31. KREMLIN, WEST CHESTER, NOXON
I well remember the day it was 50 ° below zero in Kremlin.... A.J. Cloonan
The Worstells moved to Kremlin and into the rooms they rented from the Grinnells in the fall of 1935. It was a sunny room, and one with a view toward the school. Wilda was looking toward the school on the day Montana had a sizable earthquake. She said she felt the quake and saw the school building sway. The earthquake was centered somewhere near Helena, and the cracks in the capitol building’s interior columns remain visible.
Kremlin was close enough to Big Sandy for the family to spend Christmas with Dr. Worstell. Ann Jean has no memory of Christmas at Gramp Worstell’s in Big Sandy, probably because she had her Christmas early. She found her new doll under the bed before Christmas. Other memories include the recreational activities of people in a small town during the winter:
My memories of the school are pretty scanty. They had a rhythm band, the toilets were outside, and there was an iron pipe railing at the top of the steps to the back door. One day in mid-winter I was standing by the railing watching the kids playing. For some reason I leaned over and put my mouth on the iron pipe railing. I learned something that day that lots of children who live in the north learn — your mouth will freeze to the iron when you do that.
I well remember the day it was 50o below zero in Kremlin, or so they said. It was a beautiful day. The sky was clear, the sun, escorted by sundogs, was bright. There was ample snow on the ground, no wind whatsoever and no school. The older children were already outside cutting blocks of wind-packed snow to make an “igloo.” I finally prevailed upon my mother to let me join them. She helped me into my outer wear: wool snow pants gathered at the ankle, wool matching jacket, wool scarf, wool cap, wool mittens, and overshoes. Under my snow pants, I would have been wearing a dress or skirt of some kind and long stockings. It’s hard to imagine that would be sufficient and Wilda had doubts, too, because every 20 or 30 minutes she called me in, had me take off my overshoes and shoes so she could feel my feet. I never got cold, my feet didn’t get cold and I had a wonderful time that day.
Entertainment for the adults usually meant that the children got to attend, also. The traveling show that I remember seeing in Kremlin was composed of a family: husband, wife, and young son. [Later reminded they called themselves the Glendora Players.] When the father introduced his family he said that he and his wife had agreed that if they had a baby they would name it after his wife, Dora. When the baby was a boy, they named him Arod; Dora spelled backward. The three performed musical numbers, comedy routines, etc. They took a break during the show to sell popcorn and candy, and to promote and sell a tonic, liniment, or worm medicine.
Of course there were dances to attend. Children slept on the coats spread out on the chairs. They would wake up for midnight refreshments though. The women brought sandwiches and desserts. A favorite sandwich was boiled beef, ground, and made into sandwich spread with chopped pickle and Miracle Whip.
Parties with friends in their homes might end with an oyster supper – really! oyster stew, a stew primarily of rich milk and oysters. Mother loved oysters, I liked the milk from the stew, but I can’t imagine that Daddy liked any of it. I’m sure my folks enjoyed this refreshment at the Purdy home, maybe on New Year’s Eve. The Purdys were their best friends in Kremlin, and were their good friends the rest of their lives.
There were a couple of crafts that were popular during this time. One was the painting of silhouettes on the glass in a picture frame. The silhouette was in opaque black; occasionally the remainder of the glass was in color — watercolor or a translucent paint. People saved foil from gum wrappers and other things and used the foil behind the glass. I was quite an admirer of the art. Another craft was to make braided belts or wristbands from yellow cellophane candy wrappers.
Mother read mostly magazines, but the year in Kremlin she read Gone With The Wind.
Permanent waves became fashionable — not cold waves — machine waves. They were processed with heat to activate the chemicals. The wave machine consisted of a stand similar in height and appearance to a bridge or swing-arm floor lamp, with 25 to 50 electrical cords dangling down from where the light should be. At the end of each cord was a large metal clip that was clipped over the top of each curler, making each one act as a small curling iron. Care needed to be taken that the clips didn’t touch the scalp and cause a burn. I’m not sure when Mother got her first permanent wave, but she got one in Kremlin. She also set her hair in aluminum curlers. I got my first permanent wave that year. Mother didn’t set it or control it in any way, just combed it out in a short frizz. I didn’t get another perm for three years. Then Mother set my hair in curlers and combed it into curls. After a year or so, I was setting my own hair in pin curls with bobby pins, and combing it out in a loose, casual style.
