With a Ribbon in Her Hair
The Story of Flossie Jewel Pyle -Vincent - Gilleland - Olsen
October 4, 1895 - July 4, 1981
With a Ribbon in Her Hair
Marjorie Vincent Coombs
Cover and Illustrations by
Joy Merkling Arsenault
‘That you might know a great lady,
Marjorie Vincent Coombs’
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction
In whole or in part in any form
Copyright 1982 by Marjorie Vincent Coombs
The original book was typed on an IBM Selectric Typewriter.
It was digitalized and reprinted with permission from
Marjorie Vincent - Coombs on February 16, 2009.
Reformatted for www.grandmaflossie.com , June 2020
I. THE MISSOURI YEARS
Birth and Early Education. Her Ancestry. Rural Life in
Missouri. High School Graduation. Flossie’s Siblings
and Family Migrations.
II. EARLY MONTANA YEARS
Life in Anaconda. The Farmer Takes a Wife. The Grantsdale Ranch Home.
Community Service and Recreation.
III. THE CUSTOM BUSINESS
Threshing. The Plowing and Beet Hauling Business
IV. TROUBLES, TRIALS AND TRAGEDIES
Donald’s Death. The Great Depression and Loss of the Land.
The Nichol Place.
Dad’s Declining Health and Death.
V. WIDOWHOOD IN MONTANA
Making a Living. Cold, Mumps and Fire.
VI. THE CALIFORNIA MIGRATION
Hazards of the Journey.
VII. THE EARLY CALIFORNIA YEARS
The Glendale Boarding House. Remarriage and Move to Burbank.
The War Years.
VIII. A CAREER IN REAL ESTATE
To Laugh at Oneself.
IX. MRS. GEORGE OLSEN
Remarriage and the Move to North Hollywood.
X. THE EARLY RETIREMENT YEARS
Tears and Laughter.
Return to Burbank. Happiness with Harry Yemans.
Visiting Her “Kids”.
Treasures and Trash.
More Christmas Memories.
Love of Clowning.
XI. THE LAST YEARS
Goodbye, Whitnall; Hello, Pacific Manor.
Much Love, Mom.
The Best Years and the Worst.
Mom Olsen’s “Thank-you” Letter.
Thank you for the Joys of Life. Her Last Days.
XII. TRIBUTES TO MOTHER
I wish to dedicate this book to my husband, James Coombs, without whose patient understanding and encouragement it could never have been finished. He endured unweeded rockeries, unwashed windows, lonely evenings and numerous T. V. dinners during its writing. He advised me editorially and spent hours proofreading. Becoming a member of the Vincent family brought him into a thirty-nine year relationship with Flossie that he fully appreciated from the very beginning. He loved her to the end of her days.
My desire in writing this book was to conjure up a Magic Carpet and a Magic Looking Glass. If I have been successful all of us—children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and children yet unborn can travel on the Magic Carpet backward in time to view a style of rural American life that is gone forever.
The Magic Looking Glass will reflect for us the intimate and beloved characteristics of our Mother and Grandmother—truly a woman of achievement. It will reveal for us, too, many of the persons whose lives touched and enriched hers.
For the past thirty years, during times of meditation or insomnia, my mind has wandered back to the days of my childhood and I recalled the stories told me by Mother of the times when she was a little farm girl, too. My desire to record these happenings was awakened.
In 1978 Mother asked me if I would write her life story. Having had the experience of writing “We Remember Jennie and Clinton Vincent” and learning that the task of writing, although terribly time-consuming and concentration-demanding, is not impossible, I told her I would undertake the task.
I had kept many of her letters over the years and added to this resource taped interviews with her and with family friend, Jack Miller. Mother was encouraged to write her autobiography. Excerpts from it are included in the book along with contributions from friends and family members. These, added to my memories, tell the story of Mother’s life.
Sadly, she did not live to see the book completed but when I last visited her I assured her that it would be finished. I have kept that promise.
I have tried to render as clearly as possible the identities of the persons described. Mother is referred to as Mother, Flossie and Mama. Her Mother, Mary Catherine Pyle is called Mary Catherine, Mother, Molly, and Marm. Frank, Jr. is identified thus until after the death of our Father, Frank, to avoid confusion. Geneva Lindgren, our Father’s sister, is recorded as Aunt Geneva and Geneva.
For clarification, a threshing machine is also known as a separator and a “gunny sack” is a burlap bag. Persons driving by 444 N. Reese Place in Burbank will be surprised to discover the house is no longer a small, 2-bedroom California bungalow. In more recent years its appearance has been drastically changed by the addition of a second story.
The names of Flossie’s siblings are listed on page 13 and the names of her children on page 18. Son-in-law and daughters-in-laws names are added to the story at the time of their marriages. All of the Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren’s names are listed in the Appendix.
I wish to thank all those persons whose contributions to the book have made it more comprehensive and interesting. I particularly want to express my appreciation to good friend, walking companion, and neighbor, artist Joy Arsenault for her cover design and illustrations. She knew a Mother and wanted to be a part of the project.
The Time: Early 1920’s
The Place: The Western Montana farming community of Grantsdale, near Hamilton.
A talkative little girl is being questioned by one of the neighbors. She is about three or four years old and since this conversation has taken place several times she knows all the answers!
“Where did your Daddy come from, Marjy June?”
“My Daddy came from Montana but my Mama came from Missooooooori with a ribbon in her hair!”
Everyone knew Mama was from Missouri because of her Missouri expressions and they teased her when she said “branch” for creek, “rench” for rinse, and “limon” for lemon.
Many, many years have passed since that time and long distances now separate the Vincent family from the beautiful Bitterroot Valley where it happened. That brown-eyed, brown-haired, Dutch-bobbed little girl is now a grandmother several times over.
It is her pleasure to record for you the story of her Mama who came from Missouri with a ribbon in her hair!
THE MISSOURI YEARS
Birth and Early Education
Flossie Jewel Pyle was born in Missouri on October 4, 1895, the youngest child of nine, on a small farm near Jerico Springs across the county line in Dade County. Born in the little Missouri home—in the bed in the combination bedroom-dining room, Flossie said she believed that there was no doctor in attendance but possibly a midwife, a relative or a friend.
She attended school sometimes in Cedar and sometimes in Dade County. She recalled falling from a horse on the way home one day. She was about 8 years old, at the time, and broke her left leg below the knee.
It would be impossible to tell about Flossie and her life in Missouri without introducing you to her parents.
Her mother, Mary Catherine Hamner Pyle, was the descendant of early Virginia settlers who came to the United States in the first half of the 18th century. Her ancestors were James and Sarah Hamner, James being the sixth son of Nicholas Hamner who migrated to this country from Wales. Mary Catherine’s ancestors were patriots in the Revolutionary War and are recorded as having taken part in the historic battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina (near the Virginia State line) under the command of Lt. Col. Henry “Lighthorse” Lee and General Nathaniel Green confronting the British officer, General Cornwallis on March 15, 1781.
She was born in Centerville, Iowa, May 31, 1855, the oldest daughter and second child of the eight born to Sarah Jane Vaughn and Edmund D. Hamner. Little is known of her childhood and early adulthood. She went to Missouri at a date unknown and settled with her parents in Greenfield. On December 31, 1874 she married John Nicholas Pyle. She died in Anaconda, Montana on August 20, 1941.
John Nicholas Pyle was the descendant of Nicholas Pyle who was born in Wiltshire, (possibly at Bishop’s Cannings) England in 1666 and who migrated to America and was a member of the Pennsylvania Quaker Colony. It is a family tradition that Nicholas stood under the “big elm tree” with William Penn the day Penn made the treaty with the Indians in June, 1683.
Flossie, in foreground, her sister, Inez, second from right
FLOSSIE’S MISSOURI HOME
His descendants migrated to North Carolina and it was there that Col. John Pyle, a medical doctor, became a member of the Regulators organized to combat the lawlessness of that time and place and he also remained true to the Crown in the Revolutionary War. Dr. Pyle did not consider himself a Tory but a Loyalist who was trying to preserve law and order against those whom he thought were trying to destroy it.
Commissioned a Colonel in the British Army, he was authorized to raise arms and grant commissions. On the night of February 21, 1781 he and his command of 265 cavalrymen engaged in a battle with the superior forces of Lt. Col. Henry “Lighthorse” Lee at the Battle of Haw River. He was ambushed and about 90 of his men killed. He lost an eye and several fingers from his left hand. He was abandoned for dead but revived and crawled to a small lake where he concealed himself in the water with nothing but his nose protruding until the following night when he made his way home.
He and his son, Captain John Pyle, finally surrendered in September, 1781 and were later restored to respectability following the end of the War. The descendants of Col. Pyle migrated to Kentucky, then to Illinois and finally to Missouri.
John Nicholas Pyle was born November 18, 1853, the eldest child of the nine born to Alfred Monroe Pyle and Minerva Wilson Pyle. He was born in Missouri and spent much of his life near Jerico Springs. He died in Anaconda, Montana on December 18, 1938.
Rural Life in Missouri
John Nicholas and Mary Catherine raised their large family on a twenty acre farm that, quite possibly, was a wedding gift from John’s father, a prosperous stock rancher who lived not far from them. It is possible, too, that the livestock and some of the furnishings were also a wedding gift from the groom’s father.
Flossie’s recollection of the clapboard house was that it was very small consisting of a parlor, a dining room that also served as a bedroom for her parents, a kitchen, two small bedrooms and a lean-to that was also used as sleeping quarters.
There was no electricity. Kerosene lamps were used and she could recall how when she was old enough she had to help keep them filled, the chimneys cleaned and the wicks trimmed—chores which she detested!
There was no running water, not even a well until many years had gone by and enough money was in hand to have one dug which brought water to a pump at the back door—much better than carrying it from the branch which was on their property but about a block from the house. Sanitary facilities were an outhouse.
The wood burning range was not only cooking equipment but supplied warmth and heated the water in the stove-side reservoir which had to be kept filled. The fuel wood was cut from the farm woodlot.
Not many trips were made to the grocery, meat market or drug store. Everything was provided for a home with very, very few exceptions.
According to Flossie’s account the farm had an orchard with peach and apple trees and large patches of boysenberries, gooseberries, June berries and strawberries. The latter—“oh, huge ones, big, beautiful strawberries” were picked and sold for twenty cents a gallon.
“We peddled them in Jerico Springs from house to house. From the money we got Mother would take and buy yard goods up at Cedarville. Gee, we were tickled when we would get new dresses and new stockings,” Flossie recalled. A trip to Jerico Springs necessitated the use of a horse and buggy or wagon. Cedarville was smaller and about a fourth of a mile’s distance just across the county line.
Nothing was ever wasted. All the food produced was eaten, sold or preserved for the winter. Apples and peaches, as well as sweet corn, was cut up and spread on sheets to dry atop the chicken house and then stored. Many fruits and vegetables were canned; pickles, kraut, jams and jellies were made.
Flossie could recall the large copper-bottomed, rectangular vat that was placed over an outside fire and filled with cored apples to make apple butter. This was a long, painstaking process which necessitated keeping the low burning fire fueled and stirring, stirring, stirring the sticky mass with a long wooden paddle until it reached the desired consistency. The fruits of all the summer’s labor were carefully stored in a root cellar located not far from the kitchen door. Included in it was a crock of waterglass for egg preservation against the time when the hens would not be laying so prolifically.
Chickens were kept for eating as well as egg laying—chicken every Sunday and often with dumplings, which were John’s favorite. Eggs were carried in a basket to the stores in Cedarville where they were bartered for the groceries that could not be produced on the farm.
Pigs were raised for butchering in the fall which was done by the family and the ham and bacon cured for their meat supply. A cow was kept to provide milk and cream which was then churned into butter in the family kitchen. This was another chore that Flossie disliked and admitted that one time she deliberately tipped over the churn thinking that her Mother would consider her too irresponsible to make butter and she wouldn’t be asked again. It didn’t work!
Mary Catherine baked all the family bread, made delicious biscuits and “Molly Pyle’s” pies and cakes were always the hit of family picnics. The preacher who came infrequently to their little church always looked for an invitation to eat at the Pyle table. Preparation for Sunday dinner was all done on Saturday so when them came home after worship everything would be ready.
John Nicholas would take several sacks of their corn to the mill at Stockton and get it ground for corn meal mush and corn bread.
Moving away from the table we now examine the furnishings of the humble little home. Flossie said that there was not much furniture. She believed that the benches in the kitchen were probably constructed by her Mother. When asked about her father’s abilities for fixing things, she chuckled and said, “Mother fixed it!! I never saw that man use a hammer or saw. No sir, “Marm” did it. She built the chicken coops, the nesting boxes—all that stuff. He didn’t do it.” Mary Catherine’s father had been a cabinet maker and it was a good thing that she followed his example in order to keep her home operative.
The bedsteads were iron and on them were placed the homemade feather mattresses—pride of that era and locale—a prized dowry for any bride. Flossie was given one when she married. The Pyles kept domestic geese that roamed about the place and were untamed. In the late spring they were caught and their small feathers and down plucked for mattresses and pillows.
Flossie explained, “I’ll never forget plucking the geese. I turned that big goose upside down, held his legs and his wings with my left hand and plucked the feathers off his breast with my right. While I was lucking he would often pinch me on the tender inside of my thigh with his sharp beak. I hated that like poison but we all had to help.”
During the summer the big birds would grow back their plumage. The family also kept peacocks and hens and Flossie could recall their strange calling just before a storm and she loved to watch the strutting males.
Mary Catherine provided sheets for her family by buying unbleached muslin and sewing a seam up the center. For warmth the family members nestled under the heavy homemade quilts which utilized every scrap of available material large enough to make a patch. In her later years Mary Catherine became a real quilt artist—designing them herself and then executing the patching or appliqué and doing the dainty quilting stitches.
Throughout the year all the wood ashes were carefully saved by being turned into a ten foot high hopper in the yard. As the moisture dripped through this apparatus, homemade lye was caught and saved for soap making. The cracklin’s (residue from butchering and lard making—the family Crisco) which had been saved were rendered again and that waste fat was combined in the proper proportions with the lye and cooked again over an outside fire and made into the year’s supply of soap. It was poured into flat wooden boxes and allowed to harden slightly before being cut into bars. Flossie said she believed that this soap was all they had for bathing as well as washing and cleaning.
Rags that were not suitable for quilt making were kept and cut into strips for carpets. It was one of the chores of Flossie and her sisters to cut and sew these lengths into a continuous strip for the loom. She often told about this saying, “I can remember so well, Inez and I, sittin’ there by the stove and any time we’d come to a little short rags we’d roll ‘em up and stick ‘em in the stove when Mother wasn’t lookin’! We didn’t like to sew those little pieces together.”
Their mother would weave the strips on her three foot wide loom and then sew these widths and length together to make room-size floor coverings.
Flossie described the fall housecleaning, saying, “That was interesting! And work! Every fall we would take the carpets up. These homemade carpets were tacked down. We took the old straw out from under them—which was pretty beaten up—swept it all out. And we went out to the straw stack—the threshers had been there—and brought in new straw in a mattress ticking—to put under the carpet all over the house. We hung the carpet on the clothes line and beat it (some Hoover!)—gave it a good beating and then put it back down and it was about six inches high. Oh, it was fun to walk on and it was warm. We got down on our knees—we didn’t have a carpet stretcher—and pushed along with our knees and pulled (at this point she got down on the floor to demonstrate, hilarious!) and somebody would hold it and tack it. Usually Mother. Dad never had anything to do with it. Heavens, no!”
How was clothing provided for this large family? The men’s suits and overalls were bought ready made. They were carefully conserved, mended, handed down and seldom replaced. The children went barefooted as much of the year as possible. Worn shoes were mended. The sale of eggs and other farm produce supplied the cash to buy the calico—probably 10 cents a yard—for dressmaking. Flossie said about it, “The most beautiful calico you ever saw. I wish we could have some of it today.”
“Did Mollie Pyle rush out to buy a McCalls pattern?”
“Absolutely not,” replied Mother. “She made her won patterns. She measured the person she was going to sew for—how broad they were across the shoulders. Then she took a pencil and a pair of scissors and cut out a pattern from brown wrapping paper or whatever she had. That pattern was adjusted and re-used. She designed the garment as to style from this basic pattern. She was quite an artist.”
Flossie didn’t remember much about the trimmings except to say that her Mother, who designed and made her beautiful white high school graduation dress, also crocheted the wide lace that trimmed the petticoat.
Old photographs show that all the garments worn for those sittings were beautifully designed and elegantly trimmed. Their Mother also knit the warm winter mittens and stockings for the Pyle children.
Mother was asked, “How were you doctored when you got sick? Goose grease and turpentine?”
“That’s right—it was for a chest cold and it never failed. Just rub it in good.”
“What about poultices?”
“Cooked the onions and they smelled so good I’d rather eat ‘em than put ‘em on my chest!” (These were encased in a piece of cloth and administered to the chest hot.)
“I think they made their own out of the hot, hot red peppers that they grew. They grew everything. We never went to a drug store and paid $15 for medicine like I did last week—they wouldn’t have paid that in a year for nine kids.”
Mary Catherine probably learned these home remedies from her mother or her mother-in-law—remedies that had been handed down for generations.
Flossie had no recollection of her father ever hunting or fishing. He had a limited education so did not read more than a newspaper. His work was from sun to sun and in the evenings an early bedtime was the rule.
Flossie said, “I remember lots of things about my dear Daddy. When he was 50 years old he quit smoking—he had smoked a pipe. He grew his own tobacco and cured it—I can remember seeing it hanging there to dry. He decided to quit. He slept for a week to get that nicotine out of his system. We’d been going to church but Dad didn’t go, as I recall, but he got converted by the preacher. That’s how he decided to quit smoking. He quit cussin’ too!”
“Often we’d walk to that little Cedarville church. I remember that Dad taught the Sunday School Class for bys and he loved it and Mother led the singing. She had a beautiful voice. On Sunday afternoons when watermelons were in season—he grew great big watermelons, half an acre patch of them—he’d have his Sunday School Class to our house for a big watermelon feed. He’d bring ‘e in the day before and put ‘em in the cellar to get cold.”
