A cussed streak

Continuing with Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s Northwest family narrative, with thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson:

Very early, his parents farmed him out to neighbors for his board and perhaps a little salary. He contributed the bulk of his income to the support of the family up to near the time of his own marriage. John later worked out too, but I gather he was more apt to be a problem than a provider.

Dad’s first job, was working for his Aunt Hannah and Theodore Jessup somewhere between six and ten years of age. He had very unpleasant recollections of the period — how hard he worked and the excessively religious atmosphere of the Quaker household. There or later he learned to swear conversationally or violently and chew tobacco.

Many of Dad’s reminiscences had to do with tights — school yard fights — more or less friendly wrestling matches and more or less drunken brawls at neighborhood gatherings of schoolhouse dances. Dad professed to be very good at that sort of thing and I think he probably was. He was short but compact and very strong. He had of nervous energy and led a very rigorous and active life. His muscles never got soft from lying around with a book.

One of his earliest difficulties was when his parents moved into an all Irish community. His first day in school, a bunch of the boys ganged up on the new kid — they got him in a coal house and started roughing him up. Scared stiff and desperate, Dad grabbed a hunk of coal and hit one of the boys in the face. The chunk of coal had a V — shaped sharp edge which cut through the skin of the boy’s forehead and caused it to droop over one eye. I don’t think he attended that school very long but from then on he was left alone! He remembered the little girls talking about what an awful boy he was,

Another boy that he fought with later got hit on the little finger while striking a blow — the finger was permanently dislocated. There were other squabbles involving alcohol and/or girls. As Dad told the stories most of his fighting was defensive in nature and few men or boys did much more fighting if they got thoroughly knocked down once.

There are two events I will describe. Dad was present and ill and suffering an acute headache at a 4th of July celebration. A boy from another town was talking up what a great “rasseler” he was and some of the boys who knew Dad insisted that Dad wrestle with him. Between the boy’s insistence and the other fellow’s boasting, Dad finally agreed though he stated flatly that he was in no mood to be bothered. They went out in the hardpacked road — the boy came charging at him. Dad caught him by one arm and crotch and threw him over his head face down in the hardroad. That ended that.

At some other public gathering, he had an altercation with “Taddy” (Theodore) Hoover, Herbert’s brother, Dad had seen him around a few times but did not really know him. Nevertheless, some other boys, to stir up trouble, had succeeded in convincing Taddy that Dad had said scandalous things about him in the neighboring town of Zeering. Dad tried to convince him to the contrary but he insisted on fighting. It never developed into a real fight as some older people interfered. Taddy later became dean of Stanford University. It was not until years later when [Herbert] ran from president that Dad knew that Herbert belonged to the Iowa Hoover tribe with whom he had more or less grown up. He never saw [Herbert] so far as he knew. The two Hoover boys were orphans who grew up more of less separated in other people’s homes.


Family squabbles

Continuing with Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s Northwest family narrative, with thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson:

To get back to Dad’s early life — his home, when he was there, provided a strongly religious atmosphere — grace at meals — morning and evening prayers.

Which brings to mind the story that Dad told of the squabble he had with his parents and sisters over a book they were reading. They had started reading it the evening before and read till quite late and then got up in the morning and went on from there till mid-morning. Dad started the squabble because he wanted his breakfast and apparently thought a little sanity ought to be brought back to the family. In the midst of the squabble a neighbor came and wanted Dad to do some work for him. In some embarrassment and perhaps a certain grim glee, Dad told him in front of the others that he couldn’t go right then because she had not had his breakfast yet. He said his mother later agreed after they had all cooled down that they should not have permitted the story to carry them away like that. If it had been me, I would have simply gone to the kitchen and got myself some food. The chances are, Dad was listening too and finally just. decided it was time to call a halt.

Learning the facts of life

Continuing with Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s Northwest family narrative, with thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson:

While very young, Dad was once bedded down with a little Negro girl. Some visitors had her along and of course she had to sleep somewhere. Dad used to say that was the nearest he ever came to sleeping with a negro. He had a rather strong anti-negro bias, partly because the attitude was general and partly because the only negro adult that he ever really knew was not only untaught but probably moron. I remember he spoke kindly and behaved with a degree of consideration toward „one-armed Nigger Johnson’ who lived for a time near Orient.

He learned “the £acts of life” quite early in a rural background in the company of a bunch of Quaker children who discussed the subject with thee, thou, and thine. Quakers, I gather, were just as “fleshy” as other people. The people he grew up among, Quakers or otherwise, were not by any means all as straightlaced as some others and some indeed were truly “whited sepulchers”!

Among more respectable people, vulgarisms of speech were not commonly used and euphemisms were parried to the extreme. A bull was called an “Animal” and you did not castrate a calf — you “took care of it.”

Which brings to mind the horrible story of the little neighbor boy who, in willful ignorance and total lack of understanding of what he was about, also with Uncle John’s assistance, “took care” of a whole litter of new pigs by slicing them open with a sharp knife. The idea was definitely his but his father insisted that John was “the ring leadah.” The boy arranged for John’s assistance on the way home from school. Dad was present when the scheme was hatched — was too young himself to have done anything about it in any case, could not have known how ignorant the boy was. He was able, of course, to testify to John’s comparative innocence.

In later life, Dad himself was widely sought after by local farmers to do that kind of surgery, as well as to assist in butchering projects. One farmer insisted on him wielding his knife on a Sunday when he came by dressed in his best — he found him some old clothes, of course.

