A Fictional Account
Written By Erick James Conard
Brother Frankie, Mother, and Erick at Buckeye house in 1951
Brother Frankie, Mother, and Erick at Buckeye house in 1951
The day I was born was magical. Snow blanketed the land three feet deep, turning the world into a sparkling wonderland. Icy ramps of snow, formed by the wind, led to the tops of houses, barns, and sheds. Although the sky had transformed from a dreary winter gray to a crisp bright blue, a fierce wind howled eerily through small cracks in my parents little house, creating rivers of cold in their otherwise warm refuge. The low had been 15 below zero, but in the brilliant sunlight, the world began to warm toward freezing.
My parents and ten-month old brother, Frankie, lived in Baca County, Colorado, one mile north of the Buckeye Store intersection. While everyone I knew called that intersection Buckeye, after the general store my Dad's Mom owned, the name you see on maps is Lycan, Colorado.
Their little house faced west toward the county-maintained dirt road leading North thirty-five miles to Holly, Colorado. Our barn and windmill sat about 200 feet to the east of the house. The corrals, pig pens, and the garden were south of the barn and the chicken pens and machinery yard, filled with a wide variety of farm implements, were north. Beyond those man made structures were miles and miles of unobstructed sky sitting on a flat open plain.
Mother was proud of their tiny home, built by my Dad out of two recycled army barracks left over after World War II. They built it for the arrival of their first son, my brother Frankie, who was born in January, 1949. When they first moved to the ranch after the war it was just open land, so they bought a new brooder house and lived in that for over a year. Mother always spoke about that time with a sparkle in her eyes and joy in her voice. "We had a lot of fun there!" She always emphasized that the brooder house was brand new and never used to raise baby chicks until after they moved out.
"However, the brooder stove, which kept the chicks warm, wasn't new. It was a round metal thing and Frank cleaned the top off so he could toast bread on it," she confided. "But mostly we used it to keep the brooder house warm. We had a nice bed inside with lots of blankets to keep us warm and cozy."
One of my parent's favorite memories was created during the time they stayed in that brooder house. A ferocious blizzard hit eastern Colorado and my parents were happy inside their cozy 10 x 10 brooder house. It never occurred to them that Beulah Faye and Bill, my mother's parents, who lived in Fort Worth, Texas, might be worried reading about the devastating blizzard their daughter faced inside a tiny brooder house.
When the wind died down, my parents looked outside and were mesmerized by the beauty the blizzard left behind. Several feet of sparkling snow covered their world, creating a shimmering white wonderland under a crystal-clear blue sky. They were enchanted, so rather than checking on the amount of heating fuel they had or finding a phone and calling her mother, they went outside to play in the snow. My Dad soon realized it was pheasant hunting season, so they hooked up a horse to a sled and went pheasant hunting. They had a wonderful day and that evening Mother created a wonderful yet simple meal of pheasant, potatoes, and carrots.
My parents didn't have electricity or a phone for several years after moving to Colorado. "It was so nice when we got the phone," mother said. "It had ringers that connected us to the operator. Everyone had a different ring, like one long and two shorts, or two shorts and two longs. Everyone had a different ring and you knew to answer when you heard your ring." Of course, to make the phone ring, we had to grab the handle and crank it!
Dad's sister, Fern, had both wind generated electricity and a phone. So when Beulah Faye was worried sick after the blizzard and hadn't heard from Mother, Beulah Faye called Fern to be certain her daughter was safe. Fern bundled up and drove a mile on the dirt road to the brooder house to check on Frank and Billie Faye. Fern found the fun-loving couple inside their warm little brooder house laughing and dining on pheasant. As long as they could be with each other, my parents felt their lives were full of joy and nothing could keep them down!
My Dad farmed a three section patch of dry-land he leased from his mom. We all called her "Mom," not just her kids and grandkids but everyone, even though her name was Hazel Fern. She was a very warm and kindly woman. She had seven children: Noni, the oldest, Juanita, called Neat, Vera, called Till after the black midwife, Tilly, who helped deliver her, Fern, Frank, named Franklin William Abner because William and Abner were his two Granfathers, Bob, just Bob not Robert, and Alma Pearl, who was sometimes called Alma and other times Alma Pearl. My Dad was from his Mom's first marriage, as were all Mom's children except her oldest daughter, Noni, who I've been told was conceived as a product of rape by a man who was a good friend of Mom's father. Her father's friend was a barber and had just purchased a new car. When he offered Mom a ride home from school, she accepted, feeling excited at being offered a ride home in a brand new car.
On the way to her home in the country, he stopped near a windmill and tank and raped her. She struggled mightily, but he was a mature, married man and she was just a young school girl. She failed to fight him off. In the early 1900's, the blame was all on her, of course, as was the shame when it became apparent that she was pregnant. Her parents never said a thing about her dad's friend. Instead, they blamed her for "allowing" it to happen.
After some years of being abandoned by her first husband, "Mom" took a second husband, Mr. Delaney, and moved to his home behind the Buckeye General store, which he owned. His first wife had died not long before and more than anything he needed a wife to take care of him. He was quite a bit older than Mom and hadn't had children. When he passed away he left her the store, quite a bit of land, and a relatively large amount of cash money he'd accumulated. It was an especially large amount of money during the Great Depression.
Her third and final husband turned out to be quite a bit more colorful, but that unbelieveable story will have to wait it's turn.
