32. BIG SANDY
Yes, sir, by gum and also by heck, and the grampa climbed inside of the durned thing... Gaylord
Richard had his Master’s Degree, but no school appointment for the fall of 1938. Wilda and Ann Jean went to West Chester without Richard. It was another carefree summer for Ann Jean. Wilda took her along to the Augustine family reunion and to a mock wedding. This summer when they went to Chicago to visit Howard, he was married and they had a new baby, Martha Jayne. Howard’s wife, Lois, made a special dinner for Wilda and Ann Jean. She prepared and served sweetbreads, the thymus of a calf.
It was a hot summer and people often commented that they could “hear the corn grow” at night, a true phenomenon. Wilda particularly seemed to notice the heat.
On their return from Iowa, the family moved into Richard’s house in Big Sandy. This house on the east side of town had only one house between it and the open fields. It was a four-room house, nearly square. The small kitchen had a large range, sink, small refrigerator, broom cabinet, small table that could accommodate three plus room for a high chair, and a three-burner kerosene stove that was set up during the summer. The dining room was large enough for a dining room table and several chairs, plus a table-model radio on top of the floor-model battery-powered radio they had used in Noxon. (The battery was the same as a car battery.) There was a plate rail going around the room a foot or more from the ceiling. The dining room adjoined the living room where the pot-bellied stove was. The Worstells had a nice sofa and chair, coffee table and corner whatnot stand. The bedroom had a double bed in one corner, and a high iron twin-width hospital style bed in another. There was a small chest of drawers between the door to the small closet and the door to the bathroom. The bathroom had no tub, only a shower, and also housed the hot water heater. There was an entryway at the back door and a porch went across the front of the house. Ann Jean was on the steps of that porch while her mother and a couple of neighbor women listened to the radio news. Germany conquered Austria in the spring of 1938, and in the fall Hitler’s troops were invading Czechoslovakian Sudetenland. Ann Jean remembered the day because a bright yellow orb spider had crawled up and sat down beside her while she sat on the steps. With the help of Neville Chamberlain, prime minister of Great Britain, Hitler gained European approval in the fall for his occupation of Sudetenland. On the east side of the house was the trap door to the dirt cellar where the family stored carrots and potatoes. Ann Jean and her friends were too big to find much entertainment in the cellar door, but they sang the song “Playmate” often: “Playmate, come out and play with me, and bring your dollies three, look down my rain barrel, slide down my cellar door, and we’ll be jolly friends for ever more.”
Gaylord was living alone in the hospital in 1938 when his granddaughter, Jane Mauerhan, came for a visit. Richard and family paid them a visit at the hospital. Jane recalled Richard as “slump shouldered and shuffling” when he entered, followed by Wilda who “stood straight and determined to be a lady under any circumstance.” Ann Jean remembers visiting with Jane alone on the hospital steps, when Jane asked her if she were looking forward to the new baby. It was the first Ann Jean knew that her parents were expecting a baby in November. It seemed to explain the sadness and preoccupation that she had noticed had overcome her mother.
On school days, Ann Jean always walked home for lunch, stopping by the post office to pick up mail from the mailbox. On November ninth, when she came home for lunch, a woman, not her mother, met her at the door. Richard Cameron Worstell had been born that morning in their home while she was at school. He was asleep in the laundry basket that was sitting on the open oven door. The baby would eventually sleep in the corner of the bedroom at the foot of the other two beds, taking up all the remaining wall space in the room. That particular corner had to be the coldest in the house as it was directly under one window and just a foot or two from a second window. Cameron was just learning to talk the following winter during a blizzard when he said, “Wind ‘hollow’ ‘round corner,” something it often did.
The parents were able to leave Cameron in his sister’s care when they went to a local dance or to Havre for the day. Ann Jean’s experience caring for Cameron and other household duties, led other people to ask her to baby sit or do house work. For a time, during the summer she was 12, she worked for a family, caring for three or four small children during the day, ironing, and then stayed until after she fed the children in the evening. She was paid ten cents an hour, which usually came to a dollar a day.
