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

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Riceville had 5 churches. And since there was no Presbyterian church, Mother had herself all of the children join the Congregational Church. Father joined only in name. He attended only around Xmas time when there were programs. I had become quite religious through Mother's teachings, attending Bible schools and reading in the Bible. I became active in the Church, not only in the Sunday School, but I also volunteered to ring the Church bell on Sunday. As time went on, I noticed people wandering around down town on Sunday. I felt envious that they could be free while I was stuck going to church.

I learned that the minister of the Church, Reverend Bonnell, had a very large library. I asked him if I could visit him. He readily agreed. His library many books on philosophy, and science. He bought the latest textbooks on science as they came out. He was an admirer of Darwin and the philosopher Spinoza. To him, as to Spinoza, God was the laws of nature. He did not proselytize me but reading the ancient philosophers and reading the college science textbooks I borrowed from him, finally convinced me to be an atheist. There was only one openly avowed atheist in town but I knew him only by reputation. Rev. Bonnell's sermons were mostly about mother love, family values, etc. He didn't preach on science or philosophy. But I held him in the highest regard. By the time my High School years were over I had gradually removed myself from the church, to Mother's disappointment. But I did not give her any of the reasons why.

The' minister of the Free Methodist Church visited Rev. Bonnell and borrowed books. But when his congregation found out about it they forbade him from ever visiting Bonnell again. There were also a few Christian Scientists in Riceville. Servoss ,the owner of the grocery on Woodland and Second, was the leader. An additional member was Mrs. Noble, who had the mansion on a hill in the Southwest corner of town. She created a scandal when she refused to have a doctor visit to treat her daughter when the girl had a ruptured appendix. Servoss, of course, prayed over her but she died a horrible death. Mrs. Noble herself died years later from a horrible cancer of her jaw.

I found other interesting books to read in addition to Bonnell's. Mark Sloan, the barber I went to for haircuts, was a great reader of French books in English translation, especially the ones that mentioned sexual activity. So I became interested in foreign literature and incidentally eroticism.

In my Junior year I decided I would like to try starting a Boy Scout Troop with boys from Elementary School. I got permission from Tyler, the school superintendent. So with a few boys we got together with me as Scoutmaster. Instead of Waterloo military style we started doing things mentioned in the Boy Scout Handbook. We also decided to go an a camping trip. We gathered needed equipment like pup tents, food and utensils, etc. I had one of the parents drive me and the equipment to the camp site in the surrounding woods. The other scouts were brought by their parents. All this activity from the beginning took place in the Summer. With one parent staying with us and me doing the cooking, after three days I had all I could take. So we all went home. And that was the end of my Boy Scout venture.

But my whole world changed right after I graduated from High School. I knew that Father would never give me money to go to college as I desired to. So I took a civil service test given by the local Congressman to determine who he would appoint to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. I came in second on the test. But since the one who came in first did not have a good enough record in mathematics I was appointed to go to West Point.

I entered the Academy in July of 1929 at the age of 17. The first year class members were called Plebes. There was a whole dictionary of terms used at the Point which I have lost. All the students at West Point were actually called cadets. So I will use what terms were descriptive.

We were all issued a bundle of equipment. This we put in our rooms. There were a number of buildings, or barracks, with three floors in each barrack. Three men were put in each room. In the barrack I was assigned to the top floor had one room with space for only one man. A young Black Plebe by the name of Oliver Parham was assigned to this room by himself. He was the first Black to go to the Point in the 20th Century.

As Plebes we all went through a period of hazing by the First Classmen (the Seniors). We also were soon initiated into lineups and marching. Whenever we went anyplace as a class we had to line up in front of our barrack and go in marching order. Each barrack was designated as a separate company.

When we went to eat, mess, the Plebes would be seated by company and sat at the tables opposite upperclassmen who would watch our manners. At first we were not allowed to talk except when addressed specifically by an upper classmen.

Later as the initial period of hazing was over we were given various programs to follow. One was to take camping equipment along and march in upper state New York. Oliver and I helped each other on this march, putting up each other's pup tent, etc.

Each time we lined up outside the barrack Oliver lined up with me on my left. We could talk to each other standing in line until the First Classmen called us to attention. So I would shoot the bull with Oliver.

