ERASTUS NEELY July 4, 1887 March 13, 1972; 84 years old
By Virginia Fay Neely
Daker Erastus, the oldest of fifteen children, was born in Alabama July 4, 1887. He and Lutie Dovie Tilley were married in Moody, Texas on December 24, 1908. They had three children: Steven, who lived twelve days (was so small he was buried in a shoe box), Gladys Coise, and Virginia Fay. Between the births of Gladys and Virginia, Mother had six pregnancies that ended before term. Erastus completed eighth grade and may have attended some high school. They moved to Tempe, Arizona in 1917 where I was born, January 17, 1919, 1/2 mile south of University Road.
We moved! I know of two places we lived that I cannot remember and eight that I can remember by the time I was in high school. I attended five grade schools and one high school.
I have been told that one time we were living in a tent and Mother was sick. We had a Mexican lady helping and as I was blonde and bald, Mother had no problem seeing lice hurrying about on my head. The lady left and Mother scalded my head with kerosene. She rid me of the lice though.
On Christmas Eve, 1924 we had our Christmas tree and Santa. Aunt Bonnie, Uncle S.T. and family, Aunt Mae, Uncle Clyde and family, and Grandpa and Grandma were all at our house. Santa Claus came all decked out but I recognized Dixie’s shoes. Mother took me aside and threatened me with dire consequences if I let the other children know of my discovery.
Not long after this Rex was born. Aunt Mae had a hard time getting Uncle Clyde’s attention in the field where he was working so he could take her to Tempe for this birth. Not only that delay but the radiator on the car leaked and about every five miles he would have to refill it from a ditch. They didn’t quite make it to the matemity home in time and had to stop about two miles short. Uncle Clyde helped her into a house and the lady had to move tack and saddle blankets to clean off a bed for her. We took care of June during this time. She was a year-old baby and so much fun, so cute, and I loved her so much. I remember how red Rex’s hair was too.
Visiting at Grandpa and Grandma’s was really a treat for it was quite a trip from Tempe to Gilbert. Thirty miles per hour was rather rapid in those days, especially with Mother saying, “Slow down.” We’d be cautioned, “Now don’t ask for anything to eat.” I don’t believe that worked or else Grandma understood that kids were always hungry, for we usually received something. Grandma was pigeon-toed, slender, and had beautiful long red hair that she’d let us brush if she had the time and we caught her sitting down. I remember Theo and me fussing over who got to brush the longest. My Dad really wished either Gladys or I had hair like Grandma’s. I remember Grandpa as stern and rather gruff, but never really cross and always wore suspenders. Grandma was fun and she was always doing something for someone else, as if she were not busy enough. She was firm, stern at times, yet tender and loving. She didn’t stand for too much foolishness and made us children toe the mark, yet we always wanted to go back for more. She enjoyed life and tried to pass that on to us. If we were there overnight, we had to study the Sunday school lesson before we went to church so we’d understand it, and she made the stories very real. Their house and farm were on Warner Road west of Gilbert Road, and between the house and the road they had a large orchard with apricots, peaches, plums, pears, and I think I remember a little green apple tree. There were some strawberries and black berries too. That was fun to help pick the fruit. Aunt Kansas, Grandma’s sister was deaf and didn’t talk, just made noises. She’d sit in her rocker on the north porch. We kids would tease her, I guess because she couldn’t talk to yell back at us. That’s one more thing I have to ask forgiveness for. There was kind of a service room/porch on the west side of the house where Grandma peeled fruit to can and all sorts of interesting things. Her churn was a tall crock with a wooden lid and plunger. It was such fun to churn there. At home we had a “daisy” churn with a wheel and handle to turn. That’s work!
