"The Cleveland Hotel"
Me, about age 6
At age 6, our family moved to a vacant hotel, (The Cleveland Hotel) which was located one city block north of the main street in Monegaw. Remember, there were only three of us in the family at that time. Me, my mother, and my dad.
This was, at one time, a fine old hotel. It had a full basement, thirteen bedrooms upstairs, downstairs were some storage rooms, kitchens, etc., and a huge lobby. The hotel had a big barn with it, some stables for horses, a big corn crib, and an ice house inside the barn. It also had a smaller building resembling an automotive garage to the north of it. This hotel and outbuildings occupied one entire block. To the north of the place was Little Monegaw Creek, with a foot path leading northwest to a very large (it seemed to us) cave, known as the "Cleveland Cave", but to most of the locals it was known simply as "the cave". There was a street leading due west from the hotel that led directly to the school building.
The year we moved into this hotel, my dad, for reasons unknown to me, did not take the teaching job there in Monegaw for the coming year. Instead, he got a contract with the Chalk Level school, which was about six or seven miles away by road. The problem was, most of this "road" was impassable during wet weather, or in winter. So, my dad forged a path thru the timber to the school, and he walked to and from school each morning and night. This path was somewhat shorter than going by road, but still it had to be about 5 miles each way!
The school I went to that year was the Monegaw school, of course, and my teacher was a good friend of my parents, named Chester Keeton. So, this being my first experience in school, and the teacher was a friend of the family, I thought it was a lark. In fact, I played my way thru the first grade! I never learned to read until I was in the second grade, and my dad was the teacher. He saw to it that I learned and did not play thru that grade! One summer while we lived in this old hotel, my dad had to go away to college to renew his teaching permit. That meant that my mother and I would be alone in this big old hotel, and we were scared! This leads to the next part of this narrative - - -
"Mrs Brock's Auction"
At the time we learned of my dad having to go away for several weeks to renew his teaching permit we heard of a widow lady who lived on a farm 7 or 8 miles west of Monegaw. Her name was Melissa Brock. She had an auction scheduled to sell all her farm equipment, her household things and even the farm she and her husband had farmed for many years. The night before the auction, she had all the farm equipment lined up in a row for the auctioneer.
During the night, she heard someone stealing corn from her corn crib. Being a no nonsense person, she got her shotgun, opened the door, and fired toward the sounds. She heard yelling and heard someone running, but they got mixed up in the dark and ran right into that row of farm equipment. The story went that they did more damage to themselves while tangled up in the machinery than Mrs. Brock did with her shotgun. Anyway, we heard the story of the farm equipment episode, and my dad had an idea. He went to see Mrs. Brock to see if she had plans made to live somewhere since the farm was sold. She had no plans.
Mrs. Brock Came To Guard
My parents struck a deal with her. We would furnish her room and board if she would live with my mother and I during the time my dad was to be gone. She accepted. She moved into one of the thirteen rooms upstairs, and had her shotgun with her. My mother and I felt very safe with her in the house, as she had gotten quite a reputation for no nonsense being tolerated! My dad left for college, and life went on as usual for awhile.
For reasons unknown to me, my dad did not drive his car when he left for the summer. My mother did not drive, so the car was parked in the parking lot of the hotel. One night our dog, Rex, was barking his head off, and raising Cain. Mrs. Brock got up to see what was the matter, and saw a shadowy figure siphoning gasoline from my dad's car. She got her shotgun, kicked the door open, and let him have it! He was far enough away that it was not a fatal shot, but painful.
The next morning we went out to see what we could see, and there lay a big black hat that we recognized. It belonged to a known no-good who lived a couple of miles out of town. A few days later, this person shows back up in town at the general store. He had some new pock-marks that he had never had before, and a new hat, so we knew for certain it was him who got shot by Mrs. Brock. Now, a more cautions person would have left the matter lie, but no, Mrs. Brock took the big black hat, and presented it to this person! She told him, next time he came around at night, he better leave his hat at home. We never had any more trouble living in that big hotel, the word got around about Mrs. Brock living with us, as she was getting quite a reputation with her shotgun!
