Chapter One

The Early Years of my Childhood

I was born on July 20, 1935.
Coffeyville, Kansas
Dr. Kenneth Warren McFarland
Clara Eleanor Thrall
Edwin Thrall and Eleanor Harris James Warren McFarland and Frances Douglas

I was born on July 20, 1935. The same day my parents were set to move to Coffeyville, Kansas from Caney. My father had borrowed a pick-up truck for the move, so negotiating for another day was not an option. My mother went into labor at 9am and by 10am she was admitted to the Coffeyville Hospital. My father, though not particularly domestic, soldiered on alone with the move and managed to get all of our belongings into the new house. With my arrival our family size was increased to four; my mother, father and my older brother, James. My middle name, Eleanor, was my mother’s middle name and my grandmother’s first name. My mother liked the name Katherine but eventually it was shortened to Kay because she felt Katherine McFarland was long.

About my grandparents

My mother’s parents were Edwin Thrall and Eleanor Harris.

At two years old I remember being told that my maternal grandfather had worked on cattle drives and eventually settled in Eureka, Kansas and started a bank. My maternal grandmother, Eleanor, was a teacher. Grandma Eleanor was divorced when she met my grandfather Edwin, which was quite unusual in those days. My grandfather too, was single. He had lost his wife and needed help raising his children. After a brief period of courtship, it was determined Edwin and Eleanor would be married. Grandpa Edwin had children from his first marriage, then, he and Eleanor had four more children together: one of their daughter’s was my mother, Clara.

My mother and grandmother had dissimilar personalities. Grandma Eleanor neither complimented nor encouraged my mother. For example, one year my mother was in a play and Grandma Eleanor suggested she drop out of the production, stating she would only make a fool of herself being "too tall" for theatre.

Grandpa Edwin was 54 when my mother was born and had retired from the bank. My grandmother was quite influential amongst the citizens of Eureka and her friends were always very important to her. Whenever my grandpa would tell people he did “nothing” after retiring my grandma would become irritated with him. She didn’t think his response sounded prestigious or important enough. My grandma always had an opinion. For example, my dad was 6’1” and my mother 5’10” when they met. Grandma Elanor told my mom not to marry my dad because their combined height would make them look like freaks. Fortunately, my mom didn’t listen and married my dad anyway. Another example is the time my mother was a lifeguard at the pool and my grandmother commented, "ladies don’t lifeguard. Nor do they camp.”

Eleanor had a somewhat strange history. She was born in North Dakota and her father would travel two months at a time to cut timber. One time in the summer when he came back his entire family had passed away with the exception of my grandmother. Upon his return he assessed the situation and promptly shipped my grandma off to an aunt in Iowa. What wasn’t discovered until years later is that my grandmother had married and eventually divorced. She then went to Normal School in Emporia, Kansas and became a grade school teacher. The man that became my grandfather was a banker and had four kids on his own and needed a wife. Eleanor, therefore, took on his grown children and had more of her own: George, Lauren, Margaret and eventually my mother (Clara).

My mother talked fondly about Edith, one of her half-siblings, who had fallen madly in love in college and ended up marrying a man named Jake who owned a hardware store in Caney. They lived in this little house in Caney, Kansas and she’d walk back and forth from the hardware store every day. Jake and Edith had two children: a boy and a girl; the boy was absolutely cherished but unfortunately had died of meningitis.

The remaining child lived in the same house that Edith and Jake were married in. Martha was the surviving child and Edith became a doting mother to her. As time passed Martha graduated from high school and went to KU. Martha also married a man by the name of Jake, a Marine who was a pilot. He was always on a Navy base. He was a wonderful guy and magnificant to Martha, yet Edith always looked down on him. One time I asked Edith, “Why don’t you like Jake,” and she said she didn’t want him to have anything to do with their money. Edith had plenty of money but was never happy. Her husband ended up in a nursing home in Bartlesville. Martha’s daughter Carol was everything to her. Edith ended up in a nursing home as well, not far from where Martha lived in California.

I remember fondly Grandpa Edwin and my father as terrific friends, always sharing stories until late in the evening. Grandpa Edwin retired from the bank and smoked a pipe. The two of them got along so well they would stay up in the attic for hours swapping stories. He died when I was one year old.

