Old Timers Memories part 5

Louis and Ava – The Early Years

For Their Sixtieth Wedding Anniversary – July 6, 1995

by Julie Inman

Louis ‘Red’ Inman was working for Lester Bolin in Battlefield, Missouri when he first laid eyes on Lester’s little sister, Ava. She was a shy young thing, all of sixteen or so, with a Mona Lisa smile that sent Red’s head a spinning. Red, as you can guess from his name, had some red hair. Ava says it was the “reddest red you ever saw and it shown like a blaze in the sun.” Red was about twenty–lean, muscled and freckled, from many days of farming under the Midwestern sun. One thing led to another and Ava and Louis had a few chaperoned dates, but Ava was still keeping her options open. She had other beaus and social engagements to attend to.  Sometimes a band would play over in Republic, Missouri and people from the surrounding areas would go to listen to the music and just walk up and down the streets visiting with friends and neighbors. One time, Ava went to Republic with another young man, and there was Red, playing his guitar, singing the one song and strumming the two chords that he knew. Well, Red didn’t give up easily and he must have finally started growing on Ava, because they decided on July 4, 1934 that they would someday get married. There must have been some fireworks that night.

The courting period for Red and Ava commenced in earnest and Ava’s broken-hearted beaus were sent on their way. There wasn’t much for young couples to do on dates in those days, except go into town for a movie. One evening Louis and Ava went to the movies with Noel and Opal, Louis’ brother and Ava’s sister. They all four hopped in the front of Noel’s pickup truck. Ava sat on Red’s lap for the 15-mile drive and when they got to the movies and stopped the truck, Red helped Ava off his lap and promptly hopped out of the truck and fell on the ground. Red’s leg had fallen asleep and he limped around like Festus in Gunsmoke for a good fifteen minutes. Of course, television hadn’t been invented yet, so he didn’t know he was limping like Festus.

This little story takes place in the rural areas of southern Missouri, in the early 1930’s. Louis Carl Inman was one of seven children born to James and Jane Inman on August 11, 1913 in Christian County, Missouri. Ava Louise Bolin was one of ten children born to Jake and Addie May Bolin on April 13, 1917 also in Christian County, Missouri. They both grew up on forty-acre farms where their families raised a variety of livestock and crops: wheat, oats, corn, chickens, hogs and cows. Since children provided the labor force to run a farm, Ava and Louis both received eighth grade educations and after that were expected to help provide for the family.  Red turned fourteen in 1927 and started working for wages for other farmers. He was paid one dollar a day and worked 6 days a week from sunup to sundown. He stayed at the farm where he worked during the week and usually went home on Sunday to visit. He gave four or five dollars to his family and either saved the rest or treated himself in town.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, the Inman and Bolin families were not immediately affected because they had no stocks and no money in the bank to lose. But the Depression hit home soon enough. Jake Bolin lost his farm late in 1929 and James Inman lost his in 1933. After Jake Bolin lost “The Old Home Place” he and his family went to work on the Keltner Place. Keltner owned a creamery in Springfield, Missouri, as well as a farm with 40 head of dairy cows and some hogs. Jake and his family, ran the farm, took the milk to the creamery every day, and the hogs to market when they were ready. Jake received a portion of whatever he could get at the market, but Keltner always kept Jake in debt to him so he rarely saw any of the money. Red continued to farm for wages during the depression, but the Drought hit in 1932. In 1934, Red and his brother planted 30 acres of corn, 40 acres of oats and 36 acres of wheat. All they harvested that year was a few bushels of wheat. What the drought didn’t kill, the grasshoppers ate.

