|Autobiography of W. E. Smith.|
|Family Page > William Smith's Autobiography > Chapter 2|
My early boyhood days, being molded by my good German mother, have lingering memories of cows, plum jam, pickled onions, horse, apple butter, sauerkraut, beer gardens, policeman, cayenne pepper, drunks, Santa Claus, snow, rain, hail, wind, thunder, but never a cross word between Mom and Pop.[Next: Chapter 3, Annie]
Just before my dream I believe I was moving into another home. Our second home, while very similar to the first one, was of a different pattern but quite more "stylish." We had a much larger back yard and a good board walk in front of the house and running back to the alley. Our bathroom in this "new home" consisted of a tub in front of the kitchen stove set handy to pour the hot water into it from the stove. The customary lane leading to the back fence was traveled at regular intervals with the accompaniment of the lantern at night time. It was my job to see that the lantern was cleaned and filled.
With the march of civilization a sewer line was built down our alley. The dirt from the sewer ditch was piled high against our fence and was a most inviting place for a boy to walk along and see what he could see in a neighbor's back yard. Mom was very proud of her pumpkin patch at our back fence. One day a kid spied Mom's pumpkins and thought it would be great sport to make targets of them and forthwith hit the bull's eye to the destruction of Mom's hobby. Of course a kid could not get away with that challenge, as my gang had reported the matter to me. So accordingly one fine afternoon after school my organization met the culprit. Being as I was the chief defendant, it was up to me. It wound up with a passing man pulling my foe off me, for he had me down in the street.
It seems nowadays some men have not so well survived their boyhood days. I had a pal, Tom Williams, who was good at marbles. We were in partnership and he saw to it that my marble box was always full. I think he liked my sister. He was a fine fellow, brother to the brother who cut me out from Ada.
A visit to a farm up on the Mississippi with our store keeper netted us several wild rabbits which we brought home with us. Caught 'em alive. On this farm the mamma was a large-hearted, buxom, German mamma. The farm hands and the family sat down at the table to eat together on benches arranged around the table. Wholesome food was piled before us and mamma, embracing a huge load of bread in her arms and butcher knife in hand, would walk around the table asking, "Do you 'vant' a piece of bread?" and she would whack off a slice. Oh boy, was that good bread!
The pond was a short distance from home and in summer time we would paddle around in it. We made a raft and my chum, who was a "big fellow," and I set out on it for a sail. The raft started to go to pieces, and one of us had to jump overboard. Of course, "booby" told me it was my place to jump. I did. Down, down, down I went to my arm pits and I was starting to say farewell to this world when my feet struck mud and I waded to shore, hoping "booby" would land safely. I never learned how to swim.
I did so much want to skate, but my ankles were not strong enough. I was determined, however, to try. So one Sunday morning, when the ice was beginning to thaw, I found a pair of old skates and went over to the pond and screwed the heels on and buckled the strap around my toes. The colored boys were on the pond that morning and made life very miserable for me and I gave up skating forever after. Six girls broke through the ice that day.
One of the fond recollections of this home was the visits of Mom's "Tante" Gauger and Uncle Julius, who used to make frequent visits to play Euchre. "High, Low, Jack and the Game." These folks were of the German variety from stem to stern. They owned a livery stable and carried on an undertaking business. Uncle Julius was the undertaker and on many occasions I witnessed the bringing in of the corpse and laying it out in a metal-lined coffin and packed solid with ice. I got the impression the dead should be frozen; it helped keep the dear one fresh and nice until the day of the funeral.
In this home we had no cistern, and in place of it the muddy water of old Mississippi was piped into our cellar for our domestic use. Although of a deep orange color it was considered very wholesome. While frequently the water as it came from the faucet was used for drinking purposes, on special occasions we used filtered water. This filter was an earthen vessel shaped something like a vase having a spigot at the bottom of it, and it was covered with burlap. The filter was set in a tub of that orange water which soaked through the pores of the jar and came out the spigot pure, sparkling, wonderful life-giving drinking water. Naturally, the clay that collected on the outside of the jar had to be removed frequently.
The roaches in that cellar still give me the shivers. Those numerous fine, large, shiny creatures were beyond description. We swatted them, we lured them into the china basin, we stepped on them and we prayed the Good Lord to deliver us from them.
We did the family laundry in that cellar with unfiltered water; we just let it stand to settle. Our winter food supplies were also stored there. We cooked, ate and lived in the "front" part of that cellar, which was nothing new to us.
My advancing education was beginning to take form about this time of my life and Mom very proudly registered me in the third grade of the Elleardville School. As I remember, it was in the fourth grade a nice little neighbor girl became a keen competitor for honors, and it continued through the eighth grade. Ada and I were first one on the top and then the other and somehow I enjoyed this competition very much.
