Rev. Edgar F. Wheeler: 19 Characters

Charley Hurley was a small man who reminded one of an “old timer,” with his large white mustache. He farmed, but, not being a landowner, moved often. He was a good and courageous man who stood up to anyone on moral issues. He had a kind of “He, heh, heh” laugh. His wife, Jennie, was a motherly type and spoke a little too frankly on matters of daughters growing into womanhood to suit my mother, who was of Mennonite background. They came from Farnum, Nebraska, and would occasionally drive there in their 1919 Model T Ford. It was a tall sedan with an oval rear window. Those of us who were not well acquainted with Model T’s wondered how they dared to travel any distance in it.

Ashley Riley was a small man of a different nature. He was Irish and would often boast, “Nobody can put anything over on this little Irishman.” We rented his farm and he would often “turn the air blue” with his language. One day Charles and I were working with him. Things were not going to suit him and his vocabulary flowed freely. His frustration grew, and he said, “If this keeps up, I’m going to start cussing.” Charles and I tried to hide our amusement.

Claude Stephan was a big, brusque man, a member of the Nortonville SDB church. I’m sure that he was an embarrassment to some members and the pastor at times, because he could be quite ribald in his conversations in public. He was one of the Stephan group of carpenters, and they had their own sense of what was appropriate. Claude was known for his exaggeration. Pastor Osborn used to comment, “People say, ‘Divide what Claude says in half and you will have the truth, and I believe it.” We young people did not have high regard for him, but we did enjoy his attention and remarks. One Sabbath he said to us, “Well, my kids painted their bike.” “What color?” we asked, biting. He replied emphatically, “Sky blue pink!”

We did look up to Earl Stephan. He was a quiet, unassuming man, a veteran of combat in World War I. Some suspected that he was henpecked by his rather large wife. He spoke hesitantly of his wartime experience. I was curious and wanted to talk to him about it, but Merlin cautioned against it because it appeared that the memories were too painful to him. He and his brother, Tom, were in the same army outfit and went through some hard battles together.

Phil Babcock was married to Hildah, a “mail order wife.” She was dominating. Phil was not a too prosperous farmer, and we rented his farm at one time. Two things stand out in my memory of their farm. One was the big potato crops he raised, which we boys helped to harvest and store. The other was his immaculate Melotte cream separator, kept that way by Hildah.

Phil and Dad were close friends. We were amused by his conversations. He would start to make a statement, stop abruptly and say, “I mean.” As he laughed, he would end up sucking breath through his teeth. He was especially warm to us boys, and when he moved up from his Model T roadster-pickup to a Victory Six Dodge, he sold the like-new pickup to us boys for a pittance.

Fred Maris was a neighbor farmer noted for his penury. He had a tall, angular build. His wife, Myra, was a short growingly humped woman. She had a sharp tongue at times, and would tell “Freddie” to stop being so tight-fisted. He was a member of our church. We young fellows enjoyed his greeting – he would squeeze our hand like milking a cow with one hand and and take us by the elbow with the other. He once paid me a nickel for a day’s work guarding a pasture gate so that loads of bundles could pass through without hindrance. Dad was thoroughly disgusted with Fred, but I think also with me for being so gullible as to accept such pay. The Marises lived on a higher economic level than most of us neighbors. They had a Windcharger for electricity and bought a new car from time to time, beginning with a Nash which was not the common man’s car.

Henry and Myrtle Meyers lived in a nice, small country home a mile west of our home. He was a common, gentle man who made a living on a forty-acre farm, using horse-power exclusively. Somewhat innocent of changing times, he saw a woman smoking as she passed by him and Dad. He said to Dad, “By Gee, Ernie, did you see that woman smoking?!”

Actually, in the thirties, women were already feeling somewhat liberated. This showed in their dress. They “progressed” from knee-length or longer dress to slacks. They were called pajamas at the time. Being from the farm culture, Dad was stunned when he saw a woman wearing “pajamas” in public.

Rev. Lester G. Osborn was our pastor for several years, ending in my teens. He was greatly respected by most youth, as well as adults. He was a strong Biblical preacher and very forthright in his pastoral teaching. That annoyed only a few members, one of whom remarked, “We need a pastor, not a Catholic priest.” He took time for youth, and he and Grace opening their home regularly on Sabbath evenings for “Open House.” That included games, making taffy and a time for devotions. He was an enthusiastic hymn leader, making him popular at Christian Endeavor rallies throughout northeastern Kansas. He walked ramrod straight, accentuating his prominent stomach. One of his memorable habits was walking to the pulpit with his Bible tucked beneath his arm.

Then there were the Wheelers, with our own set of characteristics and idiosyncrasies. We knew that Dad and Mom were greatly esteemed in the community, and we, their offspring, were proud of that. And yet we were a part of a mix that makes a neighborhood.

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