Voices of the Ozarks – Rita Kayser

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Rita Kayser

0:15 

My Name is Rita Kayser, I live outside of Marquand with my husband of 55 years. We have 4 sons, 3 daughter in laws and 6 granddaughters and we’re expecting our first great grandchild.

She was born in 1945 and grew up in the boot heel near Glennonville and Wilhelmina settlements which was purchased by the St. Louis Archdioceses and sold to the people as a great place to settle. Actually it was a dismal swamp. 

Her parents, Ed and Lucille Larken moved to Willemena from Kentucky in 1925. She shares the story of her parents’ drive from Kentucky to Missouri. 

3:00 

Rita shares the difficulties of her parents and others living in the area due to flooding and crop loss. 

4:15 

Her parents struggled during the Great Depression but like many, they were already poor before so it didn’t matter much. 

One time her father cut his finger and they doctored it but it got infected. It got so painful that he walked 10 miles in the middle of the night to get to the nearest doctor’s office. The doctor lanced the finger and it healed up though it was always crooked after that. 

5:25

In 1930 they moved and rented a new farm which was higher up, with better land and fruit trees so there was less flooding. 

No modern conveniences. They did have a well though it would sometimes dry up in the summer. Her mother would have to go to the nearby creek to wash. 

During this time they were living 10 miles from the nearest town, Campbell. They made their living as full time farmers and didn’t go to town often. When they did they would go by horse drawn wagon. 

7:15

Both Glennonville and Wilhelmina had schools, became a single private school when Wilhelmina slowly faded away. The Missouri Department of Conservation bought it and turned it into a wildlife refuge. There was a public school in Campbell. 

8:20

Her parents were a part of a small village with the church at the center of their life. Her mother became a midwife. There were a few others and a doctor in Campbell. Sometimes she was paid in barter, other times not at all. 

13:15

Rita tells the story of some Campbell business men that would come every summer to hunt and fish on the St. Francis river that was just behind her parents’ house. They shared bbq chicken and other food and a feast of other food one Thursday night. 

14:15

Her dad was bit by a rattlesnake while getting wood and no doctor was available. He soaked his hand in kerosine for 3 days. It seemed to help and he survived with no long term injury.

15:30

In November of 1937 they moved from Wilhelmina to 

Glennonville and were able to buy their own land. In 1941 they finally got electricity. It cost $5 to subscribe to it. They had a lightbulb in every room. They got an electric stove 2 or 3 years later and a refrigerator. They had a radio and the kids would listen to the radio shows.

17:40

In 1958 the house burned and they had to start over.

19:00

Rita describes the games that they played as children. They would jump rope, play Annie-over which was throwing a ball over the house and if kids on the other side caught it they would begin to chase. Snacks were cornbread or biscuits. They would go crawdadding in the spring. 

20:00

Rita shares general recollections of life such as playing music, religious lessons, visiting family back in Kentucky.  

22:30

She remembers that in 1949 her older sister was getting married and bought the family an icebox. She was 4 years old and her job was to empty the drain pan. She remembers how nice it was to get chips of ice from the ice-man. 

She clarifies that the icebox was not an electric refrigerator but more like a cooler that kept food cool with the block of ice.

24:30 

Rita describes how special Christmas was and tell the story about Santa’s “Brownies” visiting. 

She describes taking baths in rusty water and doing laundry and using lye soap for everything from bathing to dishes to laundry. 

27:25

Rita describes community gatherings such as socials which were held every two weeks. The had a hall where they would show movies on an improvised screen. The hall, school and church were about 2 miles away.

The biggest community gathering was the annual Glennonville Picnic which was the highlight of the year. The town was started in 1905 and the first picnic was 1908. It started out as a last Saturday in July celebration, a sort of thanksgiving for good crops. They’re still doing it every year. 

30:30

Rita discusses making dresses, sewing and school. Their school was large and a multi-room building. She graduated in 1963 and there were about 60 kids in her class. In the lower grades some were combined, 1st and 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

32:00

She discusses learning from the nuns and how they got much of their exposure to culture from the nuns.    

She talked about their cloths, they either came from the poor box or they sewed them but they didn’t think anything of it. 

33:25

Her mother was a 4H leader which was another social event with a big award night in Kennet. When she was 18 she got the highest honor and a $100 savings bond which she spent not long after to help pay for the birth of her second child. 

34:00 

She discusses picking cotton. She mentions a book that she wrote, How Could Cotton be Hard. As soon as they were finished with school in spring they started helping with cotton. 

”As soon as we put down our pencils in the spring we picked up our cotton hoe.”

They would chuck cotton all summer then they would go back to school for 6 weeks and then they had “cotton vacation“ which wasn’t really a vacation. They would pick cotton for 6 weeks then go back to school. They got paid 3 cents a pound so if they worked hard all day they could make $3 to $6 a day. She describes the phrase “Now we’re in tall cotton.”

There was a nearby pilot training facility and so they would see airplanes was rare for those days. Around 5 o’clock the planes would often make a line-up and circle as they went back in to land and they always knew it was almost time to quit for the day.

She remembers her dad cranking a car to start it. She said most people in the area had at least one vehicle. They didn’t have a truck so when they harvested cotton they’d haul it in a wagon. 

38:15

They would put their cotton money aside for school clothes and lunches and would always have a little left for “mad money”. Her favorite store was Woolworths. Their once a year  meal out was usually at the Woolworths lunch counter when they went shopping. She always got a BLT on toast.

40:10

 She discusses the garden that her mom would keep. Her mom would put up hundreds of quarts of vegetables. They would help when they weren’t busy with cotton. Her mom would pick blackberries. 

 41:20 

 They had livestock such as hogs, a few horses and her dad used a team of horses for farming. They were behind the times.

 They didn’t stay cool. They didn’t have an air conditioner or even a fan.

42:20

Flooding got better after the Wappapello dam was built except in spring when they would let water out. In the 60s to 70s they took out 17 miles of the St. Francis river by straightening it which reduced the amount of flooding a lot. When they did the Wappapello dam they flooded Greenville. The town was relocated.  A 100,000 acres were put under water. 

43:40

Rita discusses the initial plan of the St. Louis Archdiocese to buy the 14,000 acres and the intent. She says it was thought that St. Louis was getting crowded and that it would be good for the children to be living in the country. Apparently it was bought without much research because it wasn’t very good land, very swampy.

45:00

Rita discusses possible reasons that Glennonville thrived and Wilhelmina faded, particularly cultural backgrounds and leadership of each town. 

46:40

She discusses how she came to live in Marquand. They’d moved around a lot because her husband did construction and they followed the work. They’d lived in Festus for many years and he worked in St. Louis. 15 years ago they moved to Marquand to raise cattle. She’s active in the church.

48:50

Rita  discusses visiting friends and family in the boot heel and also how she met her husband. 

49:40  

Rita discusses being a writer at local newspapers, magazines and a compiling family history books. 

*The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Ozark Regional Library or its staff.