Thistles Cut, Ironing Done

14. TEXAS!!

Getting acquainted with Howard took unusual turns that summer of 1940. Sometime during those last three weeks at the University he showed me several snapshots. The first was of a very tiny dark haired baby, his first niece, Linda Lou Justiss. It was a sign that Howard was much interested in his whole family. Another picture was of Great Uncle Jesse Justiss wearing his Civil War medals. I was amazed that a young man would carry a picture from the distant past to a summer session in Boulder? In Wisconsin we remembered the Civil War only on May 30th, Memorial Day, when children put flowers on the graves. I was surprised to find it a subject for discussion in a romantic interlude.

When I returned to Wisconsin at the end of summer I described the Texan I had met. The very name Texas conjured up in my father's mind a vision of a man on horseback riding the range. The Schwandt's loved horses and the few stories they had ever heard about Texas included cowboys and their durable mounts who carried their owners on long desperate rides with heroic devotion. As best I could I tried to give the very different picture of the sweet potato or cotton farmer of East Texas where mules were the main source of power for plowing and hauling. I didn't tell them that the times Howard had a ridden a horse were few indeed. Even then the horse may not have been the beautiful steed like those my father had been used to owning all his life.

When my first letter to Howard arrived in Texas, his sister Edna, went to the mailbox. As she carried it to him, like any high school age younger sister, she tried to read the return address as she walked. She said,

"Howard, how do you pronounce S-c-h-w-a-n-d-t?"

Quickly he responded, "I don't know. Just give it to me."

The letter contained a description of our late summer activities on the farm. It was threshing time in Wisconsin. Rains had delayed having finished that work. I told him of the big meals we prepared for the twenty or so workers, neighbors who exchanged their help for ours. I described the hard work of hauling bundles of grain and lifting full sacks of barley and oats into a wagon and emptying them into the granary. I was careful to keep the tone impersonal and not show how much I missed him.

In an early letter Howard told of the celebration of his twenty-ninth birthday which he shared with his youngest brother, Lloyd, who was twenty that day. The oldest of the family, Onza, was there too. His birthday was August 28th, three days earlier. A snapshot showed the three of them. Howard held the coconut cake his sister-in-law, Wilma, had baked because it was his favorite. The birthdays were an excuse for a big family party they all enjoyed.

In one of the many letters Howard sent during that autumn he invited me to visit Texas at holiday time. He said, "Even the geese fly south in winter." He hastily added, "But, I am not calling you a goose."

Since he didn't seem to notice my suggestions that he come to Wisconsin for the holidays I agreed to make the long trip after he invited me a second time. Bessie, his sister seconded his invitation. One reason I decided to go was that I couldn't imagine how someone from warm Texas would adjust to the cold and snow of Wisconsin.

My trip involved changing trains in Chicago and St. Louis. I had been through Chicago stations but St Louis was strange and the stop there late at night. I was concerned that my checked through luggage get on the right train to Texarkana.

On a Sunday, after the all night ride in a railroad coach I didn't feel that I was looking my best. I tried to imagine the meeting with Howard in the unknown Texarkana, station. I found I even had difficulty picturing his face. Soon after noon on December 22nd I stepped off the train. Howard was coming up a flight of stairs to meet me. His face wore a shy smile - after he was sure he was seeing Zona. He too, had been trying to think how I would look. This would be different from summer in Colorado. Now, I was wearing my favorite black, slim-fitting winter coat and a becoming black hat.

We greeted each other with a quiet, "Hello." After gathering my luggage we went to a restaurant for lunch. (Howard had been in Texarkana early that morning in time to attend church.) I have no idea what we ate or what we talked about at that meal together. It was hard to realize that he was real, right there across the table.

During the ride to the Justiss farm he occasionally reached to hold my hand momentarily, as if he were saying, "I'm happy that you came." And perhaps he was trying to build my confidence that this adventure would be alright.

As we rode I noticed the bleak winter countryside. Cotton fields had broken stalks with an occasional left over white boll. Other areas seemed to be covered with an assortment of brown weeds. Yards around houses were usually bare of any grass. In Wisconsin in winter lawns were less green but still grass covered. green. I was seeing a different landscape. I didn't know that someone had once labeled this Texas soil, "stubborn." A green lawn is produced with much effort.

In his letters Howard told something about each member of his family with special emphasis on two-year-old Bobby and the baby, Linda Lou.

Onza lived in Lubbock. His wife Lorena, had been a teacher in the local East Texas school, Valley View before her marriage. The second brother, Morris, was in a Dodge-Plymouth dealership with Uncle Hayes Johnson in Mt. Pleasant. His wife, Wilma had also been a teacher at Valley View. Little Linda Lou was their daughter. Another brother, Leonard, lived with his wife, Velma on their farm not too far from the Justiss home. Their little boy, Bobby, was the first grandchild in the family.

A younger brother, Adron was working with his father on the farm. Bessie, the first sister was also at home. Then there were Anglo, C.Y. and Lloyd who were students at Pepperdine College in California, home for the holidays. Edna and Nelda were high school girls.

