Chapter 5: Shenandoah, Iowa

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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.

It wasn’t easy to be a young preacher in those days, especially in father’s church. Methodist church government gave the Bishop and the stationing committee the duty of assigning all the ministers of the conference to their pastorates every year at the annual conference. It was considered wise to give short terms of one or two years too young ministers. Perhaps the idea was to give them a chance to use again the sermons they had already written. Hearing the appointments read at the close of the conference with a time of tension and apprehension for preachers and their families. None of them was supposed to know for sure what his appointment would be, though I’m sure sometimes there were leaks from the committee. There certainly were some real shocks. A minister might feel sure he would be returned to his church where he doubtless felt that he was doing the work of the Lord. Then out of the clear sky came the report sending him to a church or to a town that he hardly knew it all. It meant moving, and often for his family it meant taking the children out of school and away from their friends. As far back as I can remember we were always wondering where we would be sent next. No one ever questioned the wisdom of the committee (or Bishop) and always took the decision as the “will of the Lord.”

I was about seven years old, and as yet the only child, when father was appointed to the church at Shenandoah, Iowa. Up to that time, father had served in small towns in northern Iowa. The appointment Shenandoah with a change to the southwestern part of the state. Mother was delighted. We were going to live near the members of her family. Her mother, Ann Cross Slough, had long been a widow and at that time lived with her daughter, Nelle, who had married Edgar Noble. Mother’s people were all farmers, and mother was the only one of four daughters who had not married farmer. The Nobles lived about 10 miles from Shenandoah, and mother’s brother Orrin live near Coin, a little farther away. Her sister Josie, two years older, had not yet married.

The church and parsonage were on the same property, but it was a corner in the church faced one street and the parsonage faced the other street. The corner itself was a large lawn surrounded by trees. The parsonage was a pleasant two-story house; there was a parlor and an adjoining bedroom (mother’s and father’s room) on the front. A side entrance went into a big room which served as sitting room and dining room, and a kitchen just back of that. This parsonage and church were quite close to the center of town, which was larger than the little towns where we had lived before. It was a larger congregation and since mother had grown up not too far away, more people were coming and going than we had been used to.

When the Nobles drove into town on Saturday our place was their headquarters for the day. Mother always prepared and noonday meal, which we always called dinner. The Nobles had two children, Bessie about thirteen, and Clarence about ten. After they had eaten junk food while shopping downtown, they would come to our house at noon. They would walk around the table, looking over the food, and say they didn’t say anything they liked and wouldn’t eat. So it wasn’t altogether a joy to have relatives who live nearby.

As I look back, it seems to me that there was always something exciting happening at Shenandoah. Perhaps my memory is better of those years because I was a little older. Things did get exciting. We had two fires there, my Aunt Josie was married in our house, Ernest was born there, and I remember the night the soldiers came home from the Spanish-American War. That night there was a torchlight parade and everybody was happy that the war was over.

I was now in the second grade and I was beginning to learn about poetry and music. I came home and told mama about Mr. Longman who wrote the Children’s Hour. So I received one fellow’s Poems for Christmas, a book I still possess. At school we had drawing, and one day the teacher had a pupil pose while the rest of us drew a picture of model. At home I asked mother to pose while I drew her picture, then I asked Aunt Josie to pose, but no one was interested. At last a quiet me, mother said, “now, Mabel, all sit right here in this chair as I am, and you can draw a picture of me.”

When I finished, I gave it to mother and she showed it to Aunt Josie. They both went into hysterics with laughter. I just couldn’t understand why. The picture wasn’t intended to be funny, and as far as I could see, it wasn’t. Mother wouldn’t explain why they thought the picture was so hilarious. They kept laughing and when father came home they showed it to him and they went into gales of laughter all over again. My feelings were hurt, I was crushed. In that day, no one ever explained to a little girl of seven that she was about to have a little brother. My drawing was really realistic; without a doubt, it showed mother’s pregnancy. In this day with television and all the Frank talk, a child couldn’t live to be seven and not know the facts of life. But I was really innocent. I remember once asking my cousin Bessie where babies came from, and she proceeded to explain that whenever a woman wanted a baby she called the doctor and he cut a hole in her stomach and took out a baby. Simple, wasn’t it?

Father told Aunt Josie that if she would stay and help mother until after the baby was born that he would give her a wedding. And so when Ernie was about four weeks old Aunt Josie married Oscar Finley at our house. Father performed the ceremony. It was the first wedding I can remember. He took her to live on a farm about 20 miles south of Shenandoah not far from Farragut, and not too far from the Missouri border. Oscar was one of ten children. His father came from Illinois and had been a prosperous farmer. In various places in Illinois and in Iowa, he purchased good farmland. Eventually he gave every one of his ten children 80 acres of rich farmland. Even now my And Josie’s grandson lives on that farm and produces various crops. I visited that farm many times as a child, the last time was in 1948 when my Aunt was still alive. She had three children, Raymond, Grace, and Gilbert. Raymond lives in Shenandoah and his son runs the farm; Grace went to Wyoming to teach school, Mary there and is now a widow there; Gilbert became an attorney in New York City and died there a few years ago. We visited Gilbert in New York City in 1939.

It was a hot Fourth of July evening, and Ernie was about six months old. We were drinking lemonade as I heard the pop of fireworks and ran out the back door. As I looked up at the sky, I realize the flames were shooting from the roof of our kitchen. I screamed and everyone ran outdoors. Since the house was only about two blocks from the business section of the town, the fire department was out in force in a few minutes. The fire was sued out, the crowds of people began coming into the yard and house. One man, tipsy from drink, padded mother on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, ma’am, will get it out.”

At another time I woke up early in the morning and instantly realized that the room was full of smoke. This time, it was the barn and not the house that was on fire. Mother carried the baby and we scrambled down the stairs. Father had already gone to the barn to see what he could do and reach the horse at the last possible moment. He took the bridle, spoke to the horse, “Gip”, and led him out of the barn, which collapsed shortly thereafter. The horse came and did not go into panic as endangered horses often do. The barn and all its contents were a total loss.

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