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The earliest things I can remember are like pages of an old dusty book, the pages are few and worn.
(Ohio, circa 1939)
My family was on our way to a Church somewhere in Ohio. My dad was an Evangelist. Uncle Bill, Dad (Adler Levite), Mom (Mary Maude), George, John, Robert and me, David. This was an unusual trip. For most of our trips us kids were cared for by friends. The two oldest or the two youngest, and would be picked up on the way back. Uncle Bill (no blood relation) drove his big old car to help in Lord's work. This car was from the previous decade, with a real trunk for a trunk. This car had two small seats that would slide on tracks from under the front seat for a child to set on. While on these seats you faced the door. If tall enough you could see out the side window if not you looked at the door. While on the road we always had large cans of water for us but mostly for the car. There was always room for two spare tires on any trip. We all went along because times were hard, and it cost money to board us kids. While in route we ate what was packed in the car with the pots and pans. My Dad was paid with whatever the people had to give for his preaching. Sometimes he got money, mostly he got stuff. This time we got a live chicken in with the things used to pay the preacher, and lots of home canned goods. So down the road we go with the chicken on my lap, I had a pet until we stopped for lunch. From Dad's last preaching job, to the next a long dusty road, with money for gas only we would sleep in, under, and next to the car. The earliest things I can remember in my life, was being on the road as a life.
When we got to wherever we were going and Dad found the people who had called him. We were taken to a house, this house was next to empty except for a table two chairs, wood stove and wash tub. Mom had someone get a fire going in the stove and water was brought in from the well out back. My brother, Robert (a few months older than me) and I were placed in the wash tub and were taking a bath, which we really needed. We two boys were still in the tub while the rest of the family was having a prayer meeting in kitchen. We two quit splashing and listened when we heard Mom ask what was she going to feed us boys? Dad said that he didn't know, but not to worry we would get some food the next day, and for all of us to get some much needed rest. Robert and I just looked at each other, we were both very hungry and about to go to sleep that way. A knock on the door brought us out of our gloom, it was some of the people from the church, they had brought their supper over to share with us. I jumped out of the tub and ran into the kitchen where I was greeted by everyone and Mom. This was a very good meal for all of us, the local Church people, and us two wet boys. God had met our need with the help of these good people.
The next day was Saturday so we were taken to where Dad was to preach. An empty store, not a Church building. Empty. As empty could be. Nothing in this store, no lights even. The man showing us around seemed to be pleased and proud of this building in which the meeting was to take place. From a small broom closet the man brought a homemade pulpit, and said "this will do very nicely," as he dusty it off. From this inspection of the storefront we were taken to someone's home for a meal and my Dad and others went calling on people. The next day we got ready to go to this meeting, I was sure everyone would be setting on the floor, man that would be something to see. As the people came in they had chairs, boxes, boards, and blocks to make places to set. After a while the empty storefront church was full, with people standing out side. Dad preached a very good sermon and the day was one for the books, we got more food and some money to make it on to the next Church. I have always wondered what it might be like to sit in the very back of a Church, because we were always on the front row with Mom watching our every move.
Dad knew the Bible inside out, and when he wasn't preaching we would go to hear other men preach. Mom would have to hold onto Dad, if the man who was preaching got off the Word, or missed what the Word said. Dad would stop the preacher and correct him in his error, and preach the Word in his place. Mom told me much later, some of Dad's best sermons were preached at these times, to her dismay. My Dad was not very tall, but He was large in other ways, he would what he called make do so we had what we really needed. Dad wore the same suit till it was threadbare and some one gave him a new one. He put cardboard in his shoes and never let on, "times were going to get better", Dad would say. There were a lot of other people down on their luck we were in good company that way. Dad didn't like anyone to swear, and never around his family. One time I remember my Dad hitting a man who swore in front of us. That's the only time I had ever seen Dad mad at anything or anyone. Dad had large waist and when he took off his belt to give us boys an attitude adjustment he would have to use his free hand to hold up his pants. So Mom got Dad an extra belt, which hung on back of the door wherever we went. I can still see Dad's belt there on the door in my heart.