Adda Augustine was in frail health and Wilda had Ann Jean write letters to her. The first note asked about Dean, the little black and tan terrier, and expressed a desire to be with her grandparents. A second one read as follows:
Feb. 23 Kremlin Mont
I hope you are feeling better. I am sorry you are sick. Are you sick in bed. I am feeling good and I have not missed a day of school. How is Grandfather? I hope his leg is better. How is Dean? is he alright. And my dolls? Are they alright too. I have only missed one day of Sunday school. We are having parties. We been having cold weather untl yesterday. Are you still having snow storms? We have a litty goldfish. We cold it Frisky he is a Frisky. that is why we cold him Frisky. I fed him his food. sometimes mother feeds him. He has a black spot on his tail. Mother watches him while I am gone to school. Here is a letter that is in my Sunday school papr. from Ann Jean
Wilda’s concern for her mother prompted her to make a telephone call to Iowa and later to make plans for transportation home:
Dear Mama and Pop,
Glad Mama is better. Had a line from Howard yesterday and today. Pop, I could hear you so good. Monday nite I was so excited I could hardly talk. I think they must have heard me clear up town — I talked so loud and we did not talk three minutes. A telephone is a wonderful thing. We do not have a phone so I went over to the office and it wasn’t five minutes until they had you on the phone. Were you surprised? It cost me $ 1.90 and 15c tax. Not so bad for 1400 miles or a little more.
I inquired about train connections and I can get a thru train out of Billings at 7 PM and go thru Lincoln Neb. — Omaha — Oceola and to Fairfield and get to Fairfield the second nite at 3:30 in the morning — Or I can leave 12 hours later and leave Billings in the morning — 1400 miles to Fairfield. Splendid connections — that is the Burlington. Much better than going to Minneapolis.
We had a big snow 10 in. or more here — and 16 in. in Billings last Friday and Saturday. No wind to blow it so was a fine thing. All gone today for it has been so warm. And it is so muddy around. Unusual for here. Has been so very dry.
Tonite we have to go to a Basketball banquet. Will be in the church. The end of the year things begin now. Glad to get Letta’s letters. Let me know right along how you are. I will drop Howard a line now and will write you again tomorrow. We are all well.
Bye — Wilda Ann
Wilda needed to go to Iowa and to take Ann Jean with her, which meant she would have to miss some school. Ann Jean’s grades were A’s, with B’s in writing, phonics, and music. The school received results, by class standing, of the Kansas Tests (a national standardized achievement test) and the paper printed the names of the top two students in each class. Ann Jean was first in reading and arithmetic, but did not place in spelling; second graders were tested in only these three subjects. In view of her grades, Richard asked Ann Jean’s teacher if she would give a grade for the last grading period even though she would not complete it. The teacher must have stuck to her principles, as no grade appears on the report card for the final period.
Ann Jean’s limited memories of the train trips do not include a train out of Billings, but she shares some memories of train trips:
If my parents went to Iowa while we lived in Belfry, they could have gone to Billings, which is only 60 miles south of Belfry. Kremlin, on the other hand, is only 25 miles west of Havre where they would have caught the Great Northern. All three of us took at least one train trip to Iowa together. We traveled coach, but in the evening Daddy would ask the porter if they had a sleeper, so occasionally we got one. As today, two seats made into a lower bunk, and an upper bunk pulled down from above. There was no door, only curtains separating the bunks from the aisle. I don’t remember a dressing room available in the car. Mother and I slept in the upper bunk. I must have slept at the foot of the bed, since I can’t imagine there was room side by side. Except for some minor conveniences and a sliding door to the aisle, the small sleepers haven’t changed much. Of course there are now, and were then, I’m sure, compartments or rooms available for more money. The only meal we ate in the diner was breakfast. We ordered oatmeal that was always served with cream, which I didn’t like, so we had to ask for milk. What a waste, my parents thought. There was no snack car or bar to serve food items, instead a waiter came through the cars selling sandwiches and fruit.
