A Special Section about a Special Person|
Chapter 26, Page 265
The Father Who Was Not a Grandfather
*signature made in 1942
Henry Edward Hall
|….. 'a son can never be the impartial
biographer of his father'…..
|Moving into the XXth Century|
Jas. W. (4)
Jas. N. (5)
1873 - 1951
A Man of Many Uniforms and Many Friends
As a small boy I asked my father what P.O.D. on the buttons of his uniform coat stood for? "Poor Old Dad," he replied, with his usual good humor. What they really stood for was: Post Office Department!
My father was what is officially known as a Letter Carrier. He worked thirty-eight years for Uncle Sam and when he retired he drew a pension of One Hundred Dollars a month and was the envy of most of his kin.
Dad was a wearer of uniforms, both at work and at play … and, as a soldier in the service of his country. He also had many, many friends - more on that later.
His career in uniforms began in early 1898 when he enlisted in the regular U.S. Army, just prior to the Spanish-American War and continued throughout the remainder of his life. At the time of the enlistment, he was not thinking of war, he was thinking of escaping from the farm. He was then twenty-five years of age, a farm hand, hiring out and arguing with his father about the ownership of a horse and rig, the convertible of the 1890s.
He was assigned to Battery A, First U.S. Coast Artillery (a service now obsolete) and was caught in the flurry of the War as a 'panicky' government sought to strengthen the coast defenses by re-habilitating the string of old Civil War forts along the East Coast, the Gulf Coast and the Florida peninsula.
The uniforms were hot, blue woolens (they even had spiked helmets!); the pork was wormy and the soup thin. As a result in tropical Florida many of the men sickened, my father among them, and he missed the invasion of Cuba, as he had to stay stateside for the short War.
He was very proud of his service to his country and of his military outfit and sort-of looked down on the volunteers of that War. Later, however most of his veteran friends, being Illinois volunteers brought him many fine friendships. He was to open in his relations with others to let his prejudices get in the way.
He was not to stay in the service. He was hurrying home to marry. Just prior to enlisting he was invited to a country party and in looking for his date, he rode horseback with a friend across the Sangamon River to the nearby village of Salisbury and there he saw 'the prettiest girl he had ever seen.' She became his date - and years later, my mother: Lucinda Blossom Carman, 1879 - 1956. +
During the army days, on the lonely posts and in the hospitals and while convalescing, his letters from Florida, back to Illinois strengthened the romance and marriage was the goal. For many years there was a wicker basket of these letters in our attic, along with a box of shells picked up along the Florida shores. Both shells and letters are gone. Too bad! The letters written in Dad's good hand, vividly described the then still undeveloped Florida, its land, its beaches, the waters and the life of a soldier in 1898. Some of the shells would be collector's items today.
Henry Edward Hall was old enough during the Kansas jaunt of his parents to remember many things that occurred. Most vivid, was the trek back to Illinois in a covered wagon. (No hotel bills - they camped along the road at night and fixed their meals over open fires).
Back home in Illinois, life on the farm and its hard work was remembered as was the scuffles with his brother, Carlyle, who could best him physically. His temper matched his red hair and the bouts would end in fights, fortunately to be soon forgotten.
Schooling was spasmodic, but did include a few months at the high school in Athens (High School is correct, it was on the second floor of the grade school building.), which required a horseback ride each day to the village, a distance of about three miles. If the weather was bad their was an Aunt to stay with. This lack of more education was too bad. My father had the makings of a scholar, with a love for history and for reading. Some of this rubbed off on his son. I still remember him reading aloud at home around the heating stove (sorry, no fireplace!) with a purring cat on his lap….the stories made more realistic in the yellow glow of the kerosene lamp.
So - in 1902, the war romance climaxed in marriage and a home was established in Springfield, Illinois. Prospects weren't bright but the young marrieds didn't worry about them. Finally, after holding several odd jobs, he signed with the old Sattley Manufacturing Company, makers of farm machinery, as a mechanic. It was work, not steady for perhaps a dollar a day, big money in the early 1900s.
Life was not easy for the young couple. By 1904 they had lost by death their two first-born sons. I arrived in 1905, under some strenuous conditions but managed to survive (too ornery to die!). My parents began looking for a house of their own and more permanence in Dad's employment. Both were achieved in 1908
Although he had a factory job, good for the times, the work was seasonal, summer lay-offs the rule. Dad was lucky. he survived several summers by going around the country-side in a hired rig doing 'on-the-spot' repairs for farmers using Sattley equipment. If nothing else was offered, they would go back to his father's farm and help out: Dad working with the men and mother canning garden truck and fruits.