Although the farm was in Colorado on the Western edge of the Great Plains, it was only about five miles west of the Colorado/Kansas border and had the look and feel of Kansas. It was 70 miles from the farm to the nearest hospital, Lamar Memorial Hospital in Lamar, Colorado, with a population of approximately eight thousand.
Mother was more concerned about my birth than she had been when she was pregnant with Frankie, even though with Frankie a blizzard had kept them at the hospital for two weeks. Several months before I was due Frankie had a double hernia operation and Mother's thyroid "went crazy," requiring her to undergo a thyroid operation, increasing her overall level of apprehension. In 1948 Dr. Krosnick charged $50.00 to deliver Frankie and $50.00 to deliver me. In 1953 when my sister, Brenda, was born, he'd raised his price to $75.00.
Mother was stunningly beautiful and even more so because she didn't seem to know it. But my Dad did. He had grown up on the edge of total poverty and felt like he'd found his princess when he found Mother. Her father was a brilliant engineer with a genius IQ but he had tuberculosis, which weakened him greatly. She was thrilled by Dad's masculine vitality and physical prowess. He was five feet eight inches tall with incredible physical strength and the ability to use it.
For the trip to the hospital, they put on multiple layers of clothing and sweaters, coats, and gloves. Even wearing coveralls and coats, Mother looked beautiful. She worried about how the coveralls looked on her but they were comfortably loose so she wore them. They tromped out to the truck, Daddy creating a path in the snow for mother. Daddy loved taking care of Mother.
The truck was their only working vehicle and that morning when they tried to start it, the truck wouldn't crank. The motor had frozen up and the fan belt wouldn't move. Always the optimist, Daddy popped the hood open and began working on the motor, convinced he could easily fix the problem. He'd tell Mother "OK, try it now." and she'd turn the key.
Finally, Daddy stuck his hand in near the fan blades, grabbed the fan belt, and pulled, a dangerous move he wouldn't normally make. "Try it again," he shouted through the freezing wind. This time when she turned the key the motor sputtered and the pick-up roared to life.
Jumping back, Daddy yelled, "Oh, I can't believe I did that!" He looked at his middle finger in shocked surprise." Billie Faye, I cut my finger off!" Alarmed, Mother jerked her foot off the accelerator and the pick-up died.
"Don't worry, Billie Faye, just try it again!" Daddy said. She said a little prayer, turned the key, and it started. Then Daddy got in, put the severed end of his finger in place, and started laughing. He was happy it hadn't been worse and his hands were so cold it wasn't even bleeding much.
Mother drove a mile north to Daddy's sister Fern's house. They walked in and Daddy said, "Hey, Fern, I cut my finger off." Fern laughed. "Oh Frank, you're such a kidder! Don't say things like that!" Rather than explain, Daddy just tilted his hand and about an inch of his middle finger dropped, swinging lightly. One thin thread of tissue held the tip to the rest of the finger. Fern began running around "like a chicken with it's head cut off" grabbing clothes and other items necessary to make the trip to the hospital in Lamar.
They rode, with Fern driving, through the snowdrifts seventy miles to the Lamar hospital, where I was born without apparent complications. Daddy's father, who we called Grandad, always said I came out talking and hadn't stopped since. I weighed 6 pounds and 9 ounces. No one knew then that I'd only gain fourteen or fifteen pounds in the next four years.
"You were a very easy baby to take care of," Mother once told me. "You rarely cried and were mostly content to lie in your crib. You were such a happy baby." My mother was five feet eight inches tall and reached 100 pounds for the first time in her life 11 months earlier when she was pregnant with my older brother, Frankie.
Mother loved going to the movies so she and my Dad went every weekend at Holly, Colorado, a little town of 2,500 about 35 miles north of our Buckeye farm.
"When you were several weeks old we took you and your brother with us to the movies at Holly," she told me. "The woman at the ticket window asked me whose little baby I had and was amazed when I told her you were mine. She hadn't even noticed I was pregnant. Of course, you were born in December and I'd been wearing heavy coats for the last several months." My Dad's mother and some of his sisters were quite fat and Mother's Parents and Grandparents were all very lean. "I didn't want you kids to get fat so I asked Dr. Krosnick how to feed you to keep you lean."
Dr. Krosnick recommended that she put my brother and me on a feeding schedule and feed us only when the schedule indicated it was time for a feeding. Apparently, our desire for food was to be ignored at all other times. Of course, the amount of food we were allowed consume was based upon our weight, not our apparent need or desire. He also told her that giving milk to babies who cried spoiled them. He suggested she wait until the crying completely stopped before she provided the milk and we'd learn to stop crying. While I'm sure that worked well for the adults, I'm doubtful it was good for children.
My mother respected doctors as an ultimate authority and I believe she followed these directions precisely. I sometimes wonder how different I might have been had the doctor advised my mother to listen to my cries ... to try to interpret them as my attempt to communicate to her my feelings and needs. I wonder how different I'd be if he'd just told her to pick me up and comfort me when I cried. Or to feed me ... or rock me ... or simply hold me so I'd know I was loved. Instead, I learned that it was fruitless to expect others to meet my needs. I learned that no matter how much I cried, no matter how much I needed, others would meet those needs randomly when, and only if, they desired to do so. And no amount of effort on my part would affect them. So why even try?
Mother and I stayed at the hospital a couple of weeks before returning to the farm, where it was very cold. I hate being cold. I imagine that I was cold the rest of that winter.... cold for the first four months of my life. And I'm quite sure I was hungry. It wasn't until years later they discovered I had a serious thyroid problem that caused my body to burn a huge number of calories for my weight.