In a rural farming community in southern Missouri, during a seven-year drought, with man-eating grasshoppers, and a severe economic depression, love blossomed and grew. Ava was eighteen and Red was almost twenty-two. They had been ‘going steady’ about a year and decided now was the time to tie the knot. But first they had to get the consent of Ava’s parents. Ava’s mother, Addie May, didn’t seem to like Red all that much, so they decided it would be a good idea if Ava ask her mother, and Red asked her dad. During that time, Red had been helping Ava’s brothers bring in the hay. Jake Bolin had been on a milk run that day and when he got back to help with the hay, he commented several times that it looked like “Red had something on his mind” or that “Red looked like he wanted to ask him something”. Well, Red knew then that the cat was out of the bag. Ava must have talked to Mrs. Bolin, who in turn had talked to Mr. Bolin. Red just kept quiet for the time being. That evening Red was having dinner with the Bolin’s. Everyone washed up for supper and waited for Jake. Soon enough Jake came walking in wearing his new hat he was so proud of. He sat at the head of the table and the family began taking their seats. Jake removed his hat and set it on a nearby chair. I guess Red was pretty nervous, because he never saw the hat as he sat right on it. Jake started cussing and hollering for Red to get off his hat. Dinner was off to a good start. After a few minutes the hat incident had blown over, and Jake started in on Red again. Wondering “what was on his mind and why he was all dressed up and what was all this about.”  Red finally spoke up……”You know what this is all about and if you have anything to say about it, you better say it now.”  Well, Jake didn’t say a thing.

Louis and Ava were married on July 6, 1935 in Springfield, Missouri by a Justice of the Peace in the County Courthouse on College Street. Louis had twenty dollars to his name. He had bought Ava her wedding dress and a seven-dollar gold ring. After he paid the Justice, he had 50 cents in his pocket. Noel and Opal stood up for Red and Ava. It was 110 degrees that day and the little second floor office was sweltering. Ava wore a simple but pretty blue dress and a white hat she borrowed from someone. Red wore his best suit. About four years back, that same suit had been skunked while Red was walking home from a party. Luckily, the skunk smell had disappeared long before the wedding. 

For two or three months, right after they were married, Red and Ava lived with Red’s parents. One evening Ava and Mrs. Inman were cooking supper and Ava smelled something awful. The home-canned peas had spoiled and heating them up on the stove was intensifying the smell and spreading it through the house. “Mrs. Inman, something smells funny, I think those peas are spoilt”, Ava tried to explain. Mrs. Inman stuck her nose down into the pan and took a big whiff. “I don’t smell anything, those peas are fine”, Mrs. Inman replied. Well, soon enough Mr. Inman and Red came in from the fields for supper and Mr. Inman started hollering and cussing like a sailor. “What the !@#$% is that !@#$% smell? The peas had spoiled, but Mrs. Inman didn’t know because she couldn’t smell a thing. They had to throw the peas out and couldn’t use the pan even after they washed, it smelled so bad.

Red and Ava moved to her sister and brother-in-law, Mural and Jess’ farm in Springfield.  They had a place of their own there, called the Chicken House. It was a little white two room bungalow that had been used as a chicken coop at one time. The chickens had been moved out and Ava scrubbed it clean. Louis planted turnips on the side of the house and that’s what they lived on the few months they were there. Boiled turnips, mashed turnips, fried turnips, turnip greens, baked turnips, barbecued turnips, and even turnip sandwiches. After the Chicken House, Red and Ava moved to the Bennett Place in Bois D’Arc, Missouri. That was about 1936. The Depression and the drought had caused wages to go down and Red worked on the farm for 50 cents per day. On April 9, 1936, Louis and Ava’s first child, James Dauphus (J.D.) was born. 

In 1937, Red received letters from his sister, Florence and her husband Harvey, out in California, telling him there were plenty of jobs and that a man could make thirty-five to forty dollars per week. That was over ten times what he was earning! He wrote Florence back and told her if he had twenty-five dollars he’d be out there in a minute. Not long after that he got a letter with twenty-five dollars in it. He went to Springfield, bought a bus ticket for $24.75, and was bound for San Bernardino Valley in California. He had to leave Ava and J.D. behind, but sent for them a few months later.