Grandma “put down” sausage in a 2-3 gallon crock. She’d fry 1 1/2-inch balls of sausage very well done and place them in the crock and pour hot lard over them to cover. To use, they would be dug out, the lard scraped off and then they were dropped into green beans, black-eyed peas or anything else that needed that type of seasoning. Pure nectar! I ’ve no idea how long they would keep that way. Grandma had a way with kids. Could it be from experience? When fixing fried chicken, she’d clean the feet too. For those unused to this delicacy, the feet were scalded, the yellow skin peeled from the knees to the toes, then cut off with the claws. These were salted, floured and fried to give us kids something to gnaw on to keep us out from under foot until the meal was ready. Theo’s husband Andy used to tease us. We liked to eat all the meat from the chicken bones, and he said all we were ever given as children was chicken feet so we knew no better. He didn’t appreciate the finer things of life. I remember Grandma going to hunt for eggs in the hay stack (baled hay in the big bam out back). I thought she was so brave to go so high. About a year before she died she fell quite a distance while hunting eggs. Some said this fall was what started her cancer. Mother remarked if someone had built her a chicken pen, she wouldn’t have had to climb to gather eggs. Mother really loved Grandma and respected her in every way. At some point Grandpa developed ulcers. He would eat soft boiled or poached eggs mixed with bran flakes. I decided to convince Mother this was the only way to eat eggs.
When Gladys was 9 (or 10 or 11), Aunt Mae gave Mother the suit Uncle Clyde had been married in. Mother ripped it up, Washed it, pressed it, and adjusted/altered a pattern to fit the pieces and made Gladys a coat. After she outgrew it, it was passed down to Lorena, then me, Theo, Margaret, Aleene, then June. It had come back to Mother a couple of times for adjustments or repair. Mother loved to sew and was an accomplished seamstress. One year Aunt Mae wasn’t well and Mother made June and Margaret several dresses to start school.
When Otie (Leota) was hired to teach in Wickenburg, she went to Mother in a panic. She also had to teach sewing so Mother gave her a crash course! Mother always felt the lack of much formal education and here she was “teaching a teacher.” I was in seventh grade when I had my first “store bought” coat and a junior in high school for my first purchased dress.
When I was in the second grade, we lived on Priest Road just north of Baseline. Mother, Gladys and I planted about lO acres of sweet potatoes, walking barefooted in mud to plant the “slips”. We had a bumper crop, but so did everyone else, so they couldn’t be sold. We ate them every way possible. But We still liked sweet potatoes.
When Gladys was in seventh and eighth grade, she drove our Model T Ford to school (with two or three other children) in Tempe (about five miles) from Baseline and Priest. She was a good driver but the roads were dirt and if it rained they were slick. The canal banks were especially scary but we all survived. I’ll never forget Otie’s wedding early one morning in the front yard of the Grandpa’s farmhouse. The serving table had Grandma’s large glass basket filled with Queen’s Wreath trailing out of it. They served the flakiest puff pastry shells with creamed chicken and a bakery decorated cake. The shells really impressed me. Times were hard and money was spent on things that could be made at home? I wonder what happened to the pretty glass basket.
One time Gladys had a date with Ellwood Sanders and I was spraying flies with “Flit.” Remember the smell? As Gladys went out the door I gave her a squirt. It couldn’t have been deliberate, could it? Mother insisted that Gladys not kill me right then. She never really liked me until we were adults. I wonder why? Gladys and Ellwood were married in 1929 and had two daughters, Jean Elaine Brown and Adella Pauline Priess. Elaine has two daughters Lanae Muldrow and Lisa Weigt, a granddaughter Carla and great-grandson, Ray Muldrow-Chavez. Pauline has a daughter Paulette Daniels and son Kelly Priess, granddaughters Tiffany Decker and Kaylee Priess, grandsons Jason Priess, Shane Franklin and great granddaughters Amia Taylor Franklin and Courtney Decker. Gladys and Ellwood divorced and she later married Gene Gage, then Ben Satran. Gene died shortly after he retired. She and Gene had become very interested in depression glass and acquired many of these “treasures”. Gladys became quite knowledgeable in this area and at the time of her death had an extensive collection of beautiful glass. Even before Ben’s death she had become less responsive, and eventually was moved to Brighton Gardens where she was relatively content. When asked if she liked it, she’d respond “What’s not to like, except it isn’t home‘?”
