Leaving Home

 

By the time I graduated from high school the war in Europe was starting to escalate.
Germanyís Hitler was trying to take over all of Europe country by country, The United States had started the draft and all the guys who were eighteen years old had to register for one of the armed services. Most of them enlisted before their draft number came up so they could choose which branch of the military they wanted to go into. I was surprised that several of them went into the navy. I assumed that most would go into the army or marines because they were all farm kids and they all knew how to hunt, use a rifle and they were all pretty accurate. There wasnít a large body anywhere around the state of Kansas I donít know how they thought of the navy. Maybe it had something to do with praying for rain so much when they were kids.

I left home the month after I graduated from high school. I knew, being the eldest of ten that my parents couldnít afford to sent me to college so I decided to go to Topeka to find work. My plan was to find work and pay my own way through evening classes. Topeka was the nearest big city and the capital of Kansas so I thought the state always needed workers so there would be a chance for a job. Topeka was only sixty miles from Seneca but it might as well have been a million. I had never traveled very far out of Nemaha county.

Dad took me to Topeka and helped me find a place to stay. We found a rooming house, a place that served two meals a day, breakfast and supper in the evening. I remember it cost fourteen dollars a week. Dad paid the first two weeks and dropped me off. It was a pretty scary time. I was on my own. The lady who owned and operated the rooming house was very friendly. She introduced me to the other kids at supper that night. They were all country kids from out of town also so it was pretty easy to make friends.

I found my first job working in a cafeteria from a newspaper add. My job was to hand out bakery items. I didnít know a dinner roll from a hot cross bun but the customers helped me by pointing to what they wanted A couple of weeks after I started working there a regular customer asked me if I knew how to type. I told him I knew how to type and also knew shorthand so he hired me as his secretary. He was the building manager for the First National Bank of Topeka. I donít remember his name but he was good to me and taught me a lot. My boss told me never to interrupt him after lunch. He closed his door for a half hour every day to take a little nap. One day a man came in and asked to see him. I told him the boss was busy and would see him in about twenty minutes. The man stayed and was talking to me for a few minutes. I guess the boss heard us talking because he came out of his office before the twenty minutes was up. He introduced me to Alf Landon the governor of Kansas.

Everyone said the Santa Fe Railroad company was the best place in town to work and paid the most so I really wanted to work there. About four months after I applied for work they called. I took the physical and went to work in their statistical department. This department kept track of how many of our own Santa Fe cars ran on our rails and also how many competitors cars used our rails. The statistical department was on the second floor and was set up with rows of desks facing the front of the room. The supervisor sat in the front of the room facing the workers. It was a large room with windows completely along one wall. In the summer the windows were open and we had floor fans to try to keep it a little cooler. One day I was diligently working when a gust of wind blew several of my papers out the window. I had to go down to the alley and find the papers among the garbage cans.

Shortly after going to work at the Santa Fe a fellow worker Maxine Myers asked me if Iíd like to move into an apartment with her so I left the rooming house and moved. Maxine was from Florence Kansas a small town in western Kansas She had a very friendly outgoing personality and I liked her. The apartment had a small living room, bedroom and bath and a kitchen with a small eating area. . At first Maxine and I rented the apartment by ourselves but the rent was pretty steep so we found another Santa Fe employee, Gladys Heinz to move in with us. She was married and her husband was in the army overseas. We slept two in the bed and took turns sleeping on the rock, the name we gave the pull out divan. If any one of us had a date or went out for the evening we had to sleep on the rock. That worked out good because we didnít disturb the other two when we came in.

The apartment was about ten blocks from work so we either walked to work or if the weather was bad we rode the bus. We usually walked because the bus cost ten cents and ten cents would buy a hamburger for lunch.

Not many young people had cars because they were not readily available during the war. I donít know of anyone my age who had a car of their own. Everyone used a family car that was bought before the war. The cars were driven for necessities only. Tires were made out of rubber so they were also rationed. It was not unusual to have a couple flat tires if you went any distance at all. If dad took me to Topeka it almost a forgone conclusion that weíd have a flat. He had to take the tire off, take the inner tube out, put a patch on the inner tube and put the tire back on the wheel. To make matters worse, he had to pump up the patched tire with a hand pump.

I went home almost every weekend. I had to take a bus and it took five hours to go sixty miles. Iíd leave Topeka at 9;30 am and get to Seneca about 2;30 in the afternoon. The bus stopped at every little village along the way to pick up other travelers or to pick up anything people were sending anywhere along the line. This included cans filled with cream or crates of chickens. I left home to go back to Topeka sometime Sunday afternoon.

I liked my job and made many friends. War times created unusual situations. I remember we wore silk hose to work but nylon hose had just been put on the market. Silk hose wore out real fast with holes in the heals and toes but nylon hose lasted it seemed forever. Once in awhile we got word that the local clothing store had gotten in a shipment of Nylon hose. That noon hour all the girls would stampede to the elevator to rush to the store and be one of the lucky customers to get a pair of the precious hosiery. The store allowed only one pair per customer so they always ran out long before everyone got a pair.

Food was rationed also. Mom and I traded stamps. My family did their own butchering on the farm so they didnít need the meat stamps She gave me their meat stamps and I gave mom my sugar stamps. My room mates had lived in town so their families didnít have the opportunity to get extra meat stamps so it all worked out well.

I was living in this apartment when my friend Pat Wempe came to visit. She went to Kansas City to find work and found a job as a secretary for the president of the Price Candy company. One weekend she came to Topeka to spend the weekend with me. We had a good time reminiscing about our classmates and wondering what they were doing. We knew that most of the guys were in the armed forces and that most of the girls went to Kansas City but a couple of the girls went to Wichita to work as ďRosie the RiveterĒ in a defense department for the government making airplanes. On Saturday night we took a bus and went downtown to a movie. Pat took a bus back to Kansas City on Sunday. she always wrote a note to let me know she got back home Ok but I didnít hear from her and wondered why.. We didnít use the phone to communicate very much back then because the phone was only used for important messages like births, marriages etc. About ten days after her visit her sister called to tell me that Pat had gone to the hospital two days after her visit to Topeka. They did everything they could but she didnít survive. She died of meningitis. She was such a good friend and I was devastated.

Return to stories