Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Irene's College Cup--A Mother's Day Tribute


I have reached the age of accumulated things.  My husband and I are both collectors, but we were never ones to buy things just because they were currently popular.  We bought things we wanted to live with for a long time.  However, if you live long enough, it is inevitable that you will collect much more than you need.  We have reached that age and need to decide what should be gifted or discarded.  Like many of our friends, we are finding that difficult, because the value of so many of our things is a matter of memories.

One of those things is the decorative Custer Hall mug that belonged to my mother-in-law.  She had already been widowed twice when my husband and I married, the first time having been left to raise two little boys alone, and the second time having thought she had found a husband to enjoy the rest of a long life together, only to be widowed again after a few happy months. 

Of course, we realized her sadness, but perhaps we were too young to fully understand her courage.  At the time of her second marriage, she had given up her job to move to a new town.  With the sudden death of her husband, she had to turn away from the plans they had made together to make new plans for herself.  That decorative Custer Hall mug is a symbol of her courage.  She decided to go to college.

To be honest, today I see it as courageous, but as a young bride having my mother-in-law join us at college wasn't quite what I had in mind.  Today, I see it differently, and that is why I struggle to know what to do with her mug.

It had been a long time since high school for her, and stepping back into a classroom was challenging.  Her grades weren't great, but she persevered.  Then, she discovered a way to make it all work.  She continued to take a few hours, but she became a dorm mother at Custer Hall.  The transition from a coed with gray in her hair to a dorm mother was a better fit.  

Today, each year hundreds of people over the age of 50 go back to school.  Some get degrees to change careers and others choose to explore long-held passions that had to be deferred until retirement.  That was not common when my mother-in-law began her college career.  She had been a working mother when that was less common--although mothers at that time certainly had important responsibilities that did not include a pay check.  My mother-in-law had the responsibility of parenting alone and being the sole bread winner. 

The idea of senior citizens continuing their studies is fairly common today, and if not directed toward a degree then for other reasons.  Some places offer senior citizen tuition waivers.  Other seniors return primarily to enjoy campus amenities.  In fact, in some places, retirement communities are planned nearby the university.  Some schools offer classes just for seniors, and there are also opportunities for online courses.  I have now taught two virtual Osher classes, a program designed for continued learning for people 50 and older.

But in my mother-in-law's era, what she did was unusual and brave.  For me, her Custer Hall mug is like a trophy, awarded for her courage and determination to push sadness and disappointment out of her way and get on with life.  

With Mothers' Day not far away, being on May 8th, this seemed like a good time to share my mother-in-law's story and the symbol of her courage that I see when I look at the Custer Hall Mug. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Dial Phones Arrive!

 I cannot but wonder how many people are still living who remember the old crank phones and the party lines.  Our ring was 2 longs and a short:  rrrrrring, rrrrrrrrg, ring.  When our phone rang, all of the phones on the party line rang, but only the family whose number had rung was supposed to pick up the receiver.  Sometimes, that was too tempting to lonely neighbors eager for some gossip, and my Great-aunt Abbie was one of those lonely people.  An often told story in my family involved Abbie and her nephew Ray, who lived just a quarter of a mile down the road and who shared the party line with his aunt.  He was on a long distance business call and was having trouble hearing.  When an additional receiver was off the hook, the quality of the transmission was reduced.  Patiently, he said, "Please hang up, Auntie.  I'll call you when we finish and tell you what we said."  My great aunt's loneliness and curiosity often tempted her to eavesdrop on the party line, and her nephew understood.  As the family story was told, Abbie did hang up, and he did call her for a chat when his call was finished.

On the other hand, the party line had a valuable benefit.  The emergency ring could be dialed to bring everyone to the phone without having to dial each one on the line to spread a warning or ask for help.  In the county, that could quickly bring help to put out a fire or help someone who was injured or ill.

  However, this blog is about the new dial phone building under construction in Pratt, Kansas in 1962, as described in the special Pride publication.  Southwestern Bell had acquired the Pratt exchange in 1953, which at that time handed 3,370 telephones.  Three years later that number had grown to 3,914, an increase of 16%.  With construction of the new dial phone building anticipated for 1957, Pratt center could handle long distance calls for Coldwater, Greensburg, Protection, Coats, Cullison, Haviland, Iuka, Mullinville, Preston, Isabel, Sawyer, Cunningham, Ford and Wilmore.  

