Chapter 7: Knoxville, Iowa

TOC | Previous | Next

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.

People frequently speak nostalgically of their hometowns. We move so frequently that we could scarcely say that we had a hometown, but if there was one, I think we would have to say that it was Knoxville, Iowa. We lived there at two different times. First for two years, while father was pastor of the church, and again several years later for three years while father was the District elder of that district. After leaving Shenandoah we lived in Des Moines for one year. That was the only time I can remember when father was not in religious work in some capacity. I was too small to know exactly the reasons for the change. My parents never criticize the church for the decisions of their superiors in church government. I do know that he had some debts from family illness but he couldn’t meet on the meager salary that he had from the church. During that year in Des Moines he worked for the Register and Leader newspaper.

Newspaper work didn’t satisfy father and so the next year he transferred to the Iowa Conference from the West Iowa Conference. From then on for thirteen years, he was appointed to churches in the southeast part of the state or was elected District elder and served in a supervisory capacity. The churches there were older and more established, though they never gave liberal remuneration to their preachers. The schools were good and the discipline was strict. While we were there, I finished fourth and fifth grades. Using the horse and buggy father visited the church members who lived in the farming areas around the town. People are friendly and often we were invited to go home with them for Sunday dinner. Sometimes we invited them home with us. It was while we lived there that we acquired our first telephone. It seemed a miracle in a luxury. One Sunday afternoon when we were out visiting one of the farm families, father thought it would be fun to call home and see if Grandpa would answer since he had never talked on a telephone. After the phone rang three or four times, grandpa took off the receiver and yelled loudly, “nobody home.”

Weston was born at the Knoxville parsonage, 27 November, 1902 on Thanksgiving day. On the evening before, some of the church people surprised us by bringing food and gifts. Among other things, they brought a handmade quilt. Women’s names were embroidered on fancy blocks and the men’s names were embroidered on plain blocks. The men had paid twenty-five cents each for theirs. (A few years ago I gave that quilt to Weston and Meredith.) During the night father woke early (four years old) and me and took us to a neighbor’s house. I was a little disappointed the next day that I didn’t get a little sister this time. I was eleven and a year or two with the babysitter.

Knoxville was a lovely little town with a population of about 3000. Most people had lived there all of their lives. The streets were lined with stately elm trees. We lived in the parsonage, which was about a mile from the center of town at about the same distance from the church. It was a pleasant two-story house with four bedrooms upstairs. Father had a little garden in the back, and kept a cow. I remember that on the sides of the property there were some peach trees the produce to the most delectable fruit. As in the other personages, there is no running water or electricity. My brother Weston was born there and Grandfather Vincent still lived with us. Mother’s health was not too good, not surprising since she now had a family of three children in three adults.

We lived in Knoxville for two years when I was in the fourth and fifth grades, and later when I was a senior in high school we move back and stayed for three years. Father was District elder, but I think that his district was changed. Anyway were rented a brick house only a few blocks from the town square. Moving around from one school to another was often a disadvantage, for instance when it took me two years to finish the first grade. Somehow between Burlington and Fairfield I skipped a half grade, then at Fairfield they took me into high school, I think I missed half agreed there. Anyway, when I got back to Knoxville I was a senior in the kids I had known the fifth grade world juniors. In those days, lots of kids just didn’t go to high school, so the school was not very large, and the senior class consisted of ten girls and two boys. My studies that year included a fourth year of Latin, year of German, English and geometry. One was always a struggle for me; I certainly didn’t have a flair for languages. The math was easy.

In a town like Knoxville, there wasn’t much a girl could do. The only choices I could see were to be a saleslady in a store, to become a nurse, or to be a schoolteacher. Teaching at that time, paid about thirty-five dollars or forty dollars a month for nine months, but it was more than the other jobs paid.

When graduation time finally came, I almost missed the commencement exercises. There is a custom in that town that the boys in the graduating class would furnish carriages that would call it the homes of the girls and take them to the commencement program. There was some talk that the two boys in the class thought it was just too much for them to furnish transportation for ten girls. But at the last day before commencement, we were assured that a carriage would come for us. I lived about a mile from the opera house for the commencement was held. Father and mother went ahead and left me there at home waiting for a ride. I was on the program. I was to read and original poem that was also the class prophecy. I suddenly realized that it was getting late and no carriage had come, so I went as fast as I could to the opera house, and arrived just before the program began.

