1934 - 1952
Please come with me for I have a story to tell which I hope you will enjoy and understand. This is a love story, passionate in every sense, which I will tell without one three letter word for love is more than the beautiful difference between boys and girls. It is, if you will, a promise never broken, kindness always exchanged, help without complaint, and a walk always together. When we had nothing there was never concern about tomorrow, when life was sorrow we danced together in the rain, with laughter the ballroom was ours alone. Always, always we remained the same two kids, happy to the end, an end which in reality will never come.
Everyone who wished to be was our friend for there was never one less than we but with great and humble , rich and poor alike, we were equally at ease sure in the knowledge that good sense and right reason commands its own respect at every social level
With single minded determination we guarded the integrity both of one another when the easy and popular waited with its superficial reward going the other way without rancor or lasting feeling of offense.
We two in the beginning have become twenty one bound together still by the love with which we first began.
As is common to all families we are the genes passed from earlier love affairs. Frances grandmother, Isabelle Richmond passed on at the age of one hundred seven, outliving three husbands and leaving three families. Robbins, Quinett and Wilcox. Barney Wilcox was Frances’ father. Emma (Gilliam) Wilcox, her mother. The Richmond family’s United States residency pre- dates the Civil War as extant records indicate migration fromVirginia to Union County Missouri in 1863.
Franz Schmidt, my paternal grandfather immigrated to this country around 1895. My father, born in this country in 1898. His oldest brother and my namesake was born in the Silesia area of Germany. Marguerite (Daughton) Schmidt, my mother, and Irish was the daughter of Dennis Daughton and Florence(Shiel) Daughton. The time of the Irish immigration is currently unknown to the author Frances’ family residence was in the area of Polk County (Des Moines) Iowa and is believed to be of English descent.
The Schmidt’s’ settled in Shelby County (Portsmouth) Iowa. Dennis Daughtons’ family farmed in Woodland Township Decatur County (rural Leon) Iowa Florence (Shiel) Daughton’s family farmed near Mount Ayr, Iowa.
Frances’ father farmed and worked in the Des Moines, Iowa area. The purchase of a farm in Decatur County brought the family to the Leon, Iowa Consolidated School District where we met. My family home was in Leon, Iowa from birth to 1951 when the family moved to Dubuque where I finished High School at Loras Academy, an all boys Junior ROTC school. The standard GI uniform was the dress of the day at Loras but since I arrived as a senior and with a broken leg I spent the year as the sole civilian.
Frances’ father was a great fellow, but stubborn when it suited and could be mean on an erratic basis. For instance, the family consisted of four sisters, Darlene, Frances, Shirley and Lilly (no boys) and the girls were forbidden to ride a bicycle and Darlene was beaten for disobeying this proscription. Emma (mother) was determined that the girls should climb socially which resulted with Shirley being “arranged” into a union which ended in bitterness and rancor for the family.
My family was all boys. Dennis, James, Edward, myself and William. Mother never hid her displeasure over our selection of mates, finding fault with all but Jim, who never married. Dad was just a happy camper who worked hard all his life and with a big smile and solemnly pronounced “you can’t beat fun.”
The Irish, at least those I came to know on my mothers’ side of the family were a different lot. Looking at their treatment in history explains this in part. The potato famine of 1845-52 starved a million of them to death and those emigrating to our shores post Civil War were met with banners advertising employment but with the one qualification exception “Irish need not apply”. The social status was one step down from the freed slaves. Those from the cities tended to stay in the cities of the East while farmers and craftsmen moved west looking to benefit from the homestead land available. This was not an easy trek. Indeed as a child at gatherings of the Irish relatives I heard the story of the twins born along the way, who would have been distant cousins, who were buried, one on the east bank of the Ohio River, the other on the west. Such was the great price paid for the pearl of freedom.
My grandmother was a grim person outwardly but at the moment Grand dad was terminally stricken she was pulling his shirt over his arm and could only hold him close in a final embrace. A final reward for a lifetime of love.
The other side of the Irish national personality could be seen at any wake for a departed friend or relative. Maggie Tapscott was at every one, usually in the kitchen, near the source of all things spiritual until there was a knock at the door where upon Maggie would greet the newcomer with tears streaming down her face and a patent remembrance of the departed. Then with parched throat it was back to the kitchen. Still credit must not be denied. Her son became a very successful attorney in the Des Moines area.
In the decade of 1900-1910 nearly ten million people came to these shores and worked the magic of each personality on our society and in this period of unfettered free enterprise the gross national product tripled. Then the war boom and in the farm sector a slow decline, the bust in 1929.
Dad and mother had been married in 1927. With two children and another on the way everything was gone. Grand dad lost one farm and saved the second, but with a mortgage. Livestock prices wouldn’t pay the cost of the feed them and jobs were non-existent. In 1930 Dad installed an overflow pipe for the farm to the south of Grand dad’s, drove a hundred miles to get and return the equipment, supplied and installed the pipe and fittings and charged the owner $20.00. It was the only income for the year, the owner thought he had been overcharged and stayed mad for the next twenty years. Such was the estate to which I was born. The family was living on the family farm with the grand parents and literally everything we ate was grown on the property.
The earliest recollections are of the staircase of thirteen tall steps which bent from north to west coming down ending in the living room at the bottom. Apparently sleepwalking I stepped off the top step and rolled from top to bottom onto the living room floor. It hurt. Dad came and carried me back to bed. The next day he brought a red wagon and saw that I got it. It was nice while it lasted but lasted but a short time before the three older brother’s snarfed it. Such was life for the one that stood fourth in line.
Sometime after 1936 Dad contracted scarlet fever and was quarantined in the house resulting in the rest of us having to move out. Two of the chicken houses were cleaned out and beds installed for sleeping and the smokehouse became the kitchen and dining room. All this while Dad was alone in a ten room house.
Dad went to work shortly after supervising construction of the new municipal swimming pool in Leon, followed by construction of the building for the Chevrolet-Buick dealership in Leon. The owner didn’t have the money to pay for the work and Dad was given a new 1936 Buick in lieu of cash.
