[Transcript of interview with Jewell Smith, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]

SC:  This is Steva Carter recording at Brentwood Library.  Today is March the 31st, 2010 and our guest today is Jewell Smith.  And Jewell, do you have any family stories about the Depression that you can share with us?

JS:  I think that that was one of the worst and one of the most unusual times of my life because I grew up in the Depression.  My father was a Baptist minister at a small church and there were four of us children in his, their family and my little sister who was the youngest of us died from diphtheria.  There was a massive thing of, of, during the depression of people, of children, dying from diphtheria.

SC:  Wow.

JS:  And my little sister, who was my mother's favorite child, [chuckles] got sick and they didn't know what to do, they called the doctor.  The doctor didn't know what to do, honestly.  And my little sister died, and that was the crux of the family's sorrow for many, many years because my mother simply could not absorb this in, in her life.

SC:  Goodness

JS:  So, we lived, three of us.  I had two brothers who were older than me and we lived, when I started remembering things was when we lived in Bethany, Missouri, which is just a few miles from the Iowa border and my father had a small church there, and we lived in a little road that there were only two houses on.  And thank goodness the other family had two girls who were my friends and best friends for until we grew up.  And the Depression was, hit us very hard because my father's salary at that time was forty dollars a week and that's what he tried, we tried to live on and my mother started worrying about buying groceries from Monday morning until Saturday afternoon.  And she was a wonderful cook and she made, she was able to make the groceries last for a week and then again she would buy more.  And it was a very hard life but, my mother had a sister who lived down the road in another little town and they talked every day for an hour or so and it was always about the families and how they were getting along with the Depression and if they had enough going for them and it was a time that I did not have any happiness. My father, when I grew up there and went to junior college my first year and my father, who, God knows I don't know where he found his money, said “I'd like for you to go to William Jewell College, which was in Liberty, and of course I jumped at the chance.  And so, I went there and it was it was salvation time for me because it was a school that was small and close to Kansas City.  It was easy to make friends on campus and it cost a dollar to take the bus to Kansas City.


SC:  Oh, my gosh. [laughter]

JS:  My favorite friend was a woman, a Japanese woman from Japan who lived in California and we were truly the best friends. She had a great deal, she always had money so she would say “don't worry, don't worry, I have money.”  We would go to Kansas City and walk up and down and go to a little, cheap little restaurants and then come home in the evening on the bus.  That was a fun time.  The horrific thing this was that the war started.  She was Japanese.  She disappeared in one night.  I never saw her again and never heard from her.  The police came and got her out of the dorm and took her away.

SC:  Oh, my word.

JS:  We never heard from her, we never saw her, we assumed that she went back home and was managed, and managed either to live or to not live. We were sure that her parents had been jailed. So she didn't write to any of us.  And that, that was a heart break again for a young woman who we knew was having a terrible time.  Um…

SC:  You went from, from William Jewell to Denton?  Did you go to Denton, Texas for your graduate school?

JS:  Yes, but there were several years between there.  I got a job teaching but before that I worked as a secretary and I liked both jobs.   But the job that appealed to the most, to me the most was teaching and I got a job teaching in high school and then, of course, I had to get a masters degree which I got and it stood me well for the rest of my life and it was good that I was able to do that.  My dad sacrificed for that also and my one brother, who was just older than me, became a chaplain in the Air Force and so he left home, left Bethany where we lived and got his training for that and then when he got out he came back and fell in love with the, one of our friends in Bethany and they were married and have had a very good life.  With three daughters and, Wayne died in February of last year.  My older brother had died several years prior to that.  So I was the only living child.  But both my parents had died by that time.


SC:  Well let’s switch gears.  Tell me about the first time you found out you were going to be a parent.  How did you feel?

JS:  [Laughter]  I felt good.  I’m going to tell this because it has something to do with everything.  I married a man with whom I got acquainted because I lived with his parents in Hiawatha, Missouri and taught in Hiawatha for two years.  And I fell madly in love with him and supposedly he did with me [chuckles].  Tall and handsome and not worth a great deal back then.

