My mother Bonita Daniel Paulson had started writing her memories in a spiral bound notebook a few years belore she died. This is really a treasure as it is written in her own handwriting. I am going to put it all here just as she had written it with just a few entries for clarity.
Nana's Journal - Memories of Bonita Daniel Paulson
My Earliest Memories in Oklahoma
My earliest memory occured when I was approximately 1 1/2 years old according to my mother. That would have been the summer of 1934.
My mother's friend Frances Wheeler (she is the person who gave me my name) gave an Ice Cream Social. This was an invitation to several families to gather at her home for homemade ice cream and I'm sure since it was probably an all day affair, there was other food also.
In those days most families were rather large - so there were quite a few children. Among them were my half-brother Elmer - he as the oldest of my parent's children. He was the son of my Dad's first marriage (to Effie Vivian Hancock). His first wife died in the flu epidemic following World War I. Also there were my three brothers: J.B.(the oldest), Gurld - called Slim (the middle) and Will (the youngest). Also there was my sister Vitha (she is 2 years older than I) and of course me.
As I recall, Mrs. Wheeler lived in a large house with a porch all across the front. It is not clear in my mind if there was an addition at the side of the house that was 2 stories, or whether this was a separate building. However this building had an outside staircase leading to the upper level.
Of course children love to play on stairs and there were quite a few of us playing on them. Somehow I fell down the stairs and was knocked unconcious. I have no ideal how many steps I fell down - but mother told me that I was unconcious for quite a while.
I wasn't sure that this had realy happened or whether it was something I had only dreamed. But I asked my mother about it when she visited us in Waco in 1960 and she said that it had really happened.
A Visit To My Grandparents
The second early memory I have is a visit to my mother's parents. This was probably during the same period as my first memory as I recall being very small.
At that time my Dad did not know how to drive so our transportation was by horse and wagon. I recall the weather as being warm, so I would say it was also during the summer.
We were going to visit Grandma and Grandpa Jackson. So all the family was in the wagon. Mother and Dad wre on the seat at the front of the wagon and all of the kids were in the back.
As I recall the wagon had a tailgate that could be let down or taken off. I remember sitting at the back end of the wagon with my sister Vitha and we were swinging our legs and laughing. That is the only thing I remember aboiut that trip. Again, this was confirmed by my mother.
Mother said that Vitha and I were always very close because before I was born Vitha had been very sick and she had to learn to walk all over again. So we learned together. She said we were almost inseparable from my birth.
Another Visit to Grandma and Grandpa Jackson
My third memory concerns another visit to Grandpa and Grandma. I'm fairly certain this was another visit because it seems like I remember it being colder.
My mother came from a large family of 12 children. She was the oldest girl and she had one brother older than she was, therefore she had several brothers and sisters that were still unmarried and at home with my grandparents.
It must have been in the evening because I remember a couple of my aunts taking me out to the barn with them when they went to milk the cow or cows.
I remember there was a big feed box in the barn where the grain for the animals was kept. It had a cover over it , and my aunts put me up on the feed box while they milked the cows.
This is the clearest memory I have of Grandpa. I remember him as being a big hearty man and this time in my mind's eye I see him wearing overalls and a red plaid shirt.
I remember sitting on top of the feed box watching Grandpa feed the animals and my aunts milking. I also remember a cow coming up to the feed box and sticking her muzzle up towards me. For some reason it scared me and I started crying. I remember Grandpa scolded my aunts and took me back to the house.
This must have been shortly before my brother Howard was born. I'm fairly certain that I was close to 2 years old at this time. It's funny, but I don't remember anything about Howard as a very small baby. But as I recall these things it seems this is the order they were in and tallks with Mother the first time she visited Waco alone confirms this.
Selling The Calves
According to Mom and Dad, when they lived in Oklahoma, Dad was a share cropper as were most of the farmers back then. So of course I supose you would say they were poor people because they didn't own their own land.
But what little I remember of those times, we were no richer nor poorer than our neighbors. I don't remember it as a period in my life when I was deprived of anything. We had plenty of food to eat and a home to live in, and that was about all anyone had.
This was also the period of time when the great drought hit the middle section of this country. I don't recall the year the drought started nor the year it ended. I do know from school that it lasted several years.