Shortly after we moved to Leon to a very small house west of the same dealership, then to a two story house just west of the high school playground, then to the southeast part of town to a house that was, in the winter, colder than a witches toes . This was 1939 memorable as the year Bill was born. The last of the five Schmidt boys. It seem like only yesterday he was screaming his head off while we tried to listen to Jack Benny’s Sunday night radio program.
We still lived here when I began to lose my hearing which resulted in being hospitalized at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. For four days the doctor came to the room, looked in one ear, then the other and goes away. The fifth day was the same then went back to the first ear and lanced a boil, which was the cause of the problem. Talk about being set free. Try a stab in the head. It hurt, but no pain, no gain. I went home the next day and my hearing returned. The only other thing of note here was the Whipple girls that lived across the street and the games of strip poker that Jim and Ed got into. Even a dumb first grader knew that these two suckers never had a chance when the girls started counting bobby pins.
The next move was to the “Doc Brown House” which was about seven blocks southeast of the “main drag” in Leon. In picking the last two houses one of mother’s requirements was that the property have a “garden spot”. As a victim and later as a parent I found that there was just not room in a boy’s busy schedule for an agriculture project. There was just no time left after an exhausting day of fishing at Castors Lake. We did, however, develop an advanced method of shelling peas by feeding them through the washing machine wringers.
It was here that I got up enough courage to ride a bicycle. I took the infernal thing a half block north, fixed myself in the seat and pushed off. Nothing to it but as I neared our house it dawned on me that I didn’t have the foggiest idea of how to get the thing stopped. Just going on till it stopped of its own accord wasn’t an option. Beyond our house the sidewalk started a downward slope that didn’t end for a couple of miles. The only option was to turn right south of our house and try doing something in the yard. I made the turn but went right across the yard to the slope down to the garden area and under an iron rose hoop, the top of which caught me right across the nose lifting me out of the seat. I dropped to the ground and the bicycle fell over in the garden. Anybody can ride a bicycle but they shouldn’t before learning how to pedal backwards.
Sunday evening at the swimming pool with everything going right until I went out on the end of the four meter diving board. I walked to the end of the board intending to dive, then changed my mind to a run and jump. As I turned to walk back to the far end of the board I stepped over the side, falling to the sidewalk and landing with my head and shoulders in the water and my lower torso on the sidewalk and unconscious. But for an unknown person who saw me fall I may very well have drowned. Whoever it was carried me to the bath house where I regained consciousness and was taken to the local chiropractor who was the only doctor not away for the weekend. He concluded that there were no broken bones and I went home to recuperate.
World War II started while we lived in this house and Dad went to work at the Navel Air Station in Ottumwa, IA commuting monthly by train to Osceola then by bus to Leon. The car was parked in the garage for the duration. I was enrolled in the south elementary school (grades 1-3) which was a walk of about five blocks. Mother was in charge of the sewing room, a WPA project which employed women to cut and sew government supplied denim into Jeans. The finished product was taken to a ware house for distribution to qualifying welfare recipients. The back room of the sewing room was a commodity room for distribution of fruit and vegetables to people in need.
Everything was rationed and the allowed amount that could be purchased was controlled by the issue of stamp books or “point” units which were cardboard chits good for certain amounts of rationed items. The owner of one of the food markets was caught selling horse meat for beef and was given the choice of prison or the navy. He took the navy.
Grandfather Daughton Passed away April 26, 1945 and the farm passed to his son James. Grandmother continued to live at the farm until 1948 when she moved to Des Moines to live with Aunt Elizabeth and her husband Walter.
After the war ended Dad was hired by a Des Moines construction company to supervise construct Sunny Slope Tuberculosis Sanitarium on land donated by the John Morrel estate. The car was taken out of wartime storage and he commuted weekly, a distance of about ninety miles.
We made the last move in Leon to a home just across the street from the north end of the business district, or in our lingo at the north end of the main drag or still yet at horse shoe bend. Connotations varied with the day of the week and time of night.
This home also had been owned by a doctor who had his practice in an addition on the southwest corner The immediate upgrade that took place included a complete exterior repainting. Jim did this almost alone under Dad’s general direction. The paint was mixed onsite from five gallon lots of white lead, linseed oil and turpentine with the resulting product entirely brush applied. The open staircase was stripped of existing coats of finish and found to be entirely of black walnut which was finished with clear coatings. All of the floors in the original part of the house were found to be oak and were sanded and refinished. Floors in the addition were pine but had been installed with no joints. These were all refinished with the addition of a kitchen and bathroom plus additional kitchen windows the addition area became a rental apartment. Thus the home consisted of kitchen, half bath, dining room, living room with anteroom, entrance hall with stair case plus the apartment and enclosed porch on the ground level and four bedrooms and full bath on the second floor. All this was built over a full basement. Heat was provided by a stoker fed coal fired steam boiler with steam piped to cast iron radiators on the upper floors. A new boiler was installed the third year after the house was purchased. The property also included a separate garage. The property was one quarter of a block. The Schmidt family finally owned their own home. Total price of this piece of real estate was $2500.00.
The North School was a block West down the alley, a block and half north and across highway #69.and I was in the sixth grade. Some thing can’t be moved or changed or moved however, one being Castors Lake, the nearest fishing hole, but with the move an additional two miles away. Thus it was that I was invited by Jim and Ed to go for a drive. It never occurred to ask to where? Or for why? I should have known that there was something other than brotherly love involved, which there was. We drove to the top of George Grey hill on the far southeast corner of town and as close as one could get to the lake by car. Jim stopped the car; they got out, retrieved their fishing poles from the trunk, told me to take the car home and headed across the field to go fishing. The only hitch in this plan was that I had never driven a car or anything else before. But you gotta do what you gotta do and I slid into the drivers seat, did what I had seen every body else do and got the engine started, did the clutch thing and was on my way. Really, the only problem was going away from the stop sign at Highway #2. I was nearly to the center of the highway trying to jerk my way across still in high gear. I corrected this oversight and was on my way again arriving home with no further problems. With this extensive and intensive course of self instruction I had become an accomplished driver. Thereafter anytime it was convenient or necessary there was no hesitation. Surprisingly it was Mother who took most advantage on my newly acquired skill. It was about this same time that I got my first job, other than lawn mowing, as a clerk in the local Western Auto Store. Jim had this before me and the reason for his leaving is lost. The owner lived in Osceola, twenty miles away and commuted morning and evening by bus. Thus the job entailed opening the store in the mornings taking half of my noon hour to relieve the owner and again at the store after school till six PM. It was all day Saturdays and in the summer. This lasted for about two years ending with the owner’s retirement and the store closing.
