The Cookie Lady-A True Story of a wonderful person who lived from 1930-2000
My name is Blanche, I was born into a poor white family in Benson Minnesota in September of 1930. My mother is Sophie Amanda Hanson. She was born here in Benson Minnesota in December of 1905. My dad is Elbert Anders of Galax, Virginia. He was born in September of 1905. I only have one sibling, my brother Lonnie who was born in January of 1936 in Faith South Dakota. But, I won’t speak of Faith just yet. My mom’s parents came here from Norway in the late 1880’s and had more kids than the fingers could count. Mom was just one of many of the Hanson children but in my opinion was the sweetest of all. Mom obtained a seventh grade education, enough to read and write clearly. Dad was a rambler who was doing just that in 1928 when he and my mom met.
Dad seemed to always love two things most in life, horses and women. I don’t blame my dad for all of his faults; after all, we all have some. Dad never had any education at all and never did learn to read and write. It was the late 1960’s before he learned how to sign his name.
Watching my parents struggle throughout my childhood ingrained in me the determination to get an education and to stay in school and get my high school diploma. This was one of the few goals in my life that I was able to accomplish. My childhood taught me many things; things like the rich had good educations. And that the rich got rich and stayed rich on the sweat off the uneducated poor man’s back. Even as a small child I was always aware that we were looked down upon by those who could afford the nice clothes, fancy cars and big houses.
Mom and dad got married in 1928 in Benson. I never could figure why mom would have married my dad. Maybe it was that she was considered an old maid, going on 23 and still not married. I know she was never happy in her life with the cards she had been dealt. You know, uneducated, poor women aren’t anything except slaves to their uneducated ignorant husbands. Even the children that they bare are just an extension of the male’s property.
Shortly after I was born dad moved us to a little town in western South Dakota called Faith. A saying that I remember about Faith was fitting, “Faith South Dakota, a hundred miles from anywhere”. Dad had a couple of brothers that lived out that away. So I guess it was fitting that he would up and ramble toward them next.
I remember our years in South Dakota as being a pure hell, Faith with its dirt streets and water that had to be trucked in. It seems like I was always cold and dirty there. We lived in several one room shacks, some just lean-to’s on the back of peoples’ houses, seems like we were always hungry and cold. There were several of the places we lived that had dirt floors with walls and roofs that you could see straight through to the outside. I guess Faith was the reason I never did like to do any camping, so many of the places we lived seemed almost like we were camping.
To be fair to the town, maybe things wouldn’t have been as bad as they were if dad would have cared more about his family and less about other women, horses and bulldogs. Dad always tried to keep a horse and a bulldog or two. The horse I could understand, we hardly ever had a car, so the horse was his transportation back in those years. The bulldogs, I don’t know why he liked to have them. I guess it was just so he could have something else to beat on. I was always scared of his dogs, yet I always felt sorry for them. They were always kept chained to a stake in the back yard. Looking back, it might have been that he knew the dogs would bark if we had any visitors. The way he was always chasing after women, I guess that wasn’t such a bad idea.
My brother Lonnie was born there in Faith in January of 1936. It was always nice having a brother. Throughout our childhoods we were each others best friends, confidants and play partners. Yet having a brother was difficult too. It wasn’t just having another mouth to feed and back to clothe. It was also the having to see the hardships put upon yet another one that you loved without being able to do anything to correct it, or stop it.
I remember one night it had gotten dark and dad wasn’t home from his job yet and mom was crying real hard. I didn’t understand why mom was so upset because it was normal that dad didn’t come home before dark. I asked mom what was wrong and she told me about the rent being due that night, and dad being paid that day, but he hadn’t paid the rent or come home with his pay.
This was in the summer of 1937 and I was almost seven years old. My brother Lonnie was just about one and a half at the time. Mom said she had to stay home with the baby, but she told me to go through town and look for dad’s horse, find him and ask him to please come home, pay the rent and buy the family some food. It wasn’t long before I found dad’s horse tied up beside a building that had a lot of music and noise coming from it. I noticed a window on the side of the building with some empty wood crates by it. I took a few of the crates and stacked them up to where I could get up on them and look into that window. What I seen shocked me a lot. There was a naked woman sitting on top of my dad in a chair and he was also naked. They were just laughing and seemed to be having a lot of fun. Well, I was so surprised that I stumbled and fell off the crates onto the ground, with the crates falling after me. I made such a noise that the woman and dad both came and looked out the window at me. Dad was sure mad at me and he whipped me all the way home.
When we got home dad was still mad and he hollered at mom for a long time, I know she cried for hours. Dad said that mom and I had embarrassed him something horrible by doing what we had done. A couple of days after that dad sold his horse and his dogs and he pulled up to the shack we were living in, in an old dilapidated 1922 Ford car. Dad and mom took what few things we had, stuffed them and the four of us into the car and we left Faith South Dakota for a place called Galax Virginia.