“There was the boy that had brought me home the night before. We had sat out in the buggy a smoochin’. Of course Dad had come to the door to holler ‘bedtime’. I laugh over that every time I think of it. And there was Clovis Higgins at the watermelon feed the next day!”
“There were about 15 or 20 in his class. It would be interesting to know how much influence Dad had on those boys. He liked them and they seemed to like him. He was jolly and happy.”
Flossie recalled that when she was older and on the days that they took the buggy to church, her Dad always had the rig ready about 30 minutes early. While he waited for “Marm” he would stand there and holler, “Come on out, Marm. Come on out, let’s go. Gettin’ late. Ya got enough powder on your face—enough flour on your face!”
“It never made one bit of difference to Mother. She just stayed there and got it all on,” emphasized Flossie. Mary Catherine always prided herself on her appearance and regardless of the hard and trying life that she led, held fast to this need to be properly prepared for her weekly trip to church.”
Was it all hard work with only the Sunday respite to brighten the week? Flossie tells of some of the diversions they enjoyed.
John Pyle was very, very much against dancing. He considered it to be sinful. To emphasize this Flossie told of an event that took place later in Montana, saying, “Inez and I went to a dance at a celebration down in the valley and we got out there and danced. And Maude (their oldest sister) suspected this—she was just as bitter about it as Dad and she brought Mother and Dad down there. Dad came right out on the floor and took us off. I was never so humiliated in my life. I didn’t speak to my Mother for a week. I was a grown woman—a school teacher in my early twenties at the time.”
“Oh, no, absolutely not. My Mother came to visit me after I married your Dad and she saw decks of cards and she liked to died—she felt so bad. She loved frank, though—she was very fond of him.”
“In Missouri then, if you couldn’t dance and card playing wasn’t approved, what did you do for fun?”
“Listen; let me tell you what we did when my brothers were home. We didn’t dance but we had play parties.”
“You know what they did they moved the kitchen table back and they danced but they didn’t call it dancing! They had someone playing the fiddle—right there in my own home and my Father and Mother enjoyed every minute of it. We danced until midnight and then Mother had something for us to eat. My Dad and Mother just loved play parties.”
“And then there was July 9 Day to celebrate the founding of Jerico Springs—a mineral springs. We always went to that and took a big picnic lunch. We’d have fried chicken and other good things and we’d put it all out on a big picnic table.”
“That was a bid day and Dad would give Inez and me a dime at a time to ride on the merry-go-round and oh, how we loved that. They pretty nearly had to tie us to get us off to go home and do the evening chores. There were all kinds of contests with prizes—like a Fourth of July celebration.”
The Missouri Christmas celebration was a community affair held at the church. That was where the Christmas tree was located. Flossie described Christmas Eve, saying, “We took our own family gifts there—dolls and other gifts that Mother had prepared and brought in a big basket to put on that tree. Of course Inez and I were in the program—all dressed up—and it (the program) didn’t do us one bit of good! Our eyes were on that tree wondering which doll was to be ours. After the program the gifts were handed out. That was our Christmas. We didn’t have Christmas at home—we didn’t have a tree. Everything was shared right there. We did put up our stockings and Christmas morning found an orange, some nuts and hard candy in them. We had a goose or a turkey. Mother never forgot the holidays.
“Easter was when we got our new hats. I love hats! I was always glad that my dear sister, Inez, turned out to be a milliner. She made some beautiful ones.”
Flossie was only five years old when her paternal grandfather, Alfred Monroe Pyle, died in 1900 but she had some memories of the event. The body was prepared for burial right at the large ranch home where he had spent most of his life and the funeral was held there—probably the following day. All the relatives came from miles around and Flossie could remember being reprimanded, along with some of her small cousins, for sliding down the great banister when decorum was the order of the day!!
“My Dad was the oldest of the nine (all boys except one) and it was decided that he and his family would ride in the surrey to the cemetery. All the rest of them, the sisters-in-law, were so mad because they were hoity toity. They had money and good clothes and all of that and we were poor but we got to ride in the surrey.”
After Alfred Monroe Pyle’s death his widow, Minerva Wilson Pyle, remained on the stock ranch and ran it well. Flossie could recall having to go there sometimes and spend the night as the old lady became more fearful of being alone. She was a typical Ozark woman who wore a big apron in the pocket of which was her corncob pipe which she lit and smoked as she sat and rocked by the fire. She would awaken at 4:00 in the morning.
“She would wake us and get us up and we would be so sleepy—have a big roaring fire in the biggest fireplace I ever saw and she would sit there and smoke her pipe and we kids would doze and she would talk to us. That was Granny Pyle.”
“When the boys courted you what in the world did you do? You couldn’t go to dances; you couldn’t play cards and weren’t supposed to smootch!”
“We sat in the parlor and held hands.”
“You just sat there and ogled each other?” She chuckled.
“If it rained the roof leaked. I was so afraid it would rain when he was there visiting me! We would have to get the kettles out and put them under the leaks. Dad never got up there and fixed them. On Sundays Clovis Higgins brought me home from church in the buggy.”
“It was pretty tame?”
“You bet it was pretty tame! Dad and Mother didn’t want to let us out of their sights.”
High School Graduation
Because of the sporadic nature of Flossie’s early schooling she was almost seventeen when she finished elementary school. After much planning her parents decided to send her to Greenfield High School, Greenfield, Missouri—about 20 miles distant. None of her siblings had had this opportunity.
It was decided that her older sister, Etta, would accompany her and fine employment as a dry goods store clerk to help support them. They rented one room where they cooked, ate, slept and Flossie studied. Much of their food was brought or sent to them from home.
Sadly, Etta became ill with a ruptured appendix during their second year, 1913, and died. Their sister, Inez, who worked for a milliner in Greenfield, then shared the room with Flossie until she graduated in 1916.
It was a source of great pride for Flossie that she graduated as Salutatorian of her class with an average grade of 96. She was edged out of first place by a studious young man that she detested.
Graduation from high school in 1916 was truly a mark of distinction. Invitations to this formal event were engraved and all of the graduates were carefully groomed and formally attired for the occasion.
In her last years Flossie said about her graduation, “I still have my report cards and a picture of me wearing the beautiful white dress that Mother made and my white, high-button shoes. Inez made my white picture hat and my sweetheart, Harvey, sent me a dozen long-stemmed American Beauty roses to carry.”
Her diploma, bound in clack suede leather with gold embossed letters, including her name, and lined with gold satin, was printed on parchment and was a cherished possession all of her life.
It was accompanied by a Teacher’s Certificate accrediting her to teach in the public elementary schools of Missouri and a fine letter of recommendation from the superintendent of schools.
Flossie’s Siblings and Family Migrations
Flossie was the youngest of nine children. They were: Claude Albert (1875-1962), Maude Mae (1878-1964), Harry Edward (1880-1970), Bessie Gertrude (1882-1954), Charles Ellsworth (1886-1944), Willis Edgar (1888-1974), Etta Blanche (1890-1913), Clara Inez (1893-1957) and Flossie Jewel (1895-1981). With the exception of Clara Inez they were all born in Missouri.
There was a strong familial tie—one that meant that separation by miles was an untenable situation and Mary Catherine and John worked hard to keep their family together even long after they were grown. Because of this strong feeling of family, the following migrations took place. Some are authenticated as to dates. Others are surmises.
The area in Southwestern Missouri where the family was reared is not far from Joplin, a mining and smelting center. Therefore, I believe, that the family had knowledge of and an appreciation for this occupation. Life on the small acreage was difficult and as the young sons and daughters reached maturity they sought other means of livelihood.
Possibly stories of the mines and reduction plants then springing into full bloom in Montana filtered back to them and Claude left for the silver and copper mining country near Butte and Anaconda. This was about 1891 when he was only 16 years of age. They story is told that he left a sweetheart in Missouri who married during his absence and his broken heart kept him single all the days of his life. A whole chapter could be written about Uncle Claude who was a favorite of the older Vincent children.
About 1892 John and Mary Catherine gathered their six children from the eldest Maude, age 14, to Etta, age 2, and made the trek to Montana to be near their son Claude. They settled on a little farm near Racetrack in the Deer Lodge Valley where Mary’s brother, John Wilson Hamner, may have been living at that time. It was there that their daughter, Clara Inez, was born in June, 1893.
For reasons unknown, they then left Claude in Montana and returned to Missouri to the little farm near Cedarville and it was there that Flossie Jewel was born on October 4, 1895.
Maude married Russell Ball in 1896 and, in 1904, they answered the urge to move to Montana to find employment. They took their 5 year old daughter, Reba, and Maude’s 18 year old brother, Charles (Charley).
As best as can be reconstructed, some time about 1908 or 1910, Etta traveled to Montana. Since it is unlikely that her parents would let her make the trip unaccompanied it is surmised that it was at this time that Willis and his wife, Gertrude, also made the migration. Etta lived with Maude and Russell Ball and worked in a dry goods store in Anaconda as a clerk. She returned to Missouri about 1912 and died in 1913.
Willis suffered a serious head and eye injury while at work. Gertrude hated the west. They returned to Missouri about 1918.
In 1916, upon Flossie’s graduation from high school, the family—then John, Mary Catherine, Inez and Flossie—migrated to Montana leaving behind Harry and his wife, Bessie, and Bessie (Pyle) and her husband, Ira Dill. This latter couple migrated to Montana in 1919.
Left behind in Missouri were the Pyle sons, Harry and Willis, and their families. They never came west. Son Charles (Charley) and his wife, Alice, of Anaconda, moved to Washington State about 1920 and in the mid-1920’s daughter Inez, who had married Raymond Taylor, moved to California. Still, Mary Catherine and John were near their bachelor son, Claude, and three of their grown children and their families: Maude and Bessie, in Anaconda, and Flossie, in the Bitterroot Valley.
In Flossie’s autobiography she described the leave taking, saying, “My parents decided to sell the little, old farm and move to Anaconda. So, farewell to friends and sweetheart. We had a yard sale and sold all of our furniture and belongings.
“Going to Montana on the train, powered by coal, lots of black smoke blew into the coach. We had a big basket of food for the trip, including fried chicken; also tin cups tied on to the basket. At Kansas City the string broke and the cups went flying down the steps with Daddy right after them. He had such a keen sense of humor and really laughed while my very dignified Mother was ashamed of it all. It wasn’t funny to her.”
The property went to Uncle Lonnie, John’s brother Leonidas, who owned and operated the old Albert Monroe Pyle stock ranch not far from the little John Pyle farm. Cattle were run on the twenty acres and the buildings were allowed to fall into ruin.
EARLY MONTANA YEARS
Life in Anaconda
Was the move a good one? If the objective of finding family closeness was paramount then it was successful. It was an abrupt change from the rural country life of Missouri because they did not return to the little farm near Racetrack but rather settled in Anaconda. John was the 63 years old and Mary Catherine was 61.
Did they long for the life they had left behind? Probably. Life in Anaconda was less attractive in many ways. They lived in a home that they owned but that had been built as a “company” house. It was so close to the neighbors that they could almost reach out and touch them. There were many Italian, Austrian, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian and other middle European immigrants clinging to their native languages and traditions. This meant barriers to friendships and communication.
Mother told Frank Jr. about their unhappiness with these foreigners. “The night we moved in they had a big wake and kept us up all night.”
John kept chickens and rabbits and had a small garden to augment their limited income. He worked for the city sweeping the streets. I believe he liked this work because he was very friendly and could strike up a conversation with any and all he met. He knew who the “ins” were and who were the “outs” in city politics.
Their home at 415 Chestnut Street was always well painted and the front yard, which was about 3’ by 4’ square on each side of the front walk, was well kept behind its wrought iron fence and gate. The limited space was always amazing to the older Vincent children who had acres of land and spacious lawns at their home in the Bitterroot Valley upon which to roam, whoop and romp.
Our Grandmother kept a neat house and a well-stocked kitchen. Summer visits there were always memorable for the feasts that we had. Grandfather must have really been hard put to provide so much but nothing was stinted and, of course, the Vincent’s brought garden “truck” with us, from the ranch, to help out. There was always an abundance of cookies, cakes, pies and candy as well as fresh fruit—always watermelon. Loading up on all of these “goodies” often resulted in old fashioned “bellyaches” for small children. Mother was always provoked when her Dad would innocently comment after one of these bad nights that “Flossie sure has sickly kids.”
Grandmother was a very serious person which made the “kidding” from Grandfather that much more fun! He sat and rocked in his favorite chair, placed near the kitchen range, and enjoyed immensely his past time of teasing her.
One of her hobbies—besides beautiful needlework—was house plants. The front of the house was extended and glassed to provide a growing place for these. How fashionable Grandmother would be today! Winters in Anaconda were severe and long. Having green, growing things helped relieve the monotony and boredom.
Upon our departure, after our annual trek, Grandfather would always stand beside his front gate and say, “Glad to see you come and glad to see you go!” Grandmother was horrified each time. She and our Mother and Aunts were always weeping copiously and Grandfather must have been trying to relieve some of this soddenness. It has become a humorous way for the family to remember him. Bless his heart—after the disruption of his serene routine, he doubtless was glad to see us go—he was really honest about it.
PRETTY MISSOURI MISS
Flossie Jewel Pyle
FLOSSIE JEWEL PYLE
High School Graduate 1916
FLOSSIE JEWEL PYLE
But back to Flossie who was now a very attractive young lady of 21. She had left Harvey in Missouri but was not long in finding a “sweetie” in Anaconda. She and Inez were both lovely to look at—beautifully groomed and dressed. Joined by their niece, Reba Ball, they had some good times together. Mother’s important date during that time was Austin Mahon.
She used her teaching certificate to obtain a position teaching the 8th grade at Warm Springs, not far from Anaconda She recalled that the flu epidemic raged then and the school had to be closed before the year was over.
“The next fall I got a teaching job at the Sleeping Child School in the Bitterroot Valley, south of Grantsdale—one pupil in each of eight grades and a big pot-bellied stove to warm the one room. I lived one-half mile away and waded through deep snow to get to my school,” she recalled.
When she first came to the Sleeping Child Creek area she lived briefly with the Fred Leavitts. These were old friends from Missouri days. Later she boarded and roomed with the Grebe and Evans families whose children were her pupils. Everyone, including the teacher, had to bring a lunch. She and the older boys had to hustle in wood to get the fire going before teacher and students could remove their coats. Toilet facilities were privies in the school yard that were mighty cold to visit in the winter.
The Farmer Takes a Wife
This little one-room school building was also the community center. Dances were held there and drew people from some distance away. Flossie says, “We had a big dance there and I met my future husband. He had such beautiful shoes on and danced heavenly!”
Frank Vincent*, who lived on a 320 acre farm with his parents and sister, Geneva, near Grantsdale, literally and figuratively swept her off her feet. She, who had always wanted to dance but for whom that was forbidden, had found someone who not only danced, but danced very well and thoroughly enjoyed doing it. This was his chief recreation. He was also a caller of square dances.
*Frank Vincent was born September 14, 1891 in Anaconda, Montana, the son of Clinton and Jennie Stephens Vincent.
Flossie said, “We fell in love and it was my first love. We were married on November 9, 1918 in Missoula.”
When she died, among her effects was found her wedding certificate, an 11 page booklet filled with philosophical and scriptural advice to newlyweds and colored illustrations of flowers and doves. Inside was carefully tucked a piece of her wedding dress, a sheer white fabric flocked with lily-of-the-valley blossoms.
To this union were born Marjorie June (1919 - 2014), Frank Edward, Jr., (1921 - 2013), Donald Nicholas (1924 – 1927), Charles Herbert (1928 - 2014) and Darryl Lee (1935 - 2014).
Frank and Flossie Vincent’s five children were born over a 16 year period. Their four surviving siblings passed away over a 9 month period from September 6, 2013 to June 6, 2014. Frank passed on September 6, 2013, Darryl passed on January 14, 2014, Frank's birthday, Marge passed on May 25, 2014, and last to go was Herb who died on June 6, 2014.
The Grantsdale Ranch Home
Their first home was a tiny, shingled bungalow on the Sleeping Child Road directly west of the Vincent ranch land. After about two years Frank completed the conversion of one of the buildings on the ranch into a home for his family adjacent to his parents’ home.
‘Flossie said about it, “It was quite a delightful experience to me what with all the activities taking place daily which were necessary to operate that big farm. The Vincent’s were awfully good to me and they worshipped you children.”
The home completed for them was a two story, clapboard house painted white. The living room-dining room faced north. It was furnished with a sofa and matching easy chair, a round oak dining table with matching chairs and buffet, and a piano. The family gathered around the oak table for their evening’s activities in the cold weather. An attractive wood and coal burning central heating stove completed this rooms furnishing.
The front entrance to the house was on the east side. There was a small covered front porch with two large ledge boxes overflowing with brightly hued flowers in summer. Somehow our extremely busy Father never had time to fashion attractive steps to this porch—they were only wide planks with two wide planks placed side by side as a walkway to them from the front gate.
When entering the house at the rear—the north side of the southwest extension, one climbed more plank steps with no handrail to an open plank porch. From this level a door led into the long glassed porch that extended two thirds the length of the south side of the house. In this porch was a long table and benches for feeding harvest hands. It also housed the family laundry equipment which consisted of a gasoline powered washing machine with an exhaust pipe leading out an opening to the south of the building which blackened the area where it rested. A cantankerous contraption, Mother was often frustrated in her washday efforts until Daddy’s return to get the thing operating. There was a long, low caster equipped bench that held two galvanized wash tubs.
On wash day the wooden tub on the washing machine was filled with hot water using a length of hose to the adjoining bathroom. The wash bench was rolled next to the washing machine and the two tubs were filled with cool water.
After the clothes had washed they were run through a manually operated wringer into first one and then the other of the rinse tubs and then again into the laundry basket for transport to the clothes line in warm weather or hung on lines in this enclosed porch in winter. All the clothes went through the same wash and rinse water starting first with the white and lease soiled and finishing with the men’s work clothing. Then the warm water was used to scrub the porch floor or it was drained with the hose into the garden or the bathroom drain system.
Dress shirts, aprons, dresses and some of the linen was hand wrung through a thick homemade starch solution. When the clothing and linens had dried, those things—and they were numerous as there was no wash and wear in those days—were sprinkled and tightly rolled. They were placed in the laundry basket and covered with a towel so they would be just the right degree of dampness for easy ironing the following day. For many years the irons were heated on the kitchen range—at least two of them or one with a detachable handle, in order that Mother could keep exchanging them for a hot one.
