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By Kathryn Thompson Presley
I have many fond memories of my early years growing up in Klondike.
I want to share some of those memories with you here on this page.
At one time Klondike had a post office, general store, etc. I have old
relatives in Arkansas to "Mrs. Guy Blankenship, Klondike, I.T." I'm assuming it was named for the gold rush
area in Alaska. Some of our relatives went there to seek their fortune and wrote back letters about the scenic beauty, etc.
There was a two roomed school at Klondike from Indian Territory days until the early 60's. Miss Florine
Lasater was my teacher in the primary grades and I owe a lot to her. She started me on a life time of heavy
reading and probably motivated me to get the Ph.D. I know that, after my parents and great aunt Roxie
Hughs (first female Supt. of Schools in Oklahoma) Miss Lasater was the main influence on my academic
life. Amos Ward, who died in Elmore City a year or so ago, was another wonderful teacher at Klondike. I
have posted some of my school house stories here for you to enjoy.
School House Stories
Original Prize Winning Poems
This is a piece of mine which was published in MATURE LIVING
Mama and the U. S. Treasury
"Let me put this pot roast in the oven and then we'll go to the beach for a little while." Mama's mood was lighthearted for she was winning her long battle with clinical depression. Furthermore, the Dust Bowl and Great Depression were recent enough for roast on an ordinary day to be cause for celebration. In the thirties we had only "fatback" and an occasional Sunday chicken to break the monotony of red beans and fried potatoes.
Now, we had meat daily. And, our two roomed apartment was in sight of the Gulf of Mexico. My mother and I loved to walk on the beach, looking for sand dollars, building sand castles. But on that sweltering July morning, it was enough to get out of the apartment while the roast cooked slowly, to tender perfection. A little while later, I was wading happily in the surf while Mama daydreamed in the seawall's shade. Suddenly I heard her yelling at me above the sound of surf and seagull's cries.
"Kathryn Jane, hurry, we've got to go home!" There was panic in her voice, but I knew enough not to question her as we raced up the seawall steps, across the boulevard, and down the two blocks to our upstairs apartment. Mama took the stairs two at a time and fumbled briefly with her keys. I smelled the wonderful aroma of roasting beef with onions, potatoes and carrots. But there was something else, an acrid, unfamiliar smell that billowed out of the oven as Mama quickly opened the door. Grabbing a tea towel, she snatched something from far back on the top rack. I recognized the smoking wad almost at once, it was the worn old wallet that held our "money for a rainy day." Like many folks who had survived the Depression, my parents never really trusted banks again. They put their money there of necessity, but they always kept some stashed around the house. Hiding places were limited in our tiny apartment and the night before, my father had concealed his money in the oven. At the moment, the wallet held a hundred dollars, nearly two weeks' wages. Now we watched in horror as it smoldered on the linoleum floor. After an agonizing moment, Mama sprinkled it with water, then pulled a sodden mass from the wallet and carefully laid it to rest on a dinner plate on the kitchen table. Roast forgotten, we were both sitting there, staring at the plate's contents when my father arrived home for lunch.
In his mid thirties, he was still a handsome man, but the years of worry and hard work had taken their toll. His face was sunburnt and lined and his hands were gnarled. Now they reached out to touch the charred chunk that had been his hard earned savings. Next he put an arm around Mama's shoulders to comfort her, but she buried her face on his chest and wept piteously. "Oh Walt, I'm so sorry. I forgot all about it until after we went to the beach. We ran all the way home, but it was too late."
"Hush, Honey! It's only money." Only money? It represented hours of heavy, dangerous labor on the Galveston wharves. It symbolized savings toward a farm back in Oklahoma, our passage out of poverty, and the way back home to my grandparents. But those grandparents had taught us all "not to cry over spilt milk," so we ate our roast and vegetables, trying not to look at the blackened mass resting now on the kitchen cabinet.
