Kathy Denton [KD] interviews her mother, Esther Paul Cummings [EC].
Transcribed from cassette tape by Anne French 2/13/2021
KD: It’s April 22, 1995
I’m Kathy Denton and I’m interviewing my mother, Esther Cummings, to find out about her interesting life and all the great stories she’s been telling us her whole life.
So, mom, tell me about your grandparents.
EC: My Grandparents … Well, as I remember it, I was about seven years old I think and my Grandfather was working as a what do you call shoeing horses, I’ve forgotten. (Blacksmith?) And he got awful sick and then the same day my Grandmother got awful sick. The two of them suffered for several months and finally they went in and saw that Grandmother had died. They went into Granddad and said “She’s comfortable, she’s just taking a nap.”
[Kathy makes some audio adjustment and tells Esther to carry on]
Well, Grandmother had died and they went in to see what they needed to do for Granddad and he said “How’s Ida?” and they said, “She’s resting comfortably” and he said “What are you telling me that for?” and he pointed up towards the ceiling. “There she is! Ida! Ida! Wait for me!” and he died smiling.
KD: What were their full names?
EC: Hers was Ida, I don’t remember his first name. Ida Leach, his last name was Leach.
I remember, I dream about their old house. I lived in it when I was a senior in high school. I lived in it all year.
KD: Where was it at?
EC: Francesville, Indiana. I used to go to the Pulaski High School but my senior year my dad worked at the Jasper / Pulaski Game Preserve and they wanted me to go to Francesville where I could get more courses so I could get into Purdue. I stayed with the people who were renting my Grandmother’s house the winter while I was at Francesville and I graduated from Francesville High School.
I couldn’t go to Purdue the next year. Nellie Jo and Owen were both in college and I had to wait for one of them to get out at least before I could go. So I stayed home that winter and helped with the farm work. The sheep were mine and the cattle, I did the milking. Of course there were horses and pigs and chickens and sheep.
Then in 1941 I went to Purdue and then on December 7, we were having breakfast getting ready to go to church. It was a Sunday. And we heard this announcement on the radio that Pearl Harbor was being bombed. People around the room said, “Aw, that can’t be, it’s another one of those stories put out.” I’m bad at names but there was a man putting out wild stories from outer space. (Kath: Orson Welles?) Yeah, Orson Welles. They said “That’s just another Orson Welles story.” We went on to church, hoping it wasn’t true.
The next day we went to German class. Of course on Sunday at noon we heard President Roosevelt’s announcement of “The Day that would be Remembered in Infamy.” Then on Monday when we went to class, I went to my German Class, and the professor was looking around at the students and some of them were advanced military in uniform because they had their military exercises immediately after. And he said “I will not have anybody in uniform in my class.” So the boys obediently left but a little bit later, the dean of men came in and said, Mr. we’ll take you. That was the last saw of him but the German professor was no more and that was the end of my learning German and that was the beginning of the Second World War.
I was a freshman at Purdue University. I went on through for 3 and a half years and during that time, soldiers were marching, the advanced military were all made officers and sent overseas immediately. The campus had marching soldiers and sailors who were taking classes there all the time so that made university life a little bit different than the average. What else do you want to know about it?
KD: Tell me about your parents.
EC: Well, my father was a civil engineer. He had laid out the Union Pacific Railroad and Evelyn and his first wife to California while he was doing it. Evelyn was five years old when her mother died in CA of TB.
KD: What were your parents’ full names?
EC: Clarence Evans Paul and Bessie Leach Paul. When dad was coming back with Evelyn with him, he was telling everyone that Evelyn was five years old. They’d been in CA for three years and while they were there, they had a big earthquake. So I grew up hearing dad say CA is going to fall off the map someday. Then coming back from CA, there was this schoolteacher who was coming from Oregon. She took an interest of course in Evelyn who needed a woman to take care of her at times. “Boy she’s big for a five-year-old!” Of course, she didn’t tell him that but she took care of her all that way across the nation and it took a while in those days, even on a train. Finally, every station they’d stop at, they’d say goodbye and didn’t expect to see each other again. Then they’d get back on the train and lo and behold they’d see each other again. Finally, they get to Francesville and there again they say goodbye. Dad headed out to the country and mom stopped in Francesville where her folks were. It was twelve miles from Francesville to the farm and when dad went courting her, he’d get on a horse and wagon and drive into Francesville the twelve miles and visited with her as long as he liked and when he started home, he’d just hitch up the horse, give him his head, climb in the back and go to sleep in the wagon and wake up in the morning in the barnyard … and you can’t do that with a car! So I thought that was a pretty good part of the story.