There was no detergent or even powdered laundry soap. Instead, a bar of Fels Naptha was shaved with the pieces placed in a pan of water and left on the back of the stove to melt the night before washday.
The porch also held the jam and jelly cupboard and the icebox which was kept filled during hot weather with ice from the family’s storage house. At the east end of the porch was a door to the bathroom and a door at right angles to it leading north into the kitchen.
The kitchen was exceptionally nice for its day. Along the west wall were storage cupboards above and below the zinc-covered counter. Centered here with a good view towards the mountains and the lovely western Montana sunsets, was the kitchen sink. Into it came the marvel of hot and cold running water and it had a drain that carried the waste water to the cesspool. All of this wonderful and rare—for that era and locale—equipment was the handiwork of our Dad.
Opposite the sink and on the east wall of the kitchen was the range and hot water tank. Between the counter and the range was located the door to the living room. In the kitchen, directly to the right of the door from the porch was the big family table and chairs and between this eating area and the range was the door to a small hall that ran north and south and held a clothes closet, the door to the cellar, the door to the bathroom and the door to the first floor bedroom.
Herb remembers, “One of the first things I can remember in my life, at a very early age in our home on the ranch at Grantsdale, was Mother singing. She loved the old hymn ‘In the Garden’ and I can recall her singling it in the kitchen of the ranch house. Today I still get a lump in my throat when we sing it at our church.”
The bathroom was another marvel of the age. It had a sink, mirror, medicine closet, toilet and bathtub and there was space for a large dresser to hold linens. None of our friends had inside plumbing and we didn’t experience it when we attended grade school.
The first floor bedroom was small. It could be entered either from the living room or the above mentioned hall from the kitchen. Our parents had a painted ivory bedroom set that was quite nice and there was a clothes closet.
Another door in the living room concealed the stairs to the two bedrooms on the second floor. The one on the west side contained the large storage tank for the family water supply—pumped there from the well by a gasoline engine powered pump located in the dirt cellar below the house. This system was cleverly designed and executed by our Dad and worked well except when problems of summer flooding occurred at times of heavy irrigation of the fields east of the house. This caused the water to rise in the cellar much to the consternation of all.
This cellar, by the end of the summer had a ceiling-high cupboard filled with quart jars of fruits and vegetables laboriously picked and processed by Mother with the help of us children as we got older. It also contained a large wooden barrel filled with delicious dill pickles that we had made.
We used kerosene lamps and the only near tragedy with them was one evening when one was placed on the kitchen counter too close to the kitchen curtains. Luckily the resulting fire was extinguished in time. All of us were very cautious in our use of lamps and stoves as we had no fire department protection. As children we were never allowed to handle lamps or have lamps in our bedrooms. Flashlights were happily put to use to disperse bedroom “spooks”.
In 1930 electric lines were brought to our property and Dad wired our house and that of our grandparents. What a time of celebration when the first switch was flipped!
One of the jobs I really loathed as a girl was washing dishes and I used to hide in the cherry tree so Mother wouldn’t find me to attend to that awful chore. Why was it so awful? Usually the fire from cooking the meal had died out and the water in the hot water tank had begun to cool. There was no detergent and before long there was a thick layer of grease afloat on the water. I don’t know how I ever got the dishes clean—and there were always so many of them!
Despite the discouragement of a short growing season and the pressure to attend to the necessities of life, Mother always had lovely flowers surrounding her house and a verdant lawn. There were border plants as well as a large flower bed to the west of the house. I can remember so well the lilacs, golden glow, asters, marigolds, zinnias, pansies, cosmos, bleeding hearts, bachelor buttons, daisies, sweet peas, gladiolas, lilies and roses. It was a sight to gladden the heart.
The ranch was diversified. Crops grown were wheat, oats, field peas and alfalfa. At one time fields of russet potatoes were grown and during that era a very large, drive-through root cellar was built for their storage. This was partially underground and roofed with timbers and dirt with ventilator shafts extending through the top. Hogs were raised and dairy cattle kept; chickens and rabbits were raised. Mother raised vegetables and Grandma Vincent helped with an even large garden some distance from the houses. There were two orchards growing apples, cherries and apricots.
There were berry crops also—strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. Some of this garden and berry crop was marketed as was the cream (or whole milk to the cheese factory) from the dairy herd. The land was irrigated with water rights.*
During the long winter months there were many chores to keep the farmer and his wife busy. There was wood and ice to be cut and stored. There was maintenance, repairs and improvements to the farm homes and other buildings. There were three barns, a chicken house, a granary, two garages, a blacksmith shop, a smoke house, an ice house and a storage building. Farm machinery needed attention also.
*For a full description of the irrigation process, see the book We Remember Jennie and Clinton Vincent by Marjorie Vincent Coombs, published 1977.
Community Service and Recreation
During the winter months there was also more time for play. Although Mother and Dad had met at a dance at the community school house on the Sleeping Child Creek, it was their desire, and that of a number of their friends, that Grantdale should have a community hall. Mother and Dad were very busy in the organization of this group and served on its Board of Trustees. Interested couples held parties—dancing or cards, in their homes, charging a small admission to earn the money for the materials for the longed-for Club House. These were good times—working towards a goal and having fun doing it.
Once $1,800 was put aside to get materials, the men and women all pitched in to build it. The men provided the necessary carpentry, masonry, wiring and plumbing skills and the women provided the meals for them as they worked. The 50’x25’ structure was stuccoed on the exterior and held a dance floor with a stage for the band at one end with a heating stove at the opposite end. A small kitchen extended about 15’ x 12’ at the northeast corner. Toilet facilities were an ‘outhouse’.
Except for the church faction of the community that felt that dancing and card playing were very sinful, the rest of the country people held many happy events at their Club House. Public dances were held with a charge made in order to finish paying for the building. Bingo, bunco and card parties were held. Persons participating brought car or an old-fashioned ‘stand’ tables and chairs upon which the dancers might rest and upon which their small children could sleep covered with the family coats.
I well remember attending these dances with my parents. It would have been easy to leave me at home with my grandparents but I wanted to go. “Junior” (Frank) often attended too, along with the children of many of the other dancers. Sliding on the wax-slick dance floor between sets was great sport!’’’
The orchestra might be a local group or a big name band from Missoula or Spokane that was a real drawing card and money maker. In those days the musicians were truly dedicated to their task and played long and hard with no rest interval until about 11:00 p.m. At that time there was a ‘supper’ break. The women had brought boxes of homemade sandwiches, pies and cakes and there were quantities of kettle-boiled coffee to wash it all down. This was served in generous sized tin cups. The supper was included in the price of admission which was usually a dollar a couple!
The first dance after the supper was the Rye Waltz which I always danced with my Daddy. After that things got a little hazy and I usually ended up asleep on the bench and was carried home after “Good Night Ladies” was played at 2:00 a.m.! At these dances there was often a request for Dad to call a few sets of squares. He was a good caller and enjoyed doing it.
One of the big events of the year was the Ravalli County Fair held early in September. This created much excitement and enthusiasm in our family with all the members taking part. The premium list booklet was carefully studied and marked as to what categories we could enter. This usually included hogs, grain, potatoes, sweet corn and backed and canned goods.
Of this Mother said, “We worked so hard to get ready for the Fair. We had some Poland China pigs, black with which belts around ‘em—they were prize pigs. We won enough money in prizes at the Fair with the pigs and corn—all the stuff that we took—things that I had canned and baked, to buy a cabinet radio—our first one, a battery radio.”
Not only did the family do all of these things to get ready for the Fair but Frank and Flossie took part in the highly competitive Community Booth Division. A large room—about 12’ x 12’ x 12’ was assigned to each community that entered. In this room was to be artistically displayed a wide variety of articles: baked and canned goods, needlework, orchard and garden produce, grain—everything that could be exhibited except livestock. The people of each community brought their best things to a common spot—in Grantsdale it was the Club House. From there it was taken to the Fair Grounds the night before the Fair was to open.
Frank and Flossie were livewires in the Grantsdale group. They would work all night putting it together. Right next to their area in a space assigned to them, was the Corvallis Community Club people plotting, whispering and peeking to try to outfox the Grantsdale group. And the Grantsdale committee was doing the same thing. All night long peeking, plotting and rearranging; all this for a blue ribbon and the honor of winning. Other communities were entered but Corvallis was always the toughest competition and they sometimes took the blue ribbon too, much to the chagrin of the hardworking Grantsdale committee.
Our Vincent family was very interested in politics and Frank, Sr. was an election judge. In Grantsdale Election Day was an important social as well as political occasion that again involved most of the family. The polls were located in the school house corridor and the school was dismissed for the day. In one of the rooms the Ladies Aid of the Grantsdale Community Church set up a hot dinner and bazaar and from all the election districts flocked the farmers and their families. It was an all day affair.
The men stood around smoking and talking crops and politics and then met their wives and children at the bazaar for a big meal of homemade baked beans and bread, cole slaw, potato salad, pies, cakes and coffee. For the children there was a “fish pond” and grab bag and games of tag inside and outside the building. How tame the modern day election seems in comparison!
Somehow Mama got us all home to bed while Daddy stayed all night (no computers or election machines in those days) to count the votes and come home to tell us how it all went. No instant media prophecies and the final results were sometimes a long time coming. He could usually predict what the outcome would be in the county contests and we doted on all of this information from an early age.
Our Dad also served on the Grantsdale School Board following the example set by his Grandfather Frank Stephens in Montana pioneer days. Jury duty was also accepted as the responsibility of a good citizen even if it meant serving the Federal Court in Missoula and having to get a neighbor to take care of the livestock during his absence.
One of the local customs was the shivaree. Flossie said about the time this happened to her and her new husband, “Folks brought cow bells, whistles and shot guns and made all kinds of noise outside—the first night we were home after we were married. We had to invite ‘em all in and give ‘em somethin’ to eat—treat ‘em. We’d prepared for it because we knew they were coming. I baked a cake or cookies—something—maybe cider, too; about 12 or 15 came. That was fun. People don’t know what a shivaree is now—don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Our parents took part in the shivarees of other couples and I can remember attending some that were very large—as many as 50 people involved. Often times the groom was expected to provide cigars and whiskey. Sometimes there was a chase that lasted one or two hours.
Some of the small pleasures remembered were the work/fun times. One of these was when several bushel baskets of young, sweet and tender field peas were picked and the prospect of shelling them was faced. This was done in the cool of the evening in the light of the slow-ding day out in the yard. All the women and some of the children helped. The thing that made this so pleasurable was the presence and wit of Aunt Fannie who often came with her big apron and merry smile to help in this and other tasks. The widow of Tom Parker, our Grandmother Vincent’s uncle, she lived a short distance from the ranch and was a frequent visitor. After the pleasant conversational time of the “shelling” bee came the next day’s hard and hot job of jarring and processing the peas for our winter’s use.
One of the highlights of our year was the summer visit of Aunt Inez Taylor and her husband, Ray and daughter, Betty Rae, from San Bernardino, California. They brought with them a great deal of love and affection as well as the aura of the city and the glamour of Southern California. Their stay with us—usually less than a week, was anticipated with great joy and was over far too soon. At the time of their visit our family usually made a trip to Anaconda to join them and all of Mother’s Montana kin for a reunion.
Two memorable summers come to mind. One was the summer of 1935 when we “hillbillyed” to Yellowstone Park. The excursion included the Vincent and Taylor families and our Uncle Claude Pyle. We all wanted so much to go and there was no money to go in style. Instead our Dad outfitted his beet truck with a canvas top and bedsprings on which to sit and to sleep. It was loaded with produce from the farm and our bedding and clothing and we went to Anaconda to pick up the others.
It was a ridiculous sight to see us touring comfortably in our private sightseeing vehicle with the canvas sides rolled up to make viewing easy. At night we camped setting up one or two small tents, prepared our meal from food brought from home using firewood cut in route to the park and carried on the undercarriage of the truck bed and had a great time!
One of the articles unloaded every evening was a rocking chair sent along by Grandfather Pyle to accommodate his very pregnant daughter, Flossie! It was long a family joke that our total expenses for nine persons—including entry fee to the park and gasoline was $11.85!
On the other occasion Uncle Claude, the Taylor’s and our neighbors, the Bells, drove with us to Swan Lake on the Blackfoot River for a few days of camping and fishing. In route the party became separated at a loop road and some of us spent the night trying to find the others. Herbie was ill with a stomach ache and Mother was sure that he had appendicitis and that our Dad had gone to sleep, weary from his summer labors, and driven the pickup truck into one of the several lakes we passed. How beautiful and calm was dawn on the lake as we pulled into our campsite!
Mother was very resourceful and did all she could to help the family finances especially to buy the furnishings and extras that the farm’s income never quite stretched to meet.
One of her projects was the bean crop. Abut it she said, “I decided to take an acre of ground and grow green beans—that was my project. Daddy and Grandpa helped me plant ‘em and irrigated ‘em for me. I hired high school kids to come out and pick ‘em for me and put them in gunny sacks (burlap bags) and shipped them to Anaconda.
“I earned $200 and bought that leather couch, and I believe there was a chair with it, for $200—real leather. How nice it was! Black! And you kids could crawl over it and not hurt it a bit. Grandpa Vincent was so proud of me. He could always figure out things—he even figured out how much I was going to make on the bean crop. The beans were sent by truck, with Lou Naef, over the Skalkaho Road. I probably got a dollar a sack for ‘em and had to pay for the sacks. They were beautiful beans—great big long, tender ones—bush beans.
When I was in the 7th grade Mother invited Julia Russell (Lyndes) and Alma Burnett, teachers at the Grantsdale School, to board and room with s using the family’s upstairs bedrooms. This really cramped us putting the whole family in the first floor bedroom but there were merry memories of that time too. Julia played the piano and had sheet music for duets and trios that she and her sisters had played in Indiana. She invited Aunt Geneva and me to enjoy these with her.
The adults spent the long winter evenings visiting or playing cards and often Julia’s gentleman friend, John Lyndes, or Alma Burnett’s husband, James, came from Missoula to join the circle. Julia had been previously married and her small son, who attended boarding school in Missoula, was also a visitor. This project lasted just one year.
At one time we also boarded and roomed the manager of the Grantsdale Cheese Factory—Klessig. That was his surname and the name he wished to be called. A hearty, jolly, handsome German fellow and a great tease—he always boasted that he would never marry and that if he did he would put a bottle of whiskey atop every fence post between Hamilton and Missoula. One weekend he slipped away and married on of the Hamilton women and no more was ever said about the boast. We kids thought it would have been a wondrous sight to see!
Others who lived with us at the farm were 12 year old Lawrence King, a mother less boy from Grantsdale who spent one or more summers with us as a kind of “mother’s helper” and Mother’s nephew, Wayne Dill, from Anaconda. His tubercular Mother had to spend much time in the sanitarium at Galen and Wayne was left with us during the summer as a helper and to get him into a more healthful atmosphere.
THE CUSTOM BUSINESS
Our Dad was a very hard working, enterprising man. In addition to farming he did custom work of three kinds: threshing, plowing, and sugar beet hauling. Mother assisted him all she could in these enterprises.
Dad never operated a steam-energized threshing machine but he had a small separator and a tractor with lugs with which to move the outfit and to power it. This smaller one was getting obsolete and he wanted the newest thing. I believe the year he made the change was 1930. The separator’s ability to thresh field peas in addition to grains was the big selling point. That was done by changing the screens and reducing the speed of the main cylinder by one-half. This machine, under Dad and Mother’s operation, gained a fine reputation for doing good work.
The tractor, too, was much larger and more powerful than the old Fordson and our skillful Father equipped both pieces of machinery with large rubber tires which made it possible for him to use paved roads and move more rapidly from one job to the next.
At the Nichol Place
THRESHING MACHINE AND TRACTOR
Flossie and Herb
FLOSSIE AND FRANK VINCENT
On Their Wedding Day
November 9, 1918
Each season early in July this equipment would be pulled into the shade of Grandmother’s big yard and considerable time would be spent putting it in first class condition. Frank, Jr. and Herbie were sometimes called upon to crawl into the small places in the machinery to clean them.
When the grain ripened the farmers went into their fields with a binder—an antique piece of farm equipment now. It was pulled by a team of horses and had a sickle (blade) which could be raised and lowered similar to one found on a hay mower. A large reel turned around and gently knocked the stalks of grain so that they fell onto a conveyor belt when they were cut. The stalks were automatically tied into bundles with binder twine and dropped off the rear of the machine.
The farm hands walking behind the binder picked up several of these bundles and stood them heads up in “shocks” throughout the field. This was to prevent mildew if it rained while they awaited the thresher.
During this time Dad or Mother would drive through the countryside soliciting business from old customers and prospects whose fields they had spied. While chatting about the crops they would give their sales pitch and secure a promise that the job would be theirs.
Once the machinery was at work it became Mother’s responsibility to keep the farm folk happy. This was particularly true when there was a breakdown or other delay. She would reassure them that parts were being rushed and that the equipment would be up and running again in a few hours. Then when the rig was just about to arrive at a job site she would drive ahead the day before to give the farmer time to rally his crews and his wife time to bake the pies and kill the chickens to feed those hungry workers.
Dad’s outfit took six or eight teams (a two-horse team, wagon and driver). Most of this work was done on an exchange basis between farmers—taking turns helping each other. In addition there were pitching crews in the fields. These wagon drivers would go into the field, gather the grain onto the wagon and haul it to the threshing machine which was set up at a location selected by the farmer. Usually this took into consideration where he wished to have his straw piled.
This is how the set up of the equipment took place: the separator was pulled into the desired location and the tractor unhitched and moved out a distance of 100 feet where it was lined up so that the fly wheel on the tractor was in perfect alignment with the major fly wheel on the separator. Then when a 100 foot belt was attached with careful manipulation so that it was absolutely true—the threshing operation would begin.
Of course the two-man crew that worked for Dad, and later Mother, became very proficient at this and could do it quickly and well. The tractor was thrown into the right gear and the belt activated the machinery—the conveyor belts, the knives, the rollers, the screens, the elevator and the blowers. It was truly an amazing contraption!