Richard got a job as sales representative for American Education Press, Columbus, Ohio, calling on school administrators in Western States. His travels were primarily in western Montana and Idaho. These trips lasted several days or a few weeks at a time.
Ann Jean’s grades were not good for the first six weeks reporting period. They were mostly Cs with a D in Arithmetic and the teacher’s comment, “Poor foundation in Arithmetic.” It was time for a teacher conference. It was Dick’s view that the books the school was using were outdated and that the newer texts Ann Jean had used in the previous schools were more up-to-date. Ann Jean remembers the time well:
It’s true the Big Sandy books were old and thicker and the problems more difficult. The books in Noxon were The Triangle series. I believe the schools had already started the dumbing down process, but at the time it was nice to have Daddy on my side. The Big Sandy teacher was stricter and she tested the arithmetic basics regularly. She posted graphs on the wall showing the progress of each student. A line across the middle indicated the expected level of achievement. It was with great satisfaction when my chart finally rose above that line for the last few tests of the year. Thanks to Miss Meyer, the “old maid” school teacher, I had to learn my multiplication tables. She was a tough teacher. She only gave one A in arithmetic during the six grading periods and that had to be to Mernie Wright who skipped a grade the following year. She gave five F’s in arithmetic though, and very few A’s in any other subject. Report cards at the time showed the number of students receiving each grade.
The rest of my grades weren’t all that great either, straight Cs at the end of the year, except a B in writing, a subject in which I have always felt particularly deficient. I did get one A during the year and that was in drawing, another subject I felt I never did well.
I received a certificate for scholarship in May 1941. It was probably for the last six weeks only, but was very meaningful to me. It is a beautiful little thing in a blue cover with a full color picture of a famous painting. It must have been a source of great pleasure for those who could collect them.
I was good at recess, though. The playground had no giants, but it had teeter-totters, a merry-go-round, and very tall swings; even the big kids liked to pump until the chains went slack. Pom pom pull away, tag, and kick-the-can were favorites. Hiding places were around the gymnasium.
Before the community hall, or gymnasium, was built in 1923, the sports teams in town used a building known as the Lyons Building for basketball games. Small as the school was, their basketball team was able to compete favorably with the town’s pick-up team, beating them 12 to 0; basketball, that is. The new hall was built by shop students and volunteers with material provided by McNamara and Marlow. It was a very large, Quonset hut or Butler-style building. It had a good stage and beautiful hard-wood floors. It accommodated every type of gathering. It was a dance hall, concert hall, gymnasium, and ceremonies for graduations were held there. The building opened with a dance and supper bringing in $189.25. Richard and Ann Jean liked the basketball games. Since the band played at some of the basketball tournaments held along the Hi Line, U.S. Route 2, Ann Jean was able to see some of those out-of-town games; Richard occasionally went to them, also.
The Big Sandy High School Band was conducted by Mr. Boess (pronounced Base), who had been director since 1932. It was through her association with the band that Ann Jean has some of her fondest memories of Big Sandy:
Music aptitude tests were given to students in high school and I expect my parents got them to let me take the test. It was a recorded test in which a note was played and a question asked; was the note higher or lower, longer or shorter? I was accepted in the band. It meant my parents had to purchase an instrument. Reaching for the moon, I asked for an oboe. They purchased a silver clarinet; only one student in the school had a wooden clarinet. Most silver clarinets that survive today were purchased shortly before or during World War II.
The band had its own conservatory building, and rehearsals were held daily during school hours. The two students not yet in high school were released from classes for practice. The music performed was not limited to elementary exercises, but included classical numbers as well as Sousa marches. During the four years we were there, they performed such numbers as The 1812 Overture, The Second Hungarian Rhapsody, and The Stars and Stripes Forever.
