[Editor's note: This memoir was authored in March 1983 by the late Corinna (Leydig) Talbot of the family of Valentine and Esther (Gaumer) Shirer Jr. She was born in Burns, KS in 1902, the daughter of Harry Spencer and Cora Amelia (Linn) Leydig of Kansas, Arizona and California. The typescript of this memoir is on file today in the Somerset (PA) Historical Center, furnished by Elsa Bernice Haupt of Long Beach, NY.]
The family moved from Kansas to Ashfork, Arizona about 1908 or 1909. I was 6 or 7 years old. I had started to school in western Kansas. Marion and I walked about half a mile to a little country school house, one room, one teacher. (Comparable to Little House on the Prairie TV series). I must have been 6 years old and Marion was 8.
We lived in a sod house. There were no trees, just spreading prairie. Dad planted wheat, but it died for lack of water, no crop. We moved on westward to Ashfork, in northern Arizona. This was just a 'spot in the road, no sidewalks, dirt streets. We lived in a two-story boarding house, which mama ran, and Dad was a clerk in the office of a railroad, I believe it was Santa Fe. Marion and I went to school there. I saw Indians for the first time in my life and was afraid of them.
I believe we were there about a year, then moved on to Fresno, California. Besides Marion and Corinna, there were two younger boys, Lawrence and Donald. I don't know how mama did all the work with 4 small children, and besides we had no running water. All water was hauled in to Ashfork in a tank wagon pulled by horses, and the man filled some barrels with water, on our back porch. There was no indoor plumbing. We bathed in a tub once a week, and used an outhouse.
It must have been 1909 or 1910 when we went to Fresno. My sister Marie was born in Fresno, June 22, 1910. Dad still worked in the railroad office but he itched to get back on the land, in the country. We moved to Merced County, near Merced. Dad was water master for a big ranch spread, Miller & Lux. Marion and I walked to a little country school, one room, one teacher. Clyde was born in Merced County June 22, 1912.
When he was still a baby we moved to another ranch near Snelling, in Merced County. Dad was still looking after a ranch but I don't know if it was the same outfit, or some other. Very small children are not interested in those things. We were not far from the Merced River. Along the river lowland was an orchard and vineyard, with billions of mosquitoes. The whole family became very sick with malaria, carried by mosquitoes.
Marion and I and Lawrence walked to a little country school, one room, one teacher. I have photos of 3 little country schools I attended.
About 1913 we moved up to the mountains in Fresno County, 8 or 9 miles north of Auberry, a very small settlement. We lived at a millsite, Welton's Mill, until Dad could build a house on 40 acres of timberland about 2 miles away. I believe this 40 [acres] was owned by a man in Fresno whom Dad got acquainted with while working for the railroad, and I don't know what the arrangement was between them. Anyway, Dad built a wood frame house, more like a barn. We moved in. Had wood burning stoves to heat and cook on, kerosene lamps, and carried every drop of water from a spring in the bottom of a gulley. We carried up hill. I carried my share.
The elevation of this place was around 4500 ft. Auberry, down the hill, was around 2000 ft. elevation. There was a narrow dirt road. Few people had an automobile. We certainly did not.
Dad cut down trees and cleared that 40 [acres] and planted apples and pears. From the trees cut down, he made firewood from oak and pine and got an old flatbed truck and hauled the wood to Fresno, 50 miles away, to sell. He split the cedar trees into posts, grapestakes, and shingles, and hauled them to Fresno. That made a living for us until the trees came into bearing, then we sold apples and pears.
In the fall of 1918 we moved down to Fresno temporarily so Dad could haul raisins and other fruit, on his flatbed truck. In January 1919 we all got the Spanish influenza. Only the oldsters still living know how terrible that was. As soon as we recovered -enough to travel we moved back to the mountains. The fruit hauling was finished anyway. We children walked 4 miles one way to a little mountain schoolhouse. It took 2 hours to walk one way. But -- we were young, it was nothing then.
We even did a lot of running at recess and noon at school, in addition to all our walking. During the years we lived in the mountains we all did a great deal of walking. I could even walk 20 miles in one day. (sure can't do that now) I loved the mountains, they were 50 beautiful, and the air was so fresh and clean back then. We could look down on this valley, where Fresno is situated, and see it covered with a sea of fog in the wintertime, while we .had sunshine up there. Now – I live in this sea of fog in the wintertime, and a sea of smog in the summer time. No more clear fresh air!
In 1922 Dad thought the apple business was done for, the prices dropped. He sold our home in the mountains for a 20 [acre] ranch near Selma, 15 miles from Fresno, on which there was a peach orchard and vineyard. He worked very hard, but made nothing. I think the owner of the ranch repossessed it.
