I suppose one should begin at the beginning, so here goes. I was born December
23, 1909, at Clinton, Kansas, a little village 12 miles southwest of Lawrence. At that time
Clinton consisted of a country store, a post office, a grade school, blacksmith, a doctor
and three or four houses. The doctor was my father.
I came into the world with Halley's comet, and I always figured I would go out
with it; however, Halley's is gone and I'm still here. I don't expect to make it to the time
of Halley's next return, but it would be nice to come back about that time to take a peek
at what had happened in the meantime, especially when I think of all the changes that have
occurred in my lifetime.
When I arrived on this planet there were no computers, no radio, television,
nuclear bombs or credit cards. Even automobiles were just beginning to appear on the
scene and amounted to nothing more than a nuisance which scared the horses. Even after
I reached college age, ice was being delivered from door to door by men driving a team of
horses hitched to the ice wagon. (My brother Emmett was one of those icemen during his
I have always had a warm spot in my heart for the ice plant. It put me through
college and law school. Every summer from my senior year in high school until I
graduated from Law School, I sold ice from the dock and I worked there after school in
the spring and the fall. [Ed. note: this ice house was in Lawrence.]
Getting back to Clinton. At the country store you could buy anything from sugar
to coal oil. When you go to a store nowadays, of course, you push a cart around, look
over the vegetables and packaged goods, and pick out what looks good to you. At the
Clinton store at that time, you stepped up to the counter and told the grocer you wanted
five pounds of sugar, ten pounds of flour, or whatever. The grocer went and got it and
brought it to the counter for you. The sugar, flour and a lot of other things came in bulk
in barrels. Crackers and cookies came in cartons about eighteen inches by eighteen inches,
and when you asked for a nickel's worth, the grocer would reach in and take them out by
the hands full.
There was a dock across the front of the store so wagons and trucks could back up
to it and load or unload barrels and big boxes. The customers had to take the steps up to
the dock to get in the front door.
The school had all grades from first to eighth all in one room. There would be 30
or 40 kids, but of course in some instances there would be no children of the age to fill
some of the grades. They came from farms all around the countryside. Many rode horses
to school. There was only one teacher, and she would go from grade to grade during the
day asking the children in each grade to recite their lessons. Everybody else in the room
would usually listen unless their attention was drawn to a neighbor writing a note or
sticking the hair of a girl in front of him in the inkwell.
The teacher each year would come from Lawrence or some other city. She would
get her room and board from a farm nearby and probably be paid $50.00 a month or less.
My first recollection of the first grade was getting my hands slapped with a ruler
for whispering to my buddy, Walter Kampschroeder. There was a fence around the
school yard with an iron rail at the top. One of the favorite recess sports of the older boys
during the cold winter months was to talk a younger unsuspecting kid to stick his tongue
on the iron rail. His tongue would immediately stick there, causing much distress to the
kid and much merriment to the perpetrators.
The blacksmith shop was a great place to visit. The blacksmith wore a heavy
leather apron, usually split down the middle so he could hold a horse's leg between his
legs while he was nailing the shoe on the horse's foot. The central point of the shop was a
forge, an open fire pit with bellows attached underneath. To sharpen plow shares, he
would use the bellows to blow up a hot fire with the shares in it. When the shares were
red-hot, he would pound on them on the anvil with a heavy hammer. In this manner the
blacksmith was able to flatten the cutting edge of the plow share until it was fairly sharp.
By the same process the blacksmith fashioned or repaired various metal parts for wagons,
plows and other farm equipment. It was quite a treat to watch the metal take on a bright
glow and then see the sparks flying every which way as he pounded on it.
One thing I always seemed to be good at was being in the wrong place at the
wrong time. I took poison twice, was severely burned, fell out of a tree and got a
complicated broken elbow, was shot twice and was kidnapped.
Before I was old enough to remember very well, I apparently was fascinated by the
bottles of medicine in my father's medical office, thinking, I suppose, that it was good to
eat or drink. Twice I did that and the result was a stomach pump. I do remember the
stomach pump as one of the instruments of torture.
