Chapter 2: Emma Belle Slough Vinson

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Transcribed by Michael A. O’Neill in Mar/Apr 2014

Transcribers note: This is a transcription of Mabel’s book, not an upload of the original of the document she created. It was transcribed using Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software, which will result in capitalization errors; misspellings of proper names; odd usage of prepositions or common words; and incorrect homophones. For true fidelity, you can request the book via Interlibrary Loan from the Greenville College or Azusa Pacific University libraries.

William Slough (1810-1888)

William Slough (1810-1888)

William Slough was a quiet, easy-going man, who never quite escaped poverty. With his large family, he moved here and there hoping for better crops but was constantly beset by reverses. His 13 or 14 years in Missouri seemed the most unfortunate venture of all.

When they finally managed to get back to Iowa, they were penniless and ill clothed. His brother-in-law, Dave Cross, offered them shelter in an empty house on his farm. His own wife had died and Ann Cross Slough mothered the two families. The four daughters of each family paired off his chums. This friendly affection lasted a lifetime. At the Slough family reunion at Aunt Josie Finley’s farm in 1923, three of the Cross “girls”, now white-haired women, were present.

Aunt Hattie Clark, one of those cousins, vividly described how Belle would tell fairytales at night when there were visitors. The girls all slept on the floor in one room. Even then, Belle must’ve possessed the storytelling ability which in later years enlivened her public addresses and missionary sermons. Aunt Hattie said that mother held them spellbound with wonderful stories of princesses, fairy godmothers, and love stories. Sometimes the doings of the wicked witches or the Bluebeard in the story made them all shiver with fear and they found it hard to go to sleep.

Belle used to want to be an actress, while a young girl her thoughts and energies were turned toward religion from which they never wavered all her life. When Emma Belle was 16, she was popular and enlivened neighborhood parties. She had wavy brown hair and bright blue eyes. About this time a young evangelist came to the neighborhood to hold meetings in the schoolhouse. In that day, before movies, automobiles, or even radio, there was little entertainment. Everyone went to the meetings held by Tom Gates. He was a big fellow, 17 years old, who had a loud voice and lacked education. He made up for these deficiencies with enthusiasm and earnestness. He preached repentance for sin, hellfire punishment, and soon stirred a fierce resentment. Mother was the only convert in her family, although later her brother Ed and his family became Free Methodists. The opposition of her family to her faith only made her more determined. From then, until her death 50 years later, Emma Belle never wavered in her faith or in her loyalty to the church.

Rose Ann (Cross) Slough (1832-1898)

Rose Ann (Cross) Slough (1832-1898)

About this time, Grandfather Slough died and the home was broken up. From then on grandmother Slough lived with her children, usually her second daughter, Nelle Noble. Neither mother nor Josie was married at the time. Thus at the age of 17, mother found herself without a home. It meant the end of the chance for further education. She found employment with Mr. and Mrs. Brewer, photographers in Shenandoah. Their living quarters adjoined the studio; mother cooked and did the housework, and also acted as a receptionist.

Grandmother’s attitude toward a romance of my Aunt Nelle’s was characteristic. In their neighborhood in southwestern Iowa lived the Thomas family, boys and girls, with ambitions for an education. It was at a Fourth of July neighborhood picnic at the Thomas home, where Belle first met Worth Vinson, school friend of Gus Thomas. Both boys were working on the farm during their summer vacation from the little Amity College at College Springs. Maddie Thomas introduce them.

Maddie, later Mrs. Dyal, befriended me one whole summer when I was attending summer school and college miles from any friend. The oldest son, Augustus, called Gus for short, was interested in my Aunt Nelle. Her sparkling dark beauty attracted him and a romance seemed well on the way, but grandmother Slough frowned upon it.

