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Son of a Coal Miner's Daughter

Son of a Coal Miner's Daughter

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Son of a Coal Miner's Daughter

572 pagine
7 ore
Feb 8, 2016


William Bill Spencer Miller takes us on his journey of expansion and personal growth through his varied experiences as a farm boy in Brown County, Indiana to a Foreign Service Reserve Officer with the Peace Corps, a volunteer in Indonesia and Thailand, a Peace Corps director in the Kingdom of Tonga, and the Philippines.

He went from attending a one-room school in Beanblossom, Indiana to Franklin College, to Eastern Illinois University where earned degrees in Biology, Kinesiology, and Sports, giving him a solid foundation to make his dreams come true.

We learn about living in cultures different from our own as he shares his interactions living with and teaching the people of Indonesia and Thailand.

Bill, always active, shares stories of playing basketball at the height of Hoosier Mania. His life-long love of running culminated in his participating in several triathlons, until a serious illness took him down, but not out of a productive life.

He tells us of returning to the United States after ten years abroad and building a new life in Brown County with his wife and young family. We will learn about his new career paths and his work on the Deam Wilderness Project and his fight for landowners private property rights.

Bill Millers experiences give voice to a life that has spanned (so far) a world that was still recovering from the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the assassinations of prominent leaders in our country, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, to our present day struggles around the globe.

Feb 8, 2016

Informazioni sull'autore

He has fought serious illnesses and personal setbacks, but his determination to live life to the fullest has kept him going above and beyond what would have caused most people to give up. Not Bill. Never Bill. Bill has lived a life of service, giving to others and paying it forward. He fights for what he believes to be the right thing, a true ally in any cause he’s involved with. Bill grew up in rural Brown County Indiana, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to see the world and what it had to offer. His is a journey you will want to take with him.

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Son of a Coal Miner's Daughter - William Spencer Miller

Son of a

Coal Miner’s


William Spencer Miller


1663 Liberty Drive

Bloomington, IN 47403

Phone: 1 (800) 839-8640

© 2016 William Spencer Miller. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

Published by AuthorHouse   02/23/2017

ISBN: 978-1-5049-6191-2 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-5049-6190-5 (hc)

ISBN: 978-1-5049-6189-9 (e)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2015918767

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.


About the Author


In the Beginning

One-Room School and World War II

Life in Brown County after the Second World War


More Brothers: 1946, 1947, 1948

Mystery Unsolved

Horse in the Well

Papaw Down in the Spring and the Fishing Trip

Horsehair Fishing and Christmas Tree Cutting

Plan B

The Big Mud Hole

Promotion of Good Farming

Valued Older Citizens

Life Is Not Easy

1949, ’50, ’51

Basketball and Repeating Seventh Grade

Senseless Abuse

Sleeping on the Roof and Kentucky Wonder Beans

Mischief Abounds, Bad Ideas and Smoking

4-H and Sweets from the Yoders

A Mentor, Lions Club, and 4-H County Fair

Sunday Dinner

Early High School and Too Much Work

Turning Sixteen and the Indianapolis 500

A Life-Changing Experience

Buddy’s Busted Hand

Milan’s State Championship and Crispus Attucks

Death at the Water’s Edge

Studs and Mares

Class Trip to Washington D.C. and One Tough Kid

Franklin College and the Big Race

The Big Stick and Coach Kohl Teaches a Life Lesson

Horse Whisperer

The Draft Experience and No Justice

Eastern Illinois University and Walt’s

Olympic Trials

Back to School after the Break of Working in the Distilleries

Arvin Industry and Jim Smith

Racism in the Sixties and a Serious Student

The Future-Plan, Marriage Proposal

Bobby Kennedy

Recommendation of a Lifetime

What—Indonesia? At Last, Hawaii

Hilo, Hawaii and Start of Training

Beyond Belief - Training Finished

Arriving in Jakarta and then Bali


Mike and Maria and Special Coffee

Language Breakthrough

We Cannot Truly Repay

The Wallace Line, Bush Trip, and Sorry for your Loss

ASCO (Assistant Coaches) Training School

Sumbawa Besar and Second Rice Shower

Emil Zatopek

Komodo Dragon, Malaria, Hope Hospital in Sumbawa Besar, and Dr. Who?