Before the signal to start could be given they had to be sure that someone was ready to handle the grain sacks. Often the farmer himself did this. Then at a signal from Dad or the hired man in charge, the teams of wagons would come up on each side of one end of the threshing which extended out about four feet. The men on the wagons would pitch fork the bundles of grain onto a conveyor belt that was about two feet wide. These were then drawn into moving knives that chopped the bundles and cut the twine. The grain was shook, rolled, screened and blown until clean, it was lifted by an elevator to a weighing device and then fell through a five foot long spout about twelve inches in diameter. This was located mid length of the machine.
The spout had a lever at the lower end so that the grain could be switched from one side to the other in order that the grain sack handler could keep up with it. There were hooks at the sides of the spout where 100 pound gunny sacks could be hung. While the grain was pouring into one bag, the handler attached one at the opposite side. When the first bag was filled he would switch the lever to the side with the empty bag.
When it was really going with high yield grain let me tell you the sack handler was really moving. It didn’t take long for one of those burlap bags to gill. This is where the speed in sack sewing was so important, something one doesn’t see done now except at County Fair Sack Sewing contests. You may ask, ‘What’s the point in sack sewing? Why was it necessary to be fast at sewing sacks?’ Well, that’s the reason. The grain came pouring down and it was “gold”—the farmer’s livelihood and he didn’t want it spilled on the ground.
To sew the sack the sack handler would grab a handful of the material at one end of the opening into an “ear” around which he took the first stitch and a tight loop. Rapidly, with closed stitches, he would move across the opening to the opposite side where he would grasp another “ear” around which he would loop and fasten the twine. These “ears” were the handles with which the bags of grain were lifted.
At the opposite end of the separator from the conveyor belt there was a tube about 12 inches in diameter and about 12 feet long, with a flexible device at the end, which could deflect the straw or the entire tube could be maneuvered and folded atop the machine for traveling. As the day progressed this pile of beautiful, slick straw became higher and higher. Children loved to play in and slide on it which brought down the wrath of their fathers who wanted to keep the straw clean and unbroken to use for bedding for their livestock.
At noon the machinery was shut down and the teams of horse unhitched from their wagons and led to the farmyard. Their harnesses were loosened so that they might rest, they were given copious drinks of water from flume, water tank or farmyard stream and they were fed grain from a nosebag.
The housewife usually had a bench set outside her back door upon which was placed several wash basins with soap, towels and buckets of warm water so that the men could remove the morning’s sweat and grime before partaking of their noon meal. Once they came into the farmhouse they really “chowed down” the good food. After all that hard work they were very, very hungry. Usually the food was hearty and delicious. The housewife prided herself on doing her part of the harvest well. Our crew rarely complained except to say that they got “an awful lot of chicken”.
There were a few exceptions—probably not more than one or two—where the farmer’s wife kept a dirty kitchen with no screens to keep out the multitude of flies. In those instances the ideal solution was to get there too late in the afternoon for the noon meal and to be finished before noon the next day!
If the farmer had less than ten acres of grain he would bind, haul and stack it in the farmyard. The thresher was then set up right beside the little stack and the farmer tossed in the bundles. There were no huge ranchlands of grain in the Bitterroot. Anything over 100 acres was considered a very large crop and there were not many of these. Forty to eighty acres was the usual grain field.
Threshing was very dirty, itchy work. The chaff and straw penetrated one’s clothing and got down ones neck. It certainly wouldn’t have been any place for persons with allergies. I can remember how red-rimmed were the eyes of our crew were. I wonder what their lungs looked like. I can recall visiting Dad and the hired help at the machinery and they would really be dirty.
They slept in a small, tent-covered trailer. I expect that that got pretty old—not the best bed in the world either. And no chance to shower or bathe! An effort was made to relieve them once or twice a week so that they might go home to clean up. The equipment was never left alone at night although there was little vandalism in those days. Even so it was expensive machinery and the theft of a small gear or wheel could cause serious delays.
Because of so much highly combustible material next to the machinery one of the big fears of the threshing business was fire. There was a very firm rule: ABSOLUTELY NO SMOKING. Our Dad learned to chew tobacco and always did so in the fall while threshing.
Another fear when operating the threshing machine was that the tall, narrow separator would be tipped over and wrecked costing heavy repair bills and delays in the business. The steep terrain over which it had to be hauled aggravated this worry. One fall, while Mother was operating the business, this actually happened.
Here is hired man Jack Miller’s account of what happened that day: “The first cock-eyed day we was goin’ out threshin’ we were goin’ up on the bench above Frank Duus’s place to Larry Polson’s to thresh peas. It was kind of a winding road I had traveled time and time again. The separator was strung out behind the machine and we had a trailer on the back of it.”
“I thought, well, this would be a good time for him (the new man) to take over the tractor because he’s goin’ to have to and I was settin’ there on the fender playing with my little old Scotty dog—not payin’ much attention. Pretty soon I looked up and I see we was goin’ around this curve and he was hugging right over to the side with the tractor. I hollered, ‘Pull that tractor over in the center’. I jumped down on the tongue of the separator and I just looked back in time to see the hind wheel going over the edge and I said, ‘Oh, my God!’”
“But we were lucky in one way—that was swampy ground along there and about all it did was crush the grain elevator up to the weigher. I had to rebuild that. I called out the wrecker and we got it back on the road and up to Larry’s place. I had to jerk the elevator off and buy new wood for it and we had some elevator tin made.”
About the incident, Mother said, “By the time I got up there they had it back on the road. After we’d worried about it all those years when it did go over it wasn’t all that much. There wasn’t much delay.”
There was one other person who operated a custom threshing machine in the south end of the county. Our parents were very competitive. They were kind, cheerful, friendly persons and evidently the farmers liked to deal with them. They were very businesslike and the whole transaction was handled as efficiently as possible to keep the farmers happy. They handled the largest share of the business.
The route took the rig from Grantsdale to a farming area south of Darby—about 20 to 25 miles from our home. The crew then looped back on one side of the river or the other and continued north of Hamilton to the Corvallis area taking in the wide benchlands east of Hamilton. I would estimate that from one end of the territory to the other was 35 miles.
An attempt was made to go first to that part of the valley where the grain was ripening fastest. This depended upon the amount of moisture climate and type of grain. Peas were usually harvested first where possible. As the season progressed the farmers became more and more anxious that their crops—their year’s labor and income—would be ruined by the weather. A heavy rain or windstorm would shell out the kernels. A sudden hailstorm was a natural disaster that threshed the harvest on the ground. Peas that were cut and left in the field in windrows before being shocked like hay could be rolled in a windstorm and shelled. Because of this the pressures were heavy on Dad and Mother to get the work done—each farmer believing that his crop was the most important.
The business went on from early August until mid-October and although it was hard, demanding and dirty there was an excitement as well as a deep satisfaction to be found in it. The weather, for the most part, was a beautiful Indian summer—cool evenings and bright, beautiful blue sky daytimes. Jan Blacklaw Coombs, who was raised on a huge wheat ranch near Walla Walla, Washington, long wished to be “home” at harvest. She had a deep longing to be there to experience the culmination of the years hard labors—the gathering in of the grain.
When a job was finished and the next farmer notified, Mother would go back and collect for the work. She was always a very persistent collector and over all the years that she did this she lost nothing. Because these were depression years she felt immediate collection was best. Sometimes, if the grain had not been sold, she would have to accept barter in payment. This might be stove wood, grain, a hog or a calf—anything that our family could use. She remembered only one instance when the housewife refused to come to the door repeatedly when Mother was collecting and she had to file a lien against the crop in order to get our money.
What did our parents charge for this custom work? The charge was levied at so much per bushel with a tally provided by the weighing device at the top of the grain spout. Each grain was priced differently depending on the work necessary to set up to thresh it. As I recall it was between 8 and 10 cents a bushel for wheat and oats and a pea job cost the farmer 12 cents per bushel. A bushel of wheat (the heaviest) weighed 60 pounds. When a “stack” job was done the price was $12 for the job.
These crops were raised on irrigated land for the most part. If a wheat crop went 40 to 60 bushels to the acre it was considered to be a very fine crop.
Wages for the crew were very low and good help could be had for less than $5 per day with meals and a place to sleep provided. Mother remembered that for all this hard work and investment the custom threshing business netted the family about $1,000 a season. Our parents were pleased with that figure.
The Plowing and Beet Hauling Business
Dad, in order to maximize his custom business, purchased a 2 ½ ton beet hauling truck in 1934. The large, rectangular-shaped wooden bed was designed to allow the two long sides to be hinge-lowered for easier loading. At that time there were many acres of sugar beets grown in the farmlands north of Hamilton and Mexican stoop labor was brought in to work the beet fields. The crops were contracted to the sugar factory in Missoula and, of course, the crop had to be hauled from the muddy fields to the railhead for transport. The trucker was paid by the ton abut I am sorry to say the amount of payment has long been forgotten.
Jack Miller had heard about the new truck and thought it would be exciting work to drive it. But Dad already had hired someone else to handle the job and he didn’t know if this young kid—this handsome young Kansan in his early 20’s could do the job. It was near the end of the threshing season so he was hired as a tractor man instead. It wasn’t many days until Dad took him off that job and put him on the beet truck. The other fellow hadn’t proved out—he was only hauling about 15 tons of beets a day with the two shovelers Dad had hired. That simply wasn’t enough to pay for the truck and make a profit.
Jack accepted the challenge. He was going to prove himself if it killed him. Jack told me, “The other driver wasn’t shoveling. I got out and helped the shovelers. It wasn’t long until we jumped it up to 30 tons a day. This one day I brought the account slip from the scales and showed your Dad. He said, ‘What’s this, there must be some mistake. You’ve got 40 tons down here!’” Jack said, “That’s right, that’s what we hauled today. His fact lit up like a country church!”
I think that was probably their peak day. They probably had ideal conditions—a high producing crop, they didn’t get stuck, they were feeling particularly good, the haul to the railhead may have been shorter, and the weather compatible. I am certainly not attempting to make light of these three men’s efforts. Much of their success was the gamesmanship, the comradeship and the challenge that Jack was able to instill in the men with whom he worked. It was another hard, dirty job well done.
In the spring and fall, after the threshing season, the tractor was operated for custom plowing. It was outfitted with lights so it could run long hours each day to accomplish the greatest amount of work following or before the winters freeze up. Low to the ground because of the rubber tires, it sometimes became mired or high-centered causing some delays. Jack Miller and Howard McKittrick did the plowing in shifts. Plowing was paid for by the acre but the charge cannot be remembered nor can the amount earned in a season.
After it froze up, Jack quotes our Dad as saying, “Jack, I can’t pay you anything this winter unless we can do some kind of work but you can stay here—your board isn’t going to cost you anything. I want you so stay with me.”
“And your Dad and I would up awfully close. I thought an awful lot of him. He taught me a lot of things that helped me in later life. He was just one peach of a guy. Of course, you know, like I say, there was a lot of difference in our ages but then your Dad said, ‘I’ve never seen anybody that I could put out and trust with anything more than I can you.’ So that went quite a ways with me. He was a wonderful guy. He wouldn’t do nothin’ to hurt anybody knowingly. He had a heart as big as the outdoors. He loved machinery and so did I.”
TROUBLES, TRIALS AND TRAGEDIES
Mother was very overprotective of her children and the anxieties that were part of her nature often came to the fore when she was caring for them. When they were infants she overdressed and almost smothered them with flannel clothing and wrappings. As a result they were often covered with itch heat rash. I was a summer baby and was treated for colic by stoking up the kitchen range and holding my feet in front of the opened oven door! When Frank was a newborn infant Grandmother Vincent interceded for him with Mother in a very kindly way, saying, “I think I’d take off some of those clothes so the boy can breathe.”
During the fall of 1926, when her youngest child, Donald Nicholas, was almost three years old she and our Dad decided to take their young family by train to Southern California for Christmas to visit Mother’s sister, Inez Taylor, and her family. What was to have been a glorious expedition turned to anxiety when Betty Rae came down with the measles exposing the three Vincent children. The vacation was shortened somewhat so that the return trip could be completed before we became ill. All three of us had exceptionally severe cases. Donald, who was somewhat frail and subject to bronchitis, contracted pneumonia as well.
Little could be done in those days for either measles or pneumonia. During that miserable, cold January kindly Dr. George McGrath, from Hamilton, came often to the house but could do little except give Donald whiskey weakened with water. All of the adults took turns keeping vigil at the bedsides of the three sick children. Grandmother Vincent was taking her turn when Donald slipped away, at dawn, the morning of January 29, 1927.
Mother said of this time, “It was a sad part in our lives when we lost Donald—he was the only blonde. We grieved pretty much for him, all of us did. In a few months I was pregnant with Herb and that made us very, very happy that a new baby was coming. He was a very choice baby because he followed Donald’s footsteps. I was so afraid that I would lose him, too, that I bundled him up. He had bronchitis one whole winter but he did grow up husky.”
The Great Depression and the Loss of the Land
During the Great Depression of the early 1930’s prices for farm produce, never very high, dropped to unbelievably low levels. There were more agricultural products than there were markets for them. Crops often went unsold at any price—rotted in the fields or in storage buildings. The farmer was not supported by any type of governmental programs and many of them lost their land to the bankers who held their mortgages or they had to let them go for taxes.
A succinct entry in my diary for June 14, 1932 helps tell the story: “Daddy and Grandpa went to Missoula but couldn’t sell many potatoes.* They traded them for groceries.” More than one such attempt was made. Meanwhile the potatoes had to be sorted and resorted to cull out those that were spoiling. At that time we were raising several railroad chars of “spuds” so the work, worry and loss can be understood as being considerable.
*Earlier attempts to sell the potatoes by the carload had failed.
Because our parents were in business with our grandparents the complete managerial decisions were not theirs. Grandfather, although he spent hours figuring on the backs of old envelopes, was not a manager in the true sense. Even if he had been, the economic times spelled trouble for us and disaster for thousands.
Because we raised much of our own food we never went hungry and clothing was handed down or made over—sometimes adults’ clothing being made over for children to wear. It was the gasoline to run the tractor, the taxes and the mortgage interest payments that kept us in peril.
Finally, in the fall of 1934, we gave up the land on the Grantsdale place—that is the south and east side acreages. I believe that was 160 acres of the 320 and we left the remainder to our grandparents sole ownership. They survived by renting out the house we had called home and the remaining mortgage-free land to other farmers to work.
The Nichol Place
Somehow we were able to get financing to buy the Nichol place in the Hamilton suburbs—a 10 acre tract with a large, very old, two story, white clapboard house upon it. It was our parents plan to keep enough livestock to provide for ourselves, with the pasture land available, and to raise vegetables and berries to market. Our Dad also kept all of his custom farm equipment. He planned, too, to rent land upon which to grow crops.
The move meant that Frank, Jr. had to finish eighth grade in the old Hamilton Jefferson School and Herbie started first grade there. I was in my second year at Hamilton High School and could then walk to school rather than take the school bus.
The house had a living room, a parlor, a large kitchen and pantry, a bathroom and a bedroom on the first floor and four bedrooms on the second. It was much larger than the house we had had at Grantsdale but probably was not in as good condition because of its age and the settling of its foundation. Historically this had been the sight of the first post office in the Grantsdale –Hamilton area.
It had a large front porch, a screened back porch and a storage shed attached to the house at the rear with a covered walkway. The yard was large and attractive with a picket fence; about 100 feet west of the house there was a barn and an attached chicken house.
Dad’s Declining Health and Death
I believe, generally speaking, that Mother and we children were quite happy about the move but to our Dad, it spelled disaster. A very conscientious man I’m sure he was bedeviled by thoughts of failure and thoughts that he had abandoned his parents in their old age. To Mother it meant that at last we were on our own and we could make it all right.
During the idleness of the winter of 1934-35 Dad went into a serious nervous breakdown that was devastating to witness. In today’s society we would say he had a mental collapse and there would have been much more help available for him than at present. Mother and we kids were bewildered by his deeply depressed state, his crying and shutting himself alone for hours at a time. Whether or not any professional help was sought I do not remember. I only recall it was a very, very trying time and all of us kids grew up a lot during that year having to accept greater responsibility. Our faithful hired man, Jack Miller, continued to stay with us and help shore us up, just for his board and room.
When spring arrived and planting season, Dad seemed to miraculously recover and make plans. Machinery was prepared for a successful season with the threshing outfit. Mother, very pregnant with Darryl, continued to help with the business and the rest of us pitched in to keep the home chores going. Joyfully, the arrival of infant brother Darryl Lee on December 13 (Friday), 1935 was a great occasion and a time to celebrate.
Joy turned to suffering as, soon after Christmas, Dad went into another serious decline. The lines on his face deepened and he again hid himself away in an upstairs bedroom or days at a time. We feared that he would take his life.
After some kind of consultation, the decision was made to send him for professional help to Bozeman, Montana. How he got there, I do not remember. Mother did not accompany him but prevailed upon her elderly aunt and her husband, William and Jennie Hamner Staffanson, to take him in which they did most lovingly. They had known him when he was a little boy living with his parents in the Deer Lodge Valley.
When he returned home after six weeks, he seemed improved although very quiet. We tried to hide our alarm when we received word from the Staffansons that one of their guns was missing. We never found it or knew what became of it.
In early May Dad took to his bed with extreme abdominal pain. For years he had a hernia. There was never money or time to get it surgically repaired. In those days it meant months off the job to recover and few farmers felt they had that kind of time. Young Dr. Donald Gordon was called and diagnosed the case as “the flu”. When the error was discovered, a day later, emergency surgery was performed by Dr. Hayward. Mother and I spent the evening following the operation in his room. Dad was not rational and we were innocent in our belief that he would be OK in a day or two. The following afternoon he was gone—May 7, 1936.
Many years later when asked what the worst time of her life was, Mother replied quickly, “I would say the year that your Daddy died.” She had completely blanked out from her mind the cause of his death and said that he died of a nervous breakdown.
WIDOWHOOD IN MONTANA
Making a Living
Left a widow with four children, the youngest only five months old, what was Mother to do? Pick up the pieces and go on. Mother was determined to make a living for her family and with her indomitable spirit she was able to succeed. Our Dad had left an insurance policy of $2,000 which seemed like a fortune in those days but Mother decided to save it for a “rainy day” and though she went through numerous crises in her lifetime, it was never spent. On one occasion son-in-law Jim Coombs asked her how much rainier she thought it might get! No, the money was set aside and I firmly believe that the $2,000 was part of the estate she left us when she died. There was never any governmental aid—never any charity, either.
