Our Mom, Myrtle Volz Ferman, was the glue that held the Ferman family together. An Iowa farmer’s daughter and a multi-talented young woman back during the Great Depression, she was a typical stay-at-home mother of three active little boys; a professional photographer who took pictures, developed and printed them, and added color tints to the black-and-white photographs of that era; a skilled artist; a prize-winning poetess; an up-and-coming sculptress; an entrepreneur who built her custom wedding cake hobby into a full-time business; a grade school class photographer (25 cents for each group photo) for every grade school in Wichita; a skilled artist who drew most of the subjects’ ears and hands for Grandpa Harry just to give him a break; and a talented organizer. She founded the St. Anthony’s School Parent-Teachers Association (PTA) and was its president for 15 years, belonged to the Altar Society and the Mother Singers (she had a beautiful singing voice), and traveled all over Wichita by foot or bus (and later on crutches) to do business because we did not own a car until Dick got a Model “T” Ford and wrecked it a few times, and then Dave bought an old junker 1937 Chevy coup when he went to ElDorado, Kansas, for junior college.
Grandma Ferman was a dynamo who worked on her many projects until after midnight on most nights, woke young Dave up at 5 a.m. to throw his Wichita Eagle morning paper route, and made wonderful meals and desserts from scratch on little more than $5 a week and our “victory” garden in the back yard. However, we ate as well as anybody and better than most. In 1938, when Grandpa Harry got a raise from the Wichita Beacon as the Editorial Artist and Cartoonist from $12 a week to $15 for a 54-hour work week, we slew one of our laying chickens and enjoyed dumplings and apple pie for supper to celebrate that grand occasion.
Grandma Ferman was convinced that no one from the 1st grade or older needed more than five hours of sleep each night, and she proved her theory every day. No one could complain about being overworked because Grandma Myrtle worked harder and longer than anyone as she raised three boys, a baby girl, many cats and dogs, rabbits, cuddly white mice, ducks, doves, a baby alligator, and two spoiled chickens (Snow White and Rose Red) from eggs. They proudly wore tiny bonnets and capes to strutt around the neighborhood. When Snow White was killed by a passing Husky dog, little 5-foot, 1-inch tall Grandma faced down that hungry hound, and we unknowingly ate Snow White that evening, although we kids kept hunting for our strutting little friend for a long time after that.
We always had hobos knocking on our back door asking for a meal, and Grandma Myrtle never turned one down. However, every one of them did a chore for her before eating. Back then, most hobos were good workers and generally good guys who just could not find any kind of a job from coast to coast, but they kept looking anyway. When Dave was in the first grade, Sister Theodosia insisted that he write right-handed because St. Anthony’s School had no left-handed individual desks. Dave could not write worth a flip right handed, let alone with that swirling Palmer method. So every morning for a week or two, when little Dave left home in the morning, instead of turning west to walk two miles to school, he turned north, walked down to the Hobo Jungle at the other side of the railroad tracks, and spent splendid days hanging out with the hobos who told great stories, and trading his peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich plus an apple or orange for all of the Mulligan stew that he could eat before going home at 3:30 p.m. like the rest of the grubby little first graders. In fact, Dave still cherishes his hobo chalked symbol for “Bad Dog Lives Here.” FYI: the King of the Hobos in the United States was a grand old fellow named “A Number One” who wrote a book in the 1930s in which he defined the symbols that the hobos chalked on the alley fences to help other hobos know where to go and not to go. At one time we knew many of those symbols on sight, like the two rows of stacked straight lines that told every hobo passing down our alley that Grandma Ferman was good for a sandwich or better, but they had to work for it. FYI: Grandma even negotiated with the nuns so that left-handed cursive writing could be done on those right-handed desks. She wanted little Dave in school and not swapping food back at the Hobo jungle.