Tales & Trails
Recollections of Florence Wood Bice
Tales and Trails Newsletter
Editorís note: This is a recollection of Florence Wood Bice. One of her children was Edward (Butchie) Bice and Lisa is Edwardís daughter. Florence and her husband Bill lived on SW 6th street in Yankee Hill. In addition to what is written here, Lisa has written a biography on the life of "Grandma" Bice from birth to death. Gladys Meyer has given DCHS a copy of Lisaís work which includes lots of pictures. Enjoy!
JULY 15, 1904-JANUARY 2, 2003
Somehow Iíve become the family historian for both my Mom as well as my Dadís side of the family. For as long as I can remember Iíve enjoyed history. Historical dates donít do much for me and neither do wars and battlefields and such. But Iíve always derived pleasure from hearing stories of "long ago" and how people lived back then. Also looking at pictures, studying how people dressed and posed.
Iíve never thought too much about where my fascination came from until more recently. Itís just always seemed to be a part of me. When I first learned to read, some of my favorite books were the old readers from the 1940ís. When I progressed to big books, my favorites were the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and other nostalgic books such as Little Women and The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.
Now I know that my love of history comes from my Grandma Bice.
My first memory of Grandma dates back to when I was only 3 years old and living in Gretna, Nebraska. Grandma and Grandpa were there for a visit. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with Grandma as she drank her morning tea. Grandma was the only one I knew who drank tea. My dad drank coffee and even at 3 years of age, I could appreciate the difference in smells. Naturally I was curious and wanted a taste of the tea. Grandma agreed. First there was the warning that it was HOT. I took a sip, wrinkled up my nose (I donĎt remember that part, but itís a given because thatís what I do even now) and lied about how good it was. Grandma then went about making me my own cup of "tea" that was really probably only milk and water with enough tea to color it. Then Grandma told me about how she used to like to drink tea with her mom when she was a little girl.
It wasnít much later that my family moved from Gretna to Lincoln at 2665 S 11th Street. We lived right in the middle between my Momís parents and my Dadís so we saw them all often. I remember Grandma and Grandpa driving up in their car. I asked Grandma once why she never drove and she admitted that she never really learned to drive--it made her "nervous". I wasnít sure what was so scary about driving. I was certain even as a little girl that driving was very easy and lots of fun.
Whatever the case, Grandma never drove. As soon as the car was parked, Grandpa would pop open the trunk and start pulling out empty milk jugs. Then he walked over to the side of the house and began to patiently fill them up from the outside spigot. Each time I would ask whey he was taking our water and each time he would explain that they had well water and you couldnít drink well water. I never understood that. Iíd been at their house many times and had never seen a well. I thought to have a well and get your water by lowering a bucket into it (a la Laura Ingalls) would have to be the coolest thing ever. Lauraís water from the well was always fresh and cold. I was sure Grandpa was "fibbing" because I always managed to get water from the tap to wash my hands. But whatever, Grandpa would fill the water jugs. In their kitchen they had a "bubbler". It was really neat to look at and I didnít know anyone else in the world that had one. You got your drinking water from that (but you mustnít waste). Anyway, once the jugs were all filled (and there were many) they would go back in the trunk and he would come inside the house.
I have memories of Grandma and Grandpa visiting us on Christmas Eve. Our house was full of Christmas decorations, many of them made by Grandma. At that time I remember being fascinated by the pictures Grandma would make with jewelry and other bits and bobs of colorful things. There was a large Christmas tree on red velvet that had actual Christmas lights on it. The picture would plug in and light up! Later I inherited that picture and sadly it was stolen along with many of my things at one of the apartments I lived in as a young adult. Fortunately I now have one of the other pictures, of a church and a Christmas tree.
98 YEARS YOUNG - A grand-daughter remembers - Lisa Bice Rank
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I remember another one that she had done which hung in her bedroom for years, made of old military medals. Hopefully another family member is treasuring it somewhere.
Also in Grandma and Grandpaís bedroom, sitting on Grandpaís dresser, was a picture of Doug and me as toddlers being hugged by a kneeling Grandpa. The picture was framed and it sat on that dresser for as long as they lived in the house. It was very sweet, the sentiment of the picture and as an adult I appreciate it very much. But as a kid, I hated that picture. When it was being taken I had an itch on my nose. Of course I was scratching it when the button was pressed. What that meant was that there was a lovely picture of Doug and Grandpa. Then there was me, it looked like I digging for gold and my brother would tease me terribly about it. Each time I looked at it I was embarrassed because I was certain people would brand me as a nose picker. Well Iím here to set the record straight.