One summer my brother Robert and I were left in the care of the houseboat lady. She was poor, and lived on a houseboat on the Ohio River near Belpre Ohio. Across the river was a big town Parkersburg, West Virginia. The lady's name was Hannah Stonestreet, she raised chickens, ducks and a goat or two. Hannah sold what she could at the store/Post Office where she got her mail at General Delivery. At night all the critters had to be brought on the boat for protection from the river critters. Hannah ate what she found along the riverbank, this was wild roots and berries and such. Robert would not eat any of these concoctions no matter how Hannah might fix the dish. So brother ate oatmeal with goats milk all summer. I on the other hand had a ball eating all kinds of great things. Hannah did fix us a chicken now and then so my Brother could have something to besides oatmeal.
This houseboat really was a shack on a boat. No electric lights and no city water not even a well. She did a have neat way to save the eggs to sell, she put a rock in the bottom of a sack, then tied the sack close to the rock, now put in the eggs and tie the sack with enough rope to lower the whole thing into the river, at the upstream end of the boat. As I said the houseboat belonged to a poor lady, the downstream end of the boat was for the toilet, when you raised the lid you saw the river going by. You might say she had a self-cleaning toilet. Hannah taught us how to swim, she took us out in the river and pushed us in and told us to try to catch up to the rowboat on the way into the shore. It was not long before we could reach shore before the rowboat could. The summer went by too fast for me, but Robert said he thought it would never end.
(Florida, about 1941)
Dad and Mom came and got us and we were on the road again, this time to Florida. When we got there the house we were to stay in was not ready, so we stayed in a used Army tent. Who ever picked the site to put up the tent didn't know about water run off when it rained. It does rain in Florida. We woke up to the cots standing in water. We moved to higher ground the next morning.
In a week we got to move in to a house. The house was on the beach, or rather the shore of the St. Johns River, on the south side where the river turns out to the sea. The house was old but free for our use, so we moved in and someone gave us a small dog. This is where I started to school, we walked to a county school some distance from home. It was on this walk to school that Robert stepped on the snake, one foot on the head the other foot on the middle, then he froze. The tail of this snake was flopping up and down, I ran home to get help Uncle Bill and Mom came. Uncle Bill cut off the snake's head and the tail, he was going to throw the rest away and Mom stopped him. We boys took the rattles to school Mom took the snake home for supper that night. The snakeskin was in our family for some time. One night I heard our little dog making a lot of noise barking so I got up to see. I let the dog out and I went out also, the dog ran down to the river's edge, sill barking. A baby gater was what the dog was barking at, both dog and I were picked up at the same time. Mom followed us out and had seen the mother gater coming on the scene.
My Oldest brother, George, joined the Marines, and went off to camp. Mom and Robert went to see George at camp. The stories my brother told me when they got back, all true I was sure. Only to find out how true many years later when I joined the Marines. Dad got sick and needed to go to Chicago for treatment. Robert and I got to stay in a boarding school for free. This school was run by a man named Mr. Louis, we raked a lot of pine needles and went to class. Dad got worse so Robert and I were put on a train with tags around our necks, like we were packages. All the way from Jacksonville, Florida to Chicago, Illinois on a train with a lot of GI's. The GI's treated us like we were something very special, which we were, the last two kids they would see for a while.
We lived in Chicago for some time before Dad became very ill and could no longer preach. Word came that our brother George was killed in action with the Marines, World War 2. No wonder Mom didn't want me to join the Marines during the Korean War.
A short time later Dad died, and Dad's older brothers, who lived in Chicago, tried to get us. That is to get custody of the three remaining Sons of their younger brother so they could brought up in the Jewish faith.