KD: Tell me how many brothers and sisters you had and what all their names were.
EC: Well, Evelyn was the one they brought back from CA. What was her middle name? Don’t remember. My own sister and I don’t remember her middle name. She was the oldest and then after mom and dad got married, they got Lester Hibbard who was named after both his grandparents. Hibbard was my great-grandfather’s name. He was the one that came from Wales. Lester was my mother’s father’s name. I remember now! That where they got the Lester. Next was Arthur Norman, the second son. As of this date you got the day I guess, Les is still living but he is terribly, terribly sick. I haven’t heard from him in months. Arthur died… do you remember when Tom was born, you know his funeral was the day Tom was born.
KD: My Tom?
KD: November 21, 1981.
EC: So November 21, 1981 was when Kathy’s little Tom was born and that was the day of Arthur’s funeral.
Nellie Jo was next and she married a Marine lawyer, and then after the war Mel retired but Nellie Jo wen into tour guiding in Washington DC. And they had visited every country in the world. Nellie’s got charm bracelets that include every country they were ever in and they had seen them all. Then her children later on would travel back and forth to see their old friends in some of those different countries just for the fun of it. So, it wasn’t a matter of just visiting a family across the street! What a family! I couldn’t have done it. I’m not that kind, I just couldn’t have done it but I’ve always admired her greatly. She was so beautiful, Nellie Jo.
Next was Owen Arnold Paul. He was two years older than I and he became a professor at Purdue University and he was grading papers one night late and the next morning his wife, Mary, went down to get him for breakfast and she said he was smiling at something in the corner, a very beautiful expression on his face. His left hand was picking up a paper and his right hand had laid down one. Mary spoke to him, he said nothing, so she tapped him on the shoulder and he fell out of the chair. He was dead.
I want to see what he saw when he was called to heaven. That’s why I’m anxious to go. Let’s see, I’ll be 73 next May if I make it. I want you all to remember my birthday! What else do you want to know?
KD: Tell me about dad.
EC: Oh, yeah! Your dad, yeah. Oh, he was a brilliant man. He was really brilliant. 175 IQ with total recall. Alfred Glenn Cummings. We called him Glenn. His mother called him Alfred, his friends all called him Al. I don’t know why he wanted to be called Glenn when he introduced himself to me. It was Glenn so he was always Glenn to me. He was a chemical engineer. He served in the 2nd World War, Patton’s 11th Armored. He went in, let’s see, overseas in January 1943 [aef: 1944] and he was over there 18 months. He was a reconnaissance officer and he saw Dachau where a lot of the Jews were murdered by the Germans. As a reconnaissance officer, he was always 5 miles ahead of the army to tell them where the enemy was and where to shoot. If the numbers were wrong or if the directions were taken wrong, he was a target. But he managed to live through it and he told me he was never injured but he did come back shell shocked. He returned June 28.
I got two calls, one from New York and one from the farm in Pulaski County, Indiana, both at the same time, the same instant. They said “Who do we tell you about first?” Somebody said, “Her father” because dad had died. Then I got to talk to Glenn, he had just landed in New York. I told him dad had died. It was a good thing they told me dad first because he got to come straight home. Otherwise he would have had to take two or three weeks going through all kinds of customs and health examinations before they could put him in the states. As it was, they let him come home immediately so he was there in time for the funeral.
KD: Tell me the story about the car keys. About when I think you were in Purdue and you went to some party.
EC: Ohhhh! That was after we graduated. After the war, he went back to Purdue and we got a little house trailer 15 feet long which was our first home. We had been married in, gosh what was it? 1943, December 18th. One year [aef: month] later to the day, he went overseas so after he got back from the service and got discharged honorably, we bought this little house trailer thing. Art had owned it and he sold it to us for practically nothing so Glenn could get back into University and finished getting his degree. Of course, I had to have appendicitis a month before school started and the doctors wouldn’t let me go back to school. I had hoped to finish my degree but the doctors said I couldn’t go back because of my health. So when I had a month or two when I was feeling better, I got a job at the department of agriculture and worked in the rat lab. Then a couple of the students who were finishing up their degrees as veterinarians heard that I had all that time at school and thought that I should help them. So I did they routine work and reports and did a lot of tests and things. I think I learned more working for them than I would have taking courses but of course I wouldn’t get a degree.
