ROSE NOLEN: Family members share tales of history

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

When the Katy railroad depot blew up in my hometown, the year was 1915. I know that not because I read it in a history book, I know it because my grandfather was putting a roof on the new kitchen that year. The explosion of the depot was part of the story granddad always told whenever he brought up information about the old home place.

My family was made up of storytellers. Many of them grew up in the days when there were great stories to tell. For example, the day the famous outlaw Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd breezed into our local hardware store was the same day my great-aunt Devolia rode the train, by herself, all the way to Chicago. That was the way my family remembered important news — by associating events with information concerning a family member.

People like Jesse and Frank James had sense enough not to make news unless some member of my family was doing something noteworthy at the same time. As a matter of fact, this wasn’t as hard as it might have been if my grandfather and several other members of the family had not been employed by the WPA and worked all over the state. Wherever news in Missouri was being made, some family member was probably nearby.

And, of course, Sunday was the big day for sharing news. That was the day we went to my great-grandmother’s house for dinner. The young people in my family sat at the children’s table. We, of course, were not allowed to talk or make noise of any kind, so we had developed a series of hand signals to express ourselves silently. There were two nuisances my grandmother refused to tolerate — the first was noisy children and the second was dirty clothes on the sabbath. And as if we could forget these annoyances, she referred to them constantly.

The conversation generally was centered around family and community news and whatever was going on in town. Like most people who live in close quarters, my great-grandmother clung to every spoken word, especially those concerning family members. Of course, we children listened intently to hear any adult conversation we could. My brother, whom we considered to be the most worldly, would explain what was going on in the world in a later conversation.

After my great-grandfather passed away, my great-grandmother continued to hold Sunday dinner. Since my sisters or my brother had to spend the nights with her, they often requested that I join them. As I grew older, I avoided staying at night as often as I could. As the time wore on, my grandmother was constantly in a turmoil about her Civil War pension, which she was often late in receiving. She tormented the mailman and everyone else she encountered about it.

Fortunately, about that time, my godfather decided that I had arrived at the age to begin piano lessons. He was a self-taught boogie-woogie piano player who spent his weekends entertaining at various nightclubs. In the meantime, he would play engagements for his friends at his home. It was my job on these occasions to hold his big handkerchief and wipe the sweat from his brow. He decided that his wife, my Sunday School teacher, should teach me to play.

Unfortunately, my piano lessons were short-lived. My piano teacher only knew how to play hymns and she was teaching me out of the Methodist Hymnal. After a few weeks, it was decided that I probably needed a new teacher and since one was not forthcoming, my lessons abruptly ended.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or emailing her at

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