(Adler's family 1910's)
The Levite family came from Russia after the Communists took over, and asked the Jews to leave the county. Of the eleven children, nine born in Russia (one of those was Adler), one born on the way out, two born in the America. The family lived in Odessa Russia on the Black sea, they went to England and on to America. They would have went to Germany but the Jews were having to leave there also. The family made their way to Cincinnati Ohio. My Dad the youngest boy, was the baby-sitter for all the smaller children. Dad had three little sisters and others as well to take care of. He would take the group to where the music was coming from a big tent. This was a Christian tent meeting, no place for Jewish children if their parents found out. At one of these times while the Children were listen to the people in the tent, someone gave Adler, my Dad, a New Testament and as they say the rest is History. Dad hid this little book in the basement behind a lose brick, not knowing he would be thrown down there to 'get the Jesus out of him'. While in the basement he read over and over about Jesus. Later his older brothers would beat him, and try to drown him, before Adler ran away from home. Adler and black boy stayed in a cardboard box behind a mission. He was befriended by a man by the name of Mr. Woodrow. The Woodrow's happened to run the mission for the Baptist Church. Alder did well in school and went to Moody Bible (Institute) in Chicago, where he met my Mom.
That is where they started their own family, if all their children had lived, I would have eight brothers and sisters; Samuel, John, Robert, Rebecca, David, Patrick, Jennie, Jolie, and George was a half brother. I am the fifth child of my father and mother, even though mother had a son before she married my father. While Dad was ill, he asked for us boys to be brought to his bed side, and he placed his hands on each of us and ask the Holy Spirit look after us.
When Dad died Mom decided to leave Chicago, with the three boys she had left, so we came to Vermilion County to where Mom was born. Mom's Dad had left Mom a log cabin in Blunt township, no lights or water. We were not in the big city any more, we used kerosene lamps, and an outhouse. We drew a hand dug well and bathed in a wash tub with water heated on a wood stove. A real change from the city of Chicago. But we had spent time on the road with Dad and Mom we were used to some hard times and would make do.
(Mary Maude's Family and Paul)
Mother was born in 1900, her father was unable to take care of her when his wife died giving birth to Mom's little sister in 1902. So the girls were given to other people to raise. Mom was raised be some folks on a f arm, where Mom learned to work hard. These folks sent Mom to nurse's school, that's where she met Her first husband. He was a Veteran of World War 1, and died shortly after their only child George was born. Mom met my dad while working in a hospital as a nurse. After Dad's death we came to live in the cabin. We didn't even have a car so we walked everywhere we wanted to go.
Mom met Paul Riley and they got married. We all lived in the cabin, we boys had a small room with three cots in it. One cot was by the window the others were along the walls, with just enough room to walk between them. One night when we were all asleep, I heard our ducks making a lot of noise. As it was my job to look after the ducks, I got our only flashlight. I put on my shoes and went out between the cots my brothers were sleeping on. Through the big room where Mom and Paul were sleeping, and out the door. When I got to the duck pen to my surprise the ducks had their head under their wings sound asleep. As I stood there I heard an awful sound and the grown shook, and what looked like smoke came from the cabin. So I ran to the front the cabin to see what had happened, I could hear my brothers calling my name from inside the cabin. So I called back to them saying I was all right and out side. When daylight came we found out what had taken place in the night. This old cabin had been insulated with newspapers and mud, and when the ceiling rafters got weakened by termites the ceiling fell. The end that fell was over my cot by the window, my brothers thought I was still in the cot under all that stuff. They didn't know I had went out to check on the ducks. What in night that looked like smoke was dust so thick you couldn't see.
To this day I know it was the Holy Spirit that got me out of that cabin.