So Glenn got his degree and while he was going up the aisle to get his diploma I had to run for the bathroom. I was pregnant and very sick. So his first son, Glenn Paul, was born on November 15th the next year. He graduated the spring of 1947.
And then Gilbert was born in 1949, Trina was born in 1953, Anne was born in 1954? [aef: 1955], Teresa was born in 1955 [aef: 1956], Tom was born in 1956 [aef: 1958], no I lost a year there somewhere. I had lost a child in between Teresa and Tom. so there was more than a year between them. Then Tom was born in 1958 and Kathy was born in 1959.
KD: And I never heard the story about the car keys (laughs)
EC: Well then your ever loving father got a job working for Firestone. It was at Cleveland, Ohio. We had a company party for Christmas. And of course everybody got very very happy. At the end of the party, the girls / women / wives were lined up in a big circle. There must have been, gee I forget, around 35 couples there. The women were all in this big circle practically touching elbow to elbow. The husbands threw their car keys in the center. the wives were blindfolded and told to crawl to the center of the room and get a set of car keys and go home with anybody’s keys they got. Well, my dear husband, bless his heart, he held back. He was the last to throw his keys in. Everybody else of course was holding their breath waiting for him. He turned around to me, gave me a great big I guess you call it a military bow, handed me his keys, and we marched out. And every woman in the place came to me weeks afterward asking “How on earth did you get him to do that?” I said “I had no idea he was going to”. But at least I got to go home with my husband who was so excited about the whole thing, as we were driving out the gate after that party, he hit a policeman!
KD: Oh! You hadn’t told that. I don’t remember that part.
EC: Well, you weren’t with us (laughing).
KD: Did he live?!
EC: Oh, yes. It just kind of turned him around in the crowd leaving the party from that place. It was in Kentucky, across the river from Cincinnati, was where the party was. The crowd was so thick and all the cars trying to press onto that one road that took them across the river, the Ohio, back to Cincinnati. It was so crowded, they had to have the police direct traffic. Glenn just did not see that man. He didn’t knock him down, he just kind of turned him around. Of course he stopped and the policeman was so busy he just said, “Oh, get on out of here” and he didn’t get a ticket for it.
He was a little more than upset about that car key business. After any company party we went to after that, we left before the party was over. He wasn’t going to take another chance getting caught in something like that.
KD: Back up a little bit because i want to hear the story of I think you were 8 years old and a farm house burned down.
EC: Oh, when our farm house burned down, I was in the 8th grade. That’s more than 8 years old. I was coming home. White Oak School was a mile or 2 miles through the woods. Over the meadow and through the woods to grandmother’s house you go if you’re coming to the school. Anyway, I was coming home and neighbors came driving through the pasture and of course, we owned those 280 acres and nobody is supposed to drive on somebody else’s farm without permission. They came driving up behind me and I didn’t know what to do about it. They told me to get in the car. I said “No, sir, I want to walk home. I have to take sheep and cattle home.” They said, “Get in the car. The house is on fire”. I looked up through the trees and sure enough, there was a big black cloud. So I got in the car and we went home. The house was pretty well gone. There was some furniture around. Some men had carried out that huge piano. It only took 2 men to take it out but it took 6 to carry it back in after they got the house built.
I went hunting for my mother and I couldn’t find her. I asked around “Who’s seen mom?” and they told me she was down in the garden. I found her down in the garden and she was crying her heart out for she hadn’t been able to rescue my doll. Everything else in that house… we lost a lot… but that doll was the thing she was crying about.
What else do you want to know about it?
Well, the thing I thought was so outstanding, the Catholics and Protestants fought tooth and nail almost all the time. They almost wouldn’t be seen speaking to each other. The telephones like they were on the farm, you ring the old phone and you’re likely to get anybody. Everybody in the county was on that same line. You ring that three times, they knew it was a warning something bad had happened. My mother had rung and she only had to ring once. She said “The house is on fire: Paul” and right away all the neighbors from 2 to 8-10 miles away came running to help. So that was the advantage of the farm situation. But the neighbors did help each other and the Catholics and Protestants worked together. Then after the fire, it was in the spring and all those farmers got together and helped put in all the crops. And then later on when it came to building the house, they helped building the house. We all learned to work together because of that fire.
KD: Wasn’t it Goodrich where dad worked?
