out together. That was the way it was back in the Good Old Days.


Editor's Note: Thanks to Shirley for this story. She had planned to submit it for publication elsewhere but generously agreed to share it here instead.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Confessions of a Counter

By Audrey Barclay

I've a confession to make: I'm a compulsive counter! I count things, people, anything in sight that can be counted. I don't remember when I was stricken with the annoying affliction, but it began when I was quite young. I was never bitten by an adding machine or computer, although I barely missed being stung by the latter once.

I suspect the condition began when, at the age of nine, I was given the task of counting the pieces of laundry my mother did for others to help eke out a living for the family. Her remuneration was fifteen cents per dozen pieces, whether shirts, sheets, sox or what have you.

As far as I know there is no cure for this malady; like a cancer, it only grows more insidious. However, there is some mental relief if the counting is necessary.

My mother later became custodian of the three-room school I attended and it became my duty to dust the erasers. I'd start counting as I worked, then, when near the end, I'd count how many I had yet to do. The rooms were heated with great pot-bellied stoves, and I knew exactly, at any given point, how many hodsful of coal must be carried from the coal shed at the back of the lot to fill the bins for each room.

When I was twelve we started growing strawberries for shipping. No, I didn't count the berries, but my afternoons were spent making the crates and little boxes for packing the next day's "picking," and I had to make sure there were plenty. The boxes were not the little square ones used today, but of oblong shape and must be made "from scratch." It took thirty-six to fill each crate, so I had hundreds of boxes to count. It was tiresome work, but I loved doing it. Guess why!

We moved to the city when I was sixteen, and I went to work at a garment factory, putting pockets and flies in men's trousers. That, too, was "piece-work," so an accurate count of the work done was necessary, or I'd short-change myself. You'd better believe everybody counted, there.

When I was married the counting became an even greater problem. Babies came fast until there were nine. I won't bore you with details of all the things I found to count during those years, including "drop-in" relatives by the carload. Suffice it to say I never failed, once I had the wash all on the line, to stand back and count all the pieces hanging there. A relapse, I suppose, to the initial infection. Also, come mealtime or bedtime, I always counted kids to be sure mine were all in and accounted for, and no extras had sneaked in. As they grew old enough to go out in the evening, I'd lie awake, counting each time the door was opened and closed, until I knew the last one was home, safe.

About that time I became aware of a new symptom: when I went to the grocer's around the corner, or walked to church, I'd find myself counting my steps. I'd say to myself, "Stop it!" and go right on counting. It was maddening, but I couldn't help myself. I still do it.

One of the more embarrassing facets of my illness was when I found myself, as I sat in the usual pew at the back of the church, counting the number present for the service. This I could do quite unobtrusively while announcements were being made, though it became much simpler when I became a member of the choir, where the seats were elevated a few feet above the congregation. It was fun, too, on a hot, muggy Sunday morning to count all the heads nodding sleepily as the minister poured out his heart in the message he was bringing.

When riding a train I invariably counted the telegraph poles between the mileposts, pressing my face against the window to see as far ahead as possible, trying to keep ahead of the train with my counting. When it became too dark to see the telegraph poles, it wasn't unusual for me to suddenly discover I was automatically counting the clicket-clack of the wheels beneath me as they ground over the joints in the rails. Of course, I counted passengers, too, but the most frustrating experience I ever had in that respect was one time, when, from St. Joseph to Kansas City, all I had to do was sit there and count, over and over, one, one, one . . . I was the only passenger aboard that coach that night! Of course, counting freight cars when running along beside a train in a car is fascinating, too. What can one do when tormented with such an obsession?

The only times I've ever indulged without a guilty conscience was when I served as church treasurer a number of years and had to count the church offering, and again when we owned an automatic laundry and I could remove and count the coins from the machines and refill the coin-changers. I could count happily away, knowing it was justified: no guilt complex, no shame or embarrassment, only pure pleasure!

While recuperating from a fractured hip, sitting by the window, I'd count the traffic from the nearby factory at closing time, and a new habit has opened up in the last few years. I now sit in church and count the number of people wearing wigs.

I enrolled in a class for potential writers a few years ago, where one of the first things we were taught was the simple method used by professional writers in determining an approximate word count of their work. Do I settle for that? No way! I count each word!

While picking grapes one morning, I realized right away I was counting the bunches as I snipped them off. I made a conscious and determined effort to top it, thinking, "Will I do this with each little grape as I stem them?" I did, only I took it easy and started a fresh count with each bunch. When I had the fruit all stashed away and was ready to clean up the mess, I began counting all the unused jars and lids, the dirty pans, spoons and colanders to be washed, but most important, the number of jars of that luscious jam and jelly.

They say confession is good for the soul, so maybe it will help my problem. Now, I must count the words in this little story. Want to help? One, two, three, four, five . . . .