I started this blog so I could pass family stories on to my kids and grandkids. I know, sometimes I’ve gotten clear off the track. Oh well, all of the stuff helps define me, so I’m not going to worry about it.
I’m sitting here with my coffee and thinking about family stories. I’ve learned that I have missed out on a lot of stuff that could have made my life more fun, or at least, more interesting had I known of it. A lot of things about your family are learned by osmosis, just by being there. Some stories get delivered like news flashes. They hit you like a ton of bricks and keep coming at you, over and over. Some things are never discussed. They are just part of life and no one gives much thought to them.
When I was 58 years old, I decided to get into genealogy and research family history. I mention my age because I want you to know how long I was oblivious to some information I should have known most of my life. My research soon told me that my Grandpa Thomas was one of twelve children of John Buck Thomas and Hannah G. Sprague Thomas. If you had asked me, I would have told you that he was an only child as I had never heard of any siblings. I thought I knew Grandpa Albert Adelbert “Dell” Thomas and Grandma Rosetta, “Etta” Abercrombie Thomas, but, apparently, I didn’t. Well, to make up for my shortcomings, I’ve got a couple of stories to share with you kids and grandkids.
My cousin, Kathleen “Sue” (Kidwell) Owens who was a few years older than me said that when she was growing up, she had lived with Grandma and Grandpa a couple of times. She said that Grandpa apparently had a thing for redheads. She didn’t know that he had ever acted on it, but Grandma worried about it considerably. It got so bad that Grandma finally dyed her hair red in an effort to keep him in the corral.
In early 1950, I delivered the Wichita Beacon, and Grandpa and Grandma’s home was on my route. I would go in and hand the paper to Grandpa who would be in his rocking chair in the living room, listening to the radio. Then, I would go into the kitchen where Grandma would have a snack waiting for me. She knew that young boys were always hungry, so every day she set out a bowl of home-canned peaches, bread and butter, and a glass of milk. After eating and visiting with Grandma, I would go in and listen to the radio with Grandpa. The radio programs were 15 minutes long and we would listen to Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy, Sargent Kin of the Yukon, the Green Hornet, and stuff like that. Grandpa really got into it, and he would be yelling, “Shoot that outlaw,” “Hit him,” “Look out!” The more he yelled, the more he rocked his rocking chair. A couple of times while I was there, he tipped his chair over backwards. Grandpa was a big man, and Grandma and I had a heck of a time getting the chair upright with him still in it.
Grandpa was 85, and in March of 1950, his health turned bad and he was taken to the hospital in El Dorado, which was 15 miles away. My folks went over to visit him one evening. As they go into the hospital, the head nurse came stomping over to my dad and forcefully said, “If that old man pinches another of my nurses, I’m going to put him out in the street.” Naturally, this story was well-circulated among the family.
Grandpa hung on for a few days, but died in the hospital. His funeral was a big event with family showing up from Kansas, Texas, Missouri, and Massachusetts. I remember what a big crowd there was in the house when I heard the next big family story. My Dad’s oldest brother, Yes, my Uncle Walter, announced that he and his neighbor had swapped wives! You can imagine the uproar that came from that one. That story had wings, and it circulated for months.
I wish I had known about Grandpa’s siblings. I must have a thousand cousins descended from them and probably a thousand fascinating stories.
One good source of stories would have been from the family of Grandpa’s brother, William Jonathan Thomas. William was working a harvest, and was kicked in the chest by one of the horses in the team he was working with. He died a few hours later, leaving a wife and two daughters behind. One of the daughters, Myrtle, grew up to marry a man named Frank Bell. Frank was a Cherokee Indian- also known as Chief Eagle Feather. Frank was a Vaudeville performer billed as “America’s Premier Indian Tap Dancer.” Myrtle was adopted into the tribe and given the name “White Fawn.” Chief Eagle Feather and White Fawn traveled the Vaudeville circuit for several years and eventually settled in Los Angeles. Frank died there in 1958, and Myrtle died in 1972. Pat and I came to California in 1957, so had we known about Frank and Myrtle, we could have visited and gotten to know them. They must have had a lot of great stories about Vaudeville and their travels.