One day Mom got word that the Lady died who had raised Mom. Mom got some money in the will, it wasn't a lot but we were able to by a small farm just south of the cabin. This place was a fixer upper that's was why it sold cheap. We had to haul water until we saved enough money to drill a well. There was no lights but we were used to that, but hauling water was a chore. When the well came in, boy was that a great day, you could have all water you wanted to pump by hand, just prime the pump. We raised most of our food, and stored for winter under a mound of straw and dirt. In the winter you went out swept off the snow, roll back the tarp and dig in the straw to find what you had stored. Sometimes the mice had shared your stores but you cut that off, and cooked the rest. Life on this farm was nothing like I had seen so far in my life. I was given chores to do, we had the ducks from the cabin, we got other live stock. Paul was given two goats as payment for some work he had done. Paul brought the goats home and tied them with rope, in the orchard. Goats would rather eat young trees than any things else, so they ate the rope and started on Mom's new trees, I thought Mom was going to kill Paul that day.
(on the farm mid-1940's)
John got into a fight with one of the local boys, John took the boy's arm then with his other hand handed me his glasses. My oldest brother, John, could not see without his glasses. They fought for a while, but it was near suppertime so we all had to be on time, or else our Moms would feed it to the dogs or hogs. These two boy who were fighting, traveled across the country together one summer, from what they said they had a ball. John went out on his own so there was only Robert I to do what needed done. Paul our step Dad referred to us as 'Her kids'. He was not a Christian at this time. Paul came to the Lord later on, and he truly was a new person.
We were given some guineas. These quickly hatched more until there were these strange looking birds everywhere. One cold winter morning we had to climb up a large mulberry tree to knock guineas out of the tree. There had been an ice storm and these birds had rousted up in the tree. And now some were hanging by one wing. So up the tree we went with sticks in hand to save the birds. We would break the ice with the stick and the guinea bird would fly down, not too much the worse off. Then we got ready for school, with a story to tell while on the bus. The school bus in winter would only run on the hard roads or paved roads, so we would turn on the radio early when snow had fallen. We would have to take the battery out of the old car to hook up the radio, so we would know if we were to walk the mile and a quarter to the hard road. With no electric power we made do, and you went to school. If after a long wait and the bus didn't come, we would walk home.
There was never any money, but we really didn't need much. We took homemade bread and spread with cold soup beans and was glad to have something to eat. We cut fireplace would to use and sell, it was hard work, but we were glad someone would buy the wood. Paul got a Model T Ford motor and running gears, fixed on a cutting table with a four-foot saw blade, and we were in business. A neighbor of ours owned a seventy-acre woods, that he wanted cleared. He said he would mark all the trees to be taken out, the brush was all to put in a deep gully, to stop the ground from washing away. We got the trees for free. The owner marked the trees on the hillsides with pieces of cloth tied to each one. Some very hard to get to, but we got to them just the same. Paul would hire some neighbor boys to help when we had rush orders, or to get to real hard to get to trees home to be sawed up. One time Paul and I were pulling trees up a hill, these trees had been cleaned of limbs, we were using the tractor and a block and tackle. All our equipment was too light for the job, and a rope broke and I got knocked down the hill and I fell into a hole and landing on the brush from the trees we had cut. When I got out and we looked into the hole, and dropped some stones down we found out this is what Paul called a sink hole. We were able to throw limbs and brush from all the trees we cut in that area and the hole was always the same, never full. We boys thought it was the opening to a coal mine and maybe worth exploring at some other day, but we never did, it would be a lot of work to get the brush out anyway. We delivered the wood in an old International truck, and would stack every stick. One winter Paul and I took a load of wood to a customer in a town thirty miles away. It started to snow when we were half way there and while we stacked the wood the snow pilled up. On the way back we could hardly see anything. The windshield wipers were broke, so Paul had me stick my head out the window as a lookout all the rest of the way home. I found out many years later that Paul was night blind, where most of us see a little in the dark, Paul was totally in the dark of night if he didn't have some light. Paul would stumble around like a drunk in the dark at night. Paul did drink, and we knew when did, as he would stay out all night. He would drive home at first light, so drunk he couldn't get in the house, Mom would tell us to leave him outside where he was. So Paul soon gave up drinking.
