Descendancy Narrative of John Morgan by Charles J. Vella, Ph. D

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Late spring and summertime and in early fall before the weather became quite bad again was baseball season. Father was a great baseball fan, and he liked to go to baseball games. He would take me along. After we got there, he would leave me to myself, but he would give me some money for popcorn and candy and whatever there was to drink. In all the years that he took me to the baseball games, he never at any time would explain to me what was going on. So what I did most of my time was to run around in the baseball stands without causing trouble or having people holler at me telling me to sit down. I'd try to occupy myself as best I could with the things I got to eat. Occasionally I would watch but I wasn't sure what was going on until much later. After I was 8 years old, I began to understand something about the game on my own and what I had read about it.

As we moved from one house to another, we had different forms of lighting and different forms of heating. The first house we lived in, we only had candles and lamps that had wicks that would go down into kerosene and get soaked up. When you lit them with a match, they would burn and give you some light, but not very much. So at night, we couldn't see very well. If you had a fireplace, you'd burn wood in the fireplace. That would help give light. But I don't remember fireplaces in the earliest house we lived in. What heat we did have inside the house came from the kitchen stove burning wood and coal. In order to be warm in the worse part of the winter, you would spend a lot of time closer to the kitchen or even in the kitchen. Then as the season changed and it got warmer, you relied less and less on the wood burning or coal burning stove.

In the first house, we had candles and kerosene lamps. It was only till we got to the third house, when I was between the ages of 6 and 8, that we got electricity. Electricity began to be put in one house after the other. Heating was still from the kitchen stove and later on we had small stoves made out of iron that we'd put in other parts of the house, but they would have to be fed small pieces of wood, which we called kindling, and coal. We'd start the fire with kindling. As the fire became higher, then the coal was put in because coal had to be put into something that was already hot.

At age 6, which was 1917, the war in Europe had just started. There would be conversation in the house; Mother would talk about there being war and Father would have a few things to say. Mother's brother, Maxwell, we called him Uncle Max of course, was called into the war because the government put out a draft, meaning that every man over a certain age would have to go to war if they were called. So Max was drafted and he was put in the war in Europe driving an ambulance. While this war was going on, Mother would always caution us: since Uncle Max was in the war, one of the things we had to do was to help him. And by helping him, we would not do some of things that we'd been doing before, because the people in the army had to have food and they had to have clothing. So we had to be very careful not to waste anything that we were eating. We had to eat everything up because this would help Uncle Max. And if you drank your milk, be sure to drink all of it because you wanted to be helping Uncle Max because you didn't want to throw things away because they needed things over there and this was one way that we could help them.


Mother had a brother, Max, who was younger than she was. She had a sister, Eloise, who was also younger. Max was the youngest. Mother had a sister, Genevieve, who was older than she was. There were four children in her family. Her mother was named Lydia Mae Morgan (Houghton was her maiden name). In my early years I didn't see too many of these relatives, although I did see some of them occasionally. I can remember way back the time I was 3 years old that my mother took me to see my great grandmother. She was in her 90=s, a very, very old woman. I went with Mother and her mother (my grandmother) to see my great grandmother. What I remember there was what I mentioned earlier. As I became older, we used to see more and more of the various relatives that we had.

At the time that I was 8 years, we moved again. This time we moved into a place in the business section of the town in a building that had been a department store. Where we lived there would be on the top floor equal to the third floor way up above. Father's office was on the first floor. There was a big basement down below. The basement was quite interesting because part of it, almost half of it, when we first moved in there was filled with some kind of machinery. Father found out that the reason for this machinery being there was that the person who occupied this department store before was trying to build a perpetual motion machine, a machine which would start and would never stop and you wouldn't have to feed it anything such as gasoline or whatever was used in those days. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to get it to run perpetually so he decided to let it sit there. That was part of the basement. The rest, of course, was where Father kept some of his supplies. On the first floor where he had his office, he would also have the drugs that he bought and used to give to his patients. He also had a skeleton in his office.

