Richard A. Worstell has been elected to be superintendent of schools at Belfry, Montana.
Big Sandy Mountaineer, April 30, 1933
Belfry is a small community of about 250 citizens (1950) located in a well-watered, mountain valley just northeast of Yellowstone. Richard took advantage of the opportunity to be moving close to Yellowstone to take Wilda and Ann Jean to the park. The circle route to and from the park included the Cooke City highway in one direction and the Cody, Wyoming, highway in the other. Bears stopped the traffic for food from the tourists who fed them in those days. The family made the usual loop around the park and stayed in a cabin at Old Faithful. Ann Jean remembers the night:
As only Yellowstone can get, it was freezing cold at night. Daddy bought some wood for the fire, but it was not enough to last through the night. I slept in bed between my parents and was comfortably warm. Mother got cold, but thanks to her fur coat that she put over us like a blanket, we all made it through the night.
I remember the Cooke City highway from an experience years later. Cliff, my husband, had just gotten out of the service in San Luis Obispo, California, and we went to Great Falls to visit my parents. We had all of our belongings in a gray homemade trailer we purchased in California, pulled by a 1939 Chevrolet coupe. Our destination was Boulder, Colorado, where Cliff would be attending the university. We planned to go by way of Yellowstone Park. Dad strongly suggested we take the Cooke City highway. “It’s high gear all the way,” he said. So we did. It’s a wonderful scenic route. But the little ‘69 Chevy needed low gear most of the way. We filled up with gas in Red Lodge, but the needle on the gas gauge kept inching lower and lower with no gas station in sight. We did make it to a gas station and the scenery was beautiful, but it was forever a standing joke — “It’s high gear all the way” — right.
Belfry is located at the intersection of the north-south highway between Billings, Montana, and Cody, Wyoming, and the connecting road to Red Lodge. The school is on the east end of the main street. In 1933 the school was a couple of blocks from the nearest residence. The Worstells found a little house on the north side of the main street. Ann Jean remembers:
I don’t think I told Mother what I had done, but I believe the neighbor told her. Mother’s punishment was biblical, although I doubt if she knew it. She went to a little tree and broke off a small branch; a switch, she called it. The Bible calls it a rod. She used it where I felt it. There may have been other times that I was punished with a switch or spanking, or should have been, but I don’t remember them. Daddy never spanked my brother or me, but he would speak of a “board with nails in it,” something like Bill Cosby would talk about “The Belt.”
I don’t remember Christmas Day, but I remember my big present. It was a wonderful baby buggy, just like the real ones. It was black. I played with it for several days, or weeks, before I discovered that there was a center panel in the bottom that lifted out and made a place for two babies to sit up in the buggy. It was like Christmas all over again.
Someone in town taught a dance and gymnastics class. Ann Jean and the Romek children were enrolled and during the year performed dances as cats, in wonderful cat costumes. They also performed in Dutch costumes. Gymnastics included somersaults, cartwheels, handsprings, back bends, and other floor exercises. Ann Jean never learned to do a handspring.
Wilda got her long-awaited piano the first year in Belfry; not her baby grand, which stayed in West Chester, but an upright piano they purchased. During that year, Wilda started Ann Jean on piano lessons. Wilda also spent many hours reading to Ann Jean and sharing other activities:
Mother got me scrapbooks and we made flour-and-water paste to use. There were so many wonderful advertisements and illustrations to choose from in the McCall’s and Ladies Home Journal magazines. There were colorful advertisements for Borden’s Milk, Campbell’s Soup, and Karo Syrup with the Dionne Quintuplets. Morton’s Salt put out activity papers for children featuring the members of Our Gang with masks to cut out and wear, or put in scrapbooks, as I did.
The Dionne Quintuplets, Cecile, Yvonne, Annette, Marie, and Emilie, were born in 1934 and were immediately a world sensation. They were born in the province of Ontario, Canada, and were wards of the British monarch for 10 years. They lived in a nursery built for them by the government and were put on regular public display. From commercial endorsements, they earned a fortune for their doctor, their nation, and eventually for their parents. Hollywood made many movies of Our Gang with four little boys named Spanky, Porky, Buckwheat, and Alfalfa, and two little girls named Patsy and Darla.
Another activity shared by Ann Jean and her mother was baking cookies. From the unpublished family cook book, When Mother Used To Cook Book, compiled by A.J. Cloonan and the recipe for Sour Cream Cookies, comes the following story:
I remember helping her make the cookies, or so I thought, when I was five or six years old. I remember she told me it was important not to use any more flour than absolutely necessary when dusting the table and rolling the dough. This was so the cookie would be tender and not hard. After the cookie was cut out, she showed me how to pass the cookie from one hand to the other so as to remove all the excess flour. I know there were many times when she did not use sour cream, which I’m sure would have meant buying cream and letting it sour. Instead she used only whole milk that had gotten sour.