Mrs. Brock's previous farm had a lot of blackberry vines on it, and my parents got permission from the new owners to gather them. My dad had an old car of some kind, and when we went to the blackberry patch, we would take precautions against ticks and chiggers. These precautions consisted of soaking rags in kerosene and wrapping them around our ankles and covering our bodies with powdered sulphur. Very uncomfortable, especially when the sulphur got sweaty and in our eyes. We also had to keep a sharp eye out for snakes. I hated blackberry picking!
However, my main concern, as a six year old, was that my parents would leave me "watching the car" while they ran off from me. I had this bright idea that they would leave me, walk about 20 miles thru the woods and pastures to catch a train in Lowry City, Mo. Now, I don't even know if there was a passenger train in Lowry City, but in my mind there was. So, when the parents got out of sight in the berry patch, I would be on the car horn and blow, and blow, and blow. My dad would come to see what the matter was, then go back to berry picking. So, I would continue blowing that horn. After repeating this several times, I think I got a good spanking over that.
Our Telephone Service
During this time when we lived in the old Cleveland Hotel, we had the only telephone in town. It was connected to the "Thompsons" on a farm about 3 miles west of Monegaw. That was the only connection - the Thompsons could call us, or we could call them. The Thompsons had two phones - one connected to us, the other to the outside world. If anyone in Monegaw had an emergency, they would come to our Hotel, call the Thompsons, and tell them the problem. Mrs Thompson would then take the message, get on the "outside world" phone, and try to place a call to relay the message. If there was a reply, the reverse procedure worked, somewhat. It was little better than smoke signals, however.
If we wanted to call Grandma or Grandpa Carpenter, for example, who lived about 10 or 12 miles northwest of us, here was the procedure. We would crank our phone which went to the Thompsons place, and tell them whatever message we had for the Grandparents. The Thompsons would, on their other phone, ring the switchboard in Rockville, Mo. If they got connected, they would ask to be connected to the Appleton City switchboard. If they got that connection, they would ask to be connected to the Johnson City switchboard. If they got connected, they would ask the operator in Johnson City to ring the "Carpenters". To ring the carpenters, the Johnson City switchboard would ring the Grandparents signal, which was a long, two shorts, and a long. This ringing of a "long, two shorts, and a long" would signal everyone on that phone line that the Carpenters were getting a phone call. (Because, the single phone wire was a party line, their phone rang the same as the grandparent's phone). Most of the time, a few of the neighbors, hearing the signal for the Carpenters, would pick up their receiver and listen in to see what the news was. (Everybody on a party line did this. It was expected, and no one thought of this as eavesdropping). And, no, we didn't have 911.
If the grandparents needed to call us, the reverse was the procedure. We did not get many phone calls! In addition, if we had had a recent rain, the brush along the phone lines would be wet and ground out the wires, so usually nothing worked until the brush and tree limbs dried out. And, of course, we had to keep replacing the big batteries in the phones. There was no way to recharge them, and I suspect they were somewhat expensive.
In reality, all of Monegaw was a zoo. I don't mean this as a derogatory statement, but as fact. The town and surrounding area was "open range" which meant livestock could roam at will. If you had someplace where they were not welcome (Gardens, yards, etc.) it was up to you to fence that area. It was completely normal to see cows, pigs, horses, mules, dogs, cats, chickens, goats, walking around, up and down the streets, in vacant lots, wherever they wanted to roam.
But, in addition to all these domestic animals there was one place which remains in my memory. In back of the general store was a cistern. It had no water in it, and was about 10 to 12 feet in diameter, and in this cistern was an alligator. Also, there was a big fenced in cage which had a bald eagle in it. The store at the time was operated by a family named the "Withems". They took care of feeding and watering these two animals. Us kids used to peer over the sides of this cistern and stare at this horrible monster alligator. (No, there was no guard rail or fence) It gave us nightmares, and we were told it was caught in Little Monegaw Creek. Of course it wasn't, but it kept us kids out of the creek for quite awhile.