Saturday, January 10, 2009

Eastward Ho

Today, the Navy commissioned the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier. However, our family dedicates this day to my father-in-law, Harry Meiselman, who served aboard the San Jacinto with the former president.
Updated 01-11-08 (After Dad read it and corrected my poor memory)

You know how some family stories become legendary in your own history. It has an air of unbelievability; yet, with all your might, you want to believe it is true. This is one of those stories.

My dad was born in Ringo Kansas in 1921, the youngest of eight. Do not get the atlas out. It is not on the map; in fact, it no longer exists. It is one of those boom-bust towns that and came and went with the coalmines all across this country. The company named the town Ringo after the people who owned the land on which they dug the shaft, not for a famous British drummer. It was in the extreme southeastern corner of Kansas where it meets Oklahoma and Missouri.

The nationwide coal strike of 1922 forced my family to move back east. Here is what says about it:

On the eve of the expected big strike of the spring of 1922 the members are exhorting one another to hold together, but the big union is cracking in many places in spite of them. District 14, Kansas, is in open rebellion against headquarters. District 12, Illinois, the largest district, is supporting the rebellious Kansas miners. District 10, Washington, is kept in line with relief remittances. The leader of the Kansas rebellion, Howat, received 132,416 votes at the last election of officers as against 175,064 for the one elected. District 14 was expelled by the machine in office…

So, the United Mine Workers blacklisted Grandpa and his fellow miners. Many of them headed toward Virden Illinois, where they had support. Ok, that is the factual backstory. Here is where “The Legend” begins…

Grandpa found work in a Virden Mine, (Panther Creek), and went ahead. Now the rest of the family had to get there. No easy task; eight children and their mother, little money and their meager worldly possessions. Grandma made sandwiches for the trip… no stopping at restaurants for these poor people.

My grandmother and my father, baby Leon, took the train. The family believed the trip would be too hard on a baby. Once safely on the train, the my aunts and uncles (some as young as 3) packed themselves and everything they owned into an old Model T Ford my grandpa owned.

Now you can look at your atlas. The trip between southeastern Kansas and central Illinois requires a drive through the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. Of course, in 1922, there were no paved roads in rural areas, especially in remote areas. The trip was difficult. They often found themselves in ruts. When that happened, the entire crew had to get out of the car, push and sometimes lift the car out of its jam. The Model T had no working headlights. So at night, they stopped along the side of the road and slept on the ground and in the car.

Besides that, those old model cars had gravity-flow carburetors. Every time they came to a rise, they had to turn the car 180 degrees, put it in reverse and back up the hill/mountain, or else the car would sputter to a stop. Imagine backing up every hill through a mountain range.

It took five days, driving from sun up to sun down to get to Virden, about 400 miles; and here is the kicker to “The Legend”. I believe my aunts, uncles, and grandfather had one of the best times of their life on that trip.

I have heard the story at least 100 times, probably more.

Recently, my cousin Geno, my oldest cousin and the son of the driver of the roller-coaster trip (my Uncle John) that drove them to Virden, sent me this picture.

I could not, and still cannot, believe it. I am now the proud owner of a picture of “The Legend.” It really happened and here is my picture to prove it.

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