Before the drought started, Dad must have been fairly successful as a share cropper because I remember Mom telling me that all of us kids had our own calf. Which brings me to the fourth memory, which is a very short one.
This must have been in the summer of 1935. I remember a man or men coming out to our farm with a truck and loading up our livestock. This included the calves that belonged to the kids. I remember crying and asking Mom why they were taking my calf away. She told me that we couldn't keep them any longer because we couldn't feed them, so Daddy had to sell them.
She told me that we were gtoing to be moving so Daddy was going to sell everything.
This bring me to the fifth and last memory I have of when the family lived in Oklahoma.
I don't know when Lee Hancock (Dad's brother-in-law from his first marriage) came to us. I do remember him being with us in the summer of 1935. The money Dad got when he sold our livestock and farm tools was used to buy an old truck. I remember being told that Uncle Lee taught Dad to drive before we left Oklahoma.
To me it seems like it was a big truck, but probably it was only a pick-up.
The last clear thing I remember about Oklahoma is the family loading all our bedding (feather mattresses and quilts and pillows) in the truck. And boxes and trunks with our clothes, and dishes and some cooking utensils. These were all put in the truck. Then all of us kids were told to find a comfortable place in the back of the truck and Mom, Dad and Uncle Lee with baby Howard rode in the cab.
I don't remember looking back at the home we were leaving. But I'm sure we were very sad to be leaving the only home I could remember.
My Only Memory of Texas
Leading up to probably the haziest memory I have of that period of my life would be our visit in Texas with Daddy's brother, Uncle Zee (Zeron). I don't recall any specific conversations concerning Uncle Zee and Aunt Dora. I do remember that their family lived in Texas, somewhere near Dallas.
I don't recall anything special about traveling from Hannah to Uncle Zee's and I don't remember how long we stayed and visited with them. My memory of Aunt Dora is very vague. I can't remember what she looked like or how she acted. Whether she was glad to see us or any details about her or their children.
I have no idea what kind of work Uncle Zee did, whether he was a farmer or not. My memory of Uncle Zee is very faint, the only memory I have of him is sitting on his lap while he and Daddy talked. I can't remember what he looked like. I don't know if he looked like Daddy or not. But he seemed very nice.
I recall that Aunt Dora was Uncle Lee Hancock's sister and that Daddy's first wife was Aunt Dora's sister.
In 1990 when I went to Henryetta to see Dad, I went to McAlester, Oklahoma to Mother's sister Ella. She told me then that Howard was sick when we left Oklahoma. As I related before, we visited with Uncle Zee and Aunt Dora in Texas for a short period of time.
I don't remember many specifics of our travels from Texas to Arizona. I do recall we camped out at night and slept on the ground. Mother cooked our meals over a camp fire and it was cold at night.
I don't know how long it took us to travel from Texas to Arizona. I'm sure we would stop for periods of time when Daddy and Uncle Lee could find work to earn a little money to keep us fed.
Anyone who has seen the movie "The Grapes of Wrath" will know what our life was like because it was very similar. Families would get acquainted when they found work and would band together and travel in groups of 2, 3 or 4 families. When one family found any type of work, they would let the others know about it.
I would think that the period of time traveling from Texas to Arizona was about 2 or 3 months because my next clear memory is in Arizona. This part of my journal will cover 3 specific events I remember in Arizona. I can't be certain how long we were there, or in what order these events in my memory occured.
Howard's Death in Arizona
My clearest memory of Arizona is the death of my baby brother Howard. Since it is clearest I will write about it first, although I'm not sure if it happened first.
We were near a big town or city. I think it may have been Phoenix. I don't remember any details about Howard's illness. In fact, I don't remember anything special about him at that period. I know he must have been very sick. I don't know if Mom and Dad took him to a hospital, or whether he died when we were camping.
The only thing I remember clearly is his funeral. I don't remember specific details about the funeral itself or where he was buried. What I do remember very clearly is his appearance.
I don't know if his funeral was in a church, funeral home or what. I distinctly remember being taken to see him in his little coffin. I saw my baby brother is what I thought was a little bed. He appeared to be asleep to me. He was dressed in fuzzy white pajamas. I remember crying and saying I wanted to take him with us.
I remember Uncle Lee putting me on his shoulders and taking me out of the room. I remember him asking me to please don't cry. If I would quit crying he would get me a big apple & a little apple, a big orange and a little orange and a big banana & a little banana. That is my last memory of Howard, and not understanding why we didn't have him anymore.
