- Dorothy's Young Years -
When James was between jobs he and Ellen often had to live with Nora and Henry.
Once, they lived with them for nearly a year. James went looking for a job in
another state and was gone all spring and summer.
The children enjoyed living with their grandparents,
but Ellen was discontented because she wanted her own home.
Henry seemed to always be reminding the children to stay off the barn roof,
get out of the stock tank, or stop chasing the chickens.
Ellen knew there were many times when her mother and Henry wanted to throw up their hands in frustration,
but they never let her know it. She was grateful for that.
On the farm, every morning was full of brisk activity, but laundry day was the busiest.
"Boys," Nora called out to Ronald Lee and Morris. "It's wash day.
Get up and get a fire going under my wash-pot. I'll have breakfast ready by the time you're through."
"Morris, You fill the pot with water while Ronald Lee's getting the fire going," Ellen ordered.
"Now, I don't want to go out after breakfast and have to rebuild that fire, so make it a good one,"
Nora spoke up as the boys were putting on their clothes.
"Okay, Grandma," Ronald Lee answered. "Ellen, will you get me the baking powder?"
Nora asked as she started mixing the biscuit dough.
"Nora?" Henry called from the back porch, where he was scrubbing his hands in their old wash basin.
"Is the coffee ready yet?"
"Yes, it is. How much milk did Mandy give this morning?"
"Not as much as I wanted her to," Henry grumbled as he opened the back screen door and
threw out his wash water. "Get out of the way, Mike!" Henry yelled at their dog.
Their old hound was always hanging around the back door, looking for scraps of food to be thrown out.
Ellen heard the dog yelp and knew he hadn't moved fast enough.
"Your coffee's on the table," Ellen said to Henry as he came into the kitchen.
He reached above the icebox and turned on his radio.
"Thanks, Ellen," he grinned at her. "Itís about time for the six oíclock report."
He started trying to tune in the station amid the buzzing and crackling sounds of his old Motorola radio.
Ellen had the bacon on by then, and left the kitchen to awaken Junior and the girls.
"Get up, girls. Dorothy, you strip the beds in here and Iíll get your grandmaís bed," Ellen ordered.
"Okay, Mother," Dorothy groaned as she crawled out of bed.
She wasnít allowed to play on wash day and she hated to see it come around.
"Iíve already stripped my bed, Ellen," Nora called out to her.
Ellen heard the oven door close and knew Nora had put in the biscuits.
"Good, then Iíll get the covers off the boysí bed."
Ellen gathered up the bed linens and lay them by the back door,
where the other dirty clothes were put. After breakfast, she would carry them out to the wash house.
"I've already turned the bacon," Nora told Ellen, when she returned to the kitchen.
"Thanks, Mother." Ellen smiled at her. "Guess I'll pour some grease off and start the gravy."
The six o'clock news had come on what Nora called, the Squawk box, and Henry turned the volume up.
"Here's the sheets, Mother." Dorothy was half-carrying, half-dragging,
her bedclothes through the kitchen.
"Don't drag your covers like that, Dorothy. It would have been better to have made two trips,"
Nora lightly scolded.
"Be quiet! I can't hear the news," Henry demanded, then added, "pour me another cup of coffee, Nora."
Ellen was closer, so she poured his coffee, and then looked out the kitchen
window to see how Ronald Lee and Morris were doing.
Noraís old, iron kettle hung about two feet off the ground.
Ronald Lee was trying to get the wood that he had stuffed under the pot to burn.
He had a small bundle of kindling burning and had stepped back to watch it.
Morris was filling the pot with water, but the hose slipped from his hand and put out the fire.
"Your gravy's going to burn," Nora warned as she strained the morning's milk.
"Those boys are having a hard time getting the fire started,"
Ellen said as she stirred the flour and bacon grease.
"Here's your gravy juice, Ellen." Henry handed her a bowl full of milk to pour into the skillet.
"I'll get some kerosene and start that fire for the boys," Henry volunteered.
"Yell at us when breakfast is ready."
Doing laundry was an all day affair, and hard work, but it felt good to have everything nice and clean.
Ellen was taking down the last bit of laundry when Nora called everyone in for supper.
The sun hung low in the sky, making orange-red streaks appear in the scanty, thin clouds.
Ellen listened to the usual farm sounds, mingled with children's laughter, and for a moment,
she wished time could stand still. But supper was waiting and she was hungry.
"Dorothy," Nora called after her as they were cleaning up the supper dishes,
"I drained the washing machine before starting supper, so while weíre getting the dishes,
you go drain the rinse tubs."
"Okay," Dorothy said reluctantly. Ellen knew Dorothy would prefer helping with the dishes.
Mainly because whoever drained the tubs had to stay in the wash house until each tub was empty,
and it was a slow process.
Henry had built Nora's washhouse next to his well house.
