Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a former Grant resident’s memories from her childhood.
By Ida Grace Smith Menoher
Mother got her first hair permanent when we lived in Grant. She drove to Ogallala where she had learned that a shop was giving permanents. The process took her the better part of a day! She left early in the morning and didn’t get home until early evening! But she had a permanent! She was probably the first woman in Grant to make that boast.
My mother, in an attempt to earn some extra money, rented the basement bedroom to two teachers, and the rental included their meals. I belive one teacher was named Dorothy Jenkins, but I don’t remember the name of the other. I don’t remember how long they were with us—probably less than a school year.
The reason they didn’t stay any longer was because it was costing Dad money! Mom was an excellent cook, and used only the best of ingredients, i.e. lots of butter and whipping cream, and she never cut corners when it came to cooking. She certainly didn’t make any money off that deal!
She also took “marcelling” lessons. Marcelling was a process women where used to have their hair in waves, and this was accomplished by the use of hot curling irons. Mother had curling irons that she would insert into a tube that was electrically heated, thus heating the irons. By manipulating the irons, waves could be created. It required a certain amount of skill, and mother did quite well with it. She converted the “front bedroom” of our house into her “salon.” I don’t know how many regular patrons she had.
Mother and Dad had musical talents, and naturally, Dayton and I inherited them. Dayton took violin lessons. Mother decided I should take dramatic reading lessons, and sent me to a woman who was supposed to have had some theatrical experience.
I was given elocution lessons, and assigned readings to memorize and recite. The only one I remember started, “My daddy held me up to a moo cow moo!” I’m sure my parents were proud of my performances! Mom used to love to tell the story about an event when Dayton and I as children were to sing a duet at church. It was a hymn—Dayton sang one verse, I sang one verse, and then we sang the chorus together.
While Dayton was singing his solo, I gathered the shoulder of my dress and put it in my mouth and chewed on it. When I released it so I could sing my solo, there was a huge wet and wrinkled spot on the dress. Naturally, my “proper” Mom was mortified!
The ladies of Grant loved to formally “call on each other,” and always made it a point to call on families that had just moved into town. Mother had “calling cards” printed bearing her embossed name, which she left at the home when she called on a family.
I vaguely remember our first car. It was probably a Ford—it had leather-like side curtains that snapped on and off the frame of the car. One time the family was going to Curtis to see the grandparents, and left Grant after Dad got off to work.
Shortly after leaving, it started to rain, and driving became difficult—this was before paved and graveled roads, and it was getting dark. I believe the top speed of the car was around 35 mph, but driving in the rain reduced the speed a lot. By the time we got to Maywood, Dad was ready to give up. We stopped at the hotel, and because we didn’t have a lot of money, Dad rented one room.
Mom made beds in the dresser drawers for the twins, and she and dad and Dayton and I shared the bed. The next morning we drove on into Curtis.
Sometime during this time frame, Dad was schooled and trained to be an agent for Bankers Life Insurance Company of Nebraska, headquartered in Lincoln.
Dayton and I went to the elementary school which was located on the east edge of town. It was a long walk, but we walked it every morning, noon and evening! I had one teacher—I don’t remember her name—who had something similar to acne on her face, and she was constantly picking at the sores. When she chastised one of us students, she grasped our chin between her thumb and forefinger and really pinched it while she was berating us.
As a result, Dayton and I both acquired open sores on our chins, and it took two or three years to get rid of them. I believe the doctor called it “seven-year-itch.” I had noticeable scars on my chin for many years as a result.
One winter day Dayton and I walked to school as usual. During the morning it started to snow—heavily—and by mid-afternoon Grant was in a blizzard situation. Some fathers were able to drive to school to pick up their children, but others came armed with ropes. They tied one end of the rope around their waist and the other around their child’s waist and walked home.
Finally, there were about 15 of us left, so the automobile dealer sent one of his pickup trucks to get us. I was allowed to sit in the cab because I had a cold, but the rest of the children had to ride in the bed of the truck.
The snow was so thick that vision was almost “zero,” and the windshield was so covered with snow that the driver could not see. So one man stood on the fender of the truck and directed the driver where to go. The ride from the school to the dealership, which was just a few blocks, took an hour or more.
