Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.


When Dad was a Boy

I have a patchwork story. Patchwork, because I’ve kind of pieced it together from stories I heard over the years. That means it might not be totally accurate, but to the best of my knowledge, it is. 🙂

Back in about 1939, when my dad was in fourth grade, Granddad moved his family to Tonkawa, Oklahoma, because he’d been hired to plug some wells in Three Sands.

Three-Sands Three Sands

A little background information from–

In 1920 oilman Ernest W. Marland, on the advice of E. Park “Spot” Geyer, who headed his geology department, became convinced that there was oil to be found southwest of Ponca City near the town of Tonkawa. He persuaded the Humphreys Petroleum Company, Cosden Oil Company, Prairie Oil and Gas Company, and the Kay County Gas Company to enter a cooperative venture to drill ten wells in the area to test the idea. They drilled nine dry holes in a row. (Oi!)

BUT . . . #10 came in at a little over 2600 feet a thousand barrel a day producer! But those first holes and the ones that played out fairly quickly had to be plugged. So Granddad Ray got the job of plugging them.

I can’t give you a scientific explanation of what plugging is, but I know they pulled out of the well hole as much pipe as they could and filled it with cement or concrete.

So Granddad rented a big house from some people who traveled part of the year and moved Grandmother, Uncle Paul, Aunt Phyllis and Dad into it. Uncle Frank, being a high school kid (if I count right, he was about 15) stayed in Old Mannford with grandparents.

My dad was about nine years old–this was at the end of the Great Depression–and spent his days in school. One day walking home from school, he noticed a nanny goat with three brand new babies.

baby boatI’ve heard my dad say many times, there’s nothing cuter than a baby goat. And I think I agree.

A week or two later, Dad noticed the babies were all gone except one. And the owner was in their pen with them, so Dad asked if the man wanted to sell the third baby.

“Yes,” the man said. “I’ll sell her for fifty cents.”

So dad rushed home and borrowed the money from Uncle Paul. (And yes, he later paid it back.) He hurried back to the man and bought the goat.

He named the little goat-girl Meggie and fell head-over-heels in love with her. The entire family loved Meggie. She was full of bounce and vinegar, and kept the fam totally entertained. There was no TV to watch back then.  Since the depression was just coming to an end, there probably wasn’t money for one if it had existed.

Meggie followed Dad and Phyllis around like a puppy. He and Phyllis liked to run and jump off the porch and run as they flew through the air. Meggie did the same thing, even running in the air!

Dad said they couldn’t keep Meggie from climbing anything. She often got on top of their cars so she could reach leaves on trees to munch on. I think he was kind of proud of her abilities. 😉

When the plugging jobs were finished, Granddad moved the family back to their house in Mannford and Meggie moved with them. Of course. But they lived in town, and town really wasn’t the place for a very active and hungry goat-girl.

They moved Meggie out to the farm, out in the basin. They never did teach Meggie not to eat what she shouldn’t. One day they were at the farm, dusting the potatoes with poison to keep the bugs off. Dad looked up and saw the goat with her head in the bag of poison.

He chased her out of the poison and moved it where he thought was out of her reach. But when he got busy again, Meggie found her way to the poison.

I guess Dad’s heart just about broke the next morning when she couldn’t move anything but her eyes. Not long after that, Meggie died.

As far as I know, Dad never owned another goat, but every now and then he talks about getting one to keep the brush eaten down on Eagle Mountain where he lives.

There’s just a little bit more to that story. Dad and his wife have season tickets to the musicals in Tulsa. They’ve been going so long, they have front row center seats, and they’ve gotten to know the people who sit around them.

One couple is from Ponca City. Dad told them he’d lived in Tonkawa for a while when he was a boy. The man said he had, too.

So Dad, being a natural-born story teller, told them about living in Tonkawa. And, he said, he even had a little girlfriend. She hadn’t known he liked her at the time, but his brother teased him about her. He wondered if the Ponca City man might have known her.

He said her name, and the Ponca man laughed out loud. That little girl had grown up to be the man’s sister-in-law!!!

Is this a Small Town World or what?

Any goat stories out there? Care to share? 😀

In case you’re interested, here’s a little bit more about Three Sands–

Cherokee Strip Museum




Back in the . . .

129597992513478451 That pretty little girl on the far right of this picture is my mama. (Back in the day.) Her oldest two siblings aren’t in this picture. (Yep, that’s 7 kiddos and yes, it was the Great Depression, although I don’t know what was great about it.)