Of this time, Jack Miller says, “Just before Frank was taken to the hospital he called me into the bedroom. He put his hand out and said, ‘Jack, I want to shake your hand—I won’t be back.’ I said, ‘Frank, yes you will,’ and yet I knew he wouldn’t. He said, ‘Jack, stay with my family ‘till they can be on their own.’ Then, after he passed away, there was quite a burden on my shoulders for awhile, too.”
He had come to work for Dad for ten days and the Vincent home was his for the next five years. It was a blessing that he remained but he humbly says, “It was the only home I had and I sort of had to have a place to hang my hat.”
Life makes its demands and the work and routine of each day gradually brought us through the grief process. Before Dad’s death Mother had purchased 250 baby chicks whose quarters had to be kept at a constant temperature. Chilling causes chicks to pile up and smother. They required attention at intervals throughout the night to be sure that the fire was kept going, that there was an abundant supply of clean water and that the food hoppers were kept filled. Also, there were vegetable and berry crops that needed care.
Decisions had to be faced, Mother pondered—should she continue with the threshing business? A kindly Victor man, Mr. McVay, who operated a competitive threshing business and knew our father’s reputation as a thresher man, came to see Mother and encouraged her to go ahead with the business particularly since she had Jack as her employee and master mechanic. It meant hiring another man with the rest of the business she was familiar. The right choice was made: continue. She operated the outfit for three more seasons and was written up in one of the western Montana newspapers as the only thresher woman in Montana—and probably elsewhere! Mother once told son Frank, “I never did ask for a job on the sympathy that I had a family to support. I made a statement that we could do a better job than the other fellow and I got all the work we could do—there was no idle time.”
Dad had contracted (with the Associated Pea Growers) and planted 40 acres of peas on rented land on the bench. Either before or after his death, Jack was cut in on this venture. Mother recalled that the crop was ruined by wind or hail but Jack never mentioned any disaster occurring. He said, “We had a good crop. We got $300 a piece out of it and, you know, $300 in those days was pretty fair money.”
It is Jack’s recollection that the beet truck was sold following the 1936 season but that the custom plowing work continued.
With a lot of hard work the summer season and the fall threshing season passed successfully. We sold potatoes, berries, cantaloupes and other produce to the Hamilton grocery stores accepting credit toward future purchases. This amounted to $80 or $100 by the end of the growing season and during the winter provided our flour, sugar, coffee, tea and other staples that could not be grown on our acreage. Canning and preserving had been going on, too, so that many of our needs were supplied from our own pantry. In this way we were always provided for during the long winter.
Cold, Mumps and Fire
The winter of 1936-37 was an exceptionally trying one. We had the help of Jack Miller and often, his friend, Howard McKittrick, who plowed for us but was there after the freeze-up because he had no other place to go. Part of this time Jack had employment in the logging industry. After Christmas the weather turned absolutely awful with terrible snow storms and subzero weather for the entire month of January. Frank and I came down with terrible cases of mumps and were bedfast for two weeks which not only eliminated us from the family work force but took time from Mother to care for us.
Just at the time when it looked as if we could see light at the end of the tunnel with the kids on the mend and the weather moderating, Howard, who was trying to keep the 250 beautiful, white, egg-producing leghorn hens from freezing by keeping a fire going in the hen house, somehow set it on fire. Outside the city limits, the fire department came and watched it urn as there was no source of water—the nearby pond being frozen over. Not only the chicken house and all the chickens were destroyed but the barn to which it was attached also went up in flames. We did rescue some small machinery and a hog that we had been fattening. Insurance rebuilt the barn—a much smaller one. Mother lost heart on chicken raising and kept only enough for our family’s needs thereafter. That was one of Mother’s rainiest days!
While Frank was in high school he took a job with the local dry cleaner to help out with expense. I graduated from high school in May, 1937 and left that fall to live in Spokane to attend business college so that I could become self-supporting as rapidly as possible. As a reward for all of our efforts and hard work Mother took us by car to California during the early summer to visit the Taylor’s. Upon our return it was another season of hard work for Mother.
To add to the family income Mother decided to rent the lower half of her home and live with her three boys and Jack on the second floor. This was an extremely inconvenient arrangement. There was a private entrance through a hall door but there were no plumbing facilities. Mother or the boys had to carry all the water for cooking upstairs and then carry the waste water down again. The rent arrangement allowed the family to use the one bathroom on the first floor along with the tenants which meant a trip downstairs and through their kitchen!
Jack Miller remembers that there was a chimney flue connection on the second floor where a small wood burning range was installed. This supplied both heat and a place to prepare meals. Frank believes that this arrangement was endured for two years. When I came home for Christmas I was really concerned about this plan but Mother never complained. It was one of the more difficult sacrifices that she made for her family but soon forgot. She never spoke of it in later years.
During this time she had two frights with Frank. One was an accident at the dry cleaners that threatened his eyesight and the other was an emergency appendectomy. Fortunately neither episode had any lasting effects.
THE CALIFORNIA MIGRATION
Mother was very aware that Frank would never make a good farmer. He disliked everything about it. I can recall his trying to milk the cows; he hated the job and what a poor job he did—not stripping them properly tended to dry them up. He loved machinery and tinkering with old cars—one, in particular, his “bug”, was his real joy. He was also fascinated with aviation and had been from the time that he paid a dollar to ride in a small barnstorming plane that had landed on the benchland above the Grantsdale property. He wanted wings!
It was for this reason that, upon his graduation from high school in 1939, the decision was made to take him to California to attend Curtis Wright Technical Institute in Glendale. That summer, while Jack was working on the threshing machine, Ed Easton came to make Mother an offer for it and she sold.
Of the sale she said, “When I sold the threshing machine that was really something that tugged at my heart. It was very dear to me because it had been dear to your Dad and because it had made my living for three years. I hated to see it go but I got a thousand dollars for it. It was getting old and everybody thought that I was lucky.”
She was. Within a very few years farming practices in the Bitterroot Valley had changed drastically—one of these changes being the introduction of combines to replace threshing machines.
Jack Miller went with the machinery but it wasn’t an easy separation. He was like a brother to Frank and Herb and an affectionate surrogate father for Darryl. Mother and I looked on him with a great deal of fondness because he had been with us for so long and had been such a loyal and responsible helper during Mother’s struggle to support us.
Even after Jack had been at Easton’s for several months the tie was hard to break. Mother and Frank had talked it over and when they were packed and ready to leave for California they went to Easton’s and asked Jack if he would give up his position there and throw in his lot with them in this new venture. Jack said it was a very, very difficult decision but he decided against it. He thought it was time for them to give up their dependency on him. He knew, too, that the Taylor’s would be nearby to offer help in California if it were needed.
In the spring of 1942 he joined the Navy’s “Seabees” and while he was at Oxnard, California we were able to visit him. Following the war he trained as a body and fender repairman and followed that trade until his retirement a few years ago. He and his wife, Rae, live in Missoula, Montana. Today he says, “As I look at the family now, I’m proud of each of you kids and I like to make believe I played a big part in your early life.”
Later, when Ed Easton sold the threshing outfit and moved to California he kept the small leather tool case that had come with the separator when it was new. He remembered how much Dad and Jack had always loved machinery—mechanical work, tools, things to do with their hands. He sent the leather case of small adjustment wrenches to Jack. After some deliberation—he loved them too, he decided that they should go to Frank and Herb. Herb had his framed and hanging in his family room in California.
Mother and her boys spent their last Christmas in Montana with Grandma, Grandpa, and Aunt Geneva after having closed up their home. When the farewells were made they were just for one year. Mother thought she would be returning. However, before the time was up, the warmer California climate had won her as a convert.
“We left the day after Christmas and that wasn’t easy, to take you children away from Grandpa and Grandma. You were the only grandchildren they had and they loved you so dearly but they were very brave about it. (He was then 82 and he died when he was 85; she was 74 and lived until she was 94).
“The only thing Grandpa said was that we’ break down before we got there because we overloaded the trailer and we did”, Mother recalled many years later.
Hazards of the Journey
Mother, aided by Frank, recalled the journey, “The first night out we were over near Dillon. We stayed there in a little ol’ tourist cabin and it was so cold.”
“There was a foot of snow or more. The second day we went through Idaho Falls and one wheel nearly came off the trailer but we got it fixed.”
“The next place we had a problem was in Malad—cold and a little old town where you wouldn’t think you could find anything—and we broke an axle on the trailer.”
“It was a Model-T axle which is a very light weight axle for the load we had.”
“We thought we’d never find another one in Malad but we did. The Lord was right with us.”
It was repaired and the load lightened by shipping part of the materials. Through Utah the roads were icy and hazardous and Mother said as they reached the warmer climes, “It was heaven to see that green grass in Cedar City—warm it was, and from there on we went to San Bernardino on New Year’s Eve.”
Mother’s sister, Inez, took them in providing a big New Year’s Day turkey dinner following a trip to see the Rose Parade in Pasadena. They headquartered in San Bernardino while they spent about a week seeking a place to live in Glendale.
Early Years In California
444 North Reese Place, Burbank, CA
Mr. and Mrs. Earl Gilleland
THE EARLY CALIFORNIA YEARS
The Glendale Boarding House
When Frank enrolled at Curtis Wright Technical Institute the registrar told him they needed places for boys to stay. Frank talked it over with Mother and that became the answer for her livelihood. She rented a place on Chevy Chase and began taking in boarders—young men also attending Curtis Wright. Zoning laws necessitated a change and she was successful in finding even better accommodations—a home on Irving within easy walking distance of the school. It had a separate garage over which were two large bedrooms and a bath.
Frank worked two hours every day, after school, as a janitor to help with expenses and then helped Mother with the dishes as well as carried a heavy study load. Every time Mother had trouble with her budget she would just take in another boarder! She used cots and bunk beds to provide for them. Groceries were cheap in those days and she could come home from the market with the trunk and back seat of her car completely loaded for $10!
The largest number of boys kept at one time was five—fine boys of who Mother said she loved every one. They did their washing outside, on Saturdays, with an old electric washer and hung up a long line to dry. Of her “hoity toity” next door neighbor Mother said, “When those five or six husky boys piled out of my house every morning carrying big sacks of lunch, she wondered what kind of place I was running!”
Following Frank’s graduation in October 1940, with an A and E license (fuselage and engine) he moved to Ontario where Curtis Wright operated the Cal-Aero Academy. He worked for them as a mechanic and took flying lessons planning on becoming a flight instructor at the school. This materialized and Mother, although hesitant and fearful for him to become a flyer at first, was one of his first passengers.
Remarriage and Move to Burbank
In May, 1940 Mother married Earl Gilleland, a childless widower and carpenter, whom she had met earlier in Corvallis, Montana. He moved to California and it was then that Mother sold her Montana property. When Frank left home, they closed the boarding house and bought a two-bedroom home in Burbank at 444 Reese Place. Earl had plenty of work to do and Mother remained at home taking care of him and her two boys. Earl was, as Mother often said, good in his way. He loved the boys as his own. He had had a long stint in the Marines, in Europe, during World War I and later in the far East and he memories of the violence he had seen still preyed on his mind. And he drank—cheap wine.
The War Years
A few weeks prior to Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, I decided to move to California. What was to have been a two or three months stay with Mother and Earl ended up being two and a half years! High rents and a comparatively low salary made finding a apartment a near impossibility. I paid room and board but wasn’t much help. A twelve-hour commuting workday from Burbank to Los Angeles didn’t leave much time except on weekends and that time was soon taken up with courtship after I had a reunion with U.S. Army Private First Class Jim Coombs whom I had know casually in Spokane.
Of this time Jim says, “When Marge and I had our ‘storybook’ reunion in February 1942, I came to meet Flossie and Marge’s brothers one evening. I must have impressed her because even though Marge had forewarned her that she might not like me, Flossie said later to Marge, ‘I think Jim is real nice! So much better than that preacher you’ve been seeing!’”
“She would spend hours trying to buy short supply food, particularly meat, in order to have super dinners when I came to the house on pass. She really wanted me as a son-in-law. She scrimped and saved gas coupons for Marge and me to use with her 1936 Chevrolet including our July 1942 honeymoon trip to San Diego. These were sacrifices that she and Herb and Darryl shared in order that Marge and I could better enjoy our hours together.”
“Probably her greatest sacrifice during those war years was to feed and house me for over two years while Marge and I apartment hunted. This was almost a lost cause because of the housing shortage in the Los Angeles area. Flossie was so patient and wanted so much to bring as much happiness as possible to us even though she had to rearrange bed space for other family members.”
As the war progressed Mother wanted to do more for victory than just carefully obey the rationing laws. One of the ways that she did this was to open her home for day care for two children of aircraft factory working mothers. She also did the women’s ironing. She obtained permission from the owner of the adjoining 50 foot vacant lot and put in a super Victory garden that filled the entire space—including the parking strip where she planted peanuts!
Frank had a friend at Cal-Aero in Ontario, who befriended him, and introduced him to his sister-in-law, Lillie Green, from Salt Lake City. A romance blossomed and their courtship brought them to a wedding ceremony at 444 N. Reese Place. Mother’s green thumb provided huge baskets of white callas to place in front of the living room fireplace. Lillie was lovely in her Mother’s wedding gown.
About some of the days that followed that joyful occasion, Lillie has this to say, “As a young bride I had soooo much to learn about marriage when I first realized the hearts and flowers aren’t as enduring as one would hope. I mean basic things like cooking, sewing, and housekeeping.
“I learned a lot about cooking by watching Flossie but was never able to master her ice box cookies. Our hands must have been different sizes, because the hands full of flour she “measured” or the pinch of this or that didn’t bring the same results in my oven as it did in hers.”
“She bailed me out of any number of sewing calamities. The first one was a slippery polka dot fabric and a dress pattern with gobs of ruffles the full length of either side of a front panel. Until I was married, the only sewing project I had ever completed was an apron, by assignment, in a high school class. It took the entire semester. I sweated over that dumb polka dot undertaking a long while before throwing in the towel. She finished the garment, correcting an untold number of mistakes, and I wore it a good number of years.”
“Flossie could make an ordinary meal special, just because we were together as family members. During The War, when meat was rationed and scarce, she would come up with bacon for breakfast, even though it meant waiting in a long line at the butcher counter, and hoping there would still be some when she reached it.
“A certain center piece, or fancy napkins, or coordinated tablecloth and candles transformed an ordinary menu into a delightful dinner. Or it might be fresh vegetables or fruit, picked from her Victory Garden that brought praise. For special events, such as birthdays or holidays, there was a festive table spread in grand style to honor the guest or the occasion. Our get-togethers were centered around a meal or refreshments of some sort—always.”
“Flossie and I were shopping in Burbank for fabric on VJ Day, when the news was released that Japan had surrendered. People went crazy with excitement, racing around in the streets, horns blowing, people crying, laughing, and screaming! The stores all closed to celebrate this historic day. I will always remember that I was with her that day.”
In 1943, when Darryl was eight years old, he became very ill and had to have surgery for osteomyelitis in his thigh bone—a trying time for the entire family. Following the operation, he was put in a body cast which was gradually trimmed down to his waist and up as far as his knees. He had to wear this heavy mass of plaster for six months. Earl made him a trolley on which he could lie and be pushed or pulled about in the yard and tutors came to assist him with his schooling.
Earl decided that his best effort for the war would be to go to Hawaii (and later, the Johnson Islands) with a civilian construction crew. He faithfully sent money home for Mother to make the mortgage payments and to help meet her other expenses. She always spoke in praise of Earl for this steadfastness.
At this time Mother began babysitting outside her home with some children whose mother was selling real estate. She noticed the real estate books and questioned the woman about such a career. She was encouraged to study for a license.
During the war, Mother’s first grandchild arrived, Ronald Vincent. She was overjoyed. Her great battle with wartime bureaucracy and the necessity for strategic “blackouts” occurred six weeks later when David Coombs arrived. She was determined that his “Daddy” had to be notified even though he was aboard ship in mid-Pacific traveling under a great security blackout. Her appeals to the Red Cross and other authorities fell on deaf ears—one of Mother’s few defeats.
She and I had put in a short stint at rolling bandages with the Red Cross which we both bound utterly boring. Instead, we volunteered to serve coffee and sandwiches on Sunday evenings to the soldiers visiting the U.S.O. in Burbank.
Within a week of Jim’s return to California following V.J. Day (this was January 1946 because of transportation delays) Earl committed suicide. Jim and I had spent the entire afternoon visiting with him prior to the incident and the only thing we could determine was that he knew that many G.I.’s would be returning looking for work and perhaps he would lose out as an older man one whose difficulty with alcohol made his hands shaky and his eye not too clear. He was conscientious and wanted to do a good carpentry job but perhaps wondered if he could. He had returned from his overseas construction work at war’s end—still battling the bottle.
And so, the family attended a funeral for Earl, a high school graduation for Herb and the baptism of David—all within one week. What a mixture of sadness and joy for Mother to go through! This was one of the times that she told Jim, when he was trying to help her with her personal business, that she couldn’t spend the $2,000 that our father had left her—she was saving it for a rainy day!
Jim had a job waiting in Spokane and so we packed up and left Mom with Herb and Darryl knowing that somehow, they would survive. Herb had been operating a circulation business for the Hollywood News while he attended high school and not long after that he went to work for the Peterson Manufacturing Company. Mother had prepared herself for the real estate examinations and passed them becoming, not a salesperson, as she had anticipated, but a licensed broker. She could have had her own offices but preferred to work for others.
A CAREER IN REAL ESTATE
Herb, writing in his column “The Real Estate Scene” in 1980, had this to say about Mother’s career:
Last Wednesday evening, Paul-White-Carnahan Realtors held their annual recognition dinner at the Lakeside Country Club. Over 400 associates and guest filled the banquet room overlooking the beautiful golf course and enjoyed a delicious prime rib dinner after which the top producers were honored by the firm.
As some of my readers know, my mother, Flossie Olsen, was the first salesperson the local realty company hired in 1946 at their original office at the corner of Hollywood Way and Clark. At the time the firms was known as Paul-White Realty, with Joe Carnahan soon joining Bob Paul and Bill White to create Paul-White-Carnahan Realty, today known as P-W-C Realtors.
