Chapter Two

My Adolescent and Early School Years

About my early school years

When I was six years old, I lived in Coffeyville and attended Garfield elementary school, which was 7-8 blocks from my house. I loved stories back then but didn’t care much about going to school. My parents told me if I went to school then I could learn to read my own stories, which seemed like a pretty good idea. On my first day of school I came home, and my parents asked me whether or not I liked it and I said the school had a big sand pile and I played in the sand, and they had all of these paper dolls which I played with too, but I didn’t learn to read. I told them I liked my toys better and I didn’t want to go back to school. Being that my dad was the superintendent of the Coffeyville schools, he appeased my wish, and I didn’t return for the next few days.

"My first-grade teacher at the Garfield School (in Coffeyville) was a woman by the name of Miss Noble. There were approximately 25 kids in our class. On the way to Garfield, I had to pass a Catholic school. The children would always be outside playing, and I would stop to talk to them which frequently made me late to class.

I finished first grade in Coffeyville and then attended second grade in Topeka at Randolph Elementary. My dad had accepted the position of superintendent of schools for the 501 school district. Miss Cook was my second-grade teacher and Miss Snell my third-grade teacher. I don’t recall any of my classes in Topeka being as large as my class in Coffeyville.

Miss Kittle was the 501 school district writing specialist during my elementary school years. She was in her fifties at the time, and wore her hair slicked down and covered with a hair net. In her mind she had devised a way to teach writing effectively. Ms. Kittle handed out little sheets of paper so that you had to use your whole arm to write capital O’s, and we were made to write them out page after page. I recall a time in 3rd grade when I was sent home with a letter and asked my dad to read it to me. He told me to read it myself, being of age to do so, and I nervously had to tell him that I was unable to read longhand cursive writing. The next day he called for Ms. Kettle to come to his office and asked her why I hadn’t been taught to read cursive. Her answer was simple and to the point, saying, “I haven’t quite worked that out yet.”

My second-grade teacher, Ms. Cook, had kittens and she gave me one, who I named Clarence. I still have letters written by Mrs. Cook. She was a very nice person and had unbelievable handwriting that looked like it had been typed. We wrote many letters back and forth to one another over numerous years.

Clarence wasn’t used to the outdoors. He loved to come and sit besides me, always wanting to be petted.the day progressed, and the weather became warmer, Clarence would come out of nowhere and sink all four claws into your leg and then dash up a tree. He’d give you a look like you deserved it for ignoring him. Clarence ran the neighborhood, and all the dogs would come to the yard looking for him. My dad traveled during the week and would come home on the weekends. When he did, Clarence would come to his room and meow about all the bad things that had happened to him during the week while my dad was away. We had this big desk and Clarence would go to the bathroom under it, so we put a dirt box under there and dad suggested we put some curtains up so that poor cat had some privacy. I remember having a wicker doll buggy and would dress Clarence up in baby clothes and a bonnet and put him in the buggy on his back, with his tail swinging back and forth. Clarence would have been the tough dog from the bad part of town, if he was a dog.

The Ray Beers family, who lived down the street from us, had a standard white poodle. That dog would get out of its house and come and dive into our pond and go home completely covered in green algae. When he would come to our property it looked like he was a participant in the Westminster show because he was so neatly groomed, yet when he would leave our property, he was always covered in moss. Clarence liked that dog. The neighbors liked us less.

I recall a time in 7th grade when I was in math class and we had a new teacher named Miss Showf. She was teaching us about math and a boy in my class who was disinterested in the topic decided it was preferable to watch a sporting game out of the back window. Miss Showf picked up a book and threw it right at his head. After that incident all of the children actively participated in math class.

The subjects I studied in school were the modern 3 R’s: remedial reading, writing, and arithmetic. In high school I liked history, English and geography. I did not like math, chemistry, biology or the sciences.

