Friday, February 29, 2008

My Mom; A Remarkable Lady

Jay D. Mills, Volcan, Panama 2-29-08

My mother Nellie B. McGill Mills was born (I believe) on her family’s farm south of Dexter, Kansas in September, 1900. She was the youngest of several children and her mother, Julia Custer McGill was 40 years old when mother was born. Her father, Carmont, was a medical doctor who no longer practiced medicine, or had close contact with anyone, as he had Tuberculosis.

Mother told stories of going to Dexter, about 12 miles as I recall, on horse-back and in a wagon. Apples were 25 cents per bushel. --- Bananas are 2 for 5 cents now at the little market in Volcan, Panama. --- Her father, my grandfather McGill, and a brother of hers took a wagon load of drinking water in barrels and sold it to the people at Arkansas City who were massed for the land run into Oklahoma Territory at the Cherokee Strip.

When her family got their first model T Ford, they would sometimes drive to Dexter. The road was rough with deep ruts and sharp rocks. The trip always involved several stops to fix a flat tire. Fixing the tire involved jacking up the axle, removing the wheel, then removing the tire and inner tube. After finding the leak and patching it, they had to wait for the glue to set; or set it on fire to bond the rubber. Then they had to reassemble everything and pump up the tire with a hand pump before continuing a few miles; only to do it all over again. You had to be really committed to make that trip!

Mother lived with a family in Winfield, KS so that she could attend high school there. In high school she took “Normal Training” courses that qualified her to be a school teacher. She graduated in 1920. That year, at the age of 20, she began teaching school in a one-room school house on Otter Creek, near the Mills farm in eastern Cowley county. She only taught school for a couple of years before marrying my dad, O.D. (Otis) Mills.

Mother always cooked on a wood stove on the farm, and that included my years there until 1948. There were usually a number of farm workers, “hands”, that needed to be fed at dinner time (lunch) and she cooked all of their meals. If it was harvest or roundup time, she sometimes had other women in to help. Although mother cooked delicious meals with all kinds of food, she was a “picky” eater and didn’t like much of the food that she willingly cooked for others

I still remember mother preparing large meals and delivering them to the men in the fields during harvest time, and delivering a meal to the cowboys who drove cattle to the railroad in Hoosier (ghost town) 8 miles west and just north of Cedar Vale. Delivering the food to Hoosier was about 14 miles of gravel road to the north, west, then south; or about 16 miles east, south and west. My favorite foods, that we seldom got at other times except maybe holidays, were her deviled eggs and baked beans. Mother also made cottage cheese from our own milk and cream. It was wonderful!

My family was very “private” and we seldom talked about other people in the community unless it was news of something important that had happened. I was taught to not ask about other people’s personal business and not to discuss ours. We also did not discuss family history and I knew little of it until I asked my mother to record her memories and some family history, during a visit in 1981, when I was 40 and mother was nearly 81.

My mother was the biggest influence in my life and she is largely responsible for letting me “think for myself”. She also prepared me for the later realization that I am the only one responsible for the person that I became, and for my happiness. She had 2 children, Carl H. (Arkansas City) and Jay D. (Panama) who both turned out OK after a few "stumbles" along the way. -30-


Gary White said...

A loving portrait, Jay D. Many of the events you describe are similar to my memories of my grandmothers. Interesting to hear that those ways of doing things were still alive in the next generation.

Diane Archer Bradbury said...

Jay - I really enjoyed this about your mother. I always liked her and thought of her as a hard worker in the church. She and my mother were friends.

Now I'll tell you about one of my birthday parties. My mother was somewhat of a nervvous person, especially with a house full of kids who were about 6 years old.
She had to get after you for walking on the coffee table. In retrospect, I imagine we were all
"sugared up" and running wild. I think this is a funny memory and I don't mean to be critical of a six year old after so many years. Don't take it wrong!

Thanks for your memories of your mom.

DFCox said...

Thank you Jay, this was most interesting. It's so fascinating to see how people found spouses in those days. Most married right in their neighborhood (the rural families), and others--like your mother--found a spouse when they left the meighborhood to teach school somewhere.
I plan to do a brief piece about Nellie's brother, Dana. I,m just waiting for a picture of him from Carl or Carla.

wayne woodruff said...

As Gary mentioned, your mom's life and experience on the early farm were much like my mother's in northern KS. You mentioned her cooking for the farm hands, and it reminded me of a worker my dad often used when there was extra work on our farm. Burt Bargis ( I can't vouch for the spelling) was a really big man, about the size of Grant Utt, and was a really good worker. He and my dad seemed to like each other a lot, but my mother hated to have Burt eat with us at noon. He was a very loud talker, had an odor around him that would indicate very few bathes, and ate like a horse. Mother was more of a prissy sort and Burt was not her cup of tea at all. I expect your mom was a little more tolerant.

Phil Foust said...

Thank you, Jay, for a wonderful story giving tribute to a fine lady. It seems to me that she would be quite proud of you.

My memory has record of reports of Dr. McGill. Though possibly incorrect; the stories were of him administering to the ill of the general area. It was not realized that he suffered from TB.

Don's accounts of Dana McGill are greatly anticipated. One story that sticks in my mind was the danger of prarie fires during the early times of the McGills.

Gary White said...

Jay's article speaks of setting a tire patch on fire to bond the rubber. Do you all remember the so-called "hot patches" that had a built-in area to set on fire? They were replaced by "cold patches" that didn't require such treatment. Cold patches were applied with a roller that bonded the rubber to the inner tube. All this became a thing of the past when tubeless tires became the standard.