At that time in Iowa, anyone eighteen years of age, who capacity examinations was given a certificate to teach. I would be eighteen August 28, and I was allowed to take the examinations early in the summer. I passed and got the certificate.

Some of the other girls in my class took the teaching test, too, and so several of us began looking for teaching positions in the country schools. The schools were old, one-room schools that you read about. Each country community had its own school and its own school director. I’ve often heard about the Little Red Schoolhouse, but none that I ever saw was painted red. They were always white. The teacher did everything. She built the fire in the stove, she swept, and she taught all the subjects of the elementary schools. It was only after buses took children miles from their homes to the unified school districts but the little one-room schools began to disappear. I was really elated when I got a job as a teacher of a rural school about 5 miles from the little town of Swan, which was about halfway between Knoxville in Des Moines. The term was only six months and I was to get forty dollars per month.

Swan was about 20 miles for my home, but transportation being what it was, I didn’t get to go home very often. I lived with a farm family and walked 2 miles to school, often through the snow. I have fourteen pupils, and my instruction amounted to almost individual tutoring. They were usually cooperative, and the older ones often help the younger ones. I had fun with them, and I love teaching from the start. When I was ten years old I had decided I wanted to be a teacher, and here I was teaching with absolutely no supervision of any kind, and I was only eighteen one big boy of sixteen, the son of the school director, was something of a problem. His father said that no woman could really earn forty dollars a month. On the whole everybody left me alone and I ran the school the way I wanted.

When Thanksgiving vacation was approaching, this ignorant director said he wouldn’t pay me for the Friday after Thanksgiving. I said, if they wouldn’t pay me for the Friday after Thanksgiving, so that I could go home for Thanksgiving, then they would all have to come to school on Thanksgiving day so they let me have Friday. At the end of the first month of school, I was told to go to the bank and Swan, with a banker would pay me. He gave me two $20 dollar gold pieces. I took them home and father said, “Mabel, it’s too bad we can’t afford to keep these for souvenirs.”

The home where I lived in the country was a substantial farmhouse. The woman was a widow, her son ran the farm, and her daughter was planning to get married. They took me with them every time they went away; they didn’t want to leave me alone. The most popular form of entertainment was a birthday party. So everyone, old or young, in the neighborhood had a birthday party. The women were terrific cooks, and each woman brought her most excellent dish. My landlady made whipped cream pies. People crowded into the house, even small ones, and there was lots of fun and laughter, games and music, always a piano and singing. I cannot remember that there was ever any rough or vulgar talk. A lot of wonderful Americans were raised in farm communities like that. Living away from home made me grow up fast, I was completely on my own and had to make decisions for myself. At times I was homesick, but it seemed good to be earning my own way.

The second year I had a better school near to home, a few miles from Knoxville, and I did get home for vacations. I lived at the home of one of my high school friends very near the school. A student from that school has come to California to see me several times in recent years.

As a child in Knoxville, I made some lasting friendships. At church I charmed with Blanche Williams though we did not go to the same school. Her father, Wright Williams, was the one from whom Weston’s middle name was taken.

Another chum I had was Tim Hayes, a lovely gentle little girl with pretty curly hair, big blue eyes and a pale complexion. Her father was the judge in the town and they lived in the largest and most beautiful home I had ever seen. She had an older sister and a twin brother. I was invited to a children’s party for her birthday. It was a beautiful and charming party. The second time we lived in Knoxville, I was a senior in high school, and again I was friends with him. Many years later (in 1948) Loretta Baker went with me and we visited Tim. She was still lovely, a grandmother. I asked about the lovely home where she lived his little girl. Her twin brother had become the judge as her father had been, but none of them could afford to live in that home because of high taxes. It is now a funeral parlor. Tim said, “It breaks my heart every time I go there to a funeral.”

Mother’s first sewing machine was a gift from father a while before Weston’s birth (1902). I still own that machine. As a little girl, I learned to sew on it. It was a good Singer, not electric, but was made better than the machines today. About thirty years ago, I asked the Singer Company to repair and clean it. When the man brought it back, he said, “Never part with this machine; it is the best.” About five years ago, I called the Singer Company and asked for repair and cleaning. A young Japanese man came out and looked at it, threw up his hands and didn’t know what to do. He had never seen one like it. That sewing machine was the only piece of furniture that mother brought with her when we moved to California in 1914.

TOC | Previous | Next