“My mother was deeply conscientious, hopeful, loyal. The land on our farm was beautiful, full of adventure, beckoning. The life there must sometimes, though, have been a heartache to the woman who had the responsibility of feeding, doctoring, inspiring and disciplining a family of nine plus the resident hired men, and all without any of the conveniences modern farm women simply take for granted.”
— Rachel Peden, “The Land, The People”
As the years roll on, I find myself thinking often of the grandmother I never met.
Helen Myers Young was a hard-working, happy-hearted person, from everything I have been told. She was a school teacher, having graduated from Ashland College. Her dream to teach in the community one-room school house at Eckley was never realized.
My dad told the story of one of his earliest memories, riding in the back seat of the big family Buick, his father slowing down when they saw smoke rising from the vicinity of the Eckley School.
The school building had been torn down, and the remnants were being burned.
“I guess I never will get to teach there,” his mother said with a sigh.
What I have also come to realize is that in the 1920s, there were towns, but there were also communities, strong with family ties and caring neighborly bonds. She had helped her father, Charlie, on the farm, situated in the Eckley community, farming with his beloved horses, raising chickens and collecting eggs for egg money. It was egg money, in large part, that sent Helen to college.
When she landed her first teaching job, she saved her income to send her younger sister to the Chicago Conservatory of Music to study piano. Helen knew the Eckley community would hire Virginia to teach piano to the children. She was right.
Helen’s school scrapbook shows how much she loved her young students. She lived with a family near the one-room schoolhouse and devoted her life to her pupils, aged 6 to 16.
When my grandfather came a’courting, she had a difficult decision to make. It was, in that day, either teaching or marriage for women. She accepted Raymond’s proposal, with the steadfast conviction that some day, she would teach again. She would champion for the right to teach, though as her life played out, all she would be allowed to teach was Sunday School.
My grandparents were married on Easter Sunday, April 1931. My father was born a year later, the last day of May 1932. What a difficult time to be starting a family.
My grandmother took a small side hobby of my grandpa’s and turned it into a paying business. He had been raising a litter of English Shepherd puppies, also known as “farm collies” or “Scotch collies”, a couple of times a year. The puppies sold so fast and so well that Helen decided to keep a pick of the litter or two with each breeding and advertise nationally.
Their ads ran in Hoard’s Dairyman and National Stock publications, as well as many newspapers.
When a pup was ordered from any distance, Helen hand-made a little wooden crate, nailed the address of the buyer to the crate along with orders to keep water refreshed throughout the trip, and sent my grandfather to the railroad depot with the pup.
Orders grew to the point that Helen realized they simply could not keep enough females on their farm, so they began working with local buyers. A female would be given free if the family agreed to bring back the dog for breeding at least one time.
There are people in the community who still tell great stories about the Young dogs they had over the years.
Ahead of her time, Helen realized dogs could be more than most realized. She trained the dogs and saw the intelligence, desire to please, the drive to herd, and used this to great advantage in her sales. Times were hard, dollars had to be stretched. These dogs could replace a hired hand, a concept that played out to be true. People remained on long waiting lists for one of Young’s puppies.
Her death came so suddenly at age 35 when a tonsillectomy turned tragic. My father never got over the loss of such a beloved figure. He remembered getting off the bus and seeing his grandfather, Helen’s father-in-law, sitting crying, mumbling he had lost his best friend. He had never seen his grandpa cry, and wondered who had passed away.
He would see his other grandfather, Helen’s father Charlie, grow old overnight, his hair turning stark white over just a few weeks.
I grew up loving these dogs, now a rare breed, and raise puppies myself. I feel as though I am standing in Helen’s shadow, hoping she would approve of my breeding stock, my puppy placements.
I always felt her absence, as my father never stopped missing her terribly, and now more than ever I would love to sit and talk with her over a big box of dog pictures.
Next week: Meticulous records reveal interesting facts.