An American Family History

Augusta Lena Smith Larson

Maryon White's Memories of her Aunt Gus, Spokane, Washington , March 3, 1992

Children of Josiah Smith, Jr.
and Eliza Fox
  • Mary Grace Smith White Hanley
  • John Elmer Smith
  • Bertha Edna Smith Kimsey
  • Harry William Smith
  • Ethel Edith Smith Taylor
  • Bryan Sewell Smith
  • Augusta Lena Smith Larson
  • Andrew Jack Smith
  • Twyla May Smith White
  • Chariton is the county seat of Lucas County, Iowa and is in Lincoln Township.

    The Great Depression was world wide and originated in the U.S. with the stock market crash of October 29, 1929. Income, revenue, profits, prices, and trade plunged.. Unemployment in the U.S. rose to 25%. The negative effects of the Great Depression lasted until the end of World War II.

    Augusta Lena Smith was born the sixth of nine children in June of 1899 (I think). I'm not even sure that Lena was actually a part of her given name (maybe Ethel can tell us), but I have heard that, as a girl, she really loved a book called Lena Rivers [by Mary Jane Holmes, Lena Rivers was born out of wedlock and went to live with a rich uncle. whose wife and daughter disliked Lena.] and promptly adopted that as part of her name. I've mentioned that she had the nickname 'Pleeny' (or something like that) and maybe that is a corruption of Lena. In her adult life she was known as Gusta or plain Gus, but Twyla and I always called her Gussie and so I will refer to her in this story. I've mentioned before that she was generally considered to be rather plain, but I put this picture in here to prove that she was one pretty lady.

    Unfortunately, Gussie never enjoyed good heath. Her main problem was asthma but she had so many really serious physical problems. I can remember stories that for many months (maybe even years) Gussie had to eat a bowl full of raw liver every day to treat her severe anemia. She also had a lot of problems with her stomach and I think she suffered more from gall bladder trouble than anyone I knew. I know that Ethel was nicknamed "Skinny," but I don't see how she could possibly have been thinner or more frail than our dear Gussie.

    In addition to the physical problems she had, Gus was a very sensitive and sentimental soul. The family troubles which stiffened Ethel's resolve and made her angry, wounded Gussie deeply. At  first, Twyla was too young to understand what was happening. Later she was protected by Ethel, Bryan and Jack. Poor Gussie sustained far more emotional damage that any of the other children.

    Gussie loved to read, light romances and poetry (more about that later), but just about the time you had her pegged as a pretty naive and innocent (or ignorant) lady, she would come up with something that let you know that she really had not been drifting around in a fog, nor had she been behind the door when brains were passed out. I felt that, in general, she was a pretty shrewd judge of character unless her emotions blinded her to reality.

    I still think that Jack and Gussie were left in Wright, Minnesota, when Eliza left Josiah the first time. Somehow, they were reunited with Eliza in Chariton. Josiah probably sent them on the train unaccompanied. Gussie would have been about 12, I guess and Jack maybe 9 or 10.  I told you that Eliza soon had to ask Ethel and Bryan to help her support the three younger ones.

    When Jack and Bryan went into military service, Gussie went to Sioux City, I guess she was about 17. She worked in a dime store, I know, and maybe had other jobs also. Gussie met Raymond while he was attending a school for mechanics in Sioux City.  It must have been a pretty good school and he must have had quite a bit of natural ability, because he always was a very good mechanic. I don't know how they happened to meet, but I suspect it may have been at some church function or maybe at a dance. Perhaps Twill can tell us they details. I know that Raymond and Gussie loved one another very much and they were really one great pair.  Like everyone else, they had their problems.

    [note from Roberta Tuller-The following paragraphs are strictly Maryon's own opinion. Maryon was only about 12 when Ole Larson died and could not have known him well herself. In-law relationships are often difficult. Ole was 66 when Raymond and Gus married and in his 70s when helped them through the depression. Although Gus was 23, Raymond was only 20 when they married and she no doubt resented the help they needed because he was so young. Maryon loved Gus and magnified Gus's and her own resentments.]

    And the biggest problem of all was Ole T. Larson [December 4, 1858-February 7, 1936]. At the risk of hurting Twill's feelings, I feel that I must say this. In my opinion, O. T. was a world class jackass. He didn't like Gussie before he ever met her-for several reasons. She wasn't Norwegian, she wasn't a farm girl, she wasn't strong and healthy, she was older than Raymond, O. T.  didn't pick her out, and even worse, Raymond didn't ask permission to get married!

