Birth to Five Years by Joan Peterson

Picture this……a modest, very modest, white clapboard farm house nestled in a hollow with a creek(Bear Creek) running along the edge of the farm and meandering through the south pasture a short distance from our house. Limestone bluffs covered with lush green vegetation bordered the creek.Tranquil, peaceful sounding? Correct. But some time (exact time unknown) on a Friday in April, the 13th in fact, 1934, this peaceful setting was probably interrupted by some loud wails coming from the bedroom of this unassuming farm house in rural eastern Iowa, three miles from the small town of Monmouth in Jackson County.

Bear with me for a moment while I put that momentous year, 1934, in perspective. What were some happenings in the U.S. and the world? The British liner Queen Mary was launched in September; the first federal prisoner arrived in Alcatraz in August; 2500 fans saw Babe Ruth’s farewell at Yankee Stadium in September; FDR dedicated Boulder Dam (Hoover Dam) in September; Hitler became head of state and commander- in-chief of Armed Forces in Germany in August. As for April 13, I was fascinated to learn that I was born on the same day as Thomas Jefferson, but not the same year! His

was 1743.

After six years of marriage, Verna Gladys (nee Marwitz) and Floyd Glenwood Propst welcomed their first-born bundle of joy, Joan (pronounced JoAnn) Dorothy Propst. This bundle of joy must have turned into a nightmare, as I was reportedly a very colicky baby for the first six months. Nevertheless,I obviously thrived from being showered with love and attention, for our extended family lived within a six mile radius of our home.

That extended family consisted of my mother’s mom (Grandma Mary Franck) and the families of my mother’s sister (Aunt Eva) and half-brother (Uncle Alvin). Grandma Franck lived by herself when I was born but she had been married twice before that. Her first husband, my mother’s father, Ed Marwitz, left the family when my mom and aunt were very young. There was so much anger and hard feelings toward him that when his body was found alongside the railroad tracks somewhere in Missouri, the entire Marwitz family refused to claim him; therefore left the authorities to do with himwhatever. (That seems so sad to me but then I don’t know the full story). As a result I never knew a grandfather on my Mom’s side. 

My Grandma later married Bill Franck, had one son, and then Mr.Franck also left her. No one ever talked about him, especially in front of my grandmother. In fact, it was not until I was married with two children, that my Mom asked me one day as she and my Dad were wintering with us in Aptos, CA, if we would drive her to Santa Cruz so that she and the rest of my family could meet and visit her step-father (my step grandfather!). I knew that such a man had existed but it was the first time that I realized he was still alive or that she might like to make contact with him.

It was an interesting visit, to say the least, listening to them talk about the past. My mouth is still agape on that one! My poor grandma, who was left with three young children to raise, showed much kindness toward me, always greeting me with sweet queries of “How’s my little Honey?”, but she must have been kinda hard on her husbands!

My father’s parents (Alma and Frank Propst) also lived on a farm not far from us. Since my Grandpa Propst died when I was five, I don’t have a lot of memories of him, but I do vaguely remember him at some family gatherings, looking very distinguished in his shocking-white full handle bar mustache. Seeing pictures of his father’s long flowing gray beard suggests that beards and mustaches were a fashion statement in their time. I was twenty before my Grandma Propst passed away, so I had fond memories of many family gatherings at her house in town. My father’s sister (Aunt Lena Pence) and brother (Uncle Ralph) lived with their families on nearby farms as well. Seven cousins resulted from the above unions, but they ranged in age from four to eighteen years older. My parents were in their late 30’s when I was born, which put me about half a generation out of sync. I was a pre-teen before they began to recognize me as an o.k. kid, especially the boy cousins. We did, however, grow to become quite close through the years. Three of them are deceased, but those of us who remain keep in rather close contact with my brother and myself, in an attempt to keep the family ties going for our children and grandchildren—but largely just because we want to!

When I was two and one-half years old, my brother’s birth on Nov. 5, 1936 increased our immediate family to four. He was given the name Galen Leroy Propst, but he unofficially changed it to Lee after leaving home to join the Navy following high school graduation. His birth also occurred at home.

Wow, what a brave Mom! Understandably, not many details were ever discussed about either of our home births.Being only two and a half, I do not have clear memories of his arrival or the months that followed. But I know that life was not easy for my parents. The country was just coming out of the Depression when I was born. My Dad worked hard farming the 105 acres, growing and harvesting corn, oats, alfalfa and caring for cows, pigs, sheep and chickens and raising cattle to sell. My Mom worked equally as hard taking care of two young kids, cooking, cleaning, gardening and helping with outside chores. 

Being poor never entered my mind when I was young, but I’d heard my parents talk about starting out with orange crates for end tables and hand-me-down furniture. I do not recall ever going hungry (photos will attest to that) or being deprived of basic needs. The doll I am holding in one of the photos was my prized possession and probably one of the few playthings I had beyond paper dolls and some books. In those early years, life was quite simple. We gathered around the kerosene lamps in the evenings (electric lines had not come through our region yet) and looked forward to Saturday night baths, as indoor plumbing came later also. Any form of entertainment centered around family or friends with occasional neighborhood potlucks and Sunday visits and dinner or picnics with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It always amazed me that, in later years, my parents, aunts, uncles, and their friends would refer to life at that time and in even in their earlier years as “the good old days”!

One of my first vivid memories occurred sometime in my fourth year. Having trouble breathing at night, snoring loudly and being plagued with frequent throat infections, the doctor recommended removing my tonsils and adenoids. Now that procedure was NOT done at home, but in a hospital some distance from home. I remember waking up in a world of hurts, both physically and mentally. My throat was on fire with each swallow as was my neck from an ether spill while being administered that common anesthetic in those days. “Coming to” in an unfamiliar sterile, high ceilinged hospital room was a frightening experience until I realized my Mom and Dad were at my bedside. After all, they had hardly been out of my sight since birth! I probably was released from the hospital that day, obviously survived the trip home and recovered satisfactorily. I continued to grow into the next phase of my life,that of starting school at the age of five in 1939.

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