Pratt was quite proud of its new dial phone building under construction at 5th and Ninnescah Street!  The total gross expenditure for the building, dial equipment, landscaping, and installation of dial telephone would be about $920,000, according to the construction manager out of Wichita.  The building was to have an air conditioning system, a full basement underneath, and was constructed so that a second story could be added to allow future expansion "if Pratt continues to grow."

Today we pick up our smart phones and give little thought to the wonder that it is.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Long Distance Phone Calls


As I was exploring the 1962 Pratt Pride magazine I noticed this ad for long distance phone call service.  I could not help but smile.

In my family, long distance phone calls were reserved for very specific purposes--good news and bad news.  You could expect a phone call on your birthday or to share the excitement of a new birth in the family or to deliver a compliment for a special achievement.

On the other hand, if a long distance voice was heard on the other end of the line and there was no known good news explanation for the call, your heart skipped a beat.  Had someone been hurt?  Was someone in trouble?  Were they sick?

Unless you are of a certain age, these responses to a ringing phone will make no sense, and perhaps my family was more thrifty about spending unnecessary money, but those memories were called back to mind by the 1962 add.

To complete the story I must include the small hour glass filled with sand that always sat on the desk beside the phone.  I think it took about 3 minutes for the sand to go from one side to the other in the hourglass, and good news or bad, in my family 3 minutes were regarded as sufficient to deliver either one!  The little red hour glass in the photograph is the one that my family always set by the phone.

When my husband and I returned to the farm about two decades ago, we were in a dead zone for wireless phone service, so we connected the long unused rural phone line.  With no one living in the farm house for many years, reconnecting wasn't simple.  It was discovered that the buried line to our house had been cut by deep plowing by a neighboring farmer .  Once that was repaired, we were back online.  We added a phone upstairs, something my parents had never had, and the contractor build a recessed alcove in the wall to hold the new phone.  I found a modern phone that was designed to look like an old fashioned 'candle stick' phone that fit snugly in the alcove.  A young visitor, who had only used a cell phone, noticed the replica phone and exclaimed, "Oh look, an old fashioned phone."

At the time, I laughed to myself, since she had overlooked the 'modern' dial in the base of the phone.  However, the joke was really on me, since dial or no dial, the phone really was 'old fashioned' to her, since she had never used a dial, and it would soon be obsolete to us, when cell phone service was eventually available at the farm. How quickly the world changes from one generation to the next!  My memory even goes back to the old-fashioned crank phone party line of my childhood!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Tons of Ice!

Lynda & Jerry

It isn't as if we no longer stop for a bag of ice at the convenience store.  We still do.  It is just less frequently that we stop to get enough to keep our cooler cold for a long afternoon at a picnic, with enough extra to keep the huge container of ice tea cold too.  Air conditioning seems to have practically eliminated the wonderful picnics I remember from my youth.  

I'm not sure the exact occasion pictured above, but I suspect it might have been a 4-H tour from farm to farm to see the livestock raised by 4-Hers for the County Fair, judging from the water tank and gate in the background.  Church picnics, Mothers' Club picnics, family picnics, picnics between baseball games...summer was filled with excuses to get out of the sultry house and find a shady park for a picnic.

Our family often headed for the Pratt Lake, hoping to stake out a claim on a nice shady place below the dam.  But, on the way into Pratt, we would stop first at Bettis Ice Company Plant on North Main.

 I don't really remember much about the plant itself, because I was much more excited about getting to the picnic, but the gentleman who helped my father get the ice could have been Henry Bettis.  According to the article in the 1962 special Pratt edition, 60 tons of ice were produced daily at the Bettis company.  They shipped to many nearby towns and their ice was used to ice freight and passenger trains of the Rock Island Railroad.

In his interview, Mr. Bettis, owner and manager of the ice plant, said that their plant was one of the first in Kansas to push the packaged ice business fifteen years before his interview, meaning sometime about 1947.

Air conditioning is wonderful, and I would not want to give it up, but I can still recall fondly those picnics at the Pratt Lake, when you needed to get there early if you wanted a good spot below the dam.  Above the dam, cars came and went, pausing to watch the water skiing on the lake, and we kids would certainly have gone up there to watch the skiers too.  It was a busy place, both above and below the dam.