My mom is the youngest of five children born to Robert and Bonnie (Derstler) Meeks. Her oldest sister, Elizabeth - lovingly called Itsy- is ten years older. Three years later came Mary. Three years after Mary came Charles. Three years after Charles came Patty, and a year later came mom. Yep, you guessed it. Mom was a surprise. Actually, Patty told us this weekend that she was a surprise too. Grandma Bonnie Meeks struggled with high blood pressure when pregnant and was told not to have any more after Charles, but according to their three year plan she had Patty. A few months after Patty Grandma found out she was expecting again. Not Good. I understand the doctor had a severe talk with Grandpa Robert. Needless to say, mom was the last child born to the Meeks household.
Grandpa and Grandma Meeks were farmers. They lived in a farmhouse on Florida Road in Alexandria (Mom and her siblings told me the name of the street was Florida Station Road but Google maps listed it as Florida Road). that Great-Grandma Derstler had bought during the Depression. Story is that Great-Grandma Derstler was a shrewd business woman. During the Depression she saved up her egg money and bought up farm houses that had gone to auction. She bought enough houses for each of her children to live in and manage.
When mom was a year old, Grandpa Meeks moved the family to California where all of his family had moved years earlier. They did not stay in California long. Grandpa didn't feel like he could make a living that would provide for his large family in California, and he missed farming. I don't think they lasted in California more than an year or two when they moved back to the farm in Alexandria.
The farmhouse wasn't nothing fancy. There were three bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs. Mom and her oldest sister, Itsy, shared one room. Mary and Patty shared another, and Charles had his own room. The house was not insulated so the kids roasted in the summer and froze in the winter. Evidently the only heat source for the upstairs was a grate in the floor which was located in Mary and Patty's room. This was to allow heat from the downstairs coal stove to rise up into the room. However, that coal stove was never used. The house had two coal stoves, but coal was expensive so Grandpa only used the stove in the front room which didn't radiate much heat. The kids kept their doors open hoping some heat would travel upstairs but very little did. Besides no insulation to help regulate the temps in the house, they had single pane windows. All my relatives told me how they would wake up the winter with snow inside their windows and on their covers. BRRR!!!!
The other inconvenience that they had to deal with was a lack of bathroom facilities. We are so spoiled today with modern conveniences that we don't realize that many families didn't have basic things like indoor plumbing just a generation ago. At least my mom didn't. Neither did my in-laws. In fact, my mother-in-law's parents didn't have a toilet until late 1980s/early 90s. Uncle Charles told us a story while I was visiting this weekend that gave us all a good laugh concerning their bathroom issues. You see, growing up on the farm, they used the outhouse to do, well, you know what happens there. Anyway, one year on Halloween night some crazy kids thought it would be fun to turn the outhouse over. Since Great-Grandma Derstler owned the farm, Grandpa Meeks felt it was her responsibility to fix the issue. She refused and, in my opinion, due to pride and sheer stubbornness between Grandpa and his mother-in-law, the outhouse was never fixed. Instead, he told the kids they had 40 acres so find a place to go, and they did. The kids decided the chicken house was the warmest, coziest, and most private place to go. Charles told us that whenever the urge hit, he would go in the chicken house, scoot a hen off her roost, and sit there. He didn't think much about it, but one day while at school he was given a note from the teacher to take home to his mom. He was afraid that he must have gotten in trouble which means he would be in trouble at home too, but being a obedient boy, he gave the note to his mom. Upon receiving the note, Grandma went to school to see what Charles had done this time. Sometime later, when Grandma had returned home she called Charles over to talk to him. It seems that while at school, whenever he had to go to the bathroom, the kids would hear him cackling like a chicken and shouting out "Woo Hee!" Needless to say, the teacher was concerned. LOL. Ok...the note from the teacher didn't REALLY happen, but yes, they did use the coop. Life was hard there. Mom remembers the day they got running water inside and how excited they were. Baths were taken in a wash tub that was set next to the coal stove. They usually took baths at night when they could turn the lights off and have some privacy. Grandpa did put a shower in the basement but you had to go outside to go downstairs which was not very convenient during the winter. Clothes were hand washed in a ringer tub, hung to dry (inside during the winter), spritzed with water after coming off the line, and then every article was ironed before putting them away. This process took hours/ days at times. You and I know, laundry never ends.
On the farm you worked from early morning to late at night, and then you could do your school work, but in order to survive everyone had to help keep the farm running. Grandpa died of a massive heart attack when mom was 14 years old. It was some time later that they got an indoor bathroom.
The thing that impressed my cousin and I the most is that our moms and their siblings have all risen above their upbringing. The hard work and lack of conveniences made them hard, dependable workers who appreciate everything they have. None of them have any debt. They are all thrifty sometimes to a fault. I am proud to have Meeks blood running through my veins. That is not to discredit my dad's family because they have impacted me in many wonderful, positive ways. I feel so blessed.