1937 Flood

Kentuckiana Genealogy: Interesting Stories: 1937 Flood
By Board Administration (Admin) on Wednesday, June 28, 2000 - 03:36 pm:

In the Fall of 1936 the country was in the grip of the Great Depression. My father,
mother, grandmother, and I were living near Mooresville, Indiana on the little five acre
place where I was born. Although my father worked very hard and took any job that he
could find, he was having a very hard time making a living. I don't know all that led up to
it, but apparently he and Mother talked it over and decided that he would have to leave
her and me and go to the city to try to make more money. I think it was sometime in early
November when he packed up and went to Louisville, Ky. It was a hundred or so miles to
the south of where we lived, which seemed like a very long way at the time. I missed him
very much for I was what was known as a "Daddy's girl". I remember he was gone over
Thanksgiving and I had chickenpox at the time. Although my grandmother cooked a hen
and made my favorite things, I just lay on the bed and couldn't go to the table because I
was so sick with chickenpox and so sad because my father wasn't there. Even though I
was only six at the time, that memory is very vivid today and still makes me sad.

Then Christmas came and Mother and Grandma did everything they could to make it a happy
one for me. Mother managed to go out and cut a tree which was up and decorated with homemade
decorations on Christmas morning when I got up. Since money was so scarce, I doubt if there
were many gifts, at least I don't remember what they were. The thing I remember clearly was a
bucket filled with the old fashioned hard candy that was common at the time and although it
was not expensive, I am sure it represented a sacrifice. Of course I believed in Santa at the
time and had no idea how my folks struggled to get me things. Anyway, loving candy as I did,
it made me very happy.

After Christmas there was exciting news. Since I was to be out of school for two weeks
Christmas vacation, I was in the first grade that year, Mother and I were going to Louisville
to visit my father. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. I remember well the
preparations. Mother got out the old suitcase and started packing our things. I wanted
to take my father something so I put some of my precious hard candy inside a lemon rind
that had been discarded and told Mother I was going to pack it in the suitcase. She told
me in no uncertain terms that I must not do that. Usually I minded what I was told, but
that time I would not be deterred from taking my father my perfect gift. I burrowed down under
the clean folded clothes and placed my candy filled lemon rind. Sometime later I heard a
shriek and my full name, Ardath Adell, was being called and I knew I was in trouble. It seems
the candy and the juice from the lemon had mixed and made a sticky red syrup which had
run all over the clothes. Poor Mother, she worked so hard washing on the board and hanging
the clothes on the line in the bitter cold Indiana winter. Now she had to wash again before
we could leave on our trip. I don't remember what happened, I am sure she spanked me,
for disobeying was definitely a spanking offense when I was growing up.

At last the day came to leave. We had to get up very early and wait to be picked up
by one of our neighbors who drove the milk truck. I think we left about five in the morning
because he had to make his delivery in Indianapolis, about eleven miles away. We got to
Indianapolis and it was still dark and he let us out on some street corner and instructed
Mother to wait there and catch a certain city bus or trolley that would take us downtown
to the Greyhound bus station. I still remember standing out there on that dark, cold morning,
but I was happy because I was soon going to see my father.

I remember riding on the Greyhound bus but the trip was uneventful and the only thing
I remember about it was thinking that I could show my father my chickenpox scars when I
got there.

He met us at the bus station in Louisville and took us to the rooming house where he
was living. We had just one room for the three of us. It was called a light housekeeping
room. There was a double bed for my parents and the landlady had moved in a cot for me.
There was no private bathroom. There was one on the second floor that was shared by everyone
in the house. Our room had a table and a few chairs and something to cook on, a hot plate
I guess. When we arrived at the room there was something sitting on the table all covered up
and there was music coming from it. My father told me to lift the cover, and when I did, I still
didn't know what it was. I had seen a Victrola that played records before but this thing didn't
have a record, it was just a brown wooden box. My father said it was a radio and it was his
surprise for us. I don't know how much it would have cost in those days but he had a job
then and apparently had been able to scrape enough together to buy this Emerson radio that
had to be hooked up to a car battery to make it play. To me it was a wonderful thing.

