MY MEMOIRS

 

by

Arwilda Emma Wilson Summers

1977

         
        The story of the Wilson and Grossen families in this country was the same as millions of others in every house on the block and farm in the country, our neighbors around us today. Our children and grandchildren are the second and third and fourth generations of those who had the will and courage to leave their homes for an unknown land so that their children would have a better chance in life.

          We are the reality of the Great American Dream, among those who made it, for one reason or another. Those who didn't, for one reason or another, did not leave records of their story, and are long forgotten, or are on welfare.
 

          Old people tend to live in the past, write histories, genealogies, memories of their youth, collect photographs of ancestors, and relate stories of the good times and the hardships which they had lived through. Most young people couldn't care less; they are more interested in their future. But they should be aware of those who have "broken trail" because it was done for them.

          There were bad times, too, in those days, There were failures, cruelty, meanness, immodesty, intolerance, illness, and all the human frailties in members of these families, which were encountered and dealt with themselves as best they could with the means they had at hand. These are best forgotten, but remember that they were there.

          My mother, Margaret Grossen, told me that when she was a child, she and her bothers and sisters had an egg for breakfast only on the morning of their birthdays, because the sale of eggs and butter was the only source of cash which their mother had to buy shoes, cloth for clothes, sugar and flour.

          By the time I was a child, we had things better; our own chickens and cows, eggs and butter to eat, with rolled oats and cornmeal mush most mornings. I became very tired of cornmeal mush. Our clothes were home-made, but our shoes were store bought. Our mother saved out money for Vivian's music lessons and I was to learn from her. I hated the arrangement, not so much because of the practicing but because I was dictated to by my sister. In due time I was allowed to quit, to everyone's relief.

          I was a middle child and had no regret that my childhood passed. I was shy, sensitive, and had no close friends, bookish but had few books, most comfortable out of doors with animals, trees and brooks.

          I longed for a pony, and finally, when I was really too old for one, my father gave me an unbroken three year old which I joyfully rode bareback for several years. Her name was Pat.

          Earlier, we had a pony which pulled a cart. We children made our spending money by pulling and washing rhubarb in the spring, tying it in bundles of five or six stalks, cutting off the leaves, combining the small bundles into larger ones, and hauling them in the pony cart to the grocery stores to sell. Sometimes it was quite cold in the spring season, and it was a cold job. But I did earn a little money; once even enough to buy a six dollar pair of Sears Roebuck field glasses to watch birds, and another time a pair of roller skates.

 

          Since we had ho cement walk, I walked to my friend's house a little distance nearer Mount Union where there were sidewalks to skate on.

          Some of my happiest times were in the summer, when my Grossen cousins and I exchanged a week at each other's houses. They lived on farms where I helped with the chores, enjoyed haying time, watering newly set out tomato plants, and other chores.

          Christmas at my Grandpa and Grandma Wilson's was. a really gala time. Grandpa didn't do Christmas shopping, but he gave grandchildren gold pieces. I could seldom bear to spend mine and still have some of them. One time he substituted for them a beautiful leather-bound copy of Kipling's poems for me, which I always cherished because he understood that I liked books, not dolls, which Grandma gave me when she didn't give me beautiful hand crocheted pillow slips for my non-existent hope chest.(I thought it highly unlikely that I would ever marry, since I was skinny and all gawky arms and legs like a colt.) It wasn't until I was in first grade that a boy named Sheldon McKinsey took me home after school to show me to his mother and announce to her that he was going to marry me. He moved away next year and I never saw him again, but he remembers it, too, since he reminds Olin at Congress Lake Country Club that he was nearly his brother-in-law! He is now an attorney in Akron.

          Another happy time for me was the winter I was in fourth grade. Since our father had a mastoid operation and was in poor health, we drove to Florida, camped out on all the way there and back, and spent the winter there. Father took me fishing with him, we fed lettuce to a pet gopher (a turtle) which lived in a hole in the sandy front yard, and brought back a wild razor-back pig which we raised once we were home. I hated Christmas there, though, with bare feet, a spindly pine tree we cut in the country, and fire-crackers going off all over.