Following this I spent one summer as a laborer on the paving crew that was in town to pave streets for the city. The last month of the summer was as a laborer with the same company paving a piece of highway #65 from the Missouri border to the intersection of #2. This made for long days as we went o work before sun up and the project was an hour away from home. Normally I has to be on my feet by 3:30 AM. I didn’t make it to the end of the summer, however. Some fink told the foreman I was only thirteen and he had no choice but to let me go. For the time period the paving work was considered very gainful employment. The actual wage has been forgotten but a full week was eighty hours and was considered a lot of money especially in comparison to farm related employment. On the other hand with summer temperature ranging from eighty five to one hundred five with humidity levels in a similar range it took a bit of endurance to stay with it day in day out. The same conditions prevailed with farm work, of course, but there was not the same demanding drive to go on working when conditions became near intolerable.
The following two summers were spent tying bales on a Case hay baler. Otherwise there was Just school days for another teenager. Junior high school brought new friends from rural areas of the county, new studies and the beginning of my first team sports with the junior high basketball team.
Playing in our school gymnasium, for me, was against a background of pleasant memories. The building was built, in 1926-27 by a construction Company from Portsmouth IA. The two working principals of this company were Mike and Frank Schmidt. While in Leon Frank met and, in 1927, married Marguerite Daughton who were father and mother of the five Schmidt boys.
Being part f the junior high basketball team meant more for me than just being one of the team When Margaret Meek, Junior High Principal, and traveling chaperone, found that I knew how to drive I became the team chauffer. Miss Meek knew how to drive but didn’t like to so she was happy to give me the job for team travel we used a 1928 Chevrolet sedan owned by the County Sheriff. Everybody involved knew that I didn’t have a driver’s license but there was never a question by anybody.
The only thing of personal not was a Sunday trip to Des Moines for dinner with Mothers sisters. On the way up there was just the slightest tingle between two of my toes. Returning home there was severe pain and red streaks almost to the knee. It was diagnosed as blood poisoning and I was hospitalized the same evening. For five days I got a shot of penicillin, you know where every four hours day and night.
Here, then, is the end of the beginning and the beginning of our life story, with all our hopes and the dreams come true, my family, each one my other self.
Our story begins about the mid point of the twentieth century the first half of which had seen the killing of approximately eighty million people in mans’ convoluted expression of love for his neighbor.
My space in the Fall of 1948 locally was Decatur County IA situated at the intersection of highways #2 (east west) and #69 (north south) which included some of the poorest farm ground in the state and a population that was poor by any standards. The county was named in honor of Stephen Decatur, naval lieutenant and captain from the Barbary pirate wars (shores of Tripoli for the Marine Corps hymn) through the war of 1812. Bordered on the south by Missouri there was leanings to both the Blue and Gray carried over from the Civil War even ninety years later. Here and there veterans of that conflict could still be found. Prejudice was an everyday fact of life in reality and off color humor in the community at large and my family. Blanket blame for everything wrong was chalked up to the nigger in the wood pile. Doc Doss was drafted for sewing up a nigger with white thread. Protestants got on with one another fairly well. It was the Catholics and Holy Rollers that one had to look out for. A colored community was driven out of Garden Grove during a race riot.
The communities of the County included Leon, the county seat, Lamoni, home of Graceland College which were both about 2500 population. Davis City was about midway between Leon and Lamoni on # 69. Lamoni was a Mormon community, stragglers from the trek to Utah as was the much smaller community of Garden Grove in the southwest of the county. High Point was a wide spot in the road along highway #2. Grand River was a Catholic community to the west named for a nearby river. To the north of the county was Weldon to the west and Leroy east of #69.
Major place of entertainment, in Leon was the Strand Theater and, for those with transportation there was the roller rink at Hanoco Court a mile north of Leon. Lefty’s Pool Hall was a popular male only enterprise. During the summer months there was the municipal swimming pool. With summer temperatures and humidity in the 90’s common to the area the pool was very popular. Finally my name is Paul Joseph Schmidt. In all the Leon years and always in the family I was just Joe Schmidt. Paul was never used until I enrolled as a senior at Loras Academy in Dubuque, IA. From then on it was Joe at home and Paul everywhere else.
School class work was never difficult for me. There was no class work that I found difficult save for music class. I was tone deaf and disinterested. Mother had earlier tried to get me to do the piano thing which alright until the teacher she sent me to (Mida Bradley) started talking about practice at home between lessons, then it was thanks but no thanks and piano lessons were a thing of the past. There was, I believe in my freshman year a music teacher that had interesting natural qualities which made the class worthwhile. I was beginning to suspect at about this time in my life that there must be a difference between boys and girls.
My freshman year class was blessed with sports talent with six boys six feet tall, two that were near ten second competitors in the one hundred yard dash and two or three others from the farming hinterlands that resembled Boulder Dam on legs. In addition to competing in football, basketball track and baseball the in the interschool Bluegrass Conference our high school had intramural competition between the four high school classes in basketball and track.
I reported for football practice which started two weeks before class work) really not knowing what to expect. It really wasn’t long before I began to form rather negative opinions about the coach. It wasn’t a personality issue, I just felt that he wasn’t bright and in the three years that I was at Leon I felt he never stopped trying to prove me right. My first football uniform issue included a pair of shoes that were so oversize that I could hardly run and you had to run. The football field was a mile north of the school and from day one, be it 110 or 85 degrees (August in southern Iowa was a guarantee of this range along with humidity in the 90’s) the entire team was required to dress in full uniform and run to the field, do a full two hour practice and run back to the school with no water allowed until return to the school building. He drove along in his car to ensure that everybody ran and nobody stopped at a well along the way to drink.