After my father had returned to work, Mama went into the living room/bedroom and studied the telephone directory. Then, she changed into her best dress, the one she always wore to funerals and to church back home in Oklahoma. Like all her dresses, it was homemade from feed sacks, but it was a faithful copy of one she had seen in Cohen's Department store. She ran a comb through her curly hair. Then she looked me over critically, re-braided my hair and told me to change t-shirts and wash my face. Grimly, she packed the charred money in a paper bag, then guided me down the stairs as we set out for the bus stop. The old Market Street bus took us downtown where we got off and walked slowly toward the post office building. Massive and intimidating, it loomed before us. Taking a deep breath, my mother gripped my hand as we entered the building, searched the directory near an elevator and rode up to the local office of the U. S. Treasury. There, she gripped my hand more firmly, whether to comfort me or herself would have been hard to say. In her other hand, she clutched the paper bag.
The receptionist stared at us, frankly curious, and then amused as mother told her sad story. We were told to sit down until her boss could talk to us. Both of us perched nervously on the edges of our chairs until the receptionist directed us to an inner office. There, a young man rose from behind the largest desk I had ever seen. Courteously, he offered my mother a chair and said, "Now, Mrs. Thompson, what can I do for you?" Once more, she told her story, less hesitantly this time.
"May I ask my boss to advise us?" It wasn't really a question, but my mother nodded miserably. When the distinguished grey-haired gentleman came in to examine our charred "Exhibit A," Mama had to tell her story the third time. By now, I wanted to grab her arm and drag her away from that place of humiliation, down the elevator, and back to the safety of our apartment. But my timid mother seemed rooted to the spot. There was silence in the office as the four of us contemplated the ruined riches now resting on the desk. The older man spoke first. "Tell Miss Brown to find a box and pack this lady's money carefully in cotton. We'll mail it to Washington and see what they can identify from the fibers." He took Mama's name, address, and phone number, declaring we would hear from the Treasury Department in a few weeks.
My mother was thoughtful as we rode the elevator down, caught the Market Street bus, and headed home. Her lips moved silently and I thought she might be praying. She never mentioned our trip to my father and told me to be quiet about it so we could surprise him. We watched for the postman every day for two weeks, then gave up all hope. More than a month had passed when the official letter came. It was addressed to my Mother, who closed her eyes and took a deep breath before opening it. I don't recall just what the letter said, but I remember very well the pale green check for $90 which fell from the envelope.
"Thank you, Lord!" my mother whispered fervently as she put on another pot roast for our celebration dinner. (Abraham and the Prodigal Son's father killed the fatted calf, but our budget called for pot roast.) The letter and check rested beside my father's plate that night, and for all these years I've remembered how he looked at my mother with wonder. And I remember the radiance of her smile.
"Honey, you did this all by yourself?"
"Well, Kathryn Jane went with me."
"But you looked up the Treasury Department and did this! I'm so proud of you."
My mother's rendezvous with the U. S. Treasury was a turning point in our family's history; she began to get out in public more. Soon, she found us a church near the post office building--a church that ministered to our family for many years. She and I were baptized the same night; my father joined us a year later. After we bought our farm in Oklahoma, they helped organize a rural church where they both taught Sunday School for many years. My father was ordained a deacon and mother was president of the Women's Missionary Society. Since the Treasury Department had deducted ten dollars from their scorched savings, they decided it was a sign they should "Give the Lord His tithe." That remained their practice through their long lives.
. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." I
saw that fulfilled in my parents' lives as the windows of Heaven opened to pour out
blessings on them. "Blessed are in the pure in heart for they shall see God." We
engraved that on their tombstone. As for me, I never pass a post office--or bake a pot
roast, but I remember my parents with gratitude and pride.
This is a short piece I published several years ago (MATURE LIVING)
about Klondike Cemetery. In the magazine I changed the names of the people and
called the cemetery Red Branch cemetery.
"Don't step on the graves, Children!" Our parents frequently admonished my
cousins and me each Memorial Day. That holiday, usually coinciding with the
blessed end of school, was always the occasion for a picnic and work-day out at the
old Klondike Cemetery. We alternated eating and working; consuming large
amounts of fried chicken, potato salad, sugar cookies and sun tea, and tidying up the
grave sites. My cousins and I also found plenty of time to play, threading our way
carefully among the tombstones. To step on a grave was a serious breach of
etiquette, a mark of disrespect for our loved ones who rested there.