EC: Oh, we were living in Charleston, West Virginia. Charleston was where the chemical plant was, a little village on the outside of Charleston called Nitro. It was appropriate. The Goodrich plant where Glenn worked was next door to a Monsanto plant. And we lived 12 miles in St. Albans on top of a hill. Glenn and Gil were 2 and 4 years old. They came running in and Glenn the father was taking a bath and they ran in there: “Dad, dad, something’s on fire down where you work”. He says “Don’t bother me. I want to get my bath”. They said “No, it’s on fire. Run! Look!!” The house was on a hilltop and we could see all the way into Charleston and certainly from 12 miles you couldn’t tell if it was Goodrich or Monsanto that was burning. So Glenn jumped into his pants and yelled down as he ran down the stairs he yelled at me to call them and tell them not to put water on it. Of course, I couldn’t get through.
Glenn had always carried safety equipment in the car, gas masks and different kinds of things that would be needed in such a case. So he did have some safety equipment and he fought that fire all night. Since he was so close to it, he found out it was Monsanto and not Goodrich. He knew fighting that fire was lethal, very, very deadly. He came home the next morning. I had his breakfast ready and thought he’d go to bed and get some sleep. He ran into the boys’ room and started throwing their clothes into suitcases. He said “If that wind changes, their lives aren’t worth two cents!”
We threw together everything we could that we could think of that we’d have to take in a minute and left. We started up to Cleveland from West Virginia. He drove all day after fighting that fire all night to get those boys away from the possibility of that smoke getting to them but that day he knew he would not live much longer. And everybody that was within a five miles radius of that fire died within five years. And the nation buried it. They would not let it be known and that’s why I could not get any insurance from the company and I had to raise my seven children alone for twenty years on Social Security. Thank God for Social Security at the time.
KD: When was it the fire occurred again?
EC: I can’t remember the exact date. Well, you can figure it out. Glenn was 4 and Gilbert was 2.
KD: Oh, okay.
EC: You said Glenn’s 45 now? No Glenn’s 48 now. Forty four years ago off of 95, so 1951.
KD: Tell me the one where Trese broke ….
EC: Oh! Glenn would come home from work. We had a brand new Ford. I can see it but I can’t describe it and he was very proud of that car. Every night when he would come home, Teresa would run out on that porch and jump into his arms and they made quite a game of it. Then one night, Glenn came home and the neighbor next door had something he had to know right away and he was yelling at Glenn, Glenn was looking at him and didn’t see Teresa jump, and when she jumped, he just got hold of one arm and it broke her shoulder ….
[end of tape side A]
[start of tape side B]
EC: … so Teresa had jumped into his arms, he only caught one arm because a neighbor was distracting his attention and it broke her shoulder. And uh Glenn cried about it. He was heartbroken over it. And then this dumb doctor accused him of abusing her, of beating her, and of course that broke his heart even more because he was a very kind, gentle man. He would never hurt any of the children for a second and he loved them all dearly. And uh the doctor set her arm and treated her but that didn’t cure her. She didn’t stop jumping at him every time he came home. When the car drove up, she was right there but he paid attention after that. He wouldn’t be distracted. He would catch her.
KD: Tell me about the horse.
EC: I told that one before.
KD: No, not on this tape.
EC: Well, I was about five years old and we lived on a little farm outside of Knox, Indiana. And uh, we had an old horse called Shadow. We called him Shady most of the time but his name was Shadow. There were six of us kids counting Evelyn but Evelyn wouldn’t get on that horse, he was “dirty”. And uh so the other five of would get on. I was five years old which made Les 15 and Art 13 and all five of us would get on that horse. I was the one that ended up over the tail. If I slipped off that horse stopped. He would not move until I got put back on. It beats me how that horse missed that tiny little girl over his tail. That was the kind of a horse we had.
And another thing about living on that farm. The very first thing that I remember, I must have been about a year old because I couldn’t stand alone. I was standing up holding onto the side of a crib. It had to be in the middle of the night and I didn’t want to wake anybody up. I was looking out a window and I heard a train whistle. It surprises me. I didn’t know what a train whistle was. I just knew it was something that would carry us a long way off and I wanted to get out and go right then and there. So I guess that’s where I got my love of traveling. So what else do you want to know?
KD: Tell me about how you found Delphos.