When I was six or seven years old, several of the boys were hanging out around the Clinton store. One of the older boys, a son of the store owner, had a can of gasoline and doused my pant leg with it. I don't recall if I ever knew if it was accidental or on purpose. He then got "smart-alecky" and struck a match and pretended to apply it to my leg. The result was that it was close enough to ignite the gasoline fumes and my pants burst into flames. I panicked and ran away across the road. I stumbled and fell down and rolled over several times. That put out the fire. I still have scars up and down my leg. Nowadays if that would happen, the parents probably would bring a million dollar lawsuit.
My first gunshot wound didn't amount to much. I had been with Emmett and some other boys who were squirrel hunting. I was standing in front of Emmett and he accidentally discharged his rifle. The bullet went through my leg but was in the flesh and it caused no complications. [Ed. note: At one time, Dad told me "Emmett shot me on purpose, because he was mad at me." He aimed at Dad's leg, because he didn't want to hurt him too bad.]
As I said, my father Mark Beach, was the doctor at Clinton. He got his medical
degree at the Kansas City School of Medicine which, I understand, later became a part of
the Kansas University School of Medicine with its principal facility at Kansas City,
I believe my father and mother were married October 12, 1904, as that is the date
in Mother's wedding ring which I wear, after having it enlarged. Father was born on a
farm in Douglas County, Kansas, the son of James Moses Beach and Nancy Spurlock
Beach. He moved to Clinton and set up his practice shortly before he and my mother
were married. Emmett and I were their only children. Emmett Holt Beach was born
August 30, 1905.
I know little of Father's early life -- his childhood and while a young man -- a fact
which I now regret. It would be worth a lot to me now to know some of the unimportant
things he did during childhood, the thoughts he had, his school experiences, his friends,
the work he did on the farm, what made him decide to study medicine, and how he
financed his education. I wonder what kind of an education was required to become a
doctor then, and how it compares with the difficulty of a present medical education.
I know Father attended the University of Kansas at Lawrence before going to the
medical school at Kansas City, because his name is listed with the other K.U. graduates
who gave their lives during the first World War. The Student Union building at Lawrence
was built in memory of those former students of World War I and their names are
inscribed in bronze at the front entrance. He also attended Lawrence High School. His
name is on the wall of what is now Central Junior High School.
I suppose my lack of knowledge as to the intimate early life of my father, as well as
a similar lack of knowledge about his father, could be blamed because of the death of
Father while I was a child of eight. Whatever Mother knew of my antecedents she largely
kept to herself. At an earlier age I did not seem to have any curiosity about such things,
and Mother did not volunteer any information. She and I did not communicate very well.
More will be said later about my relationship with Mother.
I suppose a fact common to many average mid-west families is the lack of
knowledge of their ancestry. Due to the efforts of my daughter, Jane Beach Soder of
Seattle, we have traced our family back to Thomas Beach, who came to New England
from England in 1636. She has researched the genealogy through seven generations to my
grandfather, James Moses Beach, who came from New York State to Kansas in 1860.
In February, 1863, Grandfather married Nancy Jane Spurlock, who was born I
Missouri in 1842. They had two sons; my father Mark, born December 5, 1873, and my
uncle, James H., born January 26, 1872. Grandmother died in 1905 and Grandfather died
in 1922. I have only the faintest recollection of Grandfather, as he went East to live with
Uncle James. My only memory of him was when I was about five or six years old.
Nancy Spurlock Beach came from a quite typical pioneer family. Her parents,
Harvey and Martha Spurlock, brought their family from Missouri to Kansas in 1856.
Those were stormy times from Harvey, who was an Abolitionist living among slaveholders
in Missouri, and he had the courage to make his convictions known. When they came to
Kansas he was an outspoken Free Stater.
Harvey and Martha Spurlock had eight children, including my grandmother,
Nancy, and those children in turn gave birth to 29 children, including my father.
"Tracing the history of a pioneer family is always a hopeless task. They were men
of action who took little thought to preserving written records. The duties of each day
were too real and urgent for them to be greatly worried about the curiosity of their
"The great burdens of pioneer life fell upon the women. The mothers brought forth their brood of many children within the four walls of the frontier cabin. No doctors or nurses stood by to assist in ushering in her newborn infants. Housekeeping was primitive. Water had to be carried from distant springs. Food was prepared from raw materials. Most of the family clothing was made from scratch. Any correspondence she might have had with distant relatives of friends was not preserved." (I'm quoting my Uncle James.)