Rumblings in Bima and Fishing Extraordinaire

Holding Hands, Dompu a First in Basketball

Lombok Timor and Hike Gunung Rinjani

At Death’s Door

Vietnam War Reality

Surgery and Recovery


Hong Kong and Tiger Balm Gardens

Back to Jakarta and Our Posts in Lombok Timor

Heartbreak and Goodbye!

Bangkok, Thailand

Hospital Again? Pat Woods

Good-bye, Thailand

The Journey Home


Greece, Rome, and Eurorail

Belgium and a Draft Horse Breed

Home and New York City, Chip Elwell

Back Home Again in Indiana

Peace Corps, Recruiting and Training and Key West

Training for Micronesia I and II

Westward Ho!

Training Peace Corps Volunteers for Korea

Micronesia Peace Corps Training Program, In Country

Bird on a String

Danger beyond the Reef

Heads Up

Death in the Islands

New Guinea by Way of Kapingamarangi

Great News, The Kingdom of Tonga

Property Owners in Elkinsville, Indiana

Now Tonga: The Adventure Begins

On to Ha’apai: Our New Home and a Nation Loses another Leader

Almost Lost, John and his Chicks

Tongans Are Strong

King Taufa’ahau Topu IV

The Noble

Royal Visit

Learn, Learn, Learn

Good-bye to Our Beloved Tonga

Brief Visit Home, Hello Philippines

Death Threats

Move to Manila and Good News Again

Spider Child

Overpopulation and Poverty

Murder in the Mountains

A Floating Jeep and a Landslide

Great News: A Baby Girl!

Roaring Thunder

Miracle Rice?

Good-bye Again

The Trip Home

A Wilderness Study Area and a Student Group Called INPIRG

Organizing for the Fight

The Stone Quarry

Wilderness Fight Continues

Stone Quarry, Bad Idea

No More Stone Quarry

The Wilderness Fight Has No End

People’s Alliance

First Half Marathon

US Department of Agriculture

A Split in Our Group: Citizens Concerned about the Nebo Ridge Area

Life Gets Even Busier

IDNR’s Duck-Killing Pond

Indiana’s First and Only Wilderness Established

Employees’ Organization: Indiana Association of State and County Office Employees

Elkinsville and Mr. Green

Area Agency on Aging and Brown County Lions Club

One Very Sad Day

Diane’s Death

The Hall Place and Browning Mountain

Remodeling and Gentrifying the Old 1892 House

Off to a Great Start

Hidden, A Secret Writing

The House Is Becoming a Home

Skylights and the Home Stretch

Finishing Up, Such Great Luck

Elkinsville Reunion

Oliver’s Funeral

Searching for Answers

Not All Ends Well

New Zealand and Dr. Phil’s Rugby Treat

Southernmost South Island

Return to Paradise

On to Hawaii, another Paradise

Half and First Marathon

Finishing Work and Retiring

The Death of a Brother

My 1994 Nissan Pickup Headed West

Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower

Montana: Susie and Earl’s

Portland: Eric and Kelly Sue’s

Peace Corps Friends

Olympic National Park and Damnation Trail

Back Home and Retirement Begins

Hoosier Environmental Council

Triathlons at Sixty-Three? My First One

Ready or Not, the Time Is Here

Head Start and Fatherhood

The Loss of another Brother

The Loss of a Mother

Lost Love

A Life-Changing Day

Big-Time Help from Curt

Major Progress

Off to France

Hilo, Hawaii, and a Peace Corps Celebration

Virdie Birdie Mae Kidd Williams Miller

Sue Miller Davis

Rupert Austin Miller

More about William Kidd

A Little More Personal

To the memory of my mother,

Virdie Birdie Mae Kidd Williams Miller.

