COG 77th Edition Disasters – 1932 Lighting Creek

COG disaster My mother had no possessions (that I knew of ) that belonged to her mother or father; both parents had died before she was seven and she and all the younger siblings were transported from Oilton, Oklahoma to Galax, Virginia to live with relatives. When my daughter and I started looking into genealogy and asking questions about family possessions that might be existent, we were told that most of what existed had been in the possession of my aunt, Bernita Lineberry Curtess, who was already a young married woman with an infant when her mother died. Unfortunately, Bernita was killed in a car wreck in 1967, so we couldn’t ask her where they were.

I called my cousin, Bobbie Louise Curtess Saunders, to ask about them and she said most of what her mother had was destroyed in a flood a long time ago. Bernita and her husband, Edson, their two children and my mother and possibly her three brothers Johnnie, Joe and George, (Bernita went to Virginia in 1929 to bring her siblings back to Oklahoma – Leonard remained in Galax)  moved from Wewoka, Oklahoma sometime after 1929 and lived in a home near SW 23 and Robinson.

Lightning Creek in South Oklahoma City had a long history of flooding in the early years of  Oklahoma City. There was a major flood in October 1923 but Bernita was apparently living in Wewoka at that time. The next major flood took place June 4, 1932 and it was apparently much more devastating than the earlier flood. Although I can’t be sure this is the flood that ruined my grandmother’s possessions, it’s a pretty good guess since Bernita wasn’t in Oklahoma City until after 1929 and by sometime in the mid-1930s she had moved a little further south to SW 36th and Harvey.

N Canadian overflowsbanks

The above photo is from the front page of the June 5, 1932 Daily Oklahoman and shows some of the water all over the south and west parts of Oklahoma City. Although the Oklahoman archive’s copy of this day’s paper has a piece torn out of the top of the paper and the headline cannot be completely read, what is visible of the caption above the headline on page 1 says, “Relief for 3,200 Homeless …  as Property Damage is Estimated at $1,500,000. The larger type-faced headline says, “SEVEN MISSING IN FLOOD ARE SOUGHT” and continues with the column headline with, ‘FIVE KNOWN DEAD; 656 HOMES WITHIN AREA ARE WRECKED.”The article lead adds to the toll by telling that 21 were in the hospital and nine others had been treated at hospitals and released.

As the article continues onto page 2, the impact of that flood becomes more clear: “Oklahoma City’s 3,000 homeless flood refugees will be established in army tents Saturday to prevent an epidemic through crowding hundreds of them into downtown buildings . . .” The article continues, “In the Lightning Creek area, where the property damage was estimated at $250,000 by Capitol Hill civic officials, 31 medium priced homes were completely destroyed. A survey showed more than 125 additional homes had been badly damaged by water. . . Heavy rains preceding the overflow started here shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday and by 2 a.m. Friday Lightning Creek was a raging torrent and the Canadian was at flood stage. ”

Map of the area affected by the flood.

Map of the area affected by the flood.

The map above shows the proximity of SW 23 and Robinson to both the Canadian and Lighting Creek.

When you read of the deaths and injuries requiring hospitalization and homes completely destroyed or seriously damaged by flood waters, the fact that possessions of my grandmother were ruined by the water is of little consequence. Yes, we would love to have access to them – photographs, letters, postcards, the family Bible; those are all treasures. But really, for my mother and her brothers and sister whose father, then mother, infant step-brother and oldest brother had all died and who had been shipped off to live separately in whatever home was able to keep them, they obviously knew deep within their souls that what is important is never possessions, but is the relationships you have with people you love for as long as you have them with you.

The key take away principle is:  Cherish who you have, not what you have!

Smile for the Camera – A Noble Life


12th Edition – Smile for the Camera

A Noble Life

James Franklin Willis (1853-1926), who was my greatgrandfather, was raised by a single mother, Amy Collins Willis, after his father died just before he turned three. During the time of western expansion (always moving on toward a better life) he apparently lived his whole life in Fayette County, Alabama.


Frank served his community as a Baptist pastor during a time when pastors mostly supported themselves and their families by working as merchants or farmers. On a genealogical research trip to Fayette County and over to Birmingham, my daughter and I  found the following information in the History of Fayette County Baptist Association – page 60 speaks about Rev. J. Frank Willis:

“At the session of 1894, J. F. Willis was chosen moderator, and served one term.  He was a member of the Mt. Lebanon Church, and while his church was a member of the Association he was a frequent representative, and always took an active part in the business of the Association. He was a strong doctrinal pastor, and very popular with his people.  His pastorates were confined, for the most part, to the churches of the Harmony Grove and Goodwater Association.  In the powers of deduction and deep-thinking in Scriptural quotations, he was rarely excelled in his day.”

