Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Toys For Girls and Boys

By Karen Utter Jennings

            Toys are always a big part of Christmas. Each year, Mother told my brothers and me to make a list of what we wanted for Christmas. Usually, we received two things from the list we wrote. While I reminisced about the old toys from our past Christmases, my curiosity led me to research the history of some of those toys.  
            The year was 1965 and I asked for a walking doll, which was a hot toy. Every girl wanted a doll that walked. Early on Christmas morning, when my brothers and I couldn’t wait a minute more, we jumped out of bed and rushed to the living room to marvel at the presents strewn around the tree.
            When I spied the huge rectangular box with my name on it, I knew. To my fourth grade stature, the doll was amazingly lifelike, standing three and a half feet high. I named her Tonie. She wore size 3 real girl clothing and during the months that followed, I quickly collected clothing for her, keeping the wardrobe in the doll box.
            Since I was the only girl in the family, my walking doll was the little sister I never had. I named her Tonie. Tonie had long red hair with poufy bangs and her blue eyes watched me marvel at her beauty.  She wore a red dress, white under things with white lace socks and shoes. By taking her left arm and guiding her Tonie walked everywhere with me except to school. I distinctly remember Mom telling me the doll was a Horsman doll and the emphasis she placed on the name meant it was important.
            In 1865, E.I. Horsman opened a toy company in New York City. In those early years of manufacturing, they produced a variety of dolls. A Horsman doll meant value and parents wanted quality dolls for their children. During the 1960s, the Horsman Company proudly distributed dolls that looked like celebrities and famous characters such as Cinderella, the Flying Nun, Mary Poppins, Patty Duke and Jacqueline Kennedy, and of course, the wildly popular walking dolls.
            As I marveled over my new doll, my brothers, Mike, Bill and Bob, got a Marx Fort Apache Play set that they shared. The fort came in a big box and included figurines of the U.S. Cavalry, the Indians, the walls and gate of the fort along with cannons, tepees and all the accessories. Along with the fort, the boys also got Johnny West and Geronimo dolls to accompany the theme of cowboys and Indians.
            Louis Marx & Company toy manufacturers made the Fort Apache Play Sets and the Johnny West and Geronimo boy dolls. The company began in 1919 and is known for producing the famous Yoyo in 1928.
            When I asked my husband about his favorite Christmas toy, with a twinkle in his eye, he spoke of his little blue pedal car. He was six years old in 1957 and all he wanted was a car. He got it.
            The house his folks lived in at the time allowed him to drive his car around throughout the house. He remembers pedaling the car as fast as his legs would go, bumping into anything and anyone who got in his way.
            Toy pedal cars were made after the automobile was invented. However, due to their expense to manufacture, usually only the wealthier families purchased them. Because of World War II, no pedal cars were produced during the 1940s. The miniature cars became increasingly popular and eventually, they were not just for the wealthier families. During the 1960s, plastic replaced much of the metal pedal car production, ending the era of true pedal cars.
            In today’s market, collectors vie for vintage toys. The little girls and boys have grown up and have turned the vintage toy market into a big business. The internet is full of websites with toys for sale. Search any of the sites and you are sure to find a replica of that exact toy you once owned as a child. Interestingly, the prices on most vintage toys accommodate everyone from those on a low budget to those who are able to spend thousands of dollars.
            And so, I bring you the memories of a few Christmas toys for girls and boys. I wish everyone a happy and safe Merry Christmas. May all your holiday wishes come true, no matter your age!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rocky Comfort: Little Town in the Missouri Ozarks

