Letter from Harriette Anderson to Paul Kaser June 19, 1936
The suggested theme for the #52 Ancestors Challenge this week is “road trip”. That gives me an excuse to tell a story I’ve been itching to tell, pulled from my mother’s correspondence. This is not the first story I have told about Harriette Anderson (Kaser) and it will not be the last, because she kept letters and passed on the story of her life in oral history.
Family road trips are also not a new subject for Ancestors in Aprons. For instance,
It is the trip to the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas in 1936 that provided mother with some real excitement–and I am not talking about the Fair.
First some background.
Harriette Anderson and Paul Kaser had their first date on November 9, 1934. They started dating and corresponded when they were apart, beginning the following year. Each summer, my mother and a couple of her school teacher friends would either go to Ohio State University in Columbus to take Education classes, or they would go on a road trip in one of my mother’s string of cars that she loved so much.
In June, 1936, on a trip that started on Wednesday, June 17, and ended ten days later, on Saturday, June 27, she and fellow teachers Sarah Leonard (Keyser) and Fern Patterson (Purdy) and unspecified other “girls” (one was named Alice) took a roundabout route to the Dallas State Fair. Sarah Leonard was teaching first grade when I started school in Killbuck and Fern was teaching third grade. They seemed ancient then (probably not yet 40) so it is fun to picture them as young single “girls” bending over road maps and plotting their summer getaway.
From Killbuck, Ohio, they went to Kentucky by way of Grant’s boyhood home and Lincoln’s birthplace to Mammoth Cave. Then they drove through Tennessee. Mother remarked in her letters to the man who would be my father on the beautiful mountains they had driven through (the Appalachians) and visiting Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga.
Then through Atlanta and on to Pensacola, Florida. Following the Gulf Coast, which she loved, they drove to New Orleans, where she was charmed by “the old city of New Orleans.” They ferried across the mile-wide Mississippi River and made it to their objective–the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas. Heading home they planned to go through Little Rock Arkansas or Oklahoma City to St. Louis.
Although mother was not usually an early riser, she was up and ready to go by five each morning to beat the heat on this southern road trip. She reports temperatures exceeding 100°. Remember there was no air conditioning in 1930s cars. They probably hung a canvas bag of water in front of the radiator to keep the motor from over heating. She did most of the driving, spelled by her friend Fern. They drove three or four hundred miles a day, sometimes pausing to see sights along the way and stopped about eight in the evening. This was before the 1950s expansion of the highway system, before dependable chain motels, before quick dry clothes–not to mention GPS for navigation or tablets and laptops with Facebook to stay in touch with loved ones.
Although she was an English teacher, in these letters she rarely used periods at the end of sentences, or capitol letters at the beginning of new sentences as she wrote these letters, because she was so tired by the time she picked up her pen each night.
Apparently, Paul Kaser arranged with a friend to give her credit at Pure Oil filling stations along the way, which helped with expenses. They cooked their breakfast and dinner over a campfire. They stopped in towns along the way and filed up on a big lunch at a restaurant. The women stayed at tourist camps–tent camping or cabins–which cost as much as 75 cents or $1.00 a night. That is, until an incident that changed their minds about the safety of the casual tourist camp.
On the evening of June 18, they stopped at the Golden Eagle Tourist Camp in Murfreesboro Tennessee, about 100 miles from Chattanooga. That evening, Harriette wrote her usual letter to Paul, filling him in on the weather, the miles covered and sights seen (most of the day spent at the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky, she says.) It is a short note, because she is tired. But the next morning, she adds more. In her excitement she writes with even more lack of punctuation, and uncharacteristic spelling errors.
Here is her story transcribed with a few clarifications in brackets.
Last evening we stopped at the Golden Eagle tourist camp two miles out of Murfreesboro a place recommended by a Pure Oil station, the girls with us went out with the boys in attendants. Of course a very foolish thing to do. Fern [Patterson (Purdy), Sarah [Leonard (Keyser)] and I worried sick about them. They finally returned home and just as we were about asleep at last someone called Alice she didn’t answer then they tried to get in. Several times. Believe me we were excited and called for help [.] instead of coming to help, the station [the Pure Oil station where the tourist camp was located] called the Deputy sheriff. He didn’t have his badge on and for some time the filling station people wouldn’t identify him, and I didn’t let him [in]. He arrested us and took us before the Justice of Peace and the Dam fools got us each for disturbing the peace and [unorderly] conduct. Can you image [imagine]. Here [is] the catch [–] $9.30 each. Of course the fellow [who caused the trouble] didn’t show up so what could we do. 46.50 for a couple Tenn. yells. Its funny now but rather expensive we are staying Hotels and Tourist homes from now on. Wont Bill [Anderson, her brother] laugh [?] tell him you can keep it between the two of you until we see you.
Then she added a postscript
A woman made of lesser stuff might have let such an incident–that frightened her for the first time in her life– convince her to be less of an adventurer, but Harriette kept relishing the open road. She and her girlfriends even stayed in tourist camps on later road trips. They even camped in Texas Tent City near the Dallas Centennial grounds. Her last road trip with the “girls” was just two weeks before she and Paul Kaser were married two years later on June 9, 1938.
She was not the only one who would not change her ways because of a little thing like being arrested. Paul was not intimidated by marrying a certified law breaker. Although I do not have his letter reacting to her disturbing news, they did set a wedding date within a year and a half. And my father and mother continued to love road trips all their lives, a love they passed on to their children.