After we graduated she deserted me and was to be married to a fine young fellow, and a good friend of mine, Edgar Fitzwilliams. Before their marriage he was killed by a Negro who I believe held a grudge against Edgar over a baseball. The Negro paid the penalty and Ada afterward made her own home and I lost track of her.
Father of our country, George Washington, whose birthday was February 22nd, was being honored by us boys on one of his anniversaries, and between the pleadings of my brother and myself, Mom gave her consent to our going out and licking the "British" in snowball fights. Brother George stood up to fight, and before we knew it he had a beautiful shiner on his left eye; he was in need of reinforcements. While I was busy taking care of a detachment of the enemy, I found myself alone, my side having deserted the cause. As I could not run, there I was, a prisoner.
In the spring of the year the roads were very muddy with yellow clay. Whilst stepping stones were placed across the roads in the worst places, it was interesting to a young boy to test his boots with straps fastened on them and buckled up around the waist. This mud was sticky, especially when mired in it half way up to the knees. There I was stuck tighter than a drunk in the jug. Sister Sadie unfastened the straps and buckles, backed up to me, twisted my arms around her neck, leaned over for leverage, pulled me out of those boots onto her back, and placed me safely on the board walk. Then she waded in again and salvaged the boots.
The road we traveled to school was beset with hazards. At one place the creek crossed the road under a concrete bridge with a wide rail on the top of each side. This stream swelled with the rain storms, and on one occasion of those floods I found it adventuresome to walk across the bridge on top of the rail with the wind blowing a gale and the water rushing below. I got across, as you know.
And then there were the slaughter house, a tanbark factory, a wild steer corral, groups of colored girls who were mean babies, and a glue factory, all of which had to be negotiated twice every school day. Steers were unloaded from freight cars and herded and driven by cowboys into those corrals. Occasionally one of those steers would break loose and run wild. We went helter skelter seeking shelter in some nearby store or running into someone's yard or ducking under a barbed wire fence. We always felt that menace of the steers and the colored girls who would push us off the walk, etc.
It was from this home we had to cross the field and pass through the cemetery to the car line on Grand Avenue. We found human skulls, various shaped ribs and "plugged-up teeth in jaw bones," limb bones and skulls fashioned in crosses. Jewelry was seldom found. It must have been scarce in those days. One day Sadie ran across a little coffin with a child about a year old in it. The cemetery was then in the process of abandonment, and most of the bodies interred had been disinterred.
Maybe that's what is the matter with the young people of the present generation. They have not crossed the paths of wild steers, partaken of bug-infested water, mingled with the bodies of departed saints in old cemeteries, withstood the example of the drunk in the beer garden, stood up and tried to blacken the eye of the other fellow before he blackened yours, knelt down with the old family pastor and had him pray until one's heart would pour out tears in streams through the eyes, or felt the sting of mother's cowhide on the bare. These are a few of the experiences that make men of boys and mothers of girls, together with the book learnin' in the grades.
Mom was a good healthy mother, conscientious in all her admonishments to her growing flock, etc. Of course, she saw to it her children were trained in the art of housework such as dish washing, helping with the family wash, making beds, beating the carpets in the spring, cleaning windows, getting in the stove wood and carrying out the ashes, and other minor household duties.
On one occasion, while Mom was laid up with the piles, Sadie and I did the wash down in the cellar with the old washing machine. This gadget was of the variety of 1888. She'd turn a while and then I'd take my turn turning. The only plugging in we had to do was to plug the dirty clothes into that washing machine. Yes, siree, that's what you have to do today, the only difference being you don't have to turn it, and the clothes come out dry as they went in. Sadie snapped the belt of my corduroy suit which we were washing one day, when the button flew off and struck her square in her left eyeball. We thought that time she would lose her eye; on a previous occasion, when she ran her arm through the glass in the sash door, we thought she would lose her arm or bleed to death, but she still lives.
Sadie had a severe attack of typhoid fever causing her to lose a lot of her hair and be out of school for a semester, in which time I caught up with her in my educational experience. It was in the seventh grade. An examination was being given to the B's to try for promotion to the A's. Sadie did not pass. I did. So did "Booby" and one of my other boy friends. Mom, with all her wisdom and foresight, thought it not best for me to go ahead of her as it might be a detriment to her education and discourage her from going to school any more. So I was not promoted, very much to my displeasure. I was a "sore little boy" and to the best of my recollection after these many years my only consolation was that Ada did not pass either. It was just at that period I was having difficulty in arithmetic with "relation of numbers," and to this day I do not know any more about those relations than I do about many of my other relations. But I flunked in my arithmetic in "college." I guess I did not have the right kind of relations.
Just a bit of comedy might be injected here at the expense of Hans Wagner, a painter who was working for Pop. It was a very windy day. Hans was up on a twenty-foot ladder with a pot of paint hooked to said ladder. A gust of wind came around the corner and blew Hans, ladder, paint and all to the ground. Hans came up on both feet, smeared from stem to stern with paint. It might have been serious but they made fun of it.
