Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Robbed Of His Youth

Men grow to the stature to which they are stretched
when they are young.

~ E. W. Howe, 1919 ~

Zora ~ Raymond ~ Otey

February 26, 1933, Otey Reed Campbell died of pernicious anemia. A disease so easily cured today, but one fatal if not diagnosed and treated at that time. He was fifty-five years old. He was my Grandfather.

At the time of his death he was a farmer and a miner in rural Missouri. 1933 was a very difficult time for this country and its people. Otey had been very fortunate to be able to support his family. He supplemented the farm's income by working as a diamond drill foreman for the St. Joseph Lead Mines.

Otey & His Brothers
Working For The Mines

Otey's sons, Otis, Edgar, and Raymond (my Father) lived at home with their little sister (Thelma) Jean. Otey had helped Otis get a job in the mines, Edgar worked on the farm. Raymond, only twelve, attended school with Jean.

Otey and his wife Zora had nine children. Edith had died as an infant; all the girls, Bessie, Allean, Opal and Toad had married and left home to start families of their own. Bessie and Allean had children older than Raymond and Jean, and like most Americans were struggling to feed them.

When Otey died, Zora was left with the meager income of the farm, the accumulation of debts, and four children. Ernest, Otey's older brother convinced Zora to trade the farm for a house he owned in town. A house, he assured her, that was debt free and had no taxes owing. "It will be good for the children to be in town and near school," he said. She reluctantly agreed, signed over the farm, and moved with the children into town.

Ernest was the picture of a son of Isaac Campbell. The men of our clan were partial to drink and stretching the truth to their advantage. More than a stretch, Ernest had lied to Zora and she now found herself faced with a tax bill that threatened to take the only place the family had to live. I am certain my Aunt Bessie would have taken them all to live with her, she was a wonderful woman, but my Grandmother was proud and resolved to pay her own way. Bessie had a family of her own.

Zora took in washing. Bent over a tub in the backyard she worked all day, a job I can not begin to imagine, but never missed putting a hot meal on the table for her children at night. My Aunt Jean often talks of how tired my Grandmother was at the end of the day. Zora was stoic, not a demonstrative woman, but her children knew she loved them.

Otis worked the mines, Edgar got a job with the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA reflected the strongly-held belief that they should not employ more than one person in a household, because it would take one job away from another breadwinner. They would not employ Zora. In rural Missouri 60% of the WPA-employed women were without husbands (12% were single; 25% widowed; and 23% divorced, separated or deserted.) But Zora had sons.

Although Zora shared every penny she earned with her family, it was not the same with the boys. They were young and as they were young; life was lived for "today," not for "tomorrow." They often spent much of what they earned, but Jean says my grandmother never asked them for more money. The major portion of the burden of support fell to Zora.

The WPA began to take a close look at Zora's family. Otis had a job, Zora took in washing, and Edgar had a job with the WPA. Was this the best use of their resources, to give a job to someone who lived in a household with three wage earners?

Rightly or wrongly, fearing a loss of a portion of their income, Zora and Jean moved into the home of an elderly man to care for him. Edgar and Raymond remained in the family home. Otis moved into the home of his soon to be in-laws. One bread winner per household. The WPA was appeased for the time being. But the family had been separated, not living under one roof, a fact my grandmother hated. She moved back into the family home hoping the WPA would not look at them again.

Edgar moved out of the home to live with Otis. Now Zora had only one income. School was an expense Zora could not afford. Both Raymond and Jean were given one outfit a year at the start of school. Edgar and Otis gave Raymond what hand-me-downs they could, but keeping them clean took its toll and the school clothes became thread bare very quickly, as there was nothing new to replace them with.

Raymond was a growing boy soon unable to fit in his shoes. He was teased unmercifully by the other children in school. While by no means rich, these children had substantially more than my father. They had two parents. There was no money other than for food. Zora removed Raymond from school. He was a few days short of his thirteenth birthday.