As I recall, our home at Clinton consisted of three bedrooms upstairs and
downstairs there was a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, and an additional room
which my father used as his medical office. There was no bathroom. The necessary
facilities consisted of an outside "john" and a washtub which was used for taking baths.
There was no heat upstairs so you can imagine how quickly Emmett and I jumped
in bed on a cold winter night and piled on the "comforters". Emmett was just enough
bigger than I to create a convenient body crescent for me to snuggle against to keep
warm. I think my first memory was waking up on my fourth birthday and having Emmett
smack me four times and an extra to grow on.
At our home we had a pasture on one side of the house and a garden on the other
side. We had a team of horses Father hitched to a buggy to take him on his medical house
calls. We also had a milk cow and a barn for the cow and horses and a cave to store
vegetables. The cave was also used as a retreat in case of cyclones.
Emmett milked the cow. I never learned how to do it. I liked to drink the warm
milk right after the cow had been milked. I would pour a glass full from the milk bucket
and occasionally Emmett would squirt the milk directly from the cow's teat to my mouth.
We had never heard of pasteurized milk.
We had no "boughten" toys. We made our own. My favorite was a small metal
hoop (which I got at the blacksmith shop) which I rolled on the ground with a lath with a
cross piece at the end. We made kites, sling shots and bows and arrows. We played "hide
and go seek." One of my favorite toys when I was very young was a stick horse. I rode it
at a full gallop until both the horse and the rider were exhausted.
Another stunt the older country boys liked to pull on the younger unsophisticated
kids was the "snipe hunt." I guess everyone still knows what that is since the phrase "left
holding the bag" is now a commonly used expression. For any that might not be familiar
with this game, I will explain that it was literally "holding the bag." The unsuspecting kid
was told that it was a good night for hunting snipes, and the important job was to have the
bag ready while the rest fanned out and drove the snipes to one central point where they
would be shooed into the waiting bag. The rest of the boys, of course, took off to points
unknown and the poor kid waited and waited, until finally he decided they were not
coming and trudged his way home. The next day the kid would be greeted by jeers and
My mother was determined that her two boys would become proficient at the piano. Emmett probably had some musical talent but I had none. Mother gave us lessons herself and before we moved to Lawrence when Emmett was about 12 years old, he played very well. He could play any of the standard pieces of the time and could play classical music. Finally about that time he was forced into playing a duet at some social function with a girl he disliked. He never touched the piano after that. Mother finally gave up on me. I guess she didn't have the strength to battle with me as she had with Emmett, and she concluded it was useless.
Emmett was always smarter than I. He won a huge American flag for the Clinton
school for writing the best essay of all contestants in all the country schools in Douglas
County. I don't remember what the essay was about, but it must have had some kind of a
patriotic theme. [Ed. note: There is a picture of Emmett and the flag at the Clinton Lake
One thing I will always remember during the time we lived at Clinton was the
cyclone -- we called them "cyclones" then but now they generally are called "tornadoes."
It was when my father was away in military service, and I was about six years old. It
apparently came without much warning. We had a storm cave close to the house, but
Mother did not take Emmett and me to the cave until after the worst of the storm had
passed. I don't know who first dug and built the cave or for what purpose. Caves were
used both as storm shelters and as a place to store fruit and vegetables. Such caves are
still prevalent in many places, such as the Arkansas Ozarks.
Several houses were destroyed by the storm, and as I remember, three people were
killed. Our house survived, but our barn was destroyed. If it had been a densely
populated area, the damage would have been much worse.
For some time after that I was pretty "jumpy." A stiff wind would cause me to run
for cover and hide under the kitchen table.
Father's patients were farm families in all directions for many miles in that part of
the county. He had his medical office in a room on our home, but much of his practice
consisted of house calls, often in the middle of the night, and sometimes knowing he
would never get paid. There was no Medicare, Medicaid or Blue Cross at that time.