Having been in the army, the civil service opportunities at the post office looked interesting. However, an examination had to be taken and passed and his sketchy education didn't guarantee success. So, he took a correspondence course and with mother as his coach, together they studied at the kitchen table under the glow of a lamp the elements of schooling needed for the examination. He passed and in due time was appointed to the service. At first it was as a postal substitute, which meant working at odd hours and under varying conditions. One such extra job was carrying Special Mail around the city of Springfield on a bicycle or working on Sundays at the General Delivery windows. (In those days a postal patron could demand and receive his mail at the post office on Sunday.) Best of all regardless of the irregularities in the work, it was a steady, pay roll job. In time the appointment to a regular route arrived and along with it, two weeks vacation a year with pay and a pension at retirement. These kind of fringe benefits were indeed rare prior to World War I. ++
Out at the very southern edge of the city of Springfield some new homes were going up in what had been some cornfields. These houses were not at all modern, but with yard enough for a garden, some fruit trees, a grape arbor and a chicken yard. The plumbing was outside, water from a well - likely well nitrated by the outhouse - heated by stoves, cooking on a range in the kitchen and a primitive sink. The Saturday night bath was in the washtub which in summer was set outside during the day to warm the water. There was a cistern in which the soft rain water was collected for bathing and washing the hair.
They were a long way from the street cars and there was no pavement. Sewers, city water, gas and electricity were years in the offing, but, for the mountainous sum of about $1550 a home could be purchased - and they took it, living there for the next fourteen years, until I was ready for high school.
One redeeming feature of the new home was that it was near the recently completed Lawrence School (1905), I had only a two-block walk to and from it during my grade school years. I always had lunch at home. Our neighbors were coal miners, other postal employees and some - the Lord only knows how they lived. The open fields nearby were the playgrounds. One family of blacks were in the area; several families recent immigrants, working in the mines that honeycombed the Springfield area.
The Hall family with a government job were, indeed, local nobility even though my father never earned any more than $2000 a year while we lived there. Mother's skill with her needles provided extra income and aided greatly in keeping the family clothed. (Dad had to buy his uniforms out of his salary.)
A redeeming feature: we were on the right side of the tracks, just barely, only two blocks from the railroad!
Now back to the subject of uniforms. My father's work-a-day life was spent in a postman's uniform. +++ He was proud of it and so was I. Frequently my play hat was his postman's cap with its shiny brass buttons (the POD buttons) on it, enhanced by his route number it, No. 29 --- he had that number for over thirty years. (The men talking among themselves particularly on business, would refer to each other by these numbers, as each knew which section of the city the numbers applied. For example, the Superintendent of the Mails when checking on letters or packages would call across the office for a man by his route numeral.)
As time went on and my parents were freerer to enjoy their relative prosperity, Dad became involved in his veterans' group, the United Spanish-American War Veterans, of course, a lobby organization with another pension involved. This group was modeled on the one-time great GAR of the Civil War veterans.
The USWV had uniforms and Dad wore his on meeting nights and at their various patriotic observances. Their first uniforms were much like a formal military dress, with blue coasts adorned with shiny brass buttons, gray trousers. (The uniform symbolized the uniting of the Civil War blue and gray in the 1898-1902 U.S. expansionist movement.) This uniform was topped by a service man's cap, much like that of a railroad conductor; not too different from that of a postman. They made a pretty sight as they marched on Decoration Day or during their encampment (convention) parades.
Later, they adopted another type of uniform; one that had the imprint of the Volunteers on it. A khaki campaign hat, a dark blue blouse (not a coat) and khaki trousers with leggings. They looked like a cross between cowboys and soldiers. I suspect that Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders inspired the uniform. Teddy was a USWV (and my father's) hero!'
So, my Dad, at work and at play, was a man of uniforms, and he loved them. They set him off from his less fortunate relatives and neighbors without government jobs and no service records to fall back on. Then came World War I.
Dad, too old to get into active service wasn't left out. He became a member of the Home Guards, formally known as the Illinois Reserve Militia. The Home Guards stood ready to defend us from the Germans should they invade the United States. They were in the War Bond parades and other patriotic rallies and a few, including my father, did some police work in dealing with the strong anti-German feeling of that period.
Because he was a veteran and knew one end of a gun from the other, he was made Master Sergeant of his Company and drilled the paunchy, left-behind and awkward oldsters in the manual of arms with rifles that had been used in the Spanish-American and Civil Wars. The members of the Home Guard took their enlistments seriously and struggled mightily to become good soldiers.
All this called for another uniform. This time a copy of the general service uniform of a WWI enlisted man. It was made of a peculiar cloth and was of an off-beat khaki shade (product of a war-profiteer, no doubt).
Fortunately, this uniform had a short existence. For a few years following the war, Dad continued in the Illinois National Guard but time caught up with him, as by the war's end he was forty-five years of age.
All this time I was a tag-a-long, an interested spectator, firmly approving of all that went on. By 1918 I was in a uniform of my own, that of a Boy Scout and for several years pursued that activity with considerable vigor. That is, until high school football took over and another type of uniform was worn.
A postman meets many people in the course of his rounds and over a period of more than thirty years my father had essentially the same route on the west side of Springfield. He had families grow up with him, he knew their various generations, more particularly their dogs with whom because of his farm background, he got along famously, as he did with the kids!