The cemetery nestled on a wooded hillside facing the western sky, and in May it
was carpeted with wild flowers: buttercups, daisies, winecups, wild larkspur and
clumps of sunflowers along the fences. It was two miles to the main road and the
dead rested in almost total silence except for birds and Oklahoma's moaning wind.
Once when we stayed till twilight, we heard a symphony of night sounds: a
lonesome hoot owl's call, coyotes' howls in the distance, and a whippoorwill's
Before each work day ended, grandma always took my cousins and me on a
guided tour. We never tired of the stories hidden in that old cemetery. There was
an Indian grave site dating back to the days of the Chickasaw Nation when my great
grandmother was a bride. The little Indian girl who rested there apparently had the
hydrocephalus associated with spinal bifida.
"It took a yard of ribbon, children, to go around her poor head."
There was no marker, only a few rocks laid out in a spiral pattern and bordered
with flowers in the Spring. (The little Indian girl was as real to me as any of my
friends at Klondike school.)
Not far from her grave, my ancestors awaited the Resurrection. There was my
great grandma and great grandpa, Sam and Hortense Blankenship. They had come
to Indian Territory by way of Texas from their homes in Missouri. Both were
teenagers who had lived through the ravages of the Civil War in their border state
and then got in on the last of the Comanche raids in Texas.
They had reared seven children of their own (and four others) in Indian
Territory and watched it become the great state of Oklahoma in 1907. Now, their
toiling ended, they rested with their children and a grandbaby. Across from them
was little Nellie Dewberry. She was a bride when one of Oklahoma's Spring
twisters screamed out of the southwest. Her young husband pushed her down in a
"bar ditch" and tried to protect her with his own body, but, in her panic, she
struggled away into the path of a nail-studded board from the barn door.
Near Nellie's grave were two brothers, victims of the terrible flu epidemic of
1918. Grandma always shook her head in wonder as she described their deaths. She
had nursed them in their last illness and "One died a prayin' and one a cussin'. It
beat all I ever seen."
After the Indian girl's grave, my favorite spot was Uncle John Redman's resting
place under two ancient oaks. Uncle John, my grandfather's friend, rested between
his two wives; one he had buried and the other survived him. Both were strong
minded "talkin' wimmen." Grandpa always said he would not want to be in Uncle
John's shoes on the Resurrection Morning when those two wives arose to confront
each other with Uncle John caught "right square dab in the middle."
There were other stories to tell, and grandma knew them all. They were our
friends and relatives resting there, and we looked forward to seeing them again one
day. In the meantime, we remembered and honored them by caring for their graves.
But that was forty years ago and more.
My cousin Jimmy's letter came last month with clippings about the vandalism.
Seniors from the high school in town went on a rampage on graduation night (just
before Memorial Day) and knocked over gravestones at Klondike cemetery.
Markers that had stood proudly for decades were shattered beyond repair. The
young people defecated on the little Indian girl's resting place and painted
obscenities on other gravestones with red paint. The "generation gap" and "social
change" had been empty words to me until I saw those pictures.
I'll always remember Klondike Cemetery on Memorial Day. And I think of it
in winter time when snow drifts against the tombstones. I can hear the warm south
wind moaning there on summer nights. But I shall not go there again; far better to
remember it as it was: a peaceful, sacred place where children once took great care
not to step on graves.
Dr. Kathryn Thompson Presley recently received the Phillips Memorial Award ($1,000.00) for best poetry manuscript of the year. Her collection, Milking Time, was published by Phillips Press. Presley, who teaches English at Lamar University in Port Arthur, Texas, is a native of Garvin County and most of the poems in this volume are set in the Klondike community. She has published numerous other poems and essays and recently published her first short story, also set in Garvin County. One popular article has been reprinted and honors her former teachers at Klondike, Ms. Florine Lasater and Mr. Amos Ward. Dr. Presley is currently working on her first novel, The Vinegarone, set in southern Oklahoma. Her parents, the late Walter and Ruth Blankenship Thompson, were residents of Klondike and Pauls Valley for many years.
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