After we had been at the Point about one month the First Classmen in my barrack called all the cadets in this barrack down to the basement except Oliver. They said, "We got to get rid of that black son-of-a-bitch, Oliver Parham. He is to be silenced. No one is to talk to him or have anything to do with him. Anybody violating this silencing will have the same thing happen to him." I didn't like this. I still continued to talk to him when we lined up in front of the barrack. But about a week after this when Oliver happened to get down in front a little later, the cadets on either side of me leaned over and said, "If you don't keep your mouth shut talking to that black bastard we're going to do you in and we don't mean silencing." I buckled and from then on I didn't talk to Oliver and continued the silencing. The Congressmen who had Oliver appointed apparently put pressure on the heads of West Point. The Commandant of Cadets, the top officer, called three separate meetings of the entire corps of cadets pleading with them to stop the silencing. But it did no good. The silencing continued.

The academic year started in September. The subjects were English, Mathematics, Language, History, Military subjects, Physical Training. I had assumed that all the subjects would be taught at college level. Bur quite the contrary. All the instructors "so-called professors" were actually men who rose from the ranks in the army. They were given absolutely no training. They used ponies, manuals telling them what to do and what to teach. If one of the cadets asked a question or raised a point or argued a question the "professors" had no answer and stumbled around. The only way you could get a real college education was to graduate as one of the top 4 of the class and then you would be sent to an outside non-army engineering college.

The whole atmosphere at the Point was what you would now call ultra-conservative. The conversation at the mess was violent, racist, and the height of ignorance. The combination of the silencing, the general atmosphere and the horrendous instruction situation convinced me that I wanted to get out as fast as possible. The only way you could get out was to fail in one of the principal academic subjects. So I deliberately failed in mathematics.

I was discharged from West Point with an Honorable Discharge! I was encouraged by the Commandant of Cadets to study hard and get back at the Point. At the same time Oliver Parham was also leaving. He was talking to his Congressmen when the Commandant was talking to me. Even then I didn't have enough guts to go over to him, attempt an apology, and wish to keep in touch with him. But I didn't!

Two years after I was discharged from the Point all so-called instructors were fired, and their place was taken by highly qualified professors from civilian, non-army, life, just as the U.S. Naval Academy always had. Also, no one was to be appointed to the Academy at West Point except one having at least started classes in some college. So in January 1930 I was back in Riceville, Iowa. While I was gone the family had moved to the 4th rental house, the so-called Carpenter house. This house was the largest we had lived in. The second floor had a very large general area with three separate rooms. I had one room, Donald another, and Margaret and Ellen another. In my room I stored all my books, clothes and other items.

Right after I came home I had no job, but Roche of Roche Drug Store gave me a job as a clerk. During this time Father mentioned to me once that there was a great future in bio-chemistry. Taking that as a cue, and knowing I wanted to get a college education, I bought a book on elementary chemistry and started a chemistry lab of my own in the basement. I then started to study chemistry. Also during this time Red got a job at the hardware store on the East side of Woodland. I mentioned to him that I was interested in going to college. He said he was also interested in that. So with the money we were earning we figured we could at least make a start and hope to get work to keep going. However in the late Spring I got an attack of appendicitis and had to have the appendix removed. Fortunately the appendix had not ruptured so my recovery was quite fast. However in the healing process I found that if I strained at the stool I experienced pain in the lower abdomen. Years later I found by reading Father's Journal of the American Medical Association that until 1932 the American surgeons used talcum powder outside and inside their surgical gloves. This caused adhesions in the abdomen in the area of any incision. In 1932 the Canadian surgeons told the Americans to knock off the talcum powder. So happy days two years later! That didn't do away with my adhesions.

So in the Fall of 1930 Red McMaster and I went to the University of Iowa in Iowa City and registered for various courses. I don't remember what Red registered for but I registered to take a course in chemistry. We both had to take college entrance exams. My grade turned out to be one of the four highest of those taking the exam. I mentioned this in a letter home. Mother then notified my Uncle Max who then notified the fraternity he had belonged to when he had attended college. This fraternity then called me up and asked me to visit them. So Red and I went to see them and listened to what they had to say. They then told us they might call us later.

The academic year started. I got along well in all the subjects I took, especially chemistry. One of the men staying at the same rooming house with Red and me was studying for a PhD degree in philosophy. Talking with him caused me to renew my interest in philosophy. But neither Red nor I was able to get work on the side that would help us to continue. The reason was that the Depression of 1929 was in full swing. I had not realized that when I was at West Point the famous stock market crash had taken place in October of 1929. So Red and I were caught and had to give up college. Just as we were about to leave that fraternity called me up and asked me to come around again. I told them I was not interested. From the time I was very young every time Uncle Max visited us he spent a great deal of time telling me that when I grew up I had to learn how to handle men. That gave me a good idea of what his fraternity was about. I didn't like that idea and so Red and I came back to Riceville. I now had no work and had to do odd jobs till I could decide what to do next. I learned that if I went to High School for a year and take a Teacher Training Course and passed and then took a special State test I could get a certificate to teach in Iowa rural schools. So I entered Riceville High School and took the teacher training from the Fall of 1931 to June of 1932, took the State test, passed it and then started the search for a rural school to teach. I had the recommendation of Tyler, the City School Superintendent, for a rural teaching job.

