We lived in Augusta, Butler County, Kansas. During World War II, Mom and Dad worked at the White Eagle (later, Mobil) Refinery. Mom was hired in 1942. She was hired as a replacement for one of the men who had been drafted. She was placed in the chemical lab, a job previously held only by men. Dad had started at the refinery prior to the beginning of the war. Jobs at the refinery were considered to be vital to the war effort so that and the fact that he was married and had two kids caused him to be deferred from the draft. He tried to enlist, but for the reasons given and the fact that he had rheumatic fever as a youth, he wasn’t allowed.
When our folks left for work in the morning, my sister, Sylvia, and I had to leave, too. We walked the block to the high school and then crossed the school grounds to State Street where we waited under the one street lamp to be picked up. Those winter mornings were pitch black and sometimes there was a heavy fog that made it seem even more frightening. I was only six, and Sylvia was five, so we were easily spooked.
We would stand under the street lamp and wait. Cars would be coming down State Street on the way to the refinery. Sometimes a car would stop, and we would be offered a ride. I would say “thank you” and explain that Uncle Dave and Aunt Rachel would be picking us up in a few minutes. Pretty soon, that big green Packard with Uncle Dave driving would stop for us. Then, Uncle Dave would drive to the refinery where he would stop and get out. Aunt Rachel would slide across to the driver’s seat, and take us to her home.
Their home was at 124 High Street, and they had it build in 1923. It was across from Garfield Elementary and Intermediate School which made it perfect for Aunt Rachel to babysit us before and after school.
You may be wondering why they didn’t pick us up at home. I’m wondering the same thing. It may have been that Cliff Drive was a narrow street ending in a cul-de-sac that was hard to turn around in. Or, it may have been that our folks wanted us to meet them in an easy pick-up spot and save them some effort. Aunt Rachel was probably baby-sitting for free anyhow.
Rachel Ana Wright married my great uncle, David S. Peebler, and they have been our closest relatives both by relationship and geographical proximity.
Aunt Rachel loved the Southwest, particularly New Mexico, “The Land of Enchantment,” and she and her good friend, Eunice Cooper, took a number of trips to that area from the 1930’s to the start of WWII. They visited the pueblos in the south, Taos, Santa Fe, and everything clear up to Gallup.
Eunice was married to John Cooper, owner of Cooper Drugs. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember where the Coopers lived as I prepared to write this story. I could see that 2-story purple brick house in my mind’s eye, but didn’t know where it was. I finally asked Keith Scholfield, and he reminded me that they lived on Santa Fe Street, next to the old hospital. Santa Fe Street! What could be more fitting?
Aunt Rachel and Eunice Cooper were forward-thinking ladies and ahead of their time. At a time when you didn’t see that many women driving or gallivanting around the country, they were doing a serious job of exploring the southwest.
Eunice was a serious collector. She displayed her beautiful collection of Native American art in an alcove, located off the living room of her home on Santa Fe Street. The space looked like the area of a trading post used for the display of “old pawn.” There were squash blossom necklaces, concho belts, silver bracelets, Navajo rugs, pottery, and probably a lot of things I have forgotten. I was completely awe-struck when viewing all of it.
Aunt Rachel was a lot more conservative. She had some Navajo rugs, a Navajo saddle blanket, some baskets, and some pottery. Her favorite possessions, though, were the beautiful black pieces of pottery made by Maria Martinez. In the early 1900’s, Maria had figured out how her ancestors had made the black pottery and had perfected the technique.
When Aunt Rachel was baby-sitting us, she made sure we were entertained. We played Chinese checkers, Old Maid, and other games. The best times, though, were when she told about her travels. She would unfold the Navajo rugs and tell us where she got them and how they were made. She had a small tom-tom made from a hallowed out cottonwood branch with a skin stretched over it that she would demonstrate and then hand over to one of us. She told about the pueblos and how the people lived.
The best part was when she told about Maria and the making of the black pottery. She would pick up one of the bowls and as he told us how it was made, she would be rubbing her hands over that slick glaze almost as if she were caressing it. Then, she would hand it to one of us to enjoy while she picked up another. I think I learned to love and appreciate that black pottery as much as she did.
Of course, the beautiful vases and bowls that are now considered as Native American art were originally produced as common kitchenware utility items. Though Aunt Rachel love the black pottery, she felt that the items should be seen, used, and enjoyed around the house. She had a beautiful black wedding vase, unsigned, but purported to have been made by Maria, that she used as a door stop. Some bowls were used to store paper clips or candy or whatever else needed to be contained. Chips and scratches appeared on some items, but that was okay because they were doing a job while providing beauty and interest to the household.
My time in the Navy was mostly spent in San Diego, but Pat and the kids and I made regular trips back to Augusta to visit relatives and friends. When visiting Aunt Rachel, we always talked about her New Mexico trips and the treasures she brought home.
Aunt Rachel passed away in the late 1980’s, but left a lot of vivid memories. A few months after her passing, her daughter, Maxine (Peebler) Fisher, and her husband, Woody, came to California from their home in Denver. It turned out that their motive was more than just a vacation. Maxine surprised me with a box containing all of that beautiful black pottery.