Again, Mother confirmed the details I described above. She said it was accurate to the last detail.
(Note: Too bad Grandma Daniel did not give the reason Howard died or where he was buried. I do not even have the date)
The next thing I remember also took place in Arizona. I'm fairly sure it was some time after Howard's death, but I can't confirm it since everyone in the family that would know for sure is already dead. Unless of course Slim might remember.
Our Residence In The Adobe House
The next clear memory is when we lived in an old adobe house in the desert of Arizona. my memory of this adobe is very clear. It was in the middle of the desert miles from anything. The walls were falling down, but it was a big house with several rooms. I don't clearly remember if it was 2 story or just had a ladder leading up to a flat roof.
There was only one room in the house that was whole and did not have a leaking roof. It had a fireplace and a dirt floor. The entire family lived in the one room. Mother cooked our meals over a fire in the fireplace. There's no way of knowing how old this old abobe house was, probably it was built in the 1800's. One day Mom was sweeping the dirt floor and I was playing nearby. Evidently, buried in the dirt was a live bullet. Mom swept it into the fireplace where it exploded. The slug whizzed right past my head.
It was very scary living out in the desert. All we could see for miles around the adobe house was cactus and sagebrush. At night it was very dark and we could hear coyotes howling far off.
The last thing I remember about Arizona is going into town one Saturday night to get groceries. There was a circus in town and some way Dad had enough money to take us to the circus. I'm sure it was probably a small circus, but to us kids it was unbelievable. That was where I saw the first Siamese twins I had ever seen. They were grown women and I was amazed that 2 people could be grown together. That is also where I saw the first so-called giant (a very tall man) and a midget. After the circus when we were getting ready to leave town and go home, we came upon a fight at the town square. It was between a white man and a negro man. It was a very vicious fight and the white man stabbed the negro. We never knew how seriously the negro was hurt because we left town immeidately. When I think about it I can still smell the blood.
The next thing I clearly remember is reaching the border between Arizona and California. Even then California was very careful about letting any produce cross the border into the state. That is how they have kept diseases from attacking the crops all these years.
I remember all the migrant workers from the central part of our country in their old cars & trucks had to stop at the inspection stations. There they had to unload all their belongings and let them be searched before they could go on into California. It seemed like it took a loing time to go through there. We were all relieved when the inspection was over.
Our Entry Into California
We crossed the Mojave desert into California's Imperial Valley. The only names of towns that I remember are Brawley and Calipatria. It was late fall or early winter when we reached the Imperial Valley. We arrived late in the day and perhaps on the week-end. I remember we had no money and very little food. Dad, Uncle Lee and anyone in the family big enough to work were seeking work picking the vegetable crops.
We located the nearest camp for migrant workers and set up our tent home. Then Dad, Uncle Lee and my brothers went to the packing sheds to see if they could find edible vegetables that had been scrapped so we would have enough to eat.
The next day the family went looking for work and found it. But we had several lean days until pay day.
The first charity (and only real charity) I ever remember our family taking was at that time. It was Christmas time and our parents couldn't get us anything for Christmas, not even a little candy & fruit.
Some women, probalby from a church came out to the migrant camp to see how many children there were and what was needed.
I'll never forget that Christmas. I was given a little baby doll, some candy & fruit. It seemed like the most wonderful Christmas to me. I finally had a real toy. I didn't understand then why Mom and Dad acted strange about taking the gifts for us. I realize now that they were ashamed that they were so poor, and it hurt their pride.
Later, probably in the Spring & Summer we had made friends with a couple of families and we went from crop to crop in the valley with them. There was a young single man traveling with us and all of us kids called him Model T Tom because he had a Model T car.
Going To School
In the fall Mom & Dad had to enroll the kids in school. I wasn't quite 5 years old then, but Dad enrolled me in kindergarten. The school was across town from the migrant camp, but the town was small. I remember all of the kids from camp would walk to school together because the local kids called us names.
We got into many fights with the local kids because of their taunts. They called us Okies and white trash. It certainly wasn't very pleasant for any of us. And we sure didn't like to be called names. So we really stuck together.
