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This is the first installment of a book written by Lillie Robinson Nevitt. Lillie has given me exclusive permission to post on my site. Marty fans around the world can read of the early times in the life of Lillie, Marty and the Robinson family. More chapters will be added so you can read the whole story.
By Lillie Nevitt
She sat flat on the ground with her below-the-knees dress modestly pulled down. Between her knees was a flat rock and in her hand a rounder, a rounder one. She was cracking black walnuts which had fallen from the tree underneath which she was sitting. She was only a pint-sized child, underweight, yet not scrawny. Her brown hair was cut short. It was easier to handle that way, but not as pretty is if it were longer.
Her mother, an older replica of the child, stood at the window, watching her. In her arms was the youngest child, not yet two years old but with red hair and freckles just beginning to make an appearance. She hadn't started supper yet though she knew she should. But her mind was on the child under the tree, and how she would explain to her that thought she picked out the walnuts, there would be no birthday cake tomorrow.
John & Emma Robinson (Martin's mom & dad), George & Anne (Georgie & Artie in the story....Martin's half bro & sis from Emma's previous marriage) and John is holding Lillie.
Little Lillie dropping the nut-meats into the cup beside her, was also daydreaming. Tomorrow she would be six years old. No longer the youngest in the class. Maybe she could learn to unfasten her own underpants and would not have to go the teacher's desk, pull her dress up and have her unbutton the underpants before she could walk out into the backyard to the outhouse, holding up her clothes. Then upon coming in, reverse the process. Some of the underpants had big red roses on them, others had large blue stars. The sacks of which there were made of were either from the Arizona Flour Company or Arizona Star. Of course, many of the children wore undies made of the same material but didn't advertise them.
The mother was thinking that she would have to start packing all their belongings, thought they didn't have much, except for the clothing of the parents and the five children, and a few household things. There were Artie, the oldest girl, then Matt, just older than Artie and Johnny, just younger than Lillie. Matt and Artie did not belong to her present husband and neither child cared for him so telling them there was to be another move would not be easy. She had hoped when they found this little place it would be permanent. He had promised her when they left Michigan it would be, but again, another move in the dark hours of the night. Where to? No one knew. They would only go until they found a place where he could work awhile until they were forced to go on to a place where they were unknown. Little Lillie stood up, shaking the dust and leaves from her dress. She took the cupful of nut-meats to her mother and asked if she could go see her friend next door. She was told she could, but only for a short time. They would have to eat as soon as Daddy came home. Little Lillie went running to the neighbors where Johnny was. Their bus driver lived there and she was fond of him.
He drove the school bus, which was a van or panel truck with no way to go through from the back into the front seat. Should anyone get sick, the driver only knew when he stopped.
He had been good to the child and on finding she got sick from riding in the back of the bus, allowed her to begin riding up front with him. Thus, she was known as his pet and teased about it.
But it did not bother her, she only felt grateful. On arriving at his house, she was given a silver dollar for a birthday gift. His oldest son also had a birthday that day, his sixteenth. They didn't play long, their father had driven into the yard. Upon entering the house, the were surprised to find the others eating and everything in piles, ready to be loaded into the car. It was something they were used to but each time it happened, it was a shock.
As soon as it became dark, the car or makeshift truck was loaded and Artie and Lillie climbed into the back, atop the load. A few miles out from town and off the highway, in the desert, everything was unloaded and a fire was built. The two girls were told to stay there and to keep the fire going so they could be found when the rest of the things and the family arrived. Both girls were sleepy and it wasn't much fun being in the desert alone with only one another and a bonfire for company for protection. They spread a quilt alongside the built up fire and lay down. Immediately, Artie was asleep but little Lillie lay in deep thought. She tried to keep the tears wiped off her face but the thoughts kept coming. There would not be a birthday cake nor would she know when she became as big as the other kids.
She was the only five year old in the class. But tomorrow she would be six, the same age as the rest.
Martin, Mamie and the eldest sister Anne (Anne, a half sister...Lillie refers to her as 'Artie' in the book).