As soon as spring weather permitted, the band was practicing their marching. Practices were held after school. Girls who had been practicing twirling with a broomstick tried out for the band, and those accepted to be drum major and majorettes practiced marching with the band. Our uniforms were white pants and shirt with dark shoes provided by the student. The school provided capes in rich purple with gold satin lining, the school colors, and purple “overseas caps” with gold piping. Besides the money earned from concerts, the town had a “band levy” that paid for uniforms and instruments. One year’s purchases included a euphonium and set of timpani; another year, French horns and baritone saxophone. During the time we lived there, instrumentation for the band included, besides the usual, an E Flat clarinet, soprano saxophone, piccolo, sousaphones, and oboe, as well as timpani.
Each spring the statewide May Music Festival was held in Havre. Thirty-four bands participated and performed 34 concerts. A mass band performed at the end of the day. The program performed by the 52 musicians in the Big Sandy Band included “a large proportion of classical and semi-classical selections, and a few popular numbers and marches,” reported the paper. Some of those pieces were: The Chocolate Soldier, Atlantic Suite, Perpetuum Mobile, American Patrol, Entry of the Gladiators, and Washington Post.
The May Music Festival was not the climax for the band in the spring of 1939. That was reserved for the festivities arranged for the King and Queen of England, for which we had been invited to play. Beneath the picture of the band in the newspaper, the caption read in part, “The Big Sandy high school band of 52 pieces has the distinction of being invited by the royal visiting committee of Medicine Hat, Alta., to participate in festivities Friday in celebration of King George’s and Queen Mary’s visit.” Besides having my uniform and clothes ready for the trip, Mother made a batch of panocha and divinity for me to take along. It made me a little more popular than I might have been, but perhaps not much, as I was almost an outcast as a 5th grader among the high schoolers. A note written on a scrap of paper, 3” by 4” and mailed, I guess, to Mother reads:
Dear Mother, We got here at 6:30 last night. We reached the line at 10 min. after one. I am all right. the Benten bus ran out of gas and held us up 2 hr. Our bus had good luck. We had a real banquet last night. We slept 6 in a room. I selpt with Betty because Marget would not sleep with me. Ann Jean
That was Betty Yama, who played clarinet with me. The band played some numbers at the train station before the royal train arrived. The train pulled in to the station and the King, Queen, and princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, came out onto the platform of the observation car to address the crowd. There was a big celebration in the field house that night. Several bands performed on the field. The Big Sandy band was in an airplane formation when it played The Stars and Stripes Forever. The next day we were taken on a tour of the Fiesta Ware pottery plant and a Coke bottling plant. Afterward we had some free time for shopping for souvenirs. It was a pretty heady experience for a 10-year old.
During the next three years the band went to the May Festivals, to the county fairs in Ft. Benton, and to Helena to play before the State Legislature and Carroll College. They were wonderful experiences.
Gaylord Worstell had an exciting summer in 1939. He wrote a letter to his sister, Mary, on August 21. The letter brings the reader up-to-date on some family members and recounts his trip to San Francisco. References to some unknown people are omitted, as is some of the material previously quoted:
Dear Sister and Family:
Your kind invitation to the doings from August 24th to September 4th is highly appreciated. Seems that one should take advantage of the few invitations that are so cordial and so genuine.
I feel that I have had my fling now for the year, and must make some preparations for the coming winter. I want to put a new furnace and stoker in my residence, among other things. I can look about and see so many things to do.
I would like so much to see you all at Tappan. I hope Dias and Jane get there to make merry with you. My memory runs back to the old days... Well, have a good time.
I had a good visit with my folks in Berkeley, California: Jane (Rachel) had gone home July 3rd, and I followed July 23rd. She is now looking for a job in San Francisco and regions about. We could speak of things about Big Sandy so much more intelligently after her three months visit here. You might think that since Grace employs 18 in her business, that she could “place” little Jane without any trouble, but such is not the case. Grace has notions of her own, she wants Jane to get out in the world and see how things go — get her feet wet, etc. Grace or the other Mauerhans are said to have the finest studio of its kind in the United States.