From this document we were also able to put together a chronology of some of the church involvement of J.F. Willis:
1887     Importance of gathering the whole church for the study of God’s word? J. F. Willis.  …”The Sunday School Convention of the New River Association for the 5th Sunday in July, 1887, was held at Mt. Lebanon church, beginning on Saturday the 29th of July.  J.B. Huckabee called the meeting to order, and J. F. Willis in behalf of Mt. Lebanon church, delivered an address of welcome…”

1888 – 1892 Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church (pastor)

1890   J.F. Willis was listed as one of eighteen ordained pastors reported at the 20th Anniversary of the Baptist Association that was held Mt. Pleasant Church beginning October 11, 1890.

1891    Rocky Mount Baptist Church (pastor)

1891    At the 21st Anniversary of the Baptist Association held at the Pleasant Hill church on Oct. 10, 1891, J. F. Willis delivered the opening sermon.

1892    Siloam Baptist Church (pastor)

1894    Union Grove Baptist Church (moderator)

1894    In the Alabama Baptist Oct 25, 1894 the former moderator was absent, J.F. Willis was elected and Bro. Zach Savage re-elected as clerk. … To summarize:  J.F. Willis was elected moderator at the 24th Anniversary of the Association that was held at the Salem Church in October 1894.

1895    Bethel Baptist Church (pastor)

1895 – 1897 Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church (pastor)

1897     J.F. Willis preached at the 27th Anniversary Association on Sunday evening.  He was one of four who preached.

1898    In the Alabama Baptist April 21, 1898 issue it says that the fifth Sunday meeting of Yellow Creek Baptist Association was held at the Fellowship church in Lamar County in May 1898.  “The introductory sermon by J. F. Willis; subject, What is the church? For criticism.”

1898 – 1902 Meadow Branch Baptist Church (pastor)

1903 – 1905 Bethel Baptist Church (pastor)

1909 – 1910 Meadow Branch Baptist Church (pastor)

Samford University in Birmingham has historical records of Baptist church minutes where we found the following interesting insights into the way country pastors were paid:

Meadow Branch Church – Sunday, August 29, 1898, J.F. Willis was elected as pastor. His salaries were listed as:

1898 – $12.25 (paid by individual members)

1899 –  1900 – $11.00

1901 – $13.00

J.F. Willis and his wife, Mary Jane [Buckner], had six children; Zelda, Margaretta E., John William, Rufus B., Zedic Hamilton (known as Hamp) and Thomas R. Both J. F. and Mary Jane are buried in the Old Mt. Lebanon Cemetery, where he had served as pastor.

A Tribute to Women – My Mother


68th Carnival of Genealogy

A Tribute to Women

The earlier parts of the 20th century were sometimes tough: infant mortality was high, health care was mixed in availability and adequacy, employment could be sporadic, and opportunities for women were extremely limited. That was the time period in which my mother was born – 1914.

By January 1922, both her parents were dead (typhoid fever and complications from childbirth) and she and four brothers were sent from Oklahoma to the hills of western Virginia to live separately with various aunts and uncles. Before she turned eight, Mother was thrown into working for her keep and the opportunity to get an education was mostly non-existent for the next seven years, though she said she loved to read enough that she would read in bed at night by using a flashlight under the covers.

Her father’s sister, Piety, with whom mother lived, was apparently a harsh and unhappy woman, although her husband/cousin, Dave, was an apparently kind and loving man. Even when mother was over 90 years old, she would sometimes cry as she remembered her Aunt Piety calling her “the unwanted spawn of a buzzard.” Fortunately, Uncle Dave was more welcoming and gave mother some semblance of a loving home.

Bernita and Virginia in Virginia in 1929

Bernita and Virginia in Virginia in 1929

In July 1929, her sister, Bernita, drove to Virginia to get her siblings and bring them back to Oklahoma – that included all but Leonard who was already married by that time and Johnnie who came soon after that. They lived for a brief time in Wewoka, Oklahoma, and, although she was 15, mother enrolled in the 5th grade there. After  just a few  weeks they moved to Oklahoma City and mother transferred to Lee Elementary where she had wonderful teachers who encouraged her and advanced her through grades quite rapidly.