          The family had a chocolate-colored small dog named Bruno which I taught some tricks and wished he were my own dog. And my Pony, Pat, for which I never did get a saddle, I taught a few tricks. So, I developed a sort of empathy with animals and could communicate with them after a fashion. I usually had a pet after I grew up, and taught my children to care for them.

          Because I was very shy, my mother decided that I should have elocution lessons to develop more self confidence. I suffered through several years of that ordeal, giving recitations at my mother's women's organization meetings when they needed another item on their program. This probably served its original purpose, since I grew up without much fear of speaking in public.

          When I was eight years old I was out of school for a couple of months, and in bed with a kidney or bladder infection. I enjoyed this vacation thoroughly and left sprightly comments under the loose molding on the old sofa I used in mother's sewing room. And I could read all I wanted to.

          When visiting at Grandma Wilson's in the summer I especially enjoyed reading the girls' series of books in her bookcase, - all the Elsie Dinsmore series and Five Little Peppes series.

 

          One of my most enjoyable treats, looked forward to each summer,

was the Chautauqua program for which Mother scraped together enough money to take us to most of the programs. Here I heard some of the great performers of that time.

          As especial thrill was my Grandfather Wilson taking me all the way to Canton to hear Harry Lauder sing. I never quite forgot the wonder of him spending all that money on me.

          I spent the summers of 1928 and 1929, when I was a senior in high school, working in a cafeteria at Lake Chautauqua, New York. I survived the introduction to some of the surprises of the unsheltered world when my girl friend ran off to Europe with a married Persian rug salesman, and I fell in love with an older boy who was in love with a girl who was engaged to be married in a few months to two other young men, neither of whom knew; about the other.

          I went home from Lake Chautauqua in 1929 via Canada where I stayed a week with Vivian and Leighton who were on their honeymoon.

          After I graduated from high school in January,1928, I started right in at Mount Union College, took summer school in 1930 and graduated from college in June, 1932. I had worked in the college library most of the years in college, and decided to be a professional librarian, and graduated from the Western Reserve School of Library Science in 1933.

          My last year at Mount Union was in 1932, when the Great Depression was on. Bank accounts were frozen and no one had any cash. My father paid my tuition with a bank book from which you couldn't get any funds because they were frozen; if and when the bank released the funds, the college would get the tuition. (They finally did.) I worked in the library, as I had been all along, at 25 cents per hour for money for clothes and sorority expenses. I joined a hiking club of college age young people for additional social contacts which didn't cost anything.

          Very few students owned cars; I walked the more than half mile to school all the time I went to college.

          I then went to the Western Reserve School of Library Science. (It later became Case Western Reserve.) I got a school loan for my year's tuition, and a job as live-in maid at Reindell's doing the house cleaning and preparing breakfast in return for my board and room. I didn't like it much, because my room was a tiny dilapidated place on the third floor, the rest of which was a billiard room and was used by Mr. Reindell. My father sent me $ 5.00 a week, most weeks, for lunch money, books, car fare to the University and other incidentals.

          When I graduated jobs were scarce and I was just lucky to find one; Olin had been practicing in Louisville, and had married Josephine Earsman who grew up there. Some Louisville people wanted to start a public library, using a room in the high school. Josephine's sister, Helen Shoemaker, was on the Board of Trustees, looking for a librarian to get it started. So. she asked me to apply, and I got the job in 1933 at the salary of $100.00 per month.

          I had to go to Mount Union that summer to get enough credits in education and pass an exam to get a temporary teacher's certificate so I could work in the high school.

 

          On that salary I paid board and room, bought two Alliance lots which I later sold at no profit, bought a wardrobe and a used car, paid off my school loan, bought some insurance, and, in a couple of years started to the William McKinley School of Law in Canton, going at night.

          My last year in law school (1939) I married Robert Summers, who was also going to law school, and we both graduated and passed the Ohio Bar in 1941.

