Chapter 2. Lawrence

When we moved to town, my mother traded our team of horses, Bill and Nick, for a Maxwell automobile. Mother drove the Maxwell for a year or two, and we had it until Emmett was old enough to drive. Of course in those days there was no minimum age for driving and no such thing as a driver's license. I expect Emmett was fourteen or so when he started driving. One day he had been somewhere in the car and when he drove home and stopped in front of the house there was a funny noise in the engine. He and I opened the hood and as we did so one of the pistons broke loose and came flying out the engine block. As I recall, Mother traded it for a Model T Ford.

When we moved to town I had completed the first four grades at the Clinton school and was ready to start the fifth grade. I was sent to the Quincy school at 11th and Vermont where the Community Building is now located. They decided I hadn't received a very good education at the small country school and set me back to the second semester of the fourth grade. I was devastated -- the ultimate indignity of being put back with younger kids because I was a big dummy. It was not long, however, that I was advanced back to the fifth grade, probably because I had listened to the older classes recite at Clinton, and they decided I was pretty well educated after all. A few semesters later I was again advanced a semester, so I eventually entered high school in the middle of the year before I would have ordinarily started.

The next four or five years after we moved to Lawrence apparently were uneventful as nothing seems to stand out in my memory, except that on several occasions I rode my bicycle the twelve miles back to Clinton to see my old buddies there -- especially Kenneth "Ginney" Selch. He lived on a farm with an uncle and aunt because his father and mother had disappeared for some reason I never knew. There was a creek running through the farm and that is where I learned to swim. Mostly it was just dog paddling. His uncle did his field work with a team of stubborn mules. You could hear him cuss and yell at the mules clear into the next township. That all stopped, however. One day he went to revival meeting and got religion. After that he quit cussing, quit smoking, and quit sin of all kinds.

During this period of time I did quite a bit of hunting with my country friends. We hunted rabbits and squirrels. We would skin and clean them and my mother would cook them. As I remember, they were good eating. After I grew up I lost my appetite for rabbit and squirrel as we began to hear that they might be diseased.

After we had moved to Lawrence, I fell out of (a) tree. I think I was doing something bold to impress the young lady that lived across the street and who was watching me. The fall shattered my left elbow and the doctor first put my arm in a splint with my elbow bent. The result was that my elbow was then immobilized in the bent position and could not be straightened. They gave me a bucket of sand which I had to carry around all day for several weeks but that did no good. Finally they took me to the Kansas City Children's Mercy Hospital and a doctor there put me to sleep and broke the bones all over again and straightened out the arm. It still does not quite straighten out or bend as far as my right arm does. I blame my poor golf on that fact.

About the only indoor entertainment available to kids when I was growing up was reading or listening to the radio. I don't know how we survived without television. Even our kids did not have television until about 1954 when Mike was thirteen and Jane sixteen.

Radio was just coming into its own when I was about eleven or twelve. We first had a crystal set, which we made at home. With ear phones we could get a Kansas City station. Later we had a more sophisticated set, which a neighbor across the street helped me make. Actually, he said he would show me how to do it, but he did everything and I just watched. Later we bought a really fancy Atwater-Kent, with which we could get all kinds of stations, including Schenectady, New York, which was the ultimate.

The first really popular radio show was "Amos and Andy." Everybody listened to it, and all activity seemed to come to a standstill when that show started. It was caricature representation of two black men, put on by white men. Today such a show would create an explosion that could be heard around the world. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, and several Civil Rights commissions would charge into action. I suppose the program offended black people then, but as far as I know, no one at that time voiced any protest. Later, when our kids were growing up, some of the popular radio shows were Jack Benny, Phil Harris, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and Fibber McGee and Molly.

In my teens, I was a regular patron of the Lawrence library, which at that time was in the Carnegie building at 9th and Vermont Streets. My favorite novels were westerns and sea stories. I read many books by Zane Gray, Jack London and James Fenamore Cooper. I also liked biographies then as well as now. I suppose the charm in biographies lies in the fact that you get a little lesson in history as well as an opportunity to learn how that particular individual thought and acted as compared to your own life. This is especially true when you are reading about an individual who lived in an earlier age.

I have a suspicion that my mother had an unhappy childhood, and perhaps wanted to become proficient in music but did not have the opportunity to do so. She never said as much, but at no time in my memory did she discuss her early life or tell us anything about her family. She never disclosed any information about her parents and I never saw or heard of any member of her family except one nephew. This nephew came to Lawrence and stayed with us one school year while enrolled at K.U. I was in high school at the time. I immediately took a dislike to him. We didn't talk to each other so I learned nothing from him about Mother's family. I am not too proud of the fact that I gave him the cold shoulder.

