Graduation from Bona School
Being with Grandpa and Grandma full time was a real shift in my lifestyle from that little farm. I guess I considered myself a “town boy”—although you want to remember that the population of Bona, Missouri was a total of twenty-one people! I had my own little bedroom on the ground floor just off my grandparents’ bedroom. That was handy because if I wanted to go to the outhouse at night, I could just go out the window without bothering them.
It took some adjustment. At first I was homesick for the rest of the family. I had slept in the same bed with Richard all my life. In the beginning it was kind of lonesome without his body warmth and without his kicking or poking me once in a while. It was strange when I woke up in the mornings, too, but I soon got used to it.
It was a time of rapid development for me—both mentally and physically. It made me feel independent or maybe I got that from Grandpa Stanley because I had heard it said that Charley Stanley was “as independent as a hog on ice.” That eight months was also the time that I suddenly shot up to my full height of almost six feet. My mother was to be astonished when I arrived in Vancouver after only eight months and having grown a good six inches. I grew fast but more up than out. I was slim and later when I joined the Navy I still only weighed 137 pounds soaking wet.
It was a delight being at Grandpa’s store all the time. After school and on Saturdays I swept the bare wood floors for him with a mixture of sawdust and oil to pick up the dust and leave an oiled finish on the wood. Before long I was helping wait on customers. I could pop paper sacks open with a flourish just like Grandpa did and weigh out pinto beans, flour, etc. I also tended the chickens that Grandpa took in trade. They were kept in a chicken house out back until Grandpa made his weekly trip to Springfield and took the chickens, eggs, and cream to market, then picked up supplies for the store.
It was helpful to Grandpa and Grandma that soon on Saturdays I could tend the store while Grandpa went to the house for lunch and Grandma did not have to come trotting across the yard. Sometimes she tended the store and I was allowed to go along with Grandpa either to Springfield or to Aldrich where things like chicken feed came in on the train.
Best of all, since I had been driving our old Model T Ford for nearly a year, Grandpa taught me to drive both the truck and their Chevrolet sedan. The only trouble I had was learning to shift gears since the gears in a Model T are handled entirely with your feet and the gas lever by hand. I caught on quickly however, and by Thanksgiving Grandpa would let me drive the car by myself for short rides.
On one occasion when Grandpa was busy on a Saturday, he actually sent me in the truck by myself to the depot in Aldrich to pick up a freight shipment for the store. I was proud as a proverbial peacock. When I got to Aldrich, I drove grandly up and parked in front of my Uncle Merritt Stanley’s garage ostensibly to visit while I wanted for the afternoon train, but partly to show off for my cousin Charles who was not allowed to drive yet.
I got my comeuppance on the way home however. When the train came I loaded the truck—handling sacks of chicken feed and bran mash was easy after all those bales of hay I had bucked for Ben Long—and was doing fine until I got to the foot of the long hill leading up into Bona. The truck engine stalled when I shifted down and I could not get it started again. I finally had to suffer the embarrassment of hoofing it up the hill admitting that I was stalled.
Fortunately, my older cousin Leon Frieze who was a real truck driver at the time was at the store and he hiked back with me. He finally figured out that it had something to do with the coil and got it going for me. I decided then and there that I was going to learn everything is to know about engines.
The time with Grandpa and Grandma was not all work. I had plenty of time to get out with my friends and many cousins. I would go duck and quail hunting with Claude and Billy Todd. Once I went bird hunting with my cousin James Lowell and two of our Kansas City cousins, Ennis and Buddy Fulkerson. James and I must have shot the birds that day because Ennis and Buddy were Kansas City kids and neither of them could hit the broad side of a barn.
In those days I was ambitious to be a cowboy singer and I itched to buy a Gene Autry guitar. There was a real beauty in the Sears & Roebuck catalogue that only cost three dollars and ninety-eight cents—and that included an instruction book and song book. Mother sent me a little spending money once in a while and Grandpa sometimes paid me for extra work around the store. I had a secret hiding place in my bedroom and in it saved nearly all of my money until I had five dollars, then I sat down and ordered that guitar.
It was a great day for me when the mail carrier delivered my new guitar in a big flat cardboard box. Grandpa showed me how to tune it by sounding the right notes on Grandpa’s parlor organ and adjusting the strings. I must have driven the two of them half-crazy sitting there evenings twanging away practicing chords. Grandma finally gently asked if I could practice in the afternoon when they were both at the store!
I never did get to be much of a guitar picker but it was fun to fool around with. Later on Grandma told my mother that she had to go into the bedroom for a good laugh one day when she overheard me telling Billy Todd, “Why, I have only been through two lessons so far and I can already play ‘Red River Valley!’”
Although he was an excellent fiddler, Grandpa was not much help to teach me because he played the fiddle entirely by ear. He could do a lively rendition of “Marching Through Georgia”, “The Wabash Cannonball”’ and things like “Amazing Grace” but he was at a loss to show me how to read a sheet of music.
Grandpa did not mind if I experimented with his fiddle occasionally so once in a while I would fool around with it and got so I could handle simple tunes in the key of C. Before I left for Vancouver in 1937 I could do a fair job on either the guitar or fiddle with things like “Red River Valley” and “Springtime in the Rockies.”