While I was waiting for a teaching job I landed a job as school janitor in Riceville Elementary School beginning in the Fall of 1932. This required sweeping each classroom after each class was finished for the day. The primary grades got out first, so that was where the sweeping started. And so on till all the rooms had been swept after each school day. During the day while classes were in session I would sweep down the hallways on each floor of the school. As the school year progressed and the weather began to get cold I had to fire up the school furnace to provide steam to the radiators in each classroom. When operating the boiler, especially when I first started it, I soon learned to watch the steam gauge on the furnace to avoid lifting the safety valve and blowing off steam. The furnace was a cast iron furnace, coal fired. The furnace would be shut down Friday afternoon after the students and teachers had left. Each evening during the week the fire would be banked on low flame till early morning and then fired up in time for the school to open for the day. That meant getting up early each school day. On Monday morning the fire would be started using paper and wood kindling and then coal, Near the end of the school year towards Summer, if it became too hot then fans had to be put in each room to help cooling off. Also the school toilets had to be kept in working order and the water fountains still running. Even with this work during the day I could find some time to do a little reading.

From time to time we would have family reunions - family gatherings, etc. There would be Grandma Morgan, Uncle Max Morgan from North Dakota, Aunt Elouise and Merle Wade her husband and occasionally Aunt Genevieve from Minnesota. And as usual Max would supply the turkey from his creamery business.

Until 1933 the country was under the alcohol Prohibition Amendment. But there were plenty of bootleggers around and "speakeasies" where you could buy liquor or "hard cider" as some called it. There were frequent raids by police. There were a few farms where liquor was fermented in the barns. They were raided. But in 1933 Prohibition was repealed and the drinkers celebrated.

In addition to my reading of some books mentioned above I began to read newspapers. Father took the Chicago Tribune. I subscribed to The New York Times. The depression had started with the 1929 stock market crash. I exercised my first chance to vote by following Father's and the newspaper's advice and voted for Herbert Hoover, the Republican in 1932. Trade unions were being formed and their strikes for union recognition were being attacked in the newspapers I read. I also took out subscriptions in magazines - The Nation and Current History. Both of these magazines were conservative journals. I became curious about the attacks on unions. I happened to pick up a magazine, The New Republic, at Richmond's Drug Store. It had an editorial on Karl Marx's theory of history. That hit me like a bombshell. And from then on my principal reading for some time was about Karl Marx. On this a bit later.

In my spare time beside reading, I did a lot of walking on weekends in the adjoining woods especially to the Northeast. My interest in nature kept me on the lookout for the fauna and flora on these walks - learning to identify kinds of trees, shrubs, plants, birds and animals. I remember I once followed a skunk for a ways to see what it did. My interest in science also got me interested in astronomy. I even got a cheap telescope and mounted it on a standard to look at the night sky. This interest in astronomy I shared with the son of the local editor of the newspaper Riceville Recorder. I also made a canoe with a wood frame and canvas cover which I carried out to the Wapsie on the Eastern part of town. And with home made oars I journeyed around the stream a bit.

Around this time some excitement was created by the visit of two traveling whores. They kept busy with the local males and especially husbands. The wives were in an uproar and finally after a while the local cop got them to travel elsewhere.

My method of transportation around town was with a bicycle Father had acquired on a medical debt. But when I started teaching school I at first bought a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a sidecar and when that became too difficult I bought a second hand Model A Ford.

Toward the end of the school year in 1933 I learned that I had been chosen as the teacher in a rural school. The process of getting such a job required applying to a number of schools. The application would be made to the school board for each rural school. If they were satisfied with your qualifications you would then be hired for the coming school year. I was selected as the new teacher in the Pleasant Hill rural school. This school was located 4 miles West of Riceville on Highway 9.

Rural schools had all eight grades from 1 to 8. they were one room schools with one teacher. The teacher not only taught all subjects, but was required to supervise at recess time. The teacher was also the janitor: build a fire in the stove for heat and sweep the school floor when needed.

The school books were furnished for the teacher's use by the County Board of Education. But for each student the parent had to buy the books as they were supplied to the teacher for sale at cost.

In this school I had 11 pupils in 6 grades from second grade to seventh. The seventh grade pupils, near the end of the school year, had to pass a State test in two subjects, and when they were in the eighth grade a test on all the remaining subjects in order to be admitted to High School. The subjects were Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Geography, History, Spelling. The school day started at 9AM, thirty minutes for the lunch each child would bring from home and then continue to 4PM. The parents of each child would bring the child to school and pick them up at the day's end. Children would go to a school in their district. Each district was determined by the County. The parents of children in rural schools were farmers living in the designated district.