Rocky Comfort: Little Town in the Missouri Ozarks
By Karen Utter Jennings
            Rocky Comfort is a peculiar name for a town.  The history of the village tells about the rocky terrain descending into a beautiful green valley; hence the name.  I am fortunate to live not far from Rocky Comfort, so I take a little drive occasionally to visit the graves of my family in the cemetery and take a spin around the town. 
            The first seven years of my childhood were spent growing up in Rocky.  My parents, Ronnie and Emma Faye Utter and my brothers, Mike, Bill, and Bob, lived between the Prosperity Baptist Church and the Indian Creek Bridge downtown.  The property is known as the old Shipman Place.
            The property came into our Utter/Brier family in the 1950s when my paternal grandmother’s parents (the Blacks) bought it. Through the years, it was sold and resold to family members. When Mae Utter Martin bought it, she had a huge pond dozed out in the back near where Indian Creek Branch flows.
            I have many photographs of the house and property when we lived there. Finally, in the 1970s, Mae Utter Martin went to the Elmhurst Nursing Home in Webb City, Missouri, and the property was sold. Today the property looks nothing like it did. There’s a mobile home setting toward the back of the land.
            Our paternal great-grandmother, Ollie (Johnson) Utter Brier, lived just north of the elementary school and the playground.  Her property is known as the old Milligan house. A dirt road separated the place from the school grounds.
            In 1943, Ollie’s parents, Thomas and Nancy Johnson left Kings Valley and moved to Rocky. Tom and Nancy’s health continued to deteriorate and Ollie and her husband, Bill Brier, left Kansas and moved to Rocky to care for them.
            Bill and Ollie bought the place and the surrounding acreage right after that. I have photographs of the houses and land when me and my family lived there.
            My first and second grade teachers were Marie Goosetree and Lela Young, respectively.  I have old grade cards from those elementary school days.  I remember crossing the road to go to school wearing a dress with long corduroy pants underneath and carrying my satchel. A satchel is defined as a small bag often with a shoulder strap that one carries supplies in and carried to school.
            As time went by, we knew everyone who lived in town.  Ollie loved to walk and she would take my brothers and me for a “walk around the block.”  At each of the houses along the way, we stopped to chat with the neighbors.  Some of her neighbors were George and Julie Barnett, Ouida Lowe, Delores Lamberson, Ephraim Decker, Joi Blair, and Lyman Dabbs.
            The Rocky Comfort Methodist Church is still standing in the same spot, but under a different name.  Earl D. Young christened me in that little church.  As a youngster on Sunday mornings, Ollie slipped a dime into my chubby hand so I could contribute to the offering.  
            Many family members are buried in the old part of the Rocky Comfort Cemetery, located north of town near the Prosperity Baptist Church.
            The year before I was born, my paternal grandfather, Perry Utter, bought the Conoco Station located on the east side of  Rocky.  He, along with his two sons, Ronald and Wayne, offered complete auto service to customers.  Perry also coached the boys’ softball team, called the Conoco’s, of which I have pictures and newspaper stories. They were champion ballplayers.
            I am fortunate to own lots of photographs and memorabilia from my family during their Rocky Comfort days.
            In those days, the Stanley Ford home was still standing and Cecil Shewmake owned the grocery store.  The artesian well down at the four-way stop was full of water and my family got their mail at the little brick post office.  My brothers think of Rocky as their Paradise
            Lazy summer days spent at Grandma Ollie’s house meant listening to the whirl of the old window fan and the announcer’s lulling voices broadcasting the baseball games on television.  Iced tea with spearmint picked fresh from the garden, hamburgers on buns (not bread slices) and angel food cake was our favorite meal.  Those are just a few of the memories of days gone by.
            Rocky Comfort was once a large town boasting many businesses and residents. In 1907, when the railroad decided to take their train about 3 miles north and east of Rocky, the town eventually dried up. The new town of Wheaton was born with the railroad.
            Today Rocky Comfort is a village with several hundred residents. But it will always be my childhood hometown where memories carry me back to those glorious days filled with love, laughter, and family times.    

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Love and Marriage: Girls Marrying at a Young Age

I am writing a women’s fiction story of my great-grandmother based on her life. While I am having fun imagining scenes to fill in where there is no documentation, history must be written correctly. My paternal great-grandmother, Ollie Francis Johnson Utter Brier, married at age 14 to Dee Jay Utter, who was 23. When my brother read the first few chapters of my manuscripit, we discussed the issue of why would an early teen girl marry an older man? In today's world it is not as common for that to happen. That is the reason for the question I posed about why girls married at such young ages years ago. Of course, we must look at the era in which they married, 1909, Missouri. It's been fun listening to everyone who wanted to share a story or historical facts with me. To all who did, I thank you!

Disclaimer: This list is not all-inclusive. There are many reasons why girls married at a young age that may not be listed. Even if one of our ancestors married young for a reason that is listed here, each person has a unique set of circumstances that shapes the reasons they do something and the choices that they make. With that in mind, a list such as this may never contain every reason a female married young. 
By Karen Utter Jennings                        
Why did our female ancestors get married at a young age? Social & Economical reasons played a huge role in our ancestor’s lives. Prior to WWI, girls commonly married by the age of 14-16 & they sometimes married men 5-10 years older. As WWII began, many Americans rushed to get married. They also decided to have children as soon as possible. During that time, marriage and birth rates soared.