I didn’t know anything about this place we were headed, I just hoped it was better than the place we had been. I know I prayed that I would never see Faith or South Dakota again for all I remembered of them was hardship. As it turned out I would see both again, but at least it would wait more than thirty years.
The trip from Faith to Galax is about 2,000 miles and in that old piece of junk dad was driving it took us three weeks to make it to Galax. I learned that the reason dad chose Galax was because he had several brothers and sisters living in and around this town he was born in. The three weeks the trip took seemed like forever. At night we would stop alongside the road and we would sleep on the ground beside the car. I remember being so scared and so hungry, hoping that we could make it to our new home.
When we finally made it to Galax we were broke and hungry. None of dad’s folks knew we were coming but none the less they took us in and kept us alive. I know it embarrassed mom a lot as we moved from one of dad’s kin to another over the first two months. But eventually one of dad’s brothers was able to get dad on at the mine he was working at just across the North Carolina line. Mom got a job at the local hospital changing linens and bed pans for the patients.
After a couple of months mom and dad were able to save enough money to rent a house in “the bottom” there in town. The bottom was a place that the working white poor folk lived. But still the house we were renting was like a real home. It had windows and wood floors and you couldn’t see any stars at night while lying in bed. Even though you could feel the cold air in the winter around the windows and doors at least it wasn’t so bad that the snow would come through them when they were closed. A few years later we were able to buy a different house there in the bottom down by the swinging bridge. That was after the war had started and dad was getting to work regular. It was a two bedroom with an inside toilet and a pot-bellied coal stove in the living room that kept us warm in the winter.
With the move to Virginia our scenery got a lot prettier, the weather was a lot nicer, and the people seemed to be friendlier. Our housing situation was much more stable and mom and dad had regular work. So a lot of things were better, more stable for us now, but there was still many heartaches. The change of location didn’t change any of dad’s ways. We soon had a bulldog staked in the backyard and dad bought himself a horse and paid a farmer money to keep the horse at his place. Any money he had left was always spent on other women.
By now I was reaching an age to where I wasn’t as blind to the reality I was living in. For years I was required to take this little red wagon I had to a building downtown where I got food twice a month. This place handed out some flour, cornmeal, beans, bread, and cheese. If it wasn’t for Mr. Roosevelt, Mom, Lonnie and I would have been very hungry. I guess that is a big reason why I have been a lifelong democrat. I grew up believing that to vote republican you either had to be rich or stupid.
At the age of fourteen, I was able to get a job at the soda fountain inside the Peoples Drug Store in downtown Galax. I worked there three hours each evening and all day on Saturdays. I used this money to buy my own school clothes and the cost of my school supplies. I also worked in the school cafeteria serving food so that I could get my meals there for free. That was a lot better than having to run home at lunch, get a sandwich and a glass of milk then run back to school especially on the cold winter days.
I graduated high school in 1947. It was then I started working full-time at the drug store. I still lived at home and remained under dad’s control. I was never allowed to date. I’m sure it was because dad had his view of what women were and he wasn’t about to let me be anything like the women he had always known.
Dad worked with a man named Wayne Savage whom dad admired a lot because he was very strong and a real hard worker. As things worked out, Wayne had a younger brother named Bill who was getting out of the Navy from his two-year hitch in February of 1948. Wayne got Bill a job there at the mine when he was discharged from the Navy. So I ended up with dad’s insistence dating Bill and then marrying him May 29th, 1948. One truth I was always proud of is that I was a virgin on my wedding night.
Bill turned out to be a lot of the things dad was, and a lot of things he wasn’t. I think the reason Bill got married was for the free sex, free housekeeper, free cook and an extra paycheck. In my dad’s defense he was a hard worker and a non-drinker. Unfortunately Bill was an alcoholic and he never found a job he would stick with.
From 1949 through 1956 I gave birth to four children. Our oldest Larry was born in my mom’s home in June 1949 with a midwife. Our second child, Steven Ray was born in a hospital in Winston-Salem North Carolina in May of 1952. I have always been so glad that I gave birth to Steven in a hospital or I never would have been able to forgive myself. The doctors said Steven was born with a hole in his heart. In 1952 they couldn’t save him; he lived three days, never leaving the hospital. We buried Steven in the McKenzie Cemetery just outside of Galax. Our third child was our little girl Kay; she was born in September of 1954. Kay and our last child Ted were born in the hospital in Galax. Ted was born in August 1956. He was always sickly and skinny as a rail, at every meal it was difficult to get him to eat. This just made him a target for Bill. I dreaded every meal because you always knew that Bill would start yelling at him and then start beating him. Ted had to put up with that until he was seventeen. He stood up to Bill then and it was plain that Bill got scared, but he never treated Ted like that again. But that was 1973, so I’m getting ahead of myself so I’m going to step back in time to 1961.