In addition his game formation was referred to as a short punt formation which was predicated on gaining ground by kicking the ball to the opposition and then defensively keeping the opposition from gaining yardage. It was a formation from the 1920’s when he played and I believed then and now that he was too intellectually lazy to avail himself and his teams with optional formations which would make the best use of the talent available. We had all kinds of defensive talent which was over used but also a wealth of fast and agile talent, some of which were never used.
I got along with my oversize shoes until his first string end got his knee broken and all of a sudden, when it was me or nobody I got shoes that fit. Indeed I was to learn that in his opinion my only defect was that I was a Catholic. But this was not a one way street. I got even. At the three athletic awards ceremonies which he presided over he had to look me in the eye and hand me a total of nine varsity letters and one manager’s letter. Victims of abused authority find that things usually come out even at the end of the day--sometimes more than even. In my opinion in my first face off with the world I won hands down.
Government (Civics) class was the first class in the morning following the 1948 election and Truman’s surprise win. I had been up the entire night getting returns on the local races at the Courthouse and state and national returns from the radio. While there were still undecided races in California the House of Representatives was decided with a majority going to the Democrats telling me that Truman would prevail since there never been a president elected that was not from the same party as the controlling majority in the House. However Mr. McKee at the outset of the class began explaining that the election wasn’t over and that California could still elect Dewey. I was on my feet as soon as he took a deep breath explaining the history of presidential races and said flat out that Truman would be the winner. There was no response to my comments and he went on to another subject. Truman’s win was announced over the building PA system before noon. I finished my class day and went home to take a nap.
The sports achievement that will always remain in my memory as the most satisfying was not in conference completion but in the intramural basketball tournament as a freshman. In the first round it was a foregone conclusion that the Juniors would beat the Seniors, which they did. The sophomores were expected to wipe the floor with the freshmen, which they didn’t. Thus the final game was the Juniors vs. Freshmen. Words fail when trying to convey the degree of arrogant repugnance of the Junior class. There was a degree of mutual respect between the juniors and seniors but the rest of us were the lowest type of vermin. Personally I wanted to beat this crowd so bad I could taste it. Usually in a face off the favored team has an intimidating psychological edge but not with this crowd. I retrospect I have concluded that it was their demeaning attitude that was the galvanizing factor for the freshmen team as a whole and me personally. We not only won, we routed them almost out of the building with a score of 54-35 and this person accounted for 27 of our points. But this was only part of the story. Some time during the game Dad appeared about at the mid point of the bottom bleacher. This was a total surprise, it was a Friday but he was never expected home till about six thirty. I never learned why the early arrival. That was unimportant. His presence was all that counted. This was the only time that he watched me play anything. He had built the building were played in. In truth it could be claimed I am because of the building. For in coming to Leon to build the building he met and married my mother. He waited till I showered and we walked home together. If all the days of my life were ranked in order of happiness this would be near the top.
Come April Fools day there was an evening of entertainment sponsored by the girls from the Home Ec department. Jim and I stopped along with a couple of other fellows and the evening resulted in a case study of Jim’s evolving frugality. He bought an angel food cake to go. Leaving with the cake we all went by home and got a quart of milk from the fridge and went on to a local café where we borrowed space, china, water glasses and tableware and devoured the cake. Don’t get the wrong impression. Jim is a great guy but the anecdotal information floating about the family is that he made a twenty five cent wager with a classmate to the effect that he would not be married before the age of twenty five. Not only did he collect but within the family there is little doubt that it would require but little searching to come up with the original quarter. The difference between boys and girls has never been of any apparent interest to him.
Thus with the freshman school year behind was behind me and it was off to Independence IA where he was supervising construction of a dining room/kitchen addition to one of the buildings at the State Mental Hospital.
Looking for something to occupy an evening I walked to the local school ball diamond and stayed to watch a game in progress and met a young lady guesstimated to be at least a half dozen years my senior who I walked home after the game. The following evening we went to a movie and the story ended. I have always suspected that she knew something about the difference between boys and girls, but there I was absolutely clueless. The buildings being modified were two three story U shaped structures with the legs of the U approximately sixteen feet apart forming an interior courtyard with access via a street in the space between the buildings Exterior walls were sandstone, which made for an echo chamber, of sorts, for moderately loud noises in the interior courtyard. Thus it was one afternoon in the normal course of my work I walked into the courtyard area and was greeted with a musical racket from above me. Looking up I saw three girls standing at the edge of the copper clad roof dressed for sunbathing, who were singing a currently pop song titled Baby Face. It was obvious who the target of all this was and the expected effect on the other workmen was realized in future comments. My concern that I would catch hell from Dad for provoking a disturbance. Fortunately he never mentioned the incident.
Back home in time to start the football practice routine the middle of August. I had earned the varsity right end slot as a freshman and had no completion for it. I also would do all the kicking except punting.
Got my left knee twisted out of shape in practice but recovery was such that I missed only one game and continued playing with a steel hinge affair on my knee. This was considered necessary for protection against re-injury while playing football.
The same applied to one of the forward positions in basketball. On the track team I did the 440 yard dash, mile relay, 220 dash and relay.
In Science class Mr. Woods took one class period to teach us the proper way to tie a Windsor knot in a tie. He also took advantage of my driving ability. Every pay period he gave me the keys to his car and his check which took to his house where I picked up his wife, took her to the bank to deposit the check, returned her home and returned to the school for the balance of the Science class.