In all our moves we gained a great deal of experience as to how to “make do”. We had a four burner kerosene stove with a removable oven and linoleum “rugs” which we carefully moved from home to home. The laundry was wash boards, galvanized tubs and cast iron boiling pots, and later gasoline powered washing machines. White clothes were hung in the sun to bleach. Hand wringing was a real chore and machine wringers were death on buttons if you weren’t very careful. We ironed with flat irons (3 sizes) and later had a Coleman gasoline iron. We used kerosene lamps and had to wash and shine the lamp chimneys. We had a “fireless” cooker that was great, which used heated cement discs for slow cooking. The bath was a tub and a path. Nearly every place we lived We had a hand pump or hauled water. Remember there were no electric lines south of Tempe at that time.
As best I remember, we were never hungry since we nearly always were living on a farm. Each time we moved, the first thing that was done was the chicken pen. If the chickens couldn’t eat and exercise, they didn’t lay, so we’d have no eggs or chicken for meat. We had a cow for milk, butter and cottage cheese, and a garden. We camied everything available so that when we had no garden we still had vegetables and fiuit.
I have especially fond memories of Uncle S.T. and Uncle Otto. Uncle S.T. taught me and Theo to swim in the canal north of Baseline (Western). He’d stand to catch us when we jumped, each time moving farther away so we’d have to swim. He was such fun. Uncle Otto brought me a fox terrier puppy once, said it needed a home. I didn’t have it long and have wondered what happened to it. He also brought me some guinea pigs. He and Dad dug a pit and buried some heavy mesh and then built a pen. They burrowed and built a nest and had babies which I watched grow. They were my playmates. The mesh came from Peterson’s Gin, which had burned. Uncle Bud years later had his welding shop there.
One place we lived was built of board and bat with no inside finishing. The wind whistled through so Mother pasted several layers of newspaper on the inside to help insulate and it really helped. About this time we moved to Palo Verde where Dad cleared 1700 acres of desert land to put into cultivation as a canal had recently been extended past the Buckeye area. Miles (Red) helped clear the land, driving a tractor, etc. One day he brought Mother a “gift”, a big desert scorpion (in a paper sack, yet). She dumped it into a tall flat quart pickle jar. Mother hated scorpions but she got even with him. He developed a cold, flu or whatever, and she dosed him with hot lemonade and mustard plaster. Bumed his tongue, chest and back, but he got well in self defense. The land was great but was so silty that it washed out every time a bank was cut to water a row. My Dad went to Buckeye to a blacksmith and had him solder three pieces of stove pipe at an angle and wired a short piece of inner tube to one end. Flop this in the ditch, lift the imier tube (twisted) end over into the row and Ta Da! The first siphon irrigation hose. Mother wanted him to apply for a copyright but his answer was if it can be useful, good! Uncle U.R. worked in Palo Verde for a while when Aunt Reedy was expecting Wanda. She was so sick and Mother tried to help her all she could. Aunt Reedy had such tiny feet and she gave me some “high heels” to play in.
Things went “bust” at Palo Verde. We moved into a building that had been planned for the office and headquarters of a “cotton camp”. Living there was an eye opener. At the south were several buildings, “dog trots,” where Mexicans lived. West of the house were Papago Indians and to the east were Apache Indians where they built teepees of brush, etc., and whites to the north. Sergregation was their choice. They wouldn’t mingle. I vaguely remember Mother holding Bible studies on Sunday afternoons. I have no idea how often it happened as I was in Gilbert at that time. Mother felt it would be better for me to be away from the cotton camp where we were living, so I spent the better part of my seventh grade year with Uncle Otto and Aunt Edna. At the camp workers’ children were allowed to stay out of school but even the thought of missing school was not accepted by my folks.
Aunt Edna and Uncle Otto were passionately in love. Little pats, touches and an occasional kiss were in their every day life. One day I walked into the kitchen and interrupted a real clinch. They jumped apart as if shot. As a budding seventh grader I thought at “their old age” they still acted like that?