Here are a few of the reasons I gathered:
In the city, females usually were older when they married. By the end of the 19th century, girls who could afford it were getting an education, going through a full high school, a teacher "normal" school, or even college. Rich girls were going on grand tours of Europe and attending finishing schools there. Girls from poor families might have worked and saved money for a sort of dowry.
 In the rural & farming communities, men needed Men needed to marry and have children, especially boys, to work the land. It was the only way to get ahead if they wanted to make the land profitable.
The historical lack of ways for women to work and earn wages led to only two options: further their education or get married. Depending on the era, occupations for women were limited.  
Gender & Expectations:
Males were favored over females; it was thought female children had less value. Marrying off a girl was a way for a father to feed the remaining kids at home. Boys could help work the land, which meant they sometimes stayed at home longer. It was a man’s world and women had no rights, even to their own bodies and their children. Females were expected to marry and keep house & raise the children.   
 Geographical locations & the Era:   
The areas in which a person lived set the tone for social mores and values for the marriageable age. From the New England states, to the West Coast, to the prairies, the northern & southern states, to the Wild West, family beliefs differed significantly. It was also affected by the era in which they lived. For example, Victorian America held different views of marriage than the Roaring Twenties. From the book, “Marriage in the Victorian Era” by Jen Ziegenfuss, she states that marriage was not romanticized or fairytale-like as depicted in some books. Love played a minor role in marriages. Rather, they were looked upon more as a business-like deal. There were strict “rules” & etiquette to follow. After marriage, as in other eras, women belonged to their husband & owned nothing.
High infant mortality and women dying in childbirth was common, so the idea was to marry young to give a woman more childbearing years. This actually contributed to the high death toll because young girls were not fully developed.  
Owning land was and always will be the lifeblood of families. It gave families social and economic status. Many movies and books abound using land as the reason for feuds, murders, illicit marriages, and all kinds of immoral purposes.
Life expectancy:
Life expectancy wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. In different eras, life expectancy fluctuates. Due to the hardships of life, many children and adults died early. So many people married and started a family as soon as they could. 
Sometimes love was the simple reason for couples getting married. On the other hand, a girl might be looking for someone to love her.
Sometimes marriages revolved around money. One or the other needs it and the other one has it, so through some scheme marriage people marry.
Debatable purposes
Sometimes couples married because there was a baby on the way. Also through blackmail, abduction, and other disreputable schemes, marriages were used for evil purposes.
Sometimes the parents thought it was a good idea for their young child to marry for whatever reasons so they would arrange for their child to marry another child whom they approved.
Safety: Generally, a young woman was safer from unscrupulous men if she were married. She was also 'safe' from an unplanned pregnancy with a suitor if they married before their relationship turned sexual. If the girl was in an abusive home life, she might get married to escape the abuse.    
Security: sometimes girls needed a guardian and marriage was the safest way for her to have one. Families were quick to marry their daughters off thinking their daughters would be taken care of. If she was an orphan, she might marry for security purposes.
Social Interaction:
This was an important part of life, no matter the gender. Interacting with peers helped women grow, bond, share, learn and think for themselves. Women have formed groups centered around the community, school, and church for years.  
Widowers & Widows:
A widower would remarry quickly after their wife died because they needed someone to care for the children of the previous marriage. A widower looked for a young, unmarried, & hearty woman to have children, again, and to cook and clean the house. A much younger woman might marry an older man, 10, 20, or 30 years older.

Sources used to write this article were taken from several authors’ comments from the 19th Century Writers online group; “Women Making America” by Heidi Hemming & Julie Hemming Savage; family & friends from Face Book; “Marriage in the Victorian Era” by Jen Ziegenfuss; “Marriages & Families” Second Edition, by Constance L. Shehan; and other online sources.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Turn of the Century Marriages

Turn of the Century Marriages
by Karen Utter Jennings
My great-grandmother, Ollie Francis Johnson Utter Brier was born in August, 1895 and died August 1975, during her years she witnessed a lot of history. I've thought her life story is interesting and so I've taken on the task of writing it ~ I'm writing chaper 27 now.She married in 1909, barely at the age of 14 to my grt-grandfather, Dee Jay Utter, who was 23. When I spoke with my brother Bill, who's reading my first draft, he
just can't come to terms with WHY a little girl would marry an "old" man...

Believe me, I struggled with that very question & put off writing the chapter for a very long time. Just the other day I knew I had to plunge ahead and write it or it would never get written. So I forged ahead giving the feeling in the story that she was in love and that Dee Jay, was also in love.

Still, my brother just can't buy it. So it got me to thinking that maybe I need a more plausible reason for her to marry at that age? Maybe I need a good plot device to make the story more interesting. Marrying for love? Hmmmm, I know people marry for many other reasons besides being in love.

So, I put it to my friends and I'm gathering their thoughts while researching it on the web. Not much turned up on the websites. But answers from my friends are flowing in about why young girls married so darn young way back then.

But, even my mother married my father when she was only 15; Dad was 20. However, there is a very good reason for mom marrying at that time....and that's HER book!  ;)

Anyway, when I finally decide about the plausible reason for her to marry so young, I'll post the answer coming up.....
Karen Utter Jennings