Flossie was a top producer in those early years and although a widow, with me and my younger brother, Darryl, to care for, she was a winner of the new firm’s “Outstanding Associate Award” in 1948 and again in 1949.
As always, she was again this year honored guest at the recognition dinner and proudly arose when introduced by Vice President John Parker.
“She didn’t earn the large commissions made today with the inflated prices of homes, but she was a terrific salesperson,” Parker told the assembled crowd at Lakeside, noting she had been a winner of the PWC “48 Club Award” in 1949 and again in 1956. “To qualify for this award,” Parker went on, “you must have made 48 transactions in a year, either sales or listings sold.” (Translated into today’s commission amounts, this would represent over $86,000 in earnings and means closing an escrow four times every month for a year.) Parker noted that this has been done only three times since 1965.
Flossie’s name still appears in the company’s records as the salesperson with the most listings sold for a one-year period in the Magnolia office with 36 Listings Sold in 1950 and again in 1958, the year she retired.
Flossie Olsen and Inez Taylor
Flossie and George Olsen
Rajah Kan and Amber Girl
Flossie, now approaching 85, greeted the audience with some words of encouragement, wished them all well and said, “I’ll be back again next year.”
When Mother approached Bill White for a position, she told him that she could work only part time as she had to care for her young son. She soon learned that you don’t sell real estate part time. You sell it when the seller or buyer wants to talk business. She arranged to have Darryl cared for after school and in the summer and became a super salesperson—loving every minute of it. Her successful career in this field enabled her to send Darryl to the University of California at Santa Barbara to obtain his degree.
To Laugh at Oneself
There were many humorous situations during Mother’s real estate career. One of them, which she enjoyed telling as a joke on herself, follows:
One day, in 1947, I got up at 4 a.m. and at 6 a.m. was ringing doorbells for listings! (a slight exaggeration on Mother’s part!) I reported to “Sgt.” Joe Carnahan for work. I spent all day calling previous clients to whom I had sold houses—looking for prospects.
That evening I was on the night shift when, about 8 a.m., a husband and wife dropped by to see some homes. In my heart I wished they had stayed home because it was pouring rain and I hoped the top of my 14-year-old Chevy wouldn’t leak. We took off and I got lost right in Burbank trying to find the house Paul-White-Carnahan had listed. I drove up one street and down another for about six streets looking for Catalina and finally found it.
I left my clients in the car, rang the doorbell, saying in a very courteous voice, “May I show your home.” Both owners looked kind of puzzled, but my thought was, “Oh well, I didn’t call for an appointment.” The husband looked at his wife and said, “Well, I guess so.”
I had my clients about through the dining room when an astonishing thing dawned on me—I was in the wrong house! Too late to make amends because I could see the clients really liked the place. What to do? One of P.W.C.’s strictest rules was “Do not show a home without a listing.”
Finally, when I got them out of the house they said, “How much is it?” I quoted the price of the house I had started out to show them and they said, “We’ll take it!” I hurriedly wrote up the deal--$10,500 with $3,500 down and got a deposit. I nearly pushed them out of the office door so I could hurry and get the listing signed by the sellers. (This house was right next door to the one I had been looking for—a tract home.)
The owners were greatly surprised when I told them that I’d sold their house—wanted to know how much I got for it! I was surprised when they told me that they had been thinking of selling, thought the price was right and signed the listing and the contract!
I hated to report for work the next morning. I thought I might get fired but Bob Paul and the boys at the office just laughed at me. I was sure relieved and didn’t think it as funny as they did. The deal on the house went through without a hitch and buyers and sellers never knew but what that was the way real estate was handled.
Here is another of Mother’s favorite real estate stories—true also:
I sold some clients a home telling them that there was a big park across the street. The next morning when I learned it was Valhalla Cemetery—maybe you think it was easy for me to go tell them the truth. But I did. The Mrs. said, “Gee, we don’t mind. Nobody in there is going to disturb us!” They lived there for years and felt safe enough to leave their doors unlocked!
Herb, who had been courting Velma Boren for several months, married her in April of 1949. About Mother and their first home, Velma says, “Flossie being a Real Estate Broker was determined to have us invest in at home—three months after we were married (at the ages of 21 and 19) found us in our first home at 603 N. Whitnall, in Burbank.
“During the Korean conflict, in 1951, Herb was inducted into the United States Air Force when our daughter, Karen, was one month old. Flossie took care of our home and rented it out for us while we were stationed in Valdosta, Georgia and then in Apple Valley, California for 21 months.
MRS. GEORGE OLSEN
Remarriage and he Move to North Hollywood
In November of 1948 Mother married George Olsen whom she had met through mutual friends. He was from New York City but had lived in California for several years. He had never had children and, as I recall, was divorced. Suave and self-assured he was always well-groomed with taste for beautiful belongings—home, yard and furnishings.
Of him Mother said, “Tall, handsome George Olsen—he never had a fault in the world except he was jealous of my children. He knew I had them when he married me. And they all remember it to this day. They’ve never said much about it but one-time Darryl said he was disappointed because he thought he was going to have a father—he was about 11 or 12 years old—and he didn’t have a father. George was so jealous of him.”
In 1953 Mother and George bought a lovely ranch style home in North Hollywood at 6210 Riverton. They owned two beautiful Golden Cocker Spaniels and Mother was never without a dog after that until she moved into the retirement home—a Duke, a Kim or a Charcoal.
She and George did not attend dances—he was not a dancer as Frank and Earl had been—but they enjoyed playing cards together or with friends. They especially enjoyed playing Canasta which was very popular in the 1950’s.
Mother always enjoyed playing cards and one of Ron Vincent’s memories of her follows: “I recall spending some evenings with Grandma Flossie playing poker—a game I knew little about. I remember playing with toothpicks and I tried to double my assets by breaking mine in half. Grandma still won all my toothpicks, fair and square!”
Mother and George took several long trips—some by car and some by plane—to Canada and Washington State to visit me and my family, to New York State to visit George’s brother and family and his sisters in New York City. They also went to Georgia to visit Herb and family while he was stationed there in the Air Force. Following that visit they toured the South by train on their homeward journey.
They kept their home in top shape and developed and maintained a lovely yard. But there were tempestuous times during their nine years of marriage and George finally left home in 1955 and lived in a little shack at the rear of the coin shop that he operated in North Hollywood. Mother claimed that she visited him their and that they remained friends.
During the summer of 1957 Mother came to Spokane to visit me and my family and she talked of plans to go to Europe with George—a dream that was never to be realized. The Ray Taylor’s were in Spokane at the same time and it was a joyous reunion.
George, who had had lung surgery earlier, had been ailing when she left for her visit and was very ill when she returned home. He moved back home with her so that she could care for him but soon had to go to the Veteran’s Hospital where he died of lung cancer in September and was buried at the Veterans’ Cemetery at Sawtelle. (This is also the burial place of Earl Gilleland.)
Grandchildren with Flossie: Standing, left to right, David Coombs and Ronald Vincent.
Seated on the floor, rear, left to right, Larry Vincent and Roger Coombs. Front row, left to right, Robert Vincent, Karen Vincent, Linda Vincent and in front of her, Sallie Vincent.
Seated on Mother’s lap, left to right, Stephen Vincent and Timothy Vincent.
Colorado Family Reunion 1977
Great-grandchildren with Mother—except Grandson Kevin Vincent, standing.
Left to right: Matthew Guillory, Carol Coombs, Kristin Coombs, Julie Coombs, Ethan Vincent, Paul Vincent and Todd Vincent.
1957 Christmas Reunion
Herb, Marge, Flossie, Frank, Darryl
Christmas Reunion 1957
Velma, Jim Coombs, Lillie, Flossie,
Ray Taylor, Kathy
THE EARLY RETIREMENT YEARS
Tears and Laughter
Mother’s sorrows multiplied when, in October, her granddaughter, Susan Joy Coombs, age 3, died very suddenly in Spokane and the first week of December her beloved sister, Inez Taylor, died of cancer.
A giant step “to keep smiling” took place when our family, the Coombs, decided to join the extended family for Christmas in North Hollywood. This was an opportunity, too, to meet Kathy Hayes Vincent who had become Darryl’s wife during his last year of college, and their small son, Tim, for the first time.
Ray Taylor, too, came from San Bernardino to join us and it was a great family reunion which our son Roger remembers saying, “It was Christmas 1957 and the whole clan was gathered at her place. My first vivid memories of Grandma Flossie are from that gathering”:
--“Her love of family: She was clearly jubilant to be with her children and grandchildren (and in more recent years, great-grandchildren). Her interest in each and every grandchild was obvious and something I personally experienced from an early age. She had 14 grandchildren and was separated from my brother, David, and me by more than a thousand miles. Nevertheless, we frequently experienced, by letters and personal visits, the love and concern of a loving grandmother. Each grandchild was a special individual whom she wanted to encourage and love in the best way possible. She was very proud of her four children who lived to adulthood. She had a right to be. Each one has attained success and prominence in his/her life’s calling.
--“Her robust sense of humor: Her hearty laughter filled the house that Christmas reunion long ago. Unknown to me, then, was the adversity which she had met head-on in life and overcome. The loss of her first husband came in the midst of the Great Depression with four children still at home and she had recently been widowed for the third time. Perhaps it was her marvelous sense of humor and ability to ‘let her hair down’ occasionally that helped her through those difficult times. We all know how well that sense of humor has been fully inherited by her three sons!
“Twenty years later there was another reunion—this time in the beautiful Colorado Rockies. Though an octogenarian she still exhibited that same zestful exuberance for life. I’ll never forget her riding on the back of the motorcycle!”
Return to Burbank
Velma explains, “After 10 years and two children we were outgrowing our little two-bedroom, one bath home even with the den we had added. Flossie was now retired, alone and ready for a smaller home. After showing us three homes, we purchased one (704 Grinnell) that fitted our needs. She purchased our place and spent 15 happy years there until her move into the Pacific Manor Retirement Home.”
“Flossie’s favorite colors were of the purple and lavender hues, and always one to be different, immediately, upon possession of the house, she had the kitchen painted lavender and installed a pink stove and pink refrigerator.”
Happiness with Harry
In 1962 Mother met Harry Yeamans, a dear little man, who shared her interests and escorted and courted her for years. They loved dancing and card playing and were active members of Burbank’s Senior Citizen group “Fun After Forty”. Harry called on her often and helped her keep her yard looking lovely.
Harry’s first wife had died as well as one or two children—all that he had. His second marriage was an unfortunate one ending in divorce.
Excerpts from two letters written the same day in July 1964—one by Mother and the other by Harry, give some insights into her busy, happy life, his droll character and their relationship.
First, Mother’s letter: A Day at the Beach
Dear Marge & all—
What a delightful way to spend a Monday. I usually work like heck on Mondays. I drove over to Harry’s to help paint and Harry informed me we were going to the beach.
Had a delightful, full, busy week with Lillie and kids—played m. golf, went slumming one day looking for treasures. Visited Herb’s. Took Lillie and kids over to Darryl’s on Sat. and they had a lovely B.B.Q. lunch for us. Lillie loved their beautiful home and yard.
I brought Jeff and Tim home with me for a few days—what healthy, happy boys. D. Picked them up Tues. nite. Herb & Velma are off on a few days jaunt alone. Irma, Velma’s mother, is babysittin’. Then when they come back will go to Yosemite Park for a spell.
Took Irma to two dances last week and she sure had fun.
When the old hot Sol beams down I will hibernate for sure. All for now as these two Harry’s wants to move on.
So bye now. Love to each. Mom
In way of explanation, Harry Yeamans shared his home with a man about his age, also named Harry. He died not long after Harry began courting Mother. Here is Harry’s whimsical letter:
Squirrel Food in the Park
The son & Sons are shining. Flossie is becoming feeding the pigeons, also talking to them as usual. This scene would make an act one at the village theater if some producer had seen it.
This is Flossie & the two Harry’s. The two Harry’s share poverty acres together & were bosom friends ‘til this maiden Flossie came along. Now she has her branding iron seared on each’s flank which radiated to their hearts. We haven’t decided to which she belongs, nor how she will be divided anyway, either pistols or swords. May the best man win.
There is a little confusion as to who dimes the parking meter. The last time we were here, Flossie and me, meter expired & had to pay $1 fine. She was a real sport though & paid 50 cents of the buck.
We just finished sandwiches, cookies, & lemon aid. No booze. Now contentment reigns on a full tummy. No duels on a full stomach.
The Santa Monica Harbor lies down the Palisades from us. The small boats roll lazily in the sun. I dare say we haven’t seen the abbreviated bathing suits as yet. We are old men & not much interested.
Both Flossie and I have nice patios, in fact, better than nice, but we won’t rest in them while there, you understand, no rest at home. This is our retreat. We watched a gardener rake leaves trying not to adopt any new methods. Anyway it’s nice to see some one else work & get paid for it.
Flossie is different. She stamps an envelope, then addresses it, then meditates on what to write. So, while she is thinking I’m trying to fill the envelope. She is asleep now on one of my folding chase lounges. I have fear the roof of her mouth will get sun burnt.
Now the end of a perfect day all tired out doing nothing. The two Harry’s to poverty acres & Flossie to Buttercup & then to Whitnall Highway Bengal jungle. A good time was had by all. The best of luck in your adventures.
I believe that all the members of the family liked Harry. He was always neat, clean, nicely attired and pleasant at the family get-togethers. He had no bad habits except he liked an occasional after dinner cigar. Velma banned him to the deck when he wished to smoke. He understood and obliged.
Of all the social groups with which Mother and Harry were involved the very special one was the Viennese 200, a fancy-dress club that held two dances every month in Los Angeles. Among Mother’s treasured possessions, when she died, were the 1970 and 1971 Viennese 200 Club Yearbooks. She and Harry served on the Board and took on the assignment of elaborate decorations for the parties when it was their turn. Harry owned and wore a tux and Mother luxuriated in the several long dresses, long forma gloves and fancy shoes that she acquired and wore to these parties.
It was while attending one of these balls that Mother, stepping down from a platform in semi-darkness to admire their handiwork for a Winter Wonderland scene, fell and broke her hip. There followed hospitalization and a long convalescence. They danced very little after her recovery but continued to see each other as long as Harry could continue to drive from Sherman Oaks to Burbank. Even though they saw each other only once or twice a year, after that, when relatives could transport them, they talked on the phone daily and when Harry died, in 1979, Mother felt a great loss.
Visiting Her “Kids”
Keeping in touch with her “kids” was of prime importance. Letters were all right, and she kept a steady flow of them going expecting replies, but the trips to visit were most eagerly anticipated and lovingly remembered. She realized how very fortunate she was that Frank could get her airline passes through Continental Airlines. With these she could fly to Denver, Albuquerque, Portland, Spokane, San Diego, Cincinnati, Honolulu and Houston—wherever one of us might be living at the time. She was so grateful that she could fly for only a minimal charge. She was so proud of Frank in his Captain’s uniform and on one or two occasions flew with him piloting the plane.
About an early visit Jim had this to say, “Flossie disliked walking and she worried whenever any of her “kin” had to walk. On a visit to Spokane in 1948 she found us still without a car. She took the bull by the horns, consulted the used car ads and insisted we buy a 1930 Model A Tudor Sedan for $190 because she was paying for it! Our landlord, Don Custer, always shook his head whenever Marge would drive out of the yard because he thought the car would never run long enough to get her home again. But it always did.”
Lillie praised Mother saying, “Flossie seldom came for a visit without bringing something to brighten up the house. She nearly always had some fresh flowers from her garden in her hand when she de-planed. While we were still living in California, she brought over a chair she no longer wanted. We had it for many years, recovering it with different fabrics to suit the change of décor.”
“Before mattress pads were readily available, on the market, she made a lovely, thick one out of flannel and stuffing of some sort that made our bed ever so much more comfortable in our tiny furnished house. I hated to see it finally wear out years later.”
“Flossie’s visits to Denver always included one evening meal prepared by her. I was not allowed to step foot in the kitchen. A real treat for me, but Linda hated it because it was she whom Flossie kept in the kitchen to find things for her.”
“She also spent some hours doing mending or darning, of which I had an endless supply. If a visit was during the winter and there was snow on the ground, she insisted on going out and making a snowman, much to the chagrin of the children.”
“Although she discouraged Frank from flying when he first started, once he was able to get passes for her, it was difficult to keep her on the ground.”
Kathy’s (Vincent) memories include the following, “It seems as though she was always enthusiastic and involved—ready to go whether to an antique auction, Good Will or junk store. Always looking for a treasure and sometimes finding one.”
“Her trips to visit us in Oregon bring some of the funniest memories. One year we ‘had to’ get some raspberries so about two days before she left, we found a place selling them--$2.00 a flat if you picked them and $2.50 already picked. For once she went the expensive route. Well, neither of us realized how ripe they were (or fragrant) and by the time she was ready to fly home they created a cloud overhead composed equally of ‘eau de raspberries’ and fruit flies!”
“We smuggled them on board the plane in her ever-present knitting basket, covered with yarn and half finished slippers. Herb and Velma met her in Burbank—and thought her silly until time to eat the raspberries and then they changed their tune!”
“On another visit—must have been our first year in Oregon in 1962—she allowed Tim to convince her to go ‘snake hunting’. Well, somewhere along the rutted road she stepped awkwardly and broke her ankle. She made it home and the following day was spent getting it x-rayed and in a cast. Within minutes, after getting home and settled with her foot elevated, Darryl came in, saw the cast and said, ‘What did you do to my Mother!!’ Seems it didn’t slow her down much as she flew on to Spokane where Roger taught her how to use crutches and then back to Portland for another week or so and then to her home.”
“Seems that she was always ready to help out. During several of our moves she came to baby and house sit while I went to visit the new place and find a new house. Everything was always fine at home when I returned—usually she had held ‘open house’ while I was gone and taught the realtors how to sell it. Several times while we were in Brea (California) she would come and stay with the boys while I would travel with Darryl.”
“One more thing—her ‘care’ packages—when we lived in San Diego one of these would come every three or four months. Neighbors would come running over to see what funny treasures it would contain. . .three lemons from her tree, an avocado or two, four or five spoons from a garage sale, a pair of slippers that were bound to fit someone, a package or two of ‘kool aid’ and other assorted goodies. Nothing grand or expensive but all showing that she had thought of us and hoped these things would please.”