From the time I was twelve years old and until I graduated from law school I engaged in quite a few different summer and after school jobs -- everything you could think of, including mowing lawns, cutting weeds for the city, picking potatoes, laying sod, working at a tree nursery, working with a concrete crew, selling ice and serving legal papers.

One of my first lawn mowing jobs was for Kate Riggs and her sister, two old maid school teachers. I probably was about twelve and it was a big yard. In those days you used a hand-pushed mower, no power. It took me about four hours and when I was done, she asked me how much she owed me. I said whatever it was worth. She said, "How about twenty-five cents? My spirits fell but she continued "an hour so it would be a dollar." I said that would be fine, and I was happy to get that much.

When I was growing up in Lawrence, raising potatoes was a big crop in the Kansas river bottom. The farmers would send a truck to town at a convenient meeting place and a crew of ten or fifteen kids and some older people would ride out to the farm. In the earlier years the farmers just turned the potato plants over with a plow and each picker would have a staked-out station where he scratched around in the dirt for the potatoes and put them in a wire basket. Later they had a more sophisticated machine that scooped under the plants and left most of the potatoes on top of the ground. I made pretty good money doing this, and later I was promoted to sew the 120 pound sacks and load them on trucks. I was paid $5.00 a day for this, and that was big money.

As I previously mentioned working at the ice plant was an important phase of my early life. I worked there every summer and full time in the spring and fall from the time I was a junior in high school until I graduated from law school. I always worked on the dock on the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift, seven days a week. As it got cooler in the fall and business fell off, I would close the dock earlier until maybe there would be two or three months in the winter I would be off work altogether.

It would be a very busy place in hot weather. Cars would be lined up for nearly a block waiting to drive up and get their ice. People bought it in all sizes from a nickel's worth to 100 pounds. I would bring it out of the icehouse and set it in their cars or on the bumpers. Back bumpers then stuck out on a frame so as to make a convenient place to set a 50 pound cake of ice.

For many years I had recurring dreams about the ice plant. Curiously, they often were dreams of frustration, such as I would be attempting to cut a 300-pound cake of ice in 25 to 50 pound pieces and the cuts would not be accurate so that I would end up with a pile of misshapen pieces of ice. At other times I would dream that I was fired from the job and I would be very depressed to think that I was not wanted and that I could no longer have a job that was so important to me.

At one point in my college career I though I would not be able to continue in school because of lack of money. The manager of the plant, R. C. Rankin, encouraged me to continue in school and let me work longer in the fall than they really needed me.

Mr. Rankin was the epitome of the management class of the time. He was very calm and deliberate at all times -- never without his coat, vest, tie and high stiff collar. He was civil but not too friendly with the people under his supervision, concerned about general policy and the bottom line of the profit and loss statement but he didn't bother with details. The people in charge of the various departments were supposed to take care of their own routine problems without involving him. He was elected and served a couple of terms as mayor of Lawrence. He handled this job the same way he did as manager of the ice plant.

(My) second gunshot wound nearly did me in. I was then older -- I was a junior in college. My friend Carl Graeber and I decided to go duck hunting. His uncle owned a cabin on Lake View and we planned to spend the night there and get up early the next morning to see if we could harvest a few birds. When we got there we found that three young couples had broken into the cabin and were having a drinking party. Carl was upset and told the people in no uncertain terms that he did not approve of their actions. I did not involve myself in the discussion as I had no title or interest in the property and was what you would call an innocent bystander. Suddenly one of the boys who had broken in pulled out a pistol and started shooting. One slug hit me in the abdomen. This had a sobering effect on everybody, and they took me to the Lawrence hospital. I had extensive surgery and the doctors sewed up about a dozen holes in my small intestines.

The wound became infected and I got peritonitis, which just about got me. A specialist from Kansas City was called in. He opened the incision and cleaned out my insides, which cleared up the infection.

An incident related to this shooting occurred when a few months later I was given the opportunity to take a competitive examination for an appointment to West Point. This was given to sons of veterans who died in the first World War. I appeared before a board composed of a dozen or so regular army officers, who interviewed me. After learning of the gunshot wound they made the following statement to me: "The government is not going to spend several thousand dollars giving you an education because you probably will not live long with that wound." Of course I didn't pass the Math sections of the mental exam either, but I would have been permitted to study and take that part again. So far I have managed to live some (65) years since that time. I am fairly sure I have outlived all those army officers.

My extra-curricular activities in college were limited. I worked nearly all the time and often was doing so full time. I lived at home and my social life was nearly nil. I did not make any close friends during my pre-law classes but became pretty friendly with a few fellows in law school, where the classes were smaller and consisted of the same people for the most part of each semester.