That first year she played Mary in the Christmas play. She said, “another student, Ralph, would play the guitar while I sang. The principal and Mrs. Fisher, the pianist, would let me sing in the school assembly. The children would clap and yell out songs for me  to sing. I knew the words to all these songs. The kids just loved it when I sang  ‘Ole man River’ and ‘Desert Song.’ Mother said she skipped right on through sixth grade, loving every minute.

At Capitol Hill Junior High, both her principal and math teachers were Christians who, mother said, “loved God and taught from the Bible. Mr. Holt would read a story from the Bible each day and told the class, ‘You don’t have to buy another book because all the stories you need are in the Bible. If you love mysteries, they’re in the bible; if you love stories, they’re in the Bible.

Mother’s favorite parts of school included being a junior police because of her love of order and being a responsible person, singing in assemblies and classrooms and drawing. Learning music was apparently very easy for mother and, accordingly, when she needed to learn new or complex material, she would put a melody to it and sing it, thus enabling easy recall. Her school days, she said, “were the most wonderful years of my life.”

Virginia - still young but beginning to develop her sense of style

Virginia – still young but beginning to develop her sense of style

Mother went to Capitol Hill Junior High and on to Capitol Hill Senior High in quick  succession; most of the time during those years mother had to share the book of a willing classmate but finally, lack of money for books as well as a pattern for sewing class, caused mother to drop out of high school.

After she left school, Mother took jobs babysitting and cleaning homes for people, even serving in live-in capacities with some of them, for example, the Salmons and the Pipers. Mr. Salmon had a laundry and cleaners and she worked in the store with him for a time. Because she lived with Bernita or her brothers, Joe or Johnnie, she was able to support her love of music by spending her money on movies and concerts. She said she saw every movie as well as every opera singer that ever came to Oklahoma City, including Grace Moore and Allan Jones. She said one time the auditorium was so crowded there were no seats left and so they set up folding chairs on the stage and she got to sit on the stage just a few feet away from one of the tenors. That was a real highlight experience for her.

Mother spoke impeccable English even though her education was sporadic and incomplete, sang hundreds of songs and arias learned completely by hearing them on recordings and the radio or in movies and she had a personal style of elegance learned mostly from watching movies.

Mother and Daddy - James Thomas and Virginia Lineberry Willis

Mother and Daddy – James Thomas and Virginia Lineberry Willis

The things I learned from my mother were more caught than taught. They included a love of reading and learning, a joy found in music, singing and performing, a sense of personal responsibility and integrity, a balance between independence and interdependence, the importance of family, the ability to live with optimism in the face of adversity and an abiding faith in God.

It’s hard to understand how mother learned to love when she was robbed of parents and home and the day-to-day living with her brothers and sister and spent the majority of her formative years in the home of an angry and bitter aunt, and without benefit of education- but she did. The most valuable gift I received from my mother was unconditional love. The really neat thing about receiving unconditional love is that once you’ve received, it you’re free to give it away to others.


Into the Kitchen

Kay found a suggestion for genealogical remembrances [week #6 Genealogy Blogging Prompt] – writing about foods and food-related events of your family. Kay’s Into the Kitchen post is evidence of her good (though sometimes slanted) memory, insight and creativity. I thought the subject interesting enough to approach it from my also slanted memory, insight and slightly less creative approach.

Having been raised in a time when fewer convenience foods were available, my mother had to practice the full cooking scenario and she did it very well. On the other hand, mother was always open to the newest tools, gadgets and time-saving devices – including canned goods – and added them to her repertoire as early as possible.

Somewhere around 1949-50, Mother bought a pottery pitcher (gray with blue stripes across it) and she started making a mixture of orange juice and lemonade that she kept available during the hot summers. It was clearly a favorite for Mickey and me.

My favorite cookie has always been chocolate chip. When I was about nine, I decided to make a batch and I followed the directions on the package with diligence. With great anticipation I took a bite of the still warm cookie and was so disappointed – they weren’t at all like I expected. I called Mother at work and started to cry as I told her of my failure at cookie making. She tried to calm me down and asked me to tell her in detail the process I had followed. I got the recipe and started reading off what I’d done. When I got to the part about putting in the butter, Mother said, “That’s what happened. Donna Marie, I’m sure your cookies are very good; it’s just that I use shortening instead of butter and that would make a difference in the taste. Next time, use shortening and your cookies will be just fine.” She was right and from then on they always were.

