|A Mothers Ramblings by Helen Chapel Dutton|
A MOTHERS RAMBLINGS
By Helen Chapel
Like clouds in the sky, quickly the day’s pass, almost unnoticed in the fast lane of the 1990’s. Let me go back in years to my childhood. Life was not all roses but I prefer to remember the many good, happy, humorous, wonderful years of growing up in a very small town. Population about 350.
It was a day in Byron, Michigan when I was barely three years old that I first remember a happening --- a horse and black delivery wagon driving up to our house with groceries and I’m out there to get my daily stick of blackjack gum.
In 1912 we moved up over our hardware store – 14 foot ceilings, partitioned off rooms with no conveniences – our water carried up in pails from a block away and we went way out back for the outhouse. There was a bare lightbulb hanging from way up high in probably each of the rooms. The mattresses were still piled high in the living room when measles struck – first all four children and then mother. She developed pneumonia and “Miss Gibney” came and cared for mother, house, cooking and children – the youngest only 6 months old.
We lived upstairs for five years. There were activities such as church, Masons and Eastern Stars, Art Club, picnics and lots of playtime for the children – the whole town was our playground.
We seemed to know when it was mealtime but play we did – mainly unsupervised as our busy mother was “upstairs” surely hoping we would be alright.
While still living upstairs we attended circuses and Chautauquas. We watched the tent risings and parades of animals through town and then came several days of entertainment.
A music teacher (voice) came each week from “Pickney” on a train and she stayed with us overnight. She taught in the school and I became quite active singing in school, church and other affairs.
Miss Kyse (for right now I forget her name) chose me to be ringbearer at her wedding and I remember the lovely silver mesh bag she gave me. Wonder what ever happened to it.
Santa brought me roller skates for Christmas and I learned to skate on a nearby frozen pond and my Dad’s freshly oiled wooden floors throughout the store. That was the hard way but spring came and there were sidewalks far and near. I learned there were many interesting places to skate. There were hills and low spots, bridges with bumpy wooden slats and then a long stretch of cement walks with an iron railing on one side to quickly touch ever so often while racing along.
This long stretch of walk led up the hill, which was called “Bootjack” and “Railroad Avenue”. The railroad was further on up the hill. I later learned that street had a real name – Church Street. The Methodist church being in the opposite direction from the railroad station.
There were rough, textured cement sidewalks, real smooth, slick ones and bare spots in between which we gingerly jumped over. We loved the blacktop walks. Some so old the rocks were exposed and we could stand just so much of rough rides and we’d seek smoother going. A favorite spot was up on a hill where there was slick fine blacktop so quiet and smooth and with many high and low spots and the coasting was good. The town had many walks and many paths and we knew them all.
My favorite season is springtime when everything comes alive after a long cold winter. Flowers are everywhere – along the dirt roads and nearby woods – daffodils, Jack in the Pulpits, Lily of the Valley, Cowslips and many more. Purple and some yellow violets were everywhere. We made Mayday baskets out of wallpaper and filled them with our fresh flowers and went around hanging baskets on friend’s doors, especially the older people. We’d knock on the door and then run away so they wouldn’t know who had left them.
Warmer weather brought out the dandelions everywhere which we gathered by the buckets full – long stemmed ones and we could have a quiet time making dandelion curls for our hair and we weaved dandelions and stems to make wreaths, bracelets and long necklaces to wear as we put on our Hula dances.
Bicycles were for boys and very few lucky enough to have one. I learned to ride a bicycle made over from a tricycle. It belonged to a neighbor boy and it was not the easiest kind to learn on. I also used to snitch a ride on a real bike when a boy parked it someplace available.
My father purchased a new car around 1914 – a red Jackson touring car with headlights that had to be lit, a horn that honked when a rubber bulb was squeezed. There were no doors in front, no top that I remember and the car had to be cranked to start the motor.
My dad drove down a hill real fast – maybe 15 miles an hour – and my mothers green chiffon veil worn over her wide rimmed hat blew in the breeze and we all squealed at the fast ride.