It was an itch!
I have to be honest. When I was a little girl, I didnít much like visiting Grandma and Grandpaís house. I loved my Grandparents, but there wasnít much for a little kid to do there. In the summers we could play in the backyard or take a walk. When we were a little older we could go across the highway and trek to Lee Sittlers for some pop and candy. Later yet while walking farther I found a house that had an old restored covered wagon on display in their yard. To this day I want one in mine.
Sometimes Grandma would let me get the mail. She was always very careful when I performed this task and I remember being very nervous about "the flag". My mailbox at home was on my porch and had no flag so I wasnít familiar with them. But I knew it was some kind of special signal and from Grandmaís behavior I knew that the flag must be important. I wasnít to mess with the flag! She would watch me from the window to make sure I was in the right mailbox (since there were several all lined up together) and didnít mess up the flag.
So in the winter when weíd visit them, it wasnít always something Doug and I looked forward to. We had to be careful of Grandmaís "nerves" which of course meant we had to be quiet. Otherwise she might get "cranky" and we didnít want that to happen!. Then we had to walk softly so we wouldnít bounce the floor and knock around the pretty things in her china hutch in the 2nd bedroom.
Winter also meant we had to take off our shoes as soon as we walked into the house. Grandma and Grandpaís house would have clear plastic matting making pathways over the carpet. Seems to me I remember the couch being covered in plastic for awhile too. I usually sat on the floor.
The TV was really loud when it was on.
There were some things of interest at Grandmaís. First thing of course were hugs and kisses. Grandpa had a very scratchy face, but he made great "muah" sounds when he kissed. Then Grandpa would reach into his pocket and pull out a quarter, one for me and one for Doug. Even back when we were young a quarter didnít buy you much. We never said that to Grandpa though. It was part of the tradition. Every time we saw Grandpa, heíd give us a quarter. Even when we were teenagers we got the quarter. It was a little bit embarrassing and weíd grin bashfully and say "Thank you, Grandpa" in a sing-song voice. Iíll bet we would have missed it if he hadnít given it to us though. It was Grandpaís way of showing affection and telling us he loved us. I miss those quarters!
The big thing was when Grandma finally decided we were old enough to go to the basement! For years the basement was a big mystery to me. We had one at home and it was no big deal. But at Grandmaís house it WAS a big deal. The big deal was the very steep stairs and no railing. So those first few times I was big enough to go down, it was along with Grandma. Thatís when I learned that there were cool things in the basement-old things. It was like a little apartment down there. Eventually I learned that it kind of was and a few of her Grandsons ended up living there for a bit as young adults. But the main reason for my being allowed down there was to fetch bottles of Pepsi, There was an old fridge and you can tell the old ones because they are round on top and have a spring pull handle and a freezer box instead of an actual freezer.
Grandma and I would carry the Pepsis upstairs-carefully- and Grandma would make me count the stairs so there was no chance of a misstep. Until I was well into my teens, Grandma always watched me go up and down the stairs. Then once safely in the kitchen, the pop would be poured over glasses of ice and at that time Doug and I might be offered one of those big, fat, soft Archway cookies (the sugar ones were the best) or a Fig Newton. (Yuck)
Most times when we visited Grandma and Grandpa we would be there for supper. Everything would get crazy for a time while everyone put in their orders for Runzas. Most people know Runza as that nice, clean, colorful "homey" fast food chain. For us, it was the ugly stucco building that didnít look so clean and was stuck out in the middle of nowhere. But the food was good and we only had it when at Grandmas and Grandpaís house. I never liked Runzas
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but they had a wonderful foot long hot dog which I was always anxious to measure but never did. Too bad the chain doesnít carry the foot long. They should.
So weíd all pile into the car and drive out to the Runza Hut. Dad had told us that he had worked there as a teenager and so had his sister Gloria. Doug and I thought that was pretty cool though hard to imagine. It was an interesting place to us, a place where you got food, but didnít eat inside. You had to walk to the window to give your order, or wait until the waiter or waitress came to you car window. Weird!
Back at Grandmaís once all of the food and Pepsi was gone, other things were bound to happen. For some reason that we kids never understood then, Grandma could never keep her food down. She only ate soft things and never very much. After she did eat, the gagging would begin. I learned to ignore the sound (if Grandpa and Dad could do it, I certainly could) but my brother never did. It drove him insane and if he didnít finish his meal before Grandma became "deathly ill and pukey sick" his meal would remain uneaten because he didnít have the stomach to finish it. After dinner, Grandpa would put a "dip" in and we kids were cautioned again and again to be careful of the big red can to the inside of Grandpaís recliner. The sight and smell was usually enough of a deterrent without having to be verbally warned. The joke of course was that Grandpa started chewing when he quit smoking, because smoking was dangerous! So while Grandpa was in the chair talking (LOUDLY) and spiting, Grandma, often with my motherís help, would be in the bathroom, either gagging things up or down. I never wanted to know which.