The family moved to another ranch not far away, which Dad worked for the owner. Dad never was happy working for the "other fellow". He wanted to be his own boss. Eventually he moved to Visalia, where he ran a buttermilk route. He obtained an old car made into kind of a panel truck, and sold ice cold buttermilk and cottage cheese driving around the streets and ringing a bell. It made a living for the family.
There used to be many trucks, and horse drawn wagons, going around the streets selling vegetables, fruits, etc. in the 1920s
I don't know just how long the family lived in Visalia. From there they went to the northern part of the state, near Anderson, California. Marion had bought 20 [acres] of land there (land was cheap back then) and again Dad tried to farm, but eked out a ax bare living.
About 1940 Dad and Mama moved back to Fresno, and lived with Marie and Earl, who had bought 20 [acres] out in the country, and Dad tried to take care of that for them. Earl was a mail carrier, and Marie was working in an office. They had a milk cow and several horses to work with and grapevines.
Sometime during the 1940's Dad and Mama moved back to the mountains to live in a small cabin that Donald Leydig owned at Meadow Lakes, which was close to our original place in the mountains. They lived up there 3 years, and their health was failing. They moved back down to Marie and Earl's place. Marie became very ill and unable to care for them. I built a small house on the front portion of my lot where I lived, and they moved into that, so I could look after them.
Dad had 'heart problems, plus old age, and Mama had diabetes and had to have an insulin shot daily, which I administered before going to work in an office.
Dad died Aug. 6, 1955, in Fresno, and Mama died April 10, 1959 at a Convalescent home near Auberry, in the mountains.
I want to backtrack a little to when we still lived in the mountains. In February of 1920 Uncle Jim and Aunt Grace Leydig, with Lula and. Frank, all came to visit us. Stayed one week. The weather was nice until the day they left, when we had a snowstorm. Aunt Grace said “This is California in her flower." Maybe they had thought we bad perpetual sunshine in California.
I have a picture of this family in my album, taken then.
In April 1921 Cousin Will and Marie Lathrop visited us in the mountains. I have a picture of them also in my album.
In January of 1922 Dad took me on a trip down to Los Angeles to visit his cousin, Bertha Lindley. Dad had a model T Ford by them, and the trip took two days one way, very narrow dirt roads, much climbing over the mountains on the way. (Now there are wide freeways, and modern cars make the trip in 8 hours, or less.) Bertha's husband was Ira Lindley, and they had 2 children, Norman, about 13 then, and Dorothy, 10 or 11. Bertha was taking painting lessons, and I went along and took some lessons too. She was also going to a basket weaving class. I saw the Lathrops again, they spent the winters in Los Angeles. They had a little girl, Elizabeth Jane, about 3 years of age. I saw the ocean for the first time. I have a picture of the Lindleys.
Later in the spring of 1922 Cousin Will and Marie Lathrop, and her parents, Bruce and Lizzie Leydig, all visited us in April, in the mountains. They stayed only one night.
Later in 1922 my family moved down to Selma, a small town 15 miles from Fresno, on a peach and grape farm of 20 [acres]. Moved in June 1922.
As for my personal history, I did housework in Fresno and paid my way through 4 C’S Business College, taking a secretarial course. When completed I was sent out on temporary jobs for a time. Then took a Civil service test and got a job as secretary to the Chief of Police, in Fresno. Worked there 5 years, then got married, to Charles Talbot, and had a son, Charles Jr. During the 1930's the great depression was in full swing. There was no work for men. I went back to office work in a doctor's office, at the magnanimous salary of $75 a month. We could live on that back then, and glad to get it. This doctor did industrial surgery, that is, handled industrial injuries almost exclusively, and had a big office, with several other doctors working for him, also an x-ray department and physical therapy department. He employed several nurses, two secretaries and a book- keeper. The medical language was difficult to learn. I took every thing in shorthand. After about 6 years I left there and took a County Civil Service test and got in the County Recorder's office. All documents recorded back then were copied by typing. No Photostat machines, like now. There were 8 women doing nothing but typing all day long, I was one of them. When they did switch to Photostat work the typists had to go. Eventually I got into attorney's offices and the last 20 years was in that work. One attorney did collection work, and I had to take care of that. I worked until I was 69, in 1971, then retired on Social Security. I am now 81 years of age, in 1983.
I need to backtrack again, and say something about my husband. He became very ill in 1942, and was too sick to work until he died in March 1953. His condition was diagnosed as encephalitis, a brain disease caused by a certain type mosquito.