Over the next two years, Red worked as a migrant farm worker in the California valleys. They would start in the San Bernardino valley and pick fruit or nuts until the work ran out, then move further north to the San Juaquin valley for 3 to 4 months, and finally to the Santa Clara Valley. When work ran out there, they would move south again to the San Bernardino Valley. Red’s first job was harvesting walnuts. He walked around and shook each tree limb with a long stick with a metal hook on the end. The ripe walnuts would fall on the ground and other workers would pick them up. The farmers only worked eight hours a day, and were paid by how much they picked. Red got paid six cents a box and usually filled about a hundred boxes. When they first lived in California, Red and Ava and the baby lived in a tent with a wood floor that they rented for $10 per month. It was just big enough to hold their bed and their few belongings. 

All the cooking was done under a big “kitchen tent” which was shared by 5 to 10 families. Later, they moved out of the tent and stayed in small cabins or hotel rooms. Ava would stay home and take care of J.D. and Florence’s baby, while Red, Florence and Harvey worked in the orchards. Louis and Ava’s second child, Wanda Leah was born on April 19, 1938 in Ontario, San Bernardino County. 

There was plenty of work in California and the pay was good, but the migrant lifestyle did not suit Ava. She was used to having a place to call home, surrounded by the folks she loved. She was homesick and no amount of money could make that feeling go away. So Red, being the good-man he was, packed up his family and took them home. It was 1939. 

When they got back to Missouri, they lived on the Emmet Redford Place. The drought had ended and the crops were producing more, but farming wages were still only fifty cents a day. Red got work on jobs supported by President Roosevelt’s WPA program, which included digging ditches, building outhouses, bridges, lakes and parks. Ava says “the WPA saved our lives”. On February 12, 1941, their third child, Larry Dean, was born. Later in 1941, the Inman family moved to the Widow Hatch’s Place. The Widow Hatch taught school and had inherited 380 acres and an old Victorian House. Red sent her thirty dollars a month for rent. In August of 1942, Red moved to Kansas City, Kansas to work at the North American Aircraft plant to help build planes for World War II. Ava and the kids stayed on at the Hatch Place until winter and then joined Red in Kansas City. They stayed in a little house on Wood Avenue. Louis worked for North American Aircraft until 1944, then moved back to Bois D’Arc, Missouri. They lived on the Bean Place for about three years then moved to the Nicholson Place in Ash Grove. Their fourth child, Ricky Allen, was born there on September 15, 1948. Over the next few years, Red and his family lived in several different places. There was the Dickerson Ranch in Overland Park, Kansas, a place in Morse, Kansas, the Moody Place at 95th Street and Switzer in Overland Park, Kansas, and Sunflower Village in Desoto, Kansas. In 1955, while living on the Moody Place, Louis got a job at the Bendix Corporation where he worked for more than twenty years. In 1963, Louis and Ava bought a home on Edgemere Drive in Olathe, Kansas. They lived there for sixteen years. 

This is where my memories of Grandma and Grandpa start. It’s been sixty years since that day when Red and Ava stood in front of the Justice of the Peace and took their vows. The whole story of their life and of their sixty years of marriage can’t be told in just a few pages, but it is a story that I’d be proud to tell. They have handed down their legacy of family values, love, faith, commitment and hard work which is more precious to me than all the money in the world.

When Mom passed away Julie and Jim wrote some things down to read at the funeral I thought I would post them here since it’s been a while.

Grandma was the kindest person I’ve ever known…she had the biggest softest heart so full of love.  And she loooooved her grandchildren.  She took great care to make sure no one was left out.  At Christmas Grandma always liked to buy the youngest girls baby dolls…..(probably because she never got one when she was growing up).  She loved to shop for them and pick them out.  My cousin Linda and I were pretty close in age and for a number of years, she and I both got baby dolls from Grandma for Christmas.  The dolls would be almost identical so neither of us wouldn’t feel like the other was getting favored….but each doll would be just a little bit different, so we knew she’d picked it out special.  She would always tell some little story of how she chose that particular doll just for me….she’d say “those big brown eyes”  or “that sweet smile reminded me of you when you were just a baby”.   