In addition I took one day a week for one semester to drive mother around the County for interviews with Old age assistance recipients. This was required as part of her position as County Welfare Director. She was a bit leery about driving the old Buick. I was with Jim on a test run with it across the Little River flats west of town at just over 90 mph. everything went fine. However the following day Mother was on a gravel road near the west county border when a rear wheel came off and rolled down the road ahead of her. She was able to get a passerby to put the wheel back on but never trusted herself with the Buick again. She ultimately bought a new Ford and went back to driving herself. During this period and beyond I spent many nights at the courthouse typing case histories of welfare recipients. Since the state aid resulted in a lien on the real estate the files included land descriptions which, for me, was not unlike pulling teeth. This work was almost concurrent with my typing class. The typing class wasn’t really intended to be a serious learning experience. The class was a room full of girls with two boys, but didn’t do much to enlighten my suspicions that there might be a difference between boys and girls. But I was becoming almost certain that there rally was some difference.
People and the everyday things that formed and guided lives were uncomplicated and for the most part straight forward.
One afternoon a fellow from bootlegger’s addition (most of the northeast quadrant of town) came into Mothers office in the courthouse carrying a single barrel shotgun. Apparently his welfare benefits had been modified in some way and after imbibing adequate liquid courage he found his way to the office to demand that the perceived injustice be remedied. After listening to his demands mother scolded him for being pie eyed in the middle of the afternoon and told him to take his shotgun so as not to be late for dinner, which he did. Nobody called the police or made any further report. Whether or not the shotgun was actually loaded is lost to history.
I finally obtained a permit to drive, but why just escapes me. It was a permit for driving to and from school by the shortest and most direct route, which for me would have been about three blocks. Everybody in the permit process knew where I lived, in relation to the school, but said not one word and did what was necessary to issue it.
All was well until a Saturday night spent cruising Main when a car load of clydes from Osceola were being escorted out of town. We were very near the north city limits when we were pulled over by a highway patrolman who confiscated my permit forthwith and handed me a citation for exceeding the speed limit and driving without a license. Appearance before the local Justice of the Peace the following week cost me $5.00 for driving without a license and $10.00 for exceeding the speed limit (80 mph in a 30mph zone) > He was promoted to lieutenant, I went on driving, and became good friends with his replacement who had been warned to watch me. To facilitate the watching I rode with him on Sunday afternoons.
Gas was fifteen cents a gallon and Camels were fifteen cents a pack. Viceroys and Kools were a dime a double dip ice cream cone was a nickel. Malted milks with real Ice cream and whole milk weighing 16 ounces was 15 cents. Movies were a quarter for adults (over 18) 15 cents for children. A day at the swimming pool was a dime and I mowed more than one half acre lawns for a dollar.
Lefty Vanderpool was the town cop who drove a 1937 Ford Coupe with a V8 engine. Somebody wired a car bomb to each spark plug which blew the engine hood six feet into the air when Lefty turned the ignition key.
Favorite parking space for those who knew more about the difference between boys and girls than I did was the roads through the local cemetery. Can you imagine the thoughts (and words) of those, haggard by an evening of moon watching, might have been when they found the gates chained and padlocked?
The main highways were sixteen feet wide with a six inch curb on each side leaving the driver a 7.5’ wide lane for a 5’ wide auto and even wider trucks. Speed limits outside of city limits was “reasonable" and proper”. For Dad that was 90 mph. One memorable accident occurred on #69 just north of Davis City at the Grand River Bridge which was in a tight bend in the road. The driver of a truck load of Fitch‘s Rose Hair Oil missed the bridge and drove his truck headlong into the right hand steel truss that arched above the road where it started burning The fire, fed by the volatile fuel of the hair oil become so hot that the steel bridge structure was melted and fell into the river.
A forgotten hero (of mine) was Henry Wallace teacher at Iowa State College, Ames Iowa. He developed hybrid seed corn, borrowed $50,000.00 from his wife’s family to start a company. After his passing she sold the Pioneer Hybrid Seed Corn Company to DuPont Co. for a $billion+. A republican, he turned democrat in the face of Hoovers’ do nothing policies after the stock market crash and later became Secretary of Agriculture in the first Roosevelt administration He presided over the drafting of legislation that provided for what became known as the “ever normal granary”, needed to revive the rural economy in the depression years but which has become the largest of all federal welfare programs. He later became Vice President in the second. Roosevelt administration. When the democrats would not adopt a meaningful civil rights plank in 1948 he bolted the party and ran for president as an independent candidate, campaigning across the south, living and eating in colored only facilities. Ask any farmer, politician, or colored rock star if they know who Henry Wallace was and it is an exception if you get anything but a blank stare. The lesson of his life is simply that being right is more important than being popular.
Since this account begins a new school year I briefly flip through the school annual to tickle my memory. My eyes stopped at the Leon vs. Corydon football score. This game was 14-13 Corydon until we recovered a fumble in the last 3 minutes +/- on the Corydon 15 yard line. Three plays from the sideline (the coach) into the interior of the line got nothing. The Corydon defense had our number on the “run up the middle” theory of the short punt formation. The team rebelled at the same thing for the forth and last try and hurriedly put together an alternate from a T formation with Jack Nixon around left end to score standing up. The extra point was a formality and we won 20-14. This had to be like a kick in the agonies for our. He had no use for the T formation and if we resorted to it in practice we got chewed up. Nothing was ever said by anybody because it would have embarrassed the wrong people. There is a lesson here for any student of history. Nearly all history was written by people with a CYA syndrome and there should always be a reading from a second source. This goes double for women. 99%+ of history was written by men. As an example of what that can do you have only to see who got the blame for what happened in the Garden of Eden.
After the New Year I made several recreational trips to Hanoco Court where the dance floor was now used a roller rink. I could do tolerably well on roller skates but was absolutely nothing extraordinary. Skating wasn’t the only purpose to be here. I could meet people and further my hypothesis that there was a significant difference between boys and girls. In this regard I met Lloyd Jenkins’ steady girlfriend, Jean McCall.