The Great Northern went to St. Paul and I’m sure there were times we changed trains there. I remember being in the Chicago station, as well, and taking the Rock Island train to Iowa. Unlike the upholstered seats of the Great Northern, the Rock Island seats had cane backs – very old fashioned, I thought.
Adda suffered a stroke a few weeks prior her death on May 9, 1936. She was cared for in her home in the downstairs bedroom off the dining room:
I remember standing at the foot of the “spool” bed along with several other members of her family. Grandmother appeared to be asleep. The room and everything in it was spotless, but the odor in the room was one of death and lilac talcum powder.
After Al Augustine died, Wilda had the spool bed taken apart, crated, and shipped to Montana. After Wilda died, Ann Jean had it shipped to California and restored. It became her daughter’s bed. It is also called a rope bed. Originally separate ropes went from pegs on one side to the other and from head to foot. When restored, a single rope in zigzag pattern was used. This type of bed gave rise to the adage, “Sleep tight.” If the ropes were tight, it made a good bed. A tool existed for pulling them tight. This is something you can’t do with the rope strung as it now is.
The funeral was held in Washington, and Adda is buried in Elm Grove cemetery. The obituary reported, “Rev. P. B. Gray of Unionville, Mo., will be in charge.” Rev. Gray had officiated at the wedding of Wilda and Dick. The paper also reported only two of Adda’s siblings surviving — Martin Baker of Oregon, and Anna Baker Taylor of Ottumwa, Iowa.
On the day of Adda’s death, the newspaper carried a story of the successful mooring of the dirigible Hindenburg at the Lakehurst, New Jersey airport. It was the largest airship ever built, 803 feet long and 135 feet in diameter. It was a very different scene just a year later at the same airport when the great ship burst into flames and 36 people died. It had been the Hindenburg’s 36th voyage across the Atlantic.
Richard attended the State University of Iowa graduate school in Iowa City during the summer of 1936. Wilda and Ann Jean stayed in West Chester and Richard stayed in Iowa City, coming to West Chester when he could. Ann Jean was now old enough to gather memories of her time spent in West Chester:
The Augustine house had once been a small three- or four-room house without a porch. Now it was a two-story house with porches front and back. The front porch was unscreened and had the ubiquitous porch swing. The front door sported a good-sized window with stained glass squares as a border. It was held open with a piece of light green slag glass for a door stop, although I don’t ever remember there being any wind whatsoever except during a rain storm. The stairs in the entryway went first up to a small landing, then either into the dining room ahead or turned to the right up to the second floor. The living room to the right of the entry was dominated by the baby grand. A Maxfield Parrish painting hung over the davenport to be enjoyed during my daydreaming. The table in the dining room
could seat eight people or so, and there was a wonderful cane back sofa with cushions where Grandfather Augustine took his naps and listened to the ball games on the radio. The early style telephone hung on the wall near the stairs. The current kitchen extended beyond the rest of the house. It was large and homey and had ample room for the large range with boiler, table and chairs, and a rocking chair and leg stool for Grandfather. The wringer washing machine and tubs could be set up there in the winter. In the summer the laundry was done on the back porch that extended along the back of the house and part way up the north side. A small bath with claw footed tub, and pantry with counter space, were on the south side of the kitchen.
At the top of the stair on the second floor was a foyer extending out to the bay window that overlooked the tin roof of the front porch. It was a light, wonderful room for sewing. This room had the matching rocking chair to the sofa in the dining room. The seat was missing its back cushion, thus was so deep I never could sit back and hang my legs over the front. It was a wonderful room to be in when there was a rainstorm and to listen to the beating of the raindrops on the tin roof. Lightning was known to have struck the tin roof even though the house had lightning rods. There were three small bedrooms off the foyer and an attic behind one bedroom. Of course it was a special time when Mother and I poked around in the attic and got into her cedar chest.