When Grandma would see her grandchildren  (or great or great-great) her eyes would light up and she would want to give you a big hug and a kiss…..she’d pat you on the back so hard you could “feel” how much she missed you. 

She showed her love in other ways…she also had a playful, ornery side.  I remember a family gathering we had…it was in the summer time and all the cousins were there…..probably the Fourth of July, so of course we sliced a cold watermelon….I was munching and slurping away, just minding my own business, trying to keep most of the watermelon juice off of me…. when I got struck upside the head with a watermelon seed.   I started looking around for one of my cousins or brother to blame, but there was Grandma with her ornery little laugh, taking aim with another seed.   She would take those watermelon seeds between her fingers and pinch them so they shot out like a bullet.  After that first time, Grandma and I never let a watermelon feast go by without shooting each other with a seed or two.

When I was just a little girl I would always demand to sit next to Grandma at the dinner table.  As I grew older, I would respectfully request this position of high honor whenever we gathered to eat.  This position of honor came at a price however, Grandma was always pinching me and putting things SHE didn’t want to eat on MY plate.   I never minded though, that’s what made her so much fun.

With all the kids, grandkids, and great grand kids, Grandma had a heck of a time keeping all the names straight.    She always knew who you were; she just had to go through a partial list before she got to your name.  And when she finally got to your name she would say it real loud and drag it out…..she’d say, “Heather, no, Holly, I mean Linda, oh shoot, I mean JUUUUULLLIEEEE”!    I think Grandma has passed this charming trait on to some of us…..

These are some of the grandmotherly things I remember, but Grandma was also a pioneer, an artist, a storyteller and poet.  Grandpa is well known as the family storyteller, but if she could get a word in edgewise, Grandma had wonderful old stories, too.  She passed on a full and rich history to us all, with stories of growing up with her brothers and sisters on the farm….of the little that they had,  how they made ends meet, and how they made their own fun.  She told stories about raising a family during the Depression and living in a tent in California while Grandpa worked in the orchards.  She always said “You know that movie with Henry Fonda, The Grapes of Wrath?  Well, we lived that story.”   Her stories were always told as a combination of fond memories and gratefulness for making it through those tough times. 

In later years, Grandma documented her history in beautiful paintings of places she had lived and poems about growing up with her brothers and sisters. 

I guess I knew this day would come, but I wasn’t ready for you to go just yet.  But, I have these memories and so many more and all the love you gave to me.  I will carry this with me always and you will always be with me.

                                                                   Julie Ann Inman

One way I knew Grandma had genuine compassion for just about anybody was the way she watched the news… you could tell that she really cared about people… She always picked the strangest story in the paper and ask if I’d heard about it… One day I was watching the news and this story came on about a woman in a nursing home who was attacked by a swarm of fire ants… and I knew the next time I saw her she would bring it up… Sure enough I came to visit and the first thing she said was “Did you hear about that woman who got attacked by the swarm of fire ants? They came right through the window and stung her all over her body… Oh that poor woman! All alone in that nursing home with no one there to help her!”  I just had to laugh and say, “I know Grandma… I heard the story too and I knew you would pick that one out to be the focus of your day!”  That’s the kind of compassion she had… Just the way she said it you could tell in her voice… “Oh that poor woman!” Like the time I crushed my thumb in a lawn chair… It was almost as if she felt it herself… “Jim! Jim! Jim! That must have hurt honey!”

She had keen insight and was quick with a comeback… One Christmas we were talking about Santa Claus and I asked her why parents trick their kids into believing in Santa Claus… Once they get old enough they’re going to realize it was all made up… She said “I guess it’s to teach them how not to believe everything they hear.”  I thought to myself… That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all year and I work in a comedy club… 

And I always got socks and underwear for Christmas… but it was just what I needed because I never buy new socks and underwear… I just waited around for Christmas and her present would come just in time…

She always got all our names confused… She’d go through a whole list of names before she came to mine… She’d say… “Rick! J.D! Larry! I mean Jim! Jim! Jim! Jim! I’m sorry honey come here and kiss your Grandma… You were so cute when you were a little boy… I never get to see you.”