Oh, yes, as a boy I had my pets, as every boy should have. Mine particularly was a pair of "bantams." Dick was of the Silver Wing variety whilst his wife Nellie was just plain brown. Dick was a game bird, ready to fight any fowl around, and could fly like a bird, and a beautiful fellow he was. Nellie was a faithful little hen, but as a mother she was a failure. She raised only one son, Pete, who never amounted to much, maybe because she did not give him a chance. I believe all good dads will do all they can for their sons.
Pop was prospering about this time. A brother and sister, George and Jennie, had made their advent into this world and my good parents, being very proud and respectable, decided to really step out and build a home of which this family was worthy. So the "stone-front house" was planned and completed. It was of the story-and-a-half variety and had a bathroom, running water, and as nice a parlor and bedrooms as had any of our neighbors'. It was in this home Rowena made her appearance. A very lovable little girl with "talent" she was, and developed into a lovely young woman. She became church organist and soloist and gave music lessons. She married a fine young fellow; their baby was born prematurely and Rowena and daughter failed to survive.
I would like to leave more of a record of those adolescent days of my life. I graduated from grammar school, eighth grade. There was nothing very remarkable about that day except Ada and I felt our wild oats, maybe you'd call it, and went running down the old school steps. Ada fell and sprained her ankle, and I felt awfully sorry.Where, oh where, has my Ada girl gone?The gateway to the world and the vast unknown had just opened to me and my manly chest began to swell. I felt I had my giant to overcome. I had then acquired my thirteenth "birthanniversary" and felt my "oats sprouting," my whiskers were getting mannish, my mannerism was bewildering my parents and Sister Sadie, my belt had to be let out a notch. I thought I had come to the point in life when adolescence was developing ambitions to explore the business world. The whole household became solicitous of my welfare and many consultations were had as to where I should break into business and set my sails accordingly.
Like the cooling embers of a dying camp fire;
Childish impressions fade as the last note of a song,
The memories of which are all one could desire.
Fathers, Mothers, Sisters and Brothers too,
Make Home Sweet Home their shrine for devotion,
Whilst houses, clothing, food, and shelter are not taboo,
Love, Kindness, Patience, Tolerance find their adoption.
The family larder, full of jellies, jams, juices and pickles,
Deserves the attention of the growing children.
With the aid of the hickory limb when Youth's blood trickles;
Hail Mother for her devotion in bearing Life's burdens.
The old mill pond, in summer inviting pleasure and culture,
When in winter stirred youth's glow with its icy venture.
While the wreck of the raft threatened life's departure,
And a plunge through its icy waters for the girls was adventure.
Give me a bathroom with four walls,
A mirror, wash basin and shower stalls.
With a bowl in one corner,
Bolt on the door 'gainst any comer,
And tiled floors with rugs to foil falls.
Then the rest of life's pathway will be glamour.
A boy stood on the brink of life,
With a vision in his head
Of a home, children and a wife,
And determination to earn their bread.
Banks, railroads, churches, in his mind ran rife.
Mom has gone and so has Pop,
To their resting place in Heaven,
And so may the Time Clock in our lives,
Gather us all together with our brethren.
An office job came up in the offing in the nature of an office boy. Mom, Sadie, and I polished me up from top to bottom. Dialogues were rehearsed word for word just as to what I was to say and the boss's answers, and my approach and demeanor were not overlooked. The day for personal appearance arrived and I arrived at the office. All my training disappeared into thin air. My feet shook under me. My intellect disappeared and all I could remember afterward was the story the boss told me. It seemed he was interviewing an applicant and had arranged a vessel on the table with a covering over it, and under the lid he had placed a mouse. He left his office for a moment with the applicant sitting at the table. When he returned he found the cover turned over and the mouse gone. The boy did not get the job and the boss admonished him never to touch anything anywhere that did not belong to him. I did not get that job.
Many disappointments did I have with the business world that summer. I felt I had met my Waterloo and had responsibilities. Pop did not have money to say, "Here, Willie, go find yourself a college," but he did learn my graduating credentials made me worthy of a part scholarship in the Manual Training School, and that fall I was entered in this branch of the University of Missouri. In one year I "mastered" Algebra, Latin, English, Botany, Science, Mechanical Drawing, and Shop. No college graduate was ever prouder of his Alma Mater than I am of mine, although I did flunk arithmetic in that year, and I never did go back to make it up, or for any other reason, and so I was educated in the matter of book-learning.
At the ripe age of fourteen a great deal of thought was being given to my future. Mom saw to it that Sadie and I had our musical talents developed. I can still smell the breath and feel the moisture of Mrs. Kadaloufski, our music teacher, as she counted in her German tongue "vun, tu, tree, phur," each syllable accompanied by a shower bath from a mouth full of decayed teeth, but we got the rhythm.
