“A voice from beyond”
I have now reviewed and taken notes on the cassette tapes of Bonnie’s 1995 interviews with our mother, Reatha “Meme” Larson, née Myers (1914-2008). They were recorded on a road trip the two took together to find the grave of Reatha’s sister Leah Myers in Boulder, Montana. It took some considerable work to arrange the anecdotes in roughly chronological order, so as to present them in a coherent way. Besides the normal tendency to ramble and skip around, Mother’s dementia was already a significant factor, although none of us recognized it at the time. Nevertheless, her recollection of some events, even very early in her life, seem remarkably clear, and I believe to some extent reliable. [update: I have to retract that last statement – further study has showed that several of these anecdotes are at least partly implausible] Out of the several hours, I picked out a few one-minute excerpts to post in audio form, as a “voice from beyond.” There is a lot of background noise, as the tapes were recorded in a vehicle at highway speed, but the voice and the words are quite recognizable.
Mom even related a story from before her own birth, told her no doubt by her mother, of how her parents met, in Frankfort, SD: Dan Myers drove a horse and wagon from farm to farm, peddling certain products, and butchering and plucking chickens, which he brought to the meat market in Frankfort. The proprietor of the market was William Drayer, father of Lillian Drayer (later Myers), Reatha’s mother. Here is part of the story in Mom’s own voice:1908 Dan
Dan and Lillian probably first met at the meat market. Reatha went on to describe the courtship. It seems that most of their dates involved roller skating, which was about the only pastime available in Frankfort.
Fast-forward to Reatha’s birth in 1914: She was born in the living quarters at the rear of the general store and post office in Thunder Hawk, South Dakota, where Dan was the proprietor.
For the six-part story of Dan Myers, click here. By the time Reatha was three years old, the family moved from the rear of the store to a small house they built nearby. Around this time, her younger sister Velma was born. Dan’s parents, Stephen and Helen, came to help out, as Helen was a midwife. This portrait must have been taken about then; Stephen died later that year. The earliest personal memory Mom related on the tapes was of their visit to Thunder Hawk. Here is her own narrative:1917 Stephen and Helen
In 1920, after Dan’s “conversion,” the family moved to Zion, Illinois, after spending part of the summer in Wisconsin. In Zion, Reatha attended first, second and third grade. On Sundays, she went with her father to inner-city Chicago, where she sang hymns with him, and he preached, at a store-front Gospel mission. Then, in 1923, they set out in the “Gospel truck,” a primitive canvas “motor home” Dan had built from an old Model-T farm truck.
Reatha attended fourth grade in Miles City, and the next four grades in Wibaux, Montana (about 50 miles south of Sidney). They traveled all summer, holding revival meetings across Montana and the Dakotas, then settled in a different rented house for a late start to each school year. As I told you in Dan’s story, they were extremely poor. Even so, meetings were sometimes held at their home, and Reatha played trumpet in Dan’s “praise band.”
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