My day started with breakfast in the kitchen, eating Rice Krispies from a Blue Willow bowl. This was followed with an hour of piano practice, including scales and Hanna (exercises), Murmuring Waves and To a Wild Rose. Then it was outside. There was a large maple tree in the front yard; it was probably a box elder, which doesn’t have the classical maple leaf shaped leaves, but it does have the winged seeds that all maples have. The tree had a very suitable limb for a rope swing with a notched board seat that Grandfather always had hung for me by the time we got there. If I wasn’t swinging in the swing, I had a card table set up under the tree for my doll hospital. I always thought I would be a nurse when I grew up. There was also an old and cracked sidewalk along the front of the property. Occasionally, clamp-on roller skates with skate key provided good pastime.
Another favorite place to play was the sand pile. A railroad track ran along the south side of the property. Beyond the house and the barn, beside the railroad tracks, were three very large piles of sand belonging to the railroad. The pile of the finest grade of sand was my favorite. I spent many hours there making sand castles with the help of a little water from the pump and well, and carried to the sand pile in a small tin bucket. Only rarely did the train go by, and then very slowly as the engineer approached the depot a short distance away, and gave a wave to the girl in the sand.
I had a play store in the barn with collections of empty bottles and tins that Mother and Georgia, the hired girl, saved for me. Once there was a cache of black walnuts in the barn and I spent many hours shelling and eating them. There was a hay loft, of course, but in all the summers I spent there I was never able to climb up there unless there was a playmate who would go up there first so that he could give me a hand to help me up the last rungs of the ladder. I don’t remember any special playmates in West Chester. Occasionally I visited the Fergusons, who lived in a house across the railroad tracks. They had some children including some girls, but they were a little bit older than I. One summer there was a boy who came over to play.
I had no chores to do, but would occasionally pick peas or strawberries from the very large garden with mother; once eating so many berries I broke out in hives. I often went to the home of Mrs. Ross, a widow lady that lived in the next block. She liked to visit and I liked to look at the things in her house. She gave me a china figurine of Blue Boy.
Occasionally in the afternoons, I would be given a penny to take to the store to buy a Guess What. A Guess What was two pieces of taffy candy and a prize wrapped in a piece of wax paper. One summer Grandfather took me out to a farm and bought me a banty (bantam) hen and a guinea hen. He had a special coop for them. The Augustines had a chicken house and pen, but I didn’t spend much time with them except to gather the eggs once in a while. The cherry tree produced cherries for pies and a wonderful cottage pudding. I used to dream of climbing the cherry tree, but I never could get any higher than the first crotch, which was only a foot or two above the ground. It certainly never occurred to me to climb the windmill as my mother had done at age two, three or four.
On very hot summer evenings, people would carry a mattress outside to sleep. One such evening Mother and I went over to the church yard and joined other people who had gathered to sleep on the church lawn. When Grandfather wanted to check out cattle or grain, he would have Mother drive him around the countryside very early in the morning. Often we would see people gathering up their mattresses after having spent the night outside. These drives to the country sometimes included a trip to “the 80,” the Augustine farm of 80 acres and a hog operation which was leased to a farmer. The hogs were Hampshires and it was fun to watch the farmer try to get the runt of the litter for me to hold.
During the summer, West Chester had someone who showed movies outside in a small vacant area between some buildings. There were wooden benches and a place to pay before you went in. I only remember going once by myself. About halfway through the show, I noticed that a very large beetle had worked its way up under my pant’s leg. Not wanting to scream, I just got up quickly, shook my pant’s leg, and ran home. Mother said it was probably a June bug.
On Saturday evenings the family went to Washington, just nine miles away. The town is the county seat of Washington County. The streets are laid out around a central square park. At that time the park had a bandstand and a decorative fountain. On Saturday evenings the band gave a concert, and the water fountain was lit with colored lights.
Many other memories remain of those summers in West Chester. One such singular memory was the time a bat got inside the back porch. Mother stood by the porch door and I stood at the el. The bat went from one end to the other, Mother ducking when it came at her, and I ducking when it came toward me. One of the men finally got it outside.
