© By Abraham Lincoln

Ohio summers feature heat and humidity and our winters are cold with snow and ice. In the olden days we had no inside air conditioning so people opened the windows when it was hot and sticky and closed them when it was raining or cold and windy. To help make ends meet and put food on the table, a lot of us gathered dandelion leaves and ate them for a meal without meat.

We survived The Great Depression and ended up with nothing but a roof over our heads. The fellas sitting next to you didn’t have anything in their pockets except thin spots and lint. My mom couldn’t afford to buy a penny post card and didn’t expect letters from relatives at home in the hills and hollows of Summers County West Virginia. She really missed her kin back home around Hinton where her Ballengee name was still famous—I think she missed it because she seldom talked about it.

Weather was what people talked about when they loafed at the grocery store where we all got our mail. If it was hot outside it was hot inside so people had little to say about the weather that everybody knew about. If you had juicy gossip it would attract an audience like television does today.

Conversations were anchored in local bits of information and were not about an event that happened to somebody in another town. You might say, “Did you hear the story about Charley Brown?” Heads turned waiting for the story: “He ran off with his neighbor, Mrs. Hopper. ”

The sky was blue and the sunshine was brilliant. It was cloudy before it rained and you could see the rain coming across a field of corn and you could hear it pelting the leaves. Rain hitting the tin roof above my bed was wonderful and put me to sleep almost instantly.

Our air was a lot cleaner back then and the sky was always blue unless a storm was coming.

I never heard of people being allergic to anything in the environment except poison ivy. I don’t think there were very many mosquitoes because I never heard of anything to rub on before going outside to keep the mosquitoes off.

Our long underwear came off in the spring and mothers washed them and hung them on the clothesline to dry. Mom hung her wash out in the winter and the clothes froze dry in cardboard-like positions. Mom had to bring them in the house to thaw out and finish drying before they were stored away for the summer. She hoped they still fit when autumn’s frosty mornings returned and school started over.

Big orange pumpkins sat on porches with carved out faces and scared little kids determined to play tricks on neighbors to get a piece of candy and soon forgot to yell “Trick or Treat!”

In late summer those parents who had money began to go to town on Saturday nights to buy a new pair of clodhoppers for boys and white cotton hose for the girls. Parents talked about the start of school — we had to try on this and that to see if it still fit and most of the time it didn’t.

Virginia Reunion

The Virginia Reunion
By Abraham Lincoln

I remember old John Hanes when I was growing up in Gordon, Ohio. Among other things, John was the owner of the woods in town along North Street and that was where the annual Virginia Reunion was held. It was at one of these events where I saw my first bi-wing airplane. That airplane attracted kids from all over town who wanted to see it up close and to touch it. I never got to touch it because it was always on the go taking paying customers up for a flight around Gordon. I was about half-afraid of it—when it backfired people screamed; so I never got close enough to touch it.

The Virginia Reunion was the only time I was ever close to a lady wearing a big hoop skirt or dress. I thought they were beautiful when they bent over to hit the croquet ball on the cement court in the woods. A lot of kids, like me, peeped through the wire fence to watch the gentlemen, in suits, hit their ball around while holding parasols above a ladies heads so she could hit their ball while standing in the shade.

My mother, a plain woman, born in Summers County, West Virginia, often said these ladies were snooty stuck-ups. I wondered what it would be like to court one just to be close enough to smell their perfume. A big smile still crosses my face as the thought of smelling ladies in hoop skirts carrying parasols is deciphered in my brain. My mom didn’t fit their world of petticoats, parasols and umbrellas—she wore bonnets, aprons and dresses made from flour sacks.

Nobody in our family even owned a raincoat much less a parasol. We did, from time to time, end up with an umbrella somebody forgot. I did get to see a wooden hoop that was taken out of a dress my mom was fixing but never saw the person in the dress with the hoop in place. And girls didn’t wear high heels until they were old enough to be considered ladies and then they got to wear the things all the other ladies wore. I think that was a step in their development—just wearing a hoop skirt set you apart from the cotton hose and long underwear most girls wore to school.

I do not remember that we had a Lincoln Reunion or a Ballengee Reunion while I was at home growing up. We did go to my grandparent’s house for Sunday dinners that featured macaroni and cheese dinners fresh out of the hot oven in the kitchen. To me, the dinners Hattie Ballengee fixed were the epitome of kitchen skills any woman I married would have. I did not know what my grandpa, Jim, did to earn enough money to set a dinner table with such delicious food, but I remember looking forward to visits at my grandparent’s house on Pleasant Plain Road.

When Grandpa and Grandma Ballengee left their home and moved back to the mountains in West Virginia, my Sunday dinners changed forever. There was no macaroni and cheese dinners fixed in a hot oven in the wood stove.

Put It On The Bill

Put it on the Bill
© by Abraham Lincoln

There was a time, not that long ago, when you walked into your grocery story with a note. The note contained a list of items you needed. My mother usually gave me a note and told me to go to Boyer’s or to Pinkerton’s store to get the things on the note.

Sometimes she also gave me money to pay for the items but more often than not, she would say, “Tell them to put it on the bill.”

The “bill” was a sales receipt book all stores had and some still have them. The grocer would write down the date, your name and a list of items you bought.

It was and still is a form of credit. And at some point in time you had to pay on it or pay it off or the grocer would not give you any more credit.

It was called, “Buying on Time,” and most people bought their groceries on time. My mother would send me to the store with a note to buy, “1 stick of butter.” Since a pound of butter came in a 1 pound box and there were 4 sticks in the box, the grocer would open the box and take one stick out and give it to me.

I am sure that buying on time is still being used all over the world. It is just that we never think about it when we go to a large supermarket like Krogers. I assume you can go to the counter and filled out applications for credit and perhaps get credit.