As you can see, I have chosen the title The Son of a Coal Miner’s Daughter. My mother, Virdie Birdie Mae Kidd Williams Miller, was born in March 1913, in Benham, Harlan County, Kentucky. Birdie’s father, William Kidd, was a coal miner at the Benham coal mine. I am his namesake. That makes my mother the daughter of a coal miner and me the son of a coal miner’s daughter! The most famous coal miner’s daughter is, of course, Loretta Lynn. She was born and raised a few miles to the east of Benham. There is Loretta Lynn memorabilia in the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum located in Benham, Kentucky. It is a wonderful small museum in a real coal mining town, well worth the visit.

About the Author

He has fought serious illnesses and personal setbacks, but his determination to live life to the fullest has kept him going above and beyond what would have caused most people to give up. Not Bill. Never Bill.

Bill has lived a life of service, giving to others and paying it forward. He fights for what he believes to be the right thing, a true ally in any cause he’s involved with.

Bill grew up in rural Brown County Indiana, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to see the world and what it had to offer.

His is a journey you will want to take with him.

Rebekah Spivey


January 21, 2011

It’s no small accident that I start this writing today. I am in the hospital in Bloomington, Indiana, with a spinal problem from a shot of Hepatitis B and a pill of live typhoid bacteria taken to allow me to return to Bali, Lombok, and Sumbawa, in Indonesia where these diseases are still prevalent. I served there from 1963 to 1965 as a United States of America Peace Corps volunteer, teaching and coaching with my new wife, Diane Elwell Lunn Miller, who also was a teacher and coach. This bed hiatus is a reminder that I am not invincible and that I should get busy writing my experiences.

So, that is the purpose of this writing down my life experiences: to share and help others understand that we have so much to learn. I have always been a person who believed I needed the patience to let life unfold, and chose to believe in a positive future outcome, no matter what happens. In other words, I practice seeing the glass is always half full.

Personally, sometime in my early years I declared myself lucky. It just hit me that I was fortunate and that I should expect to be. I don’t know whether this was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it seems to have worked for me in the past—and it still does!

As I start to take you on this journey with me, I hope you’ll try to understand why I describe some of my early life experiences, as they shall be hard to read. No one really wants to hear about abuse in families; it’s almost taboo to talk about it. Yet I must, because it makes up a part of me and might explain some of my behavior toward others in my life. I must tell my whole story or nothing at all.

As I close this introduction to my writing, I assure you that, to my best recollection, all I write is true and can be validated. Life is too rich; I don’t need to make up things. My interest is to hurt no one, but if inadvertently I do, I apologize in advance. My sole purpose is to share my life’s experiences, and I hope that others can gain some wisdom, hope, love, peace, and pleasure from my writings.

In the Beginning

On October 18, 1937, a beautiful fall day, so I am told, my mother and father were hand-picking mature field corn in northern Marion County. To a farmer back then, it was called shucking corn. This was what many small farmers did to feed their animals, such as pigs, cows, horses, chickens, etc. My mom was picking up the down row, the one the wagon runs on top of when you open up a new field. It was then that she felt a big pain … that was me! They—my dad, Rupert, and his wife, Birdie—headed to Beech Grove St. Francis Hospital to get me launched into this world. Well, you have already discovered that my parents had unusual names, Rupert and Birdie. I already had a sister, Sue, three years plus. She was born at home; I was the first born in a hospital.

My parents had very little money, as they were both young and had no help from anyone to get a start. They had an optimistic view of a grim world, along with the spirit of a young lion and lioness to take on whatever came. When they had no money for animal feed, they would go to downtown Indianapolis restaurants and collect the garbage food to take home to feed the pigs, chickens, etc. This would be after a full day’s work on their jobs. You must understand that this was at a time of great challenge to the American people. I was born in the midst of the Great Depression. In 1937, the depression that had started after the stock market crash in 1929 was in full swing, and millions of people were out of work and desperate to survive.

In 1937, along with deep depression, the winds of war, were blowing in Germany; the beginnings of the Holocaust were stirring as hatred raised its ugly head. Hitler had sown the seeds of racial and ethnic distrust and behaviors. This time was not a rosy one in which ordinary people were optimistic and looking for a bright future.

