Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.


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Saw Mills and Cotton Gins

Allene, this one’s for you!

great-great-granddad-JosephMeet Joe.

That’s really a copy-machine copy of a picture, so it’s not very good, but it’s the best I’ve got. And really, I’m lucky to have it.

Joe was my Grandmother Ruby’s Granddad, which makes him my great-great-granddad. (Is that cool or what?) His name was Josephus (really!) C. Mitchell, and he was born in North Carolina.

He lived in Illinois in 1875 and had moved to West Plains, Missouri by 1881.

I don’t believe Joe came to Oklahoma for the opening of the Cherokee Strip, at least he didn’t get land in the rush. But not long afterward, he owned a saw mill and cotton gin in the Basin–in the spot where the house was that my parents lived in when I was born.

They always called it Aunt Sarah’s house. Now I know why. (Being his step-mother, Granddad Mitchell called her “Aunt” instead of mother.)

lumber-mill-and-cotton-ginThis picture has stacks of lumber and bales of cotton as well as several people standing around. (The man in the black hat is standing on a bale of cotton.)

Two of those people are my great-granddad and my great-great-granddad. GGG also had a post office and general store in that area, too.

great-great-grandparents

This is another picture of great and great great. The baby is my g-granddad.

The woman is Josephus’s first wife (and my g-g-grandmother) Mary. (Looks irritated, doesn’t she? I might have had that look a time or two in my life.)

Mary died at the age of 30 in West Plains, after having three children. The oldest was six, the youngest two, so old Joe remarried.

2nd-great-granddad-Joe's-1s

This is Mary’s headstone. The note that came with the picture says that Mary’s son, G-Granddad N. S., quarried the stone himself. Since Granddad was only about six when she died, he must have done it some years later.

Aunt-Sarah

Aunt Sarah

This is Sarah, Joe’s second wife. He married her eight months after Mary died, while they were still in Missouri. She was 17 years younger than him. She and Joe would go on to have twelve children together. (They named one Okla Homer. Don’t you love it?)

Some of the children died at birth or soon after, and at least two died by the time they were three. Hurts your heart to think about, doesn’t it?

After 21 years of marriage to Sarah, Joe died. Sarah married a man named Johnson and had yet another child. (She was one busy woman!)

Being Terminally Curious, I really wish I knew the story behind their lives. How did they happen to come to the Mannford area? How and why did Joe die? How did Sarah feel when Joe died, leaving her with all those children to raise?

Did Joe make his wives happy? Or were they too busy keeping all those kids fed to notice?

Sarah’s two youngest were five and two when their daddy died. The two-year-old, Jimmie, would die the next year. Doesn’t that just break your heart?

The first time I heard of Joe, I read about him in a book called Cherokee Strip Fever  by Zola Sample. She only mentions him in passing as the store owner in the Basin, but it was a thrill to see my family mentioned in that book.

I think I’ll have to read it again one of these days. :)

SPESS FAMILY MINUS CAROL


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Family Tree and History

Ever hear the saying, “What goes around comes around?” Usually when I hear it, someone is threatening someone else. (The threatenee is often me.) “It’ll come back and bite you on the hinny.”

But not always. Sometimes, it’s family history.

I think I’ve mentioned I’m climbing the Family Tree. Wow. Want to get confused, just start that little project! But it’s interesting. I’ve “met” a bunch of shirttail relatives through it. And most of them know way more about my family than I do! :)

SPESS FAMILY MINUS CAROLMeet Ray and Ruby Spess, my dad’s parents. They’re standing in front of their first home with their two oldest children, Frank and Paul.

What I love best about this picture is probably what Grandmother hated. See? On the left hand side of the photo? Her laundry is hanging on the line. :)

Seeing Uncle Frank look like a shy little boy is pretty cool, too. ;)

Their house was built on land in the Basin, which Granddad’s father got in the land run of 1893, the opening of the Cherokee Strip.

family-spessThe mustached man with the hat is my great-granddad, who made the run. On his right (with one hand on her hip) is his wife, Louisa. One of the two little girls in front of him is my granddad (the one on the left) and the other is his twin sister.

Message to my kiddos–I love family pictures for a reason! It’s genetic!!!

Anyway, the picture is almost the entire family of ten kids–only one person missing.

I believe the reason one person is missing from this pic is that Granddad had a brother named Theodore who died the year Granddad was born (at least that’s what I found on another tree) so it’s likely Theo that’s missing.

The house was probably built out of lumber milled at Grandmother’s grandfather’s lumber mill, there in the Basin.

One more picture–dad and sparkyThat’s Dad riding Sparky. Now look behind him. See that barn? Even after my grandparents moved into Old ‘Ford, they farmed in the Basin. They had a sow and her piglets living in that barn. This particular year, they raised a bumper crop of corn and stored that corn in the loft of the barn.

As I said, the corn was a bumper crop. And one morning they got to the farm and found  . . . you’re ahead of me, aren’t you?