The well had an electric pump and Nora had running water into her home,
but she had to use a hose for water to her laundry tubs.
The washroom had a cement floor with a small drain in the middle.
Nora's washing machine, along with three rinse tubs (that sat on homemade stands),
circled the floor drain. Each rinse-tub had a drainage hole in the middle,
with a hose leading to the floor outlet. If more than one tub at a time were drained,
the room would become flooded.
"Did you hear from James?" Nora asked Ellen, as she started washing dishes.
"No, but I should hear soon," Ellen responded.
"Hope he's not planning on moving you and the kids up there right away.
He needs to wait until he knows for sure he's got a good, steady job."
"Well, I doubt he'll be moving us very soon," Ellen answered with a frown.
"But I sure hope he has us a place by the time school starts."
"Mother! Grandma! Come quick!" Morris was yelling at them through the back door.
"Your wash-house is flooded."
"Oh, no," Ellen groaned as she threw down the dishtowel and ran outside.
Sure enough the washhouse was flooded, and Dorothy was nowhere in sight.
"Dorothy! Where are you?" Ellen yelled. Henry was there by then and waded
into the water to see if the drain was stopped up.
"Here's part of the problem," Henry said as he brought out the rag
Nora always used to wipe out the tubs.
"It was stopping up the drainage hole,
but the place would have flooded anyway, because all three tubs are draining at the same time."
"Mother, Dorothy's hiding in the barn," Morris whispered to Ellen.
"Dorothy, you come out here, right this minute!" Ellen demanded as she opened tile barn door to peer inside.
"Are you going to spank me?" Dorothy called out of the darkness.
"Yes, I am!" Ellen quickly responded.
"What if you canít find me?" Dorothy questioned in a weak tone.
"Dorothy," Ellenís voice shook with anger, "Iíll give you to the count of five to get our here,
or so help me, youíll get the worst spanking youíve ever had. One!"
"If Daddy was here," Dorothy argued between sobs,
"he wouldnít spank me, just because of a little spilled water."
"TwoÖ," Ellen continued counting.
"Iím coming, Iím coming!" Dorothy yelled out, and Ellen heard her moving about.
"Öthree, fourÖ," Ellen was counting between clinched teeth.
The momrmy Dorothy stood before Ellen, she started pleading for mercy.
"I'm going to give you extra swats for sassing me," Ellen told her.
Ellen raised the belt Henry had furnished and brought it down across Dorothy's bottom.
She knew, the minute the belt hit, that something was wrong. "What have you got in your pants?"
"I..., I..., I told Daddy, that you would probably be spanking me more often when he was gone,
and he told me to put a board in my pants," Dorothy foolishly pleaded.
"I was just doing what Daddy told me to do."
Henry and Nora started laughing and Nora spoke up for Dorothy.
"She's worked hard today, Ellen. Don't spank her.
We expect an awful lot out of her, I guess. Remember she's only eight years old."
Ellen took the board out of Dorothy's pants and gave her a few light swats,
then told her to get in the house.
Henry laughed about the whole thing, and said he thought
Dorothy was a pretty smart kid to think of the board.
For Ellen's sake, Nora tried to smooth over the whole incident.
Ellen, however, fumed about Dorothy's back talk and watched her for the next few days like a cat would watch a mouse.
At the same time, Dorothy played the angel, and soon everyone forgot about her misconduct.
Later that summer, Ronald Lee and Morris made friends with a neighbor boy,
and often played at his house. One day, Morris came home with a small puppy.
"Where did you get that pup?" Ellen inquired of her dirty-faced boy.
"It's an orphan, Mother," Morris answered as he held the squirming bundle of fur close to his heart.
"Mr. Coy killed the mother dog and all her puppies, 'cept this one. Can I keep her, Please?"
"Why did Mr. Coy kill the mother dog and her pups?" Henry asked as he examined the puppy.
"Well, Mr. Coy said his female collie was running with the coyotes and her pups were half coyote.
" Morris explained, with eyes begging Ellen to give in. "Can I keep it, please?"
"Why, Ellen, when it's grown, this dog won't be worth shooting.
You better let me get rid of it," Henry offered as he took the puppy out of Morris' arms.
"No! Mother, no." Morris grabbed the puppy away from Henry.
"Please, Mother, please, let me keep her. I promise I'll take care of her and train her, and everything. Sheíll be a good dog, Pop, youíll see. Just let me keep her. We ainít had no dog as beautiful as this before."
Morris was pleading so pitifully for the puppy that Ellen gave in.
The children were delighted with the dog and it became a source of fun for them all.
They named her Brownie, and she loved to play rough and tumble games.
Brownie became a loyal friend and when she was grown,
she wouldn't let anyone spank the children in her presence.
If a paddling was needed, the child was quickly escorted into the house.
Henry never spanked the children anyway, but Nora did,
and having to avoid Brownie increased her anger.
