Stella Burt Schwegler … Leaving a Legacy of Silver White Hair

Estella May Burt was born November 21, 1894. Called Stella, she was born in Third Creek, Gasconade County, Missouri. She was the first girl, and third child, born to Joseph Burt and Virginia Williams Burt. She had eleven brothers and sisters.

By 1910 the Burt family had moved to Crawford Township in Osage County, not far from Third Creek. Her father was a watchmaker. It’s hard to believe that he could have supported that many children by making and repairing watches.

Burt, Stella, Picture-EnhancedWhen my grandmother was twenty or twenty-one, and unmarried, a daughter Golden was born to her. The 1920 census showed Goldie as the daughter of Joseph Burt. Back then many children born out-of-wedlock were listed as children of their grandparents.

On Saturday, May 5, 1923 my grandmother married Harrison Wright Schwegler in Vienna, Maries County, Missouri. Grandpa Schwegler’s first wife had died leaving him to raise six children  under the age of nine. I’m sure this marriage was one of convenience since my grandfather had children who needed a mother and my grandmother needed a father for Aunt Goldie.

From this union came eight children. Their first child lived only six hours before it died. One child, Billy, died when he was two years old. The remaining children were most likely born in the city of St. Louis or St. Louis County. By 1936, living on Manola Avenue in Pine Lawn, most of the older children had moved away from home.

It is this house that I remember the most. It was a large house with an enclosed front porch. Three bedrooms and bathroom were on one side of the house and the living room, dining room, and kitchen were on the other side of the house. The driveway ran along the left of the house and sloped down to the back yard where a huge Osage Orange tree grew. Fascinated by Hedge Apples, the fruit of this tree, I remember my parents bringing some home in hopes they would discourage crickets and water bugs from entering our basement. I don’t think that worked.

Granny came to babysit my brother and me several times when we were young. She loved to tell us ghost stories and to this day I love a good ghost story. Sometime in the nineteen-fifties she became a Jehovah’s Witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate any holidays. I’m not sure if it was my brother and me waking up from bad dreams or Granny telling us that there was no Santa Claus, but her babysitting days for us were over. I do believe sometime later she began celebrating holidays again because we always took her a box of Brach’s Chocolate Covered Cherries for her birthday and Christmas.

I honestly don’t remember my grandfather being at the house on Manola except for a few times. He had a clubhouse on the Gasconade River, in Osage County, Missouri and spent most weekends there. Since my dad worked during the week, the weekends were the only time we visited granny.

Grandpa Schwegler's Clubhouse on the Gasconade River

Grandpa Schwegler’s Clubhouse on the Gasconade River

One of my favorite memories of my grandmother comes from an experience when I was twelve. Many weekends my family would go to my grandfather’s clubhouse. We would leave on Friday and come home late on Sunday. This particular weekend my grandmother went with us along with our dog and parakeet. It had rained a great deal during the week leading up to our trip. Rivers were running high and the Gasconade was no exception. The clubhouse sat next to the river surrounded by corn fields. As a precaution we parked our cars some distance away in case the river rose further blocking our exit. Saturday came and the river was high but nothing to worry about. Sunday came and the clubhouse, which was on stilts,was surrounded by water. Fortunately my grandfather had the foresight to tie two jon boats to trees close to the house. I’ll never forget the two boats riding on high water through six-foot high corn stalks loaded with my grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, brother, dog, parakeet, and luggage. It was quite an adventure.

When I think of an old-fashioned grandmother, with their granny shoes and loose-fitting house dresses, I think of my grandmother. She was a tall, large woman and I loved being enclosed in her warm hug each time we left her house. Eventually her dark hair became silver white. This is my lasting picture of her. As I have aged I realize my legacy from her is my silver white hair.

Estella May Burt Schwegler passed away on February 21, 1987 at the age of 92. If I’m lucky, not only will I have inherited her silver white hair but will have many more years on this earth making memories.

Hot Tamales

My dad, Tom Lane, loved hot tamales. He also liked pickled pig’s feet, Vienna sausage, deviled ham, and other culinary delights that came in bottles or cans. Mom and dad didn’t have much money at the end of their lives, so my mother refused to buy these items because they were too expensive. So at Christmas time I would take pity upon my father and head off to the grocery store to buy everything he liked and put them into what I termed as his “care basket.” I remember seeing the delight in his eyes as he opened up each wrapped item.

