If we had any ham we could have ham and eggs if we had any eggs. Worstell family saying.
During the summers of 1939 and 1940, New York celebrated the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration as first President of the United States with an international exposition. Even though the world was on the brink of war and the United States still in the Depression, the fair was a major success. Although it had been planned for only one season, it was held again the second year. The theme of a future world was symbolized by the trylon and the perisphere, words coined by their designers for the triangular obelisk and sphere that dominated the fair. Late in the season of one of the two summers, Richard went to the Fair. It must have been a major expenditure but he was frugal while he was there, as he purchased no souvenirs. He came home only with the little gold colored-pin of the trilon and perisphere, which may have been given with payment of the entrance fee.
Montana Education started a series of articles that appeared in March, September, and October 1939 and January 1940 titled “Chemical Education in Montana High Schools,” written by Richard Worstell. With his writing and sales rep job, Richard was keeping his hand in the educational field while doing maintenance work on Gaylord’s properties.
Gaylord was a major presence in Richard’s family, perhaps more than Wilda liked. He took many of his evening meals with the family. Ann Jean remembers some of the conversational topics.
Gramp and Daddy liked to talk politics and world affairs at the dinner table and they both admired President Roosevelt. I learned the meaning of the word “synthetic” when they were talking about the shortage of rubber caused by the war in Europe. They always listened to the radio when the political conventions were held and the Democrat theme song, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” became associated with family meals and other happy times. When Mother was having a hard time trying to think of what to cook for supper, Daddy or Gramp would say, “If we had any ham we could have ham and eggs if we had any eggs,” or any of the other variations of that saying. There was one time when Gramp bought, or was paid in kind, a hog. Gramp asked Mother to make “headcheese,” a sort of lunchmeat made from parts of the head and brains. Daddy thought she ought to do it, too. Mother liked pickled pigs' feet, although she didn’t prepare them, but she had no intention of making headcheese. Mother liked liver and fixed it occasionally, but Daddy didn’t much care for it and I just couldn’t eat it. We never ate any of the other organ meats, either. Speaking of sayings, another saying Daddy used when I, or my brother asked for something was, “It’s all right to want.”
Occasionally the table conversation would include the activities of two lady friends of Gaylord’s, Mrs. Walters (Lida Hope Walters), a widow, and her sister Miss Ary (Inez Hope Ary). Both had been teachers in the small country schools around Big Sandy and Gaylord often called on them. He especially liked Mrs. Walters. One time Rachel Jane Harnden, Gaylord’s granddaughter, asked him why he didn’t marry her. He answered, “You notice her nice hair with the beautiful curls? Well, it might be that one ought not to look too far and instead leave things as they are.” Recalling Gaylord had a glass eye, Jane saw his point.
Gaylord was often asked to speak at various club meetings, and even in his late seventies he was a popular speaker. The Mountaineer reported on one such event:
February 15, 1940 — Dr. Gaylord Worstell is a guest tonight at the Havre Rotary Club where he will give a talk on the life of Lincoln. He has made a thorough study of Lincoln for several years and is considered a very good authority on the subject.
Gaylord had an extensive library on Lincoln. Dr. Worstell was considered an intellectual and was often asked to speak on the occasions of Lincoln and Washington birthday observances, patriotic days, and for commencement addresses.
Pastimes for the Worstells were much the same as for everyone during the Depression years.
In the afternoons, Gramp and Daddy often sat by the stove in the living room and played Chinese checkers. Often Mother and I played with them. Other pastimes included our favorite radio programs. Mother always listened to Ma Perkins, Helen Trent, and The Arthur Godfry show. After school I listened to The Lone Ranger, Jack Armstrong the All American Boy, and in the evenings we all listened to The Shadow Knows and Amos and Andy. We played a lot of card games: rummy, Flinch, and Rook. Mother taught me to play two-handed auction bridge. She played bridge with the local women, but they played contract and Mother never learned to play contract bridge very well. Actually it was pinochle we ended up playing the most. We played with each other and the folks played with friends. I was occasionally asked to sit in when one of the adults had to be away from the table.
The family didn’t spend much on clothes, but mittens and shoes were very important.
