by Barbara Adams Reichenberger
This is the final installment of a story about growing up in Sun City, KS that has been featured in previous issues.
Chapter V - The Final Years
My dad did not inherit any of his father’s wanderlust or his forebears’ pioneer spirit. He was quite contented to live his life amid the quiet splendor of the gypsum hills, where Turkey Creek empties into the Medicine River, in a town his grandfather, father, and uncle helped establish.
It was where he was born and where he chose to live all but five of his eighty years.
After he retired he lived less than five years. Idleness was not his forte. He had worked with his hands and by the sweat of his brow since he was a lad of nine. He soon developed an aneurysm in one of his thighs that eventually grew to the size of a football. As it grew it caused less and less oxygen to get to the brain. He became easily disoriented and in the confusion of his mind, imagined things that didn’t exist. And so this kind and gentle man who had never in anger laid a hand on his wife or any of his kids became quite mean spirited. Finally on the twenty-eighth day of September in the year 1964, during his first ever hospital stay, his life ended.
Seven years after he died, Mom sold their home, moved down the river nineteen miles to Medicine Lodge and married again. I have no doubt that Lewis Stoy was good to her, but she was too old, too cantankerous to start over again. At times she was happy, but most of the time she was not. Her moods ranged from being contented with Lewis to being quite distraught. But somehow the marriage continued until he died in May 1979.
For a while she lived alone in the house he had left her, but old age was taking its toll and so a year and a half later we put her in a rest home. In the end this fiercely independent woman became dependent upon others for everything. The last few months of her life she could not even feed herself or recognize her children. She had outlived two husbands, her brothers, her cousins, and most of her generation. When she died on January 12th, 1982 at the age of 90 years, 3 months and 12 days, her children rejoiced that her suffering was no more and she had passed on to receive her just reward.
After she died, while going through her things we found a newspaper article she had clipped and put in her Bible. It has no date, so we have no idea when it was written. The article was by Mrs. Vera Hamel-Hofer. In part she wrote, “Old age comes as a shock! We laugh and say we are slowing up a little or we have lost some of our pep. We have trouble remembering names and we cover it up by saying, the names not important anyway.
“Then, when helplessness descends upon us and we are managed and put about by other well meaning people, we wonder why this happened to us.” She concluded, “Death is not an enemy to old people. It is a friend.” It most certainly was a friend to both of them. They are buried side by side in Sun City cemetery, located about a mile east of town. Resting with them are: her Uncle Bill and Aunt Sarah, her cousins, Minnie, Tudy, and Ray, and their spouses. Dad’s mother, his brother Jim and wife Annie, his oldest sister Mollie and her husband Ed Harris. The son who died at birth.
The couple were notorious for their knock-down domestic battles. The epitaph on their tombstone in part reads, “They fought a good fight”. The couple who was married by the elderly near-sighted preacher. After he pronounced them husband and wife he mistakenly read from the Bible, “What God hath joined together let no man put his ass under”.
Old Doc Laudermilk was the town family doctor who delivered me. If anyone went to him complaining of something other than the common cold his usual advice was, “You better get to a doctor quick!” Mac McClain, helped hand dig many of the graves, using a pick and shovel, and a lot of sweat. Mom always swore that during the hot summer months when most everyone slept outside, he would drive up and down the streets very morning at dawn lustfully hoping to see some scantily clad woman with much of her anatomy exposed. There are other, those with whom Dad worked, played baseball, and coon hunted. Those that Mom cared for, fought with, prayed with, and laughed with. Some whom they helped bury, those who helped bury them – all friends and neighbors with whom they shared life.
Chapter V – Reflection
When I remember them it is not the way they were when they were old, senile, and inform, but the way they were when I was a child—growing up. I remember how she and I would take two tea towels, one in each hand, and shortly after lunch when the dishes were done, we would “shoo” the flies out of the house, one room at a time. Every summer we would go to the plum thickets and there in the scorching sun, we would pick sand hill plums. Somehow they tasted much better than they do now. And when the currants got ripe on the bush in front of the house, we would pick them and she would bake the best pie I ever ate.
I remember the smell of her fresh baked bread as it wafted its way throughout the house. Of rolled out noodle dough, drying on newspapers spread across the chairs. I see her in the springtime, with two frying chickens one in each hand wringing both their necks at the same time. In my memories, I can see her standing in the kitchen, straining that days milk through a tea towel that is draped across a bucket, several clothespins holding it firmly in place. A clean tea towel, not the one we had used earlier to shoo the files.
And I hear Dad cussing under his breath as he searches for his hat one more time. He wouldn’t go outside without it on his head. Bad luck, you know. I see him striking a match on one of the metal buttons of his bib overalls, lighting the cigarette he had crudely hand rolled. I remember all those Christmas’s of my youth when he would go to the pasture and search until he found just the right cedar tree to bring home for us to put up in our front room and decorate. He would only cut out the top. Bad luck to cut down the entire tree, you know.
how they pampered, spoiled, and over-protected this child of theirs who
was born to them in their later years and how they fretted and worried
about their two sons when they were in harms way during the war.
Nothing could erase the taste of the fresh cottage cheese she used to make
or the sight of them going to the barn, milk pails in their hands, on their
way to milk Tiny, Jerse, Roan, and all the rest.
I could never forget the annual search for the car registration. One year Mom told us not to worry, she knew exactly where she had put it. That was the year it was never found.
Those are just a few of the sight, sounds, smells, and tastes that my memory contains. There are many, many more.
One by one, all of their children eventually left Sun City to seek, but not necessarily find, their fortune. I only return there now for a funeral or an occasional visit to the cemetery.
The house that the threshing machine built is still there, located at the West End of main street, on the corner across the street from the railroad tracks. The last time I drove by it looked vacant and lonely, the paint was peeling and the yard was full of weeds. Gone were the rose bushes Mom had planted and the paradise trees that once ringed the house. Only the maple trees remain. The hutmet and the two garages are still there, but the chicken house, the privy and the hog pen have been torn down. The house and the yard seem smaller than they did when I lived there, and I get a funny feeling when I look upon them now.
All around the town there is an eerie strangeness about the things that once were so familiar. The lot is vacant where the schoolhouse once stood. Gone is the gymnasium where Dad watched his boys play ball and where Cletus and I first met on that fateful night in January 1846. The telephone office and the Bissantz house are shrouded in overgrown bushes, weeds, and trees.
Some buildings are boarded up, others in bad need of repair. The service station, the hardware store, and the grocery stores are no longer in business – only the beer joint remains. Many of the people I knew as a child are dead and buried in the cemetery east of town. No where else do I sense the passing of time, the way I do when I visit that small town.
Theirs was a plain, simple, parochial life. They attained neither fame nor fortune. The closest either of them came to positions of power were the terms Dad served as mayor of Sun City, and his tenure on the local school board. And of course, there was that almighty power Mom exercised over Dad.
by which they lived were honesty, hard work, accepting responsibility,
helping their neighbors, loving their children, and passing
And so for posterity, I have tried to reveal just a few of the threads that formed Mom and Dad’s woven pattern. To search my memory and record a few of the stories and events surrounding their lives. To offer a brief history of their heritage, which in turn is my heritage also. Finally, to reflect upon the miles traveled, the tears shed, the tragedies and hardships endured, the countless decisions made, not only by them, but by many others as well, that enabled them to intertwine their lives together and thus becomes a part of each others woven pattern in a place that is but a tiny dot on the globe.
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