On the upper floor where we lived, way on top, there was a kitchen, a dining room, a place where we could wash ourselves and have a bath in a tub. There was bedroom for Father and Mother, and there were two other places for bedrooms. So that we had much more room in this place than we had in the other houses that we lived in. The top floor was connected to the barn behind by a kind of a bridge way up in the air going from the house that we were in and over to inside of the top of the barn, the barn's loft. In the barn there was a ground floor for animals and also Father's car. Above this would be a hayloft filled with hay for animals. Also, in this upper part separated from the hay was where we had our toilet. This was a big chute from the level up above to down below the ground. So that when we wanted to go to the toilet we had to go out there or use the chamber pots which were used inside which you would put under your bed if you had to go to the toilet at night or during the day when it was too windy and stormy to go out to the toilet at the top of the barn. When Mother was concerned about us when we were small and couldn't find us right away, she would go over to the toilet at the top of the barn and shout down because she thought maybe we might have gone down inside the toilet. But fortunately, she would usually find us, and of course we weren't down in the chute.

In this house, we had electricity and for heat we had a much bigger stove in the living room which was kept going in the wintertime with wood and coal. There was a much better kitchen stove for Mother that was also fired with wood and coal. That was our source of heat. The problem with the heat was that the wood and coal would be delivered to the house in the basement, and in order to use it, it had to be brought up from way down in the basement up very high stairs into the top floor so it could be put into the stove in the kitchen and the living room. As I got older, one of the things that I was asked to do was to help bring up the coal from way down, down, down up to the top which was quite a job.

For our food at all times we had fresh vegetables. Since we were not in a position to have a garden, the vegetables and meat would have to be bought in the grocery store. These things were purchased by Mother. She would have to make out a list of what was needed and then ask Father for approval, because he ruled over what was to be bought and what was not to be bought and how much you should pay for it. Our basic diet was very good and had always been except for that time in the very early years when he was trying to save on milk. Now we had milk, and everybody had plenty of milk. The milk would be delivered downstairs. It had to be brought up the outside stairs after it was delivered by the milkman. (There were outside stairs as well as inside stairs.) So it was brought up the outside stairs up to the bridge and then goes into the house. The perishable food was preserved in an ice box. This was literally an ice box with an ice man delivering cakes of ice to put in the box.

Mother did all of the cooking, the baking of bread. One thing Father always insisted on was trying to save money on buying bread. So he occasionally would have patients instead of paying him cash, although he always wanted cash, he would occasionally get corn, for instance, which could be ground down at a grinding mill and then use the corn meal to make bread instead of the white bread. For desserts, we would have some fruit, especially as fresh fruit became available in the grocery store. But if we wanted any fancy dessert such as cake, Mother would have to bake cake depending on the limited amount of money she was allowed to spend for groceries. But for ice cream, you had to make it yourself. On one occasion Father got a full butchered hog delivered to the house. We had to cut it up and get the meat canned. I had to help in this process. Instead of beefsteak fried as steaks all beef was ground up and then fried. I even started learning how to cook. One time when Mother was sick she told me how to bake ham. Once there was a rumor that there was a tarantula spider on the loose. These spiders occasionally came along with the bunches of bananas from Central America. Since a bite from these spiders was dangerous we always looked at each banana for a spider.

In all the houses that we lived in, depending on the various ages of the children, there would be different kind of games that we would sometimes be given at Christmas times. We'd play those games. As I became much older, I was taught how to play checkers by Father. Only occasionally I would play with him. Of course, when I first played with him, he would let me win. But later on as I became older he became more serious, I was never able to win a game against him after that.

In this house in the beginning, I was 8, Ellen was 4 and Margo was 2. But as we became older we played more and more games, but Ellen and I (we heard about plays) began to put on plays of our own for Father and Mother. Another thing we had was blocks. They were given to us at Christmas time. Some were colored and others were of many different shapes. There were all kinds of things we would pretend we could do with the blocks: build houses or things that we heard about: castles or build trains. One end of the blocks piled on top of each other would be the engine, and the coal car and with the rest of them laid out as part of the train you'd push them here and there. Ellen and I became especially proficient in fiddling around with all of these blocks that we had. Around Christmas time Ellen and I would make presents for each other and Margaret.