We used to all pile in the car and visit my Uncle JD’s… Men in front… Women in back… Grandpa would drive and she always told him to slow down… I think he used to purposely peel out in the gravel just to get her attention… Grandma would say “Louis! You slow down… I can’t believe the way that man drives!” Grandpa would just laugh… “Now woman I’m driving now… I’ve got to see if everything with this car is in working order!” She’d say… “We’ll get there in time… Why do you always have to do thaaaaat?” 

They had quite a relationship… At the dinner table the battle lines were drawn… “Louis you don’t need that much butter… That’s enough! And your taking the biggest piece of chicken now give that to Jim… Do you have to put salt on everything? I’m telling you…That maaaaan!” Grandpa would try to defend himself… “Woman I know how to eat my own food… I’ve got to have fuel for the winter time!” She’d shake her head… “I’m going to have to get that man another size of pants… He can barely fit into the ones he’s got!” This was of course all done in the spirit of fun and I think it was all orchestrated for our entertainment…

She always told us about some funny dream that she had the night before… I remember one where she said John Wayne came by and she made him a bowl of soup… And we all laughed… We thought she was going to leave Grandpa for John Wayne!

About a month before she died I had a strange dream… In the dream my mother and Grandma and some other family members were in a car driving somewhere… I was following them in my car… They pulled over and my mom was trying to hide Grandma’s inheritance… And her only inheritance was this manikin… That’s all she had left… We were trying to put it in my car so we could get rid of it without her knowing… but she caught us… And she was saying “That’s ok… I know what you’re doing.” Then she came up to me and said she was going away somewhere to Arizona… Moving to this place far away… And I could visit her sometime… I said I would make sure and visit her when I could… Then she said, “I love you Jim!” before I could say I love you back I woke up… The first thing I thought was that I had to call her… It was six in the morning and I was wondering if she was okay… I called my dad and asked how she was doing… I told him the dream and asked if I should call her and if she would be up… He said she was probably up… So I called and told her I had this funny dream… I got to the part where she said I love you and how in the dream I didn’t get the chance to say I love you back… So I told her I just called to say I love you… And she said I love you too Jim… and we laughed… I didn’t tell her what I thought the dream meant… I think the dream meant that the manikin was her body… And we would have to get rid of it some day… And Arizona was the after life and she was going away soon… And I’d get to see here again some day… And I know the first thing she’ll say after of course she tells me some news story she heard down on earth about some poor guy who got eaten by an army of termites… Is “I love you Jim!”  And I’ll say “I love you too Grandma!”    

James Inman

He Was Red, White and Blue

November 16, 2001

Leah Oswald edited by uncle Larry

To most folks who knew grandpa he was called “Red” or Uncle Red

To grandma he was “Loooooouissss”To his kids he was dad, daddy or pop

To me he was grandpa.

The red came from his red tomatoes and red roses.

He carried Red Man Tobacco and taught us to fish with red & white bobbers

He had white bottles of old spice, drank steaming black coffee from white stoneware mugs.

He liked cold white buttermilk and saltine crackers.

He could be seen watching old black & white movies or reading a favorite western.

He carried white handkerchiefs on special occasions or for Sunday’s best.

And he wore white hats – good guys always wore white hats

Blue bandanas stuffed in his jacket pocket.

Blue Plaid shirts with sticks of chewing gum for the kids.

Going to the store for Grandma in a blue car or eating dinner from her blue willow dishes.

Driving down an old gravel road to a favorite fishing hole in a blue pickup truck.

Sunshine, blue skies and laughter filled the days spent with grandpa.

He was red, white and blue.