Origins of Jeannine Tour (5): Summerfield

  • Mom sitting on the steps of the house where she lived in Summerfield, Kansas, in grade school.

This summer we took Mom in The Epic Van on a tour of all her old Kansas haunts. We’re calling it the Origins of Jeannine Tour.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

It was in Summerfield, Kansas, in first grade in 1935, that Jeannine became Jeannine, which is actually her middle name. Up until that time, she had been Carol, which sounded a lot like Harold, her brother’s name, a coincidence they used to their advantage as in, “I thought you were calling Harold,” and “I thought you were calling Carol.”

So when her parents delivered her to Miss McDonald’s classroom, they told the new teacher that her name was Jeannine, a development that came as a complete surprise to Mom. “I wondered what the heck was happening,” Mom recalled. It was thus, ever after.

Miss McDonald often made Mom stay in during recess to practice her cursive writing, telling her that her capitals needed to be taller, and Mom remembers making them stretch three times as high as required in defiance.

Students were seated in alphabetical order, and Mom was next to Marvin Reed – Prichard, then Reed. After leaving Summerfield, she didn’t see him again until her physiology class at the University of Kansas, where students again were seated alphabetically and she turned around to see Marvin in the next seat. He now lives in Washington, D.C., and she still talks to him on the phone.

In Summerfield, Marvin’s cousin, Bob Frazee, whose grandmother, Mrs. Morrill, was Mom’s babysitter, showed us old pictures of Grandpa and his graduates that were taken out of the school before it was demolished.

Bob and his wife, Mary Ellen, treated us to lunch at the new Border Café, spitting distance from the Nebraska Border. Both Bob and Mom had their tonsils removed by Dr. Vester Vinsant in his office on Main Street. Bob got lockjaw and had to go to the hospital and Mom hemorrhaged and was given Coke syrup over ice chips to ease the pain.

The town once had nearly 50 businesses, but now has only slightly more than 100 people.

Mom remembers Grandpa pulling her sled down Main Street behind the car, and going to the now-gone drugstore, where Grandpa would buy her a Green River, a lime soda produced by a Chicago beer manufacturer to survive prohibition and that inspired Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song of the same name.

In the fall, Mom would gather black walnuts in the woods and lay them in the driveway, where Grandpa would drive over them to crack the outer husks. Then Mom used a hammer and brick to crack the shells. She and Grandma picked out the meat as they listened to Fibber McGee and Molly on the radio, then used the nuts to back a cake.

After the snow melted in the winter, Mom and Hal would stomp through the water-filled ditches in their galoshes on the way to school, two blocks away.

On Easter, Grandpa would stage egg races between Mom and Hal, cheering them as they rolled hard-boiled eggs down the sidewalk in front of the house with their noses. A picture Grandma snapped caught Hal cheating with his hand, a revelation Mom held over him all his life. On her birthday, March 19, Grandpa would plant peas in the big family garden.

Summerfield was also the place the story almost ended, where Mom had strep throat and a fever of 103, a near-fatal development in the days before antibiotics. She remembers Grandma putting cold, then hot, compresses on her head to ease the sinusitis she developed. She missed the last six weeks fifth grade.

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