It was on a sharecropper’s rented farm in northeast Marion County that my life began, and we continued there until 1940. By 1940, still a grim time, my parents had saved some money for a farm in Brown County, Indiana, about fifty-five miles due south.

I believe my earliest remembrances are there on the small sharecropper farm. Once, someone shined a light into the window from outside, which frightened me; it was like a flashlight. My other recollection is about turning over backward in a swing, like a porch swing, and biting my tongue so hard I had to have stitches, a painful remembrance. Otherwise, my memories start with Brown County and our move there in 1940.

It would help some if I explained how my parents saved money during the Great Depression. My father, Rupert Miller, was an intelligent, hardworking, and driven man who wanted to succeed. My mom was a good mate for him because she too was intelligent, hardworking, and desirous of a better life. She was willing to do whatever was required to help my father. So, together they started off on an adventure. It was a bold adventure. My father had started working at L. S. Ayres and Company as a sixteen-year-old high-school graduate and had found himself a home and success with the company in Indianapolis in 1928. While he was not making a large salary at Ayres, he knew how to save, and my mom did as well. She, like my dad, had had a difficult start in life. These two young people, with spirit and determination, set out from a small home with electricity, running water, and an indoor bathroom to move to an abandoned farm in Brown County that had no running water and no electricity. It was a big farmhouse that had only a double fireplace for heat and a hand pump outside for water.

Well, I must not forget the bonus, an outhouse, about two hundred feet down the hill from the house. It was a double-holer, although I never really shared it with anyone. But I digress, back to the Spartan existence that we moved into.

I would like to add at this point that my father was still fully employed at L. S. Ayres.

I must say I loved it. I had freedom to play outside, wide-open spaces, and a big house, even if not in good shape. Actually, it needed a ton of work.

So in 1940, my mom and dad, sister Sue, and I made the big move to this unique place of beauty, and challenges that would last a lifetime. Mind you, this was no small farm. It had 365 acres and a huge barn, along with a big house and a chicken house. The exact price they paid for the farm I don’t know. Land in Brown County in 1940 sold from a dollar an acre to twenty. At twenty dollars an acre, it would have cost seventy three hundred dollars. In 1940, that would have been a small fortune. That was it! The house was white, the barn and the chicken house red. In our move we brought a team of horses, some milk cows, beef cows, pigs, and chickens, etc.

I have to put down etc., as I know there were more animals, like dogs, cats, goats, ducks, geese, and more to come. My dad liked the idea of animals, as did my mom, so a true partnership was born.

Brown County in 1940 was many things: an artists’ colony, an area of poverty (not unlike many other southern counties in Indiana), a place of unique beauty and hardy, rugged, bright, independent people. It was a place of many one-room schools, gravel roads, no electric lights, and sparse population due to the Depression. It was a cut-over forest from the cut-and-run days not long past. The land had been used, abused, and deserted. It had many gullies ten to fifteen feet deep. The topsoil was poor due to the abuse and poor management.

It was a doer’s paradise. Everything needed work. I also would like to interject at this point that while many folks liked to make Brown County out to be backwoods, hillbilly, backward, uneducated, and great fun to make jokes about, it was a favorite of Herman B Wells, the great Indiana University president; a favorite of James Whitcomb Riley, the poet; writers and artists—some of Indiana’s and the nation’s best. In and around Nashville, Indiana, was a group of artists known as the artist colony who, along with many local Brown County residents, were knowledgeable, educated, sophisticated, and had advanced social and political views. One can get into trouble very quickly when trying to hang out just one shingle to describe Brown County. It was never homogenous; there was always a wonderful mixture of arts, crafts, farming, and differing levels of income, education, and culture. It was—and still is today—rich in all of these.

I’m sure I will spoil some people’s view of poor Brown County; however, my intent is to give an accurate portrayal of Brown County then and now.