          Since in those days it was customary to fire a woman school teacher or librarian if she married while working, the Board was " being especially liberal to permit me to continue on until 1941. Then World War II started. Bob, in the Reserve, was called in, and I later quit and got a job at the University of Illinois library in Urbana, Ill. Bob was stationed there at Chanute Field. When he was transferred to Lincoln, Nebraska, I got a job there at the Public Library, then worked for the Air Force on the Base setting up an Intelligence Library and a Technical Intelligence Library.

          With the war nearing an end, Bob was transferred to Long Island where I decided not to work, but started a family.

          Joan was born at Mitchel Field Hospital, Long Island, during the Battle of the Bulge, and she and I later stayed in Alliance and Columbus until Bob was finally discharged from the Army. After a time he entered Medical School, with the help of the G.I. Bill to pay the tuition.

          When he interned at the Marine Hospital in Cleveland, Nancy was born, and, after a few months practicing in Cambridge, Ohio, we settled in Canton. There we have lived ever since, though his office and our residence have been changed several times.

 

Postscript

2/77

          This is written the day after I received from Vivian the copies of the memoirs which she typed and Xeroxed. I returned yesterday from my second hospital stay, realizing that I had write my memoirs hastily because I still had to pack, I didn't have much time, and I was uncertain about when I would have time to finish them.

 

          Now that I read the other memoirs, I find that I have left out some of the influences which we all shared, ' which helped our lives, but weren't really mentioned in our upbringing. 

 

          Today it snowed again, One of those soft, steady, quiet snows that covers every twig and branch, outlining the beautiful lines of every living thing. It is a parting Valentine's Day gift at the end of the coldest Ohio winter in one hundred seventy-seven years - probably longer, for records go only that far back.

 

          And I find it all an act of grace, a thing of beauty, and wonder if a part of our common Swiss ancestry hasn't something to do with my love of the white world outside.

 

          One of the impressions I grew up with, was that although we all went to church from childhood, life and death were natural and were all of a whole.

 

          Death was a part of life, to be expected and welcomed in all nature. What a horror life would be, were there no death! So I feel no feeling of loss, but of completion when I think of death, and comfortable about it.

 

          Another impression with which I grew up was that kindness was important. Doing things well, doing things promptly, following directions, certainly. But kindness in helping another who had done his best and needed a boost, is important.

 

          But with each one of us the thing was that the Good Lord helps those who help themselves first, and that if you are needing a helping hand-,-first look at the end of your arm for one. Never in so many words did I ever hear that said at our house, but the feeling was there.

 

          Teachers might vary in competency, but they were to be respected, no matter what. Report cards were important. There was respect for learning in our house. We had a wide space on the kitchen wall next to the living room which was painted with flat black paint to make an effective blackboard. Elvin and I used to draw pictures on it, and there was a chalk eraser and plenty of chalk. But our mother spent considerable thought in selecting noble quotations and wise words of great philosophers which she wrote at the top of that blackboard where we couldn't miss them. I don't remember any of them now, but the implication was there, that wisdom of wise people was important.

 

          Our father was certainly a liberal when it came to educating boys and girls. He taught me to milk a cow, but cautioned me against letting my husband find out I knew how, if I married a farmer. He insisted that I

clean out stables and fed the stock. He taught me how to graft trees and fix frayed out plugs and build a bird house. He taught me to use tools and put them away clean.

 

          Although he was never a demonstrative man, I dogged his footsteps as 1 had Lorin's when I was a baby, and the closeness lasted until he had a rare blow-up because I borrowed his car without asking him one time when he wasn't there to ask, and I had a night errand to do.

 

          He wanted his sons to be able to survive if they should be living without a woman around, and at least Olin could bake a cake and knows his way around a kitchen.

 

          I remember father as a gentle man, except for one time he had a monumental battle with two year old Elvin who flatly refused to pick up his toys, and father said it was a matter of who is in charge around here and must have spent an hour settling the issue.

 

          An item Elvin may forget to put in the memoirs is the muddy spring day he toddled off up the miry unpaved road toward town on Monday while Mother was doing the washing. She searched and became frantic, unusual for her. She finally located him clear out of sight of the house, yelling lustily, mired to the knees, quite utterly stuck.


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