Eventually things would calm down. Thatís when the boredom would set in. Grandma might pull out an old shoebox of "toys". But "toys" consisted of a handful of dominoes and a few wind-up animals that vibrated and walked off of the table. It didnít entertain us for long.
One day when I was bored, the photo albums came out. And thatís when my love of history began. The regular photo albums were okay. There were lots of pictures of Doug and me in them, many taken with Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad at Pioneers Park. Invariably they were traumatic pictures, taken in the glaring noonday sun and of course you had to face the sun in order for the picture to be good. So most of the pictures were of squinting people and people shading their eyes. Often times as not someoneís head was partially lopped off or they stood clustered in only half of the picture.
It was the really old pictures that interested me. The ones taken before color came along. The ones where the people were dressed funny. Those were the cool pictures. You couldnít look at those old pictures without asking questions and Grandma was usually pretty good about answering the questions. There were the pictures of little kids, some of them of my father, but the neatest ones were of kids born long before he was. One little girl really interested me because she looked just how I imagined Laura Ingalls to look, long brown braids and all. Then Grandma told me the sad story of how she had died a painful death while still a child. Her appendix burst and she screamed for a long, long time before she died.
I loved the picture of Grandma as a little girl, beside her Mother, with her older sister Daisy on the other side. I remember thinking that Daisy was a really weird name for a little girl, but Florence didnít sound much like a little girlís name either. I loved Grandmaís middle name though. Belle was a cool name and when I later learned that Belle means "beautiful" I knew that her own mother must have loved her very much to give her that name. My Great-grandmother was a lovely looking woman and I liked her long skirts and her long hair piled neatly on her head. I always thought it was strange that the picture was taken with Grandma standing on a lumpy looking bed with her mother sitting beside her. Stranger yet was Daisy, who stood beside them, her foot on an obvious piece of garbage. Why did Daisy have to stand on the wadded up paper? Why did the photographer leave garbage littered on the floor to show up in his pictures? Why didnít Daisy or someone pick it up or kick it out of the way? As a little girl these questions bothered me. Unfortunately, Grandma couldnít answer them. She was only around 3 years old at the time. She didnít remember taking the picture. But she did say that photographers often traveled through the town. They would set up temporary quarters in a tent or an old building, take a bunch of pictures and then be on their way. It never answered my question about the litter Daisy was forced to pose on, but it was an interesting scenario.
Once I was introduced to the photo albums I was hooked. I doubt there was ever a time after that first time that I didnít beg for the albums to be pulled down. I was frustrated when I had to wait for someone to get them for me. Patience was never one of my virtues. I was thrilled when I was tall enough to reach them on my own. They were kept on the shelf in the coat closet just inside the front door.
I remember visiting Uncle Mel and Aunt Jeanís house once. They had a lovely place out in the country and the neatest thing was the horses. Of course these werenítí just any horses, they were race horses!
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I remember being very disappointed when I asked Grandpa if I could ride the horses and got an emphatic "NO!" as my answer. He explained that race horses were strong and fast, much too dangerous for a little girl to ride. So I ran off to play and later tore my leg on a barbed wire fence. I was playing too hard to feel much pain over it. I did have to go inside because it was pretty bloody and needed to be cleaned up. I still have the 2 inch scar on my calf.
After several years in Lincoln, Dadís foot got itchy and soon we moved to Osceola where my parents bought and ran a little 8 lane bowling alley called Amity Lanes. I was 8 when we moved there and it was a dramatic change from Lincoln. Fortunately, Grandma and Grandpa were good about driving up to visit us and we made frequent trips to Lincoln to see them as well.
A favorite memory of mine was when Grandma, Mom and I would make home made apple pies. Mom didnít get to do much baking. She worked hard at the bowling alley, and also at the nearby nursing home. Baking was a luxury, so we enjoyed it when she did. But one time when Grandma and Grandpa were visiting, we went into the back yard to pick crab apples off of our crab apple trees. Once we had a couple of sacks full of the little green fruit, we sorted through them, picking out the best ones. Grandma showed me how to look for worms and when found, they were carefully cut out.