He always had a cheery word and greeting for his patrons and this paid off at Christmas time, when he would come home loaded with gifts. In those days, the mail and packages were delivered on Christmas Day, no holiday for the postman. As I became older I was his helper - we delivered great baskets of holiday mail. The west-enders on his route were prosperous people - among the elite of the city. One Christmas he received enough money to buy him a 17-Jewel Gold Watch and Chain. Today, that is among my cherished possessions - a remembrance of my Dad.
My father was popular with his fellow workers at the Springfield post office. Some were his veteran buddies, others his fishing pals - all friends. Back in his youth he had been a scrapper and on one occasion at the Old Hall School participated in a fight that brought him to the J.P. Court at Athens. At a school program one evening a group of neighborhood toughs tried break it up, a scuffle ensued and a knife was drawn. According to his brothers, Dad grabbed up the poker for the stove and began swinging. He bent the poker over the head of one of the gang and swinging at the knife wielder, he caused a portion of one of the fingers on the hand holding the knife to be cut off.
The entire Hall family was caused to be arrested, with Dad as the principal culprit, by the family of knifers. At the trial the local Justice - a man of sound judgement - dismissed the suit, with a warning to the trouble makers to stay away from the Hall schoolhouse.
Another time, walking home from Athens (about three miles) after dark with a few dollars pay in his pocket, my father was set upon by those who knew of the money. This time, using a tree branch as a club, he pummeled the ring leader so hard that the gang fled back into the darkness. He had guts!
Back to the post office. One reason for his popularity on the job is that he put the office bully (verbal, that is!) in his place. This man, an unreconstructed Rebel, took especial delight in needling my father about his war record -this along with other subjects on other victims.
The rule - a very basic one - at the post office was no fighting, your job was at stake.
One day, as the men ate their lunches in their 'swing' room, Dad could take no more. He whammed the needler on the side of his face with a mighty slap of his hand. (It was tough and hard as I can testify. How? The reader can guess!) The bully ran crying to the Superintendent of the Mails - but my father found the boss first. As was his way, he honestly stated that he had struck a fellow employee.
The Superintendent, long aware of what had been going on, waited the arrival of the victim. Then, lowering his sights and pointing his finger at the bully, said; "Hereafter, keep your mouth shut."
Following a pause, he added: "You men go back to work" Dad wasn't fired, he wasn't even reprimanded. His stock rose sky-high at the office.
For years following, the verbal bully was virtually ostracized by his fellows, tolerated but not joined in comrade. A standard office quip developed. Whenever, things got a little tight among the workers, someone would call across the office, "Watch out, we'll set number 29 on you!" Number twenty-nine was of course, Henry Edward Hall or "Ed" Hall as they preferred to call him.
Dad made friends at work, at church, at veterans' meetings, everywhere but most of all among the kinfolk on both sides of the family. He promoted family gatherings, summer picnics being especially popular. He enjoyed the company and encourage his folks to know their family histories. Two nephews were named for him; good! because I had no sons for him. The nephews were from both sides of the family. ++++ His passing saw these family get-to-gethers dwindle away until today they are almost non-existent, only at funerals and a few special occasions. +++++
When retirement came, a party was held in his humble home. So many men came from the post office that the great weight of the crowd broke floor joists in the house. On the day of his retirement his sorting case at the office was covered with signs, his mail bag decorated and his picture taken fro the newspaper. They knew … Ed Hall was going to be missed.
Dad lived thirteen years following his retirement. During those years he and mother were able to do some traveling. He got back to Florida, scene of his army days. Things had changed during the intervening years, but the fishing was great in the Gulf. Fishing was a poor man's sport and he enjoyed nothing more than dunking his line off a pier, gossiping with the others and speculating on the weather. The writer, his son, had the pleasure of visiting some of the old Gulf forts with him. Today, they are national monuments, mementos of the past.
Mother's health forced them to leave Illinois and they ended up in the dry climate of New Mexico. They settled in a small city. Here again it was the same story, making friends, this time among their church friends and neighbors. Surprisingly, there was fishing there and he was able to follow his hobby.
Their New Mexico home became a Mecca for visiting relatives and friends from their more active years. Although the days for uniforms were over, making friends was still in style.
When the end came, his body was brought back to Illinois and Springfield, always his home. There was a military burial with the remnants of his USWV friends in their uniforms participating.
After the services, the funeral director came to me and said, "This is the largest funeral I've had in years!"
Henry Edward Hall had his friends even in death. *
+see: The Grandfathers, Vol. II. section: 'A most determined woman.'
++an interesting sidelight in those days when the mail was placed in a patron's box, the postman had to blow a metal whistle. In cold weather this caused lip sores. In order to get rid of the whistle they formed an organization - now a union.
+++As might be expected, shoes were an expensive item for a postman, they not only had to be first-class, but kept in repair. Dad's feet were not made for his job, and he had chronic foot trouble.
++++Edward Hall Nichols - Clarence Edward Cox
+++++He was a chief promoter of the 1931 observance of Athens, Ill. founded by his great-grandfather, Abner Hall, in 1831.
*He was generally called "Ed" by Mom and his associates; "Uncle Ed' by the younger members of his family. He was always 'Dad' to me.