All were very kind to me. We were at the Fair several times. They took me across the Bridges and over Mountains and around and about. It was not necessary for me to tell them when on the Golden Gate Bridge that Father and Uncle Henry sailed in under us about March 21, 1863. They would not be interested in a thing that happened so long ago. Fern is much at home up on the hillside of the best part of Berkeley. Fine home, fine family as Everett used to quote some woman, “Yes, they have everything nice.” Fern “turned out” to be a pretty smart woman. She knows what is going on about the house and how to keep it. I could see that her little Janey had grown since they were here last fall. The child is about the most “stirring” one I ever saw. Perfect health and mind, I would say. She could tell a stranger her name and address — 672 Cragmont Ave. Berkeley. She is 3 1/2 years old. But I must not get started on that. Fern contemplates another child in February next. I am not sure that the word “contemplates” has been well chosen, but you may get the gist of the matter. I had Tom fix up my teeth and had a new eye made in Oakland and am now a pretty nifty looking man.
I was down to San Jose ... [speaks of Jim, Laura, Alma, and Allen; people unknown to the writer.]
Well, you see I had been to the Fair several times and knew I was needed at home, etc. etc. and now, what do you suppose I did? I am sure you would never guess. I had Tom, and Fern, Grace and Janey drive me to the Airport in Oakland, and got me a ticket to Great Falls, Montana. Yes, sir, by gum and also by heck, and the grampa climbed inside of the durned thing and I left the ground and away, I came.
It was my busy afternoon. The plane soared around and over to South San Francisco and took on passengers to make 16. It was a 21-passenger plane. We were soon over San Francisco and on my way. The stewardess (I really should begin that with a capital letter) gave me a most cordial welcome and such a smile that I thought she must be an old acquaintance, but I could not place her. She thrust a package of gum into my hand and buckled the strap about me and was so assuring that thinks I to my self, says I, if I go down, I’ll take you with me. Then she handed me a newspaper and asked me if I ate slow or fast. I said slow. She said then she would wait until we left Reno. It was 12:30 P.M. when we left Oakland. A young woman sat facing me who was bound for Reno. Her finger nails were so long and so red that I thought she must be a “digger” of some kind, and I asked her if she was going there to get a divorce. She told me no, but I still think there will be a divorce sooner or later. I could not give the woman the attention due her, as I was so engrossed in the scene below me. There it was spread out like a map. The farms looked so small — each with some black dots in one corner or one side, the house, barns, etc., the fields of yellow wheat in squares or rectangles, and the orchards and roads and rivers and lakes and mountains all spread out below me. Yes, it was a busy afternoon for the Grampa.
But, here we are at Reno. The plane came down so nicely you could hardly tell when it touched the cement field — then it pushed itself up to the depot and my woman left me. One cannot tell when the plane leaves the ground. When we were well in the air, the “Stewardess” came with my tray. It was like a bread pan with two papier mache” floors in it. The top one had holes in it to receive and hold the various paper cups of food. I was drinking my coffee and not thinking of a thing when the plane gave some sort of a lurch, and the coffee hit the ceiling and came down in my lap. The “S” ran and got a towel and was quite a while getting my trousers cleaned up to suit her. I did not care a bit — the suit needed cleaning anyway. Good dinner, well retained and I was pretty proud of my self. I could see that each seat was supplied with a quart paper box like an ice cream container. I wondered what they were for.