Bill and our family had rented many places until we got lucky and was able to get the bank to finance us a small eight acre farm in nearby Woodlawn, Virginia. It was a dream come true for me, our own house. It was a three bedroom, one bath, two-story house with a small detached garage, a full size barn, and a hog house. The property was fenced in so we could have a cow and there was plenty of wild game such as squirrels, rabbits, pheasants and turkeys to keep the freezer full. In 1961 the cost of all this was $8,000.00.
By the time the spring of 1965 rolled around Bill had worked at about every place in the Galax area and none of the employers would have him anymore. That spring one of Bill’s drinking buddies stopped by our house and talked to Bill about the coal mines in Butte, Montana. Telling Bill about the good paying jobs there in the mines and how wonderful Montana was. In less than two weeks Bill was on a Greyhound bus.
The plan was for Bill to go there, get a good job, find the family a place, then in August come back to Virginia, sell the farm and we would move to Butte. Like always things didn’t work out that way. Bill came back on the bus the first of August without a dime in his pockets. He had been living in an apartment and had no place ready for us to move to. He said he had been keeping all his money in his apartment and shortly before he was to come back home someone broke into the apartment and stole all the money.
Bill’s plan was to come back to Virginia, sell the farm, and use the equity money to move with. It was many years later before we found out that the mines Bill was supposed to be working at had closed down. This explained why he was broke when he came back. This also meant that Bill had no job to move us to. So he came back, we sold the farm for $8,500.00 netting a clear $800.00 to use for the move. Bill’s plan was to stop in Deadwood South Dakota where I had two uncles and aunts, play sick, say he went to a doctor, lie saying he had black lung and that he would be dead by forty if he continued mining. He was one month away from thirty-eight at that time.
So Bill, with no job to go to, sells our home, and moves his wife and three kids across the country headed to nothing. We stayed with my family for three days while Bill found a job in nearby Spearfish at the Homestake Sawmill. We then found a basement apartment to rent nearby the mill. The jobs in Galax all paid the minimum wage of $1.25 per hour. I found a job in a nursing home for, you guessed it, $1.25 per hour. Bills job at the mill paid $1.90 per hour.
This was August 1965, we didn’t escape there until November 1966. A representative from Chrysler Corporation came out there trying to recruit employees for a new assembly plant in Belvidere Illinois. Seems the local people were too offended that Chrysler was going to pay people more than $5.00 an hour with great benefits while the rest of the town was settled into jobs paying less than $2.00 an hour. I know that makes no sense, but a lot of people from South Dakota jumped on those jobs the Belvidere locals didn’t want.
In the fifteen months we were in Spearfish I was so depressed that we were going to end up stuck there forever. I have to admit we had a few good times while we were there. We did visit a few local parks, and Spearfish is in the “Black Hills”. During this time our oldest son Larry went back to Galax to live. He was sixteen, almost seventeen and he got a job at Vaughan Basset Furniture factory. He stayed there until just before we moved to Belvidere. He came back and helped us with the move then he decided to stay in Belvidere and when he turned eighteen he also got a job at Chrysler.
I remember that while we were in South Dakota we visited Mount Rushmore on our eighteenth anniversary (1966). We also took a trip in the summer of 66 to Faith to watch a big yearly rodeo they held. The roads were still dirt and I still saw water trucks, but they did have a good rodeo. On the Fourth of July 1966 we went to the big rodeo show in Deadwood. During an intermission they put on the Wild Bill Hickok Show, the one where he was shot in the back playing cards in the saloon. That’s pretty much all the good memories I have from there. I was just glad to get out of there in November of 66 as we headed east praying that Belvidere would be better.
When we got to Illinois we rented an apartment in the town of Cherry Valley for three months. The rent was $150.00 per month but after we had been there for three months they raised the rent to $200.00 so we looked around and found a nice old house in Belvidere for $85.00 a month. It was right by the city park, real close to the waterfall. If Bill could have ever quit his drinking and acted like a husband and a dad we could probably have been happy there.
We lived in that house from February 1967 till April 1970. We all survived the big F-4 tornado of April 21st, 1967 unharmed while living in that house. Also during that time frame Bill got hurt at work. Bill’s foreman told him to take a part over to a certain bucket and wash it off. Turns out the bucket had acid in it. Bill had only stuck his right hand down in it thank goodness. The acid really messed up his hand and the nerves with it. He ended up missing several months work and we sued Chrysler settling out of court for $10,000.00. We put $8,000.00 down on a home on the western outskirts of town that was priced at $25,000.00. It set on an acre of land bordering a large county park. Once again, if Bill could have just acted like a man we could have been very happy there.