Tom was raised in Caruthersville, Missouri, what I consider a world away from the St. Louis area where I was raised. Caruthersville is definitely a southern town. As you drive down highway 55, in rolling hills and forests, you suddenly descend the delta-like plain where once cotton was king. Caruthersville is located in the bootheel of Missouri and sits on the Mississippi river. Dad was influenced by the country music of Nashville. But little did I know the hot tamales he loved came from his close proximity to the Mississippi Delta.

No one knows for sure where the tamale tradition in the Delta came from. Some believe they came in the early twentieth century with the migrant workers from Mexico, brought into the region to pick cotton. Others believe the soldiers from Mississippi, who fought in the U.S.-Mexican War, brought the recipe home with them at the end of the war. Others argue that the tamale has always been in the region, remnants of the mound-building Native Americans who relied upon Maize as a staple of their diet.

My dad’s tamales were different from the tamales that I love today. He would open a jar or can and out would slide tamales, still in their corn husks, in a spicy, red sauce. As he removed the husks I would think to myself, “How can you eat those things?” I also felt that way about the pickled pig’s feet, but I digress. Mississippi Delta tamales are courser and made with corn meal rather than Massa used in traditional Mexican tamales. To this day I have never tasted tamales from a jar or can.

My favorite tamale in the whole world, covered with a chili con-carne type sauce, comes from a small restaurant in Sherman, Texas. Lupe’s bills their tamales as world-famous and I believe it’s true. Our son introduced us to Lupe’s when he lived in the area. Every time we visit my son in Austin, we stop in Sherman for tamales.

Recently when I looked for tamales at our local super market, I found none. Oh you can find thirty varieties of salsa, many varieties of refried beans, fifteen makers of tortillas, boxes of hard tacos and the list goes on, but no tamales. It’s disappointing and I guess if I want to taste the kind of tamale my dad ate I will have to go to the Delta where they are still served.

My search for family makes me think about the little things in life we all experience and will disappear with our passing from this world. Our experiences fade from memory yet the tamale I eat today can resurrect an image of a man, my father, sitting in a kitchen so long ago enjoying his tamales that came in a jar.

Talmadge Hollis Lane…Tom to Me

Tom on left with

Back L to R Tom, Bell and Vernon Front L to R Pauline, Margaret and Helen

Growing up in a sharecropping family in southern Missouri can’t be easy. But that’s the early life of my father, Talmadge Hollis Lane. He was born on November 21, 1914 in Ridgely, Lake County, Tennessee to William Everett Lane and Ruberta Hood Lane. He was interviewed in 1991 by his grandson Brian, and much of what we know about his early childhood was taken from this interview and stories that he told me when I was growing up. Some of the information doesn’t jive with records I’ve found. Whether this is a function of a failing memory, or fudging stories, I’ll never know. He was a complicated man.

His extended family called him Talmadge. I knew him as Tom. He was the oldest of six children, with brother Vernon and sisters Bell, Pauleen, Helen, and Margaret coming after him. About 1919 dad’s parents moved from Tennessee to the Bootheel, located in the southeastern corner of Missouri. The family moved a half-dozen times from farm to farm sharecropping. Dad was seven when the family moved to Caruthersville in Pemiscot County. There the family rented land and farmed for themselves. They grew cotton, corn, and hay and raised chickens, turkeys, ducks, pigs, cows, and goats. They used mules to pull farm machinery.

The Lane’s were poor. The children were born at home with the help of a midwife. They lived in a four room house that had a kitchen and three bedrooms. Each child had their own bed, which was a luxury. There was no running water; water for cooking and bathing was gotten from a pump in the yard. At first the home was heated by wood, but when wood became scarce, the family switched to a coal burning stove. The house didn’t have electricity until dad was eighteen. The out-buildings included a barn, henhouse, and outhouse.

Like the Lane’s, most people in the area were poor. If holidays were celebrated, they were celebrated sparsely. For Christmas the children would get an apple, orange, and six walnuts. The items were usually placed at the ends of their beds or on a chair. One year my dad received a football. And the school hosted a Christmas Pageant for the families of the pupils. Mr. Clark, a wealthy cotton farmer, would have an Easter egg hunt for the kids of the community.