One of my close friends was Phil Frick, who was a law student, and to help pay his way he was a handy man for Mrs. Elizabeth Watkins, who lived in the house that is now the chancellor's residence. She donated many things to the university and the city, and left the house to the university for that purpose. Phil drove her car and did other odd jobs around the house. He had a room on the third floor and I was in the house with him on several occasions. He practiced law at Fort Scott, Kansas, and died at an early age. His son is now a lawyer at Wichita.

Two of my lifetime friends were Dick Jones and David Evans. They were "townies" also and I had know them from grade school days.

I never once attended a social event sponsored by the school or any organization connected with it. What dates I had were with town girls.

I lived at home all during my college and law school days. Mother remarried about the time I started to law school and moved to Oswego, Kansas. I continued to live in her house at 1915 Barker under some different circumstances. First, I let a family move in and in exchange for their rent they were to give me meals and I would retain my bedroom. They tried to make a good deal out of it and nearly starved me. What little food I got wasn't fit to eat. Later when they were gone two or three other college boys moved in with me. I don't remember if they paid rent or what the eating situation was, but there was always a plentiful supply of booze. The lady next door (Mrs. Stith) thought it was her duty to report to my mother periodically what was going on at our house.

One good thing I got out of the university was contact, either direct or indirect, with some real giants of the education profession. To mention a few: Allen Crafton, who oddly enough was a speech professor but gave me a taste for good reading; John Ise, previously mentioned as the author of "Sod and Stubble"; Frank Strong, an early chancellor of the university who taught my class in constitutional law; and Donald Swarthout and Carl Preyer of the music department. I had no contact with the music department, and absolutely no talent, but their public performances surely had some influence on my life.

There now seems to be no such giants among the university faculty. Perhaps there are people equally talented, but because the school is so much larger, they are not so much in the public eye. Also it is possible the present day students have their own ideas as to the people they consider worthy of that classification.

At that time it was not necessary to have a bachelor's degree to get into law school. Only two years of college was required. I completed two years still not knowing for sure what I wanted to major in. I started the third year, and the first semester was interrupted by my gun shot wound. I then finished the second semester and by that time there were court proceedings in connection with they guy that shot me. I guess that was the thing that persuaded me to go to law school, which I did the next year.

During my last year in law school I decided to run for the office of constable. At that time there were two constables in the city of Lawrence. Their job was to serve summons, subpoenas, criminal warrants and other legal papers issued by the justices of the peace. The justice of the peace had jurisdiction to hear civil suits involving not more than $500.00 either with a jury of six persons or without a jury. In criminal cases the JP heard misdemeanor criminal cases with a six-man jury and also heard preliminary hearings in felony cases. The civil cases and misdemeanor criminal cases could be appealed to the district court and were tried "de novo". In preliminary hearings the person charged with a felony could be bound over for trial in the district court or the JP could find that there was insufficient evidence for him or her to be held for trial.

After I graduated from law school in 1933 I ran for justice of the peace and was elected, but that is another chapter.

I don't remember now where I got the idea to run for constable. It was a regular partisan election with the primary election in August and the general election in November. However, there was no Democrat running, so my contest was in August. I spent most of June and July working from three to eleven at the ice plant and campaigning from door to door in the mornings. I think I hit just about every home and place of business in the city. I also remember it was mighty hot that summer.

At that time the minimum age for voting was twenty-one, so the first time I was legally able to vote I voted for myself as one of the candidates on the ballot.

At the general election that fall Franklin D. Roosevelt was running against Herbert Hoover. Douglas County was a Republican stronghold, so naturally we were for Hoover. I made several short speeches at political rallies around the county. Such rallies were big things in elections. Local candidates would go from place to place for political meetings in about all of the country school houses. The meetings would be well attended and each candidate would make a speech for himself, and other persons would talk for state and national candidates.

I was paid on a fee basis, so much for each legal paper served plus mileage. The fees were fixed by Kansas statute and were assessed as part of the court costs. The pay didn't amount to much, but it helped me pay for my first car, a 1931 Ford roadster. (I wish I still had that car. You could put the top down and also fold down the windshield if you wished, so you got plenty of breeze. In bad weather you put up the top and put on the side curtains.)

I started carrying an automatic pistol, which of course was entirely unnecessary. The only time I fired it was by accident and I shot a hole in the stove at a restaurant where I was loafing.

Most of my official acts consisted of only finding the person named on the paper and handing it to him or her. Occasionally I had an order to eject someone who didn't pay the rent and refused to move. Usually they moved when I told them I was coming with help at a certain day and time to set their things out in the street. Once I had an order to move an eccentric lady from an apartment over a business building downtown. When I got there I found she was a compulsive saver of cardboard boxes. Every room was stacked to the ceiling, and I had to move them all out in the street.

I kept this job about a year while I finished law school that spring and summer, and until I took my next job the following January 1934.

Previous Chapter     Next Chapter      Contents

Books     KanColl