During the day one hour would be spent on each subject. For each subject one grade after another would come up front and sit down and recite what they were scheduled to do in turn. And the other students when not reciting were to study that particular subject in preparation for reciting. There would be a 15 minute recess half way through the morning and again half way through the afternoon when all, including the teacher, would go outside to play a game. There would be a blackboard on which the teacher could make explanations or the student could write something asked about.

Twice a school year, near Christmas vacation, and near the end of the school year, I would have the children put on a play and invite the parents to attend. The play would be either something I found that was appropriate or something I made up. The children were also encouraged to put on an act of their own if they wished to. One of the girls chose to sing a song. She sang a piece of country music. This was my initiation into country music.

My first year at Pleasant Hill went along smoothly. I had no discipline problems. Students were allowed to go to the outhouse by request. They were allowed to whisper to each other if it pertained to their studies. However, the second year I caused my own troubles. I often had to pick up a neighboring teacher and give her a ride to school. She constantly lectured me on the necessity of very strict discipline. Listening to me how I ran my school, she cautioned me constantly that I was far too lax. In taking her advice, by the end of the second school year I managed to incur the hatred of all my students. After this, and thinking things over, I decided to try to get another school and get away from the mistake of a rigid disciplinarian. I applied at Round Grove School. This school was 4 miles East of Riceville and 2 miles North. I was accepted at this school for the 1935-36 school year. Before the school year started I was presented with a problem. Rural school children were supposed to be sent only to the school in their district. Districts were set by each county. A family of originally Norwegian immigration wanted to send their two daughters to Round Grove even though it was not in their district. Their regular school was much farther away from their farm. There was quite a row among other parents as to whether these children should be allowed to go outside their district. Finally, I was asked if I wanted to teach the two girls, which would mean I would be teaching 17 instead of 15 children. I remarked that I didn't care who I taught. So the two girls were admitted. I was instructed to be sure to go outside with the children at recess because there had previously been trouble at recess. That of course meant that being all dressed up was out of the question.

I soon found out that the previous teacher had done a very poor job. None of the children could even spell the simplest words. As at the previous school I had only the second to seventh grades. There were 17 children in all. But all the children were cooperative. I followed the same procedure as before with holidays. To help with their studies, I required each student to make corrections on papers handed back by looking up the correct answer in their textbook. Written papers and tests in all the rural schools were graded by percentages. A grade of 75 was passing, 60 was failing, and 100 of course meant perfect.

Traveling to Round Grove was different than to Pleasant Hill, Going 4 miles East on Highway 9 was OK in all weathers. But the two miles North to the school meant going on a dirt road. If it was raining there was danger of getting stuck in the mud. If you should get stuck, you would have to go to the nearest farmhouse and pay to have the farmer pull you out. In winter there was no snow plow service to clear the road. The first winter when the North road was blocked I rented a room in a farmhouse across from the school. The second winter I walked the two miles North on skis. This meant getting up about 5 o'clock. Once I even tried to go through the woods catty-cornered from Riceville wearing snowshoes. I almost didn't make it since the snow was not packed for using snowshoes. The second school year found the weather colder than the year before. One day in January 1937 the weather was 40 degrees below zero in the daytime. Because of the humid wind chill factor, 40 degrees below in Iowa was colder than I found a few years later at 60 below in Alaska, where there was a dry cold.

In the first three years I taught school, I attended Summer sessions at Iowa State Teachers College at Cedar Falls, Iowa. I rented a room and ate at restaurants. I took courses in further teacher training in a variety of subjects and added a course in philosophy.

Since the Summer Teachers College sessions took up only half of the Summer vacation, I went to work on farms doing farm labor. I learned how to harness and drive horses in a team to pull a hay wagon. I learned how to handle a scythe to cut grass for hay or to cut ripened oats to be bundled and stacked before being threshed. On some farms with machinery the hay was cut and bundled into bales. The oats would be cut and bundled but had to be stacked to ripen and then later threshed. In the process of threshing oats, a number of farmers making up a threshing ring would go from one farm to another to thresh oats. Each farmer with his team of horses and hay wagon would then go out into the field and use a pitchfork to throw the oat bundles into the wagon. When the wagon was full, the wagon driver would drive alongside the threshing machine, get on top of the wagon and pitch the oat bundles into the machine. After all the harvest had been threshed there would be a threshers dinner prepared by the farmers wives and everybody would eat their fill. Hence a Threshers Dinner is a banquet!

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