My mother was very active in clubs and women’s meetings and gave book reviews and was one of the very best dressed members of our community. My parents were socially active and had many friends who they would invite over for dinner or go out to dinner with. I wasn’t quite like that in junior high. I didn’t like being with kids my own age. I always preferred being in the company of my parents and their friends.

When I lived in Coffeyville there were a lot of kids and we all played together. We had a regular neighborhood group and my very best friend lived at the end of my block. When we moved to Topeka (Westboro) most of the children were close in age to my brother and predominately boys. During that time, I mostly managed to do my own thing: reading and hanging out with my mother.

I didn’t participate in any extracurricular activities because I was so involved with our horses and farm animals. In retrospect I didn’t quite realize other kids my age weren’t exactly like myself. One time when my dad asked why I didn’t want to go out with a group of kids, I said they were just a bunch of silly junior high kids. I was constantly around adults who, I felt, had conversations which were much more interesting than those of children my own age.

My brother James played a lot of basketball, and his team was state champions. He was so good he was recruited by Kansas State. James did get into trouble at times though. One time he shot a boy by the name of Graden Luthie, in the foot. The handgun he used had a hair trigger which accidentally went off and the boys tried to make up a story about what happened. James and his friends sent Graden crippling home and told him to recite the fabricated rendition of the event, but eventually the truth came out.

What I enjoyed the most (and least) about school

All I can ever remember caring about is horses. I was in junior high when I got my first horse. Once that happened, I dropped out of both social and school activities. Once I entered high school, I wasn’t interested in school anymore, and by my senior year I had enough credits to graduate, so I only took two cooking courses and two courses sewing courses. I then proceeded to spend the rest of the day with my horses.

In high school I had a teacher once whose entire goal was to turn students away from sewing. Our first project was to sew a sanitary pad, the next project was a linen slip, and our third project was to create a circular skirt. During the years I was a high school student there was a big sewing center at 29th and Topeka. I went in one day and asked the clerk for her help on my circular skirt; she instructed me to purchase wool and to use an iron to turn the hem. The only sewing machine we had at the time was a Treddle, and I preferred a Singer.That women helped me make a pattern for an a-line skirt. I had a full circle pattern in both the front and back. In class I stood on the table having the hem marked by one of my peers when I started to feel queasy. My classmates, sensing I was not well, cranked open the window, but I fainted anyway.

For some unknown reason I seemed to make a habit out of fainting. When any of our animals received medical care, I could not watch. One time I had to hold a horse who had suffered a cut on his leg from a barbed wire fence. As soon as I saw the flap of loose skin, I knew I would soon pass out. Yet another time my mother had me madly dash to the store to pick up an item from the store. While riding my bike I hit the curb and the handlebars dug directly into my stomach. I became queasy and blacked out.

The worst accident I ever suffered was with Midnight Secret, our world champion horse. We got him in 1980 and kept him in Tennessee as a stud. We had no reason to believe his caretaker wasn’t riding him daily. One time I saddled him up and Midnight became very bothered by this. I jumped up on him and he went absolutely crazy! We had an English saddle, where the hinge releases when the horse rears up. Midnight reared up and I lost the stirrups. I don’t remember all of the details, but I do remember lying on the ground and having no recollection of how I got there. I thought to myself this is crazy, why would I be lying on the ground, but then I saw the stirrups and figured out what happened. I laid back down on the ground, in the same spot where I was kicked off, and someone had put a towel under my neck. Secret began running down the street and tried to jump the fence. My dad took off to rescue the horse. My mother was looking out the window at the horse and saw my dad running after him. My mother was screaming, questioning what had happened, and he said Secret had run off and presumed because I was not with him that I must be dead. Because of this assumption, his first priority was to go and get the horse, believing there was nothing he could do to help me. Once everyone realized I was in fact still alive, I was taken back to the house and examined by Dr. Tosier. For some reason in that moment, I felt wonderful, though the doctor told my mother to get a pan as I’d be sick to my stomach soon. As a result of being thrown off the horse I had whip lash and lots of pain. I was sent to Mennigers for x-rays. Although I couldn’t turn my head by myself, the doctor took my head in his hands and turned it completely to the side when I heard a cracking noise. After that the pain was gone.