When I was growing up, I loved hearing about how my parents had met. In those days, if you had one year of college experience you were eligible to teach. After her first year of classes at Stevens College in Columbia, Missouri my mother moved to Caney to teach at the elementary school. My dad was a senior at Caney High School at that time. One day my mother and her half-sister Edith went to church where they saw my father singing in the choir. My mother asked who he was, and Edith replied, “His name is Kenneth McFarland and his mother is crazy, so stay away from him.” My mom didn’t listen, and when Kenneth asked her out, she said yes. On their first date my mom told him she had to be home early that night because she was teaching the next day. That story wasn’t entirely true. Though my dad did bring my mom home early that night, it was so she could go on a second date beginning at 9pm, and not because she had to teach.

During the time my parents were both living in Caney, it was a bustling town, home to a prosperous gas and smelter plant. The town consisted of local, long-term families, like ours, and was also home to Eastern European and Mexican men. The town was a melting pot of cultures. In the Spanish part of town there were knifings, and the majority of the people were poor. However, there were a few wealthy Indian families who drove big cars, wore fancy clothes, and shopped at the stores in neighboring Bartlesville. Although they had nice belongings, their homes didn’t match their outwardly appearances as most lived in small homes that weren’t kept up.

My father told me when he worked on the pipeline, he would chat with some of those men, and I recall him telling me they ate everything that moves. I’ll always remember the story my dad told me how two of those men looked green one day and said they, “ate too much of the big eye chick (meaning owl) and the big-eyed chick did them in.”

James Warren McFarland and Frances Douglas

The McFarlands were from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, and some of them moved to America as Scottish Presbyterians. England had resettled retired soldiers from English Presbyterian colonists within Northern Ireland. At that time, the British fed people for free when they converted to the Presbyterian faith. The Black and Tans military determined who controlled Northern Ireland; though the English were attempting to control Ireland themselves.

There was a period of time when the Scots were turned out onto the street because the landowners were taxed for the number of people who resided on it. Because of this, and because of the Irish potato famine, many of the Presbyterians packed up and moved to America. My fraternal grandmother, Frances, was a world class hypochondriac. My father spoke to her every Sunday night, and she thought he was everything. Each week during their conversations she would recite a litany of illnesses; each one more serious than the next. But she was a truly brave soul, the person you would ask to kill a spider or to immediately act during an emergency. She was very strong-minded and always in charge.

When I was born my father's parents still lived on a farm near Coffeyville, Kansas. I was a young child when they died. I remember being told that my grandfather's parents, the McFarland’s, embarked upon Ellis Island and settled in Iowa. I believe they settled there because Europeans were advertising for farmers to come and inhabit the land. My grandparents acted on this and were given 160 acres.

I remember my grandmother used to put two little dots under the C in our name which that meant we were from Northern Ireland.

My grandparents lived in a one room farm house until they moved to Caney where all the boys had planned to go to college. The Douglas's settled in Caney because my great grandfather was a Union soldier, and they were given acreage for settling in south east Kansas.

About my siblings

I was born the second child; my brother James was five years older.

My brother, James Warren McFarland, was a constant problem to my parents. He wasn’t fond of people and managed to cause a lot of trouble. It’s possible he had issues which weren’t then identified, such as kleptomania. James also had difficulty telling the truth. He would get into trouble, and I would hide for hours inside our little house avoiding the situation I knew was to come.

My parents couldn’t figure out how I could hide for so long, but I would squeeze in besides an easy chair and stay there for hours. I didn’t like seeing James get into trouble. My brother was 6’3” and a star basketball player. He was recruited by Kansas State University. He probably would have been a great player except for the fact that he managed to flunk out of school. He got a job in Manhattan working in a men’s clothing store. My dad always found jobs for him, but eventually he would be fired. It was always like that. My dad would help him land a job and then he would somehow manage to get fired from the job.

James was self-destructive and had unrealistic ideas about himself. He showed talent as an artist, but he would start a project and never finish it. He could have been very successful if he had applied himself, like in basketball, but he never did. When my dad was the Superintendent of the 501 school system, I was a senior in high school.. Throughout his tenure as the Superintendent, Topeka had two city papers: The Topeka State Journal and the Topeka Daily Capital Journal. Mr. Stauffer owned the Capital Journal and Mr. Blake owned the State Journal. Blake decided he was going to run for a school board position in Topeka and wanted to change the Board of Education officials by running vicious attacks against my dad, which had horrendous effects on my family. Rumors were started about my brother being the Barefoot Burglar. My dad was under so much stress that my mom began hiding everything my brother did and when he eventually found out, would get mad at her for not telling the truth. James never caused trouble for anyone but himself. Once he became an adult he moved to California, and we rarely saw him. He was married three times. One year James and his fiancé Pat drove to Topeka. I married the two of them during the half time performance of the Super Bowl. Pat would tell these wonderfully fabricated stories about Jim, like he was a front-line fighter in the Korean War and a disc jockey. None of the embellished tales were ever true, but Pat was a good story teller and we always managed a good laugh.