I knew her two brothers as the oldest one (Billy) had nearly killed I and Bill Stewart by way of a car wreck. In the course of an ordinary Saturday night together in the McCall family car, a 1949 Chrysler, we had started following two car loads of people from the High Point area east, towards home. Among this group were a couple that were scheduled to be married soon with many of the others being part of the future wedding party. The thing that was out of the ordinary is that we were all going east on highway #2 with the two cars that we were following traveling side by side in second gear. This was to facilitate an ongoing conversation between the occupants of the two vehicles. This went on for 5 miles+/- to the top of a hill where the road began a downward slope to the Little River flood plain and the bridge across the river. Billy pulled off the road at the top of the hill to answer the call of nature. This done we all piled back in the car and started playing catch up without the lights on. It was a bright moonlit night and there was no problem seeing the road until we came to the bridge entrance where the overhead bridge truss cast shadows. At this point Billy turned on the lights and there we were just half the bridge behind the two cars still side by side, still in second gear and we were closing the gap at better than 90mph. Billy applied the brakes but the reaction time alone ate up most of the distance between us and the cars ahead. Billy did the sensible thing, however, by pulling into the left lane which allowed him to smash up the newest car, a brand spanking new Ford. The impact drove the Ford forward 220’ turning the interior into whip lash city and obliterating nearly everything outside up to the rear window. With a start like that, who wants to quit? Certainly not Billy. After demolishing the Ford the rear end of the Chrysler rotated clockwise and the right hand rear door smashed into the rear end of the 1947 Chevrolet that was in the right hand lane. This rotation was such that the car touched the bridge only enough to remove one bumper guard from what remained of the front bumper.
In our car Billy was virtually unhurt having gripped the steering wheel firmly enough that it was bent at right angles down alongside the steering column I was to his right in the middle of the front seat and was pitched forward and upward against the roof above the rear view mirror. Fortunately the area which my head struck was well padded Sill I was knocked momentarily unconscious. Bill Stewart, in the front passenger seat. Was thrown through the windshield up to his shoulders. After he had managed to get himself back inside the car we just stat there for perhaps a minute until Stewart suggested we “get out of the damn thing”. The only thing still drivable was the Chevy which all the walking wounded piled into, for a ride to the hospital in Leon where we were examined and discharged.
The McCall family was a study in contrasts. Jean and her mother were both very attractive while Billy, his brother and father looked as if they might still have had kin in somewhere in a cave.
Nevertheless Jean was interesting, but occupied most every moment that Lloyd was free. This resolved itself with a dance band practice to be held at the Leon gym at seven in the evening. Poor old Lloyd would have to be there and it was my feeling that he wouldn’t want Jean to have to waste the night sitting home, so I called to see if she might want to go for a ride. To my surprise she said yes. And I was there to gather her at the agreed time. Unfortunately the night turned into a disaster because I found myself unable to put together hardly one intelligent sentence. The night ended early with an excuse and I went home to a self examination looking to find out what was wrong with me.
April Fools day 1950 evening found me back at the Home Economics class party with Dave McClaran. As I surveyed the knots of people around the room my eyes came to rest on two girls who were complete strangers. It was immediately obvious that they were not local stock and everybody in the room was staring but maintaining their distance. With the humiliating experience of the previous month in mind I felt that it would be a mistake to wait for a one on one situation, thus I immediately proceeded to show the world what happens when a beautiful girl and a fool come together. Improvising all the way I walked up to their table introduced myself and Dave and with a straight face told both that we had been appointed by the student welcoming committee to gather vital statistics from new students. This nonsense had gone a very short way before the younger of the two started laughing out loud and introduced the two of them as Shirley and Frances Wilcox. The ice may have been broken but Frances never cracked a smile or even spoke, just looked, not staring, just looking until with beautiful, but mysterious eyes that demanded that you look back in return. It was a struggle to get back to the intended purpose of the encounter and ask how they were going to get home. “Dad is going to pick us up” Frances replied “but you can come over to the house anytime”. Shirley reacted immediately with emphasis and in quite a loud voice with “Frances have you gone crazy--inviting these two guys to the house--you know what mom will say”. “She won’t say anything” Frances replied with just a hint of a smile. Delighted with the unexpected invitation and not really excited about the prospect of an encounter with dad we took our leave.
The effect of Frances eyes was both overwhelming and intimidating. I would learn that she could convey any emotion with nothing more than eyes and slight variations of the face and was equally able to make them speak. Indeed there would be many times in the future when in a group of people we would have our own conversation without saying a word. This never included winking, the language of deceit, which was absent from her makeup. Again and again when I would start to lay down the law or just become preachy she would allow me to begin then look up at me, smile and begin to rapidly blink. To continue was to accomplish nothing more that a waste of time and breath. While this, at times, left a feeling utter frustration she saw to it that they never survived the day.
As Frances began to mold this lump of clay I began to experience the amazing realization that there was a difference between boys and girls, and as realization evolved to understanding and understanding to the further realization that these differences coming together would bring pleasure beyond vocabulary description. A the reality of the human condition closed in upon us there also came the realization that there is a difference between grape juice and fine wine which requires time and loving fermentation to achieve, a difference between the noise of pop music and the vibrant sensation of each note of a Chopin composition and a difference between a five minute frenzy and the indescribable sensation of the melding of the difference between boys and girls into one whole and indivisible person. We would have wine and polonaise concert at the proper time.
As it happened the Wilcox and MacLaran farms were only a couple of miles apart on the same dirt road, hard surfaced, graded smooth and perfectly passable when dry but sticky impassable gumbo when wet with ruts that got deeper and deeper in periods of protracted wet weather, Navigating a Decatur County dirt road in wet weather was best left to locals with the experience required the make the that most critical judgment--don’t even try it. Novices more often than not ended their journey in the ditch.
On our first response to Frances’ invitation we found no one home so Dave drove around the house to pull into the garage approach to turn around and ran headlong into a gang of coonhound pups running over 2 or 3. We got out, collected those that appeared to be dead, took them down the road a piece and dumped them in a ditch. To Dave, that was that, and we went about other things. I really didn’t think things were quite that simple and that we would probably hear about the missing dogs later.