I had a bedroom at the front by myself. On Wednesday and Saturday nights the farmers would come to town to do shopping. Instead of going to sleep at eight o'clock as I was supposed to, I would look out the back window and look down at all the activity on the street. I could also see from this window the parades that occasionally would take place on holidays. Here I could read my books sent by Grandpa Uran. Mother also showed me some poetry to read. And she also showed me a story about the mathematician Cantor. I was given the books Peterkin Pumperkin and Grimms Fairy Tales both of which I read through many times. I also looked through newspapers Father subscribed to.
Father at this time kept a horse in the barn and he also had a car. I can't remember the name of the car or what kind of a car it was but it might have been a Model-T. But the horse especially he'd use for transportation to patients in the wintertime, since the roads were not cleared from the snow and he would have to go out in a bobsled or sleigh, to visit the patients.

In the wintertime, we had great fun for some of us boys with our sleds especially on Wednesday evenings or late Wednesday afternoons and during Saturday. The farmers would come to town in big bobsleds with big long boxes to carry things in. There would be two sleds in the front and two sleds in back which were pulled by a team of horses. As each bobsled came to town and went from one place to another, quite often we would run with our sled, a Flyer and catch on to the back of

the farmer's bobsleds. So we would be hitching a free ride. Quite often we were told to stop it either by the farmer or someone else or by the only policeman we had in town. It was great fun to hitch on to a bobsled and ride around town.

At this time, I struck up a friendship with a boy who lived in the building next to us across the street. He lived on the second floor with his folks. His name was Johnny Boedecker, a German. In fact most of the people in the town of Wellsburg were of German extraction. They were called Low Germans in the sense that they or their families had come from southern Germany which in those days was called Low Germany. Many of them had been peasants in Germany. Johnny Boedecker's folks were like this. His folks didn't treat him very well; when they didn't like what he was doing they would beat him up, spank him with something beside their hands. In Johnny's building on a top floor there lived a young woman and her mother. The young woman was never able to marry because one of the well-to-do German retired farmers, although already married, kept her as a mistress. And whenever a young man became interested in her he was informed that she was a mistress. Mother befriended her but could not help her to break away.

But Johnny and I had all kinds of great fun together. He was a trifle older, a year older, and he was a little stronger than I was. One of the things that he liked to do was wrestle us down and then sit on us. Then he would he would let us off and we would do all kinds of things together. One of the things I managed to do was to hook up a round circle of iron down below beneath our bridge and tied it up to a post that held the bridge up and we used this to play basketball or what we thought was basketball by getting a bigger ball than a baseball and try to throw it through the hoop.

We played cowboys and Indians. In those days, of course, if you were a cowboy you were out hunting and beating up Indians. We were never told that that wasn't a good thing to do to people, especially to Indians. So when we played cowboys and Indians, Johnny would want to be the cowboy and he'd want me to be the Indian or whoever was playing with us. So we couldn't do very much else but let him be the cowboy.

One of the other boys that I played with, in addition to Johnny, was one whose father owned the hardware store. So we decided since big people smoked cigars and cigarettes and pipes, maybe we ought to try it. So of course here we are about the ages of 8 to 12, but especially when we were younger, this boy - whose father ran the hardware store, his father also sold little cigars, he would steal some of these little cigars and give it to us. We would get some matches from home. And where would we smoke it? We would go to the lumberyard that was nearby to smoke it in the lumberyard of all places. And then we tried to smoke these things a little bit but didn't get very far with them because they didn't taste very good. Then we would buy, if we had any money, Sen Sen gum at the drugstore or the grocery store so our breath would smell better so that when we got home our folks wouldn't say, what have you been doing? Smoking? You're not supposed to smoke. Don't you know better?