When David was 18 and Roger, 15, Mother came to keep house for them during our absence of a few days. Excerpts from the log she kept follows:
Log of Coombs’ Doings While Parents Are on Vacation
By Hilda, the Norwegian Housekeeper
The following events flabbergasted me:
How fast Cokes disappear.
The amount of laundry of the eldest boy—girl influence, eh? A very scant amount of laundry for the youngest. I did not make a tour of the latter’s room for fear I would find another tubful under the bed. We had four tubs as it was. I wondered why both boys protested so loudly when I wanted to go up to their rooms; couldn’t imagine why.
The eldest boy had put in exactly 1 ½ hours of work by the time the youngest got moving, both having had breakfast at the same hour. Obedience excellent for both boys.
Does the father, being an employee of the light company, get free electricity? Or do the boys know? Why does that ‘thing’ always ring when I just get downstairs—how do your friends know? Why don’t the stupid milkman ring the door bell? If milk didn’t disappear here so fast it might sour after being out there all afternoon.
Why does the youngest boy rather read the geometry book than paint the garage? Why does he prefer to do his dreaming perched high on a ladder in the heat, paint, hornets, flies, etc?
Spokane money is no more elastic than California’s.
“Lover Boy” had hay fever pretty bad. Said he didn’t sleep much insisted on taking a sleeping pill. “Hilda” protested loud and long and kind druggist agreed suggesting vitamin pills, more food, more sleep and rest. Should “Hilda” seek the cooperation on latter with L.B.’s girl friend? “Hilda” thinks sleeping pills are quite a hazard around the house anyway. If “Dreamer Boy” ever got one we couldn’t wake him up till a year from next Xmas.”
“Dreamer Boy” and “Hilda” played pinochle on patio for three hours Tuesday night while we watered the yard. Kinda tired. Eldest boy in by 10:15—took aspirins and slept like a baby all nite. Bright eyed and bushy tailed this a.m.
“Hilda” goofed! Went upstairs to take some clean clothes—what a hazard! Many clothes, shoes, socks, etc. So in my mind the hands of the clock were turned back approximately 30 years to a ranch in Montana. I crept back down quickly and snickered generations haven’t changed one bit in some ways.
So ends another interesting chapter in the life of “Hilda”. If and when you need her again and I’m in this area I’d be pleased to have the job. Now I’m off to a baby sittin’ job. See you,
Treasures and Trash
After Mother quit selling real estate, she kept her brokers’ license and renewed it for many years. Her selling instincts never diminished and she loved to visit garage sales and thrift stores to collect items that she thought she could resell at her semi-annual GIANT GARAGE SALES. In 1970 she sent me the following clippings from the Want Ad section of her newspaper:
THE FAMILY TREE is the only thing that’s not for sale at our three-family garage sale! Are you in the market for dolls, clothing for all ages, music box (for the pitifully low price of $5), or a patio table and benches for $10? If so, my friend, you’d better call 842-0621 right now and find out how to get over here!
OLD GOLD: I’m selling my twin bedroom set of antique painted gold wood for only $25 at 842-0621, and my chairs for $1 each. At our three-family garage sale you’ll find many other items to take home, such as colored antique glassware and a music box for $5.
Following the sale, she wrote, “I sold over $100 worth at my sale including Herb’s beds. They were real surprised to get $25 for them. I had fun. Lots of folk came.” The fun was as important as the money.
On her many “treasure hunts” wherever she traveled she collected articles that were indeed treasures for her. She kept the coffee grinder, the condiment set, colored glassware, hand painted china pieces, Wedgwood pieces, and an old kerosene lamp, along with a few treasured wedding gifts from her first marriage, as long as she lived. These were divided among us and remind us, often, of our dear Mother.
When she lived on Whitnall she had a glass-shelved window where displaying her collection of colored glassware brought her joy. For awhile it would be all blue, then green, then amber, and then cranberry red. She bought white china to use with her tumblers and could set a festive table brightened by these various hued, treasured glasses.
More Christmas Memories
Darryl remembers Christmas with Mother saying, “Mother’s approach to the Christmas season was memorable although it changed considerably during her lifetime. As a child we always opened our gifts on Christmas Eve. I suspect this was a result of the children’s impatience.
“Everyone was subject to Mother’s practical approach to gift giving—underwear being one of her favorites. She would start her search for gifts quite early in the year and I suspect covered a number of garage sales to find some of the treasures.”
“I remember that each Christmas Eve our friend, Duke Field, would stop by and Mother would offer him a cup of coffee and, for several years, Duke would refuse as he was not a coffee drinker. After 7 or 8 years Duke began to drink coffee—I think just so he wouldn’t have to refuse Flossie’s Christmas offer.” (Duke Field never forgot Flossie. When she was hospitalized or in the nursing home he visited her and paid tribute to her by attending her funeral with his family.)
“I think that she enjoyed our Christmases in Houston very much. The last two years that she joined us were great because each of us tried a little harder to make the celebration a success for her. The boys made over her presents and Kathy’s decorations and food were exceptional.”
And Herb adds, “I suppose Christmas stands out as one of Mother’s biggest joys. She would start preparing for it in July with many handmade presents for her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She like to knit and one could usually expect a pair of hand knitted slippers under the tree. She had to get something for each and everyone and, by starting so early in the year, she would forget what she had and would get two or three things to make sure to have lots of packages to open on Christmas Eve.”
I kept, from among her effects, her Christmas gift list for 1977. I counted 87 items for 25 persons! Each item was lovingly selected, wrapped and distributed. What a task! And yes, Darryl, you are right about the practical—there was deodorant for almost every man on the list! The Avon lady made sure of it.
Included with Mother’s packages, one Christmas, was this poem.
THIS IS A TRUE YARN
I knit and knit and knit some more
All since Aug. of ‘64
Everywhere I went, flying high and low,
Laundry, visiting, and at the beach
‘Till twenty-seven pair of those darn slippers
All colors, shapes and trim
Are original by me and Kim (her dog)
We had fun and I hope you do
‘Cause they are warmer than any ol’ shoe.
Some may fit and some may not
But you can always give ‘em to a Hotentot!
Love of Clowning
Mother loved to dress up for costume parties. An invitation would set her imagination buzzing. We have press clippings and old photos of her and Harry with St. Patrick’s hats, of her and Harry dressed as school kids, of her in her Ozark granny outfit, and of her in her Minnie Pearl costume complete with fancy hat and dangling price ticket. A bright scarf for her head, jangly bracelets and gaudy beads could transform her into a gypsy complete with crystal ball for fortune telling. In one photo, in her later years, she is wearing a lovely lace mantilla and looking very pretty.
Roger Coombs adds this about his Grandmother, “In 1973 my wife, Kathy, and I were fortunate to visit Grandma at her Burbank home. Though her good friend, Harry, was in poor health, I think she was living a happy retirement life. Part of this was due to her substantial efforts for the benefit of the local Senior Citizen Center. She took Kathy and me to see it. Everyone there knew her and clearly loved her. Her voluntary community effort was returning her a substantial dividend in friendships and a sense of dignity I suspect this was a continuation of a pattern learned by her in the farming communities in Missouri and Montana—a community spirit; giving of oneself in service to make a better place for all.”
This was the Senior Nutrition Program where Mother registered the 100 persons coming to partake of the hearty, appetizing noon meal that was provided three days a week.
She received the following certificate for her volunteerism:
THE CITY OF BURBANK
THANK YOU FOR YOUR DEDICATED ATTENTION
TO THE NEEDS OF OTHERS IN THE SUPPLEMENTAL
NUTRITION PROGRAM AND THEREFORE RECOGNIZES
WITH THEIR APPRECIATION FOR OUTSTANDING
VOLUNTEER SERVICE TO THE CITY OF BURBANK
AS A WHOLE, AND TO THE INDIVIDUALS SERVED
BY YOUR KINDNESS
George A. Izay, Director Elsabe Slatin
Parks and Recreation Department Nutrition Project Coordinator
A similar certificate, from the federal government, also honored her.
On two occasions Mother decided to give each of her four grown children a $1000 gift. The first was in 1957 and about the gift she had this to say in a letter to Jim and me, “You are going to be surprised at this enclosed check for $1000 and it will require some explanation. It is definitely not a loan but a more or less dividend check which I declared to each of your four children as a special reward for all the joy and happiness you have all brought me. I found myself with quite a sum in the bank collected here and there from earnings so decided to give it to you to be used and enjoyed as you see fit. I think it’s a good idea for parents to do that and have the pleasure of helping their kids a little while alive to know about it. You four will get it all when I’m through with it anyway.
When Jim and I wrote questioning her ability to do this—our concern for her retirement years, she responded, “I certainly respect your loving concern over my old age and retirement—perhaps a more or less financial statement would help you understand I feel safe and justified in making these gifts. (Such a statement was enclosed.) I expect to work three years more and add something to my assets. I figured you four children could use this and I would enjoy hearing how each of you put it to use. It will be fun knowing you enjoyed it.”
Her second “dividend” came in 1975 for the same amount. And Mother was right, she did have enough to last her all her life, even with inflation and heavy nursing home expenses, and still leave an ample inheritance to each of her children.
THE LAST YEARS
Goodbye, Whitnall; Hello, Pacific Manor
In 1975 she sold her Peugeot, Buttercup, to Nancy Flora, her grandson, Bob Vincent’s fiancée. Nancy enjoyed the little car but said about it, “Every time I would go to see Grandma Flossie she’d ask, ‘How’s Buttercup?’ I’d say, ‘Fine’ and then, almost immediately, I’d start having trouble with it!”
When Mother bought Buttercup, in 1959, all Peugeots came painted a drab metallic gray. She liked the car but hated the color. Her solution: Drive it from the show room to the paint shop and have it pained bright yellow! It was her pride and joy.
She sold her home on Whitnall and moved into Pacific Manor Retirement Home on the corner of Glenoaks and Harvard in Burbank. This ten-story building had just been completed and she was the first occupant of her one-bedroom apartment. Doubtless she missed her yard, flowers and pets but her neighborhood on Whitnall had changed drastically and she felt insecure there. Her new home had a large balcony where she could grow potted plants and she brought with her a large number of these which she called her “mini garden”.
Pacific Manor provided security and sociability but failed when it did not provide meals on a regular basis. Several attempts were tried to set up a food service, but all proved unsuccessful.
Mother accepted the changes with grace. She entered into the activities with the vigor she had which was still considerable. She served on the Resident’s Council and attended all the parties. For four of the five years she was a resident there she and her friend, Gladys DeGraw, arranged the Sunday evening Chapel Hour with Leola Grover leading the singing.
Generally, she was content and happy but in January of 1977 I received a complaining letter indicating some loneliness and depression. Thinking I could help I wrote making some suggestions for things she might do to allay these feelings of unhappiness; some ideas for interaction with others who might also be lonely. Here are excerpts from her next letter. They give a good picture of just how involved she was as well as indicating a scolding for me for meddling!
“Marge, I don’t think you realize what I am doing here for the lonely. Chapel Hour every Sunday night with an attendance of 60 to 70. Lonely people attend and we all have a spiritual uplift. Good preachers from many different churches in the Valley which requires 6 or 7 hours each week of me arranging the programs. I have met many wonderful ministers of all denominations. Your suggestions were appreciated but I have plenty of spiritual resources and am happy.”
“I also attend craft classes every Monday. On February 15 I am arranging a Blood Pressure Clinic here—perhaps 75 will attend. I haven’t held it since December.” (For this she had to enlist nurses from the Burbank hospitals).
Flossie Olsen and Harry Yeamans
St. Patrick’s Day Celebration
In that same letter she reported having received a lovely letter, with pictures, from Roger and Kathy Coombs as well as a long-distance phone call from Jan one evening. All of these things helped raise her morale. She commented that Herb’s family were all fine and “right there if I need them—very seldom. They, too, are very understanding of my work here.”
And of Frank she said, “Frank calls me or comes out every time he is in town. He, too, is a wonderful, understanding, loving person—never tries to change my way of life.” I accepted the scolding, smiled and went on loving her!
Mother continued to participate in family get-togethers and enjoyed them. Of this Herb wrote, “Up until the last couple of years, Mother always insisted on bringing something for our family dinners and usually this was a big dish of Cole Slaw. It was something she could prepare in her small kitchen. She anted to contribute something toward each meal.”
Dave, Jan and daughters visited Flossie in her Pacific Manor apartment in 1979. Carol was old enough to remember that, along with Julie and Lisa, she got to help their Great-Grandmother feed her goldfish. She remembered, too, riding with Great-Grandmother, with Herb at the wheel, of his Depot Hack.
Later that summer Mother visited them in Colorado and Julie remembers what a pretty, bright, flowered dress her Great-Grandmother was wearing. It was a hot August day and the three girls, wearing their sunglasses, modeled their winter coats for her! Lisa recalls only that “she holded me.”
Mother enjoyed singing with the Pacific Manor Entertainers—taking the alto part and carefully practicing with the group before each performance at the Manor or at the First United Methodist church Senior Citizen Club. This was another opportunity to dress up pretty for a special occasion with a special theme. One of her favorites was when they sang Hawaiian numbers.
She continued to keep in close touch with all her extended family rejoicing at each one’s joys and triumphs and sorrowing at their trials and disappointments. Three of her great-granddaughters were born with unrelated birth defects and she wept when Larry and Jeannie’s little girl, Sarah Marie, succumbed after one year. Marriages brought happiness and laughter; marriage dissolutions, sadness and tears.
The following are excerpts from the Pacific Manor News:
Many residents with their friends were fortunate to view the “Glorious Fourth of July” Burbank parade from their balcony. Flossie Olsen rode in the parade with her son, Herb Vincent, in his rebuilt 1914 Ford. 1977
Flossie Olsen was honored, on her birthday, at the Nutrition Center birthday dinner with many gifts and cards. . . Her family presented her with a huge bouquet which she shared with the residents by placing it on top of the piano in the dining room. 1977
By special request Flossie Olsen gave a speech at the Mormon Church “What Burbank Does For A Senior Citizen.” 1978 (Mrs. DeGraw, Mother’s friend at the Manor, was a member of the L.D.S. Church. She died a few months before Mother did.)
Much Love, Mom
Excerpts from Mother’s letters reveal so well her zest for life, her exuberance:
March 1964. . .made a cut Easter hat—took my large black velvet hat and a dozen baby chicks all dressed up in Easter clothes—pinned them onto the outside brim with mama hen on the crown—cute as could be. . . it will be worn in our Easter Parade tonight at our dance. I’m wearing a black velvet evening wrap—hood and all lined with white satin.
June 1964. . .Last Tuesday our bunch of 10 planned a picnic at Brace Park and , wouldn’t you know, the darn ‘ole weather man let us down! You guessed it, they all came here at my request—brought their own meat and BBQ it and ate out in my patio. Played cards and had fun.
December 1965. . .I got my long red velvet skirt finished for the huge Xmas Ball tonight—white brocade over-blouse—gold corsage with huge red velvet bow—gold slippers and purse with long white gloves. Harry and I went to a beautiful formal club dance in L.A. Saturday night—a sight to see, nearly a hundred ladies, my age, in gorgeous formals—many of the men in tux; so friendly, also. We danced every dance.
Letters were often written under the hair dryer, at the laundromat, or flying high between cities. The important thing for Mother was to keep the letters coming and going to keep all of us in touch.
April 1967. . .I’ve had a fire in my fireplace every day—burned a sack of coal and lots of wood which I scrounged here and there. I enjoy it. My yard looks nice. Tropicals have grown about two feet this winter.
Charcoal continues to watch over me, sure barks if anyone strange comes around. I’m glad I have him. Harry & I dance once a week which is good exercise for our aches and pains. Must sign off and make some cookies and date bread.
November 1967. . .Surprise, I’m buying new glasses! Herb helped me choose the frames—pretty. The pattern is “Fashion Woman”. A little more up-to-date than these I’ve had for 15 years or more. Had my hair cut short so I’m a new look!
July 1969. . . (Following the moon landing) Last week was a thrilling week. I watched TV about 10 hours Sunday. For old gals, like me, who have lived in the horse and buggy days, it’s fantastic. I felt I should get something for my tiny bit of taxes I contributed to the 24 M it cost the US. One of the major benefits I see right now is the tremendous prestige we got from it. We sure needed it.
The pink oleander hedge across the street from Whitnall is a mass of blooms!
Got out dozens of family photos and made a “collage” on the coffee table. Bought some glass for the top and now we can enjoy those many, many fond memories of family life. Some are very old, quaint and amusing but I love ‘em! You kids and pets, when you were little tots -- a few colored ones of all in later years.
December 1969. . .Sunday p.m. I had open house for my neighbors—18 here. Herb’s too. Baked a ham and had lots of goodies to eat. They all sure enjoyed it and so did I. Several stayed for hours nibbling away.
Mother often mentioned “dirt fever” when “’ole Sol” warms things up. News of growing things was often included over the years.
My callie lilies are 5 feet tall and beautiful.
Battle of leaves is about over. Roses blooming like mad.
In the fall of 1970, I was deeply involved in an adult education program at our church in which we were studying the Christian implications of some of the scientific projections for the future that were being made. I had shared some of these ideas with Mother. She responded, half seriously, half humorously:
What I Hope to Witness in the Next 25 Years—1995
First and foremost peace in the world. Food and shelter for each and everyone the world over.
I hope for health, contentment and more love in my heart, not only for my dear family, but for everyone who crosses my path.
I hope to live long enough to rock my great-grandchildren; to see my grandchildren accomplish their goals in life, to marry happily and take their place in society as their parents have done. I am So Proud of them.
I feel very confident that I will live to see: Frank, President of Continental Airlines, Jim, President of Washington Water Power, Herb, President of Paul-White-Carnahan Co., Darryl, President of Proctor and Gamble and Marge, President of a Woman’s World Organization to promote a better world for all to live in.
I can visualize Velma, Lillie, Marge and Kathy fondly loving their precious grandchildren as I have been blessed with many dear ones.