In February 1974, Bill and I were in a car wreck in Belvidere as a man drove through a stop sign and hit us broadside. I wasn’t injured but Bill broke his left hip and cracked his left ankle. The day after Bill had his hip replacement he had a heart attack while lying in his hospital bed. He ended up having to have a four-way bypass operation. While Bill was recuperating he got a check in the mail from Social Security. Turns out that Chrysler went through the process to get him disabled because he had nine years in with them and at ten years guaranteed lifetime benefits would be coming into effect and they weren’t wanting to have to pay them.
Larry had gotten married in October 1968 to a lady with two kids; I think he married her to get out of being drafted into Vietnam, though I’ve always believed she really loved him. Kay got married in August of 1971; I believe just to get out of the house and away from Bill. My youngest, Ted, got married in May 1975. Now I was home alone with Bill all the time. Without the kids there Bill was still as hateful as ever.
In 1977 we sold the big house on the west side and bought a nice ranch style house only a couple blocks from my work in town. It was a beautiful house and I really loved it. Also about this time Bill finally quit drinking and I had high hopes for a better life but that was just wishful thinking. Bill stayed just as hateful and self-centered as he had always been. I had always hoped it was the alcohol, it wasn’t, it was just who he was.
I had a bad left hip during this time and it was real painful to try to work with. I had tried for Social Security but got turned down so I had to go back to work after about eleven months off. I had only been back to work less than a year when Bill came up to the office and told them I had to quit because I had gotten my Social Security. When we got home I found that was not true. It had only been suggested by my lawyer to appeal. Well, during this time our income was not enough to pay the bills. So in 1981 we had to sell the house before we lost it. We only had enough money to buy a new, but cheap single wide trailer that because of zoning laws we had to put into a mobile home court. It was the nicest court in town but losing our home because of Bill’s ignorance just made me sick.
Shortly after we got moved I was turned down again on the Social Security. I had to go back up to that hole I had worked at since 1968 and ask for my job back, to my surprise they reinstated me with full seniority. I did end up getting a left hip replacement on my birthday 1992. The month before my oldest son Larry died of an aneurysm in his apartment in Scranton Pennsylvania. Bill’s health was constantly deteriorating and he died just before Christmas 1993 from heart failure. I ended up retiring in February 1994.
Now I was truly alone except for my daughter Kay who lived locally and was now a Methodist minister. I did have a few people at church that I associated with. My son Ted was a long-haul truck driver who only got to stop in for a night or so about three or four times a year.
My dad died in his sleep in early March 1987. I had a major heart attack on June 1st, 1996 that really set me back physically. But 1996 would only get worse. Mom died all alone in a nursing home in August and my brother Lonnie died that November of brain cancer and heart failure.
The next year, 1997, I had to have my right hip replaced, again on my birthday. It was hard to make do on my own but I made it. Jackie came over and helped me some while I was recuperating and Ted would send me extra money when he could to help me out. He was paying my lot rent for me each month which really helped out. One day when Kay and her husband were over I got a letter from Ted with a check for $690.00 in it, $190.00 for the lot rent and $500.00 to put up for emergency needs. Kay and her husband got really mad at me for “taking Teds’ money” like that. So from that point on Ted and I never mentioned anything about him helping me.
In March of 1999, Ted had to have heart surgery after a heart attack and he was out of work with no income for a long time. So in the summer of 1999 I took a job at a local nursing home two hours per night. My job was to help clean up the dining area and kitchen after supper had been served to the residents. It wasn’t much of a job, I hated doing it but it did make my lot rent payment.
That fall an opening came up for an extra half hour per night to go from room to room passing out cookies. I took on the extra work, but I truly enjoyed doing it. I felt sorry for so many of these people who had been discarded and abandoned here by their family members. I enjoy talking with them each evening, trying to cheer them up. It wasn’t long before I became known as “The Cookie Lady”, I enjoyed that title, it made me feel wanted.
Well, this is Sunday morning August 20th, 2000. I sometimes find it hard to believe that with the life I have had that I would have made it to the year 2000. I just spoke to my son Ted at his home in Florida but I need to get going or I will be late for church. I still need to stop by Kay’s before church and get her newspaper put in her house because they are on a weekend vacation.
Mom never made it to church. As she slowed down and turned into my sister’s driveway a young man driving a four-wheel drive Dodge Ram pickup thought it was a good time to speed up and pass. He hit mom right in the driver’s door at about seventy miles per hour, killing her instantly. He had hit her so hard that the coroner said the impact tore all the arteries away from her heart.
A bright light put out. A life lived in the darkness of others, seldom being allowed to shine. A life lived in so much sadness, put upon by others. So many joys of life denied her. In so many ways, a light, a life, unfulfilled. But a woman who will always be very much-loved, and missed “The Cookie Lady”, our Mom.