    Partly for these reasons, but also because he was stingy, dishonest, nosy and domineering, he made life miserable for everyone. (Talk about male chauvinist pigs-here is the original). For starters, after talking the young couple into returning to the farm, and bribing them with the promise of their own little home, which he was supposed to move from some other property  he owned, he reneged. For several miserable years, Gussie and Raymond had to live in the same house with him.

    Finally the older couple moved to town, but O. T. still considered the farmhouse his and periodically inspected and criticized. Everyone liked Grandma L; I have never met anyone who had a good word for O. T. I think that even Raymond and Twyla Mae came to realize (maybe even sooner than I think) that O. T. was a vicious old man. He was physically and verbally abusive to Gussie, he was dictatorial to, and hypercritical of, Raymond, he was hypocritical to almost everybody. He didn't even have the time of day for people who could not do something for him. I guess you can figure that he was not very nice to Twyla, Maryon and Donald. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to just ignore us, he felt at liberty to ask hurtful questions and make insulting remarks to all three of us. Uncle Jack agreed with me on this point 100%.  I guess O. T. really tried to torpedo Jack at every opportunity.

    Twyla Mae was born right there in the farm house, and was eagerly awaited by everyone. Gussie and Raymond had waited so long and were very, very happy when Twill arrived.

    Maybe the reason I feel so strongly about Gussie and her problems was that she was always the president and only member of my fan club. She made most of the entries in my baby book and there are some pretty gushy comments. When Twill was old enough to understand the spoken word, she was bombarded with frequent comments such as, "Maryon likes school, why..." "Maryon loves my poetry books, why..." "Maryon likes to embroider, why..." etc. ad nauseam. We all know now that one should never compare one child to another, and I appreciate that. Twill must be blessed with unlimited understanding and patience to still associate with me. Gussie started calling me "sister soon after Donald was born, and I am still "sister" to Twill-not only in name, but in reality.

    Our two families visited back and forth a lot in the years between 1922 (when both couples married) until 1932.  I remember Christmases at the farm and Fourth of July celebrations. Uncle Raymond loved the fireworks as much as we kids did.  I remember when Gussie came to Sioux City to have her teeth pulled. She was so sick afterwards, and Twill kept running down the hall and jumping on the bed. Gussie finally asked Twyla to make Twill behave, so Twill had to "sit on a chair" for a while.  Perhaps some of you may remember this was Twyla's standard punishment. Like the "quiet times" modern parents use to control their kids.

    Gussie made my dress for the first day of school. It was red print with white trimming and a little separate jacket. Twill thought it was for her and was really insulted when I got it.  Twill would frequently tell my mother to take her ornery kids and go home! And [she] would reinforce the message by running us down and smearing us with chicken manure.  When Gus tried to punish her for this dastardly crime, my Mother would say, "They probably had it coming."

    I remember going to the Chautauqua House in Sac City Park to see plays. The building is still there, but I don't know if they use it for anything. Somehow they could open the sides so it was all screen, this was in the futile hope of catching a breeze.

    The Wind in the Willow
    Table of Contents
    Josiah and Sarah (Pitts) Smith
    John Newton and Sarah Jane (Ricketts) Fox
    Josiah and Eliza (Fox) Smith 
    Mary Grace Smith White
    John Elmer Smith
    Bertha Edna Smith Kimsey
    Harry William Smith
    Ethel Edith Smith Taylor
    Bryan Sewell Smith
    Augusta Lena Smith Larson
    Andrew Jack Smith
    Twyla Mae Smith White

    The first U.S. railroad opened in the 1830s. In 1869 the first transcontinental railway was completed.

    Gussie and Twill by their front gate. Notice the store in the background and the gate Twill crawled under.

    World War II was a global conflict that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The Allies (United States, British Commonwealth countries, and the Soviet Union) fought against the Axis (Germany, Japan and Italy).

    Twill had a habit of running across the road to the store whenever she saw a car pull up. She almost always got an ice cream cone out of it. One day after Twill had had about three cones, Gus said "If you go through that gate one more time, you'll get a whipping!" Pretty soon she looked out and saw Twill with another big cone. As soon as Twill saw Gus coming she started to yell, "I didn't open the gate, I went under it." This is similar to the time that she had said "Pass the wienies, please" about four times.  Finally Gus said "If you say wienies one more time you'll have to leave the table" so next time Twill said "I don't see why you have meat on the table if people can't eat it!"