Wilda also made dried corn by cutting it from the cobs and drying it in the oven.
“I told my kids that I remember the color of the handles of the kitchen utensils we used (green). ‘How do you remember stuff like that?’ Clifford, the eldest son, asked. But I ask you, do you have a choice what you remember?” asks A.J. Easier to understand why you remember something, is the memory of the sheep drives that came through town. They filled the street and brushed against the fence. The family kept an eye out for sheep ticks after they went by.
Wilda did some sewing that year. For the dress or dresses that she made for Ann Jean, she did not use a pattern. She learned how to make a sleeve by cutting two large circles with a smaller circle cut out of the middle. The circles were sewed together around the outside and the inner edge of one was sewed to the armhole of the dress.
Richard was rehired for the school term 1934-35. There is no information about the summer of 1934. Only their life pattern would suggest that Wilda and Ann Jean spent part of the summer in West Chester and Richard in Big Sandy. When they returned to Belfry they lived in a house across the street from the previous one, not as large or as nice.
Ann Jean has very few memories of the second year in Belfry. She was in first grade and her teacher’s name was Miss Mickey. She doesn’t remember the teacher, but her mother did. During the years in Belfry, Wilda frequently read two books to Ann Jean, Aesop’s Fables and One Hundred and One Poems. They served as her moral training. Ann Jean wrote about her memories when she gave a copy of the book to a young friend:
There were the children’s favorites, “The gingham dog and the calico cat” (“The Duel”), “Jest ‘Fore Christmas,” and the moral tale of “The Spider and the Fly.” Do you know the phrase, a book title, maybe, “Everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten?” I have a specific memory of a time when I was in first grade of using “The Spider and the Fly” to avoid a bit of trouble. I should have been so smart when I was a teenager! I think Mother had me memorize that poem.
Ann Jean’s only other memory of that year was about an activity of a type that was always memorable no matter how old she was. It’s the mouse chase:
The kitchen of the house had oilcloth fastened to the wall. A mouse was running up the wall behind the oilcloth and Mother was attempting to trap it between her fingers. When she did, she whacked it with a rolling pin. The next memorable chase was in Big Sandy, when a mouse was finally trapped in the rear of an unused-floor model battery radio. I remembered that chase years later when we [the Cloonans] purchased an old floor-model radio and found a perfectly preserved mouse hide in lifelike shape, inside. We wondered if he had been electrocuted. Over the years there were other chases.
There is little information about Richard’s teaching experience in Belfry. Belfry had an outstanding girls’ basketball team that he coached that year. Team pictures show about a dozen beautiful girls in their uniforms, their hair marcelled, and the captain holding the basketball. Belfry was also the school attended by the Linderman boys, who were the outstanding rodeo performers of all time.
Richard went to the teachers’ conventions when he could. He took Wilda and Ann Jean on a trip to Red Lodge. They drove across the mountains in severely cold weather. The car froze up and they were stalled. Someone stopped and gave them a lift. Ann Jean doesn’t remember any more about the incident.
Dick became acquainted with people throughout Montana in the field of education. In the spring of 1935 he received a recommendation from the superintendent of schools in Laurel, Montana, a medium-size community outside Billings. It was directed to the chairman of the Beaverhead County High School Board, in Dillon, Montana, a nice university town:
While I cannot speak directly relative to his ability as an administrator yet I feel that he must be a very capable man along this line. He gives the impression of one that would be so. I think it would be well for you to give his candidacy very careful consideration.
Richard did not get rehired to teach in Belfry, nor for a position in Beaverhead County.
Wilda went to Iowa for the summer and only a little information from their letters is available. Early in the summer, Wilda wrote, “Augustines now have hot and cold running water.” Home improvements were Dick’s concerns also. February 2, 1935, Richard purchased a house from the county for the back taxes of $9.00 and it became a summer project. Early in July, perhaps with a bit of humor, he wrote:
In a letter dated August 1, 1935, Dick wrote:
Gillespie arrived tonight with truck load of furniture. He is more than pleased with the house and feels sure his wife will like it. He left his family in Havre and he went there. They expect to be here in a few days and I know they will have a nice place. It is nice to have a good rental like that. I help them unload.
Later Dick mentioned that Gillespie was living in “such a nice house in my name.” In November of 1935, Dick purchased an adjacent lot to the house he bought, also for the sum of $9.00, or so reads the deed.
Dick was aware of his father’s patients when they came to the office. He wrote, “Few accident cases. The other night a fellow came in with several bad cuts. Been in a fight. Yesterday a boy with bad cut in foot from glass.” One might not expect that Dick would let his dad get him involved in medical practice again, but he did:
A little later he wrote about an accident Marvin Snow sustained. It’s not clear what Snow’s job was.
