Week 51: #52 Ancestors – Winter
By Eilene Lyon
My grandfather, Laurence M. “Smitty” Smith left us with a small stack of typed memoirs written in brief spurts. The following passage opens a piece he titled “The Early Years.”
“During the winter of 1921-22 the religious fanatics in California were predicting the end of the world. Where I was living at the time this prediction was believable. From mid-January to mid-February there were over 20 days when the morning temperatures dropped to 20° below zero. With a foot of snow on the ground, that is mighty cold.
“My brother Loren and I were living with my father on a small farm north of Moscow, Idaho. It was about two miles to school and the only way we could get there was to walk.
“Actually we both enjoyed the challenge as I remember it. Dad saw to it that we were well wrapped up and had our overshoes on. The last bit of protection was a silk scarf wrapped entirely around our heads. The silk was transparent enough so that we could see through it to walk.
“My older brother lived in the north edge of town on a street which we passed on the way to school. When we were ready to set out for school Dad called, then when we passed the house Harry’s wife Callie called back that we had passed.
“So you see, it was perfectly safe and when we got to school we looked like a creature from outer space. There would be hoar frost all over the silk scarf and even our eye brows would be coated with frost. We thought it was great.”
That winter, Laurence was 13 years old and his younger brother, Loren, was 10. Laurence pointedly never mentions his stepmother in any of his stories, but his father had remarried in the summer of 1920. Though Loren’s education ended in the 8th grade, Laurence went on to become an electrical engineer. Being the only one in his family with a college degree did cause some friction with his siblings.
Grandpa’s older brother, Leon, also had just an 8th grade education. Like the oldest son, Harry, Leon had a mechanical bent and also like the outdoors.
“Leon liked to hunt and fish. He tried asking me along with him on hunting trips, but he soon discovered that I was no good at it. He had trouble figuring out anything at all I was good at…He was very much opposed to me going to college. After my college graduation, our relationship was somewhat strained.”
About his brother Clifford, Smitty remarked, “He considered me something of a dummy because I couldn’t handle a gun. When I visited him in later years he seemed to always have some derogatory remark to make about my intelligence and ‘what a dumb kid I was.’ Neither he or Loren went past the eighth grade in school, that is probably why they were always on the defensive.”
I suspect that Grandpa was actually rather defensive about his college education (and lack of sporting abilities) as much as the other way around. It’s a shame that his siblings weren’t supportive of his desire for a different sort of life.
Generally speaking, the other Smith children were successful in life, every bit as much as Grandpa, just in their own way. If their mother had not died young, I expect the relationships between her children would have been a bit more harmonious. It wasn’t just the winters in Moscow that were chilly.
Feature image: Loren (left) and Laurence (right) with their father, Charles E. Smith, at the farm north of Moscow, Idaho, about 1922, after they survived the frigid walks to school. Photo most likely taken by Charles’s wife, Jennie E. (Wallace) Smith. (Family collection)