I graduated from college in 1967 and that same year started taking a serious interest in horses. I spent a lot of time with my animals and met some really interesting people as a result. One year I was introduced to a gentleman in Topeka who wanted to raise Tennessee walking horses. Because there was hardly any stud service for this in Topeka, my family decided to sell Secret to him. He had built a big red barn and big house, which we admired, and thought would be a great place to house the horses. It even had a lovely waterfall on the property. Unfortunately, this guy was not who he appeared to be. We later learned he was running a scam where he sent out Christmas cards raising money for orphans. This guy managed to bring one orphan each year to the United States. One year we brought a fried with us to the stall, and upon meeting the horse groomer, he asked if was possible to be added to the adoption list. We always felt as if there was something suspicious with this man and one day as we read the Kansas City Star, we learned he had been arrested. I guess our instincts were right.

Another man we met through the horse business, Porter Rogers from Searcy, Arkansas, was married to a rich woman from the deep south. Porter was not rich himself, but once he was married, he set up a clinic in Arkansas. He had a grown son who had twin girls, who were also involved in horses. One time I was in Kansas City for the KC Royal when Porter was carrying on about this new horse trainer he had met. He described him as a true man of God, one who doesn’t drink, smoke or curse. I then asked Porter how this man then trains, because all of the other trainers I knew engaged in each one of these activities. Approximately three years after that interaction I read, again, in the KC Star, that Porter had been arrested for killing his wife. Evidently, he had met a waitress and after some time began talking to her about how awful his wife was, so they conspired to kill her one night while she was out playing bridge. This plan was concocted by Porter, his girlfriend, and the girlfriend’s boyfriend. All three eventually ended up in prison.

I knew another lady by the name of Joan Robinson Hill, who was from Houston, and showed saddle horses. I remember one horse in particular by the name of Beloved Belinda. Joan’s father was prominent in the oilfields, so they had plenty of money to purchase and raise horses. Joan’s father had married a very gentile southern woman. Eventually Joan married a doctor who was also from Houston. The Robinson family financed an important horse show at the Pine Oak stables that had huge barns and brought in many horses from around the country. Several years after we left the horse business we learned that Joan’s husband killed her by injecting her with a contaminated substance. As the story goes, her husband, the doctor, had a girlfriend who he had fallen in love with. This man told Joan he was giving her vitamin shots to improve her health, yet she kept getting sicker and sicker. Because he himself was a doctor he advised Joan not to seek additional medical care, that whatever her problems were, he could fix them. Joan’s family was very upset with him for not getting her the care she needed. As Joan was dying, her husband stayed in bed with her for two full days. After the second day he called for an ambulance to come and get her, but it was too late, she was already dead. After her death, Joan’s father hired someone to investigate his son-in-law. The news he discovered was quite disturbing. Joan’s husband had gone to a gentleman's club and asked for recommendations for having someone killed. Joan’s father knew his son-in-law had murdered Joan and ended up killing his son-in-law directly in front of Joan’s son. This story, because it was absorbed in wealth and greed and betrayal, was made into a movie called, “Murder in Texas,” and starred Sam Elliot, Catherine Ross and Farah Facet. The mistress, Anne Kurth, who later became the wife, wrote the book the story was based on.

Another story about meeting and working with horse people in Texas were the wonderful bouffant hairdos that many of the women would wear. Because of the high humidity in Texas, each time I visited my hair would be soaking wet by the end of the day. Every night I went to bed my hair would dry in odd formations and shaped like lacquer. At the end of the day, I would soak it out and begin working on it for the next day’s show. I also remember lots of mosquitos would land on your leg and when you would hit them, you would end up with a big blob of blood on your hand. Memories of Texas and the people I met there are still vivid in my mind.