Mary Nell, a seven year-old girl who needed a home lived with the family, too. Mrs. Justiss and Bessie instantly gave her the love and care she had never had. Mary Nell was trying to do first grade work in 1940. She rode with Howard on the school bus which he drove on the way to his job as high school principal.

I felt I knew the family quite well from Howard's descriptions.

Now, we drove up to the porch of the Justiss house and entered through the front door. (Later I found that the family used that door only for special guests or special occasions.) We crossed the first living room to the door of the fireplace room. There a crowd was waiting. It was like being on stage facing an audience. Even though I felt I knew all of them I was shaking. Howard started on the left, telling me each person's name. Wilma and Morris and Leonard and Velma were there for their Sunday afternoon visit. I was overwhelmed. I felt I was on exhibit! If I had realized what a "foreigner" I seemed to them I would have been even more uncomfortable.

Bessie showed me to a bedroom where I could unpack. Much later I learned that it was Mama's room. She had given it up so that this stranger could have privacy. In my letters I had offered to share a room or bed with Bessie or the other girls.

One surprise was that I needed Howard's assistance to take a bath. Since there was no hot running water he put a bucket of water on to heat on the kitchen stove. When it was sufficiently hot he poured it into the tub for me. I diluted it to the right temperature with cold water from the faucet. I was glad to have a bath after the long train trip. With the large number of people living in the house, finding the bathroom unoccupied was a real feat.

On my first evening Howard and I walked down the path toward the barn. In the warm air I did not have to wear a heavy coat. Daylight was longer than in the north. We stood on the slope looking west. It was a peaceful scene with bare trees silhouetted against the yellow and delicate reds of the sunset.

The next day Howard and I went to Mt. Pleasant in a truck. At the Dodge-Plymouth shop we met Lewis Tigert. Although Howard introduced him as a cousin, I only remembered that he had just arrived from Deming, New Mexico. Lewis rode with us to the Justiss home. The family greeted him without any special fanfare and he fit into the routine as if he were one of them. I learned that in his younger years he had often been part of the family. In my own family we never had visitors who casually stayed week after week. The Justiss hospitality was new to me.

I learned that "sweeping the yard" was one of the preparations for the holiday celebration. Sometimes the brooms were made of dogwood branches. I also learned that the red, sandy clay tracked into the house readily. One or the other of the family frequently grabbed a broom to sweep the sand off the bare floor of the fireplace room where everyone congregated throughout the day.

I didn't realize that all through this visit everyone was enjoying my "funny" accent. Those brothers asked questions just to hear it. I thought they were the ones with strange pronunciation difficult to understand. They also used unusual phrases like, "Y'all," "fixin' to rain," "fixin' to go," "play pretties," "over yonder," "carrying (taking) the cook home," and "bragged on" instead of "praised." Today many of these colloquialisms are disappearing with the mixing of folks from one section of the country to another.

The atmosphere of the household was very different from those I had known. On a farm in Wisconsin a herd of dairy cattle made daily life rigidly tied to the hours of milking in the morning and in the evening. There could be no variation. Feeding and care of the livestock also continued through all seasons. In winter shoveling snow to facilitate moving around the yards with teams of horses or with trucks added to the men's work. Now, as evening approached in Texas, I unconsciously expected the men to go out to do chores. I kept waiting for them to move away from the visiting around the fireplace. I found out that there were no chores to do.

I do not remember specific conversation with Mrs. Justiss. She was a quiet person, but like her children she did not have to talk to make you sense her warmth. She worked hard cooking to feed the big crowd. For each meal there were many kinds of foods. I think she had learned to prepare so many to try to suit the various tastes of her children, some of whom had very definite ideas of what they didn't like. I was surprised to find that Mrs. Justiss sometimes fried chicken or steak for breakfast. The idea of gravy in the morning was new to me too, but I completely liked eating it on the fluffy hot biscuits she made each day. With a choice of pear, peach or fig preserves they have never been surpassed.

Mrs. Justiss was addressed by her friends in the community as Miss Willie. That was the title her daughters-in-law also used when speaking to her, but they had grown up in the neighborhood. I had encountered such a custom only in books about southern families.

One of the big events of my few days with the Justisses was the dinner on the evening of December 24th. Everyone dressed for the occasion and the entire family gathered around the decorated cedar tree in the big front living room for the exchange of gifts. Afterward we ate dinner. The meats were venison and squirrel which were strange to me. There was also chicken stew. It is a tasty dish that seems to be served especially at holiday time.

On December 25th the entire family went to Granny Jo's house for dinner as they had done for many years. Miss Willie's mother, Josephine Johnson had married her brother-in-law, Charley Smith after both their spouses died many years before.

The design of the house in which Granny Jo and Uncle Charley lived was a common one in country houses of the area. It had a bare hallway running the length of the house separating the bedrooms from the kitchen and living rooms. The front door on one end of the hall and the back door on the other allowed the summer breezes to move through. In winter the hall was icy cold. Bedrooms were equally cold unless they had their own fireplaces.

