What do you see out of your window today?

My Parents’ Generation

A story by Elsie Johnson



I don’t know much about my Father’s family. He was brought up in Western Kansas on a farm where many Czechoslovakian families settled. Many stayed in that area and experienced the terrible Dust Bowl years. Somehow my father settled in Perry, Iowa working on the Milwaukee R.R. as a freight conductor. He was a veteran of World War I but never talked about his war years in France. We always had two large empty gun shells on our sideboard that he had brought from Europe. He kept his R.R. equipment neat and clean. He would take us to the caboose and while he cleaned, we would climb into the observation car and pretend we were on a journey. He was meticulous keeping a book with his miles. He only had an eighth grade education yet his hand writing and spelling were excellent. Dad took pride in his half of an acre garden. Everything was in perfect rows and weeded. Having the first tomatoes in the neighborhood was his goal. Every spring he would buy me a box of pansies for my very own. (Maybe that’s why pansies are my favorite flower.) One of his five brothers was a doctor. I think Dad would have loved that profession. I used to have earaches a lot. He would wrap me in a big blanket – take me to our big rocking chair – blow his pipe smoke in my ear, cover it with a warm towel. I’m sure it was the TLC that helped most of all. He always had a home remedy for everything. Sore throats were swabbed with a chicken feather covered with iodine – ugh!! Skinned knees – splinters – bruises all got attention and neatly bandaged. Dad loved to go to the Iowa State Fair – especially the car races. Fourth of July was always a big celebration. He would build troughs to send off our rockets – make fire-works that would spin and let us put firecrackers under tin cans that would lift off! Our yard always attracted many neighbors. I also remember my mother being very annoyed at all the money he spent that went up into smoke!! When Dad said it was picnic time, we knew the black walnuts were ready to pick up. He could see from the Race Track the huge grove of trees bearing lots of walnuts. A huge picnic was packed, sharp sticks were made for us to roast our Hot Dogs over the constructed fire. After the walnuts were picked up, we could have our picnic. The walnuts had an outer shell and many were crushed. The moisture from the shell would stain our hands and stayed on several days. We would dry the nuts on a big canvas in the back yard – needless to say the squirrels also benefited from our crop. During the winter Mom baked black walnut cakes so it was worth it! We always had a nice car – I recall Buick and Willys Knight. Dad’s work kept him on the road several days so he tried to get Mother to learn to drive – no luck – so being the eldest, my father insisted I learn to drive at 13! At that time there were no automatic shifts – no automatic seat adjustments – no automatic wind shield wipers, etc. Using pillows and a few lessons of going up and down the driveway, I finally was given permission to take it out for a drive. My guardian angel must have ridden with me. I even had a valid driver’s license at 13! How did my father trust me and give me permission to drive school mates to varsity games at night and once I drove to Des Moines at night to pick up my mother at the R.R. Station? Maybe it was as my children said, No wonder you got to drive Mom, there were only Dinosaurs on the road! I’m grateful to my parents for the confidence they instilled in me. For the close relationship guiding my development and making me who I am today!

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 confidence,Czechoslovakian,driving,Dust Bowl,education,garden,Kansas,practical,thrifty,World War I
  Western Kansas
Jun 16 1920


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