Childhood illness

I recall drinking grape juice when I would get sick, and even as I grew older, I would buy grape juice to feel better. I don’t remember having many childhood illnesses, but I do recall my brother getting his tonsils out and being disappointed that he couldn’t swallow the ice cream my parents bought him. Besides having both the mumps and chicken pox as a child, I wasn’t sick often.

After school

I remember having a Russian olive tree in our backyard. It was approximately 20 feet high, and the branches began low to the ground. Before I became actively involved with horses, I spent most of my summers up in the tree, watching all of the activities around me. I also recall my mother taking me to a building on the capital grounds that had a children’s library. One summer I got very involved with modern day soap operas and spent an entire three months doing nothing other than listening to them on the radio

Early summer vacations

I don’t recall the exact year, but it was the same year as the Moby Dick movie with Gregory Peck was released. I was in high school. That year I sailed first class to England on the Queen Mary. There were no keys to any of the rooms as porters sat in the hall guarding our belongings. None of us wanted to go to the entertainment they had planned for the evenings, preferring to watch movies on our own. We would open our outside deck door and there would be men and women in stuffy evening gowns and a string quartet. We always laughed at this crowd, all wearing their diamonds and listening to a string quartet. It was such a wonderful trip.

My dad was asked to lead a speaking engagement for General Motors, so they provided us a car once we arrived in Europe and we traveled to several different countries. We met a Scottish professor in Edinburgh who was our guide. I could understand him fine, but he struggled to understand my English. He thought I was from the South and had picked up an accent there. Interestingly, he could understand my parents with no problem, but not me, so it was constantly a three-way conversation. I understood him and would explain what he said to my parents, then I would respond but my parents would have to translate my answer. This gentleman was a smoker, but for some reason didn’t want us to know. I recall stopping at a restaurant and wanting him to sit with us to help in deciphering the items on the menu, but he was nowhere to be found. My dad eventually saw him smoking and told him to join us and not to worry about the appearance of it.

On that same trip we stopped at a bakery and got some cat’s tongue, which were little and crispy. The next day we had to get an early start and we were all so sleepy. I heard a voice come from the front seat asking for more cat tongues. I had a hard time justifying this delicacy being the animal activist that I was.

My family went on another European trip, this time sponsored by American Express. It started out in Portugal and was a disaster from the start. When we began our sight-seeing tour our guide couldn’t speak English and our driver was completely lecherous, so I had a bad feeling the trip was on course to be a total failure. Thankfully there was a Canadian on the trip who spoke Portuguese so we would communicate through her. After Portugal we carried on to Spain. We arrived at our hotel very late in the evening. Not realizing all of our luggage was on top of the bus, and that it had been raining all day, upon arrival at the hotel our clothes were soaking wet. When we finally got to our room, I was so exhausted that I laid down on the bed only to find the sheets soaking wet as well. When I went down to the hotel clerk to complain she said, “well of course they are wet it has been raining all day!”

Yet another glitch with the trip was being grouped together with a lady who originated from New York. She was Jewish and explained to us that she always traveled by herself. She talked non-stop, always complaining and asking questions. She insisted that her passport be stamped in every country we visited and would not leave the border until she had her stamp in her book. While in Portugal there was a giant statue resembling the Egyptian President Nasser, and one day she said in a very loud voice that Egypt was neither part of Portugal nor Europe, so why did they have the statue there? DuSomeone asked her if her husband went on any vacations with her and she answered that one time they went to Hawaii together and he insisted she go out to the deep water, even though he knew she couldn’t swim. From that moment on we assumed his vacations were those times she traveled by herself.

Upon my arrival back in the U.S. I wrote a letter to American Express and asked for our money to be returned. I even filed a lawsuit against the company. In exchange for my dropping the law suit I received a letter from an attorney in New York who said he was going to pay our money back (we even profited from the venture) because my hand-written letter was so wonderfully descriptive and that he would treasure it for years to come.

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