In 1940, my sister started going to a one-room school in Beanblossom, and I would follow in 1943. We had to walk a good quarter of a mile up a muddy county lane to meet the school bus. There we stood until the bus came, there was no extra car to carry you there, or any adult to walk with you. There was no enclosure or roof to shield you from the weather, just a couple of neighborhood kids to keep you company.

I can’t describe the first days at school, but Sue was quick and skipped a grade, so I know she was a hit.

In the fall of 1943 I turned six (in October), so they let me start early. Of course, a one-room school usually has one room for teaching and a coat hall where you come in and hang your coat. The water container was there for the children to get water at recess.

The grades were one through six in Beanblossom, with a good, knowledgeable teacher who was usually no-nonsense and quite a task master/mistress. The teacher would start with one grade, one row of students usually, and then move across the room to a higher grade. The first graders were next to the door, and the sixth graders next to the outside windows. So, when class was finished for the day, you had gotten all six lessons whether you wanted them or not.

The schoolroom was heated by a coal stove that worked somewhat well, depending on where you were seated. Eventually they made a jacket to surround the stove, a semicircular panel with an inside metal jacket to reflect the heat upward and spread it around the room more evenly. The beginning of my one-room school experience was enjoyable and memorable!

I’ll get back to my first school; however, there is too much I still need to tell you about the first three years in Brown County. While my sister was starting school and doing those helper chores with our mother, I was exploring, playing, learning, and loving every minute of it—well, almost every minute. Things were not always that smooth; some rough spots did develop.

When we moved to Brown County in 1940, we had to ford the creek when the water was up to get in and out of the road leading to the house. One day that year, my mom and I drove down the hill to the creek, and lo and behold, the creek was up and we could go no further. So I (aged three) came out with, Well, I’ll be goddamned. My mom was clearly surprised and told me this story many times. She said it was what she had been thinking. My early bad language came from my father, who could swear like the sailor he would become.

We brought horses, Jack and Maude, a pair of grays. When Jack died, we buried him in a giant gully behind the house. The gully was deep, so he fit. I recall our trying to cover him up. It was near the enormous elm trees we had at that time. Most likely the largest trees on the farm were elm, since they were not good for much other than shade for animals and to hold the soil in place. The crown of one could shed shade over an area at least 120 feet wide; they were big, beautiful trees. It was also in this area that I liked to play, as I had a hideout back there. My sister and I played there a lot.

My dad brought along a hired hand to help on the farm. His name was Claude. Claude had lived on the south side of Indianapolis and needed any kind of work, so he came with my folks to do chores in exchange for bed and food and a small pay. Claude liked to sing. His favorite song was, You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; you make me happy, when skies are gray.

Anyway, Claude was a happy soul, but he only lasted for a year or so, because my Dad was too hard on him (and everyone, including himself). My father had to drive forty-seven miles to work in the morning and forty-seven miles home in the evening after a full day’s work. Sometimes we would take him to meet a ride, and sometimes he would catch a bus. Mostly he drove back and forth. We had an old black Chevy that was used for everything you can imagine, including a perch for our billy goat to climb and do his business up on the top.

My dad had a million good ideas to make money, extra money, and they always involved all of us. At that time there was a canning factory in Morgantown where you could sell tomatoes, so we planted tomatoes and picked them into hampers. We took out the seats from the old Chevy and hauled about ten hampers of tomatoes at a time to Morgantown.

My mom and Claude milked a couple of cows and sold the cream to Mallory’s on the south side of Indianapolis. I learned to milk at an early age, as help was needed and it was expected. We had mixed milk cows, and they gave rich milk and lots of cream. As I recall, we had a Guernsey and a Jersey, also maybe a Shorthorn mix.

We planted a big garden, and Mom planted, hoed, harvested, and canned tomatoes, corn, and cucumbers for pickles. The pickles were my favorite. I know my sister must have been a really big help. I was trying, but I was still small.

Washing was done with metal tubs and a washboard, either outside or on the back porch. The water source was well water pumped by hand. The solar dryer was wire strung between T-shaped posts set in back of the house. One summer day, my mother had just finished washing sheets and was carrying them back to the drying lines when she felt something hit the sheet on the other side. It was a copperhead. It got its fangs caught in the sheet as it struck, and there it hung. Mom got a garden hoe and chopped it off; then she went about the rest of her work. Remember, this was a twenty-eight-year-old young woman, doing day-to-day work.