Yep. You guessed it. That barn loft cratered under the weight of the corn and buried the sow and her babies.

Did it kill the pigs?

Nope.

Did they let the sow eat her way out?

Nope, again.

They rescued the pigs, and stored the corn someplace else.

Now back to going and coming around.

Fast forward to 2014–just about 110 years after that family picture was taken. My dad (the kid on the horse) lives very near where that family picture was taken, and not far from where Grandmother and Granddad had their first house, where the sow was buried in the corn.

Today, Dad raises a huge garden that gets bigger every year. He has chickens, raises his own beef (Brother Jeffrey’s bailiwick) and now he’s planning to get a sow and start raising his own pork.

Sounds a whole lot like what his grandfather must have done to get his family raised, even though Dad never knew that grandfather.

I love it that he’s repeating history that way.

Have you studied your family tree? Any surprises pop up for you?


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Happy birthday, Little Lulu

Do you remember the cartoon, Little Lulu? I’m not talking about her today.

Today is my sister Cindy’s birthday. Her nickname is Lulu.

cindySome of my favorite Lulu memories–

  • I made her a (paper) birthday cake on the day she was born with one candle on it. I even put the sticker I earned that day on the back, and sent it to her while she was still at the hospital. (She must not have liked it much because she didn’t bring it home.)
  • bow-tie-cindy
  • She told one of the teachers most of us had for second grade that an upcoming sibling was “different.” (She was right, too! We’re all different!) ;)
  • Cindy and Deegan

Baby Deegan and his Grandmommy

  • When she was nine years old, Omega was born. Mom said she rarely had to get up for middle-of-the-night feedings, because Cindy got there with a warmed bottle first. (Cindy is a great mom! We learned from the best.)

33643_1663053342269_2314250_n

Not quite all of Lulu’s Crew. (Two babies missing.)

  • People get Cindy and Debbie mixed up a lot. Debbie always wanted to be twins.

cindy-sis

  • People get Debbie and me mixed up once in a while. Triplets? (Dreaming here. Sigh.)
  • hope, kyla, faith, eric and deb
  • Cindy has five (count ‘em. F-I-V-E!!!) children.  Only two of these are them. :)

lulu-kids

Here’s a couple more and one from above. (Clean up well, don’t they?)

  • Another favorite memory . . . when I was pregnant with #1 Son, G-Man was on 24 hour call so Lulu attended Lamaze classes with me. Not exactly fun, but sweet.

lulu

Saturdays when we were kids was when Mama rolled our hair for Sunday.

  • When I had #1 and no one could (or would) figure out how to help me breast feed him, I told Lulu that when she became a nurse to never let a mama go home without helping her figure it out. Today she’s a certified Lactation Consultant–or something like that. Anyway, her job is to help mamas figure out how to breast feed their babies before they go home. She minds well, doesn’t she? :)

bride's-mama

Lulu at her oldest daughter’s wedding. Beautiful, isn’t she?

So . . . why do we call her Lulu? I’ll let you guess. (If you know the answer, make up a better one and post it here.) :P

 

 


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Kathy

While shortening Luke’s piece about his mother yesterday, I inadvertently left out an important portion. I’m so sorry for the omission, Luke!

Here it is–

From Luke: Around the time I was finishing my Master’s at OSU, Mom got double pneumonia. I knew in my heart I had to help her and take care of her, so I would go with her to school. As she put it, she was the brains and I was the brawn. And together, we got her work done.

She got over the pneumonia, but her rheumatoid arthritis flared up and started ravaging her body. But Mom was strong and she was stubborn and she would not let the arthritis rob her of her life.

She continued to work through much pain and difficulty because she loved the kids. I would go up to Frontier and volunteer in the library so I could help her. We kept that routine up, until about five years ago.

kathy3

I just want God to show me one  (a wife) with a heart for others as big as Mom’s. In spite of all the difficulty and suffering we went through, I would gladly give up everything for another ten years to be able to honor her and take care of her.

I am so thankful to God for providing me a mom who modeled love, goodness, dedication, selflessness, and compassion.

I have to tell you, Luke Bell is an awesome young man. I’ve heard from his Uncle Rick that he’s not only thoughtful and considerate, but extremely smart, too.

Thank you, Luke, for sharing your heart with us. I know how proud your parents are of you. I truly appreciate your sharing a bit of Kathy’s life.


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It’s a Beautiful Life–Kathy Spess Bell!

One of my cousins went Home last week–Kathy Spess Bell (my mama loved her name and called her Kathy Nell) daughter of Paul and Wilma Spess, and sister to Rick, Lindy and Kim. She’ll be oh, so very missed by her family!

She had such a full life! I wanted to hear all about her, so her son, Luke, offered to fill us in.

I’m thrilled to be able to share his words and pictures with you.

kathy-1

Thank you, Susan, for allowing me space to honor my mom, Kathy. She was so special to my dad and me. I just wanted an opportunity to share that with others she touched and lost contact with.

My name is Luke and I am the only child of Alan and Kathy.