    After one year in Wyoming, my dad came and moved us to Sac City.  By now he had accumulated (or borrowed) a little cash and Twyla, with the help of Uncle Jack and Uncle Raymond, set up a little store across the road (The Eldridges had moved to town by now). We first settled in the old store building, but soon discovered it was not livable, so Jack and Raymond moved everything to a small house next door. We were not totally dependent on the Larsons at this time, but [would] have been in deep doo-doo without constant help from them.

    Uncle Raymond was wonderful to my brother Donald, and to his other nephew Robert Merkeley. It was during this year that Donald's love for animals and farming grew even stronger. One example of Raymond's patience was when one of his haystacks mysteriously caught on fire. It doesn't take much imagination to figure that maybe two little boys were experimenting with cigarettes, but no one was skinned.

    In the fall of 1934, my Dad finally got his act straightened out and we moved to Fargo. Everything was OK for us from then on. I don't remember seeing the Larsons again until 1936 when we moved to Des Moines. We visited back and forth a great deal then and when we moved to Denver in 1937. I remember in particular one time when [the] Larsons came to Denver to visit and brought several of the Merkeley children. We had a small 2 bedroom house with a full basement, but only one bathroom. There were 5 teenage girls there, plus 5 adults and Raymond finally decided it was simpler to get in the car and drive to the nearest filling station when he needed the bathroom! This was also the time when Twill fell asleep on the lounge out in the yard.  She got terribly burned and developed an infection in the blisters. It's a wonder she didn't have permanent scars.

    We had moved (again) to Milwaukee in 1944 and were living there when Eliza fell and broke her hip, and when Donald was killed in the invasion of Germany from Norway (he was a paratrooper.) Twill asked me to be maid-of-honor when she and Bob were married in 1945. I was so well treated by the Larsons and by all of Twill's friends that I practically lived there for several months.

    Wyoming was admitted into the Union as the 44th state on July 10, 1890.

    Raymond and Gus had left the farm in the late 30s or early 30s and were living in town. Twill had gone to business school in Sioux City when she got out of high school (1944?).  She met Bob King while she was there. Bob was a native of Boston and was a pilot in the USAF stationed in Sioux City.

    After Bob got out of the service, he and Twill came to Sac and operated a photography studio for a while. I think he was an excellent photographer, (he even made me look good). Eventually he discovered that he really loved farming, so they moved to the farm. Bob and RC really got along well, and I must say at this point that you can judge what kind of man Uncle Raymond was, but the way this farming co-op worked out. Bob had a lot to learn, and Raymond could so easily have turned into another O. T. You know that we are learning that abused children often become child abusers, children of alcoholics in turn become alcoholics themselves, etc. It would have been understandable had Raymond copied the behavior of his father, but he did not. I hate to admit this, but I suspect that if anyone tried to tell Twill and Bob how to live, it was my dear Gussie.

    In the 1830s settlers began arriving in Iowa from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia. Iowa became a state in 1846.

    We moved to Spokane in 1947 and visits from the Larsons were quite infrequent, but the Whites traveled eastward very frequently. Sometimes we went clear to Iowa, sometimes we met in Wyoming. One of my best memories of Uncle Raymond was the time Jim Taylor decided to show us some Wyoming wildlife. We got up at 4 AM and Raymond, Jim and I drove around Jim's "route" in the oil fields. It was a gorgeous Wyoming morning and we saw lots of deer, antelope, coyotes, wild turkey, prairie  chickens, and I don't know what all. Jim had brought along thermoses of coffee and a big bag of doughnuts. He even conned me into gulping a big fistful of chokecherries. Raymond was too smart to be taken in on that one, but I had forgotten about chokecherries, and I nearly did choke before I got that taste out of my mouth. I should have remembered that there was a good reason the Taylors called chokecherry syrup "pucker."

    Raymond and I walked all around the base of the Devil's Tower another time, and we had innumerable games of cribbage.  I could never win at than any more than I could ever win when playing checkers with Bryan or dominoes with Elmer. Guess I'm a slow learner.

    On at least two occasions we all met in Portland. I have pictures of the visit when Jack and Lillian's kids were small, but I don't really remember much about that. I have very vivid memories of the Thanksgiving reunion in 1966.  Larsons came from Iowa, Ethel came from Wyoming, Elmer and Hazel came from California and Whites came down from Spokane. I hope someone has pictures taken at that time and will share. Lillian cooked two enormous turkeys and had everything to go with it.  (I think she had another kitchen range down in the basement.)  We ate like a bunch of vultures. We really had a wonderful time, and I'm so glad we did, because my Dad died the very next month, and it wasn't very long before we lost Raymond and Elmer. Only a few years later, Jack was gone.