I must say, my mother loved the farm. She loved the trees, the old house, the open space, the domesticated animals, the wild animals, the birds, the dogs, and the cats. Cats were very special to my mother at one time, I counted seventeen of them on the farm. She had a positive attitude about it all. She was young, with two small children and a hardworking husband. It may not have been perfect, but she loved it all.

We had neighbors up the road, nice people by the name of Zody. Clarence and Oma Zody were bright, educated people who were great neighbors, always helpful, as were others nearby. Oscar Snider was also a neighbor; he had a grandson, Gary, and granddaughter, Marilyn, the same ages as my sister and me.

There were the Arnolds, who had moved from Alabama to the ole Cotty’s orchard. They were also wonderful. Ruby and Bobby were near our ages, so we could go to their orchard house and play. That’s where we got the first of a long line of cats that we called Angel Puss.

A couple of stories involving the Arnolds: Of course you know that we went to war officially December 7, 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. War was officially declared on Germany when our friends in England were getting their backs to the wall at home. Hitler had already started killing and dominating Jews throughout Europe. First we suffered the Depression and now the war.

It must have seemed like the whole world was upside down. Money and good jobs were scarce, but soon everything was rationed: tires, cars, food, sugar—most things that could be used to fight the war in Europe and the Pacific. We were all in it, and for most it was all-consuming. There was a draft, but you joined as a volunteer or you got drafted. My father had children, a farm, and a job; as well, he was now thirty-one, that was older, and so, he was in no danger of getting drafted.

What does this have to do with my story about the Arnolds? Well, they had a big orchard. They needed help. In 1940–41, the US Army built Camp Atterbury just north and east of us in part of Brown County. Since there were many abandoned farms in that area, they started buying land and building one of the larger training camps in the Midwest.

You could always hear bombs going off or tanks rumbling around; it was in every sense a training camp for real war. In 1943–44 there had been enough Germans captured to have them shipped to Camp Atterbury for imprisonment. The prisoners of war were like our young men; they had been called upon to fight for their country and that’s what they did. They were eighteen to twenty years old. A few were older, but most were boys made into men all too soon, caught up in a world-wide conflict.

So, when help for the orchards was needed, the Army came along with about a hundred German soldiers under guns—machine-gun guards to help pick apples. What an experience for a couple of young boys who were all eyes, ears, and excitement to see what a German looked like. They must be these big, mean, scary, nasty brutes, with fire coming out of their nostrils and blood in their eyes. But not quite—they were just young, homesick boys who missed their moms and dads and their young wives and babies, for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, there probably were some real, drop-dead mean fellows there, but for the most part they were not!

They all wanted to talk with us, the two small boys, and touch our hair and give us a smile. They went about their work and made no fuss. It made small boys wonder what war was really all about.

The second story with Bobby Arnold was when he came to our house to play, and I took him to see our cows. It was about the same time, 1942 or ’43. We had a wild cow named Sally. Cows are kind of like people, with real personalities and real temperaments. Well, Sally was a crazy gal … cow! She would jump any fence, fight any animal, kick, and generally raise hell. She had a new calf. I decided I would open the pen door in the downstairs of the barn to let Bobby see the new calf. Big mistake. When I walked in, she let out a bellow and ran at me; she knocked me down and started to trample me. When Bobby saw the action, he looked around for something and saw an ax. So he picked up a double-bitted axe and started hitting her in the head. It may sound like a slaughter, but no, it just got her attention and gave me a chance to scramble out from under her front hoofs. Had Bobby not been there, she could have easily trampled me to death. I believe Bobby saved my life. We are still friends some seventy years later. Farms are hazardous to ones’ health—there are both danger and fun everywhere.