Swimming is another story. I learned to swim in the Shiawassee River, which had a fairly swift current. I used a plank to float on but it often floated away and I’d be left swimming on my own.
Fall time for me was a sad time. Flowers were gone, fields of grain harvested and it meant a long winter ahead. However the trees were beautiful with leaves the frost had touched and soon we were raking and raking and romping in the leaves until gradually most of the leaves had fallen. It was time to once again gather the leaves into big piles and have several nights of wiener and marshmallow roasts.
And with the finishing of the harvesting on the farms, the migrant workers had to move on and word would come to the merchants that “The Gypsies are coming” and there would be some hustling to get extra helpers in the stores and to lock the homes and gather the children because there were rumors they kidnapped children and held them for ransom.
Soon they arrived in a caravan of covered wagons and they stopped in front of the stores and swarmed all over the streets and in the stores for maybe half an hour or so and then they all piled back in the wagons. The merchants sold them a few things but also gave them foods and you name it to hurry them on their way and they always left richer than when they came. They were experts at shoplifting and slight of hand. It was always a scary but curious and interesting experience.
Oh yes – we made a big move to the big house on the main corner of town. It had formerly been a Hotel but the long wing of bedrooms had been removed earlier leaving a large rectangular structure. Some upgrading had been done before my parents bought it. Oh, and it had a real bathroom with running water (by windmill). Lot’s of room, a basement, a furnace, new cookstove and a wonderful refrigerator with a tank, which held drinking water and a spigot “ta boot”.
Our first or second winter in home was eventful. Two teachers roomed and boarded with us. One was away for the weekend when my older brother developed scarlet fever. We were quarantined, teach and all. Father was allowed to “stay away” and he continued to run the store. Six weeks was a long time to be cooped up, but none of us caught the disease.
Mother and Miss Mawhorter did a lot of sewing and fancywork and my sister did a lot of crotching and reading. Howard and I played hours on end climbing and sliding down a huge pile of cornstalks and indoors we played checkers and card games and Miss Mawhorter was good at joining us. Maybe she enjoyed the vacation.
We could hardly wait until quarantine was over and we could join in the fun of sliding down hills and the dangerous art of “catching bobs” – sleighs and wagons with runners instead of wheels. We’d run and catch them and get a free ride, jump off and go catching another bob. Such patient farmers to let us have such fun.
Horseback riding – a friend had a Shetland pony and I borrowed an old nag and we’d go riding. One day I was riding through town lickity split and Doc Ruggles said to my mother “just see that girl go”. What they didn’t know was that the horse was “going home” and I mean GOING. Another day I rode the Nag to Durand to visit my friend Kate. I had to lead the horse most of the eight miles home.
Highschool meant fun and friends – friends I’d always known and a few new ones coming in from country schools.
I loved the cooking and sewing classes and the teacher who understood her giggling girls. I liked math, typing, music (band and orchestra) and all else except when it came to reading books. I’m a slow reader and possibly missed something along the way. I had no trouble reading what was interesting to me. I was also rebellious about doing required reading.
When I was twelve I began visiting the telephone office and learning how to operate the switchboard. I started working there and soon my sister did also and was made chief operator. My wages were twenty-five cents for two hours and I worked all through highschool.
I also stayed nights at the office with my sister. There were only possibly 175 subscribers and very few night calls so we used a bell system to wake us up if there was a call. In the morning Lucile would go home for breakfast and then I would go home and on the run to school. Usually I arrived on time.
At noon I ran home, grabbed a lunch and relieved Lucile so she also could grab a lunch and back to school I’d run. I worked after school and had my dinner delivered by brother Howard who came with a large covered basket with a full hot dinner from home. I continued to work until 7:30pm when I bounded out for free time. It usually meant basketball games, orchestra and band practice or just relaxing at the gathering place, a store, and visiting and munching until bedtime. And I must add that working steady at a young age gave me a lasting sense of responsibility.