The Thomases were a little “queer”, not very good farmers or housekeepers. No, Gus wasn’t good enough for Nelle, and so she married a cocky little fellow who liked to make a show and never accumulated money enough to buy one of the Iowa farms which he rented. Gus was for years the state superintendent of public schools in the state of Maine. For some time before he died, he was the president of the International Education Association which held meetings in various countries of the world. Once after I became a teacher in Los Angeles, he lectured at our annual Institute. Father attended with me and after the lecture we went up to the platform he and father stood with clasped hands; they hadn’t seen each other for 40 years! To me he said, “Young lady, your father and I plowed corn together 40 years ago.” He was tall and slim and white. Father said that not one thing about him look natural, but his voice seemed the same.

Emma Belle Slough (1868-1934)

Emma Belle Slough (1868-1934)

Emma Belle Slough, commonly called Belle by all members of her family, spent the first thirteen years of her life in northern Missouri. She described herself as a thin, undernourished child to whom the older members of the big family paid little concern, except to find her immensely amusing and tease her unmercifully.

She scarcely knew a well day until the family moved back to Iowa, which had been their original home. Belle was the only child not born in Iowa. Her frail, thin body was constantly shaken with ague chills alternating with malaria. She said later that her appetite rebelled at the salt pork and sorghum molasses which were so constantly a part of the family diet. She didn’t like milk, but it never occurred to anyone to try to persuade her to drink it. People used to say she would never grow up, but nobody did anything about it.

In spite of such early handicaps she possessed a vital energy and courage which characterized her whole life, even down to her last illness. Many times during her life she was beset by hardships and physical suffering which would have overwhelmed a much more robust person.

Her mother, Ann Cross, was the second wife of her father, William Slough, who came from Pennsylvania Dutch people and was a carpenter by trade. He was the father of eight children by each of his two wives, but in each family only six survived. Belle was the youngest of the second family and by far her father’s favorite. As far back as she could remember he was white-haired and wore a flowing white beard which he kept immaculately clean. He alone called her Emma, and whenever the tormenting of the brothers became unbearable, she went to her father for refuge. At the age of forty grandmother Slough used to sit in the corner with a little shawl about her shoulders and knit. She never thought of going anywhere with her children and acted like one of the old folks. Her husband was twenty years older than she. During the winter, she slept in a tightly shut room with a kerosene lamp burning low all night because we didn’t like sleeping in the dark as a child, I remember mother raising the window about 2 inches when she burned the lamp. It is little wonder that she had poor health.

Mother remembered, especially in Missouri, when they used candles, even made their own. For heat they had a big old-fashioned fireplace which let most of the heat escape up the chimney.

Although my Grandfather Slough sometimes worked at carpentry, they always lived on a farm and were considered farm people. At Aunt Josie’s, I saw a little kitchen chair, ladder backed and rush bottomed, which he made. Grandmother was rather ambitious for her children and like many parents was greatly disappointed at some of their marriages. She tried to prevent mother’s marriage to father because he was a preacher. Mother was too strong-willed to be discouraged, and marry him she did. Before her death, Grandmother Slough came to think more of my father than any other son-in-law. She even died a member of his church.

Grandmother Slough was a fine seamstress. It was a day when sewing was a fine art. Everything was done by hand, and dresses were lined and stayed in bound to an extent never dreamed of now. Every daughter, except Belle, became a good seller; Nelle was one of the best. Belle used to do the cooking while her sisters did her sewing. She couldn’t be quite patient enough for sewing. In those days, all girls made quilts. Mother started a difficult pattern called the “ways of the world” or “the fools puzzle” in plain red and white, but she didn’t even finish the piecing.

After Belle was married just before her first baby was born, grandmother Slough came to stay with her. Grandmother found the unfinished quilt and got it out. “Now”, she said, “I shall finish this quilt, but it is to belong to the baby, not you.” I was the baby and I kept that beautiful red and white quilt, finished in the tiny stitches that Ann Slough made so well. Later I gave it to Betty Alexander, the oldest grandchild.

Mother could always sing; her voice was sweet and clear, her notes true. If she had been trained, she would’ve been a good musician. With her good memory she knew both words and melody for a great many of the old favorites. I can remember her holding one of my baby brothers in her arms at twilight and singing sweetly and clearly “Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt—” there were other old ones too, and I thought at the time that her singing was beautiful. I wished I could sing like that but I never could.