Delwin Wilburn Hodgson

Continuing with Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s Northwest family narrative, with thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson:

Their first [male} child, Delwin Wilburn, was born in Burr Oak, Kansas, December 22, 1871. Not long after his birth, a plague of dysentery hit the community where they lived and many children died. Dad was very ill but did pull through, though it quite possibly did have permanent ill effects — his eyesight was never good and hampered him a great deal in getting any kind of education. Even if they could afford them, young people in those days were a laughing stock if they wore “specs.”

Dad had mumps in the worst way when he was in his late teens and was very ill. The doctor who treated him seemed to know business as Dad remembered it. The disease is supposed to occasionally produce sterility, but obviously not in his case. He, at a later date, got infection in: one hand due to a barbwire cut and his doctor treated the hand with some chemical which seemed to get results.

The story from now on is largely Dad’s. His schooling in any case was very limited. I don’t think he ever had more than three months of school to the year. I don’t think he achieved more than Fourth Grade ability. I think he said he did some reading in McGuffys 5th Reader. After he stopped going to school, he did very little reading on his own. The only book he ever mentioned reading was a book called “Cranky Ann” (pornography of its day — the life of a soiled lily). He had borrowed the book from a friend but had not finished reading it when his mother found it, probably read it herself and then promptly burned it. He enjoyed being read to in later life provided the theme was familiar enough for him to identify with; in which case however, he seemed to have difficulty separating fact from fancy.

Anything he thought of as purely imaginary, he would not even give his attention. Of course, part of his problem was limited vocabulary — I remember him stating forcefully how “bored” he was, when what he really meant was embarrassed. He had no difficulty accepting the fantastic things as they came along — matches were relatively new in his childhood — rubber tired buggies and rubber footwear came during his lifetime — bicycles and the horseless carriage — airplanes and radio. The very strange changes of the New Deal and of course World War II — Hiroshima and the Atom Bomb. His last years of declining capacities must have been a sort of “Hell” because the only world he occupied was one of being, seeing, hearing and doing. The only dream world he knew was that of recollection.

There was also prohibition, of course — the assassinations of Garfield and McKinley – “Remember the Maine” and Dewey took Manila. Teddy Roosevelt, he disliked because he considered him an egocentric and an autocrat, too much for “Big I” and “Little U” in his words! Dad normally voted Republican but did vote for Wilson “Because he kept us out of war!” — for Fighting Bob LaFollette. perhaps because he advocated legalizing Light Wines and Beer. He liked Coolidge after he was elected and voted for Hoover very forcefully — especially the last time. Knowing something of Hoover‟s background, he was especially incensed about the lies that were generally circulated about him. That he was born in England, for instance. Like other men, Hoover doubtless had enough limitations without having them distorted.

Dad’s recollections of his earliest childhood are the things which would stick in the memory of other children — things that were strange, bitter, embarrassing or titillating.

Grandma, who knew nothing of little brothers, kept her sons in dresses and sunbonnets long after they should have been dressed as boys.

Continuing with Elias

Continuing with Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s Northwest family narrative, with thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson:

After his marriage, Grandfather Elias moved around a good deal by oxteam and wagon. One of his anecdotes involved his two oxen, Broad and Brandy* — he picked up two children along a road. One of the children asked what the oxen’s names were. He said “Broad and Brandy.”

“Which one of them is Broad?

“That one.”

“Now which one is Brandy?”

[The oxen in question were really Mike & Reilly — Broad & Brandy were another team.]

Bert Shute tells me a tale that gives real color to a vague recollection that I have of Grandfather fording rivers with oxteams and wagons: It seems that Elias went somewhere with the wagon and on his way he forded a small river but before he reached it on the way back there had been a cloudburst in the upriver region and the river was in high flood. Pausing at the river, he debated whether to wait till the water went down or what?’ Calculating that Sabina would worry if he did not arrive as expected, he decided to ford the stream anyway. So he took off all of his clothes except his straw hat and bundled them into the wagon box,. but being like myself an absent- minded cuss he neglected to fasten the wagon box down. While crossing the stream, it floated off and down the river. He arrived home to Sabina with a team and bare wagon, garbed only in straw hat, sunburn and blisters. She thought he must have gone crazy from the heat.

[Note: Mabel says that the loss of the wagon box was the result of misbehavior of the oxen and that Grandad did not take off his clothes till the situation became desperate. The only clothes he got out with were his straw hat and boots. The river he crossed was the Canadian and his reason for crossing in the first place was to get to a Government project where he was employed.]

1 don’t know too much about this period except that they lived in some definite1y Frontier areas in Missouri and Kansas. In one place at least, they lived in fear of Indian attack. He told or the case where someone had abandoned his team and plow in the field. The Indians stole the horses with the harness on but since they did not know how to unhitch, they cut the leather tugs free with a knife.

[They also spent some in Missouri – as stated]

Elias and family went back to Iowa. He lived mostly as a renter or sharecropper and in due course Dad was followed by three sisters – [Hattie was the oldest child], Emma, and Ruby — two brothers, John Milton and Myron Wilson. Myron was about 14 [17] when he arrived here [Orient] in 1905. I don’t remember the details but he had laid over for most of the winter in Spokane. Roses were blooming in the early spring in Spokane when we left there, but the snow was still wading deep at Barstow when he got off the train.