Chapter 8: Fairfield

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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.

Our next home was at Fairfield, Iowa. We moved there about 1906. Father was still the district elder and mother was the assistant pastor at the Fairfield church. There I entered high school. By that time I had grown quite tall, were glasses, and was extremely thin. My classmates made fun of me for being so skinny. I’m sure was a disappointment to my mother. I was awkward and self-conscious, while she’d always been petite and graceful. The whole high school was housed on one floor of the main school building. The rooms were a little shabby, and from the nearby train went by the whole building shook. What the school lack of facilities, it made up informality and scholarship. The teachers, highly educated and their subjects, were strict disciplinarians. There is no nonsense there. Most of us were so pleased to be in high school, (no junior highs) and so eager to learn and to please our teachers, that we did learn. We looked with scorn on any boy or girl who gave evidence of lack of interest or effort. My program that first year was Latin, algebra, world history, and physics. I was chosen for the glee club (I can’t imagine why) and rehearsals were after school. It was there that I got my first appreciation of classical music. Three years about high school were hard, strict years, but they were good experience for me. Before that, I had been in any school scarcely more than a year and was always trying to adjust to a new school into a new program. Fairfield really got me down the basics. However, even there I couldn’t graduate, but was moved back to Knoxville for my senior year.

During those thirteen years in the Iowa Conference, the summer camp meetings were the most exciting time of the year. It was the only kind of vacation a preacher’s family ever got, but that it really wasn’t a vacation either. The church owned a campground at Birmingham, Iowa; so that was the one I remember best. A big tabernacle (at first attend, but later a big wooden building) in the middle of a real park, with great, tall elm trees. Each family had a tent, all arranged in a circle around the tabernacle. Before the meetings began, the families and children would arrive in wagons with camping equipment. The men all help each other put up the tents of the women worked at unpacking things and getting ready to set up housekeeping. Some of the tents were really nicely furnished; curtains around the beds for privacy, some had carpets on the floor. Behind the tent, long pine boards nailed to states, may do for dining furniture. We used white linen tablecloth silver. As the families moved in from all over southeastern Iowa, with metal friends and make new ones. We made friends, but we really didn’t have much chance for fun. Meetings were scheduled at 10 AM, again at 2:30 PM, young people’s meetings in early evening and the regular sermons in the evening. Some of the most about people were even up for special prayer meetings of 5 AM. There were also special missionary meetings, as well as meals to preparing dishes to wash. Most of the women prepared a good deal of food before coming so that they had homemade bread and cakes and all kinds of good food. We children didn’t have to attend every service, but neither were we allowed to be boisterous or disturb the meetings. People would come from the surrounding community so there really were large crowds. The singing was tremendous: strong voices singing the grand old hymns. For this special two weeks, the sermons were often, especially on Sunday, given by the outstanding preachers. The effect was much like the invitation calls of Billy Graham’s crusade; many made the commitment to Christ in the summer camp meetings.

For several years, father, his district elder, was responsible for organizing the Birmingham Camp Meeting. I was always proud of the way he handled all it. You organize the advance preparation, and often introduce the speakers. Once when we were returning by train to Burlington after the Birmingham Camp Meeting, my brother Ernie sat in the seat ahead of me by another little boy strange to us. Ernie was about six, and although he was a quiet retiring child, timid among strangers, he really told the tale to that strange little boy. He drew upon his imagination and told his seatmate how his father was an engineer, and at that moment was running the train. All the while father was sitting a few seats back. Why Ernie felt that he was more proud of his father as an engineer than as a religious leader, I didn’t understand. I never knew him to tell fantasy tales before or since.