One of my favorite foods mother made was one I never managed to reproduce – salmon croquets or patties. I found a recipe for them not long after I married but they weren’t anything like mother’s; hers were firm and not falling apart flaky, slightly crunchy on the outside and delicious. I remember several times having one or two of those left after dinner and picking them up and taking them with me as I walked out the door. They were great! After several disappointing attempts at making them, I asked her how she fixed them and she told me she started with a roux. Well, I had no idea what a roux was. She told me it’s a little like cream gravy and is also sometimes referred to as a white sauce. So, I tried that, but it merely thinned out the salmon so that it held together even less. The best I could ever do was to use crackers both mixed with the salmon and then as a coating as well, but it never was the same.

Daddy’s favorite food was Porterhouse or T-bone steak. Mother rarely bought it, but if Daddy went to the store, he was likely to come back with that. Another favorite food for Daddy was crackers and milk. Sometimes at night he would seem to get a hunger attack and he would go to the kitchen, get a glass and crumble crackers in it and pour milk over it. I don’t like soggy foods of any kind so this practice always amazed me. I asked him about it one time and he said when he was a boy they sometimes didn’t have sufficient food and that was something that would be available; apparently he learned to enjoy it.

Mother’s favorite was pork chop – she always said she loved to gnaw on the bone after she  finished with the meat. By the way, Mother washed all meat before she cooked it. I don’t mean just running water over it to get the blood off the surface; I mean rubbing it with the running water and even squeezing the meat to wash away as much of the blood from the inside as possible.

I don’t remember ever even hearing about a grill until long after I married, so mother and daddy both cooked pan fried meats. After the meat was clean, Mother would dredge it in flour, salt and pepper and put in the waiting hot oil.

I also don’t recall having what people referred to as ‘Sunday dinners.’ We got our first TV, probably around 1948 or 1949 and from then on we generally ate in the living room, plates in our hands, while we watched television; in fact, I have no recollection of eating at a table though I assume prior to TV that we did. When I married into a family with a mother who was an old-fashioned cook who truly enjoyed cooking and practiced it as a skill, including fixing three meals a day served on a table with the whole family gathered to eat it, I was ill-prepared, to say the least. Although I enjoyed eating in front of the TV, I managed to compromise with meals on the table for dinner the majority of the time during my marriage. Now that I’m single, I’ve returned to eating in the living room while watching TV.

Daddy had been a cook in the Merchant Marines and one of the things he cooked was something he called Sphaghetti Red – I didn’t have a recipe but it was something like macaroni mixed with browned hamburger meat, tomato sauce and seasonings. I always liked it and it was something I made with some frequency.

When I was in high school, if I got in trouble for something, Daddy had two possible punishments. One was to make me cook cornbread. I don’t know what the connection was to punishment and, surprisingly enough, being forced to make it as a punishment didn’t stop me from making it later when it was a proper complement to a meal. The other was to go to the kitchen and take out all the dishes from the cabinet and make me wash them again.

One of the things Mother made that I continued to make, at least in a similar manner, was meatloaf. Mother used a half and half mixture of hamburger meat and sausage, egg, onion, tomato sauce, salt and pepper and bread crumbs. I don’t always use the sausage but it’s good both ways. The real key to the meat loaf, in my opinion, is to generously spread catsup over the top of it before you put it in the oven.  One of my favorite vegetable complements that mother made was what she called Scalloped Potatoes. When I began searching for a recipe for those potatoes, I discovered that’s not actually what she fixed. Scalloped potatos basically only have a white sauce poured over the layer of potatos before baking; what Mother made was Potatos au Gratin – meaning it also has cheese. I really like the flavor of the Potatos au Gratin with meat loaf so that was the typical starch I made to go with it. These are really easy to make: peal and slice a layer of potatos into a casserole dish, sprinkle flour, salt, pepper and cheese over the layer of potatos and then dot with butter; continue with another couple of layers of potatos, flour, salt, pepper, cheese and butter. Pour milk over it until you can see the milk between the layers. Cover the casserole and bake for about an hour at 350°, then remove the cover and bake another 15 minutes. To complete this meal, I also usually made green beans and a regular baking powder biscuit.