Each fall, sheep were brought from the high country for winter grazing and spring lambing. The east valley hay fields were White and Uncle Otto would bring little leepies (orphan lambs) to Aunt Edna to be bottle fed. It was fun for awhile and then became a chore. Aunt Edna was a meticulous house keeper. Too bad I didn’t retain more of the example she set for me. She was a good cook. She fixed liver and green chilies together that was so good, and I later asked her for the recipe but she couldn’t ever remember fixing it. They were so good to me, though I know I was a trial. Aunt Edna has laughed that, after me, she was glad she didn’t have a daughter.
Mother had received some money from her mother’s estate and bought 10 acres of “school land” on West Sth Street in Tempe. My Dad built a shell of a house, then was fortunate to get a job at the state mental hospital for $50.00 per month plus some food stuff such as flour, sugar, potatoes, rice, etc. About 1934 he got a promotion to run the State Farm and he became tangled up with Anastasia. After he and Mother were divorced, he and Anastasia moved to Blythe where he farmed and they ran a hotel. I’ve no idea how long they were married. His health wasn’t the best and he kept trying to find a location where he felt better. Long periods would pass when neither Gladys nor I had any idea where he was. Then he’d show up for a day or so and then he’d be gone again. He ended up back in Blythe and married Lena. She was so good to him and kept in touch with us.
I met Hollie Daker first in kindergarten, then again later. We married when he received a raise to $110 per month, but I was going to keep working for a while so we went to Wickenburg which we were certain was out ofthe country. My job said “No married help”. Wrong! Two days later, the marriage license was published. We have three daughters: Doris (married Irvin Risley) of La Quinta, CA; Chyrele (married Stanley Barnett) of Kirkland, N. M.; and Margaret “Peggy” (married Benjamin Rivers Jr) of Alta Loma, CA. Doris and Irwin have a daughter Michele (married Tom Watson) whose children are Kent, Linda and Trevor. Their son Michael recently married Mesani Mituzawa. Chyrele and Stan have a son, Martin (married Debbie Wolf) who with their two sons Aaron and Brandon live in Kirtland, N.M. Their daughter Patricia “Trish” (married Chuck Marquez) and her daughter Melissa live in Odessa, Texas _ Peggy and Ben have two sons, Benjamin S. III “Tres” and Kinsey Neely. Tres has two little girls, Harlee and Rylee, and a son in Dallas. Kinsey married Lorissa Dieterer and they are living in the Loma Alto, California area.
Hollie and I will be celebrating our 63rd anniversary soon (Sept 17, 2002). Though retired, Hollie still remains as active as his health permits. He has always been able to do nearly anything he set his mind to and eventually do it well. My Dad once told him that he was glad Hollie had hobbies like fishing, hunting, etc., that he (Dad) had never taken the time to leam to enjoy leisure time. Hollie captained a B-17 bomber in WW II, flying missions over Germany from his base in Italy. His plane was shot down by antiaircraft fire on his 44th mission in August of 1944. After successfully bailing out last after his entire crew, from a falling bomber with a wing shot off, Hollie spent nine months as a German P.O.W. After the war he worked for A.P.S. (Utility Co.) until his retirement in late 1983.
Late on one Sunday afternoon, Hollie and I stopped by to visit Grandpa and Miss Anna. Grandpa was preparing an early light supper and insisted we join them. We had such a nice visit and I later realized that Miss Anna was really becoming a problem with dementia, even then. He seemed so pleased to see us and have us stay. I wish we’d visited more often.
Buddy asked for any memories of Grandpa and Grandma and stories we’d been told. My memories of them are mainly of Grandma. More than likely this is because we girls were kept close to her.
I've tried to give a sense of life as seen through young eyes in the early/middle twentieth century. Looking back, I can see we were quite poor (short on cash) and our lives sound harsh. I didn’t realize it because others were not too much better off One thing of which I’ve always been aware, but especially so as I have “matured”, is the family assistance that has been available and their love and trust in God. Not too long ago, an old acquaintance and I were comparing memories we have. She commented on the good impressions and influences Uncle S.T. had on her life when he was her Sunday School teacher at the Tempe Methodist Church. I’m sure the same kind of thing holds true for many others in our family.
I’m so glad and proud to be a small part of this great group.