This cultured lady was also my German teacher in school. One day while practicing German writing, this script characteristically of straight-up-and-down movements, we were supposed to follow her count -- "vun up, tu down." I became animated and was going double quick when that eagle eye caught my speed, sneaked up behind me, and laid two whacks of her rattan across my back, which raised welts of appreciable size. When I arrived home, Mom heard of the incident and that finished our relationship with Mrs. Kadaloufski. Mom went to school and read the riot act to her. Mom then had our church organist, a fine young lady and good musician, Miss Cora Fish, give our music lessons.
Through my talents along this line I fell into the job of playing the piano and leading the singing in Sunday school. Harry Morris was the superintendent, a man who admitted it was very difficult for him to always make true statements, whilst his brother-in-law, Joe Tremaine, most naturally always told the truth. I think Harry liked me very much. The croquet formed some close ties between him and me. We generally arranged to be partners. Sometimes he forgot his religious principles. When he thought nobody was looking, if his ball was not quite where he would like it, his foot would slip so the ball would roll. I spent evenings playing 'tiddle de winks" with him and we were always partners in any of our games, but even I had to watch him. Of course a lot of it was in fun. The Sunday school mentioned was the Plymouth Congregational. It was there I first saw my Christian Light. Dr. Adams, our pastor, called me into his study one day and told me all about salvation. He prayed; I cried and went home a saved sinner. "No?" Seriously!
I gave the problem of finding a job as office boy serious study and made several adventures "downtown" followed by a shower of old shoes and good luck wishes, etc., instigated primarily by Sister Sadie. May I record here her sisterly affection. She simply took possession of my mind, will, and purposes and I think possessions as well.
But regardless of Sadie, my friend Harry Morris came to me one day, June 18, 1889, and advised me there was an opening in the Frisco Railway and they might consider my application. I got the job. It paid $15 per month. Mom was made happy, Sadie rejoiced, and Pop reigned on in silence. Since I was sort of looked upon to help with the family budget, the $15 per month was promptly turned over to Mom, as was every subsequent pay check until I became a man of 21. Mom made me an allowance of 10% at first and when the pay check reached the fabulous sum of $60 per month my allowance was increased to $10 per month. After I matured into manhood -- of course, a man's expenses were heavier than a boy's --I was allowed to pay my room and board and retain the balance for future developments.
During these years of adolescence the children were spreading out. Sadie was "receiving company" and the days of the "stone-front house" were fading away. Pop and Mom again felt the uplift of life, and with this additional revenue coming into the family exchequer, it seemed good reasoning we should expand the family environment and build a nice two-story brick house3, with three bedrooms and one bathroom, fully equipped, upstairs. There was a nice stairway leading up from the reception hall, on the right-hand side of which was the parlor with sliding doors. The hall led back to the dining room, off of which the kitchen, large enough for a dinette, was built. A stairway led down into the cellar where furnace and laundry were. This was a nice home and I have many fine memories of it. To the best of my memory no children were born in this home.3. One typewritten version had the following: And with this additional revenue coming into the family exchequer it seemed good reasoning we should expand the family environment and build the Stone Front House. We think he must have been thinking of the two-story brick house pictured in this book. That house was built in 1890, the year Will would have been fourteen or fifteen.Of course advancing years brought on social duties. A young man in his changing years between 15 and 21 is somewhat like a ship without a rudder, tossed about in a storm. I must admit I was always very fond of the girls and after my bitter disappointment with Ada, which I am sure she did not fully appreciate, I was very particular as to just where my affections were most appreciated.
Stella was one of my favorites. A brunette with sharp features, an attorney's secretary, she had a vain imagination to marry a man of great means and a superior intellect to hers. We were in the same Christian Endeavor and I could not understand why I was making such poor progress with her. On her birthday I thought I would make a colossal hit, so I bought the finest five-pound box of candy from the best candy store in St. Louis. I then went to the dry goods store and bought yards of red silk ribbon, which I got the stenographer in our office to bind around it. I was very proud of that creation. I sent it to her by special messenger to that lawyer's office that afternoon, and I have been studying ever since what her feelings must have been upon receipt of that candy before her boss. I could not go to see her that evening but the next one I did, and in due course of time she brought out the box of candy. She belonged to a good-sized family, and by the time that family had pounced on that box of candy, and the second time I saw it, my love, adoration, devotion, etc., for Stella melted and I must have looked like that box -- wilted. I think I have never given a girl a box of candy since, and that thing of beauty became a thorn in the flesh. That disappointment was the means of my leaving Plymouth Church: I had to get hold of myself; well, I guess I cannot describe such things, but I know I had a lot of sympathy, which helps.
Created and maintained by Matthew Weathers. Last updated Apr 20, 2006.