A list of Memory Fragments
Burden was once a bustling thriving town of two thousand citizens, the old-timers used to say. I'm sure that figure would have surprised R. F. Burden, but this great population seems realistic to me when I consider the number of businesses that used to be here.
When I first came squalling into Burden as a baby in 1936 however. the town had dwindled to about six hundred people and today it is closer to five hundred. Some of the businesses and many of the people that are part of my first recollections of this world (which was Burden) are gone now.
Two things stand out in most of my memories: bare wooden floors and the way things smelled. Those wonderful odors, never to be fully experienced again, only faintly reminded of sometimes, as when an almost forgotten odor comes floating through the crevices in the years and makes me wonder, "What does that smell like? I've smelled something like that before, but I can't quite place it. And I search my memory to remember:
Jap Lynch's Feed Store: A most memorable odor of chicken feed, stacked in gunny sacks along the sides of the walls, on bare wooden floors. A good rich, earthy odor. They bought and sold eggs and live chickens. Eggs were 13c per dozen. My mother said there never had been any market for eggs.
Courtney's Bakery: Depending on the direction of the wind every morning except Sunday, that part of town ecstatically drooled over the aromas emanating from the bakery . You could almost taste the hot bread, donuts, pies, cookies and cakes. I think the wind direction had much to do with which segment of town produced the most customers that day. Inside the store a glass case displaying the most heavenly delights.
Elmer Hill's Shoe Repair Shop: Anvils, awls, shreds and strips of leather cluttering the bare wood floor. The rich odor of leather
Ben Franklin's Grocery: My grandpa's grocery store, one of four in town. Again, bare wooden floors, and a big glass wide mouth candy jar. Grandpa unscrewing the lid for me to reach inside. The scent of pink, wintergreen candy.
Koehn's Blacksmith Shop: A mysterious and dangerous place I was not allowed to enter. no place for little girls! I could hear loud clanking and metallic sounding gratings and scrapings. I didn't WANT to go in there, but it was strange; when Mr. Koehn appeared in the doorway in his big gray apron, he didn't look like a terrible monster to be afraid of. He had a nice smile and a merry laugh for the small children who were running away for dear life because he caught them trying to peek inside. There was an incongruency here between my feelings of fear about the place, and Mr. Koehn's friendly appearance.
George Brooks Hardware: A totally boring store. Mostly many trays of different size nuts, trays of bolts that fit the nuts I suppose. Drab, uninteresting place, wood floors.
Doctor Brooks Office: Brother to George Brooks. Linoleum! Big brown leather chairs. His ancient desk. The glasses on the end of his nose. In the back room, shelves with bottles and jars of pills, powders, and evil smelling concoctions. Bad odor. I was only there once or twice because Doc. Brooks made house-calls if someone was sick. In the waiting room, the medical journals with frightening pictures of people's insides, or spots on their outsides. Ugh! I did not like that place.
Blind John Mcintosh: made brooms in his house. My dad took me there sometimes and they would talk while Blind John worked. Fascinating. If you put enough straws together it makes a broom! I liked the way Blind John "saw." He very lightly felt your face and then your hair. His wife was also blind, but their plain, poor surroundings was as neat and clean as a pin.
The Jail: Two cells in a corner of the old city building. I once was brave enough to hand a prisoner a tin cup of water. I don't know what he was locked up for. My mother said he was a drunk bum, or something called a hobo. True, he as dirty, had whiskers, and smelled terrible. "But Mama He was thirsty!".
Fred Grant's Radio Repair: In a shop in the yard at his residence.
The Ice House: About the size of two outhouses stuck together and planted in the center of a vacant lot. The smell of wet wood.
Telephone Office: Tres Bean, the operator, saying, "Ralph's not in the Drug Store; I Just saw him going down the sidewalk. I'll ring the house for you." All those wonderful wires and plugs. Wall crank telephones.
Rose Henthorn's Gen. Mcdse: I couldn't wait to grow up and find out what Mcdse. meant. A tray of one penny copper rings.
Ryan's General Medse: Bolts of material, buttons, and ribbons.
Santa Fe Depot: Bare floor, a dirty spittoon besides a pot-belly stove, the clickety-clack of Morse code "Don't get too close, Annie Ė itíll suck you under!" The train must have chugged through town all of five miles per hour. But I believed my brother. The deafening noise! The excitement! The flat car gathering milk cans on the way to Winfield. "Someday if I get 25c, Iím goanna ride the train to Winfield!" On second thought, a little less bravely, "Billy, will you go with me?" Inside the depot, the acrid odor of stale tobacco.