Ellen felt the same way and usually gave the one being spanked a couple of
swats more than he normally would have received. Henry thought it was the
funniest situation he had ever seen and got a big laugh out of it.
Ellen often thought that Henry was hard to understand.
When he caught one of the children doing something wrong he always told her,
or Nora so the child would be punished. But, after the child was punished,
he would pet and pamper him. Naturally, the children never suspected Henry of being their Judas.
Because Henry was so patience with them, the children adored him.
In Ellenís eyes, Henry was just a big child himself and she felt lucky to have him
for her children to love. Ellen had long forgiven what she called Ďthe incidentí
between herself and Henry. She was even glad that she had never told Nora about it.
That fall, when her children started to school, Ellen went job hunting.
She knew they needed a place of their own, and James wasn't sending enough money for them to move.
She went to work as a cook at a small cafť in town and Nora watched the children for her.
Later that winter, James found a better paying job, and sent for his family.
They didn't stay in one location for any length of time, and soon
Ellen had a long list of places they had lived. Each home-place left her with something to remember,
but she found it hard to keep the memories separate.
McCamey, Texas, is where their house burned to the ground.
The old building was prefabricated, and had only one room.
It was about twenty miles from town, and seemed to Ellen to be located right in the middle of
the West-Texas plains. The construction company James worked for stored gas, water, tools,
and even dynamite, in a storage shed that sat close to their small dwelling.
James was given free rent to keep watch over company belongings.
Because of a well used dirt road that ran close to the residence,
Ellen found it nearly impossible to keep her home clean.
James had bought an old army tent for the boys to sleep in, and had set it up behind the house.
There was only one door to their humble abode, and Ellen often reflected
on how fortunate they were that the children weren't trapped inside when the fire erupted.
She also knew they were fortunate that the dynamite kept in the storage
shed didn't explode from the intense heat.
The day of the fire started out calmly enough. Ronald Lee and Morris left for work early.
James had found both boys jobs driving dump trucks where he worked.
Ellen worried about them being so young, but James always reminded her that he had worked
Ďas hard as a maní when he was even younger. As the boys left,
Ellen had cautioned them to drive carefully because James wouldn't be on the job to look out for them.
A few days earlier, James had burned his leg, and needed to go back to the doctor.
It was necessary for Ellen to drive him in, and that meant Dorothy had to baby-sit.
Ellen knew Dorothy would not be happy about having the charge of her younger brother and sisters.
But, remembering her own duties at age eleven, and believing it helped her be more responsible,
Ellen felt little sympathy for Dorothy.
"Dorothy," Ellen gently touched her shoulder, "it's time to get up.
Now, you keep a good watch over everything while we're gone.
"Okay, Mother." Dorothy yawned and stretched. "How long will you be gone?"
"Two or three hours. I fixed breakfast for you, and we'll be back before lunch.
Be sure to clear off the table and put everything away."
"Okay," Dorothy answered as she threw back the covers and forced herself to sit up.
"Has Ronald Lee and Morris already left for work?" Dorothy inquired with another yawn.
"Yes," Ellen answered as she tucked her nightgown under her pillow and straightened the bed.
"I wish you would take Junior. Heís such a brat. He wonít mind me at all." Dorothy complained.
"Yeah, I want to go. Dorothyís too bossy." Junior chimed in as he was pulling on his pants.
"Youíll stay here, young man," James scolded.
"And we donít want to hear another word about it."
James had just limped in from outside. His leg was beginning to
ache with an intensity that made him impatient, and angry.
"The carís warm, Ellen, are you ready?" James asked her, dismissing Junior with a scowl.
"I guess so. Now, remember, Dorothy, clean up after breakfast."
"I will," Dorothy sounded disgusted. "Just tell Junior not to make another mess afterward."
"You behave yourself, Junior, and donít be making any messes.
Bye, now, weíll see you later." Ellen closed the door on her last words.
"Itís pretty chilly this morning, isnít it?" James asked as he rubbed his hands together for warmth.
"Sure is," Ellen heartily agreed.
"You can go ahead and get into the car.
Iíll double check the lock on the storage shed," James ordered as he painfully hobbled
toward the building.
"I can check on the lock for you, James, you get into the car," Ellen offered.
"No, Iíll do it," James shot back at her with impatience.
Pulling her coat tighter, Ellen started toward the car.
She looked out across the lonely prairie and gazed upon a brilliant West-Texas rhapsody of light.
The sky was ablaze with a spectrum of color that only a brush full of sunrise could paint.
Sagebrush and sand tried to recreate the rays of prism values, on their own canvas,
but the daybreak artist changed her colors too fast for them to duplicate.
For a moment, the raw beauty of this vast prairie land captured Ellen's heart.
She paused for a moment, to absorb the transformation of dawn to day.