    A prairie is a temperant, level region with grasses, herbs, and shrubs, rather than trees. Most of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma are prairie.


    After Dad died, Twyla and I still had a few good trips together. We went back to help Gussie when she broke her arm in 1970(?).  We were there for a full month and while we were there, we experienced a good(?) old fashioned Iowa tornado. Twill heard the warning on the radio at work and came up to the house. She knew we would be terrified and she was determined to be there with us. There was no way we could get Twyla and Gussie to the basement, so we sat in the dining room (well away from the windows) and watched the whole thing. It was really awful, and, when it was over, Bob and the boys had a hard time getting to us. There were so many trees down, and broken power lines, and flooding and they were really worried about us.

    I didn't go anywhere from 1970 on because Twyla could not travel and I did not want to leave her alone. I was so grateful that Aunt Ethel was able to go and be with Gussie during Raymond's final illness. I couldn't go back to Iowa when Uncle Raymond died, nor could I go when Gussie was taken.  I know that Twill and Bob fully understood that it was not lack of respect. Every time I have been in trouble I have felt blessed to have relatives who care. Ethel, Gus, Hazel, Jack, Bryan all have responded when I needed help. Both Twyla King and Doris Montegna came when it became evident that I could not care for Twyla at home. Putting Twyla in a nursing home was about the hardest thing I ever did.  And when my friends saw that I needed to be in a home myself, Twill and Bob came and helped me investigate retirement homes and nursing homes.  When we found that Riverview would accept Twyla in their nursing home and me in the retirement home, we felt this was the thing to do. Twyla has been gone just 2 years in February, and in 1990, I went and spent 3 whole weeks with [the] Kings.


    So you see that each of my aunts and uncles and cousins (and all of their spouses) have given  me something to be grateful for.  I hope you all realize that the Smith clan really is unique. I have never seen such loving concern, generosity and support.

    An afterthought-It is true that Gussie had a very difficult father-in-law to cope with. It is no less true that Raymond had a difficult mother-in-law to get along with. I think Raymond and my Dad deserve special recognition for their understanding and patience.

    Bill Smith's Memories of his Aunt Gus, Vashon Washington , March 17, 1992

    Aunt Gus and Uncle Raymond were excellent examples of the preposition that "It is not who you know, or what you know that is important, but rather how nice you are to other people." I remember each of them as pleasant to other people and pleasant to each, soft spoken, not trying to project themselves before everyone, yet having an individual identity that was clearly recognizable. We all enjoyed their visits to Wyoming.

    I never met Ole T. Larson, but I would like to mention that he put together 3 farms (I think it was 3) during a bad economy and passed them down to his descendants for them to benefit from, not an easy thing to do.     

    Dee Irwin's Memories of Great-Aunt Gus, May 24, 1992 Living in Moorcroft Wyoming till I was 13 years old gave me great opportunity to also benefit from the visits of the Smith clan, including great Aunt Gus and Uncle Raymond. I remember the visits as happy occasions, but nothing specific comes to mind except it would cause a stir. Shelley, I too am nearsighted!
    Joan Irwin's Memories of her Aunt Gus, Seattle, Washington , August 26, 1992

    "Larsons are coming," often in August.  It was very hot and humid in Iowa night and day.  Wyoming was hot in the daytime, but cooled off at night. While in Wyoming, Aunt Gus would often say what a wonderful sleep she'd had the night before. Her asthma kept her from sleeping in Iowa.  She told of Uncle Raymond building her a stand so she could stand up and sleep. (I still don't know if she was teasing or not.) 

    Aunt Gus had a gentleness about her and was almost naive about some things. In her younger years I remember her with dark circles under her eyes and a pale complexion. But in her later years, she seemed in better health and she smiled and laughed. I can see her in the kitchen at Bryan's house, poking fun and teasing Bryan with witty dry humor.  She loved being "Grandma." As she related the latest catastrophe or incident you could hear the love and pride in her family in her voice.  Religion played an important part in her life. 

    [I remember] flashes of picnics at the Devil's Tower, dinner at Aunt Ethel's, Aunt Gus was waiting on tables, anticipating others needs. She was a good story teller. Her tales of Ole Larson, the teachers she boarded, Twyla Mae's escapades were told with talent and humor. Aunt Gus was always well groomed and tastefully dressed, her eyes were very expressive and her laugh made you want to join her. There was a serious side to her, she took her responsibilities of wife and mother very seriously. We always looked forward to the "Larsons are coming!"