She had made friends and now there would be no one she could talk to. With these thoughts taking priority over fires, etc, she went to sleep.
The next morning, things were sorted out. Many things discarded or hidden, with the idea "We'll come back for them once we are settled." Yet, as had happened so many times before, each knew they would never see them again. Room was made on the truck for each of the five children and the trek started, looking again for the promised land. For a while, a camp was made just northwest of the next largest town but it was only an excuse to not go further until another place or job was found farther on.
Anyway, Uncle George lived there and it was good to
be around someone in the family instead of strangers.
No one had to pretend they had anything better than they had. Uncle George was mothers uncle, whom they had not seen in years.
It was grandma's brother from up in Utah, who was doing a little bit of mining. Getting ready for school on the first day at the new place they had found, little Lillie's mind wandered back to the last place they had been, where they left Uncle George. This was so much nicer. It was a bigger house than they had lived in before and there were hogs, something she had never seen before. There were chickens, it seemed all colors, and a cow which mamma milked every morning and night. Some times mamma would fill a glass for her with the sweet, warm milk, a taste Lillie remembered all of her life. They had had milk before but it was always in a bucket they brought from the neighbors' house. She had never seen where milk came from before but it tasted the same as it did in the buckets.
The children loved to watch the hogs and especially the baby pigs...little pink squealing animals as they nursed the mother, or rooted around in the yard. Even when they wallowed in the mud holes,, which was supposed to keep them cool in the summer, they were cute. But all that did not change the fact that it was not only a new school they were going to, but a distance of about five miles which they had to walk through the desert. It meant leaving home before daylight. Daddy had talked to the school teacher the day before about them riding the school bus, which went through in front of their house on the highway every day. But because the bus was the high school bus, and they were all in grade school, they were not allowed to. So they walked.
They started out each morning, Artie holding Lillie by the hand and Matt carrying a lantern. It was cold at that time of the morning so they would stop every so often and Matt would build a fire. He would heat rocks in the fire and they would put them into their coat pockets to keep their hands warm. When it became daylight, Matt would put out the lantern and hide it in some brush to be picked up on the way home after school. The child could not help but wonder if the kids would like her and if she would be able to manage her own bloomers without having to ask the teacher for help.
She liked the new school and was liked by the teachers. She was a shy child and didn't make friends easily but the teachers always fell in love with her. Since she got out of class earlier than Matt and Artie, she spent part of the time with her teacher. She would sometimes take Lillie home with her and wash her hair. It was as straight as an old rag, not a sign of curl in it. So, using a curling iron heated in the chimney of a kerosene lamp, Miss Benson would curl the small child's hair or maybe measure the child and cut out a dress for her, finishing the next night. Lillie became friends with one little girl and one day was asked by the friend to go home with her for lunch. But on arriving at a vacant house next door to the friends house, she was told to go inside and wait until she was called. She nearly fell asleep waiting but soon her friend came after her, saying they had better hurry or they would be late for school. She not only missed lunch, but learned a valuable lesson about whom to trust and not to trust.
The children's grandmother came to see them often and they dearly loved her. She was their mother's mother and always brought things. Either a piece of dress goods for the girls or a ball or a toy of some kind for the boys. Maybe a new pair of overalls. Once she brought mamma a pair of small scissors, shaped like a stork, to cut the baby's fingernails. Another time, she brought mamma a pair of overalls. Once a Kodak, and it was in a tin box. It was always kept in that box. After Lillie grew up, Mamma gave it to Lillie to keep trinkets in. Many years later, Lillie still had the box and kept a cake decorating set in it.
Matt ran away one time after a fuss with his stepfather. The police were alerted and he was found at the home of his aunt and uncle in another town. He was Lillie's idol, and she ran to him crying, begging him to never go away again. There were many times, of course, during their lifetime that he would go away and always, she shed tears, both at his leaving and upon his return.
The ranch belonged to a guard at the state penitentiary. Hogs were raised and Lillie's father hauled garbage from the restaurants and the stores in the town. He always went the same way the children did to and from school. Sometimes they were lucky and he would give them a ride home. It was not the best smelling ride but was much better than walking.