Religious and Moral Issues

Part 6:  At The Crossroads

      Graduation also signaled a cross roads in my life.  My Dad moved out from our home of twelve years at 217 South 10th.  He would go with his Mother to her home at Nevada, Mo.  I was given a choice to go with him or to stay with Mother.  Who can say what influences one’s answer to such a dilemma?  I elected to go to Nevada.  Maybe because my Dad seemed the “brow beaten” one of my parents.  Years later, upon Mother’s death in 1965, among her papers I found what, on the surface, seemed to be a divorce decree dated 1929.  But maybe certain legal signatures were lacking?  Anyway my Dad & Mother lived in the same house until 1933.

      1933 was a rough summer.  Before the summer was half over, Grandma Huff was furnishing a home to three sons, one daughter-in-law, and three grand children.  Uncle Owen was recovering from a bone disease following an auto accident; Uncle Lowell and wife Gladys with young or pre school Jerry, and Jim were there, as Lowell had no job.  My Dad had occasional work at painting.  Grandmother was hard pressed to feed and care for that tribe with income from estate of her second husband, Julian Huff.

      At times our meal was soup, made using the liquid from canned salmon.  Frequently our Sunday evening “meal” was nothing but popped corn.  That did not set very well on my stomach.  It was worse for small Jerry & Jimmie.  They were fussy, fretful, and that got on all of our nerves – hardest on Grandma.  One day little Jimmie left the tricycle on the driveway in spite of numerous scoldings.  This time Grandma made me hide the toy.  And she would not give it back for several days.  I was really unhappy.  Years later Aunt Gladys told me that she had resented me for many years because of the summer.  Gladys felt Grandmother gave me too many favors in contrast to her two little ones.

      I did nearly have an opportunity to attend the Chicago World Fair with Aunt Esther Sullivan and her family.  Maybe money was contributed to grandmothers household instead.

      I did attend several churches in Nevada, and I made full use of the city library.  I also hiked and explored the countryside.  One such hike gave a good college Freshman English story “A Cup of Cool Water -- Plus.”

            I returned to Mother and Keokuk for a short time before becoming a Freshman at Drake University, Des Moines.  This was Garth Johnson’s Alma Mater.  He probably told some of his favorite Professors about this pupil of his.  Johnson’s Prof of Botany retired about then, so I had no class with him.  I did have a class with the Philosophy Prof – Stalnaker, and the Prof of Chemistry – Rider.  I actually had a paying job with Prof Rider!

            The big reason for attending Drake was that I could live with Aunt Esther Sullivan and walk to the campus (about one mile).  Drake U also gave me a Freshman Scholarship which paid $57.50 each of the two Freshman semesters. – Leaving $57.50 for me to pay. – Far cry from college tuitions of 1979!

            I attended Cottage Grove Ave Presbyterian church a few times with my relatives.  But I still had an aversion to reading, singing, or repeating in a worship service things I did not really believe.  So when conditions were right I walked one or both ways to downtown Des Moines to the Unitarian church.  I was not as much at home as at the church in Keokuk.  I was invited to a social group of young adults.  I was most certainly out of my element with them.  There may have been a little drinking of alcoholic beverages.  There certainly were risqué jokes.  I could never forget the Nursery and Mother Goose rhymes someone of them had.  Certain innocent words were blacked.  Then all sorts of sex and questionable activities could be imagined in place of the censored word.  Someday I’ll try writing another autobiography to try and discover why the risqué bothers me.

            A motto I developed for myself in those late high school and college days is now in the scrapbook. “Tolerance, even of Intolerance.”  I guess I hurt Aunt Esther’s feeling by putting that up on my dresser mirror.  She thot I meant it for her.  I had no such idea.  I aimed it at the dogma and creeds of certain churches.  Perhaps thru some years I’ve been quite as intolerant as those I was going counter to!?

            The summer following a very good Freshman year, I spent the vacation in Keokuk.  That summer of 1934 was when I first met John Wells at the Unitarian church.  I found the wedding of Rev Richardson to a Keokuk Marsh girl (from an Episcopalian family) (Lucy) interesting to hear about from the side lines.  Of extra interest was to see the house they moved into – with all their crystal, sterling, china wedding presents.  That was out of my world.  AND they moved into the house that Florence Schouten and Henry had built and then lost in the depression!

            I had only one more semester of college at Drake.  I did well in chemistry (A+); and very well with English writing.  I was seemingly near to being taken into an English writing club which practically never invited Freshmen to join.  I have saved my writings.  The instructor questioned the originality of one of the first papers – I think because it was so different from the usual Freshman theme.

            One paper was a report of my hike near Nevada Mo and the encounter with an old pipe smoking crone; another was a letter to a school friend who was despondent and unable to attend college.  And a third brought the criticism “Don’t select such extreme events for topic”.  It happened to be a very true, horrible, unbelievable, nightmare in my life.  My maternal grandmother had been murdered and her dismembered body stuffed in a burlap sack which was found floating in San Diego Bay.  My first word of it was from the news on the first page of the Des Moines Tribune!

            Christmas 1934 John Wells asked me to marry him and his two sons ages 5¾ and 9½, his first wife having died of T.B.  I agreed and I had a diamond engagement ring.  There was little thot of further college work.  A man and two boys would need a home, and I was penniless.  Aunt Esther even recommended I drop out at the end of that semester, save any money and prepare to be a homemaker!  It was difficult to quit college.

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