Ballgames, dancing and dating were all part of growing up. There were house parties, box socials, masquerades and plays. And cars were becoming common so our horizons became larger and attending movies out of town was a weekly occasion if lucky enough to have a date.
Graduating from highschool was looked forward to but for me it meant an end of an era and I wasn’t anxious for all of this change to happen, but beginning to take place.
My next venture was disappointing. I entered University of Michigan Nursing School and was not ready nor mature enough. I needed small town teachers who were truly there to see us through.
Back home was not the same. I needed to have a job – more than five dollars a week and my friends were all scattered by necessity leaving the small town for jobs in the cities. So I was lonely, discouraged and had a feeling of helplessness but a need for independence which I didn’t know how to go about getting.
That chance came about in a strange way.
A former classmate contacted me and said a certain young man wanted a date with me. I had met him the previous 4th of July, 1927 and had ridden along taking him back to his job in Pontiac, Michigan. I had completely forgotten the occasion but being at loose ends I told her I’d think about it and let her know in about three weeks. Well, Don Dutton and a boyfriend showed up three days later at the telephone office where I was helping out and we set up a date for the following Saturday. So Les, Olga and Don arrived and I presume we went to a show, but anyway. Sunday they went back to Lansing and I went with them. I stayed at the Lockwoods (Les’ parents). Mr. Lockwood found me a typing and filing type job with Lansing Oldsmobile Sales and Service and within a few days he found me a place to room for $5.00 a week with two meals. So I was on my way.
I earned $13.50 a week with no raise for 6 months. I walked to work – seven blocks. Only owned two made over dresses and one pair of shoes, but within a month I owned one more dress and my mother sent me two smocks to wear over the dress so that helped. Things were looking brighter and I had a new boyfriend who lived and worked nearby and we became engaged in August of 1928 and married in June, 1929.
Along came the depression and two babies. Tough times but somehow we barely managed to make it. Finally Don went to work for Consumers Power Company at very low pay and stayed with them until our move to California at the beginning of World War II. Don worked at Douglas Aircraft again at low pay and unable to work overtime because of illnesses, but the day the war ended he put up his shingle “Don Dutton Refrigeration Service” and went to work and felt better but an accident put a crimp in his working for a while. He walked into a work situation just as the refrigeration equipment blew up.
With the recent family illnesses, Gary with osteomylitis, Allan a broken arm, me with a month old baby and now Don with serious burns and no income or insurance – we made it and Don said our new baby Dennis saved his life.
Then along came another baby – a girl this time that was named Donna by her father. And one son, Allan, soon flew the nest and joined the army and not long after that Don joined the ranks of a newly formed company “Prentiss Corporation” – air conditioning – and once again we were in a better financial situation.
Your father’s young years were spent in Fenton, Michigan. His parents were very poor but proud people. Don did not have a very happy childhood but still had some cherished memories.
He was a quiet man, gentle, hard working and a generous father; a caring person showing few emotions but feeling them none-the-less.
He passed away in August of 1991 and is missed but we were all fortunate to have had so many years together.
For being 83, I am glad to be in good health overall and am enjoying keeping busy with family, friends and hobbies.
My interest in making stoneware continues and is rewarding. It is such fun and the pieces are both useful such as casseroles, bowls and decorative and it gives me a feeling of accomplishment not to mention the friendships formed with peace loving people.
Our highschool motto was “build” and finally in the early 60’s I began a new career of “building” with clay and it has been a great time in my life.
The plusses oversaw the minuses in life. We have to work hard and be realistic but still be happy and add a light touch to life.
I like a poem I partially remember ----
“I think this life as it should be is lived as leaves upon a tree. As leaves that float aloft all day – above where laughing children play”.
It’s intermission time – with uncharted journeys ahead.
I hope all of our children will remember the good times and enjoy good health and good friends and live “One Day at a Time” and be glad for the sun and the rain and all the wonderful things nature brings us. It’s an amazing world.