MY STORY: THE GROWING-UP YEARS
BY WGS MEMBER MARIANN GREEN MARTENS
My parents were Charles Julius Green and Rachel Alice Funk. They were married in 1924. I was born four years later. I had two half sisters. Viola was 19 six days after I was born and Elda had just turned 12. Their mother had passed away as the result of a car accident on a bridge south of Neola, Iowa. The car driven by my father was struck by another car driven by a drunk driver. She suffered a broken back and hip. They had different doctors treating her in the hospital, but they couldn’t help her. She was released from the hospital and Dad hired a lady to care for her and help with the housework. She passed away four months later, after much suffering.
I have no memories of my first home. It was a farm on the north edge of Shelby, Iowa. We moved to a farm south and east of Corley, Iowa when I was two years old. Viola was married that same year to William Miller.
Sometime before I started school, I had scarlet fever. I do not remember being sick, but I remember the quarantine sign hung on the gate by the road. I also remember that a lot of the things I had played with were burned and the house fumigated.
While growing up, I went barefoot almost all the time during the summer, and then I would get new shoes before school would start. We had a big tree in our backyard and Dad made a swing for me that hung from a big limb. My mother and Viola made all my dresses. I had long curls until I started to school. Mother made my curls by wrapping my hair around a strip of cloth and then tied the cloth close to my head. I hated to have my hair combed, as it got so tangled. It really hurt!
I played with dolls a lot. The ones I remember were Lorna, a large doll, and also a small rubber doll. My mother made a lot of doll clothes for me. My long-haired, yellow cat, Fuzzy, was my playmate. I would dress her in doll clothes and take her for rides in the doll buggy. In the summer, I always had a playhouse where I made lots of mud pies and cakes. I had a wind-up toy caterpillar tractor that crawled all over when turned on.
I really don’t remember much about Elda while she was still at home. She tells me she doesn’t remember much about me, either. She said she had to help dad a lot of the time. When we moved to Corley, she had to quit school and didn’t get to go to high school. There were no school buses then and it was too far to walk to Harlan or Avoca. She went to work for a family in Harlan and later to Omaha to work. I do remember she bought a Shirley Temple dress for me. It was rust colored with smocking on the bodice, done in various colors of thread. That dress was really special to me. Another time she gave a furry white hood with a matching muff to me.
As I got a little older, my favorite thing to play with was a Red Flyer coaster wagon. We had a hill from the house to the barn and it was a fun place to coast. Other times I put my right knee in the wagon, my left leg did the pushing, and I could steer it with the handle. I pretended that was my car.
It was common for people to make root beer, wine or beer. My dad had made some grape wine. I watched him sample it one time. I went down into the cellar one day and decided to find out what it tasted like. A little later I went out to play in my wagon and I couldn’t figure out why I kept falling out of it! That had never happened before.
In September of 1935, I started to school in a one room country school, Fairview Township #5, in Shelby County east and south of Corley. There were twelve students and one teacher, Velma LeMaster. I had a mile and three quarters to walk two times a day. School hours were 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. The school grounds probably covered one acre, with a coal shed, a storm cave, a well, and two outhouses in the two far corners. One was for the boys and one was for the girls. In the warmer weather, it was a nice little walk, but in zero degree weather, it seemed like a long walk. There were two swings and two teeter-totters on the playground.
The school house was a wood-framed building with two entrances on the front of the building. The left door was for the boys and the right door was for the girls. Inside each door was a small room where we could hang our coats, set our lunch buckets on a shelf, and put our overshoes. Those were worn quite often, as our walk was on a dirt road. I carried my lunch in a tin syrup pail and later, in a real lunch box. Almost all of the time I had sandwiches with homemade bread, but once in awhile I would have a treat: store-bought bread!
There were several rows of desks facing the front of the building. We each had a desk and the teacher had a large desk in the front of the room, facing the students. To the left of her desk was a long seat called a recitation bench. That is where each grade sat when they were in class.
The coal-fired stove sat in the middle of the building. The teacher would have to be there early in cold weather to build a fire to try to have it warm when the students arrived. If your desk wasn’t close, you had cold feet all day.
On the two sides of the room, metal brackets were attached to the wall and a kerosene lamp sat in each bracket. There was no electricity in the rural areas.
The library was a tall wooden stack of bookcases with encyclopedias and other books. Each shelf had a lift-up, glass door on the front. We also had one very large dictionary.
At the front of the building, between the two coat rooms, was a large wooden table. Instead of a regular table top it was like a shallow box filled with sand. The smaller children could play at that table if it wasn’t nice enough to have recess outdoors.
In the corner of the room, by the boys’ coatroom, was a small table. On it was a metal washbasin, a bar of soap, and a bucket of cold water with a dipper in it. You washed your hands and dried them on a large cloth roller towel. Everyone took a drink of water from the same dipper and put it back into the water. The older students were assigned when it was their turn to bring in the water or carry in coal for the stove. When we washed our hands, we all washed them in the same water in the basin!
There was a fifteen minute recess in the morning and also in the afternoon. During the winter, some of us pulled our sleds to school and during the noon hour, we went sleigh riding on the road. The school was located at the bottom of a steep hill, so it was fun! Some of the games we played were hide-and-seek, tag, may I, Andy, Andy over, and fox and goose.
The one class that I did not like was music. There was a wind-up Victrola to play records. At times, we all had to sing together, and then, at times, each one sang alone. My dad always told me I couldn’t carry a tune if I had a bucket to carry it in, and that is still true.