Richard didn’t get home often during the summer. Sometimes he brought a small gift for Ann Jean. When it came time to return to Big Sandy, the car was packed, allowing a small space in the back seat on top of luggage for Ann Jean to sit. The family said their good byes and left on their journey:
I never remember dreading the trips back and forth, Montana to Iowa, Iowa to Montana. I slept easily anywhere. Sometimes roads were under construction and detours had to taken. Usually they were just a muddy, rough part of the road being built and shared with the heavy equipment. Happier times, for my parents, at least, and Daddy most of all, were the times we got to read the “Burma-Shave” signs. These were small red signs, each having two, three, or four words, and spaced so as to be read easily while going 45 or 50 miles per hour. When we weren’t reading them first hand, Daddy was reciting them from memory, which he often did at apropos times and around the house. Some of our favorites included the following: “BACHELOR’S QUARTERS DOG ON THE RUG WHISKERS TO BLAME NO ONE TO HUG >>> SAID JULIET TO ROMEO IF YOU WON’T SHAVE GO HOMEO >>> KEEP WELL TO THE RIGHT OF THE ONCOMING CAR GET YOUR CLOSE SHAVES FROM THE HALF-POUND JAR >>> A GIRL SHOULD HOLD ON TO HER YOUTH BUT NOT WHEN HE’S DRIVING >>> AROUND THE CURVE LICKETY-SPLIT IT’S A BEAUTIFUL CAR WASN’T IT? >>>SHE KISSED THE HAIRBRUSH BY MISTAKE SHE THOUGHT IT WAS HER HUSBAND JAKE.” I think the first was Daddy’s favorite; the last one was my favorite.
Richard did not return to Kremlin in the fall of 1936, but moved the family and belongings to Noxon, Montana. It was after dark when the Worstells drove up State Highway 200 along the east side of the Clark Fork River. The road was in a narrow canyon in the far northwestern part of Montana, about 15 miles from the Idaho border, as the crow flies. The Cabinet Mountains on their right seemed close enough to reach out the window and touch. As they turned left to cross the river into Noxon, the Coeur D’Alene Mountains straight ahead seemed almost as close. They crossed the river, then the railroad tracks. It is hard to believe there is room in this narrow valley for a town. Ann Jean remembers:
The town had no electricity so light was supplied by a gasoline lantern with two silk mantles. I never noticed the odor then like I do now when we use the Coleman Lantern when the power goes off. Daddy and I enjoyed the fact that you had plenty of time to get into bed in the dimming light after the lantern had been turned off. Toilet facilities were outside. Most homes had piped-in water from a stream up the mountain, but it was unavailable during the winter when the water was frozen. Wells must have been the source of winter water. A range provided heat in the kitchen and a pot-bellied stove heated the living room. The Worstells had a battery-powered radio, and enjoyed Amos and Andy nightly before bedtime.
The town had a store/post office, restaurant, and pool hall. Major shopping was done in Spokane, Washington. Even though it was 100 miles away, this trip had to be made at least once during the dead of winter. The sunshine and snow and windows covered with the beautiful etchings of Jack Frost made for a wonderful trip.
In case of a shortage at the local store, people helped each other. Borrowing sugar and eggs from a neighbor was quite acceptable. A shortage of egg dye in the store at Easter time brought the town ladies together for an egg-dying party. They made yellow dye from boiling onionskins and red dye from beets. Crepe paper, supplied at the local store to decorate for the town dances, was boiled for other colors.
The school could not have been more than a city block away from home. It was heated by wood supplied in four- or five-foot lengths and stacked in a crosswise pattern with walkways between the units. It was a little spooky walking between the towering stacks of wood, and I never forgot the aroma of wet pine wood.
The school playground had a piece of equipment they called “the giants.” Coming from the top of a tall center pole were half a dozen chains or pairs of chains. Attached to the ends were arrangements of three bars like a small ladder. A child grasping two of the bars, usually one hand above the other, would make a running start and then let the momentum carry him up in the air like an aerial merry-go-round. It was my favorite piece of playground equipment. I never saw “giants” after we left Noxon, as the schools abandoned them for safety reasons. There was a patch of lawn in front of the school that was a good place to play statue. I lost a wristwatch I had gotten for Christmas playing that game there. That afternoon my parents returned to the school with me and we searched until we found the watch.