Unless they are equipped with very convenient bathrooms, on our spaceships, I don’t intend to go to the moon. If medical science is able to completely replace every organ in our bodies, I hope the process will not be too painful or expensive, think of that! We won’t need any more pills! Maybe an oiling now and then to eliminate the squeaks. I shall have a little gold-plated oil can! I’m really confused over these body replacements. What on earth is medical science going to do about our kinda frail forgetful minds? Luck to them. I hope they can give Harry Yeamans and Herb each a new back as they will need one sometime in the next 25 years.
I understand, from Marge, who is sort of a student of ecology, that if we don’t conserve our water, land and air and really limit our families, we will have only one square yard of land to live on. I expect to plant my pad with miniature foliage plants.
I plan on driving a little one-seater electric car and I shall paint it—you guessed it—DEEP PURPLE.
I hope to add a page or so on each birthday because I will be one year wiser.
Love you all! Mom
P.S. I hope you get a laugh out of this silly epistle. I wonder if you think “Mom has flipped her lid again.” I had fun writing it.
December 1970. . .Harry gave me a white beaded blouse which I’m wearing tonight to the Viennese 200 New Year’s Eve dance. Silver gloves and new silver slippers. Herb’s gave me a pants suit—purple pants and figured top.
November 1971. . .Did I tell you that we took Geneva (Lindgren) to the Viennese 200 dance while she was here, and she sure enjoyed it? She even danced a few waltzes declaring before we left home, she would not dance a step. She looked real nice and is still an excellent dancer.
December 1971. . .(Following her hip fracture and surgery) I’m getting along exceedingly well—such wonderful, loving, efficient care! I’ve had about 75 cards, calls—three huge bouquets of flowers—pink azalea from Darryl and Kathy, fresh flowers from P-W-C and a most unusual cacti plant with pink blossoms from Viennese 200. These all help; Harry looks so lost.
January 1978. . .All of you kids are so good to me and I do appreciate all your loving kindness! It sure pays big dividends when you get old to have children who really care. I thank God everyday for these many blessings. In a less serious vein she sometimes expressed this sentiment as follows: Glad I didn’t drown all you kids when born, eh what? Like they do extra cats; you are all so good to me.
February 1978. . .I’m going to the Pacific Manor Entertainers and really enjoying it. Found out I can sing pretty good. I see a lot of folks I know at Nutrition. Funny thing, they all look older!
Herb is taking me to P-W-C Recognition dinner tonight, isn’t that nice of him?
July 1978. . .Today is Soap Box Derby in Burbank with Herb as a very important person in it. I’m proud of that guy, he sure does get into Burbank activities He picks me up at 11:30 a.m. to see the parade of kids and their cars. He is so good to me.
February 1979. . .I’m very busy this month with so many holidays and I seem to love to have my fingers in the pie. We are giving a Valentine party next Sunday after services. I’m wearing my old red chiffon dress with my white lace jacket.
March 1979. . .I had a ball at P-W-C Recognition Dinner. There were over 400 there in that beautiful room. I saw so many, many of my old buddies and they say, “We just can’t have this affair without you.” I felt flattered. I was hugged and kissed by many old timers. I wore my white velvet formal.
Letters from Texas written while she visited there were always filled with the excitement and fun of spending holidays with Darryl, Kathy and family. She loved the shopping trips and the good food and wrote at length about it. She was really excited about their new swimming pool and the fact that Darryl got her into it! That must have taken some doing as she was always afraid of water and never learned to swim.
In some of her letters she shared her memories saying,
Marge, you always cried when we took out the Christmas tree.
Marge, I well remember when you were a little girl how much Valentine’s meant to you. You started making them right after Christmas.
And on a Valentine to me,
Are you still the gal who always loved making and sending Valentines? Remember?
Much love, Mom
Who among us can forget the many P.S.’s at the end of each letter and even on the back of the envelope—one more word of news, encouragement and love?
The Best Years and the Worst
A few years before Mother died, I made a taped interview in which the following interchange took place:
Q What would you say were the very best years of your life?
A When I was raising my family, your Daddy was alive, those were the banner years.
People say they don’t want to have children. That’s the banner years. I’m sorry for
for them if they don’t want children, don’t want to go through that and look what a joy,
look what I’m reaping, you and your brothers, that’s what I’m reaping, what I sowed.
Q Well, I remember those as very hard years for you.
A Well, that doesn’t matter if they were hard. I didn’t think they were hard. I was happy.
Q What was the worst year?
A I would say the year that Daddy died.
Q What was your greatest challenge?
A Feeding my family and paying my bills
Q What about learning the real estate business, wasn’t that a challenge?
A That was quite a challenge—loved every hour of it.
Q Who do you think influenced your life the most?
A Grandma Vincent (her mother-in-law)
Q More so than your Mother?
A I think so because she was there when I needed her more than my mother (could be).
Q If you had it to do over again what would you have done differently?
A (After some thought) I don’t think I’d have done anything different. I tried to be a good
wife and mother and carry on when Daddy died.
Frank made a statement one time that amazed me. I said I wished I’d been good to
Grandma Vincent. I was a snotty little thing that thought all mother-in-laws had to
Do was take are of the children when they left. I said I wish I’d appreciated her more.
He said, “Well, she knows it.” That was touching. I was very sincere. She was the
Nearest thing to a saint I’ve ever known.
Mom Olsen’s “Thank you” Letter
October 13, 1966
My dear Marge, Frank, Herb & Darryl,
I wish to try and express to you and your spouses my deep appreciation for our recent family reunion and my birthday celebration. In retrospect I am rehearsing every precious moment we had together—very fond memories we shall each cherish.
I fully realize the sacrifice in money and time each of you made in order for us to be together. Sometimes I have wondered if our family ties were close knowing the communications were sometimes scant and far between but, my dears, now I know deep in each of your hearts there is so much love, interest and respect for each other and I pray it will always be so. Family ties are very rewarding and contribute so much to our great America.
I want to congratulate each of you for our choice of spouses. I love them each like my own—also on the wonderful job each of you are doing in raising your children—all 12 are great kids and will continue to bring joy to you and their Grandma.
Each of you have made a big success of your lives by your own efforts and the help of our Heavenly Father. I am so proud of each of you. I am sure the sterling character of our Father and his integrity and honesty has been a big influence in your life. He was a wonderful man.
As your Mother I feel very humble and grateful the Lord has spared my life so that I can enjoy you and your families—please always keep in close contact with me for every day I think of you and am always so thankful for a note, phone call or any message from you. It means so much to me. I know your first duty is to your own families as it should be.
I want to thank you for the gifts and beautiful cards—I cherish them. I especially want to thank Herb, Velma and family for their wonderful hospitality to all of us.
I know you are happy to know I am in pretty good health and lead a busy, happy life by counting my many blessings and you four wonderful kids are my biggest blessing.
Financially I am getting along fine. I seem to have everything I need and still have money left for future needs.
May the good Lord continue to bless you. Keep well and happy. Continue to love and cherish your spouses. Let us remember to count our many blessings each day and thank God for them.
I love each of you so dearly, Mom
THANKFUL FOR THE JOYS OF LIFE
I thank thee, God, for the joy of knowing that my Heavenly Father loves me.
I thank thee, God, for the joy of the feeling of security and peace—safe in the arms of Jesus.
I thank thee, God, for the joy of the privilege of singing beautiful hymns,
handed down to us from our ancestors.
I thank thee, God, for the joy of hearing the laughter of little children.
I thank thee, God, for the joy and love of all my loved ones.
I thank thee, God, for the joy of living in this beautiful country, America the
Beautiful; for the freedom to worship God each in his own temple and
in his own way.
I thank thee, God, for the joy of my home—fill it with love, harmony, peace
Flossie Olsen, Thanksgiving 1957
Her Last Days
On one of my last visits to see Mother at Pacific Manor she pointed out this poem which she had displayed on her closet door. She wanted me to think about it. And I have, many times during her year of rapidly declining health and since her death.
A CRABBY OLD LADY WROTE THIS
What do you see nurses, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you’re looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with far-away eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice “I do wish you’d try”;
Who seems not to notice the things that you do
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe.
Who unresisting or not, lets you do as you will,
Is that what you are thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse, you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit her so still;
As I do your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sister, who love one another;
A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet;
A bride soon at twenty—my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure, happy home;
A woman of thirty, my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At fifty, once more babies play ‘round my knee;
Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead,
I look at the future, I shudder with dread,
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love that I’ve known.
I’m an old woman now, and nature is cruel,
‘Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living life over again.
I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses, open and see
Not a crabby old woman; look closer—see ME!
Presented by Rabbi Mervin B. Tomsky
At Easter time in 1978 she suffered her first serious stroke and was hospitalized and in a nursing home for four weeks. She recovered very well and returned to her apartment and her many activities.
All packed to go to Houston to visit Darryl and his family in June of 1980, she was starting to cross Glenoaks, with a friend to the convenience store, when she suffered a severe stroke. She had a second one in August, still hospitalized, and was never able to return to her apartment. Her remaining days were spent in a nursing home in Burbank not far from Herb’s house and he faithfully visited her everyday to try to keep up her spirits.
Some days she accepted her condition with grace and was very pleasant; at other times she was cranky and difficult, but Herb never wavered in his determination to stand by her. She continued to hope that she would regain her ability to walk and diligently struggled with the aid of the therapist to walk between the parallel bars—right up until a few days before her death.
She was impatient with the craft work designed to aid her hand coordination. One day while working on a mat and not aware that Herb was standing at the back of the room she said to the therapist, “I don’t want to work on this darned thing. If you want one, I’ll give you the money and you can go to the dime store and buy one!”
Other members of the family visited her, too, and tried to cheer her. Frank and Lillie, with their airline pass, were able to get to Burbank quite frequently. Other members of the family sent letters and notes of encouragement. I’m sure all of these things were helpful and that she appreciated them even though she could no longer write a reply. Herb arranged to get her a telephone so that we could have conversations with her occasionally.
In the winter of 1981, she was hospitalized with pneumonia and another attack of it ended her long life at age 85 on July 7, 1981.
Her funeral services were held in The Church of the Hills Chapel in Hollywood Hills Forest Lawn. She had chosen the lot when the cemetery was first plotted and laughingly said that she was very happy in Pacific Manor Retirement Home because she could look out from her balcony and see directly in front of her both banks where her money was kept and off to the mountains to her left and see the cemetery where she would be going.
The services were carefully and beautifully planned by Velma and Herb and a large number of her family and friends were present. This included all of her children and their spouses and several of her grandchildren and their spouses. Her old friends from Paul-White-Carnahan were the pallbearers.
The Reverend Steve Goold of Emmanuel Free Evangelical Church, which she attended quite frequently with Herb and Velma, officiated. Herb gave a very loving and moving tribute to our Mom during the service.
TRIBUTES TO MOTHER
Greenfield Public Schools
Roy Ellis, Superintendent July 16, 1916
To Whom It May Concern,
Miss Flossie Pyle, the bearer of this letter was graduated from the Greenfield High School during my administration as Supt. Of the public schools of that city. She finished the Teacher-training course as outlined by the State Department of Education. She won second honors in a class of twenty. She was under my personal instruction in three courses so I feel that I can speak with some degree of accuracy concerning her ability.
She has a splendid mind and is a willing worker. She has plenty of tact and an unusual fund of good common sense. She has, in fact all the qualities of a good teacher. Her character is beyond question. She will have no difficulty in making friends and keeping them among both pupils and patrons. She is interested in Community affairs in general and will be of value in any form of community activity.
I can most heartily recommend Miss Pyle to anyone in need of her services.
Very truly yours,
The following letter was written as a character recommendation at the time she was applying for admittance to the Pacific Manor Retirement Home:
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
I personally have know Flossie Olsen very well for over 29 years and can vouch for her good moral character. She was exceedingly successful in her business career, competent, and had a reputation beyond reproach.
She has always proven to be an asset and a joy to be associated with whatever the situation or occasion.
Very truly yours,
James G. “Bob” Paul
Senior Vice President
She was a wonderful person. How she did work to help her family grow to adulthood. I was in Anaconda when Auntie and the boys left Montana for California to make a new life. Auntie had so much courage—so much zest for life and wanted always to do for her family and others. I am so glad that Bill and I were able to visit her in March of 1980.
Thelma Adams Watson (granddaughter of Mother’s sister, Maude Ball)
Flossie was a wonderful, caring person.
Pauline Raby (Harry Yeaman’s stepdaughter)
A quality that stands out in my mind of Grandma was her love for people. Grandma loved her family and talked constantly of each one and how much they meant to her. She was always very people oriented in the community of Burbank. She was involved in community affairs and touched a lot of people’s lives through her vivacious personality.
These virtues of Grandma have impressed upon me the realization of how important people are and has caused me to emphasize this importance of people. I hope that someday I can be remembered by these qualities as Grandma as been.
Mother will be remembered by her family and friends as a woman with a positive personality, full of determination and filled with love for her family.
I think one of her greatest attributes was her generosity of spirit—hers was the driving force that kept us all in touch with each other when we could have been too busy—and too young to care. Thank goodness she was around as long as she was as now, we can take over where she left off.
The gift that Mother gave that is most precious is not a material one. That gift is the character forging that she did with me during my formative years. By example she demonstrated what determination could accomplish. By being successful in her business life she set the standards by which I’ve measured my career accomplishments. Her gift was the way she led her life and the way that example has effected mine.
In 1976 Kathy and I bought our first home. We’ve both been city dwellers all of our lives and we focused on the importance of finally having a house of our own. When Grandma heard the news she told me she was so pleased we had “a piece of land”. That way of putting it puzzled me a the time. As the years pass, I think I’m beginning to understand. It was probably the land, plus a lot of hard work, that brought Grandma through those depression years. After she moved to Southern California she studied for and obtained her Real Estate License. Then she helped others find or sell land. Through most of her life she had a close working relationship with land and the value of land. Buildings can deteriorate but the land is basically permanent. She had a keen sense for what has permanent value and a piece of the good earth ranked high on her list of priorities.
She prioritized in the more essential areas of life also. Her highest priorities included family, living and enjoying life to the fullest, and community service. As her descendants, these are worthy goals for us all.
THE GRANDCHILDREN AND GREAT GRANDCHILDREN
David James Coombs married Janice Eileen Blacklaw
Carol JoAnn Coombs Lisa Jane Coombs
Julie Janette Coombs
Roger Alan Coombs who married Kathy Lyn Magnus
Kristin Joy Coombs Jessica Jayne Coombs
Susan Joy Coombs (b. Nov. 2, 1954, d. Oct. 22, 1957)
Frank Ronald Vincent who married Deborah Skadeland
Daniel Christopher Adkison Jennifer Sarah Vincent
Linda Kay Vincent who married Paul Blair, second, Ronald Vaughn
Paul Benjamin Blair Lindsey Amanda Vaughn
Lawrence Paul Vincent who married Jeannie Prows
Todd Jeramie Vincent Zachary Tyler Vincent
Ethan Lawrence Vincent
Sarah-Maria Vincent (b. Sept. 22, 1979, d. Nov. 6, 1980)
Sallie Annette Vincent who married Terry Guillory and second, Calvin Boden
Matthew Vincent Guillory Adrian Lyn Boden
Jacob Ian Boden
Stephen Kenyon Vincent who married Susan Jacobs
Karen Sue Vincent who married Rodney Bertholet
Joshua Frank Bertholet Jericho James Bertholet
Jacob O’Brien Bertholet
Robert Louis Vincent who married Nancy Flora and second, Mary Louanne Peterson
Jennifer Louanne Vincent
John Robert Vincent
Glenda Louise Vincent
Timothy Scott Vincent who married Karen Cloninger
Jeffrey Michael Vincent
Kevin Hayes Vincent
Mother died prior to:
The marriage of Frank Ronald Vincent and Deborah Skadeland
The marriage of Stephen Kenyon Vincent and Susan Jacobs
The birth of Adrian Lynn Boden
The birth of Jennifer Sarah Vincent
The birth of John Robert Vincent
For further genealogical information consult “The Descendants of Thomas Vincent” by Lulu Jarvis Crittenden Thomas, edited by Marjorie Vincent Coombs, 1981.
The Descendants of James and Sarah Hamner of Mecklenburg County,
Virginia by Jerome H. Hamner, Little Rock, Arkansas, December 1974
The Pyle Family by Charles Salmon
We Remember Jennie and Clinton Vincent by Marjorie Vincent Coombs, 1977
Flossie Pyle – Vincent – Gilleland – Olsen
October 4, 1895 Birth
1916 Graduation from Greenfield High School, Greenfield, Missouri (age 21)
Salutatorian with an average grade of 96
Summer 1918 Hired as a schoolteacher at Sleeping Child School in the Bitterroot Valley
September 1918 Met future husband, Frank Seymour at a community dance at Sleeping Child School
1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic – Later in September school was cancelled for first semester
November 9, 1918 Married to Frank Seymour Vincent
June 22, 1919 Birth of Marjorie June
January 21, 1921 Birth of Frank Edward
December 4, 1924 Birth of Donald Nicholas
January 29, 1927 Death of Donald Nicholas from complications of Measles and Pneumonia
February 2, 1928 Birth of Charles Herbert
December 13, 1935 Birth of Darryl Lee
May 7, 1936 Death of Husband, Frank Seymour
December 26, 1939 Moved from Hamilton, Montana to Glendale, California
May 1940 Flossie married Earl Gilleland, sold her property in Montana and moved from Glendale to
444. North Reese Place in Burbank, California
December 8, 1941 United States enters World War II
September 2, 1945 End of World War II
January 1946 Death of Husband, Earl Gilleland (Suicide)
1946 Flossie became a Realtor at Paul, White, Carnahan Reality in Burbank
November 1948 Married George Olsen
1953 Moved to 6210 Riverton, North Hollywood, California
1957 Death of Husband, George Olsen
1960 Moved to 648 North Whitnall Hwy, Burbank, CA (Herb’s former house)
1962 Beginning of relationship with Harry Yeamans
July 4, 1981 Died at age of 85 years
July 13, 1981 Buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, California
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction
In whole or in part in any form
Copyright 1982 by Marjorie Vincent Coombs
The original book was typed on an IBM Selectric Typewriter.
It was digitalized and reprinted with permission from
Marjorie Vincent - Coombs on February 16, 2009.
Reformatted for this website, June 2020
Some of Flossie's Ribbons
from the Ravalli County Fair