We had fun sliding down the hay in our barn, learning how to tumble. And we also would find empty bottles in the barn. They were left by local alcohol drinkers who would get various medicines at the drug store which had a high alcohol content or buy from a local bootlegger. They had to do this because in 1919 the Prohibition amendment was passed to the Constitution, which forbid the manufacture and sale of alcoholic drinks. So we would take the empty bottles and fill then with any liquid at hand. But none of these bottles were ever touched.

We also visited the local stud farm on the edge of town where cows and horses were bred and watched the activity. After one such visit I asked Mother: "Do people do that too?" Her answer was: "NO". But we all soon knew better. And one time when we children were jumping around in our nightgowns before going to bed me grabbed hold of Ellen's gown and peeked underneath. Mother saw me and I was given a severe lesson on privacy.

Wellsburg had a blacksmith whose job was to do all kinds of iron work. He made horseshoes and also put them on horses when asked to do so by the horse owner. I used to watch the blacksmith work.

We would go down to the railroad on the East side of town and walk on the rails. We would also get down on the rails and listen to see if we could hear a train coming. We would also watch for the track walkers and their carriage when they repaired the rails. The track walkers were called that because they would walk along a section of track to se what might have to be repaired. When they went to another section of the track they rode on a carriage called a gandy. The track walkers were called Gandy Dancers because they traveled on a carriage which was propelled by the workers pumping up and down on a device on the carriage making them look like they were dancing while the carriage was moving.

Mother made friends with the wife of the Rock Island Railroad Station Master. Chucker. One time their 3-year old daughter got loose, wandered onto the rails and was run over by one of the cars. Father attempted to do surgery to save her but was unsuccessful. I tried to watch the surgery but Father sent me out of the room.

Mother was very religious. So in the Summer we children who could read were sent for a period to Bible School at the local Presbyterian Church. This kept me from my usual desires to play around and I was always glad when the Bible school was over. At the Bible School we always had to memorize verses or chapters from the Bible. This ingrained in me an "ability" to forget as soon as possible anything such as poetry that many people usually remember..

People who grew fruit nearby were either townspeople who had gardens or farms that had land very close to the town. Whenever the muskmelon (what we now call cantaloupes) were ripe, some of us in the evening, when we couldn't be seen, would try to steal muskmelons. And they were very, very delicious especially when we'd stolen them and we were eating them in secret - very sweet.

Another thing we did was to go around to apple orchards and steal apples. We were always in a hurry to get apples to eat as soon as they appeared on the trees. That meant we were stealing green apples. And as punishment we usually ended up with first class belly aches.

In our wandering around the edges of town we would find small creeks running through the fields. So one game was to see if we could push the other boy off the side of the creek into the creek itself. The creek beds were not more than 2 feet deep. But what has always stood out in memory is the depth of the black earth through which the creeks ran, usually 2 feet. This was the depth of black fertile earth throughout the Middle West. Recently, about 1995, it was estimated that the level of black fertile earth was down to only a few inches, showing the dangerous mining of the soil with the use of damaging methods of agriculture.

There was a garage one block below our barn. From the time we lived in this last house I would go down to this garage and go inside the big doors where cars were being repaired. I was always curious as to what made a car run and how they were fixed. The repairmen tolerated me looking around as long as I didn't get in the way. Claus Ross owned the garage and repaired Father's car when needed. But my visits were cut short for the period when Claus Ross was drafted in the army but continued after he was out.

There were silent movies shown in the town. Movies then were in black and white. The mechanic who worked in Claus Ross's garage played the piano and would even sing while the silent movies were being shown. One movie I remember was Charlie Chaplin in Shoulder Arms.