When the soles of my shoes wore out, we did like most families at the time; stuck a piece of cardboard inside the shoe, or glued on rubber half soles. Sometimes Daddy bought a few clothes for the family when he went on his trips, and occasionally care packages from Fern or Grace would arrive with hand-me-downs. Mother didn’t appreciate that, since she was not used to accepting charity. But I once decorated a pretty white dress with red hearts for a Valentine outfit and enjoyed a pair of Keds shoes until I got athlete’s foot from wearing them. I always thought it was because tennis-type shoes make feet sweat, and I still think so. One advantage about not having very many clothes is that the weekly laundry and ironing aren’t too big. I always changed into play clothes when I came home from school so I could wear my school dress all week. I wore long stockings in the winter and never minded wearing them; they were held up by garters suspended from a shoulder harness. Mother purchased the kind of stockings with a little sheen to them and I thought they looked like lady’s hose. Mother always wore an apron over her dress and since Dad didn’t go to school every day he didn’t have to have a white shirt every day. Baby clothes were something else. There were always the bird’s-eye diapers and soakers. Soakers were knitted coverings that didn’t do any more than soak up the wet. Mother preferred rubber pants, but they tore easily.
Good mittens were important. Coats often got too short in the sleeves and it was important that the tops of the mittens reached up under the sleeves. Mittens are better than gloves, but they had to be wind-resistant. The only time I remember being cold was one bitter cold day, well below zero. I was returning to school after lunch, in a head wind. I had chosen to wear a pair of mittens that reached up under my coat sleeves, but which were made of loosely knitted wool. They were no match for the wind and my fingers got a little frostbitten.
Cold weather and snow made winter one of Ann Jean’s favorite seasons.
When snow was on the ground, we kids tramped out a circle in the snow to play fox and geese. One winter I and my friends carried water outside from the drinking fountain to pour over a wooden plank to freeze. The next day we’d take turns running and sliding on the board, like sliding on a waxed floor. The ground near the tennis courts had been terraced leaving a short steep slope on one side, but it was too short to use a sled. Some of the older boys brought a car fender to use as a sled. I was envious of the fun the boys were having, but I had no chance of getting a fender ride, so I persuaded Daddy to cut a large juice can to make something to sit on and slide. My teacher noticed it in the cloakroom where I stored it. She thought it was dangerous, confiscated it, and reported it to my parents. It was fun while it lasted. Dad and Gaylord put in a sidewalk from the back door to the garage and coal bin. They did not recess the walk, so it made a good partial enclosure for flooding the yard to make a skating rink.
Mr. Siebrasse delivered milk. In the winter he hitched his team of horses to a sled for the milk delivery. One winter was particularly cold and snowy. Mr. Siebrasse allowed the kids to tie their sleds onto his big delivery sled and ride the route with him. During Christmas vacation and on Saturdays, I would take my sled and walk back along the milk route to catch him as early in his route as I could. On the coldest days I was the only one. I was never deterred by the cold.
The family got a Christmas tree yearly and decorated it with fragile glass balls and the heavy tinsel used then. Mother liked the tinsel placed carefully; Dad liked to give it a little toss. I don’t remember any other decorations except the year I made construction paper chains and silhouettes of the Bethlehem skyline to put in the windows. Christmas presents were more of a practical nature during the Big Sandy years, but I did get two memorable presents. The first year right after Cameron was born, Mother had a lady make a layette of baby clothes for my “Betsy Wetsy” doll and I loved it. Then, since I wanted to make doll clothes, I wanted a “straight legged” doll, so one year Santa brought me a 12-inch Shirley Temple doll. Almost as much fun as any present were the Christmas cards we received. After Christmas was over, I used the foils and special papers from the cards to make clothes for paper dolls. I played with dolls and paper dolls through junior high.
By 1938, Dr. Worstell was not using his portable X-ray machine and it resided in Richard’s home. It was always a very exciting event when Dick would get out the X-ray machine.