Marvin Snow got injured yesterday morning. Seems that he flagged a car to stop but they kept on going and some way he swerved in front of them and they ran into him His motorcycle fell on him and bruised him up pretty bad. Funny thing, no broken bones though. Hurt in the chest. We gave him first aid treatment and took him to Havre to the Catholic Hospital. Hurt one knee quite bad.
Whatever work occupied his time, the summer was not all work and no play. He taught Sunday school in the Methodist church and there was the Sunday school picnic at the Cowans. “Glen Cowan wishes you were here,” he wrote. There was the big 4th of July Picnic at Osterman’s Grove, and the Iowa Picnic at the sheepsheds. On the latter occasion Dick and Gaylord were to bring lemons, sugar, ice, and coffee. They forgot the lemons and the sugar and had to drive back to town. No doubt they had forgotten the ice as well.
Dick was in communication with Mrs. Ireland, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, in a job search. He accepted the job at Kremlin, a small community west of Havre. “They are glad I am coming and don’t seem to regret giving me $1600.” A letter to Wilda on July 19 said that “... Mrs. Robeck is very disappointed in Miss Ireland in not granting three years of accrediting. We have about given up hopes of getting it this year but will try again in another year.” He also mentioned that he had met with the County Commissioners in Havre and they felt they could afford a three-year high school; it’s assumed he was speaking of Kremlin, the town where the family would go. They would need to find a place to live and were put in touch with Mrs. Jonas Grinnell, who wrote that she had two connecting rooms for rent:
Mrs. Grinnell also wrote that she had her own piano.
A schoolteacher’s job was for about nine months and the annual salary was paid in nine installments. It was a lean summer if you didn’t find summer work or save one third of your monthly income during the year, and who did that? It’s not known what financial arrangements were made to send Wilda and Ann Jean to Iowa, but the return trip was definitely not paid in advance. “Hope you will have some money so I can have you come home later this month,” was his comment on one letter.
On July 19 Dick wrote, “Sorry Howard was leaving so soon and that he wouldn’t bring you along. I suppose he and Jerry want to be alone on the trip.” By the end of July, Howard and Jerry were in Big Sandy. Jerry was a very good friend of Howard’s. They attended a 25-cent dance and got quite a kick out of watching the dancers. They especially got a big laugh watching the “marching around between dances” that is done at the country-dances “out west.” Between the orchestra numbers, the couples walk counterclockwise around the dance floor. Chairs line the walls for spectators, sleeping children, and those who are “sitting out.” The orchestra allowed Jerry to play with them. No family member ever mentioned that Jerry was a musician. About the visit Dick wrote, “I feel that Howard will get more business this fall from here as a result of his visit.” Dick met Paul Green, a friend of the Worstells, in town after Howard’s visit and wrote that Paul said what a good cattleman he thought Howard was. “Paul Green expects his crop to go about 18 bushels to the acre,” Dick said. In a possible reference to Howard and Jerry’s visit, Dick later wrote, “We did most of the cooking while the boys were here, but got sort of tiresome.”
The Depression was not an easy time to find jobs. The job of Postmaster was open and a Mr. Lee got the job. Dick made note of it and would actually consider the job a few years later when it opened up again. One young man, a good friend of the Worstells, was Ed Giebel. Richard wrote, “Ed Giebel may try to sell electrolux. He is 5 months back in rent.” Later he wrote, “Borrowed the electrolux from Ed Giebel today and went over the rugs and used it on the car. Sure is a good cleaner.” Of course, Richard had no money to buy such a machine. Still later in the summer he wrote, “Ed Giebel quit selling the electrolux and went to Great Falls.”
Finances were not improving for Richard either, and he wrote the following:
Gaylord made up his mind to take the trip back east. (The Worstell family reunion in Feed Spring, Ohio, was always on the last Sunday of August, until 2000 when it was changed to Labor Day weekend.) On August 10 Dick wrote:
Dick later wrote that lots of people brought food over to Grace and him. Since there was no death or illness in the family, this was just an act of kindness by the people of the community toward someone who had grown up amongst them. The two men who were “baching” appreciated it. Dick also wrote, “Fern got her old school back again and will teach.” This school may have been the one north of Berkeley called Thousand Oaks.
August 10 Dick was optimistic when he wrote the following:
Kremlin is not far from Browning, the town on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation, and Glacier Park. The family picture album indicates that at the end of summer the Worstells took a trip to the park and over Going-to-the-Sun Highway. Although Glacier Park was established in 1910, there were only short roads into the park from either the east or the west. Going-to-the-Sun Highway, 52 miles long, was opened in 1932. It goes across the Continental Divide, opening the park to the wilderness and magnificent views. That same year Waterton Lakes National Park, the Canadian park, was joined with Glacier and became the International Peace Park. A Glacier Park trip was something that would become almost an annual outing for the Worstell family.