“There is nothing to fear but fear itself!” is a quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt that had been cited to me often during the formidable years of the forties. Living on the old farm homestead part of that time, there were periods and events that caused me anxiety upon occasion.
For my father, who worked a full time job in town, vulcanizing tires, as well as farming, the fear of losing his job, meager as it was, was a constant challenge. My parents had both taught in the two room country schools of that era and both had college educations. When my sister and I came along, our mother became a stay-at-home mom. Dad finally found a job in an oil company and that was due to the fact my grandfather owned some stock. There was always that persistent fear “Will we have food on the table?”
My parents had come through three heart-wrenching events which I call the Three Ds of that era, the Depression, the Dust Bowl and their Daughter killed, all within a seven-year time frame.
When the depression hit, and the banks closed, my parents lost the hard earned money they had made in teaching school.
The dust bowl hit while our little family of four lived in Dodge City. Life was a frenzy of wet washcloths placed over our faces, so we could breathe. Consequently, we moved back to Hutchinson, Kansas.
In 1936, my parents’ oldest daughter, six-year-old Luella, was accidentally shot and killed by a neighbor boy. This incident left me very fearful of any guns.
Perhaps I, Doris Lee, at three and a half, could be counted as the fourth fear factor of that period. Although I was fairly “happy go lucky” and enjoyed whatever life had to offer, to a point, I may have caused my own share of anxiety attacks.
After my sister was killed; I would roam the neighborhood, knocking on the neighbors’ doors with all my little projects. “Would you like to buy a Coca-Cola?” I would ask, raising up a coke bottle filled with muddy water (I thought it looked the color of Coke.)
“Did you bake cookies?” was my question when the delicious aroma had wafted through the open windows. The neighbors were very kind to me and let me have a sample of their everyday lives.
That is, all but those naughty neighbor boys. When Luella had been around and they tried to tease me, she would shake a stick at them and tell them “You leave my sister alone!” After she was killed, they turned a little meaner. One day they locked me in a back shed and I was terrified. Another time they hit me in the stomach with a tin can and my parents drove me to the doctor in our Model T.
One special neighbor had just purchased one of those new fangled refrigerators and made something called “sherbet.” They invited me to have some and I was still eating when my mom knocked on the door to tell me Aunt Martha was here to take us to Wednesday Night Church Service. I was a few minutes late and when I came out, they were already backed out on the street and ready to take off. “Were they really going to go without me?” I wondered and felt so bad because
I had always thought they would never leave me. The thought scared me.
There were other things that frightened me…a lot. For instance, I did not like strange dogs that barked. Whenever we would visit my grandparents in Buhler and I wanted to walk the two blocks to my cousin’s house, I just knew I would get chewed up by a dog. One of my parents or cousins would have to go with me.
Living on the farm in the forties, we had wandering hobo’s occasionally coming through the countryside. It was seldom we had any fearsome ones that weren’t honest, but there was always that possibility. My heart always did an extra beat when a strange man was coming up our driveway. Sometimes he had a kerchief tied around his head and usually wasn’t too clean. He would knock on the door and ask my mom if he could have some food in return for a little work. Mom would oblige.
He would usually sit outside as he ate and if I wasn’t scared I would question him as to where he had been. I asked one if he had ever had one hundred dollars all at one time and he recounted that had happened to him once. I was impressed. They did have exciting stories to tell as they hopped box cars and walked the countryside.
Another fear on the farm was being chased by a bull. One time, on my way to school, the neighbor’s cattle were out on the wheat field and the bull was pawing the ground, getting ready to charge. I was completely mesmerized by fear and if it hadn’t been for one of the parents taking their children to school by car and stopping to ask if I wanted a ride, I just know I wouldn’t be here today.
My mother wasn’t afraid, at least not so I could tell. Since my Dad sometimes worked at night, she was all alone in the big two-story farmhouse with just my little sister and me. Our house did not even have a lock. One dark autumn night, Mom heard a car chug up the driveway and go in back of the barn where we kept our tractor gas in a barrel. Gas was rationed at the time and was a treasured commodity. Mom lit the lantern and went out in the yard. She hollered out in her most fearsome voice “Who’s there?” She could hear the footsteps running to the Model A which soon was taking off down our rutty driveway, lickety split. My mom enjoyed telling the story to us two girls and my dad the next morning. It makes me laugh to think how she must have scared that poor driver and gas stealer!
Life continued during the forties. each day bringing new challenges, learning new things and how to trust my creator completely. More about that later!
By Doris Schroeder
Doris welcomes your comments at dorisschroeder @ att.net