The X-ray machine consisted of a box about 10 or 12 inches square by 18 or 20 inches long. Two wooden supports were put in place to support the x-ray tube, which was a foot or so long. The proper connections were made from the ends of the tube to the box. When the power was turned on, the tube gave off a glow. A shielded fluorescent screen was held up to the eyes and a good view of the bones in the hand could be seen when you put your hand between the screen and the tube. After we all got to see the bones, Daddy would remove the x-ray tube and its supports and replace them with two brass rods topped with two brass balls about an inch in diameter. The voltage generated by the transformers in the black box was enough to cause an arc to jump the 10 or 12 inches between the balls. It was an arc as thick as a small rope and jumped wildly in the gap between the balls. The sound of the blue arc as it buzzed and zapped across the space, and the strong smell of the ozone, made for a pretty exciting scene. We, fortunately, didn’t indulge in this activity often. The danger of X-rays was not yet known.
Four-H Club met throughout the year. Ann Jean remembers the cooking projects were usually during the winter months and the sewing projects during the spring and summer.
I joined 4-H and enjoyed making muffins and sewing projects, like a potholder and an apron. We had a treadle sewing machine. I don’t know where Mother got it; it may have belonged to Elsie. I can’t think of anything she made on it; it made her nervous. Getting the correct tension on the bobbin was always a problem. At the meetings our projects were judged, and everyone submitted his projects for judging at the county fair.
The cold Montana winter weather is modified by the dry Chinook winds that come down the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. This Chinook is not to be confused with the Chinook winds of Washington and Oregon, which are moist and warm. The Chinook winds east of the Rockies can strip the ground of snow in a few hours, leaving the ground dry and raising the temperatures dramatically. As much fun as winter is, spring is a welcome change.
I found the spring wind could be a lot of fun. I’d open my coat to catch the wind and go flying down the street. Spring rains and warmer temperatures turn Montana green and yellow. In May I’d hike to the coulees and pick yellow lupines for May baskets. Robins returned and the voice of the meadow lark from the nearby fields is a memorable song never forgotten. Hopscotch and jump rope were favorite springtime activities. Lacking good coordination, I was never any good at jacks.
By June the yellow clover is as tall as a child, sometimes shoulder high to a man. A young farmer near the edge of town, named Mr. Bascom, raised rabbits. In the spring of 1940, he advertised that he would give away a rabbit in exchange for a certain amount of clover. I was anxious to get a rabbit. The ditch along the side of the road by the house was full of yellow clover. I gathered up a crop and Daddy took me out to Bascom’s place. I picked out the rabbit. Daddy had made or acquired a cage for it. I did not have the rabbit long before it escaped. So I called Mr. Bascom to see if he had any rabbits left. He said he had one rabbit. The clover crop was pretty well gone, but I gleaned what I could and we went out to his place again. It was a skimpy amount of clover, but the rabbit had been in a fight and had a large scab near his tail, so we made a satisfactory exchange. It was a white rabbit, and when the wound healed the fur came in black. In the fall, we moved the hutch inside the garage and kept the rabbit through the winter. It was hard to find green food for it and many times all I had to feed him was dry bread. It never occurred to anyone to buy feed for a rabbit.
Dad let me use the garage for a playhouse. I had a dollhouse, and I kept my doll dishes out there as well. A little neighbor boy came over during our absence and using the coal in the coal bin adjacent, he systematically broke each little dish and then “painted” the dollhouse with car wax. I was heart-broken. Gramp tried to comfort me and gave me this poem. I’ve never found the poem anywhere and Gaylord was not known as a poet, but the subject in the first verse was very specific for the occasion. I guess it’s by Anonymous.
A LIFE LESSON
There! little girl; don’t cry!
They have broken your doll, I know:
And your tea-set blue,
And your play-house, too,
Are things of the long ago;
But childish troubles will soon pass by, —
There little girl; don’t cry!
There! little girl; don’t cry!
They have broken your slate, I know;
And the glad wild ways
Of your schoolgirl days
Are things of the long ago;
But life and love will soon come by, —
There! little girl; don’t cry!
There! little girl; don’t cry!
They have broken your heart, I know:
And the rainbow gleams
Of your youthful dreams
Are things of the long ago;
But Heaven holds all for which you sigh, —
There! little girl; don’t cry!
One spring day before school was out, Grace (Harnden Mauerhan) came to Big Sandy to visit Gaylord and inspect the farm she had in the area. It must have been during my lunch hour that she took Mother and me on the drive with her to the farm. On the return, she was driving at a pretty good clip on the gravel road when she lost control and landed in the ditch. She put the car in reverse and gunned the motor; up and out of the ditch she drove. I was going to be late returning to school so I claimed I was too nervous to go to school. Mother actually let me stay out of school.