One summer Paul decided the cistern needed to be cleaned. This was done by taking all the water out, drying the walls, and putting on a new coating of cement. Guess who was lowered down into the cistern to dip out the stuff in the bottom? Me, because I fit through the hole in the top. With lantern and bucket I went to work, as the bucket was drawn up they would splash some just to hear me holler. Drying the cistern was fun, we would build a fire in a bucket and lower it to the bottom. This was done until the cistern was dry. I got to rest while the fire was down in the hole. Sure I would go down to check how dry it was down there, or when someone couldn't get the hook on the fire bucket. Putting on the cement was a lot more fun. We did such a good job we got hired to do another cistern, luckily it had a larger opening on top. So my brother and I got to share the honors of 'the boy down the hole with lantern', and I was able to splash the bucket a little on him while he was down there.
One hot summer a bunch of us boys made a raft on the river when the water was at flood stage. We were doing well until the raft headed for some trees that were hanging in the river, the limbs sweep us off our raft. I was caught under the raft, but was pulled back up and on board by the older boy who had fought with my brother. We all went a long way down river, but had a long hungry walk back. We had not planned that far ahead, I tried to keep the under water experience from Mom but she found out anyway.
There was a family that lived down the road. And with five kids to feed their Mom and our Mom canned food all summer, or as this was called at the time, to put up food for winter. We would raise and can nearly every thing. Some late crops got stored under the straw and tarp, but most got canned. When I tell people we cold-packed chickens they laugh at the idea. We let the chickens grow until Mom would kill and clean a chicken, and stuff the chicken whole in a large mouth jar. If this test worked it was time to gather the crew for a chicken canning day. The chickens were young and raised for this purpose. The day would start at sun up with a big fire built in the yard where a large pot would be brought to a boil, to get the feathers off quickly. When everything was ready we started killing chickens and we did not stop until we were out of jars, or out of chickens. A chicken was killed, cleaned and canned before the chicken got cold. When the day was over we had a lot of chickens in these large mouth fruit jars. In the winter you could have chicken without housing or feeding the bird. Sometime Mom and the crew would get asked to help a neighbor put up their flock of chickens, we were always glad to help. My job was nearly always the same either gathering or killing the chickens.
We canned beans, peaches, tomatoes, corn or whatever was cheap. To add to our income we raised rabbits, which I was in charge of, and I liked to be in charge this project. We started out small and as rabbits do what rabbits do, soon we were able to sell dressed, fresh or frozen. We took the dressed rabbits up to Potomac, Illinois, where there was a frozen food locker. The man who ran the locker was glad to offer the frozen for sale for some for his own use. We saved the skins, but that proved not profitable, as we could not get anything for them. We sold what we had cured for a few cents each and was out of the skin business.
We lost a buck rabbit, Mom and I built a pen on the ground for the young rabbits, and we put a older buck in, in hopes some of the young does were ready to mate. We left them alone a little too long, when we returned the buck was out of the pen and would not be caught. This rabbit was brown with a lot of white on him, that next winter we bagged a lot of this rabbit's off spring, brown and white wild rabbits. The buck had found rabbits to mate with any way.
One time while hunting my brother Robert and I came to a gully and were going down when brother saw an opossum going up the other side. He told me to take a shot at it. I was carrying our old twelve-gauge which was as long as I was tall, I said OK, I took a shot. When I got up off the ground after the shot and we got to the opossum all we found was the head and the tail, which Robert took home to show at my expense. I told every that I could not take good aim while going down hill. I got better as the hunting seasons came and went.
Life on a Farm with out electric lights is not much fun. You kept sun hours, that is when the sun was up you were up if not before. We had live stock to feed and water to pump summer or winter. One winter I let all the rabbit water cans freeze and had to get different cans to give each rabbit a drink, all before I got ready for school.