SC:  [laughs] Except being tall and handsome I would guess.

JS:  Yes, yes.  So we moved to St. Joseph.  And he was, by trade he was a dry cleaner and he was very good at his job but he just was lazy.  And after I had children, we had three boys, and I was so sure every one was a girl.  And of course it wasn’t.  [laughs]  But the favorite relatives were my younger relatives who were younger than me and they were ambitious and enjoyed themselves.  My brother, however, of course, as far as family, was my favorite.  He was, he was a fantastic man with it, with his chaplain behind him, and then he got, would preach at little churches after he got out of the service.  And  I want to tell you about my mother’s parents.  My grandmother was partially Indian, very dark and squat like many Indian women were.  And she married at 16.  She married a man who was 40 and they had 20, no, he had 10 children and then he and my grandmother had 10 children. [laughs]

SC:  Oh. [laughs]

JS:  We would, we would go down to the Ozarks every spring or summer so that my mother could see all of her sisters and her mother and dad.  This man was not her father. He was married to my grandmother later, I mean after the family left.  So that was always fun because a lot of the family  had drifted back down to the Ozarks.  So we saw cousins, and aunts, and uncles and that was very good.  And I enjoyed them a lot.  And my mother didn’t tell a lot of stories about the family.  I think living was so hard for them that it didn’t appeal to her.  The thing that saved her was the fact that she got a job in Springfield, Missouri when she was 21, taking care of wealthy families two children.  And she learned so much from that job and manners and how to set a table and how to open the door for friends. And just things that certainly stood her in good stead later on.  When she was there she met my dad who was at that time a railroad man.  And he came, he would come into Springfield every week or so and they would meet and, and then they got married and that was good for both of them.  They would, I never knew of them having real problems as far as getting along.  They never, my father  was a man who knew what he wanted.  I mean it, he made the decisions.  My mother seemed to be glad to go along with them so that was the way we were raised.  So my father advanced as a minister from Bethany down to St. Joseph and he got the ministry of the Payday Park Baptist Church so we all moved to St. Joseph and the church was on a beautiful small park.

SC:  Oh my.

JS:  In, St. Joseph. And I loved St. Joseph.  I went there as a senior which was hard for me because I had to get acquainted with everything and I went to Central High which had a thousand students and the woman who was the principal there was a very large woman but she prided herself on knowing every child’s, person’s, name in that school.  She had an awful time trying to remember mine.  She would come in and sit with me while I was in class and go over things [chuckles] trying to remember my name.  But she did that until she got my name. And I don’t know what it was, whether it was the Jewell or the Minor, but one of them was difficult for her and so anyhow I enjoyed my senior year and then went to junior college for a year and then my dad said, “I think that you ought to go to William Jewell.”  So that was a major change for me.  I lived with a family very close to the campus and lived upstairs.  I had the whole upstairs by myself.  And she was a wonderful person.  I didn’t get to know him, but she had horses, and she rode horses every day so she said to me, “Would you like to ride a horse?”  And I said yes, thinking that she was going to ride with me.  She put me on the horse and smacked it on the bottom and away we went.  And it ran off with me and pretty soon when we got on a gravel road and I could get gain control of it, [laughs] I fell off but it didn’t hurt really because I fell standing up, and so that was my last tour with, on a horse.

SC:  [laughs]

JS:  But she was, she was lovely, and it didn’t hurt me at all.  [garbled] [laughs] When I got out of William Jewell I got a job teaching in a small town called Weston, Missouri and I had  my teaching degree so there was no problem.  But you know that was a tobacco town.  And when the tobacco had to be wormed, nobody was at school.  When it had to be carried on like, you know, helping to plow and do these things, nobody was at school.   And then when it was ready, nobody was at school.  But the whole town was involved in the tobacco and that was, that was the senior thing.  So I taught there a year and then went back to St. Joseph and  I taught again but I, you know, right now I can’t think where, what I did there.  I know that I went into business and got a job with a business corporation and I liked that and it gave me another side of experience so that  I joined a group in Springfield and learned a lot.  It was a business group.  And lots of different, uh, kinds of work that people were doing. So it was, it was great fun.  So, one of the men who was one of the officers asked me to come to work for them, and this was a law office, and that was a wonderful experience again for me.  And starting again from the very beginning and learning terms, and I was a good typist which helped a lot because they depended on having stuff that they could read. [laughs]

SC:  [laughs]  That’s very good.  Did you have children when you went to graduate school, when you went to library school?

