from the upcoming and untitled book about Northwest Kansas
A Full and Wonderful Life
By Lola Nuss of Russell, KS
I was born January 11, 1934 at what I think was the first hospital in Russell. It was on Main Street across from the courthouse. York Hospital was owned and operated by Dr. York, who delivered me. The building is still in use and is now the Shields Building.
My grandmother took me out of the hospital when I was three days old. I could not drink cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or canned milk. My mother did not know what to do, so my grandmother saved me. I was raised on what in those days they called sugar teats. They were salt sacks, and Grandma put rice water, potato water, and chicken broth in them, and I sucked on that. I was a skinny, puny child, but I made it.
I had two homes, my grandparents’ house in Russell and my aunt and uncle’s house, which was eight miles south of Gorham. It was on my grandparents’ farm. When my uncle got married, the farm went to him and my grandparents moved to Russell.
My Farm Life
The farm didn’t have running water. We had a well that is still in use today. We had an outhouse with two big seats, and my grandpa made a little seat to fit me. I hated to go to the outhouse after dark. I was scared of my shadow. At night, we had pots with lids on them to use. They had to be emptied every morning and cleaned. I hated that job.
My grandpa built a two-story house for Grandma after their two children, my mother and my uncle, were born. Before that, they lived in a large one-room house with a cellar under it. My grandma’s house was different from other people’s houses. She painted it a pretty blue and trimmed it in bright yellow. People from all over came to see her house. In those days, the houses were white with green roofs.
We had no electricity. We had lamps and every day, we had to wash the chimneys because of the black smoke of the wicks going too high.
We had a large three-door icebox with a pan under it to catch the water as the ice melted. The iceman came twice a week in the summer. In the fall, we had an ice hole, but I don’t know how deep it was. There was a ladder inside of the door. The ice lasted until the spring. It was lined with straw in between the ice blocks, so if the ice melted it wouldn’t stick together.
My jobs were to gather the eggs and to count them and put them in a large crate. I think the crate held twelve dozen eggs. I liked to gather the eggs, other than when the setting hens always tried to peck my hands and arms. We raised a lot of chickens. We had what was called a breeder house for the little chicks until they got big enough to let out. We would get one hundred chicks at a time. To this day, I still love fried chicken. I didn’t like the times to get the chickens ready to take to Russell to the freezer plant. We had two lockers there to put up our chickens and beef. We cleaned twenty-five chickens at a time.
We canned a lot of our pork and beef. We had a big garden and raised everything. We only bought sugar, flour, coffee, tea, and spices. Back in those days, things like salt, sugar, and flour, etc. came in sacks. Things like apples, crackers, potatoes, pickles, etc. came in barrels.
We baked our bread twice a week and always had pies and cakes. There isn’t a better smell in the world than fresh baked bread.
On Saturdays, we took our eggs and cream to either Otis or Galatia. They were little towns north of our farm. We would pack a lunch and put our sodas in a small tub of ice. We had Pepsi Cola, Orange Crush, and Grapette. We called them sodas, not pop. We had a blanket, and we would eat our food and watch a movie. In both towns, they had a big, white square painted on a building for showing movies. It was always a cowboy movie: Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, etc.
Grandpa’s farm was a big one. He had land on Big Creek and land on Smoky River. He ran cattle on those lands. We had cousins from the north of Wilson who raised watermelons and another cousin two miles south of our farm who raised corn.
I loved the farm other than the only playmates I had were our two cattle dogs, the shepherds, Shep and Pronto. Other than in the summer, our cousins would come down from those other farms on Saturday nights, and we would fish on Big Creek. We’d put watermelons in a flat place on rocks in the creek to keep them cold. Grandpa had a big, black iron pot we put the corn in to cook. There was always two or three who didn’t like to fish, so they would clean the fish and fry them. There were always about twenty to thirty people and a lot of kids to play with then.
My grandpa and uncle had a lot of wheat fields on the farm and on the creek and river. It took them about two weeks to harvest all the wheat.