Just to the left of Mom is her sister Carol. The other even smaller boy is Uncle Robert. Those two are Mom’s only living siblings.

The big boy is Uncle Joe and the biggest girl is Aunt Virginia. It hurts my heart when I think about the family that’s gone on, but I love the stories the pictures bring back. Now look at Mama again. mom See how pretty and neat and girlie my mama looks with her feet together and her little puff sleeves puffed and her hair not blowing wild around her head? When I see that picture, I wonder if Mama despaired when she watched me grow up.

I hate to tell you how I looked at that age. *sigh* In most pictures (when I wasn’t heading to church or having a professional picture made) my hair is falling out of a ragged ponytail and the bows and ties on my dresses (if mama talked me into a dress that day) are all dragging behind me, because I didn’t sit and play little girl games. I ran and jumped and fought and played and had a good time!

Mama said Grandma kept her hair short and “shingled up the back” (I think that’s stacked, but I’m not sure) to make it easier to take care of. mom's-hair Mama didn’t like that pixie cut (that’s what we called it) so she kept mine long. We spent a while every night (or the next morning if I crashed too early) trying to comb out the snarls, tangles and cockle burrs. 🙂

With six sibs, I have a feeling if Mama got cockle burrs in her hair, she had to comb them out herself.

Now look at this.


Those are Mama’s feet. Her socks are sagging, her shoes need polishing or the dust washed off (and they might not match each other) and her knees and legs have a few scabs on them. 🙂

Hm. Maybe Mama and I were more alike than I thought. Maybe she liked to run and play and jump and fight and have fun, too.

Maybe, if I’d known Mom when we were both children, we’d have been really good friends. I like to think so, anyway. 😛



Meet the G’dad

I have something really cute to show you. Wanna see?

This is my mom’s dad when he was a teenager. Isn’t he adorable? (I think he looks like Nephew Phillip.)

I love the chain going from under the tie to his shirt pocket. Makes me think he had a new pocket watch and couldn’t wait to put on his suit to wear it. He could have put it in his pant pocket, but then it wouldn’t show in the picture. 🙂

Granddad was in World War I, and just before he left for San Antonio, where he was stationed, he married Grandma. This is their wedding photo, taken in 1917.

Granddad was in his early twenties here. Are you loving his hairdo? I’m sure it disappeared as soon as he got in the army. 😉

This is the way I remember him looking. Some of my favorite things I remember about Granddad–

When I was little, he had a cool pickup (I remember it being a granite blue color) that went a-OOO-gah! If I remember right, it burned up in a well fire. 😦

Granddad loved to fish and take his grandkids fishing.

He nearly always wore a hat. Not a ball cap. A really cool hat.

Granddad’s hat–a fedora?

I’m not sure what it’s called, but I love it. (It hangs on my wall.) Granddad must have, too. He used it for shade, a fan, a swatter, and when in a pinch, he used it for an ashtray.

At one time or another, Granddad had a chicken farm near Tahlequah years ago, he worked in the oilfield, and more often than not, he farmed. (Often while working another job.) During the Great Depression, he went to another state and worked to support his family of seven (!) children.

One memory stands out in my mind. Once Sister Debbie and I stayed a week with G & G at their farm near Tahlequah. Granddad was working in his garden while Debbie and I climbed a tree. I was getting pretty brave, and had my feet higher than my head when the small branches I held onto snapped. I landed on Deb (she still claims she saved my life) and we both tipped, about to topple out of that tree, several feet to the ground.

Granddad saw us falling, dropped his hoe and raced across the garden to catch us both. I was impressed a guy that old could run so fast.

I remember going to church with him on that trip, too, and hearing him sing. Seems like he might have led the singing, too. (Maybe that’s where Brother Jeffrey got that talent!) And we fished in the Illinois River.

Do you have happy memories of your granddad (or mine) you can share?


Lemons to . . . ?

You know the old question, What do you do when life hands you lemons? Make lemonade, of course!

I’ve heard several other answers.

  • Serve mine with a twist.
  • Stuff them in your, uh, ladies’ underwear and save money on padding.
  • Sell them on eBay.
  • Trade them in for ones that get better gas mileage. (I like that one!)
  • Make a helmet for your kitty.

Okay, this guy used a lime, but you get the idea.