My earliest childhood memory

My earliest family memory is going to Stanford University for my third birthday. My father was earning his doctorate degree at that time.

I also remember not being able to breathe one time when I was very small and being told about a drowning incident that occurred when I was a year and a half old when we went to Caney to the McFarland's farm for Christmas.

My earliest pet memory is of my rabbit Henrietta. I probably had the only rabbit diagnosed (by me) with OCD.

Henrietta didn’t like lumps or bumps and would smooth out my sand piles with her little paws. I would create sand piles with my jello mold and watch her smooth each one out. It was an interesting passive-aggressive game we played.

My most vivid childhood memory

Neither my mother nor father were allowed to have pets in their homes growing up, but as newlyweds they adopted a puppy. My parents loved their first dog and this was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the animals they shared, and a gift I inherited from them both. When I was young we had rabbits and I used to joke with my mother that whatever was hurt the most, she would triage and fix first. We had a little rabbit once who broke its leg. My mother handed me the rabbit and set its leg with tongue depressors and tape. I remember sitting on the bed and holding the rabbit, while my mother was working to put the bone back in place. The poor animal was in so much pain it started crying and immediately upon hearing its cries I passed out.

My mom had to finish the operation all by herself. Once she completed the task, she came over to revive me and make sure I was okay. I always remember my mom evaluating human and animal illnesses on the basis of severity and attending to the most pressing matter first. I remember another instance when one of our horses was close to giving birth. My mom and I would alternate every two hours checking on the animal. It was my turn to go out to the barn and I recall it being bitter cold. I could see the barn light on, so I knew my mother was likely still there. As I walked through the sliding doors the mare charged out of the stall running into the night with the afterbirth in its mouth. When my mother saw me she yelled, “which way did she go?” I was too stunned to answer. Of course, my mom found the horse and when they returned I was still in the barn where she left me. My mom put a metal chair besides me and asked if I wanted to sit, sensing I was not alright. She then went right back to taking care of the animals.

I was always closer to my mother as my father did not relate well to small children. My mother and I had so much in common.

We both loved animals, in fact my lifelong passion for animals came from my mom. We also loved playing cards and taking trips. In fact, after I graduated from high school, I didn’t know what to do with my life, so mother and I became increasingly involved with horse shows and traveled around the country showing our horses during that time.

My mother had a special affinity for nature and animals, which her mother did not approve of, but I loved. She was a proud member of the Daughters of the American Colonists, who looked down on the Daughters of the Revolution. They wore dresses with big sashes and used my bedroom to contain all of their belongings, so I used my dad’s office during their visits. One day he came home and asked, “who are all of these women?” I responded by saying they were the Daughters of the American Colonists and he remarked, “no they are not, they are the original colonists.” While my father was working on his master’s degree (in Columbia) there were very few jobs for husband and wife teams except in hardship areas. Because of this my parents chose to move to Quincy, Missouri where they could both teach. These were hard years as there was no running water or electricity. My dad spent every night after school trying to convince farmers that utilizing electricity on their land would assist in their work, yet they were pessimistic. I recall one farmer saying to my father that he had a brother who had electricity and that a mouse ate the insulation off the wire and burned the house down.

That farmer never did get electricity, but still my dad tried to show the benefits. I also recall another time my parents telling me how typhoid fever raged year after year. After a certain period of time, the source was traced to the town well. Upon this discovery my father took matters into his own hands and went to the sheriff and the county health officer and prevailed upon them to follow Topeka’s example of passing a law mandating the typhoid fever vaccine for children and suggested residents of Quincy do the same. I recall one lady refused to vaccinate her child, and her son died within six months. That singular incident changed many community members minds about the necessity and safety of vaccines. Another story I remember my parents sharing with me concerned the commander of a military base in southern California. My father was invited to make a speech. My dad traveled a lot as a motivational speaker. While he was there the base commander said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” He followed it with, “I wouldn’t be sitting here today if it wasn’t for you. I was a boy in Quincy, and dropped out of school because my parents couldn’t afford to buy me long pants for graduation.” When I told you why I quit school, you looked away and said, “You probably don’t realize this but there is no future for you here in this small town in southeast Kansas and you are giving up a better future because of a lack of long pants?” So, I thought about it and decided you were right; I got my education and ended up as a General here at this base.” It was most likely the reason the General had requested my father be the speaker at their graduation ceremony; as my dad inspired him to complete his education.