One summer I was able to borrow a bike to go to the elevator at Verona or to the swimming hole. I couldn’t swim but parents sometimes let their younger children go along with me to the swimming hole on the mistaken assumption that if their child got in trouble in the water, I was “tall enough to wade to the rescue.”
Richard had another article accepted in Montana Education, April 1941, “On College Entrance Requirements.” He still did not have a full-time job. The local post office had an opening for postmaster. Richard took the required examination and received the highest score. However, the community was only required to accept someone from the top three applicants and Richard did not get the job.
The summer of 1941, Ann Jean had wanted very much to go to Iowa, but she was initially told they would not be able to go because of finances. Later, when told she and her mother and brother would be going east, she felt as if her prayers were answered. Pictures taken that summer by Howard Augustine include ones of the families together at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. They show Lois, Wilda, and Ann Jean as tall as Wilda; they would be the last pictures taken before Ann Jean was nearly as tall as her father. Other pictures show Martha’s hair with a big curl on top, and Cameron in his khaki uniform with air force wings and ribbons. Pictures the following year show Cameron in his navy blue sailor suit. Al Augustine was also along on the trip, and they all went to the Brookfield Zoo (Chicago Zoological Garden) on the Fourth of July. Al was pushed in a wheeled chair with a canopy; a young man was hired to push him. Ann Jean remembers the monkey cage at the zoo.
Someone had brought bananas to feed the monkeys. It was fun to watch a monkey reach through the bars, catch the banana, peel and eat it. Then the person with the bananas threw the paper bag with one banana left in it. A monkey grabbed the bag but couldn’t figure out how to get it between the bars. When the bag broke, the banana fell to the ground outside the cage. This delighted the onlookers and frustrated the monkey, making us all laugh even more.
On this trip, Howard took the family on a tour of the Union Stock Yards and packing plant.
At that time people could tour the plant from the stockyards to the packinghouse. The tour of the beef plant started with the slaughter of the cattle, one by one, as they hung from a moving cable. Guides took the tourists through an enclosed walkway with a view of the butchering room where butchers skinned the animals and cut up the carcasses. Farther along the walkway, we could look down on the workers dressed in white, who were doing the packaging of the various meat products. We also saw the hogs slaughtered. Unlike the cattle, the hogs squealed loudly as the cable transported them. After they were killed, the cable carried the carcasses through a fire where the hogs were singed to remove the bristles. We saw much the same scenes farther on as with the beef.
Wilda and the children returned home to Big Sandy in the fall. On Sunday, December 7th, the Worstells went to Kremlin to visit their good friends the Purdys. They had eaten dinner and the children were playing together in one of the children’s room. The radio was on when the world-shattering announcement about Pearl Harbor was made.
It was a somber mood the following day when the school had an assembly and listened to the radio as the Congress made its declaration of war against Japan, and President Roosevelt addressed the nation. On December 11, the Axis Powers declared war on the United States and the United States reciprocated. The school and the community joined the nation in scrap drives, bond sales, and rationing. Families saved toothpaste tubes and gathered up old tires. There were programs, concerts, and visiting celebrities to help sell U. S. Saving Bonds. The schools sold saving stamps. Each child had a stamp booklet and purchased ten-cent stamps. A letter to parents about the stamps read:
In the sale of War Stamps the fact that they should be purchased regularly every week is stressed, not that the student should purchase a large amount in any one week. The government also recommends that the children earn at least part of the money used in purchasing these stamps.
The school year was shortened as the letter to parents dated April 18, 1942 announced: “It is necessary to shift our daily schedule for shortening the school term on account of sugar rationing duties and other unexpected events.” School was closed on days that were needed for the rationing duties, which included registration for retail outlets and all the families. To complete school by May 15, school was in session until 5:00 P.M. and was held on a couple of Saturday mornings. They still managed to work into the schedule the senior play and dance, the band concert, athletic banquet, junior prom, graduation, and take part in a variety of out-of-town events.