The principle of our high school, Miss Emery, was a woman of great dignity. The school is run with strict rules of conduct. At that time there was no such thing as a junior high school. It was a big jump from the eighth grade high school. In the seventh and eighth grades, at least in those Iowa schools, we were given real training and basics. Arithmetic, reading, spelling, geography and US history were taught with thoroughness that is scarcely known today I never heard of graduation from the eighth grade. You didn’t graduate until high school. Many young people did not go on to high school and so it was felt that this was their final chance to learn a lot. So, when we arrived in high school we were expected to act like adults. We were never called by her first names by the teachers. It was Mrs. Martin or Mr. Johnson. How could you act like a silly child when the teacher addressed you like a grown-up? Today with the general in constant use of given names, regardless of age or circumstance, we may have lost something. Of course, it is intended to be friendly, but often the last name is not mentioned in introductions, or even if it is, it is often lost in ensuing conversations, and it is hard to remember who that person is later.

Fairfield was a pleasant town. Carrying a lunch, I walked for the mile to school. Every day I passed a large house that belonged to the Crail family. I often saw Charles and Joe Crail, identical twins, around town. They both became attorneys, and many years later lived in Los Angeles, California. Joe Crail became a congressman from California and Charles found in one of the largest savings-and-loan institutions in Southern California.

While we lived in Fairfield, the evangelist, Billy Sunday, came to hold a revival meeting with the combined congregations of the churches of the town. He was a great showman. He had been a professional ballplayer, and acted out many of his illustrations on the platform. The big tent where is meetings were held was full and overflowing. It was a lot of excitement for a small town. He told lots of stories in the singing was superb. There were no movie theaters that, and without automobiles people couldn’t – off to a city for an evening. In fact, it was it Fairfield but I saw my first moving picture at a Chautauqua entertainment.

In 1906, my brother, Weston, was about four years old. Although the Rev. Behner was the pastor of our church and mother was his assistant, we lived in the parsonage and the Behners lived down the street. Weston and some neighborhood children were playing on the church steps. Weston stood at the top of the steps and began to preach to the children of the steps below them. He was doing good imitation of Billy Sunday. We all thought that he would someday be a preacher, but he wasn’t. He was always smiling outgoing. Everybody loved him, but for a long time he cause trouble by running away. Friends would say, that boy will be out West by the time he is grown-up. Well, he was out West before that. The family moved to California when he was ten.

Ernie was a quiet, to the child. If strangers came to the house he would disappear. He had a series of broken bones that were certainly a worry to my mother. I’m sure now that a doctor would try to find some deficiency which might cause the trouble. The first time he fell off the porch when he was a year and a half old. Later there was a whole series of accident; once he fell off the desk, and once off a horse. Once at Knoxville, Wes had a broken arm at the same time Ernie did. Mother had to take them both to the doctor and people on the street would stare to see two boys with arms and slings. Once when Ernie was about seven, we were visiting my and Josie on the family farm, Ernie was hit by a big gate that was propped up against the corn crib. Ernie started to run, but it hidden between the shoulders and pinned him to the ground. His leg was crushed. It was a wonder that he was not killed. He was helpless at Aunt Josie’s for about six weeks. I remember that he was on a bed put up in Aunt Josie’s living room, and there was a way to attach to his foot to keep his left from growing shorter. He was very thin, and few people thought he would get well. I think it was determination and grit the pulled him through, and the prayers of his parents and their friends.

We lived it Fairfield, Iowa from 1905 to 1908. Fairfield was a beautiful little town, about 4000 inhabitants. It was a little larger than Knoxville, and had more wealth and culture. Parsons College, a school with Presbyterian background, was there. Many of the townspeople sent their children to Persons for higher education. For the two years that mother was assistant pastor, we lived in the parsonage next to the church. I was about fourteen and tall for my age when we went there. I soon became involved in the work of the Sunday school. Mr. Mendenhall, the superintendent of the Sunday school, was a dignified white-haired man. He took his position seriously. The church really consisted of just one room. So all the classes were in various assigned areas of that one room. It was hard to concentrate on what was being said in just one class.

I was given a class of fourteen boys, 5 to 11 years of age. They were something of a discipline problem, but it helped that my own two brothers were in the class, and they knew that I had the backing of our parents in any behavior antics. Ernie never would’ve caused any trouble, but Weston was alive little boy who found it difficult to sit still. At children’s day and that Christmas each teacher had to prepare her class for participation in the Sunday school program. I worked to those kids so hard in preparation that they were just about perfect, and the first thing I knew I was just about doing the whole program when I was only fifteen. Brother Mendenhall was slow speech and at the end of the program he would say, “All credit to whom credit is due…?” Then he would praise my work until I was much embarrassed. That probably was what kept me working. He at least was a good psychologist.