Father had one of the first cars in that part of the county -- a 1916 Ford touring car.
However, if he had a hurryup call he drove the team of horses. When Father had a night
call several miles in the country, he would take care of the patient then get in the buggy
and tell Bill and Nick to take him home. He would promptly go to sleep and get a good
rest until the horses delivered him home.
Occasionally my father would let me ride with him when he made a daytime call.
This was quite a treat.
Two things in the medical office always intrigued me -- the microscope and the
centrifuge. Father would let me look at common small objects under the microscope and
to my wonderment they would be greatly magnified. The centrifuge was powered by a
hand crank and would spin two cups about the shape of test tubes on each side to separate
materials of different density. I don't know exactly the purpose of this procedure, but
perhaps it was to test the patient's blood.
For many years I have crossed paths with many people, most of whom I did not
know, who told me my father had brought them into the world. This is rather amazing in
view of the fact that he was in practice only twelve or thirteen years before he died.
My father had a rather stilted, formal manner that is completely foreign to most
people today including, I believe, me. This can best be exemplified by a letter he wrote
from Fort Riley in 1917 to a good friend, Lincoln Petefish, which in part reads as follows:
"Dear friend Link - I have heard of your good work in connection with the Red Cross for
which allow me to express my appreciation. To those of us in the army, though not yet at
the Front, that cause comes pretty close home and I am sure that each man in Olive Drab
will go forward to duty more courageously and give up his last drop of blood more
willingly when he knows that the folks back home are thinking of him and making
sacrifices for his comfort and safety."
This letter was given to me recently by Mr. Petefish's son, Olin Petefish, a
prominent lawyer in Lawrence.
During 1918 there was a terrible influenza epidemic that swept the country. It
affected many civilians as well as various army camps. Many lives were lost as a result of
the flu. My father was working in the army hospital at Fort Sill during this epidemic and
all medical personnel were working long hard hours with little rest. Father contracted the
flu, which developed into meningitis, and it was fatal. At that time there were no
antibiotics. If they had been available then they might have prevented his death.
When my father became ill, Mother took Emmett and me to Fort Sill and we were
there for some time. I don't remember how long, but possibly a week or more. I don't
remember where Mother stayed, but I slept in a tent with some medical officers,
presumably in the tent where my father lived before he was confined in the hospital. I
vividly recall one night during a typical Oklahoma sand storm when the wind blew and the
tent flaps banged all night.
While at Fort Sill, Emmett and I wandered all around the military reservation
looking for something interesting. At one point we started to climb up a ridge and
wondered what the popping noise was that we heard on the other side. When we neared
the top of the ridge we discovered we were directly in line of a machine gun target range
during target practice. Needless to say, we beat a hasty retreat.
I will never forget the feeling I had, even though I was only eight years old, when I
was told that my father had died. I buried my head in Mother's lap and realized full well
that he was gone and that I would never again have a father.
Before we left Fort Sill there was a military ceremony. The army Chaplain
conducting the service asked me what song I would like and I chose "Nearer My God to
Thee," which was played by the military band.
Funeral services were then held in our home in Clinton. I have a vivid memory of
the smell of many flowers at the services, and for a long time the smell of flowers would
almost make me sick. I still find the odor of a flower shop unpleasant.
On November 11, 1919, Mother and I were gathering the last of the vegetables
from the garden when we heard the sound coming all the way from Lawrence, of many
whistles and bells celebrating the signing of the Armistice and the end of the first World
War. (We then thought it was the last World War and that the world was now safe for
democracy as President Wilson had promised.) It only made Mother sad and she
commented that it was a happy day for those whose loved ones were coming home, but a
sad day for those whose loved ones would never come home.
I have often wondered how different my life would have been, not to mention
Mother's, if my father had lived a normal lifetime.
I am sure my parents had acquired no wealth at the time of his death. About a
year after he died, Mother sold the Clinton home and moved to Lawrence. She got a
small pension and monthly life insurance payments, in all amounting to less than $100.00
monthly. You realize, of course, that $100.00 then equaled around $1000.00 today, but it
still meant a frugal life.
The move to Lawrence at age nine with a widowed mother constituted a new phase in my life and a complete change of lifestyle.