Seventh grade had been a good year academically for Ann Jean; however, when her good friend was skipped a grade to ninth grade, she felt less competitive and her grades slumped. She was placed in a ninth-grade science class that was to be of benefit to her the following year.
The spring of 1942, Richard turned to farming one of the Worstell farms that consisted of some unbroken land. The farm had a shack and barn, both derelicts of their former selves. The barn served as an outhouse. With a crow bar, Richard and Gaylord moved the one-room shack several feet to a better location. The roof and sides, door and window, were fairly tight, but the floor was missing the boards around the outer edge. It had a small pot-bellied stove. Portions of the land were fenced with sagging barbed wire. When school let out in the spring, Ann Jean joined her father on the farm during the week, the two returning home on weekends; she was to keep house for Richard. Meals consisted of what could be cooked in one pot or frying pan, as that is all the top of the stove could accommodate. Without refrigeration, milk soured before the week was over. Besides beans, their diet consisted mostly of canned food. Together, Dick and Ann Jean worked on tightening the fence and often, when he was plowing, Ann Jean rode atop the small gray tractor. They went to bed when it got dark and got up when they awoke. Ann Jean remembers:
We must have had a card table and a couple of chairs, but there was no bed and we slept on the flour. I insisted on taking a few things to the farm to make it look homey. I helped Dad when he was using the wirepuller to tighten the barbed wire fence. I let a wire slip from under my foot and the barb went up my shinbone. It bled a lot, and did not become infected; we didn’t go to town for a tetanus shot.
When I wasn’t riding the tractor with Daddy I played alone in the shack. One time he brought in a family of gophers and we made them a home in a box. They seemed to thrive on the grass I gave them and they would run into their oatmeal box nest when I reached my hand into their box. Of course there were more gopher nests turned over by the plow. If we caught the adults we could cut off their tails and turn them in to the County Agricultural Agent and get a bounty of a nickel apiece for them. (Or was it a nickel for two?) Thirty years later I read about the U.S. Open Gopher Derby in Shelby. Gophers were still providing entertainment for Montana kids.
Mice had the run of the shack, and once I found one swimming in a bottle of milk. Thinking back, it’s a wonder more wildlife didn’t come in to share our home.
A.T. Augustine was taken ill the summer of 1942, and Wilda took Cameron and went to be with her father in Iowa. Ann Jean played homemaker and did the housework, cooking, and laundry. People thought Wilda was home when they saw the laundry on the line.
The country needed war material and Anaconda Copper stepped up copper production. Richard got a job as a chemist in the general laboratory of the Anaconda reduction plant in Great Falls. At that time he included a summary of his biographical data.
Age 40 — Height 6 ft. — Weight 200 lb. — Perfect Health
Married with two children, a girl 14 years old and a boy 4
No time lost due to sickness in 13 years teaching experience.
Member Methodist Episcopal Church, Kappa Delta Pi Fraternity
Honor Student, A.F.& A.M. American Chemical Society, National Education Association, Montana Education Association.
After Dick was hired, he found living quarters at 406 Fifth Avenue North. Since Wilda was in Iowa, he left Ann Jean with Gaylord.
While my folks were gone, I stayed with Gramp. One day I complained of a stomach ache and Gramp made me drink a bottle of castor oil. The bottle probably didn’t hold more than four or five ounces, but it sure seemed like a lot. Especially so, since there was no orange juice to mix it with. It sure discouraged minor complaints.
One Sunday after church, I was invited to go with a family on an outing. I found Gramp visiting with some friends and got his attention, I thought, and asked for permission to go, which I thought he gave. Upon returning that evening, I learned he had not known where I was. He was not happy with me.
A few days later, we got a telegram from Mother that Grandfather was doing fine and she was coming home. Delighted, I went home and cleaned house in preparation for her arrival.
Sometime during late summer or early fall, Richard got a header to cut the wheat on the farm. Emmett Quinn, the storyteller, remembers when Richard pulled the header out to the farm behind his car, “There was nothing left but the box.” The car’s speed and the gravel road destroyed the rake, leaving only the collecting box. The year 1942 was a good year for the wheat crop, but it was not a good year for the Worstell crop. Along with other problems, the Worstell endeavor netted nothing. The Anaconda prospects looked good, however, and Richard moved the family to Great Falls.