The old Soldina Mansion had
been converted to an Art Association. The house was built with all the
elegance of yesteryear, when a wide staircase brought people to the second
story of it. Volunteers kept the rich wood of the staircase, floor and
walls polished so there was not ever a hint of neglect. It wasn’t uncommon
for someone to make a comment, “I could live here!”
The second floor was where
the bedrooms were converted to classrooms. Here, too, a large room was
centrally located so each person could walk to an individual bedroom. This
gave me an opportunity to observe my students as they came up the
stairway. Some walked leisurely and slowly up the stairs together. Others
plodded and clumped along while their hands were full of their paint cases
and whatever else they were carrying in their arms.
I loved to watch May come
up the stairs. She was a farm woman and was unabashed in her admittance of
it. The strength of her arms and hands along with a straight back and easy
step on the stairs told of no telling how many outdoor chores she worked
through in her lifetime. She was tall and wore her hair in a simple style.
Rolled up sleeves on her sharply-pressed shirt made me believe she had, in
fact, just left one specific piece of work or other. Her skin was clear
and she had a pink, ruddy look to her cheeks. There were always a number
of articles she had gathered to draw and her hands would be full of those
as well. It looked like she had gone about the farm picking up this and
that. A pine cone, some particular weed, or a lovely wild flower, were all
of what she had admired and wanted to capture in a drawing and later a
The newspapers had been
full of the buying up of land by the Corp of Engineers for the longed for
Kaw Lake and Kaw Dam. May’s farm was immediately in the space where the
water was to be. The farm her grandfather’s left to her father and he had
spent a life time creating a dairy herd to pass on to his son and then on
to May. Everyone knew someone, who was leaving their farm and moving,
lock, stock and barrel and many families were heart broken with even
nervous breakdowns, which was just something more for discussion.
May never brought the
subject up. She seemed to be totally without any care or remorse about
anything. Her paintings were bright and cheerful.The whole class enjoyed
her lighthearted ways.
At last I could stand it no
longer. I just had to know why this woman who was losing everything and
having it replaced with money that would not in any way pay for all that
was invested could face life in such a undisturbed way.
“May?” I so boldly asked,
“how is it that you do not seem to be bothered or depressed by anything at
all. You are cheerful and do not seem heartbroken as so many other folks
who are losing their farms seem to be?” I was sure the other women were
thinking the same thing. Being city-women, they weren’t about to ask.
Somehow country women have an understanding between them and they are able
to, what seems to someone else, bluntly ask a question.
“Oh sure!” May was pleasant
and ready to easily speak about the thing.
“I would rather not have to
give up what my folks worked so hard to build. But, you know, years ago I
found out one thing from living in Oklahoma and I always remembered it.
You can have: drought, the failure of crops, a loss of cattle to winter
storms, milk cows to get into wheat and ruin their milk and everything
else that could just put you down on the floor. But if you make up your
mind ahead of time that nothing, no matter what, is going to get you down.
You learn that the only thing that can really beat you is what they call,
“depression,” itself. Yep! Depression, that’s the one and it will beat you
every time if you let it. You can fight dry weather, long winters, sick
animals but you can only be whipped by one thing and that is, depression.”
I’ve thought of this
strong, country women many times in my life and learned she knew of what
she spoke. There have been rancher’s wives who lived in beautiful,
expensive homes on stretches of breath taking prairie expanses and were
not able to overcome that one thing, “depression.” I decided May had
really achieved, a great character trait and it served her well.