At the end of two years, mother was no longer the assistant pastor, so we moved out of the parsonage into another house. Mrs. Morris, Brother Mendenhall’s sister, went to Europe for an extended stay, and we were allowed to move into part of her rather large house. Her furniture was stored in the front parlor and one bedroom upstairs. Father was still the district elder and was gone from home much of the time. That year I was sixteen and a junior in high school. Father was prone to take up some project with great enthusiasm and then later it didn’t work out, or if he got tired of it, he would drop it and take up something else. It was usually something that would make a little money or help out in our living. Once he came home with a recipe for making white taffy. One of his trips to district meetings he met a man who was a candy maker for a candy store. So one year before Christmas we all worked at making and selling white taffy. Father had to buy glucose to go into it, and I remember father and mother pulling the candy together, stretching it almost across the room. I had to go house to house taking orders, and later delivering the candy. I didn’t like to do that, but the candy was very good and we sold a lot of it at ten cents a pound. But it was so much work that we never did it again.

One time when we lived in Mrs. Morris’ house, father came home with some eggs from some highly bred, fancy chickens: Plymouth Rocks. Someone gave him the eggs to get him started raising chickens. He had to build a place for them and he managed a homemade brooder. He said the eggs from the thoroughbred chickens would sell for two dollars a dozen other eggs were about ten cents a dozen. Later he had to buy a high-priced rooster. Since Popa was gone much of the time, the rest of us had to take care of the chickens, especially when they were under the brooder and hatching. Well, that lasted quite a while, but mother got tired of it and said she would much prefer to have some ordinary chickens that we could kill and eat an ordinary eggs that we could eat.

Weston started kindergarten while we lived in the Morris house. He was allowed to go and come alone, for it wasn’t very far. He did have to cross the railroad track. One day coming home, he somehow got his foot caught in the track. He couldn’t get it out. He cried, and for a while no one paid any attention to him. Trains did run on that track, and finally a kind man stopped and helped him unlace the shoe and then pulled out the shoe

It was also while we lived at the Morris house that mother began suffering attacks of nausea, pain and vomiting that frightened all of us. We would call the doctor, but he didn’t seem to know what to do. Once I saw him sit by her bed with his head in his hands not knowing what to do. There was no hospital in the town. Father consulted a doctor in Ottumwa and described her symptoms. He said that it must be either appendicitis or gallstones, and advised him to bring her to the hospital in Ottumwa as soon as possible. Mother had become very thin week. Someone came with a horse and buggy and took them to the depot where they took a train for Ottumwa about 40 miles away. As I saw them leave, I never expected to see mother again. I was left with the care of my two younger brothers for six weeks. Before that, I had been out of school for some time taking care of her. I felt very sad and lonely. It was a heavy burden for a girl of sixteen. Mother was in the hospital for six weeks, but she did recover and come home. She lived another twenty-five years.

It was while we lived at the Morris house, but a few automobiles began to appear in Fairfield. Our neighbor across the street bought a “touring” car, a large open car with two seats. One day they asked mother if they could take Weston for a ride. She gave permission, but she was resentful because they didn’t ask also ask Ernest was only 3 ½ years older than Weston. I think that at the time, none of us had ever been in an automobile. My first ride with the following summer at the Birmingham Camp meeting when someone took several of us for a ride. I doubt that anyone envisioned how the automobile would change the lives of people throughout the world. It was several years later, while I was teaching at Whittier High in California, I watched one of my teacher friends walk out to the street in front of the school and get into her little Buick and drive away. By that time, I was used to seeing automobiles, and sometimes riding in one, but I still could not imagine myself driving one. I thought, how wonderful it would be to have a car like that and drive where one wanted to go. Now (1988), for forty-five years, I’ve been driving my very own car through the traffic of Los Angeles. Again: how the world changes with time!

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