When we lived in Blair, Oklahoma (Kay was about one), I made my first German Chocolate Cake. That’s an indelible memory for me – when I put the first bite of that cake in my mouth, I made a high-pitched, closed-mouth singing noise of joy. I love a homemade German Chocolate Cake and would still make the same song-like noise to this day [by the way, a box mix cake isn’t even in the same world as the original homemade variety].

The golden brown crunchy biscuits Kay mentioned in her blog was a recipe I found in an older Betty Crocker cookbook than the one I got as a wedding gift in 1959. We were living in married student quonset huts in Shawnee, Oklahoma at the time; our neighbors were named Zonna and Earl and the cookbook belonged to Zonna. She told me about the biscuits and I made them, loved them and continued to make them from that time forward.

In the ’60s, when I was working at OSU, I didn’t have enough work to keep me busy at my first floor (first office you came to) desk job and my boss wanted me to look busy, so one of the things I did was type recipes from magazines (on an old Selectric typewriter). I clipped the pictures from the magazines and glued them onto the pages and put them in a notebook. Some of these recipes I made only one time but still remember how excellent they were. For example, Sauerbraten that called for marinating several days in  a mixture that included red wine (unavailable at that time in Oklahoma) and ginger cookies [excellent recipe], a red cabbage dish that had green grapes cooked in it, and a sautéed carrot recipe that was delicious.

Also when I was working at OSU, we had a Christmas party and someone brought a Date Nute Candy that, when I put it in my mouth, I was overwhelmed with sensations of taste and smell that were clearly out of my memory. I loved the candy and asked for the recipe. When I made it, I realized why I’d had those strong sensations of taste and smell memories: it was out of my childhood and was something my mother used to make so long before that I’d forgotten all but that sense of taste/smell. The sensation of smell was that this candy was poured hot onto a wet cotton dish towel, wrapped up into a roll and put in the icebox to cool before slicing. As it cooled, the smell of the candy mixed with the smell of the dish towel.

In the ’70s, I went through a healthy cooking phase. Some examples of how that manifested itself would be: because margarine wasn’t natural it was considered to be less healthy than real butter, though the saturated fat content of butter had its own  problems. I solved that dilemma by buying real butter and allowing it to soften to room temperature. Then I added an equal portion of a healthier oil, such as Safflower, plus lecithin (the lecithin halted the solidification problem with the real butter and allowed it to stay spreadable at refrigerator temperatures). I also made my own mayonnaise. Additionally, I made a lot of healthier (tongue-in-cheek) desserts, such as the calorie and fat dense Carrot Cake that had carrots, pineapple, nuts and raisins in it and Cream Cheese Frosting on top, the Lazy Daisy cake made from oatmeal [a recipe my Mother used to make], and Grandma Brown’s Fresh Apple Cake, to name a few.

As to food-related events, the most important of those was probably the annual Thanksgiving weekend retreat the youth at Grey Stone Baptist Church took. I was a traditional cook and made everything for Thanksgiving from scratch. I would get up around 4:00 a.m. and put on the turkey and make hot rolls. Next came pies – pumpkin and pecan. I made the crusts for both pies and the custard for the pumpkin, but Wayne was very proud of making the custard for the pecan pies (it was his favorite) and I was always pleased to let him. While I was making the crust, I always made an extra crust that I rolled very thin, spread it with soft butter, sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar and then rolled it up to be baked along with the pies. That was something Mother had made that I always enjoyed and so I made it everytime I made a pie and it’s a real treat. Then I would peel sweet potatos and chop them up in very small pieces and start them cooking [Kay always wanted small pieces because she wanted every potential part covered in the brown sugar/syrup/marshmallow gooey stuff]. While everything was cooking I would make dressing, green bean casserole, mandarin orange salad, cranberry sauce and homemade whipped cream. I was raised by Mother to time all my cooking so that every dish served was served cold if it was to be cold and hot if it was to be hot and I was always successful in that.

1975 Thanksgiving Retreat Volleyball Game

1975 Thanksgiving Retreat Volleyball Game

After Thanksgiving meal was concluded and cleaned up after, we got our stuff and went to the church for the drive up to the mountains with the youth group for a time of fun, games, fellowship and Bible study. Absolutely some of our best times were spent in the North Carolina mountains on Thanksgiving weekend.

One of those recipes we enjoyed in the 1970’s that would likely be good today for Kay with the occasional houseful of teenagers would be the Peanut-Buttered Popcorn.