More About Miss Patty

Lee The household on 8th Street in Eureka, Kansas was always busy. Maude Lee had her two daughters, Melba and Mable and Melba’s daughter, Patty, living with her. The house was a one bedroom with a small living room dominated by a pot-bellied coal burning stove, and with a large kitchen with a wood burning range. There was a small front porch and a screened-in back porch, and of course, an outhouse,  complete with a Sears Roebuck catalog as a source of paper.

Gathering fuel for the stove was a family affair. They each had a bucket, including Patty, who had a bucket that was just her size. They would walk along the railroad tracks and pick up the lumps of coal that had spilled to the ground when the tender or fire box was being loaded.  The family was grateful for the coal, but Patty had another railroad memory that wasn’t so good. One day, there was a derailment that resulted in a railroad car laying on it’s side just a couple of blocks from the house. That really frightened Patty as she realized that if the train had  gone a little farther it could have wiped out their house.

Maude worked hard to support the family. She baked and sold bread and pastries. As a girl she learned to bake in the kitchen of the hotel owned by her grandparents, John and Nancy Nole of Watson, Missouri.  Maude also raised chickens, so she had both chickens and eggs as sources of income. Also, the house was located on a very large lot so there was room for a good-sized vegetable garden. They sold some produce throughout the summer, and then they were able to can enough to get them through the winter.

Patty turned four years old a week before Pearl Harbor Day in 1941    The war caused life in the Lee household to change considerably. Beech Aircraft in Wichita was hiring, and both Melba and Mable applied for work. Both were hired and became Rosie the Riveter defense workers.  Melba was an expert at crafts or anything that required good hand to eye coordination, so she was soon promoted to supervisor. They moved to Wichita, and since there was no way to care for Patty, she stayed in Eureka with her grandma, Maude Lee.

Maude only had an 8th grade education, but she loved to read and made time to read a bible verse every night. She passed her love of reading onto Patty who, at 84, still reads constantly.

The neighborhood store was 3 blocks down and 1 block to the right. Maude taught Patty to count and make change. When she needed one or two items from the store, she would tell Patty the price and explain how to determine how much change she would receive from the amount tendered. Patty, who had a basket on the front of her tricycle, would peddle off to the store and make her purchases. When she got a little larger, Patty had a 4-wheel vehicle and could carry more stuff.

Thanks to the generosity of the neighbors, a bootlegger and his wife, Maude was able to use their phone and call the taxi man. The guy wasn’t a real taxi company but was just a man that had a car and would drive folks around town for a small fee. These were people that had made it through the depression and were still just trying to survive.

The bootlegger’s wife was Maude’s best friend, and she and her husband were good to both Maude and Patty. They even arranged for Patty to make a little spending money by washing the Mason jars and other containers used in their business. Patty doesn’t remember the exact structure of the deal but believes that for every two jars washed, she received one penny.

One day, as Patty was washing jars, the phone rang. The bootlegger answered and after a moment said, “Thanks Sheriff,” and hung up. Then, he yelled “Run for home, Patty!  There’s going to be a raid!” Next, he and his wife began carrying out tubs of clear liquid and dumping them in the corn field.

While working in Wichita, Melba came home to Eureka to spend the weekends with Patty and Maude. Taking the train made for an easy trip. Sometimes, to give Melba a break, Maude would send Patty to Wichita by herself. She made sure she had crayons and a coloring book, and would take her to the depot and hand her off to the conductor. The conductors were reliable men and would place Patty in the front of the car where they could keep an eye on her. The trains were almost always filled with soldiers and sailors. They were all leaving behind someone they cared about, so it was comforting to them to have a little girl like Patty to fuss over and pass the time with. She says they were the nicest bunch of guys you could ever meet.

Pat enjoyed living with her grandmother and appreciates everything she learned from her.   She lived with Grandma Lee until she was 12 years old and had completed 6th grade.  At that time, her mother got married, and they moved to El Dorado.

Dave Thomas


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