The Daingerfield High School Basketball team played a game one evening in the school gym. Howard took me with Edna and Nelda and a couple of their brothers to watch his students play. It was amusing to watch the faces of those on the bleachers when they saw their school principal come in accompanied by a strange young lady. I don't remember anything about the game but Howard still remembers that Buzz Howell won the game with a long shot from half court. My presence didn't distract him from keeping his mind on what was important!!

One morning during my visit, Howard said, "I'm going to help Mama do the washing." He built a fire out on the end of the ramp that runs under the house. Over it he suspended a big black kettle which he filled with water from a hose. The washing machine was in the basement but water had to be heated to use in it. I wasn't much help but I did know how to hang clothes on the line to dry.

Mr. Justiss (Papa) made me feel accepted because he asked questions about farming in Wisconsin. His interest in learning about growing all kinds of crops showed. He asked questions wherever he traveled. Now, he was learning about diversified farming in Wisconsin. I enjoyed telling him all about it. My family were proud to be farmers.

Mr. Justiss may have discussed religious beliefs too. I can still hear his voice when he offered thanks at the table. Especially if I wasn't up in time for breakfast it seemed to penetrate the whole house. It was easy to be part of the morning prayer even when I was still in bed.

One did not meet Howard without learning of his dedication to the church. He made it plain early in our acquaintance that he had no intention of marrying anyone who was not a member of the church of Christ. I found it incredible that a group could consider itself the only acceptable one. I had never heard of this religious group even though I had been interested in Bible study all my life.

On the other hand, I liked Howard's ideals. I had high standards for the man I might marry. I hoped to find someone whose Christianity was part of his daily life and conduct. Until now I had not met any young man whose focus was on knowing how God wanted him to live.

In his letters Howard revealed more of his convictions. When he knew he was to be drafted into the military he stated that he would not carry a gun. Conscientious objection to war was very unusual in those years. Most people were unaware that the law provides alternatives to combat duty. One can serve in the Medical Corps or other unarmed groups. Up to this time in the history of our country individual thinking on the subject was uncommon.

When Wednesday night came during my visit, Howard and I went to Daingerfield where he taught a small group of adults each week. They treated Howard with much respect. My heart was ready to burst with pleasure as I watched him ably lead a discussion of Bible passages. His manner made the men and women feel free to express their thoughts.

While there was still time to let my family know of a change of plans I expressed to Howard how much I liked being in Texas. As a result he asked me to stay an extra day. "We could go to Caddo Lake," he said. On Friday morning I tried to help Edna pack a lunch to take with us to Caddo. Peanut-butter-banana sandwiches were new to me. They were good that day and still are a favorite.

Edna, Lloyd and Lewis made the trip with us to "The Old Daingerfield Camp." Caddo Lake is very different from the wide open, sparkling lakes of Wisconsin. The moss-draped cypress trees standing in the water create a closed-in feeling. Even so the boat rides with Howard at the oars were a pleasure in that different kind of beauty. Caddo Lake has become a place for the Justiss brothers and sisters and their children to gather for family reunions. They have a deep attachment to the place where they have built a house and where they now come in their motor homes to spend days together.

I had never been in a house where the only heat was from fireplaces. It seemed very like a story book. I spent time standing with my back to the fire getting warm. Other times Howard and I watched the flames together. One evening as we sat with our chairs close to the fire he spoke of plans for us to marry at the end of the school term in June. It was easier to go back to Wisconsin with that event to anticipate.

By March of that year, 1941, the draft board was in full cry to get Howard out of Daingerfield. The school board and other local people were much concerned about their high school principal being a conscientious objector. He was drafted March 12th and eventually sent to Camp Grant near Rockford, Illinois for basic training in the Medical Corps. Howard found a small congregation of the church in the city where he made friends. Since I lived within driving distance I went down a few times to see him and to attend church. On one of those Sundays I was baptized in the Kishuakee River. Another soldier led the singing as a group of the Church stood on the river bank. Being baptized was not an easy step. I had always been close to my parents. Now, they felt that I was rejecting them by becoming a member of a different group. All their family attended the Evangelical Church and I was a member of it as well. Perhaps I could have made the break in better ways without compromising my convictions. Even so, I didn't ask them to make any changes in their allegiances. Only in recent years have I learned that faith in Christ is the only essential to share with others.

Howard made a visit to our home in Wisconsin in May of that year. The apple trees were in full bloom. He had stopped complaining about the horrible weather of the north because the scenery in Rockford and everywhere was very beautiful. But our plans for marriage in June had to be changed because he didn't know what was in store for him.

The following January - 1942, he was sent with the 12th General Hospital to Fort Custer, Michigan. They were waiting - waiting to go overseas. Howard had been trained in first aid, physiotherapy and x-ray. Now he spent these months firing furnaces in the barracks. He chose that assignment because he could occasionally make a weekend trip to Lansing to attend church. One weekend we met in Chicago where he decided to buy rings. When he found that the price of the wedding band was more than the other ring, he said, "Well, we plan to be married longer than we are engaged." I agreed.


Howard, 1942 - Stationed at Battle Creek, Michigan, with the 12th General Hospital.

Zona, 1942
Garfield Park, Chicago


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