Family story builds a bond

In less than two weeks, our country will celebrate Veterans Day—a time to recognize those brave men and wo­men who have served in the armed forces.

It is a day with special meaning for my family because my two uncles and my father served in World War II and later in Korea.

I also take pride in how my father was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded in World War II.

Instead of talking to us about what happened, our dad chose to keep quiet about that part of his past.

My parents died in the early 1980s, and other than a few memories dad jotted down in the final months of his life, we didn’t have a lot of information about him or our mother.

Fortunately for us, Aunt Dorothy, and her sons Mike and Greg Thomas, had the forethought to compile a loose-leaf binder filled with our history and heritage.

In 2003, the “stories of our family” were mailed to nieces, nephews and grandchildren as a Christmas gift.

My great-great-great-grandparents, Jeremiah and Mary Ann Roundy, were among the first organized groups to leave their small town in Maine for the Kansas territory to save it from being a slave state. Called “Free-Staters,” my great-great-great grandfather Jeremiah was a minister dedicated to the abolitionist cause.

He and wife Mary Ann traveled by clipper ship from Bangor to New Orleans following the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico. From there, a paddle-wheeler took them up the flood-swollen Mississippi River.

Every day was a new experience as the scenery changed from broad Louisi­ana bayous to narrowing river banks teeming with game. It was a trip they had never known or could have imagined.

In addition to Jeremiah serving as a minister, the mayor of Leavenworth asked him to become the first sheriff, which he did for many years until a judge was appointed.

Later, Jeremiah and others started a new town 60 miles up the river from Leavenworth. The founders’ named the town Geary, in honor of Union General John White Geary, who served as governor of the Kansas Territory from 1856-57.

One of the chapters in my aunt’s family book was about her mother, Hattie, who was one of the nine children born to Jeremiah and Mary Ann Roundy’s oldest son, Collis.

Like her grandmother, my grandmother, Hattie, lost her husband, Lo­gan, at an early age. He died in 1926 from heart complications.

Prior to Logan’s death, my grandparents owned stock in their store and Hattie’s father was convinced she should sell it and buy an 80-acre farm several miles from Doniphan.

Because my grandfather’s death was sudden, my grandmother was making a slow recovery. By early spring, though, the idea was to have Hattie move to a farm and revive her spirits and health.

Living on a farm as a young girl, her dad told her she always had a healthy and happy childhood, and it could be that way again,

So grandma could get around to the wholesalers for store merchandise, she also bought a new Chev­rolet half-ton truck. Grandma had to learn how to drive so they had transportation.

The truck converted to a swanky coupe by taking off the truck bed and substituting the turtle back equipped with a little seat, commonly known as “the mother-in-law’s seat.”

My aunt said the farm had a ramshackle barn, beat-up chick­en house and the tiny three-roomed house needed a lot of TLC. After freshening the place with paint and wallpaper, it seemed like the change was good for our grandmother.

Before going to their new country home, grandma bought 500 baby chicks. After moving the furniture out of the way and laying newspaper on the floor, the chicks were let loose where the wood-burning stove sat.

The chicks seemed to fascinate my dad and my Uncle Bill, who were young and enjoyed watching them inside the house.

My grandmother told her sons that because the old chicken house had cold drafts and there was no way for it to stay heated, the chicks would need to be kept in the house until the warmer weather came.

It continued to stay cold that spring, and the bizarre arrangement in the living room remained a playground for children and chicks alike. The chickens grew pinfeathers and lost their down. Worse, they smelled foul and peeped constantly.

Even as the “Great Little Chicken Venture” continued, my aunt said she was proud of the yard after her mom planted red roses, blue delphiniums and bluegrass.

The second summer my grandmother, my father and his siblings lived on that farm didn’t fare well. The old barn blew down and shelter was needed for the livestock.

Our grandmother trusted two old bachelor brothers who lived with their parents to make the repairs, but in the end, the price was too high and nobody could have predicted the Great Depression that began in 1929. Grandmother lost the farm as did many skilled farmers who lost a lifetime of labor and investments.

Even with another hardship, one thing the Tracy family was grateful for was their loving mother, their good health and having each other.

By the time the little family moved back to Atchison, my aunt was old enough to go to college, but my father and his brother, Bill, still needed care.

During the Depression, jobs were hard to find, and when grandmother found a job at the Kansas Orphans Home, she and her two sons would live there until the boys were old enough to be on their own.

I didn’t know everything that happened in my grandmother’s life. What I did know is that she was a friend, a mentor and someone I highly respected.

My life is under reconstruction, and as I look back at my past, I am able to move forward toward my future.

Patty Decker writes news and features for the Free Press. Her email is patty@­hillsborofreepress.com.