Belle Slough had a remarkable memory and an alert mind. At school she soon became the best speller, and at the age of seven was able to spell almost any word in the speller. At the country spelling bee, she spelled down grown-ups, and as always later gave her best performance in front of an audience. The spelling training gave her the foundation for an accurate vocabulary, which made her ability in reading and speech far beyond that of many persons having much greater opportunity for attendance at school. She had a vivid imagination and loved stories. She also had a violent temper which frequently got her into trouble, but which she admirably learned to control.

Once on the playground at school she got into a quarrel with some boys over a baseball. Her cousin, one of the Cross boys, had given her the ball to keep for him while he was absent from school. Another boy at school asked permission to use it, but Belle stoutly refused. He insisted saying that the Cross boy said he could use it, but she still refused. Then he threatened to tell the teacher, and finally disappeared around the schoolhouse. Then he came back and said that the teacher said for her to give him the ball. Feisty little Belle retorted, “You tell that teacher to kiss my foot.” She didn’t think that he really told the teacher at all, but he had. Back he went and soon returned with the teacher and several boys following. As they started across the school playground, the girls urged her to run. “Run, Belle, he’s coming.” Instead she marched stoutly to meet them. (The teacher was a young man.)

“Belle, did you say for me to kiss your foot?” Asked the teacher. “Yes, sir,” she defiantly replied. Then the teacher gently talked to her, told her to give the ball to the boys, but he never punished her. She was always his favorite.

Sarah Josephine "Josie" Slough (1865-1947)

Sarah Josephine “Josie” Slough (1865-1947)

Belle’s sister, Josie, was her chum and companion. Belle was younger by two years, but naturally the leader. Minnie, the oldest girl in the family and one with the sweetest disposition, was greatly loved by Belle. The other sister, younger than Minnie, was Nelle, the dark eyed beauty of the family, with flashing eyes and black curls, attracted many young men to the Slough home.

Orrin, the eldest of the second family, accumulated more property than any of the others, but he was relentless in his economy. His young first wife was ill for a long, long time, and the Slough girls took turns caring for her and the two small children for weeks at a time. When I was ready for my last year at college, and was forced to borrow money, he lent it to me. I was grateful, and paid it back with interest for every day I had it. In 1948, when I visited at the old Finley farm, I met Ray, his youngest son. I was almost shocked to see how much he looked like uncle Orin, and his laugh from the next room sounded exactly like his father’s. His baby girl has been named Ann, so that her name is Ann Slough, just the same as Grandmother Ann Slough’s.

Ed, the older brother, was the only member of the family besides mother to join her church. This bond of religion made him seem closer to her than the others, in some ways. For years, the endured a persecution from the others that hurt deeply at times.

Edson Edgar "Ed" Slough (1857-1932)

Edson Edgar “Ed” Slough (1857-1932)

At the Slough reunion in 1923, nearly all the families were there. Mother seemed to feel unrequited pride in that she regarded her children and Ed’s children as the most prosperous and successful of them all (to us it certainly seems little enough). There is no doubt that mother had the happiest life of all the sisters, perhaps because she devoted her life to the cause of Christianity. Ed had poor eyes, even as a child, and in those days it was taken for granted that it was impossible to educate him. Hearing of the wonderful work being done in sight saving for children today, I often think of him. Now books are made with large print which they can read without strain. However, Ed was a good workman, and managed to raise a fine family, two boys and five girls.

Grandmother Slough was a sharp tongued woman, scolding and complaining. She “enjoyed” poor health, and because of her semi-individualism, her daughters did the housework and cooking from the time they were very young girls. She was a good cook, especially noted for her bread and light rolls. Every daughter was a good cook, setting a fine table with the common foods that were delicious. Pies were especially good. Later it was probably Nelle who set the best table using the best of everything in great variety. Ann Slough’s shrewd tongue probably accounted for the outspoken ways of her children. They never hesitated to criticize each other and were rather sharp at times in their remarks, but they were loyal and devoted to each other.

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