More Westward Bound

Feature Story January 2006
More Westward Bound
(by Mary Heim Bilsing)
The fifth child of Samuel Franklin and Elizabeth Heim should have been a boy; they really needed another son for Mother now had plenty of help. The stork goofed and brought another girl. I was smaller than any of the rest but seemed to be strong and healthy. Born on Adah’s ninth birthday, I became her special pride. I grew into a small girl with a Roman nose that was covered with large freckles, a small mouth and a big imagination. Many times I heard the aunties say. “My, isn’t she little?” When I was married, I weighed one-hundred and three pounds.

Like the other children, I couldn’t sing or learn to play the organ, though much time an money was spent for organ lessons. I loved music but could not bring it out. I was always asked to give recitations and readings for programs. I knew how songs should sound, but for me they just came out off-key. I spent much time in a world of make-believe, prompted, no doubt, by the many stories that Mother read out loud to the family. I became a real book worm as soon as i learned to read and could never wait to get to the end of the story, but never skipped one word.

I attended school with the other children, walking to and from with my many cousins and enjoying their company. We organized a club called “The Push.” Just for kids who walked uphill and down together along the sometimes dusty, muddy or snowy road, with a lunch pail on their arms.

We three younger children spent much time together. We mixed work, of which we were expected to do our share, with play. Often hoeing a row of corm was turned into a story-telling hour. We sneaked a book out and read at the end of the row. Picking cherries was a big pie factory. Picking up cobs became a financial route to fire crackers or merry-go-round rides at the old settlers’ picnic at three bushels of cobs for one cent. As we grew older, where one of us went we all went. We had a car now and Melvin taught me how to drive it. I was half afraid of the car, but more afraid of a horse. When I had my first flat tire, I put the jack on the outside hub of the wheel, jacked it up , loosened all the bolts, got the tire loose and discovered the jack was in the way. I couldn’t get the spare wheel on or the flat one out. I had to call Melvin to bring another jack.

When school opened in the fall of 1918, I was a senior and there wasn’t a boy left in the class. All had answered the call of their country in World War I. The five girls had returned alone to finish as the only all-female class Dawson ever graduated. How happy we all were when on November 11, 1918, the church bells rang and it was announced that an armistice had been signed. No more lessons that day, and a mighty celebration began. For some of us sweethearts would be returning home, for all of us relatives and friends, but for a few there would be always be an empty chair, a star in the window and an ache in the heart.
The summer after I had graduated, my Mother took over caring for Grandmother Regina who was now bedfast. I helped all that i could, especially with the garden and housework. She had lost her little Mary in the first years in Nebraska and Dad had named me for that little girl. Grandma always had a very warm little crooked smile for me and I tried to be extra good to make up to her for losing the other little Mary. Grandma passed away on July 3rd of that year and left a very large group of descendants of whom she could be was very proud.