My City Life
We lived on the corner of Lineol and 4th Street in a two-story house. It was white with a green roof. Grandpa told Grandma that she couldn’t paint this house like the one on the farm. We had a big front porch and a big back porch.
We also had electric lights and a bathroom. Our tub, sink, and stool were green. The kitchen had a large sink with a drain as big as the sink, and we had a one-door icebox. To this day, I still call them iceboxes. Ours had four trays in the top left-hand side to make ice cubes.
I liked living in town because our block had eight kids living on it. One was a girl my age, two were boys who were younger, and the rest were all older, but they put up with me because they liked my grandma’s cooking. So I had a lot of kids to play with.
We lived on a corner across from a big school, and I always sat on the curb and watched the kids at recess. I couldn’t wait to go to school.
Grandpa always listened at noon to the markets on the radio. At night, we had Amos and Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Shadow, and The Hit Parade.
We had two movie theaters. One was only westerns. We paid twelve cents to get in and ten cents for popcorn, plus we’d get a ten by twelve picture of the cowboy star. At the other theater, it was twenty-five cents. In those days, they had mostly musicals and the latest movies. I did not miss a movie.
Russell was called “Little Chicago” in those days. We had bootleggers, gambling, and about ten honkytonks. Walker Air Base was only about fifteen miles from Russell. We had a lot of the Air Force wives living in Russell, and from Friday night until Sunday night, this town was wild.
The American Legion at that time was across the street from our house, so I got a bird’s eye view as they say, from my upstairs bedroom window. Grandma didn’t have any trouble getting me to bed on Friday and Saturday nights.
My grandpa was a good friend of both the police chief and the sheriff, who lived across the street from us. So Grandpa walked the beat most nights with the police chief and rode with the sheriff a lot. They all came over to Grandpa’s and sat on the front porch and discussed the details, so I always knew what was going on. As they say, “Little pitchers have big ears.”
We had two pool halls in Russell that the town’s men went to, and I got to go with Grandpa a lot. We would sit on the long bench and watch the men play pool. When I turned five, Grandma said I was too old to go to the pool hall, so she enrolled me in dance class. Until I couldn’t dance anymore, that was one of the loves of my life.
Grandpa was the only one of his brothers and sisters who was born here. They were in a wagon train going to Colorado when his mother went into labor. Of course, if the wagon train didn’t go on, snow would close the pass in Colorado, so they had to leave the family at Big Creek. Grandpa’s folks were from Hanover, Germany, so he wrote and spoke High German and read and wrote a lot of letters for people that never learned to read or write German. Grandma and I never learned German, but we sure heard a lot of it.
My aunt always came to town to do her washing, because Grandma had an electric washing machine. Of course, it was a wringer washer. It used two tubs of water to rinse the clothes, one to clean and one had what they called bluing to whiten them in.
On washdays, my aunt and Grandma would look through the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs of girls’ dresses, and I’d find the ones I liked. They would measure me and cut out the patterns from the newspapers and make my dresses. I don’t know how they could do that, but they did. My dresses were made out of what they called feed sacks. They had friends that raised chickens and bought feed in fifty-pound sacks. They were pretty materials, and since I was blond with green eyes, I always had blue feed sacks. I always wanted pink or purple, but no, I always got blue. To this day, I don’t have a blue dress. My first store-bought dress was my wedding dress, and it was a suit so I could wear it again. My aunt and Grandma made their own clothes, also. My aunt made my uncle a lot of his shirts, because he was a tall man and the sleeves were never long enough.
In town, I had a big, yellow cat and a little toy terrier dog. I had a lot of cats on the farm, but they were outside cats and were hard to tame. They were not cats and dogs that got to go into the house. So it was nice in town to have two house pets. Grandpa was not too keen on inside pets, but Grandma ruled that house.
I had a full and wonderful life in my childhood, both on the farm and in Russell. I had a lot of love from my grandparents and aunt and uncle. Now I have six children, twelve grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and four step-great-grandchildren to share my stories and love with.