In the summer of 1942, Mom, Dad, and my little brother returned to Kansas City and I was reunited with them. They immediately looked for a place to live. However, thousands of people had crowded into the city to find work associated with the war, and no affordable apartments would accept renters with children.
Fortunately for them, an army ammunition plant—Lake City—had opened in northeastern Independence. The plant was hiring workers to manufacture small caliber ammunition. My dad’s parents had bought twenty acres of land in the countryside not far from Lake City. Soon we rented a farmhouse just two up from where Grandpa Ready was building their retirement home. Lake City was close enough that our wartime gas ration wasn’t exhausted by dad’s drive to work.
A worker loading canisters of ammunition at Lake City.
A dirt driveway about eight hundred feet in length led to our one-story, white, clapboard farmhouse. The cattle gate at one end of the drive abutted on Kentucky Road. At the other end stood a white picket fence, the front yard, and a porch entryway to a small farmhouse. It provided us with a kitchen, one bedroom, and a narrow living room that was less than the width of the corridor at Courtney School, where my parents enrolled me as a first grader.
The bedroom had a bay-window alcove. The twin bed my brother and I slept in fitted snugly into it. Dad and Mom’s double bed and our clothing armoire filled the remaining space. Like most working-class people, we had little: one set of Sunday dress-up clothes for attending Mass, Dad’s work pants and shirt, my three school dresses, and a few articles of everyday clothing.
The farmhouse kitchen was spacious. It offered no running water, but had a porcelain sink. Beneath it was a slop bucket that we took turns emptying. Mom and Dad’s oak dining room table with six chairs sat squarely on the planked wooden floor. A single light bulb dangled on a black, electrical cord from the ceiling. Fortunately, the sun shining through two windows helped banish the gloom.
Mom’s oak buffet covered the west wall of the living room. A pot-bellied stove stood in the far corner of the opposite wall. Next to that was an easy chair where Dad sat when he came home from work. He’d take off his shoes, and I’d pull the end of his socks away from his toes. He’d wiggle them and sigh, “Oh, Dodo, it feels so good to be out of those shoes.” That ritual had begun when they returned from Parsons.
Each weekday, Dad drove to Lake City in our car.
I caught the bus to Courtney School, which stood on a hill overlooking the Missouri River bottoms.
Mom spent her days cleaning, pumping and then lugging water to the washtubs, scrubbing our clothes clean on a washboard, hanging them out to dry, ironing, and preparing meals.
My three-year-old brother helped Grandpa Ready—a Kansas City fireman—build his retirement home. On his days off, he’d drive out to our farmhouse and start the day by having a cup of coffee with Mom, whose Irish humor he enjoyed. Then he and my brother would spend the day at the construction site. “He’s a fine helper,” Grandpa always told Mom. “Maybe he’ll end up a carpenter.”
Within a few short months, Grandpa died and that brought with it three events that imprinted my mind with memories never to be forgotten.
(Continued next Tuesday . . .)
Photograph from Wikipedia.