About this time period, we were struggling to keep up with everything my father wanted done. He was so many things: a great breadwinner, a stern father, still an athlete who played basketball when he could, a gentleman farmer of sorts, a businessman at L. S. Ayres, and a husband. He had a mean temper. It took nearly nothing to set him off. If you put your hands in your pockets too long, moved too slow, said anything back, or gave a look he didn’t like, anything at all, that would be enough.

The first time I recall his giving me a beating was when I was three or four years old. He grabbed me and started hitting me on the back and bottom so hard and so long that he literally beat the piss out of me. I mean that he beat me until I was wetting my pants.

Now, you must also know that my dad was very strong, so when he hit you, it hurt. But being hit repeatedly until you cannot hold your water was not only hurtful but embarrassing for a three-, four-, or five-year-old. It did not take long to learn to dislike my dad. Too bad! It did not take me long, even at such an early age, to know that I did not deserve such beatings. It made me feel unloved by him and not want to be near him. He repeated these beatings several times until I wet myself, and I never forgot.

It’s not as black and white as I have made it sound right here. But it surely had an impact that resonated in my life, which I could have done without and which made me not as trusting and open as I could have been.

At that early age, children tend to feel that they are to blame for what has happened to them. I did not. I don’t know why. I just knew that I didn’t deserve the beating, and I wanted to get away.

Before I was six years old, I ran away twice after beatings, once to our neighbors, the Zodys, and once to the home of Walt Lowery, a car repairman. The first neighbor was a little over a quarter of a mile away, and the other was well over a mile and a half away. I can recall both as if they happened yesterday. Both occurrences were in the summer, and both times I was barefoot and crying. I recall the dusty path, a cow path, and the gravel road. When I reached these destinations, I was too scared to tell anything but that I was running away from home. Both times I was taken home, too afraid to run away, too small and too afraid to stay at home. Of course, time passes and one learns to deal with the difficulty and to take abuse; however, I never accepted it as something I deserved or took the blame. There’s a saying, Even a dog knows whether he’s being kicked or stumbled over; so do kids, even little kids.

If this had ended at this age I don’t know what impact it would have had on my life, but I believe it would have always stuck with me. It didn’t end.

We went to Bible school at Beanblossom Mennonite Church, where they came and picked up the children for Vacation Bible School. Like most moms, our mother let us go to Bible school, and there we learned that you should honor your father and mother.

Well, there’s a dilemma! Honor someone who’s beating you? What a conflict! Internally, I was torn. On one hand I wanted to believe, and on the other I knew it was not right. When this happens, mixed signals get sent. Well, life on the farm had its rewards and its challenges. The challenge was to learn how to handle these fits of temper while being told by the church to honor my father and yet remain a thriving, growing young person with a good nature and the ability to bounce back.

My mother, Birdie, was good at seeing the positive, and she enabled me and my sister to develop skills to deal with these rages and bad behavior from our father. I really don’t know how much physical punishment my sister got, but I know she got a lot of grief and yelling. She seemed to handle it well. Our mom was always trying not to put our father down while helping us to see the good things around us and to not focus on the bad. I’m convinced that she, in her goodness, carried us through with positive reinforcement and example. Her love for us and the farm, cats, dogs, animals, and all of the out-of-doors was powerful. She could laugh at almost anything and make it better. As I tell you more about her background, you will be even more amazed.

After this and other stories, you might not want to see the good side of my father. He had so many good qualities that it would be untrue and unfair to paint just one picture of this bright, complex man. So, stay open with me and hang on, as we’ve just begun.

One-Room School and World War II

I’ve been writing about my first three years in Brown County and in the 1943–44 year; with the Second World War in full swing, a lot was happening. In the first-grade class at my one-room school, we were all asked to help in the war effort. We were given paper sacks to collect milkweed pods, which contain seeds that were very silky and light. When dry, the pods opened and the silky parachutes floated into the air to carry the seeds of milkweed everywhere. We were asked to collect these to make stuffing for life vests for servicemen serving over or on water. We were elated to be asked to help and felt it was an important assignment—a big deal! So collect we did.