My first experience with school was not very pleasant. My first teacher was named Mrs. Keller and I didn't like her at all. She didn't treat the migrant kids very well and she had her class pet, a little local girl named Bonnie. What a little brat she was! She was constantly doing something bad and blaming me for it. I spent many hours in the corner for things I hadn't done. Mom and Dad told me that I had to go to school because everyone else had to work. That certainly made me very unhappy.
The only thing I liked about school was recess. Then I could play on the swings and slides and merry-go-rounds when the local kids would let me. But that wasn't always good either. I loved the merry-go-round but if I played on it very much I would get sick and have nightmares that night. Then Dad would get mad and scold me and tell me not to play on it anymore. But I always would go play on it some more.
My second bad experience at school involved a little boy in my class. One day at recess we were out playing and he came up to me and put a garter snake on me. As the whole family knows, I'm terrified of snakes! It scared me so much that I started crying and left school by myself. I was going home! Our friend Model-T Tom that I mentioned earlier had been put in jail for being drunk. I stopped at the jail on the way home and visited with him.
As I remember this incident took place during the morning recess. My brothers & sister and I always ate our lunch together. When I didn't join them for lunch they knew something was wrong. They left school and started looking for me. They knew I was very fond of Model-T Tom so they stopped at jail and asked him if he had seen me. He told them that I had stopped to see him and that I was going home. He told them about the boy putting the snake on me, and he was really mad.
My brothers and sister went home and found me at our tent playing alone. Needless to say they were very happy to find me safe and sound.
When the rest of the family came home from work at dark the boys told Dad what had happened. He went to school the next day to explain why I had left. The school principal said they knew I wasn't five years old and couldn't go to school anymore. So there temporarily ended my first experience with school for a couple of years. It wasn't really clear in my memory, but I think it ended Vitha's for about a year also.
I wasn't the least bit unhappy that I couldn't go to school. I had fun playing with Vitha out by the edge of the fields while the family worked.
The families were making some money and the people they worked for would provide food for lunches for them - sandwiches and sodas. I thought that was great! I liked the foremen that supervised the workers and evidently they liked me too. They were always giving me candy. What more could a 4 year old ask?
Dreams That Came True
It was about this time in my life when some of my dreams started coming true. I don't remember many of them, but Mom said I had several. The one that stands out in memory the most is about the time we were getting ready to leave the Imperial Valley.
The families were packing to leave the valley. I had had a nightmare the night before and told Mom about it. I told her I didn't want us to go through the mountains because I had dreamed about a big red truck that had gone over a cliff. She told me we had to go through the mountains to leave the valley.
As we vere going through the mountains, I told Dad & Uncle Lee please not to turn the way they were going to because that's where the truck was. They told me that it was only a dream I had had and that was the way we had to go. A few miles down the road I told them we would see the truck around the next bend, and sure enough we did, a big red truck!
Following The Crops
The next couple of years are very vague. Vitha said that we went back to Oklahoma when Grandpa Jackson died. I don't remember it, but she said she remembers him lying on a couch in their living room. I'm sure it was called a parlor back then.
That is probably when my Aunt Ida & Uncle Ralph Lester went back to California with us. I think Aunt Ida was only 14 or 15 when she got married. I remember several places we went where the family followed crops.
I remember we lived in Half Moon Bay, California and the family picked english peas and strawberries. Sometimes we lived up in the mountains and some times down by the ocean. To me the mountains seemed really big back then. And I loved the ocean.
It seems like it was near that time that school resumed for me, but I have no clear memories of it. About the only thing I remember about school is that the school was in a boxcar.
I'm sure we spent 3 or more years traveling back and forth across the lower half of California following crops. All my memories of those are all jumbled up and I can't pick out years that things happened.
I remember one incident. We were camped out on the beach, I believe it was near Half Moon Bay. There had been a storm earlier, and the next morning when I got up and went outside the waves were huge!
Another incident I remember is about a family that traveled with us. I don't remember their name, but they had a son that was probably in his late teens. I always called him my boyfriend. Evidently things were pretty good at that time because it seems that we were going to be there for awhile. Anyway, this boy came home one night very excited and happy. He said he had gotten a job in town working on a garbage truck and the pay was good.
I got very upset and said I didn't wnat my boyfriend working on a garbage truck because it would make him smell bad. The clincher is, he didn't take the job!