EC: Oh! Well after Glenn died, we lived in Elyria a year after he died and then when school was beginning to start again, they talked about shifting the kids around to different schools. They had this business of segregation and they wanted to send some of the kids to one school and some of the kids to other schools and that meant dividing them up and some of them had to go totally alone and I did not like that. So, I decided we would move out of Elyria, Ohio and hunted for a smaller town. I took a few trips to hunt it. I remember taking a couple of kids one. I think Trina was one. It beats me, I can’t remember who I left them with, the others. I know I didn’t take them all on that trip. I went down to Kentucky a couple times. I ran into Paducah where they had a huge prison. I didn’t know it was a prison and they came and told me to get out of there and don’t stop. So, I got out and I didn’t stop. On the way out, I passed a plant. When Glenn died, Goordrich told me they would hire me any time I wanted to work. With seven kids to take care of, there was no way I was going to work. But on the way out of Kentucky that time I was looking for a place to move to, I saw this Goodrich plant. Oh yes, they said they’d hire me. I began looking around for the possibility of the house. And then the plant next to the Goodrich plant, it couldn’t have been Goodrich. Goodrich was always very good. But the plant next door would be deadly and that plant had some huge puddles out behind it which had warnings of lethal chemicals. They were horrible, smelled and looked terrible and anything around it, dead birds, animals, squirrels, rabbits, whatever got into it would be dead around it. And I decided that was no place to raise kids and I headed back to Elyria.
On the way back, I went through this little town of Delphos and began to question about the possibility of a house around there. That’s when I found the house, paid $7000 for it. All I got from my husband’s insurance was $10,000 and that paid for the house in full so I didn’t have to make house payments. That left $3000 to raise seven kids for the next 20 years.
I got Social Security, $250 a month, managed to feed the kids on meat, fruit and vegetables, everything they needed. I admit our clothes were pretty ragged. I made most of the girls’ clothes. The girls didn’t like me cutting their hair so they all four left their hair grow down to their waists. It was a struggle. We did things I was careful to do what didn’t cost anything.
We bought our first car. Some people when Glenn had died had given me bonds. I cashed the bonds and some of that $3000 we had left after we bought the house, I used some of that to get the car. Then to finish it up, we needed a few hundred more and the kids all collected their piggy banks and I don’t remember how on earth they got that money but they dumped their pennies on the dealer’s table and I said “Count ‘em!”. I didn’t even know how much there was there. Well, he counted and counted and counted and finally he came up and says “Just enough!”. I know it wasn’t true but he was nice and generous enough to let us have the car. So, I guess that’s that.
KD: That was a good story. What stories do you remember from when we were kids?
EC: Oh gee, there were dozens of them. I don’t know where to being on that. Maybe we better do another day, give it some thought.
KD: How about when we bought that house?
EC: Oh, yeah. I think I know what you’re referring to. I had hunted a dozen houses and I couldn’t remember some of them but I remembered one house I had looked at. It had a stairway and at the top of the stairway, there was a door that went left and a hall that went right and two more bedrooms. And uh so I took that one because I thought that would give us enough bedrooms. I was going to use the bedroom that went to the left of the stairway. We got moved in and the men that were emptying the truck yelled at me “Where do you want your furniture?” And I say the room at the top of the stairs to the left. They went up there and they said “There is no room on the top of the stairs to the left.” So I had to have my bedroom in the hall. The girls had theirs to themselves and the boys had theirs to themselves and I guess we were happy. But then after we moved in, I finally got the kids to bed, turned out the light and tried to lay down and the light came on. I got up, turned it off again, tried to lay down and the light came back on. So, I took the bulb clear out, got into bed and the light was back on. I got up ready to blow my top and that stairway had gone straight up and the last three steps had turned to the right so there was a little landing there. I looked out over that landing and there was the door to the left of the stairway and the light was behind it. In front of that door standing over that, level with the floor but he was standing about 3 feet above it, there was Glenn. He knew where we were. Of course, I wanted to run into his arms. He said “No, no you can’t touch me.” Then he said he needed to know if I had forgiven him. And I said, “Forgiven? For what?” I thought we had a lovely marriage. I couldn’t think of anything to forgive him for. And he said “Thank you, that’s what I needed to know.” And he smiled and backed into that door and that door closed, the light went out and the next morning that was a pure wall, there had never been a door there. Now I know I was not asleep. I did not dream it. I didn’t have a chance to go to sleep. I saw Glenn about five times after he died.
KD: I better get going. It’s about 7pm. I told Sam I’d be leaving at 7. Thanks, mom! Think of some funny stories for next time.