When my dad was going to school in Stanford, we would spend the summers there. His first experience with public speaking was when they had instructor courses (County Institutes) for teachers during the summer months. At that time, he was engaging in local speaking events, then as time progressed he got invited to do more, at both regional and national events. After a few years my dad got involved with all types of civic clubs where he also gave speeches. Reader’s Digest hired him as an educational consultant, and he got to do the same with American Trucking and also with General Motors. He wasn’t trying to sell these company products, but acted as the motivational speaker on behalf of the company. The crux of his messages wasn’t about working harder than anyone else, it always focused on being a leader in your community. Sometimes he likened the experience to being a Lamplighter – the guy who had to ignite the lights on the street. He referenced the experience as being completely in the dark until that person lit the street lights; he said this person led others away from darkness.

These were the types of messages my dad liked to convey when speaking to large audiences; always about being a leader within your community.

When my father was the Superintendent of 501 schools, we went to church each Sunday. The only thing I remember about the church was the little communion cups in the pew. One time my dad put his finger in the communion cup holder and got it caught. As we stood up for prayer and sat back down, he had to lean in until he could wedge his finger out. I thought it was hilarious!"

My fondest childhood memory

I don’t necessarily have a favorite childhood story, but I do remember the hard times of WWII.

I was never involved in buying food for our dogs, yet I remember one day we were at the store and my mother told me to go and get canned dog food. In those days there was only one brand. A lady next to me was bemoaning that there used to be so many choices, but during the war many products were rationed. Some days you were lucky to find what you needed, regardless of brand. The next time you went back that brand may no longer be available or perhaps the item wasn’t on the shelves at all.

I also remember how difficult it was purchasing tires. My dad could get tires for the Board of Education car that he used for work, but not for the family car. One time when he was in Arkansas for a meeting, he was talking to a tire store owner who always seemed to have tires in stock. Senator Fulbright (the same Senator who initiated the Fulbright Scholarships) made sure Arkansas had all the products they needed. Senator Fulbright ran for re-election every six years. He would get out into the farms and fields and campaign for his re-election, and once reelected he’d jump right back into those expensive suits. I remember so many stories about Senator Fulbright from my youth.

What I remember about my parents

My paternal grandparents (James and Frances) had an acre of land on the edge of Caney. The land had a huge barn, two fishponds, and a flower garden. My grandmother was an avid gardener. When my dad was growing up approximately half of their land was a vegetable garden, which she eventually transitioned into a flower garden. The flowers weren’t all necessarily pretty, and mother nature didn’t help with pollination, so my grandmother would put an old sock over the flowers to collect the pollen and distribute to other flowers. She raised all her own vegetables, irises and peonies.. She focused on individual flowers and began hybridizing them. The Caney garden club would go over to Sarcoxie in southern Missouri and walk for hours looking at the flowers. Fran would inspect every single plant. She took her gardening and the Caney garden club very seriously. My dad was her favorite child, and she thought he could do no wrong. My dad called her every Sunday night. EH was her next favorite son. For some reason she didn’t seem to care as much about the middle two.

When all four boys would come for Christmas they would do a gift exchange, Francis would write to the boys and tell them whose names to get a gift for. She would always have her two favorites (Ken and EH) exchange gifts and the two middle sons exchange gifts. During my mother’s second year of college, she moved to Caney to teach. At that time Caney had the reputation of being completely wide open and wild. Because it backed up to Oklahoma, the city had lots of immigrants. Her mother, my grandmother Eleanor, didn’t approve of her moving to Caney as she believed it to be too rough for a girl her age. My mom’s half-sister Edith told my mom not to date my dad, but she did so anyway. Edith thought my grandmother Francis was crazy. She was a take charge person most of her life. Her husband, James, was very quiet. He called her Fran. I don’t remember much about him other than we went on a trip to Florida once with four adults and two kids and there was no air conditioning and that Fran purchased a cement flamingo and set it on the floorboard of the car.

My grandma Eleanor was a real character.