The grocery stores carried things that are no longer available. Wal-mart might sell horse harness in western locations but not here. You have to find a special store that sells horse harness, bridles, halters, and bits; or buy it online. You can only find a fly net online and not in your local grocery store. When I was a kid you could buy horse collars, horse harnesses, and fly nets. If you lived in Amish country, you could go to the grocery store and buy those kinds of things.

A lot of times we did not have enough money to pay for a stick of butter or a pound of cheese. And, for whatever reason, mom didn’t want me to tell the grocer to put it on the bill. She would get a dozen of fresh eggs she had already candled (to make sure there was no chicken forming in the egg) and put them in a paper sack and tell me to trade them for whatever it was that she wanted. She would tell me if what she wanted cost more than the dozen of eggs, then she wanted me to tell the grocer to put the difference on her bill.

The grocery store always had a wooden keg of nails setting on the floor that was opened. You could get a pound of nails; or if the adjacent barrel had cookies in it you could buy a pound of cookies. You could put the nails and the cookies on your bill.

When Dandelions Bloom

When Dandelions Bloom
© By Abraham Lincoln

Heat and humidity was summer. Cold and ice was winter. We opened the windows when it was hot and sticky and closed them when it was raining or cold and windy. I suppose air conditioning was when the windows were open and the lace curtains flapped outside in the breeze.

Most families felt lucky to have a roof over their heads and to have survived The Great Depression. If it was hot outside it was hot inside. Heat and humidity were accepted with summer. Spring and autumn came and went without complaints.

Spring was the time when the long underwear came off and were washed and hung out on the clothesline to dry. Mothers would store them away for the summer and hoped they still fit when autumn’s frosty mornings returned and school started over.

Autumn was when kids carved faces in pumpkins, and played tricks on neighbors to get a piece of candy as the treat. Parents talked about the start of school you had to try on this and that to see if it still fit and most of the time it didn’t.

Boys wore high-top shoes called “clod-hoppers” that were a couple of sizes too big when first bought but shrunk over the summer and were too small by fall. Mothers traded used shoes to keep from having to buy new ones. Most fathers had the necessary cobbler tools to make new soles for wore out shoes.

The trousers that had rolled-up cuffs in the spring were rolled down in the fall. Trousers from last year were too small and the pant leg came just below the knees—obviously too short.

New patches were added where needed on overalls, shirts and sweaters. Most kids wore sweaters with holes worn through the elbows. Buttons were missing on clothes and safety pins were used to replace them.

I have never seen a movie that did a country school justice. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, school was about making it to the 8th grade and nothing else. Most kids never went on to high school—parents thought an 8th grade education was enough educating.

Kids needed to know how to hoe tobacco when it was growing. Boys had to toss hay from the ground up on the hay wagon. Children were expected to help on the farms and milking was something all children had to do.

If you lived in town, like I did, you still had to feed the chickens or chop their heads off and dress them for the dinner table. Gathering eggs was a twice a day chore and we all had chicken houses where for our meat and eggs.

When the dandelions bloomed the last of May, out school was out for the summer and we walked home with our grade cards that showed our final grade and told whether we passed or failed.

One good thing about summer was playing Monopoly on Harleman’s front porch while rain pummeled the snowball bushes.

When The Rooster Crows

When the Rooster Crows
© By Abraham Lincoln

Times have changed over the 80 years that I have been around.

My life began in 1934. It was a very hot year and set records, as did the year my wife was born—1936.

Since then the two of us have had experiences most of you will not have. I do remember talking to my father about his life and the way things were while he was growing up. His life in the 1800s evolved around the horse and buggy and ended in the 1950s with school integration.

We only saw black people during tomato picking season when hundreds came from the south to harvest tomatoes. I used to spend a day picking tomatoes in the fields for 10 cents a hamper. If I kept busy I could make $1.00 by the end of the day. I ate a lot of fresh tomatoes and still like them.

My father would never have dreamed such things were possible when he was born in the late 1800s?

Education was not really part of rural life though many children did go through the third grade or until they could write their names and read short notes. My dad told me he spent many summers hauling rocks out of fields and his younger brothers hauled them to the edges to make stone fences.

Dad said the last glacier stopped on the land that made up their farm, in Preble County, and as it melted, left thousands of stones of all sizes on the land.

My dad said farm boys and girls stayed at home most of the year just to help out. There was a lot of work to do on a farm and an 8th grade diploma was not seen as a requirement to be a farmer.

Old George Meyers told me that he never finished the third grade because he was always busy helping out at home.

He was the only person I ever saw who ate raw hamburger. His wife, Ida bought a pound of fresh ground hamburger every day and used her hands to make it into balls. George ate the raw meat with gusto.

He tried to get me to taste it and said it was delicious but I never tasted it and when I would tell mom, she would tell me not to eat it as it might make me sick.

Mother quit school before she finished the third grade to help out at home. My grandpa thought her two hands made a difference in daily food preparation and said she should stop going to school and she did.

Families were larger because the big family had more hands to get the work done. A youngster could drive a large team of horses in the field while the father was overseeing other kids doing other jobs. Long days and nights were the norm, and kids hit the bed dead-tired and slept until the rooster crowed the next morning.

Honest Abe Lincoln


on_televisionThis was a publicity photograph taken in West Palm Beach, Florida and was used on items sold by the television stations that ran the 13-week television series I wrote and hosted for Parker Pen Ltd. That was a long time ago and I still have some fond memories of doing that series and the huge house I lived in at Del Rio. It was laced with paintings by the masters—from Picasso to Rembrandt.

And this is an example of me working on letters of the alphabet while being televised live. Those were the days.