Raymond had to mature very quickly. He had now become responsible for a portion of the family income and was the man of the house. He took odd jobs in the neighborhood as his contribution. He also paid one of the neighbors, who owned a truck, ten cents to drive him to the berry fields where he picked berries and sold them to a local roadside stand. He turned all of his earnings over to his mother.

Every week Zora gave Raymond back twenty cents of his earnings to take his little sister to the moving pictures. While she made it seem as if it was another responsibility for Raymond, it was Zora's way of giving her two youngest a little joy. Raymond and Jean saw every Shirley Temple movie made. Shirley Temple was Jean's favorite, though I doubt it was my father's. I have no doubt he sat through Shirley Temple for Jean, the sister who was so close to him. His favorite.

I recently asked my Aunt Jean how my Father managed to stay out of trouble being out of school and left to his own devices at thirteen. "He was a good man and a good brother," she said. "He spent his days working and watching out for me. Nights and weekends were filled by the church and its social activities. Mother had a deep and abiding faith. Many of the people we knew were in similar situations." A man at thirteen. No time for a childhood.

My Mother was humbled by the life my Father had lived. She came from a privileged family that knew nothing of the type of poverty my Father had experienced. She had a tremendous amount of respect for my Grandmother, a women with whom she shared so little in common.

Even with the life my Father had lived, he only voiced one regret. He had wanted a red wagon as a boy and my Grandmother could not afford such an extravagance. For my Father's first birthday as a married man, my Mother gave him a red wagon. The man loved the gift the boy had only dreamed about.


Zora, Raymond, Otey.
MOO Mini. 2008. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2008.

Men At Work. Photograph. Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2005.


Blogger Jasia said...

What a wonderful post, fM. Very touching. Your father was a remarkable person and your grandmother even more so. Such inspiration... no wonder you have such a strong work ethic and compassion for your fellow man. It runs in the family.

July 15, 2008 at 5:59 PM  
Blogger Miriam Robbins said...

You are a beautiful storyteller, fM. This one brought tears to my eyes. The things people do for the ones they love!

July 15, 2008 at 6:21 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Thank you both!

They were remarkable people. I never really understood how hard life was for them until I started my genealogy. They never spoke of it.


July 15, 2008 at 7:39 PM  
Blogger Janet Iles said...

Thank you fM for sharing the tough times of your father's family. Your grandmother was a remarkable woman.

July 16, 2008 at 5:17 AM  
Blogger rebecca said...

A beautifully told and very moving story. I always find that the most remarkable and strongest people are the ones who have been through the most but never speak about it unless asked - which is, I guess, what makes them so very remarkable.

July 16, 2008 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


She was, because as they say, there's more to the story. I hope to write about her soon and her cure for warts.

Thank you for taking the time to read about my family.


July 16, 2008 at 12:18 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

rebecca ann:

I have read your work and am honored you thought this article beautifully told.

I love your blog and share your fascination with the mystery of old photos.

I particularly like your headers. You have the gift, a real eye for this.

Have you looked at Shades Of The Departed? My other hang out.


July 16, 2008 at 12:24 PM  
Blogger Lidian said...

fM, You are an amazing writer, just as your grandmother was an amazing person - a perfect melding or writing and subject. Thank you so much for this post.

July 16, 2008 at 3:53 PM  
Blogger rebecca said...


Thanks for the kind words about my blog. I do indeed read Shades of the Departed -- it's really an inspiration!


July 17, 2008 at 10:33 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Good story. It sort of mirrors that of my great-grandfather. His father passed away, just days before the last child was born, when he was 16 and he had to take the wheel.

I wrote a little about it in this blog post.

July 18, 2008 at 9:01 AM  
Blogger Bill West said...

fM, I think your grandmother and my grandmother
Aggie would have a lot in common to talk about if they had met. I look at their lives and
wonder if many modern Americans could do what
these women had to do.

Great article!

July 20, 2008 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger Terry Thornton said...

MAVEN, Thanks for sharing your family with us in this loving tribute to your parents and to you grandmother.

July 21, 2008 at 5:23 AM  

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