For some reason we didn't go back home after my Christmas vacation was over. Instead
they decided for Mother and I to stay there. I don't know how they were going to work it out
because Grandma (this was my Pavy/Kern grandmother) was still alone back at the house in
Indiana and the neighbors were having to milk the cow and take care of whatever else
needed to be done because Grandma was past eighty and unable to do much other than a
little housework. Anyway they enrolled me in a school not far from the rooming house. I have
some vague, unpleasant memories of that school. Mainly I didn't like it. You must remember
that I had started school in a little school in a small town that was no more than a wide place
in the road. Now here I was in this big city school where there were things I had never seen
before like a cafeteria and a nurse's office. One day someone came and took me to this room
that looked a little like a doctor's office and I was really frightened. I didn't understand what
they were going to do, and they asked me questions about shots and vaccinations and I had
never heard of them and apparently had not had them so they proceeded to give them to me.
The vaccination wasn't so bad, just a little scratch on my shoulder, but then they stuck me with
a needle and that was awful.

The cafeteria was a bad experience also. At home I had always taken my lunch, but in
this new school I had to eat in the cafeteria. I had never had any experience in ordering food.
I well remember the first day I ate there. Instead of just giving me a plate with proper food on it,
they asked me what I wanted. For some strange reason I ordered a lettuce sandwich and for
some stranger reason they gave it to me. One would think they would have had better judgment
even though I didn't. So that was all I got for lunch, two pieces of white bread with a leaf of
lettuce between them. well it only took a couple of bites for me to decide to leave it on the
tray and go back to my classroom. After lunch when everyone was back in the room, the
teacher stood up before the class holding that miserable sandwich. "Who left this sandwich
on their tray?", she asked. Me, being an honest person, held up my hand. The children
laughed and the teacher lectured me about waste. She even mentioned the fact that I wasn't
paying for my meals, that I was being treated as a charity case. I didn't even know that I was
supposed to pay for them and my folks probably didn't either. They were just country people
who thought that went with the schooling there in the city. I remember how humiliated I was
that day. At least I didn't have to go to that school very long. One day soon after that Mother
came for me at school and said we had to return to the rooming house quickly because we
were moving. She didn't tell me what was wrong because she didn't want to frighten me.
We loaded everything into the car and moved to another rooming house. This time we were
in a very small room with a kitchenette. We were not there very long before we had to move again.
The main thing I remember about the second place was that while we were living there, my father
taught me to tie my shoes. I was so proud, I would sit on the edge of the bed and tie them over and