I enjoyed the vista below me. I had been over that country, five times before but I never saw the salt plains in all their glory before. They stretched away on all sides as far as the eye could reach, and for hundreds of miles, white, pure salt. Here we could see a race track where men try for the greatest speed like at Miami Beach. Over yonder, some black dots that I learned was a town. The “S” told me we were 7000 feet up and making 185 or 190 miles an hour. It was not for anything she told me, but otherwise, I had occasion to step onto the room for MEN. It’s a small compartment in the very tail of the thing. I learned afterward that the front of the ship is quieter than the rear. That tail was certainly cavorting when I was in it. It would soar aloft and then sink to a frightful depth and then shake itself sidewise, and literally rattled me around in there like a “dice.” The walls were hard too; I saw that — the going in was my mistake, or was it? Everything considered, I was getting sick now. I had some trouble to get the door open. When I emerged, the “S” or my “S” saw at once that I was in distress. She ran and got one of the oxygen inhalers and pulled it out on its long tube and I held that to my nose for several miles along there through Nevada and Utah. I was told what the paper boxes were for and held one in my hand and toyed with it — for oh! the longest time. I was afraid too that the box would not hold it all, but I held my own, and after a long time, I began to settle down and feel that at least it was one mode of travel. I had not quite decided that I would always travel thus in the future.
I was rather glad to see the smoke stacks of Salt Lake City. The plane came down at 5:30 P.M. I was feeling quite chipper now. I walked down the little steps from the plane; gave my walking stick a few twirls in the air and walked into the depot in full view of the citizens who always gather to see a big plane land, and to scrutinize its daring passengers. With me, of course, it was all in the day’s work. that is the way big business and professional men travel now. I was walking about leisurely when the loud-speaker called out that “Dr. Worstell should show his ticket in the office.” I turned quickly and went in. I knew I was to change planes there and was waiting for them to say it was ready. I strolled away to my new plane — a smaller one — all passengers bound for Great Falls. It ran smoother than the big one but was much more noisy. One had to shout to be heard.
In just a little while, we landed at Pocatello, Idaho; then at Idaho Falls. It was dark now and we were nearing Butte. I saw the lights of the city and all about the country, and recalled the Mountains we went down on my way to California. I hoped the pilot might know how to read off those hundred and more dials and how to work the various levers and gadgets on the switch board. I hoped he might make his elevation sufficient to clear everything. At Helena, I could look aloft and see a red light way up on the mountain and know that it was on our course. It seemed just a little risky to dash off in the inky night, but, Sir, they made it alright — Did better than I thought, and here was the grounds of North Montana Fair at Great Falls, all illuminated for the night performance, and right into the airport, which by the way is way up on Gore Hill and takes some little time to get back to the city by car — TEN HOURS FROM CALIFORNIA TO GREAT FALLS — SEVEN STOPS. I slept in the basement of Rainbow Hotel that night, as all beds were taken. People slept in the hospitals. Next day I went to the Fair and met Richard and family. You would not think that the Great Falls Fair exceeded for four consecutive days the attendance for four corresponding days of the week before, the attendance of the Golden Gate Fair, but such was the case. They have the radio now and the crowds are increasing.
I find the hot weather in July cut the wheat crop. The spring wheat runs about 1- bu. and the winter wheat 20. Prices are low. Wheat is shrunken....
I intended to tell you more about that plane — the larger — Its wing reached out, I think, 50 feet. There were upper and lower beds for 12 passengers. Don’t forget the two closets in the tail. I felt secure as long as the thing was going up, but it took ‘sinking spells’ when it dropped about 12 or 15 feet, and would catch itself. I was not so sure about things then. When I looked around and saw old veterans reading books and papers and taking things for granted, I was petrified for the time being. Yes, it was a busy afternoon for the Grampa.
Tell me about the doings — who were there, etc. Had a card from Kit at Niagara Falls recently.
Love to all,
Later in the month of August, the Worstells had a visit from the Augustines. Howard and Lois and daughter Martha Jayne brought Al Augustine and his brother Bill and wife, Jessie, to Montana. It was beautiful weather, temperature in the mid-eighties, low humidity. Jessie, however, used to higher humidity, complained about the heat. Martha, too, seemed to cry a lot, but usually at naptime, when she had to sleep in a restraining bed cover. Otherwise, it was a nice first visit for the young cousins, Cameron, 9 months, and Martha, 18 months.
What peace the world enjoyed lasted less than a month, and then Adolph Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.