At a time when many children did not go to school, the Lane’s had the fore-thought to send their children to school, at least until they got older and decided on their own not to attend. The school was one room and about two miles from their home. Each child was furnished with school books, paper, and pencils. When dad was twelve he received a scholarship to attend high school; it cost money to attend the higher grades. The scholarship was in track because he was a good runner. The high school was four miles from his home, and he didn’t like running, so he dropped out of school. Despite this he was an intelligent man who always read and stayed abreast of the news.

Everyone in the family worked in the fields picking cotton, or doing whatever needed to be done. The boys helped with planting in April and helped with the harvest in August. The family had a wooden planter that was pulled by mules. The planter had a hopper that held seeds. As the mules pulled the planter, it dug two rows, and seeds dropped evenly into the furrows.

Cotton Pickers

Cotton Pickers – Picture from the US Library of Congress

For most of his teen years dad picked cotton. Cotton pickers used a bag that held about one hundred pounds of cotton. After their bag was full, they carried it to a wagon that held up to two thousand pounds of cotton. Dad picked about six hundred pounds of cotton a day. The family took their cotton to the gin where they sold it for fifteen cents a pound. If they wanted to take a chance on the price rising, they had the cotton baled. They took the bales home and stored them in the barn until later. The family ran a tab at the local store and paid it off when the cotton was harvested and sold. While the life was hard, the family was able to survive through the fruits of their labor. I remember, during the few times when we visited my grandmother, asking about the loud noise that could be heard all day. It was the sound coming from the cotton gin, an everyday sound to the people who lived close by, but alien to me who lived a few hours north.

The Ferguson Kids … Introducing Russel Carrol

Russ Ferguson's Baby Picture

Russ Ferguson’s Baby Picture

I first met Russ Ferguson when I attended a family bar-b-q in 1965. I was dating his son David and it was the first time I was to meet my future in-laws. The family was warm and welcoming and I loved them at first sight. When introduced, I was asked to call him Russ and his wife Betty. Even though they were more like mother and father to me, rather than in-laws, I always called them by their first names.

Russel Carrol Ferguson was born December 16, 1912 at the family home in Webster Groves, Missouri. The fifth child of six born to Thomas and Lola Ferguson, he lived in Webster Groves at the beginning of his life and the end of his life until his death in 1990. He had two older sisters, Mildred and Dorothy, an older brother Clyde and a younger sister Mary.

In 1914, as the city of St. Louis was celebrating its 150th anniversary, people were moving to the suburb of Webster Groves. Webster Groves, about eleven miles from downtown St. Louis, was dubbed “Queen of the Suburbs” by developers and was a fast growing community. By that time the family had lived in the community for several years. I’ve seen pictures of Webster Groves at the beginning of the 1900s and many of the roads were still unpaved. In fact, Grandma (Lola) Ferguson stated this in a history she wrote about Webster Groves. It was a great place to raise a family; the houses were large and away from the smog filled skies that plagued St. Louis at the time.

Russ went to Avery Elementary School, which was one of the first schools in the area to have a kindergarten. Russ was left-handed, and the teachers forced him to write with his left hand. His father tried to get the teachers to let him write with his left hand, but they refused to listen. This gave Russ a bad taste for school and he eventually dropped out of school in the 11th grade. He worked as a soda jerk for a local pharmacy which allowed him access to “premium” liquor during prohibition. Apparently doctors could write prescriptions for “medicinal” alcohol. I’m sure Russ was the hit of many parties as he pulled out his “Bottled in Bond” whiskey while everyone else had home-brewed alcohol.

Betty and Russ

Betty and Russ

Russ and Betty met each other on a blind date to Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, an Indian burial grounds across the river from St. Louis. Russ knew Bob Wood; Betty worked with Esther Church. Bob and Esther knew each other and set them up on the date. They liked to party and many times went dancing and gambling at a place called the Whitmore in St. Louis County.

Russ married Mary Elizabeth Parry on September 4, 1936. They married in the parlor of the home of a minister in Union, Franklin County, Missouri. They were able to keep their marriage a secret for several years. During those times it was likely that a woman would lose her job if she married. Betty’s mother was ill with cancer and Betty, her sister Jane, and brother Howard, lived at home and helped financially provide for their mother. Unfortunately Betty’s mother died of colon cancer in 1937. By 1940 Russ and Betty were living at 231 Oakland Avenue, a four-family flat, in Maplewood, Missouri.