I was very bashful in school. I wasn’t used to being with other children. My parents always told me to be quiet. I was told over and over “Children are to be seen, not heard.”
When school started and you were given the list of books you needed, we would go to the Corley grocery store. The store sold used books. We were careful not to make marks or write in them, so they could be sold back to the store at the end of the school year.
During the winter in 1936, there were mountains of snow, mercury-freezing cold, ice and wind. From January 18th through February 22nd, the state-wide temperature averaged minus 2.4 degrees with one snowstorm followed by another. Snowdrifts were as tall as telephone poles. School was cancelled for most of the winter. Twenty-two people had died by early February in Iowa. Their deaths were attributed to the winter weather. Livestock froze in railroad cars and wild animals were frozen. The fences were drifted over with hard snow. I remember dad took me to school across the fields by horse and wagon.
All of the girls had to wear long, cotton stockings held up by a piece of elastic sewed together to make a garter. In the spring, on really warm days, we would roll them down to the top of the shoe. I made sure they were pulled up again before I got home.
There was a free movie in Corley one night each week during the summer. There was a vacant space south of the dance hall and tavern. That is where the cars lined up in rows facing the Corley elevator building just across the railroad tracks. We children sat on blankets in front of the cars. The movie was shown on the west side of the elevator.
In March of 1939, we moved to a farm that my parents had bought in Guthrie County, three and a half miles north and east of Menlo, Iowa. I attended Menlo Consolidated School. It was a small school, but to me, coming from the little country school with three classmates, it seemed big. I will never forget how scared I was getting on a school bus for the first time and going to school, not knowing anyone! I was in the fourth grade and in the country school we had not learned all of the multiplication tables. In Menlo, they were doing long division. It was hard to catch up.
I really liked my new home, a large square house with a cement sidewalk all around one side and the front of the house, and then out to the road. That was the first time we had ever had anything but old boards for a walkway. It was great for roller skating!
Besides the farm ground, there was a lot of timber. My mother and I discovered one hillside that had six kinds of wild flowers. Mother found a big patch of wild raspberries. We picked a lot of them and mother canned them. There were also lots of ticks! We would cover our hair, wear long sleeves and slacks, but as soon as we got home, we would have to check ourselves and remove any ticks we might have on us. I also discovered we had poison oak. I knew what poison ivy looked like, but I didn’t know about poison oak. It was miserable!
During the summer, it was my job to go out into the timber to find the cows and bring them into the barnyard. One cow had a bell on a strap around her neck, so sometimes you could hear in what direction you needed to look.
I liked playing in the timber. There were a lot of pretty rocks in the pasture and a creek where I went wading.
Elda bought a bicycle for my birthday one year. That was special to me.
I had a girlfriend who lived about one mile from me. We would ride to each other’s place and play. That was a first for me, having someone my age I could spend time with. Her mother took us to Stuart to see the movie “Gone with the Wind.”
Over Christmas in 1941, I had chicken pox, so we couldn’t have Christmas away from home. Then, on January 3, 1942, my mother died in the hospital in Des Moines. She had gall bladder surgery and gangrene set in. I was only twelve years old and devastated to lose my mother!
My father gave up the farm and had an auction in February. We moved in with Viola and her husband, Bill. Dad got jobs working for other farmers. I was happy living there. They had three small children and I really enjoyed being with them.
Since Pearl Harbor, and the United States’ fighting in World War II, a lot of things were very different. People were urged not to buy new things, but use up the old, conserve, make over, or do without, to help win the war as soon as possible.
The Selective Service laws required every male resident of the United States who had arrived at the age of 21, and not yet reached 36 years of age, to register for military duty. With so many men now in the service, women were doing jobs that only men had done before.
As of November 9, 1942, all motorists were required to register for gas rations. This would entitle every car owner enough gas to drive 2880 miles per year, slightly less than 4 gallons a week. Other things rationed were tires, fuel oil, meat, sugar, butter, coffee, processed foods and shoes. Rationing books were obtained containing coupons and stamps.
Everyone was encouraged to have a Victory garden. Viola had a large garden. Most of the time all summer, we were working in the garden. We picked peas, green beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers by the bucketful. It required a lot of time to prepare what was to be canned. We had a large variety of other vegetables that we ate fresh. By the end of the season, the cellar was well stocked with canned vegetables, fruit, sweet and dill pickles, and jams and jellies, and a lot of potatoes were stored there.
To get sugar for canning fruit, the Rationing Board asked that three facts be furnished when you applied. They were: how much fruit was canned the previous year; how much you had on hand; and how much you intended to can.
First aid classes were held once a week for awhile for the women. The women also took clean white cloth, tore it into strips, and rolled it into rolls to be used for bandages for the servicemen. I took care of the children, while Viola went to these classes.
I finished the seventh and the eighth grades at a country school again, only this one was west and south of Corley.
In the fall that I started high school at Shelby Consolidated School, Dad bought a house in Shelby. He and I moved in there. That was the first time I ever had electricity.
In 1943, my dad married Mary Kern.
During high school I had done some babysitting, detasseled corn, sorted seed corn, and worked for three different families doing housework and gardening.
Bob Martens and I had been dating for over a year and in July 1947, we were engaged. I had first met Bob while I lived with Viola and Bill. We were both in the same Sunday school class and confirmation class at the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Shelby. We were married in that same church on October 19, 1947.
Bob’s father had had a heart attack, so Bob and his brother, Marvin, were doing the farming on the home place. Bob’s parents, Claus and Bertha Martens, purchased a small prefabricated house for us to live in on their farm. Bob helped lay the foundation and we did all the finishing inside the house.