There would occasionally be family reunions usually on some holiday such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. Grandma Morgan would be there, Aunt Eloise, Mother's younger sister, and her husband Merle Wade, and Uncle Max Morgan, Mother's younger brother. Uncle Max always took me aside and told me that when I grew up I should learn how to handle "control" people. Grandma Morgan at this time was teaching at elementary schools, and would have holiday time off. Max was going to Agricultural College at Ames Iowa. After he graduated he got a job as a county agricultural agent. He later married a Marion Fry whose father was a wealthy soap manufacturer. He gave Max enough money to buy out a creamery in Fargo, North Dakota. Merle Wade was a door-to-door salesman selling vacuum cleaners. Max on one Xmas reunion dressed up as Santa Claus and showed up with a bag of presents for us children. And since we believed in Santa Claus, we were overjoyed when Santa showed up. Father was an expert checker player. He taught me how to play so far as following the rules but I was never able to beat him. And when Merle was here he played checkers with Father at every possible moment but was never able to win.

We would have at least one big feast. If the main course had a turkey it would be bought by everyone chipping in, since Father would never buy a turkey himself. Occasionally he would get a goose from a patient as part of his fee. When we were celebrating a holiday with just our family Mother would then buy a two inch slice of ham and bake it in peach pickle juice.

On Halloween there was no Trick or Treat, it hadn't been invented yet, but we would play ghosts and scare each other in the house. On Thanksgiving Ellen and I would carve faces on the pumpkins Mother would hollow out for pumpkin pie. On April Fool we would try to fool each other not only at home but also at school.

One time Grandfather and Grandmother Uran paid us a visit along with Aunt Bertha, Father's sister. They were driven around the area. Grandfather Uran was a marvelous story and joke teller. He would tell us about his relations with the local Indian tribes. He also discussed his treatment of patients with Father. Grandfather's conversation was continuous and on this visit I stayed up to listen till 4:00 in the morning. He constantly kept me supplied me with books to read.

Grandmother Morgan was divorced from her husband Grandfather Morgan whom I never saw, since Mother and the others did not want to have anything to do with him. But Grandma M was a quite frequent visitor, especially when her school was on vacation. She was always filled with gossip about things that happened at her school. She never remarried but did have men friends.

Father never took a vacation. His reason was that he couldn't abandon his patients. Nevertheless we occasionally visited Mother's relatives in Marshalltown, Iowa: Fred Houghton's family and another Houghton family. At Fred's family the visit always meant a big feast. Quite often Frank Houghton, Fred's brother Frank, would show up. He was always the life of the party, full of jokes and stories. Fred was a real estate operator with up and down fortunes. Fred's son Rex was a teenager when we visited. He later became a dental technician. The head of the other family in Marshalltown, Martin Benton Houghton, had been an American Civil War veteran. This latter family we would visit separately.

We would occasionally make a trip during school vacation to Steamboat Rock 15 miles SW from Wellsburg. This area was so named because there was a long high hill ending in a projecting rock which looked like the bow of a steamship. On the ground below we would picnic as a family and sometimes with friends of the family. In the surrounding farmland area were walnut tree orchards. Some of us, I especially, would go around in the walnut orchards and pick up ripe walnuts which had fallen to the ground. Sometimes it was simple stealing and other times with the permission of the farmer. After we got home it was my job to take care of the walnut plunder. The walnuts had a heavy husk which had to be dried in the sun. So I brought some strips of wood up to our bridge, trellis between the house and barn, (see page 12 about the trellis, or bridge). I would throw the wood strips over onto the flat roof of the adjoining Department Store. This roof was level with the railing of our trellis but two feet away, a gap. So I had to throw a hammer and nails after the strips of wood over onto the adjoining roof, get up on the railing of the trellis and jump over onto the Department Store roof. There was no gap between the Department store roof and the barn roof. The barn had a peaked, slanted roof. I would fasten the strips to the roof of our barn which was next to the roof I stood on without a gap. Then If I had already thrown over the walnuts, I could line them up to dry on the slats. Then I had to jump back over the gap to the trellis. And when the nut husks were dry I had to jump over, gather the walnuts and heave them over to the trellis. Of course if I should miss the two foot jump from trellis to roof or back again I would have fallen three floors. Apparently I didn't miss! And then you had to take off the husks and hammer the walnut shells open for the yum-yum meats.

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