Warren County Iowa Genealogical Society


    • Personal Memories





    By Mary Jane Monroe Pray

    (This was published in the “Martensdale Tales” in April 1988)

    Sad, solemn melodies fall under the general title of a “dirge.” But even though our little town was experiencing a Depression, in the worst sense, from 1930 until a few years later, one clear song could be heard in one little white house, and it was a squawky, funny tune, with funny off-color words at times. The song came from “Pretty Polly,” the parrot which belonged to our local banker during the Depression days.

    Mr. and Mrs. Stanley had moved to our thriving (at one time) town from Missouri, where Mr. Stanley formerly had worked in a bank. They had no children that I ever recall meeting, but time slips away from us all and dims some things, and other little insignificant shadows loom large and clear. And I loved to see and hear Mrs. Stanley’s Pretty Polly … the only one in town, and Mrs. Stanley was so kind and friendly that all we town children loved to visit her and play in her yard. We were allowed to take crackers (and other things, I’m sure) for Polly to eat from our hands, and her brightly colored feathers looked so pretty.

    One time I made an observation to my mother about these colors being a little like the hair color of one of my primary teachers. And I got a stern lecture, with some old-fashioned Kentucky “cross words,” about how teachers were to be respected and that had better be the last time I ever said that! (But I could still think about it!)

    When times were really tough, as they say, we never went hungry. Our good farm neighbors, who were unable to pay their telephone bills, brought in their foods from their gardens, cold-packed meat, lard and other stick-to-your-ribs food and were given credit on their bill. My mother owned and operated the Farmer’s Telephone Exchange in our home across from the schoolhouse for many years. She and “Ma Bell” were partners for more than 30  years. And I learned many things about running a switchboard before I could read!

    So we knew things were not what they should be long before the Martensdale bank closed on that sad September day in our town. Mrs. Stanley seemed more quiet and sad when we children went to visit and even Polly was subdued, it seemed. I received a long-distance call (personal) for Mr. J.S. Stanley one fateful morning and there was no answer at the bank when I rang his number. This was rather strange because our banker was a prompt, reliable person whom I admired (and we thought him to be a very distinguished-looking gentleman).

    So I called the local hardware store and since my mother had gone there to buy something, I asked to speak to her. I asked her to step next door and see why Mr. Stanley didn’t answer the phone. But mother, who was a wise and wonderful woman, must have instinctively sensed something and she and some others went inside the bank that miserable morning. There in the back room lay Mr. Stanley in a pool of blood. He had held on as long as he could and did everything, I’m sure, that was possible to save our bank from closing. But I was not really old enough to comprehend everything, only that I worried so about Mrs. Stanley and Polly.

    After that dreadful event, I realized how fortunate I was that my aunts and grandmother could sew so beautifully I wore my city cousin’s made-over dresses, and “hand-me-downs” became a way of life for a while. The only bad part was that I had the long narrow shoe size that no one in my family could help out with, so used a lot of polish and who need shoes in the summer anyway!

    But none of us ever dreamed of complaining, and “welfare,” I think, was an unknown word. We raised the almost-biggest garden in town, and on our back lot my mom could wring a chicken’s head off quicker than scat! (I never had that job, thank the good Lord). But I could operate the switchboard, which I did. So if you have your own eggs, hens and vegetables and can put in long, hot hours pulling weeds, we decided things aren’t half so bad. We were all in the same boat, so to speak, and I’m sure we were all better off for this experience in many ways. Neighbors helped neighbors, and I just cannot comprehend all that I read now, about all that must lie ahead, if things aren’t “turned around” so, they say! Why is this happening in an agricultural state?

    I just hope the “smart” people in Washington, D.C. now what they are doing! But I hear something very close to sounding sad: those solemn sounds, like I heard on that day that dear Mr. Stanley became a victim of that long-ago Depression.

    (Martensdale was platted in 1913 and the first bank was built in 1915. The bank building that served as the city hall was opened in 1925)