"No matter where you live," Ellen spoke softly to herself, "there's beauty for you to look at."
Ellen breathed deeply of the crisp morning air, and as the worry lines faded from her forehead,
she smiled in a sudden rush of sweet joy. "No matter how worried and troubled I am,
it all seems to vanish when I catch a moment of Mother Nature's beauty."
Jimmy had once told Ellen that the beauty of nature, and wonder of the heavens,
were all the proof one needed of God's existence. At times such as this,
Ellen thought Jimmy could be right.
"You had better get into the car before you freeze," James' voice brought Ellen out of her reflection.
"Did you leave the oil heater burning?" James asked as Ellen started the car.
"Yes, but I forgot to say anything to Dorothy about it."
"They'll be just fine, Ellen," James reassured her.
"Dorothy's been around that heater enough to watch out for it," he added.
"I guess you're right, but I can't help worrying. I wish didn't have to drive you in,
but it can't be helped."
"I could drive myself," James stiffened with hurt pride.
"I know you could, if you had to. But keeping your foot on the foot-feed,
to stop the car from dying, and changing gears at the same time just isn't safe for you."
"It would be safe," he argued. "It just hurts too much."
"Well, whatever," she conceded. "There's just no sense in your having to drive when I can do it."
They were on their way home, when James' boss pulled up behind them, honking for them to stop.
"James, I hate to tell you this, but your house caught fire and Dorothyís been burned.
Sheís at the hospital. My wife has the other kids, so donít worry about them."
"My God! What happened?" James yelled the question.
"Well, Iím not sure. But you go ahead to the hospital and donít be worrying about the other kids."
"Thanks, for finding us." James had calmed down.
Ellen, however, was so anxious to go to the hospital she became impatient.
"Letís go!" She cried out.
James waved goodbye to his boss and turned the car around toward the hospital.
No words were spoken between them as they raced to the hospital. When they arrived,
James painfully swung himself out of the car but Ellen jumped out and ran to the door.
She did wait for James but it was difficult for her to stand still with such fear in her heart.
As they entered, the doctor was standing at the nurseís desk.
He had a worrisome look as he told James and Ellen how bad the burn was.
She has second and third degree burns on her right arm, and
first degree burns on the right side of her face," the doctor
explained, "I'm concerned about her right hand because the worst burn is there.
Sometimes a bad burn will draw the skin up and cripple a hand.
I really don't think this will happen, but right now I can't make any promises."
"I felt so sorry for her," the attending nurse said, as she led James and Ellen to Dorothy's room.
"She was crying for her puppy that burned up. I told her I would give her one of my puppies,
if it's all right with you."
"Hereís her room," the nurse offered as she pushed open a door and
stepped back for Ellen and James to enter.
"Iíll be back later, and you can let me know about the dog."
"Mother, Iím sorry!" Dorothy wailed as Ellen and James entered her room.
They had to spend a half an hour calming Dorothy down enough to get the story straight.
"We...we were playing house," she stuttered, trying to tell the story,
"and the heater got knocked over. Oil spilled out and caught fire.
The fire was everywhere IÖIÖI couldn't stop it. I couldn't stop it!"
"That's all right, Honey," Ellen soothed her down.
"You helped get the other kids out. I'm proud of you."
They had lost everything, and the house had burned to the ground.
"What are we going to do?" Ellen asked James as soon as they stepped out of the hospital room.
"I don't know, Ellen. Let's go pick up the other kids.
I'll ask for an advance on my pay and we'll rent a place here in town."
"I'll call Mother. Maybe they can send some money," Ellen offered.
James' boss gave them enough money to rent a small furnished house.
Nora told Ellen she could send her enough money for groceries.
The newspaper ran a front-page story and the next morning,
when Ellen arrived at the hospital, she was flooded with gifts of clothing, food, and money.
Ellen was grateful for such caring people. They helped compensate for the loss of personal items.
"How close we came to losing our kids!" Ellen started thinking, after the fire.
"I don't understand all this Jesus stuff, or religion, but someday I'm going to find out about it.
I'm going to get my life straight and then start to church."
"Ellen," James interrupted her thoughts. "I've found a job for you."
"At a small cafe, downtown," he answered. "You wonít have to work for long. We'll be caught up soon."
Dorothy recovered from her burns, with hardly a trace of a scar.
Ellen went to work, and Dorothy started watching her younger brother and sisters again.
Dorothy was glad Ellen was still willing to trust her, but at the same time,
she felt resentful for being made responsible.
Quickly, almost unconsciously, the years continued to slip away and Ellen's desire to get right
with God eased. She didn't realize that God's hand was in everything she did,
continuously using her sorrows and sufferings to bring her to Him.
She could have reacted in bitterness to her fate, and become an unloving,
shallow person, but she didn't. God knew before she was born how she would respond
to each misfortune, and Ellen needed to learn this great truth.