We returned again later in the week to find Frances and Shirley in the front yard but as we drove up they ran to the front door. We didn’t know quite what was happening but as we got out of the car we could hear them yelling at somebody to open the door. Apparently their mother (Emma) knew that they intended to run into the house when we arrived and scuttled their plan by locking them out. They gave up on the door, had a good laugh about it and we began an easy conversation .I tried not to stare but one has to understand that this was a first time exposure to such a sight. I had come from a family of five boys. Here I was, confronted by two girls (of a family of four girls) in shorts and pullover blouses, both extremely gifted physically but also in maintenance mode. It was for me the beginning of a protracted learning experience with today’s lesson centered on bobby pins. Two heads covered with bobby pins.
I was able to contribute to the conversation which was about nothing in particular, but there was more than one person in this encounter. The real test would come at a future time when there would be only two of us. We had a fun couple of hours ant took our leave, knowing that we would see one another at school. The missing dogs were never mentioned.
About the middle of April with alternating meetings at school and trips to the farm behind us the inevitable evening came when we would be alone. I was swinging back and forth across the emotional spectrum, looking forward to a fun night with the dread of what could happen. The evening went fairly well, however, not perfect mind you, but well. Frances seemed to sense when a tense moment came for me but the evening was interspersed with a kiss, or a laugh, or a smile and light conversation which all seemed to come at just the right time. What had begun the evening as a formless lump of clay ended it with the beginning of form.
I may have had a girl friend but life in a small town goes on day by day. An example of this was when two members of the local draft board called at the Social Welfare office with a proposal to cut welfare costs and enhance the social atmosphere of the community. These were not just a couple people with small minds; they were twisted in addition to being small. They proposed that Mother provide the draft board with names of welfare recipients that were of draft age which could be inducted into the armed forces first thereby reducing welfare costs. Mother told the two of them what she thought of their mad idea, with the reminder that the privacy of welfare files was protected by law and that the draft board selections were supposed to be socially blind. Small towns are like much of the rest of the world which expects one to go along to get along and devises consequences for those who will not.
So it was that the following week I opened our mail box and found a letter for Brother Jim. At the time Jim a bricklayer apprentice, was in the New Orleans area with a company who specialized in installing firebrick in commercial boilers. He was contacted by phone and advised that the letter very likely was a draft notice for the army. In the interim it was learned that Bill Stewarts mother had received a similar letter. He was working with Jim as a bricklayer tender. Both decided that four years in the navy would be preferable to two years in the army and they both went to the nearest navy recruiter’s office who advise that the draft papers be returned to the post office and left there until they were both in boot camp.
Accordingly the draft board letter was returned to the post office box where it remained until after Jim and Bill flew out of Des Moines on the 23rd of May. By that time there was a draft notice for Brother Ed. This was interesting in that Ed had been in the Marine Corps for two years. I didn’t know the man to whom I handed the letters when they were returned. He started to explain where Jim and Ed should report when I interrupted to tell him they were being returned because they were already in the armed forces. The chagrined look on his face reflected the fact that there records would always show that this board was trying to draft people already in service. Personally, by the end of April the apprehensive emotions seemed to have disappeared.
May was a month of growth for our relationship and the photo of May 23, 1950 at the Des Moines airport speaks for itself. We are completely at ease with one another and looking forward, even then, to taking on the world with only one apparent problem--what could we find to do next week.
May, 1950, was a busy month with Jim and Bill Stewart leaving for the Navy on the 23rd followed by the wedding of Darlene Wilcox, oldest sister, and Jerry pike in Des Moines on the 28th. Frances and I along with Shirley and Dave, all invited, went in the same car. Frances had clued me in to Mom’s increasing concern with Shirley’s growing relationship. Outwardly, at least, both seemed to be happy campers and getting happier with each passing day but Mom was apparently determined to do some arranging of Shirley’s future. Frances fears were justified, Mom worked her magic and there were only three of us for the trip home, Dave was visibly hurt and it was a quiet trip home.
The school year was fast drawing to a close and as it ended I could look back on an interesting final three months, from an awakening to a embarrassing personality problem to a blossoming friendship with one who seemingly recognized the imperfection but accepted what I was and was helping me grow beyond it. The acquaintance of her family and the awareness of the world of girls, which was an entirely different psychological atmosphere than of the world of boys, in which I grew up, and which had been the dominate influence of my entire life to this time. My outlook had changed .and would continue to do so. In retrospect, however, what I was and even the introverted condition derived from my position in the family. Dennis, Jim and Ed were a year apart, then here am I four years behind then Bill over five years behind me. Thus during the school years I was separated from any close relationship that shared common school interest. I had no interest in boisterous gangs or drinking with the fellows and I was a Catholic in a 1950’s era Protestant community. Nothing illustrates what this meant better than an encounter Frances had with the athletic director shortly after entering school in Leon. He called her to his office to review the different boys in the upper grades which she might encounter and to give his opinion on their “suitability”. The comment when reaching my name was simply “the only thing wrong with Schmidt is that he’s a Catholic”. In a very real sense he was speaking for most of my home town which contributed to my understanding that I was living in a closed community of one from which Frances was gently releasing me.
The 1950 school year was over and it was back to the Finlay Hospital construction which Dad was supervising in Dubuque. I would be there with him Monday through Friday for the summer. That left the week ends for Frances and I and we were together nearly all of the time I was home in Leon. It was a summer of fun, real fun, if only on the week ends.
Grandmother Daughton passed away in her sleep on June 27, 1950. She was the last of that generation in my family.
Back to school in the Fall beginning with football practice in August and the football season in the Fall. For Homecoming we both got another lesson in the Leon mentality. The Homecoming Queen is elected by the members of the varsity football squad. I n the previous two years that I had been on the varsity squad the election had taken place after the squad was suited just before leaving the locker room. Dave and I were together that afternoon and when we got to the locker room the election was over. Donna Hamilton had won by one vote and Frances was second. Had Dave and I been allowed to vote she would have won by one vote. This was obviously engineered by Spicer, the football coach and who made the remark to Frances regarding my being a Catholic. I never learned whether this had all been cooked up the day of the voting or if he had arranged things before hand. By the time Dave and I reached the locker room Spicer had absented himself from the building demonstrating that he was both a bigot and a moral coward. This was all related to Frances who never dignified the insult with any type of comment.