A second big effort took place at our school, and that was to help fight forest fires. At that time Brown County had many forest fires due to drought and careless burning as well as poor forestry practices. The Department of Natural Resources would bring a flatbed truck to our school with lots of rakes and shovels. They would load us all onto the truck bed and take us to the fire so we could rake a fire line and help contain the fire. This happened more than once, and we all thought it was great! Can you imagine today—the lawsuits?

It was truly a time of community and pulling together. Self was secondary, and group survival was most important. There were jobs to be done, and you did them without complaint—well, without much complaint.

It also was in this year that the public health nurse came to our school to give the patch test for tuberculosis. It was the days of the dreaded disease of TB and the iron lung, which in bad cases, people had to live in to survive.

The county nurse set up a small table and chair in the back corner of our schoolroom to give this test. We rolled up our sleeves, and she took a needle with something on it and pricked the skin on our upper arms. Then she put patches of gauze over the skin pricks, and she came back the next day to read it. So we all got patches. We went home, and the next day when we came back, we got to see the nurse again for our readings. Scary! Each kid was read, and only one got a note sent home with him—me! The nurse told my mom that my test was positive for TB, and I had go to Columbus Hospital to get an X-ray of my lungs. So be it. Almost the next day, we went to the hospital and I got my lungs X-rayed. The doctor read the X-ray and told us that I had had TB at some period and that my body’s immune system had fought the good battle and won! I had scars on my lungs from tuberculosis, but it was not active, and I should be okay. I could go back to school. Wow, did I feel relieved! It did explain why I had looked so skinny and weak at times before that. It had been my body fighting the TB.

The one-room school continued to be my home school through the first and second grades, so many lessons to be learned. Hold up one finger to go pee; hold up two fingers for more than a pee. The outhouses were about sixty yards behind the school; there was one for boys, one for girls. They were neither good nor bad, just outhouses. There were a few dirty words written on the walls, not words I knew then but would learn to know. There were supposed book titles, like A Race to the Outhouse, by Willie Make It, or The Golden Stream, by I. P. Freely. You see, there really is an education on shithouse walls!

One of my first teachers was a Mr. Fleener. He was tall, straight, stern, kind, and right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. His first advice to us at the opening of school in 1943–44 was that we should not smoke. He said, It will take ten years off of your life. A wise man; it was true then and it’s true today. At that particular time, big cigarette companies would give every soldier and GI in the Army free cigarettes to get them hooked on nicotine. It worked! The generation of the 1940s and ’50s could be called the generation of smokers. For a few dollars, doctors even endorsed cigarettes; the claim was, Nine out of ten doctors choose Camels. Well, marketing is a big slice of America, both good and bad. Mr. Fleener knew his stuff. He also had wonderful stories to tell about his grandparents in the Oklahoma land rush. Like all good teachers, he made the students want to work for him.

One day he said that I and another small boy, Dean Allendar, could carry the water bucket to Mr. Waltman’s house, about a quarter of a mile down the (slight) hill to pump well water for the school. It was a high privilege to be given this task, and we started our journey. We got to the well, pumped the water, and started back. It was a bit heavy for two small boys, so we took our time. We stopped a bit too long in front of an old house that no one was living in but that still had windowpanes. We decided to see whether we could throw rocks and knock out the existing windowpanes. Who would care? Unfortunately, I hit one and Dean hit one, and then we left.

A few minutes after we got back to school, there came Mr. Waltman with the story of our misadventure. We had to pay twenty-five cents each for the panes knocked out and we each got a small paddling for not being more forthcoming in our stories—and maybe just for a lesson. It was one we did not forget!

Beatings at home, as I said, I didn’t deserve. Paddles and proper spankings, I did earn and accept. I did not resent these. I was a boy’s boy and out to prove it. I’m sure I earned and deserved the normal range of punishment that most boys get.

I liked school. I liked playmates, recess, games, and little girls. The little girls were different, I could tell. They just seemed nice, fun, and different to talk with, which was something to look forward to. This one-room school might be the true head start today’s educators say we need. We were all treated well and as individuals, not just numbers—not a bad beginning.

The beginning

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