Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad

Lane, Talmadge and Schwegler, Bonnie Marriage Picture

Newly Weds, Tom and Bonnie Lane

Happy Anniversary to my Mom and Dad. Today would have been their seventy-first wedding anniversary. They didn’t make it to their fiftieth wedding anniversary either because my dad died when they had been married forty-six years.

Talmadge “Tom” Hollis Lane came from the small town of Caruthersville, in the flat delta in the bootheel of Missouri. He moved to the St. Louis area in the early 1940s where he took a job cutting shoes by hand. He was to continue at this craft until he retired later in life.

Bonnie Lee Schwegler was born in Maries County, Missouri near Vienna. Being of Swiss descent, her family lived in this area where many Swiss and Germans settled. The high, rolling hills reminded the immigrants of their homeland. By the time she was three her family had moved to St. Louis. The depression loomed and no doubt there were more opportunities to make a living in St. Louis.

Mom came from a large family of thirteen children. They had plenty to eat but with so many children, necessities like clothing and shoes were in short supply. She dropped out of high school when she was in her sophomore year. Mom simply got tired of washing out clothes everyday and having shoes that were falling apart. It’s ironic that she went from having shoes that were falling apart to working for a shoe factory. She began working at Johansen Brothers Shoe factory, located in downtown St. Louis, in 1946.

Dad had a very sketchy track-record when it came to women. He married Nima Tanner in 1936. This marriage produced my two half-sisters, Cleo and Kay. This marriage ended in 1945. He married again in April of 1946 only to have his wife, Mildred Foster, die a tragic death during an operation on the first of July. On the 17th of  August, a month and a half later, mom and dad were married by a justice of the peace at the St. Louis County Courthouse. Why they married so quickly after Mildred died is a mystery to me. He was a handsome man and perhaps offered a way out of her situation at home.

wedding-1335649_640Dad died on 22 January 1993; she followed nine years later on 29 June 2002. When mom died her thin gold ring was worn down to a band the thickness of a piece of spaghetti. It reminded me of their long, rocky marriage that had worn them down during the years. But there is no doubt in my mind that they loved each other despite the trials and tribulations they put each other through. Today, and every August 17th, I remember them and honor them for giving life to me and my brothers. Through thick and thin, and good and bad, they hung on until the end.

Sam Had His Fifteen Minutes of Fame

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” [I]

Andy Warhol

Sam had his fifteen minutes of fame. He was ahead of the times. Sam was a duck, my duck. He was one of those Easter presents given to children back in the 1950s. My brother Bill was given a duck too. I’m sure the gifts were the result of Bill and me begging for the ducks. There probably was very little expectation on the part of our parents that our ducks would survive. Bill’s duck died within a short period of time, but Sam survived and thrived. The practice of giving ducks and chicks to kids is frowned upon today for good reason.

Baby Pekin Duck

By Jimpingmaniac – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7780714

I was about twelve when Sam was given to me. Sam was a creamy, white domesticated male duck, a Pekin Duck. Full grown he was about two and a half feet tall. We kept Sam in an area between our house and the fence of our next door neighbor. Anyone who knows about ducks and chickens know that they are not the cleanest animals. Being a child of twelve I never thought of the implications of keeping a duck penned so closely to our neighbors; they were saints. And most likely my dad was the one who kept the pen clean, because I didn’t.

Toward the end of the 50s and the 60s, several St. Louis-based TV shows geared toward children were being aired; shows like Cookie and the Captain, Captain 11, and Texas Bruce. One of these programs, unfortunately I can’t remember which one, featured pets. You could send in a picture of your pet, and if they chose yours, you could take your pet onto the program. Dogs, cats, turtles, and a host of other pets were paraded across the TV set with the camera following close behind. I was so in love with Sam that, with the help of my parents, I sent off a picture to the TV station with hopes they would find Sam so alluring that they would invite me to the program to show him off.

Lane, Talmadge and Sam the Duck - 2

My dad, Tom Lane and Sam. Not the best picture.

I recall coming home from school one day to the news that my duck had been chosen to appear on the show. The day arrived. I was so excited. My dad prepared a box, with holes, to transport Sam to the station. I’m sure my mom did her best to make me as pretty as I could be. So off we went me, my dad, and Sam in his box. The first thing we did when we got to the station was to take Sam out of his box for the television staff to preview. Sam quacked, waddled around; he was so cute. But unfortunately he left a “present” on the floor. The immediate decision was made that Sam had to stay in his box when he and I went on air. Sam had his debut, but no one could see the full glory of this fellow viewed from above looking down on him. Where other kids could parade their pets around my pet had to stay in his box. Talk about being disappointed.

We kept Sam for about two years. He had a tendency to bite me. If you have ever been bitten by a duck you know it hurts. I don’t know if my dad got tired of cleaning out Sam’s pen or the fact that he was beginning to be aggressive, but the decision was made that Sam had to go. One Saturday morning my dad put him in the car and took him to a “farm.” I always had my suspicions that he was being taken somewhere to be someone’s dinner, but my parents assured me he would be happy in a farm setting with other ducks.

So you see, my duck had his fifteen minutes of fame long before Andy Warhol penned the phrase. He surely was a duck ahead of the times.

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[i] 15 minutes of fame. (2016, April 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:08, May 16, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=15_minutes_of_ fame&oldid=714389059

 

 

 

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.

Playing Tricks on the Family and Various Events of Toes, Cars, and Switches

Billy Goat

Billy Goat

My dad often told me the story about a goat and his Aunt Margaret. I can still hear him chuckle as he visualized the story he was telling me. The Lane family owned a mean billy goat that butted anyone who turned their back on it. When my father was ten years old he was in the barn and saw his Aunt Margaret walking in the barn yard. Aunt Margaret was very stout and couldn’t run very fast. Dad let the goat out of its stall, and climbing up to the loft watched the goat chase his aunt around the yard.

Halloween was a time for tricks rather than treats. Come Halloween night, dad turned over outhouses or put buggies on the top of barns. Whether his brother or sisters joined in I don’t know, but these are time-worn tricks that children through the decades have pulled to amuse themselves.

The Lane family were Methodists but also attended outdoor revivals. One time dad and his brother Vernon took the goat to a revival and let it loose in the tent. The preacher ran out of the tent and chaos reigned. Dad got into a lot of trouble for that one.

The family was strictly disciplined but my grandfather, William, never touched the kids. Dad’s sisters fought and yelled a lot but never hit each other. My grandmother, Ruberta, used a switch on the children when things got out of hand. My mother did the same with my brothers and me. Most of the time we were threatened with the switch, but I know one thing, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of a switch.

When dad was five he cut his toe on a broken bottle. His toe was cut almost in half. During those days you rarely went to a doctor. Instead, his mother made a mixture of turpentine and coal ashes and used this to put his toe back in place. Several times over the years he showed me the thin dark line running around his big toe.

The family’s first car was a used Baby Overland. It had a canvas top that could be pulled down and snapped on when it rained. As their cars wore out they would replace them with other used cars. The family later owned an Essex and a Dodge.

Probably one of the most exciting things from dad’s childhood was seeing a meteorite that lit up the night sky and landed close to the family farm. The next day everyone from the surrounding area went to see the meteorite that was almost completely buried by the impact.

Fact or fiction, these are great stories and but a few memories of a lifetime. Like most genealogists I wish I had taken the time to glean more stories or listen more closely to the stories that were told.

 

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.