Dad was waiting for us at the garage, so when we warmed up a bit, we were ready to head toward home. Dad tied a handkerchief under his chin and over his ears, and put his cap with ear flaps on over it. The teacher, Miss Jenkins, was with us and we started wading through drifts that were knee high!
We stopped at every other house to thaw out and warm up, occasionally being treated to a cup of hot chocolate, and finally made it through the four or five blocks to our house. I noticed that Dad had icicles hanging from the handkerchief and Miss Jenkins had icicles hanging from her boot tops by the time we got home.
I shall never forget the aroma that greeted us when we walked into our house! Mom had made gingerbread and hot cocoa for us. However, the first order of business was getting us out of our heavy clothing!
Dad went outside and filled a wash basin with snow and washed our hands and feet in the snow, then dried them thoroughly, before we could put them over the floor register. He said this was to ward off the possibility of chilblain [inflammation followed by itchy irritation on the hands, feet or ears resulting from exposure to moist cold.]
When we were warmed up and thawed out, we were treated to the gingerbread and cocoa, the most wonderful food I had ever tasted!
Mom’s New Car
One time my Mother’s father, James Hatcher, who (with his wife) lived in Curtis, Nebraska, called Mom on his birthday to tell her that he was giving her an automobile! It was a “Star” car—I don’t know who made them or why he chose that particular car. He had it altered so the front seat folded back so that it was on a level with the back seat, forming a bed.
He also gave Mom’s sister, Ida Frey, who lived in Lincoln, the same gift! When he told my mom that he was giving them each a car, mom said, “It’s not my birthday!” Grandpa’s response was, “I know! It’s mine! Instead of getting a gift, I’m giving one!”
The next summer the two families planned a fishing trip to a lake in northwest Nebraska. I believe it was named “Arthur Lake.” We met the Freys and set up a campground on the shore of the lake. Mom and I shared the bed in the car, and Aunt Ida shared hers with her two daughters, Jean and Theone.
The men and boys set up a tent for their headquarters. This was the only camping outing the family enjoyed—mom HATED camping and having to cook on a camp stove, so that was the end of it!
I wish I or my Mother had kept a journal through the years—then I would have dates available. As it is, I must try to rely on my memory which may be distorted so far as times are concerned.
When I was perhaps eight or nine years old, Grant was smitten with a group of communicable diseases! I don’t know why or how it happened, but cases of German measles, smallpox, scarlet fever, whooping cough, chickenpox—you name it—started showing up among residents of Grant!
All four of us Smith children were inoculated and vaccinated for just about everything. There were even deaths of spinal meningitis patients!
One day Dad came home in the middle of the morning and told Mom to pack clothing for us all, that he heard rumors that the town was going to be quarantined until the diseases could be overcome. Since most of his policy holders and prospects for policy holders were farm families, he couldn’t afford to be quarantined indefinitely.
Mom had her own car, so she packed up what she thought we would need, and took Dayton, Billie and Bobbie in her car, and I rode with Dad in his car, and we headed for Curtis where my grandparents lived. We thought our stay there would be for just a week or so. Naturally, we children loved being with the grandparents!
However, the Curtis townspeople were concerned about our being there and possibly carrying germs which would expose them to the diseases, so the council ordered us to be quarantined for two weeks.
Grandma taught Dayton and me how to crochet, and we edged a LOT of hankies with our crocheting!
In the meantime, Dad learned that he was being transferred to Holdrege, so he and Mom handled the sale of our house, and we moved into a rental house in Holdrege. We children never returned to Grant.
Many years later, I drove Mom and Dad to Grainton where we went to the house where we had lived. The owners were kind enough to let us into the house. I vaguely remembered parts of the house, and I was enchanted with how small it was! Of course when I lived there, I was just a little girl and it seemed like a big house to me!
We then drove on to Grant where we visited our house there. Again, the owners were gracious enough to let us look through the house. I was enchanted with some improvements that had been made—the attic area had been finished and was a bedroom! Again, the house seemed to have shrunk!
We found that Grant was no longer a “village,” it was a good sized thriving town. It gave me a warm feeling knowing that my family had a part in its growth.
I have many fond memories of my childhood in the small town of Grant.