Anyway, we soon had to move again. The reason for all this moving finally had to be told. When
the water started coming up in the street, they couldn't keep it from me any longer. The Dix Dam
somewhere up the Ohio River had broken and the river was flooding Louisville and many other
areas along the way. We had to continually move to higher ground. The third place we moved
to was a three story rooming house. We got a room on the third floor and that was lucky because
the water was soon up in the first two floors. So everyone from those floors moved to the third floor.
I don't remember how they managed but everyone seemed to have a room. Perhaps the third floor
rooms were vacant before the flood. Our room was at the end of the hall toward the back of the house
where the stairs came up. There were rooms all along one side of the hall with a bathroom in there
somewhere. At the front of the house were two rooms facing the street. One directly at the end of the
hall and one to the right of it. In the room directly at the end of the hall was a very peculiar old lady.
She was from Georgia and thought she was a southern belle. She seemed to think that made her
superior to the rest of us. In the front room next to her was a nice young couple named Blanche and
Jimmy. I think they were from Tennessee. Jimmy liked to sing and he went around singing some country
song, "Careless Love" I think. They were nice to me and tried to keep me entertained. Mother told me
after I was grown that Blanche had confided to her that she and Jimmy weren't married, a thing almost
unheard of in those days. The landlady and landlord had a room and there were a few other people
that I don't remember very well. There was a big heating stove set up in the hallway and everyone
spent a lot of time standing around the stove and talking or else looking out the front windows watching
the flood waters. There was no heat in the rooms so people only went to their rooms at night to sleep.
Blanche and Jimmy left their room open so the heat from the stove would go in and everyone used it
as a place to gather and look out the windows. There was no gas or electricity because of the flood.
There was water but it had to be boiled before we could drink it. For Christmas my father had given
me a small kerosene lamp. That with a few candles was all the light that anyone had. The heating stove
had a small flat area on top and that was where everyone cooked and boiled water. People pooled their
supplies and cooked together and ate together, that is except for the Georgia lady. Now I had been
taught not to go to anyone's house and ask for food, but under the circumstances, with everyone sharing,
I didn't see anything wrong, when I saw the Georgia lady cooking corncakes on the stove, to ask her for
one. She turned on me viciously and screamed something to the effect that "It's mine, no you can't have it!".
With that she grabbed the pan off the stove and ran into her room. I guess I was standing there with my
mouth open, I did not expect that kind of reaction. I was only six and very small for my age and had
been everybody's pet since we had been there. Blanche overheard her and called me into her room
and gave me something that she had to eat. Then she took Mother aside and told her to watch me very
closely and never leave me be alone with the old lady because she was "off in the head" and hated children.
Blanche was afraid she would push me out the window if she got a chance.

One day they were all trying to keep me away from the front windows and I didn't find out until a long time later,
that it was because there was a dead body floating by. Little did they know that I was so nearsighted that I did
well to see the street, let alone a dead body. I wouldn't have seen it if they had pointed it out to me.

One evening my father went with some of the other men to get food and supplies. The stairway had a landing
about half way down. At that landing was a window which was half way between the second and third floor.
My father, Jimmy, and the landlord took down one of the doors from one of the rooms. They opened that window
at the stair landing and stuck that door out the window. Apparently they rested the other end on something next
door, perhaps a windowsill. They crawled out on this door and someone came by with a boat and picked them up.
They went down to where the stores were and the National Guardsmen were just going into the stores and handing
out any food that was still good, mostly canned goods. We all ate well for a while. I really loved canned sardines
and I remember he brought back a lot of those.

One afternoon some Coast Guardsmen came down the street in boats. They shouted up to the
people at the windows and asked if there were any children up there. They replied that there
was one. The Guardsmen said to send down a rope and they did. I don't know how they happened to
have a rope that would reach from the third floor. Anyway the men attached a bucket containing
canned spinach and canned milk. On seeing the spinach, I called out,"I don't like spinach" and
someone called back, "Eat it anyway."

That was the first chance Mother had to get a letter out. They told her to put it in
the bucket and they would see that it got mailed. She was finally able to get word
to Grandma that we were still alive. Grandma told us later, when we returned home,
that she had been about to go crazy with worry before she got that letter because
she thought we had drowned.

I don't know how long the flood lasted. My concept of time then was not very good. The only point of measure
that I have is the fact that I was vaccinated right before the flood came and the scab came off the first time we
walked out after the flood waters went down. I remember crying when I found it was missing and I wanted to go
back and look for it because I had planned to take it home and show Grandma. My folks laughed and said it
would be impossible to find.

I guess after the flood my parents had had enough of Louisville because as soon as the water went down and
the roads were open, they loaded up everything in the old Pontiac, my father had bought this old Pontiac coupe
shortly before going to Louisville, and headed home to Indiana. That was in February of 1937. Not long after that,
they sold the little five acre place and bought a forty acre farm near Scottsburg, in Scott County,Indiana. That is
about thirty five miles north of Louisville.

Submitted by Ardath and copyright 1999. Do not copy or reproduce in anyway without written permission of the author

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