    Lillian Smith's Memories of her Sister-in-law Gus,
    Portland, Oregon, March 29, 1992

    I remember the Larsons when we lived in Sioux City a short time after we were married. We made several trips to Sac before moving out here. Whenever we went my husband, Jack, would tell Raymond no more post holes. I guess they had put up a fence and didn't do it right. Twill probably remembers. 

    One thing I remember, that Raymond always had a bunch of little pigs and had them ready for a market in Sioux City. One time prices dropped so he brought them back to Sac. All farmers helped one another and Jack got in on a deal. When they came, Twyla Mae would ask what they had for dinner. They told her wieners, which I guess was her favorite.They came out for the Smith's reunion at our place and while here we took them up the scenic route, Germantown Road.  Raymond was so amazed that they had such a narrow, winding road through the hills.  [I] enjoyed the family get together.

    Shelley Mitchell's Memories of her Great-aunt, Gus, April 5, 1992 [The] photo is proof that I met Aunt Gus, but I honestly don't remember much more about this trip than a big house, rain in the summer, a boy cousin who teased me, and a fall down the stairs into the basement resulting in a cracked head and a lifelong fear of heights. It is interesting to read though and now I know where I got my asthma. Does anyone know where the nearsightedness came from?

    1954- Gus Larson, Mae McKelvey, Orpha Fox, Shelley Miller Mitchell, Roberta Miller Tuller and Virginia Smith Miller

    Twyla Larson King's Memories of her Mother, Gus

    My mother Gus was a person everyone liked. My girlfriends loved her dearly. There are so many things I could say about her, but I haven't enough paper to say or tell them all. She was loving, caring and generous up to a point, and yes, she also had some what of a temper, but don't we all.

    I will tell you this. She was so afraid I would turn out to be a spoiled brat. Who's to say I am not. I try hard not to be. Many think my mother and father raised one child, but let me tell you, that is not true. My father's sister left 9 kids and of those nine, she helped with most of them in one way or another. She used to have my cousin Bob out to the farm on weekends with one or sometimes two more boys. She baked cookies and donuts for the boys.

    I remember she was out in the garden and the boys climbed to the top of the corn crib. She was picking peas and she kept getting hit with corncobs. She would look but could never see them. Finally she bent way over so she could see between her legs, then she found them. Let me tell you, these boys came down in a hurry!

    Another time my cousin Jean and I were fighting with my cousin Bob and his friend.  She decided she had Enough, so guess what.  We had to take the big dining room rug and the big living room run out the line, then we had to beat the rug with the carpet beater and every time we stopped, she got us with the broom.

    As you may not know, Mother did not like to drive. Now this is true Motherlove...She would drive me to town for the Country Club dance on Friday nights. She would go to Aunt Dora and sit until about time for the dance to be over, then I would see her sitting in the car by the Candy Kitchen waiting until we had our coke, ice cream or whatever, then drive me home at night. How many mothers now days would do such a thing?  Let me tell you, there weren't many in those times either, most just my Mom.

    When we moved to 903 Audubon, I had lots of slumber parties (that name is a joke, friends). My girlfriends loved being at my house. We popped corn in the fireplace, had the music turned up for dancing. If we got too loud, she would give my Dad a push so he would turn on his deaf ear. Then at 5:00 am, we went downtown to bakery and got our goodies. Still when some of we girls get together and we all remember the good times she let us have.

    As for not being spoiled, my girlfriends and I all wanted nice clothes for the school dance so after school we all went down to E. E. Lewis and got our new outfits. We all charged them to our folks. Well home I came to tell my big story. I told it all right. Guess what. Out of nine girls, I was the only one who had to take her new outfit back and tell them I was sorry and that I was never to charge anything again unless they were told first. Spoiled? I don't think so.

    She always seemed to have kids around her, but of the boys, Donald was always her boy even though Robert was around.  It was always Donald this and Donald that. My Dad was bad when it came to Donald, Donald could do no wrong even if he did set the haystack afire, have egg fights and try to steal green water melons and cut test holes in most of them trying to find a ripe one. And Miss Maryon was always the angel.  She could embroider and sit quiet and read and stay clean.  She also used to say "Will I ever make a lady out of you?"  I guess not!

    My mother always said "I will never live with you and your family. It isn't good for one's family life." How she ever lived through raising us all and putting up with Grandma, I will never know. She was a true angel, believe me. 



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