My Granddad Ray was one of those guys who knew about turning lemons into lemonade. He was born in 1900, along with a twin sister, in this cabin.

 The cabin was built on the place my great-grandfather got in the opening of the Cherokee Strip. I believe Great-granddad Spess staked a different place, then traded a man for this one. That was seven years before Granddad Ray was born.

Granddad grew up on that land. When he married, he and Grandmother built a house there and had two children. They moved to town by the time they had their last child.

My dad was born in 1930, the last of Granddad and Grandmother’s four children–all six years old and under! (Oy!) 1930 was practically the beginning of The Great Depression, but Granddad figured several ways to turn the lemons of a depression into lemonade.

He raised and butchered his own animals and raised much of their own food on the Farm. (I have a hunch he was a pretty fair trader, too!) He sold insurance and got into the oil business.

When I was a kid, we always called the land where Granddad was born The Farm. (Original, right? LOL) The Farm is in the Basin, near Old Ford.

As kids, we loved to go there. Sparky, the horse Dad bought when he was twelve, lived there as well as two families of cousins. When we were there, we could fish in the best catfish pond in the world, and if we were very, very lucky, Granddad would pick a watermelon and we’d get to eat it, warm and sweet, straight out of the garden.

The soil near the river was really sandy, and while it might not be the best for raising some crops (kind of hard to keep watered) Granddad found it was a great place to plant watermelons.

About the only thing on The Farm I never liked was Bull Neddles. Know what that is?

This is from Plant of the Week on Facebook:

The entire plant is covered in glass-like hairs that when touched break off into the skin and act as hypodermic needles releasing a toxin that causes an intense burning sensation.  The stinging hairs can penetrate even the heaviest clothing such as jeans.  Depending on sensitivity of ones skin the affected area can remain red and swollen for a number of days after initial contact.

If you ever got too near one, you’d remember. Just brush against a bull neddle and your legs start itching and stinging enough to make you cry for a long time.

As kids, we wore shorts all summer long except when we went to The Farm. If we forgot and wore them and got caught by a bull neddle, we didn’t forget again for a long time.

But Granddad knew something about Bull Neddles that us kids didn’t know. It was good for food! Not the stinging neddles, but the seed pod.

Inside the seed capsule that bears a coat of armour more formidable than steel waits a delicious nut. (from Plant of the Week on FB again.)

I remember one year when Granddad brought home a bucket full of those seed pods. When he told us what they were, us kids gave that bucket a wide berth. We imagined that, even after they were off the plant, they’d cause itching like our on legs when we got too close in the summer.

I don’t know if anyone except Granddad ever ate those nuts he picked. LOL.

Granddad even knew how to find fruit in an old orchard that had gone wild, and how to turn the gritty pears he picked in that orchard into honey. Pear honey. 🙂

One more thing I know? When Granddad got lemons, he made lemonade but he added fresh orange juice to it and lots of sugar, so it wasn’t so tart.


Early Family Years

Grandmother and Grandad Spess’s first house was in the basin outside of The ‘Ford. I’ve always been disappointed that it wasn’t made of logs, like the house where Grandad grew up.

Instead of this


They had this

which was probably better building material, easier to build, and I’m sure it was easier to get and haul the materials.

These are my dad’s parents and his two oldest brothers. Uncle Paul (the baby in Grandmother’s arms) was born when Frank was two, after G & G had been married two years, so counting on my fingers and toes, I’m thinking this picture was taken in the summer of 1926. 

That makes Grandad twenty six and Grandmother twenty one. 

Aren’t they cute? I’m sure Grandmother was never a flapper, but her dress, shoes and hair all tell what era it is. Men aren’t as easy to date by their clothes.

Very near this house is a spring. I don’t know if they carried their water from there or if they had a way to pump it. Below the spring today is the catfish pond. I loved fishing there as a kid. The house had fallen down by the time I was big enough to notice, but I remember seeing the old wood lying in the dirt.

The little boy is Uncle Frank.

Isn’t it cute the way his socks bag on top of his shoes? 😉 I didn’t realize how much his grandchildren look like him until I saw this pictures. Today this little boy is a great-grandfather and lives just a little way from where this picture was taken.

By the time they passed away, G & G had four children (Frank, Paul, Phyllis and Carol) and nineteen grandchildren. I don’t know if anyone has ever calculate the number of great-grandchildren.