I could never get John to ‘write’, and his family history information is minimal. These are his favorite stories……second hand.
I married in 1994, the first born of George Irving and Carrie Emma Schmidt Schmalshof. John was followed by Sharon, then Carol and lastly Sandy. George worked for Gardner/Denver on the assembly line. Gardner/Denver built compressors for oil drilling. George also farmed, owned a feed store and with Carrie, they owned, for a time, the fore-runner of today’s 7-11, a gas station/café. Carrie surely had plenty to do with a tribe of four, but she also managed the cafeteria for Motorola in Quincy for a number of years. She had hens and sold eggs and did all the cooking at the station café. It was a time of doing all you could to make ends meet and provide for a young and growing family. In those days, kids were often left to their own devices, not through neglect, but through necessity, trust and even maturity.
The children went to school for a time in Peyson, riding the school bus back and forth. John thinks he was in the third grade on a brisk March day when the bus dropped them at home after school. The girls were complaining about the cold house and John had watched the many times George or Carrie got the big round WarmMorning coal stove going to heat up the house. He was pretty sure how the process went, so he added some coal which dropped into the smoldering coals in the stove. When all he got was smoke, he added a cup of kerosene and put the lid back in place. As the kerosene got to the coals, it ignited and blew the stove lid off AND the chimney pipe too. [The story at this point suggests that the pipe install was never secured with screws to the stove or to the pipe sections to anchor their assembly.] John says “when the folks got home, they weren’t impressed with the children’s efforts to clean up the suet and mess with cold water.”
That same year, the bus passed a local dump everyday on the ride to and from school. This wasn’t a designated dump site, just someplace that the locals decided was far enough from home to cart their trash. John had spied a big yellow Tonka truck at the dump and you can just imagine the pull that would have for a third grade boy. When the bus dropped them home one afternoon, John determined to walk the three or so miles back to retrieve the prize truck. He wasn’t disappointed with the truck! It even had ALL it’s wheels. Back at home, before John could return, Carrie got home and the girls didn’t know or say where John was. As parents, we can imagine the panic. Carrie called the neighbors, checked the pond, and searched all the out buildings looking for her missing boy. John says “the butt whipping was worth it for that prized truck!”
This story happened when John was in 7th or 8th grade. [He DOES NOT have the memory of an elephant!] As the story goes, the job for that particular day was castrating hogs, hogs that they had let get too big, which meant the job was going to be a ‘manhandler’ sort of job, when it should have been speedy and done. John’s Uncle had forgotten the knife and so he sent John to the neighbors to retrieve a couple of single edge razor blades. John went in a 1949 Chevy sitting at his home place. When he got to the neighbors, you topped a small hill and then drove down to their house. The neighbor was grinding corn with a belt and pulley system off the tractor, in the drive. As John topped the small hill and started down, he hit the brakes on the Chevy and they went clear to the floor – no brakes, nada, nothing but a bit more downhill speed. The decision was ‘hit the tractor’ or squeeze the porch to the house. He did, in fact, miss the porch, but his bumper took out 2 porch posts causing the porch roof to collapse against the house. This neighbor lady was as John says “a pretty natty housekeeper” and he said “the dirt fogged out the house windows when the roof slammed the house”.
Back in the day, most farm boys had a spell of trapping. My guess is the lure was some ready cash and wandering the woods, creeks and pastures. John and a neighbor pal set traps one year. The bounty was paid on the ears of the groundhogs trapped. He made enough money to buy a 3-speed Schwinn bike. One trap had been set under a grainery. After chores one evening, they went to check that trap expecting a coon, but they got a skunk instead. [He doesn’t seem to remember the outcome of that?]
Another incident during this time period found John raking hay for one of his Uncle’s neighbors, after which his Uncle would then bale. The neighbor had spied a ground hog’s holes in the field and wanted to eliminate that nuisance, so he blocked one hole and poured gasoline down the other opening. The ground hog came out on fire, running across the windrows John had raked, lighting most of them on fire. [No good comes from a bad deed?]
John’s Aunt and Uncle went somewhere in July or August, one year when John and his cousin were probably 14 or 15. The boys were supposed to do the milking, with the milking machine, while they were away. One big Holstein gave three or more gallons of milk, but she wasn’t the sweetest of cows. The anti-kickers wouldn’t fit, so they always tied the preferred kicking leg. This did nothing to stop the ‘tails in the face’ swatting as a substitute. John’s cousin found some sheers and trimmed down the tails to stop the swatting. He was, of course, back home, when John caught hell from his Uncle. That poor cow had no fly swatter for some time.
My favorite “John story” happened when the family was running the station/café. This business was as full service as you had back in those days. Carrie cooked a lunch meal to go along with the grill foods. Gas was pumped, oil checked, tires changed, all that could be managed to accommodate their local customers. On a supply run into town, John and Carrie were after groceries, when George gave Carrie a list of tires to pick up for the shop area. When they got to town, Carrie’s first stop was for the tires. They went in and were greeted by the tire shop owner. Carrie gave him a list and said they would stop on their way out of town for the tires. As they were leaving the store, the owner – reading the list – said to Carrie “we don’t have these, we don’t have these, we are out of these, etc”. Carrie, who was not one for nonsense and leisure, curtly replied “well, what kind of ‘blankety blank’ tire store are you if you don’t have what we need?” He casually laughed and replied “well, we don’t have any flour, we are out of baking powder, peaches are clean off the shelf”. Even Carrie had to laugh, she had given him her grocery list!
MY CARRIE story
We had moved to Georgia. My folks were gone and John’s father had died several years before I even met John, but we tried to go home to Illinois a couple times a year to see his Mom. We knew there would come a time, when we wouldn’t have that visit. Not unlike my Mom, when she and I were the only ones in my family within shouting distance, if my Mom shouted, she usually wanted me to DO something. Carrie seemed the same way. When we got to her house, she always seemed to have a few things John needed to do. We arrived on one trip and no more than hit the door than Carrie had jobs for John. I spoke up and said “Carrie, those can surely wait. Your son just drove 12 plus hours to visit with you. Sit and visit.” So we did and I thought nothing more about it. However, she had been thinking about it all along. A few hours later, she said to me “is it okay if I ask John to fix some things NOW?”