22 April 2012

Lottie's Memoirs: Teaching to The End

... This is part eight in a series. Please see the initial post for explanation.

The Lee Family at Silver Creek, Nebraska

Lottie Mae Lee Houston
Mrs. Andrew Houston


When I graduated from the Silver Creek High School, (10th grade), I took my first teaching job, in a district school five miles north of Silver Creek. During the fall months I rode horseback from home to school and back each day, besides doing the teaching and janitor work. I was about 17 at this time. I had 18 pupils, some of them small children who were “beginners”, others much older, two who were grown boys bigger than I was. One of these announced that he “was either going to marry the teacher or run her out.” He created many problems but he didn’t carry out either of his threats!

When the very cold winter weather came, the horseback ride became too difficult, so I boarded with a young German couple and their three children, who lived very near the school. The small frame house had two small rooms below and a loft above in which the boys slept. I remember how very clean and orderly the home was, even with six of us living there. The little German woman was a careful and thrifty housekeeper. My “quarters” consisted of a bed, washstand and chair behind a cloth curtain strung on a wire.  The room was also the bedroom for the German couple and their baby, with my bed behind the curtain. It was there that I slept, washed, dressed and got ready for school. The bed was immaculately clean, the sheets very white, and there was a feather bed to sleep on as well as another to use as a cover, a soft down pillow with a white case. The people were kind but could speak no English, while I could speak no German, so we did not talk very much, but had a friendly relationship.

Image Courtesy: Doane College

My brother Lawrence went first to Doane Academy at Crete, and I followed him a year later. I continued to teach school every second year, going to Doane in the alternate years until I finished college. I taught five years in district schools, I think. The

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most pleasant of these years was the one spent in the Maple Grove district, near Polk, when I lived at the home of the Morace Smith family. Mr. Smith was a business friend of my father’s, a well educated man from New York State. His wife, Libby, was a most wonderful little woman, and was like a mother to me. Although I lived with them only one year, our friendship has lasted on to the present day, seventy or more years later.
I shared a room with eleven year old Adelia Smith, a pretty little girl who was a lively child. She grew up to marry Oak Davis and to live in Lincoln. A letter from her, dated 1964 gives a picture or our two families and their friendship:

“How all this carries me back to the time when I was a little girl, attending Maple Grove School, and here came Lottie Lee, a charming young miss from Silver Creek, to be our new teacher. This was a very special year for me because the new teacher was a member of the Lee family, who were such dear and valued friends of the Smiths.
“I recall how glad we were when Mr. Lee would occasionally come driving in to our yard, especially if Mrs. Lee was with him, as she sometime sometimes was. We, my brother Leonard and I, knew that there would be much jollity, much fun and understanding companionship as well as unusual goings-on, while they were there!

“I remember especially a certain July 4th when they stayed over longer than usual, long enough so that Mr. Lee and Papa drove in to Strossburg on the 3rd, bringing back all kinds of fireworks. We had such a day as I have never forgotten, Papa and Mr. Lee doing all kinds of tricks, putting the cannon crackers under pans and shooting them high in the air, frolocking and laughting all day long. Then the f gallons of home made ice cream and the cakes! These followed the fried chicken and all the fixings, of course, for the two big families.

“Our father was always so busy keeping things going, with all the livestock on the farm, keeping the farm profitably employed, etc, that he did not take much time out just to have fun, and your father certainly had a way of causing him to relax so that we could have glimpses of the little boy in him.

Once a year Mother would have a season of inviting one or two neighbor families in for supper, until she had made the rounds. These were pleasant enough occasions, with conversation about the weather the crops, the farm work. Father would try to tell a few jokes, but there would be little response and his attempts at real discussions of problems would fall flat. I only mention this in contrast to the way it was when the Lees came. There was then an understanding and a mutually appreciated light heartedness which was a sort of nectar to the heart of a little girl, drinking it all in.”

[Transcriber’s Note: The above section quoted from the Smith letter has several typing and grammatical errors. It has been transcribed exactly as it appears in the original.]

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In 1885 our parents undertook a new venture, going father west to Colorado, where my father managed a cattle ranch, in partnership with one of Mother’s brothers, Mortimer Lawrence, of Cleveland, Ohio. It was an exciting time for us children, with many adventures on the ranch. There were thousands of cattle, about 20 real cowboys in the bunkhouse, a negro cook who was not only an excellent cook but knew many songs. We had horseback riding, trips to the mountains, trips to Denver. Our brother Lawrence was much interested in cowboy songs and filled a copy book with words of a great many which he learned from the men. We had one memorable camping trip in the mountains with Uncle John Lawrence’s family, and got well acquainted with those cousins.
The children of our family did not stand the altitude well, and there was much illness in the family. Flossie had scarlet fever. I had “brain fever” (perhaps it is now called encephalitis), and there was also rheumatic fever and pneumonia. These diseases are now known to be caused by bacteria and virus, but the doctors then blamed the climate, and by 1889 we decided to return to Silver Creek. We went back to our home west of town, and our father went into the cattle feeding business. He bought young stock from the western range country and grain fed it until the animals were ready for market, then took them by rail to Omaha or Chicago.

Our brother Lawrence and I went on to academy and college at Doane, Crete, Nebraska. I stayed out every other year to earn money by teaching, so that I could go on, and because of this I did not receive my degree until 1901. Lawrence graduated with honors in 1897, and intended to go to law school. The family was living temporarily in Norfolk at the time, and it was then that tragedy struck. Shortly after graduation, when Lawrence returned home, he was drowned in a swimming accident, at Norfolk. This was very, very hard on the family. A few years later, our brother Roy was also drowned, at Bellevue, due to a skating accident, one winter evening. Our family was then living at Bellevue in order that the older children could go to college. This college, under Presbyterian auspices, later united with Hastings College.

1893 Chicago World's Fair
Image Courtesy: haygenealogy.com
In 1893 we had a great experience when we all went to the Chicago World’s Fair, the Columbian Exposition. A friend of our father built a number of houses in Chicago. He made arrangements for our mother to occupy one of these houses for the summer, and take all the children with her, so that we could attend the fair. In order to finance the venture, Father and Mother put a small advertisement in the Congregationalist church paper which circulated in Nebraska, announcing available room and board in Chicago to church people wanting to see the exposition. So many replies were received that all available rooms were soon reserved. We had season tickets and we not only enjoyed the exhibits and the many cultural events during that summer, but we made many friends among our guests. The most outstanding in my memory were a bride and groom, Mr. and Mrs. George Craig, who later lived in Omaha, and then in Evanston, Illinois. We have kept in touch with them at intervals since, always enjoying them, and now we hear from their daughter, Margaret, in California.

Our parents later moved from Bellevue back to Silver Creek. In 1909 they moved into town and occupied a small white house across corner from the Congregational Church, while our father opened a small grocery store about two blocks away. Lucile was then living in town, as she had married Fred Shumaker, who was station agent. Florence was married in 1909 from our little church, and the reception was held in our parents’ home and on the lawn. It was a very festive occasion. I came from my new home in Benedict, with my three small children, one a five week old baby. Bertha had been married from the church and home in Bellevue in 1908, and lived in York.

In 1912, Lucile was very ill with heart trouble, and the doctors prescribed a warm climate for winter, so Fred and Lucile, Mother and Father went to Florida. Early in 1913 Lucile died, A great grief to us all. Later, our parents retired at Hilliard, Florida, and remained there the rest of their lives. 

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