Luke, Kathy & Alan

Luke, Kathy & Alan

I don’t know where to start, so I guess I’ll start at the beginning of when I met my mom. It was the dead of winter; Mom and Dad had just moved to Mt. Home, Idaho, and they didn’t know anyone. Thousands of miles away from her family, Mom was pregnant with me.

I guess I couldn’t wait, because I popped out over a month early and surprised everybody. And that’s when I met my mom, my best friend, and the two of us depended on each other ever since.

Dad was in the Air Force and was often expected to be on call all the time. Mam’ma (that’s what I call my grandma, Wilma) and Geneva Delancey came out to visit as soon as they could and my grandparents on my dad’s side came out later. But for the most part, it was just mom and I.

A couple years later, Dad had to do a remote assignment in Greenland for a year. So it really was just mom and I, but she was strong and I was always by her side.

When I was old enough to go to school, we lived in Sumter, South Carolina. Because of districting, the school that I should have gone to was in a bad part of town. Instead Mom and Dad enrolled me in a private school and Mom would drive me across town to school every day. She tried subbing there, but local politics discouraged that. However, they did allow her to volunteer all she wanted.

And volunteer she did. She was one of the main room mothers and in charge of organizing events and bringing cookies and treats for holidays, parties, birthdays, and more. Of course, Mom wasn’t content with just raising me, so she decided to continue her education.

kathy5

So where does a shy, wallflower like Mom go to school – Clown College. Yes, she was a professional clown. She took classes on how to perform, put on makeup, and make balloon animals. She had a fancy clown outfit made and even registered her clown name, Belly Bean. She taught me how to make the balloon animals and made a costume for me. Then, together, we would perform skits and entertain at the hospital and nursing homes with her as Belly Bean and me, of course, as Belly Button.

We continued to perform even after Dad got orders to move half way around the world to the lovely, tropical island of Guam. It was here where God showed Mom her true calling.

The elementary school I went to needed a librarian and they hired Mom full time. She was finally able to combine her passion for kids with entertaining and performing skits, all while teaching and fostering a love of reading in students. She was the librarian for only a year and then we had to move again – this time to Altus, Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma, you have to have a master’s degree in library science to be a school librarian. So in addition to taking me to school, substitute teaching, being a room mother, going to Dad’s Air Force functions, driving six hours to Mannford to help her mom often, preparing meals for my dad’s grandparents in Rush Springs, shuttling my friends and I to band concerts, soccer games, and other activities; my Super Mom went back to school.

Lindy, Kim & Kathy

Lindy, Kim & Kathy

She would pick me up after school, whip up supper for Dad and I, and then drive an hour and a half from Altus to Weatherford for evening classes. Often with Dad and I were already in bed before she got home, but I would wake up the next morning and she would have breakfast ready.

She finished her degree in 2 1/2 years and, once again, it was time to move. But this time it was different, because Dad was retiring from the Air Force after 20 years of service. This time we had a choice of where to move. So after much prayer, my parents decided that we would move somewhere where I could finish my high school all in one place. Walking in faith, we moved to Stillwater with neither of them having jobs.

August 1973

August 1973

They had met, fallen in love, and gotten married while at OSU and felt this was the right place to be and we’ve been here ever since. But I can’t say it was easy. Dad was also called to teach, so he took jobs and drove daily to Tulsa and, later, Enid.

Since there were no library jobs open in the area, Mom took a job as a teacher’s aide for Kindergarten and first grade. But Mom was soon hired at Mulhall-Orlando and was the librarian there for two years.

That is until the May 5th tornado wiped out the town of Mulhall and the elementary school, including Mom’s library. But God is faithful. Her prayers were answered yet again and she didn’t have to rebuild her library.

She was able to take the librarian job at Frontier in Red Rock which is about 40 miles north of Stillwater and where Dad had gotten a job the year before.

kathy2

But, the thing that brought her the most joy, was having a student come back to the library excited about reading and wanting to tell her about how great the book was that she had recommended and ask her if there were any more like it. She accomplished so much while she was there, but it came at the cost of her health. If you haven’t figured it out yet, she was a workaholic.

She was the most dedicated and humble person I know. All Mom cared about was doing the best job she could for God and the students she loved so much. I’m reminded how in Matthew 5:16, it says to “let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

God finally said enough and kept her from going back to Frontier in August by preventing her knees from bending enough to get in the car. And she was never able to leave our house again. Mom never wanted anyone to worry about her, especially her mom, or to be a burden on her family.

Sadly, I will never know if she approves of my future wife and I’ll never be able to go to her for advice on how to raise my kids. Though, as awkward as it was talking to her about girls, she did give me good advice for finding a wife.

She always told me to find a girl with a rich daddy. So if anyone knows a girl with a rich…Just kidding!

kathy3

I just want God to show me one with a heart for others as big as Mom’s. And in closing I would like to focus on two passages from the Bible that I thought were comforting.

1 Corinthians 15:42-44 So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though we are outwardly wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving us an external glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

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