Surviving photos of the halftime at the Homecoming game picture with unimaginable clarity the reality of Leon existence and at the same time how it was changing for me. The homecoming queen and three of her attendants, looking for all the world, like they had just come in from hoeing the garden and had donned the best mom could come up with for the evening. Contrasting this was Frances in an under the arm black formal with black cuffs wrist to elbow all of which at one and the same time, contrasted with and showcased the exposed and stunning beauty Later other students gave a repeat performance of the staring that had greeted her when she appeared in April. at the Homecoming Dance. But now she was not alone. I could claim she belonged to me, but the truth was that I was all hers. We mingled for a time but the ability do dance was fifteen years in the future for me. Frances was nothing if not patient. After the dance there was what had become reality, we belonged to each other.
A half century in the future there would be a TV movie about a boy and girl who passed through the screen to a town called PLEASANTVILLE which lived a strictly black and white existence and as I watched it the first time, and every time after I became convinced that somewhere there was a screenwriter that was also a refugee from Leon.
Then everything changed again. Leon had told Frances that the friends she wanted to spend the balance of the senior year and graduation with were back at East High in Des Moines. She could stay with friends and go to school and made the change shortly after homecoming. The family also had decided to return. The primary reason was the 75 mile daily commute to work for Dad (Barney). The initial concern that my life would return to the black and white existence that existed before she came was dispelled almost immediately and we were back to weekends and holidays. except for the state basketball tournaments of 1951. East High had made it to the finals and I was included as a passenger on the East High bus from Des Moines to Iowa City until East was trounced by Davenport. For me, the outcome of the game not the point of what was happening. For the first time this person, a stranger to nearly everyone I encountered, was accepted with warmth and goodwill just for being there. A friend to Frances was a friend to everyone. The end of the 1951 school year came with Frances’ graduation. She would be the only one of the four sisters to do so. At the same time I learned that we would be moving to Dubuque, Iowa. This decision had been made by Mother and Dad with no input from me and I was told after everything had been decided and the house put up for sale. .I didn’t know until the end of the summer that my senior year would be at Loras Academy, an all boy’s Catholic high school whose curriculum included Junior ROTC training with regular army uniforms, 03 Springfield rifles and Regular Army Drill instructors and Officers. Fortunately, an automobile accident late in the summer left me with a broken leg and a walking cast. This stroke of luck eliminated all of the potential friction that would have resulted from the military side of the course offerings and I became the only civilian at the school outside of the teaching staff and clergy. Marching in a company group to cadence called out by a drill sergeant at the top of his voice was the last thing I wanted to be involved in. The unique value and dignity of the human individual was just beginning to unfold in my consciousness, communicating at the top of ones voice was offensive to me and I was determined to count my own cadence. But, I felt my senior year went tolerably well.
Only when one looks at their life in retrospect do you realize how fate, or destiny, or whatever you want to call it, intervenes to bring things about. Dad had left for home early one Friday and I came later with my oldest brother Dennis, his wife Vivian and their infant child, David. This left me riding in the back seat of the car which meant that I spent the trip on the edge of motion sickness. Thus my mind was elsewhere when Vivian, in an agitated tone called to Dennis to look out for something ahead in the road. When the second call came I barely got straightened up in time to see the back end of another car before we plowed into it at 50mph+/-. Dennis and Vivian were both badly shaken but physically unhurt. David, however, had hit the windshield and was bleeding. I was pitched forward then to my left down to the floor. Pulling myself out of the car on the right I found myself next to Vivian who was next door to hysteria with David’s injury. Looking back down the road I saw a gas station about a quarter mile away and before even seeing what shape Dennis was in I started running to call for help. As I recall we waited for an ambulance and all rode from the scene of the accident near Bondurant IA to Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. We had collided with a car that had run out of gas and left parked in the driving lane of the highway where it had coasted to a stop.
David’s injury turned out to be a superficial cut and not serious. By this time I was having pain in my left ankle and the doctor had it x-rayed. Going from a-ray to a pay phone to call Frances. I was still talking when a nurse came, sat me down in a wheel chair, told me to hang up as soon as possible and wheeled me away to get a cast put on my left leg. The ankle was broken.
Thus it was that I became the only “civilian” student at Loras academy. No uniform, no drill. I just went on being me with my cast, at least for the first month.
I played my part in establishing the Student Council as secretary to that body, won the English Literature Short Story contest and graduated ninth in a class of 124 senior students.
But there was more than just school work, there was the mix of students most from the Dubuque area, but also from New York to North Dakota, from Wisconsin to Mexico. I had my first civil rights debate with Don Hughes, a colored student from Chicago who thought money would erase the effects of prejudice. The significance of the exchange was not that either of us won or lost but that what we had to say was not judged on the basis of his color or my name or beliefs. Most notable classmate was Dominic Ameche Jr. oldest son of Don Ameche. It was the beginning of a lifetime of learning from sharing with different people, from different places of different culture with different ideas. My closest friendship came to be with Buddy Giangiorgi from Chicago.
Frances and I were back to the weekend commute. She was working, taking instructions, and on the 24th of November was baptized at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines. We had never discussed her religion one way or the other and I was unaware of what she had done until I watched her receive Communion on one of our weekends together. It was just another step in our coming together. Then it was my turn. I had been saving quarters for a couple of years and had a two gallon jar nearly full. This money went for a diamond ring which was my 1951 Christmas present for her. Of course, these steps were noted by my family without any comment that could be considered encouraging, but the language of the eyes was uniformly negative. We went forward through the spring social events which included the Loras Academy Military Ball and finally Graduation ceremonies. At both events I was the only civilian and Frances was the only girl with a ring. The senior year had also included my enlistment in the Naval Reserve. The activities here amounted to only monthly meetings, one parade and sandbagging around the Dubuque Reserve station when the spring flood arrived.