Rev. Edgar F. Wheeler 1 Earliest Youth

I was born on October 28, 1920, at our farm home 3 miles north of Nortonville, Kansas. This is in northeast Kansas. My parents were Ernest Raymond Wheeler, son of Charles Greeley and Augusta Rose Stillman Wheeler, and Marie Edna Lugibihl Wheeler, daughter of Peter and Katherine Gilliam Lugibihl. I am their fourth child. Of course I do not remember it, but my Mother has mentioned two things that stand out in her memory that day. It was a cold day and she remembers the smell of turpentine spilled on the hot wood stove in the room of my birth. She also mentioned their concern because my neck was twisted in an unnatural way when I was born. She was uneasy that permanent damage might result. So far as I know no long lasting harm was done.

Still back before my memory our family made a trip to my mother’s home in Ohio. I was around two years old joining Louise, Merlin and Charles who were older. We traveled in an open 1919 Chevrolet–a body style called a “touring car” at that time, later to be called a phaeton. The road maps like we have today were not available yet, so my Dad used a “Blue Book”. It described the travel route by landmarks–for instance, “turn left at the large red barn, and when you have crossed the Mississippi River, continue until you cross the railroad tracks, about two miles, then take the left fork of the road,” etc. Paved roads were rare and tires were not reliable, so my parents tell of many flat tires, which they repaired right along the road. I think they said it took five days to get to Ohio. Incidentally, pictures taken on that trip show me sucking my thumb–the hardest childhood habit to break, except possibly bed wetting!

My memory begins to function from about four years of age. I can remember being in church when my brother, Bob (Edward Robert), was a baby, and my mother had him in a basket on the pew. Several of the church girls were “oohing and ahing” about what a cute baby he was and I was watching so proudly.

I must have been around five when Mom made another trip to visit her parents and family in Ohio. This time only she, Bob and I went, traveling by train. The only memory I have of traveling either way was at the train station, probably in Chicago. I saw a green engine, which caught my attention, because I thought all trains were black! This train had no chimney, so maybe a switch engine. Apparently I was already quite observant.

In Ohio the relatives all had a picnic at Uncle Harry and Aunt Lydia Suter’s home. The picnic was in a wooded area beside a nice stream. With others, I was wading in the water when a craw-dad fastened on my toe. I screamed and adults came running to my rescue. One day Bob and I were playing in the house at Grandpa and Grandma Lugibihl’s. I took a toy away from Bob and he cried. My Aunt Marcella, a teenager, came to his aide and shut me in a dark closet under the stairway–my first, and I hope my only, experience of solitary confinement. I was terrified and screamed until she opened the door and took me out, making me promise I would not take a toy away from Bob again. I promptly promised that. Was that the source of my claustrophobia?

A couple times Mom was annoyed at her brothers. Once I fell into a muddy ditch in front of Grandpa’s (She has a picture someone took of her leading me back to the house). Her brothers thought it was funny. She did not! Uncle Ralph and Uncle Christian had a kind of workshop upstairs in the barn. My curiosity led me up there, and they gave me a shock with a telephone generator. More screaming, and my mother was much annoyed with her brothers again. Boys will be boys, and they were just at that age. They probably could not understand why their sister was so upset at them.

When I was perhaps five or six years of age, I remember the privilege of earliest childhood being lost. I remember the comforts of seeing others at work out in the snow and cold of mid-winter. It was such a warm, pleasant feeling, seeing Dad and Uncle Edwin sawing wood with a buzz saw powered by a one cylinder gasoline engine for I was cozy warm inside standing in front of the east window in the dining room beside the wall telephone. Shortly thereafter I was given the job of bringing in wood for the stoves and bringing in water from the well regularly. I actually felt deprived.

I remember that teenaged girls looked like tall grown-up women when I was young. One day I was walking down the road when here came cousin Aletha and a couple of her friends, probably one of the Crouch girls (Rachel or Harriet) and Margaret Stillman. They were dressed in adult dresses as girls like to do sometimes. I was excited and ran up to them, and Aletha hugged me like I was “a cute little kid.” I’ll admit that I felt like one right then.

The adults of forty years or over, especially, looked ancient to me. The women wore dresses, usually ankle length, and full cut. In the out-of-doors they usually wore the old-fashioned sun-bonnet. There were no “glamour girls” on the farm, though I know there were in the urban areas. Regardless of that, I was proud of my mother, thinking that the best mothers had to be short of stature and a little on the plump side.

Perhaps the majority of the men in my earliest years grew mustaches or beards. The men with gray beards looked like real patriarchs. My Dad never did wear either. He looked unusually young, even though he began to grow bald quite young. He was generally young in spirit and had a good sense of humor–clean humor. He died suddenly in his 50s with a coronary thrombosis.

The Seventh Day Baptist Church in Nortonville was always an important part of our family life. (My mother had grown up in the Mennonite Church, but became Seventh Day Baptist early in marriage.) In those times, many people still traveled by horse and buggy, so there was a horse and buggy shed back of the church. It may have remained there until nearly 1930.

The first pastor in my memory was Pastor Cottrell. His wife was a little woman and she directed a Sabbath School orchestra. She was so short that she stood on a stool to direct. She was also noted for her singing, especially when she hit the high notes on the words, “I sing because I’m happy!” My Sabbath School class in those days was in a small basement room next to the coal bin.

I always enjoyed being in church and class. It just seemed so right and fed my spiritual hunger. One week I was badly “hurt” in class. I had been given a little blue sailor suit and proudly pointed it out to my teacher. All she said was, “Oh”. I was wounded in spirit, and to this day remember that it is important to hear and acknowledge what a child calls to my attention with admiration.

I must confess, though, that there was a period in which the part I enjoyed most was the three-mile ride to church. We were then riding in a 1923 Chevrolet touring car (our last open car), and it was a delight to see the countryside pass by, and see what our first-day neighbors were doing in their fields. I remember admiring Theodore Kleopper’s Fordson tractor plowing, and later Carol Davis and his F-14 Farmall row crop tractor. Very shortly, we graduated to tractor farming (still using horses as well), with a Fordson tractor that had seen better days. Yet it was a step to better tractors, and finally no horses at all.

Next Chapter: 2 Early Years

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