Another memory I have of the time around Half Moon Bay is when we picked strawberries for the farmer. The strawberries were so good, I probably ate as many as I picked! The farmer and his family were so nice. I remember his wife would bring us sandwiches for our lunch. That is where I ate my first egg salad sandwich, was it ever good.
Regressing to Grandpa Jackson's death, Vitha said she thought she was about 7 at the time. As I said I don't remember it at all. But this would put things more in context.
Somewhere in here, Elmer was a teenager and he liked to gamble and drink. My clearest early memory of him is during this time. I have no idea where we were in California at this time. I know I was small and I think this is before we went back to Oklahome (if we did!).
Anyway, one night Elmer had stayed out late. I remember waking up hearing him talking (arguing?) with Mom. She was asking him to be quiet before he woke Dad up. He said he didn't have to be quiet. Anyway, I remember Dad waking up and telling Elmer that he was drunk and he couldn't talk to Mom like that.
I remember Dad got his belt and gave Elmer a whipping. It really scared me. When I woke up the next morning, Elmer was gone and Mom said he had run away.
Some where during this period Uncle Lee had left us. I think he had gone back to Texas or Oklahoma. Any way we thought Elmer had gone back there. Anyway I don't remember him being with us for a few years.
I remember Elmer coming back to us when Rachel was a small baby about 6 months old. At that time we were living in Firebaugh (Fireball) California and Dad was working for a hugh ranch there. It seems like it was named the Irvine Ranch.
They had a camp or several camps for their workers that consisted of little one room wooden cabins. Our family had 2 cabins side by side. Mom, Dad & Rachel slept in one - that was also our kitchen. The 3 boys, Vitha and I slept in the other. The Ranch also had an elementary school there for the kids. That is where my first real schooling began.
Friends & Foes
We had a lot of friends in this camp. All the men folk worked for this ranch, plowing and irrigating the crops. It seems like the main crop was cotton. When the cotton was ready to be picked the entire families picked cotton.
Of course during my younger years I was always a tomboy. I thought I could do anything my brothers or any of the other boys I knew did, I could do it, too. I remember climbing up on tractor sheds and jumping off into piles of hay. And I loved to climb trees.
There is one incident I recall concernig Vi and the foreman's son. Vi was going to school, but I wasn't, I was too young. Vi & the boys rode the school bus with the foreman's boy. Mom had my hair cut short, and my favorite clothes were overalls & a shirt. Anyway this boy picked on Vi a lot and almost every day when she got off the bus she would be crying because he had been picking on her. I always met the bus when the kids came home, but this one day when Vi was crying was the last straw as far as I was concerned. Anyway, I took off chasing him across the field to his house, and he's yelling "Mama, Mama open the door." His mother came to the door and saw me chasing him. She yelled "Turn around and whip that dirty little boy!" He yelled back "I can't , it's Bon!" She opened the door for him because my brothers said I had beat him in fights before.
One of our friends in this camp was a boy named Bobby Baker. He was the clown in our group. One Halloween we were all gathered around our cabins (all the kids in camp) and Daddy was telling us ghost stories. Daddy always loved to tell stories so that was right up his alley. He had built a fire out in front of our cabin and all of us kids were gathered around listening to his stories and getting more scared by the minute.
After Daddy had told us all his ghost stories and gotten us thoroughly scared, we were given permission to play around camp for a couple of hours before bed time. we really had a blast running around scaring each other.
There was a traveling tent show that came around about twice a year that set up a big circus tent with benches and they would show movies every night for a couple of weeks and then move on. That's where I saw my first Tarzan movie. Anyway, most of us kids would crawl under the edge of the tent to watch the movie every night because our parents couldn't afford to pay for us to go every night. We were always afraid of getting caught, but we never were. Looking back on it, I'm sure they knew we were sneaking in, but they let us get by with it becuase they knew our parents would pay for us to get in a couple of times and give us money for popcorn and candy.
Another incident that happened about this time involved Vi and my brother Will. Some girl in the school called Will a dirty name and she & Vi got into a fight over it. It was next to the last day of that school year. This was a year or two before Rachel was born I believe. Anyway, my class had already been dismissed and I was at home when Vi and the boys came home. They said the teacher had told them that they would not be passed to the next grade. All of the kids that even watched were told they would not pass. All the mothers went to the school and talked to the teacher and all the kids were passed.