Fragments from the Past

It was the turn of the century—1800 to 1900—and my mother was growing up in the town of Wooster, Ohio. The family was strong Presbyterian. My definition of that was that on Sunday evenings at sundown, John Patrick Adair, the father, would go around the house and pull down all the blinds so the neighbors could not see what was going on inside. Then the family would gather around the dining room table and play Whist, a card game somewhat similar to the modern game of bridge.

The family consisted of father, who was a lawyer; Caroline, the mother; Mary, the first born who, according to Ruth, her younger sister, was supposed to become an artist, and therefore could not wash dishes because it would ruin her artistic hands; Ruth, the daughter born a year later, who became my mother; a child who died in infancy; Johnny, who was sickly all his life, and died at age twelve; Blanche, a petite blonde with a hare lip; and Johnny, the baby.

From Left to Right: John Patrick Adair, Mary Adair, Johnny Adair (died age 12), Ruth Smilie Adair, Caroline Goldsmith Adair
From Left to Right: John Patrick Adair, Mary Adair, Johnny Adair (died age 12), Ruth Smilie Adair, Caroline Goldsmith Adair

Father, John Patrick Adair, apparently successful in his profession, was persuaded to run for United States Senate on the Prohibition ticket by William Jennings Bryan, a leading American politician and orator who became Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, and who often came to stay with the family.

My mother tells of the family breakfasts when he was present. Among many other foods on the table, my Grandmother Caroline would serve a platter full of fried eggs, expecting everyone to take one or two. Guest Bryan would grab the dish and empty all the eggs on his own plate and eat them all, to the surprise of the family.

My mother said it was exciting before and during the election wondering whether they were going to get to win and move to Washington D­.C. Then the distillers came to John and told him that if he did not leave Ohio they would kill him and all his family.

John Adair lost the election of 1908, and claimed fervently that the ballot boxes had been stuffed. (They probably were, on both sides.) My mother said this loss was devastating to him, and shortly afterward he sold the house and took the family to homestead at Clovis, New Mexico.

Mary was fifteen and Ruth was fourteen. Ruth, my mother, loved it. She tells of breaking horses, being courted and proposed to by all the single men. She said that was not because she was beautiful and fun, but because she was strong and energetic, and was capable of running a house and farm. As part of her daily chores, she was in charge of catching and killing the chickens, and of baking all the bread for the family.

As September approached, the family decided to send Mary back to Wooster, Ohio to go to “Normal School” at the Pres­byterian Ministerial College. As they were saying their goodbyes Mary confided to Ruth, “Don’t worry. I’ll be back by Christmas.” Sure enough, when the Christmas holidays came, Mary returned, obviously pregnant. Along with Christmas came the wedding of Mary and Charlie Jones, the thirty-year-old hired hand. Ruth was devastated. She, too, had wanted to marry Charlie.

The next fall it was Ruth’s turn to go to Normal School in Wooster. She was sent back to live with friends and previous neighbors of the family—an elderly couple who had a hard time handling this energetic fifteen-year-old.


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