I remember a time she had to have cataract surgery and my mother got stuck staying in the hospital with her. There was another patient in the room who had been in an awful car accident and my grandma would ask my mother why this lady was making so much noise, inquiring “doesn’t she know she’s bothering me?” My parents said surgery didn’t do her eyes any bit of good. Eleanor and Edwin had enclosed the screened in porch of their home and one time when she complained that she couldn’t see any better, Edwin fired up a cigar, lit the piece of paper surrounding the cigar, and dropped it on the floor. When it caught on fire she asked, “what’s on the floor,” and my dad answered, “I thought you couldn’t see anymore!” Fran outlived her husband James, who died from colon cancer. James was a teamster who drove horses. He and Fran met on a little farm outside of Caney. Once married and with children, they had the boys attend country school. Once they finished school, Fran and James decided they needed to go to college, so they sold the farm and moved to town. James went to work for Prairie Pipeline until he was fired. Fran always purchased chicks and raised them to eat as fryers. She would get a huge number of chicks each spring. I recall her kitchen being located on a porch.I also recall how chicken was a special treat on Sundays and how hot the porch would get when she was cooking it. The boys had two bedrooms in this house. The bedroom for the boys was a small room with no closet. It had a little alcove that was used as storage for my grandmother’s clothes. This room is where my uncles and father grew up. My grandparents had two teensy bedrooms and a tiny living room. They made the kitchen off the back porch. All four boys shared the one room and had two double beds squeezed in. Every Sunday the boys would straighten out their pants and put them between the mattress and the box springs until the following Sunday. One time my Uncle Frank put the ironing board under the sheet and as my dad came running in the room to jump on the bed he hit the board and hurt himself. Fran and James son EH was interested in flying. He went to Pittsburgh and got a flying field going and took people on charter flights from there. This was the same time as WWII and the military didn’t train pilots, but rather hired contractors like my uncle to train pilots.

The second oldest son, Russell, was very strange and married a woman by the name of Betty who was even stranger than he. Russell worked in industrial arts and could make almost anything. When he didn’t want to come to family gatherings, he’d say he was staying home to work on his breezeways. The other brother, Frank was a pipefitter, who drank too much and beat on Edith, his wife. Everyone knew he beat her, putting her in the hospital more than once. Hugging was outside the realm of acceptable behavior and Edith was a hugger. She was well endowed and would start bearing down on you and squeeze you to her chest. Edith could hug you so hard you would have trouble breathing when you were ensconced in her grip. Her husband hated this.

My grandfather never had much to say. Frances was so dominant, James hardly talked at all. Together they had four sons, my father being the youngest. When James died of colon cancer, he had no insurance. To keep him alive would cost between $2,000 to $3,000. He told his family he didn’t have the money and wasn’t going to have the surgery. That’s all I remember of his death; that and his colostomy bag.

My mother grew up in Eureka and became a teacher in Caney. I don’t remember her father, Edwin. I was a year old when he died from a stroke. My grandmother Eleanor was very brave; we called her the official snake killer. My dad thought it was a terrible name.

We had a fish pond that was a stock tank sunk in the ground and it had a big king snake that was spotted and red. I remember the story of when I was a year and half old and the house was full of people. It was Christmas and everyone sat down for dinner. Upon realizing I was the only person not there, they all got up and began searching for me. When they couldn’t find me in the house, they moved to the fish pond. My grandma saw my red snowsuit in the bottom of the pond, and I was in it. I had been there for a while. She jumped into the pond and got me out. My dad didn’t know how to do CPR, so he started pushing on my chest for what he said seemed like forever. I began spitting out all this black goo from the bottom of the pond. They had been looking for me for a long time, so I must have fallen in and been there a while. I was born in 1935, and this incident occurred during the Christmas of 1936. It was over a year before I’d take a bath again.

I never could go under water so swimming lessons were out of the question. My maternal grandmother, Eleanor, was very different from Fran. She graduated from Emporia and had a first husband no one ever talked about. Eleanor married my grandfather Edwin when he was 50, and he already had older children from his first marriage. My mother was never close to my grandmother. Edith (my mom’s half-sister) lived in Caney. I didn’t have many cousins. I met Ed (EH’s son) one time when they were travelling to Tulsa. Frank had a son who became a teacher in Denver. My mother remembered that Frank bought a camera and Russel took it as a down payment on a debt Frank owed him. Ed was fairly close in age to my dad. While he was in Kentucky, he sold barrels filled with bourbon whisky. One time my dad took Ed to Caney and Ed said, “how many Kentucky Nasties do I have to eat around here to get a Russel Stover?” One time my mom got very angry with Ed. I flew into Springfield with him, and my mother was mad that he flew me in his plane without her permission.

If there was a plane that wasn’t in use, Ed would fly it. He was so similar to his dad in that way. He started flying at the age of 12. I remember my mother thought he was doomed to go to hell. He was totally out of control but at the same time a wonderful person. He was a General in WWII. Ed was successful in real estate and married a woman by the name of Glen. Francis was the only other cousin I remember, and she was Frank’s daughter.

Kay McFarland

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