Fall was a beautiful time of year. I loved the red and orange leaves from the oak trees in the area, but winter was my favorite season. The moisture-laden snow stuck to and piled up on every kind of surface. Tree limbs drooped with heavy snow, and fence posts and clothespins sported tall top hats. I got a sled for Christmas that was almost as long as I was tall, and I spent most of my free time with the sled on the slope a few hundred feet from the house. The railroad had a large red water tank to service the trains. Ice accumulated from the tank to the ground in a solid mass, making it as picturesque as a frozen waterfall. Christmas trees were everywhere for the cutting, and we decorated them with lighted candles. We gathered kinnikinick, Oregon grape, and fir branches for Mother to make beautiful wreaths. She mailed one each to Grandfather and to Uncle Howard. Santa was most generous the years we were in Noxon. Besides the sled, I got a “Betsy Wetsy” doll. It was a rubber baby doll with hard-rubber head and molded hair; actually quite life like. She could drink water from a bottle, wet her diapers, and be bathed in water. The following year I got an 18-inch Shirley Temple doll, a little more for show than play. Daddy had a sweet tooth that he indulged at Christmas with a bucket of ribbon candy and Queen Anne Cherries.
Winter evenings my parents played games and read stories. Authors and dominoes were favorite games. If the minister came to visit, the Authors cards were quickly put away. One year, Daddy read aloud to the family, a chapter a night, from a wonderful mystery book about a lost Katchina doll. It was such a good story Mother couldn’t wait until the end and read ahead. Evenings when the moon was full, Mother and I liked to look at the night sky and watch the moon set behind the mountain tops with the pine trees silhouetted against the moon.
The family heard stories about the snipe hunts that were staged for newcomers at night. The new-comer was told how wonderfully delicious the bird tasted and how tricky it was to catch. The unsuspecting hunter and his new friends would ride their horses out in the woods. The novice was given a lantern and a gunnysack. “Just squat down and hold the bag open, the light will attract them,” he was told. As if the snipe (not the true snipe) were so anxious to be caught they jumped into any old open gunnysack! “We’ll move your horse off so the snipes won’t be scared off,” they’d say. Then the greenhorn was left to find his own way back to town. This story varies from state to state, but always with the locals getting a laugh at the expense of someone who doesn’t know about the snipe. My grandson unwittingly fell into the trap during a discussion about snipes with some friends in California. They laughed at his gullibility, but having lived in the east, he had heard about the real snipe, a wading bird.
There was only one minor practical joke played on us in Noxon. A grapefruit was set out on the back stoop railing to chill. When Daddy brought it in to eat, it had already been eaten. The empty halves were held together with toothpicks.
Richard’s responsibilities at the school were administration and teaching. He taught math and science, and coached basketball. Although a smoker, he tried to enforce a no-smoking policy among the team members, who mostly ignored the rule. He was always interested in educational topics, such as philosophy and current trends. He contributed articles to Montana Education now and then. They published one in January 1937, titled “Reading and Understanding,” and another in November 1937 asking, “Why Not an Every-Pupil Contest?”
Richard was scheduled to teach a second year in Noxon. They drove to Iowa for the summer and Richard attended the university in Iowa City. During one of the quarters he spent at the University of Iowa, he wrote a treatise titled “The A.B.C. of Crystal Structure.” He received his Master of Arts degree August 6, 1937. Wilda, Ann Jean, Al Augustine, and a family friend attended the ceremonies. (Wilda’s brother, Howard, and Lois were married this day.)
On their return to Montana, the Worstells went to Glacier Park and may have even taken a launch ride on Lake McDonald. Then they found another rental house in Noxon. Photographs show a nicely furnished home.
Recreational activities the second year were about the same, with special outings to Thompson Falls, about 35 miles south, to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and a Shirley Temple movie. Thompson Falls is a delightful little town, and the art deco decor in the theater was still intact when the Cloonans visited the town in 1996.
Japan’s invasion of China, which occurred during the summer of 1937, was a topic of conversation when the adults got together. At a ladies’ coffee, someone picked up a teapot and read, “‘Made in Japan,’ hum. You better get rid of it, we don’t want anything from Japan.” They all laughed, but they were serious, too.
Europe was not at peace, either. In 1936, Mussolini conquered Ethiopia, and Spain was in a civil war with both sides receiving military aid from other European nations.