JS:  Yes, and my family divided the kids.  My one brother took two and one brother took the other two and they got awfully tired of it because their kids were grown in both cases.  So I said I will take the kids back, and so they came and lived with me while I was in school.  And do you know this was a woman’s college, Texas Women’s University, and those women were so helpful  who were in school too.  And they would plan picnics and we would take my kids on picnics, they were just wonderful.  They, I don’t think any of them had children, not very many of them were married but several of them lived in Kansas City.  And the first Christmas, I think that was the only Christmas, I was invited to Kansas City with the kids to spend Christmas.  And there were no gifts or anything like that.  They just had dinner, and, you know just a, such an open ended kind of love and caring.  And I don’t think the kids ever felt isolated or felt that they were being left out because they weren’t and I think they might even have enjoyed it.  So then I came back to Springfield and got a job teaching there and the kids went to school in Springfield.  And they enjoyed that and they, we all lived together, the four kids and I.  And then, of course, they got older and got their own place and so on.  But again it was a good transition and I enjoyed it a great deal.

SC:  How long were you an assistant director of the library?  Did Everett Sanders hire you?

JS:  Yes, and I was assistant director for 10 years and then director for 10 years.  So that was my grown up life.  But I loved it, I loved the library and I, the, everyone on the staff did their jobs and did them well.  I can’t think of a single time [laughs] except the janitor. [laughs]

SC:  Well. [laughs]

JS:  Do you remember what a character he was?

SC:  Curly Baker?

JS:  Curly Baker. 

SC:  [laughs]

JS:  He would come in my office all mad at the other, other janitors but he always got over it sooner or later.  And do you know that while I was still at the library he was sitting in his chair one night, do you remember that, and just died. 

SC:  No I don’t remember that. But I do remember he was a sweet man.

JS:  Yes.

SC:  You know a very sweet man.

JS:  Yes, I felt really bad about that because his wife really depended, she was not, had no working abilities and I often wondered what happened.  They had three daughters and I don’t know whether they were a help, they were grown by that time, help or not.  But he simply sat in his favorite chair and died.

SC:  During the Depression, I was going to ask you this, did the congregation ever bring anything like food?  Did they ever bring you…

JS:  There were, there was a farmer who was the sweetest man, and he and his wife, he brought a gallon of milk every day with four of, with four children. And they would bring us eggs once in a while and so on.  I don’t think, you know, everybody was poor and a lot of, not a lot of, but I’d say a portion of, Dad’s assembly were, lived on the west side of Bethany, which was the poorest one.  And they would come to church.  And Dad did more help for them than they did for him.  But then he got called to …

SC:  St Joe?

JS:  St. Joseph.  And that was, that was a good life.  That was good for all of us.  Again, my dad was not interested in where we lived.  We lived in an old, old duplex and it was handy and the blacks lived one black, one block from us and that was quite a thing.  We were, we were not used to blacks. But they were middle class and stayed in, in, in their lives and we never saw them except if we drove through there.  And so that was my introduction to, to them and I, we had blacks in, in school.  And I got used to them there, and, so I, again was glad that I got to know them.  And not personally but with, with a notice that, that they were much like us and there, that was good for me.  There I may have already said this, but I think that there was one black family in, in Bethany.  So nobody got very well acquainted with them.

SC:  Well, I’ll tell you what, should we pause here for a moment and, and thank you Jewell.  If this ends up being the end of our interview we certainly appreciate your talking today.  Thank you.

Recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District’s 2010 Big Read.  For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web at thelibrary.org

[Transcript of interview with Jewell Smith, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]