Albert Franklin's Restaurant: My folk's business, where we lived, the first six years of my life, in an apartment over the restaurant. Bare wooden floors, ceiling fans, beer on tap, juke box, big thick one-sided records (the song, "Green Eyes, ") high stacks of clean white plates and platters, nickel hamburgers - the tantalizing aroma of good old-fashioned greasy hamburgers frying. Mother's home made pies. Mr. Davenport, the Plummer holding a beer mug with his hands that had thumbs, but no fingers because they had been frozen and he lost them. Fulton Lewis, Jr. coming on the radio at 6:00 p.m. with very serious news something about a war somewhere or one about to start; I didn't know what a war was, or what a President Roosevelt was but daddy was going to sell the restaurant, move us into a house and he was going to go to work someplace real far away: a place called Strother Field. Seems like things began to change fast after that.
Henderson's Drug Store: The smell of pharmaceuticals, the high stools at the soda fountain, a new block of ice brought in every morning.
The Bank: Owned by Frank Coffey a good man - because he was a Republican A lofty cathedral-like atmosphere like no other place in town. The cool feel of marble slabs. The scent of respectability.
I remember a lot of other things like the old Floral Hall at the fairgrounds and how at fair-time it was crammed full of quilts, crocheted table clothes, bedspreads, jars of pickles, jams, and jellies. Fruits and vegetables - blue, red, and white ribbons on this or that.
There was a junk yard that smelled horrible, and was full of broken things and dead things. More of a stench than a mere odor.
Everyone had an outhouse; ours was covered with honeysuckle and Trumpet Vines and smelled wonderful when the Honeysuckle bloomed! This was a good place for vining plants.
There was a barber shop and a movie house (open-air at first, except for an overhang above the screen and the piano). Cement hitching posts - there are still a few of those left, if they happened to be where a car never wanted to park. Over all the stores, canvas or wooden awnings held up by wooden posts. I remember when heavy snows began to bring some of them down, and the rest were removed for safety's sake.
There were gypsies who periodically made camp at the fairgrounds, stole for a living, and when they were in town was the only time you needed to lock your doors at night.
Until recently, there was Miles Furniture and Mortuary. Just a few months ago Mrs. Miles died sold out the furniture business. As the Cowley County Reporter (formerly, The Burden Times) told it, "people gathered from a wide area to attend the sale of Doris Miles." I wonder how much she went for, and who got her!
A few alleys still grow those wild ferns whose hollow stems make such good pea-shooters for a couple of hours, before they wilt. Is it that there aren't very many weeds anymore, or that I just grew too tall to notice them?
I don't understand what they did to Silver Creek but it isn't deep enough to swim in anymore. It did used to be. My father and some other foolhardy contemporaries of his used to go out to Silver Creek every January for a bunch of years, and jump in. The purpose of this strange activity was to obtain a new hat front whoever chickened out.
Burden has changed quite a bit in forty-nine years and most of the things and people mentioned here are gone now. The base wooden floors are nearly all covered with something now and these days people donít allow very many odors. There isn't even a barn anywhere in town where a child can smell the wonderful odor of hay and animals: good things to smell! Yes, it has all pretty much been cleaned up, or modernized or covered over, or deodorized, or torn down, and replaced with things that don't smell like anything! I'm glad I ran all over town smelling and seeing every thing before it disappeared. I can prove that it all once existed because I officially affixed my signature to it at age five. Between the old drug store and the old post office, some rickety wooden stairs lead upward. The passage walls were plastered and a sign had been painted in black. "J .A. Manser Dentist". A few feet below that. in childish script it says Bill Franklin. Burden. Kansas 194 (last digit. gone). "?/D. A.F.A. Club." (I have no idea, and he can't remember either) And right below it, in even more childish printing. is written "ANNETTE"; my brother showed me how. He also told me that our names would always be there forever and ever. Yeah. Sure. The plaster on those walls is fast falling off in chunks now Ė our archive: our legal document will soon be gone, but as of today (I checked it out this afternoon) these names are still there to verify a time and my existence, and the existence of a town all of which seem to be slowly crumbling away.