It was a fun day, learning how to make crust and roll it out, making the apple filling and carefully laying the crust over the top. Then the edges were crimped and on a few of the pies we attempted decorative cut outs. Then the leftover crusts were rolled out together, buttered and covered with cinnamon and sugar. Once baked it was a delicious snack. I donĎt remember eating any of the pies. But Iíll never forget baking them.
Whenever Grandma and Grandpa visited, the cards would eventually come out. My Grandparents were card sharks, playing regularly with many different people. Pitch and canasta. Those were the two games I remember. Once or twice when I was older they attempted to teach me the game. But I have no patience for cards. Eventually Doug became a decent player and would spell Mom or Grandma for awhile. When the talk of playing cards came up, I knew it was my cue to find a good book or TV show.
On those days when we visited them, a new tradition was formed. These were the days of Uncle Henry. I have no memory of Uncle Henry before then. My only memories of Grandmaís older brother are when we visited Lincoln and he would treat us all to dinner at Bishops. Bishops was located at Gateway Mallóclear across town.
Somehow we managed to cram 5 adults and 2 healthy kids into Uncle Henryís car. Grandma and grandpa would be up front. Henry would have on his trench coat and his felt hat. Grandma would sit in the middle, chattering away. Grandpa would have on his hat as well. Hats were cool and I can never see a brown felt hat without thinking first of Grandpa and then Uncle Henry. In the backseat, Mom and Dad and Doug and I would be squished for breath.
Uncle Henry drove really, REALLY slooooooooow. So slow that I remember being scared to death as other cars whizzed angrily past us. Some would honk; some would make rude gestures with their hand and fingers. If Uncle Henry saw any of it he gave no indication. He was looking straight ahead, listening to his baby sister chatter. Occasionally he would speak and I remember his voice being soft and slow (like his driving). Grandpa was usually quiet.
Grandma clearly adored her big brother. She would smile and giggle and tell us about Henry being a mailman. It was hard to imagine the slow, stooped, old man carrying a heavy bag of mail through wind and sleet and snow. But Grandma said he had, so he must have.
Bishops was known affectionately to Doug and me as the "old folkís home". I think there was a code that you must be over 65 or in the presence of someone over 65 in order to eat there. Grandma would tell us to get whatever we wanted because it was Henryís treat. The cool thing about Bishops was waiting in line and holding a bright orange tray. Then you would slide it on metal bars in front of glass protected food dishes. Each section of food would have little price tags- next to the tiny bowls of corn would be a black plastic marker saying 45 cents. Without fail I would get corn, ham slices, mashed potatoes without gravy, cornbread, and for dessert either a scoop of chocolate ice cream or a slice of chocolate pie. Grandma would always tease me about ham and cornbread. What can I say? It was delicious.
Once we all sat down at a big round table, the men would get right down to the business of eating. Grandma would open up her big purse and start pulling out empty butter tubs. Most of the food on her tray would go into those tubs and be packed back into her purse to take home. Without fail, a waitress would come by and Grandma would have to explain to the waitress how she couldnít eat it all and would have to take it home.
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Two fun things about Bishops. They had interesting little lights on the tables, and when you needed a waitress, you switched on the little light and they would come to you, switch it off and give you the assistance you needed. For kids, when you got in line to pay your ticket, they had a big bin filled with balloons. Attached to the colorful balloons were cardboard "feet" so the balloons could stand on your table.
After dinner was the nail biting ride home.
It was as an adult, when I lived on my own in Lincoln that I really got to know Grandma and appreciate her. Somehow, at that time, I inherited the job of escort. Once or twice I drove her around to run errands. Then I got the graveyard stint.
Every year near Memorial Day, Grandma would pack up the car with bouquets of silk flowers and other bits of dťcor. Then with a long handwritten list in hand, she would instruct the driver and escort where to take her. It was a solemn, serious business for her. The first time I was asked to do it, I agreed, reluctantly. Grave decorating didnít sound like fun to me.
But I learned a lot about my Grandmother during those days. Thatís when I started to learn the stories about many of those people Iíd looked at in the photo albums. We started out a Wyuka Cemetery, and then ended at Lincoln Memorial Park. It was the first time I learned that Grandma and Grandpa had two babies that had died. I also learned how deep a Motherís suffering over such a loss can be. More than 60 years after the fact, Grandma would cry as we decorated the gravesites of her babies. I remember thinking how sad it was that her babies didnít even have headstone. They had mere makers in the ground. Little circles easily lost in the grasses and marked with only a number. I donít remember what the numbers were or even which cemetery they are located at. But I intend to find out. For Grandmaís sake those markers should not be forgotten.
I remember one distressing incident with Grandma. Looking back now I can find bits of humor in it, though at the time I couldnít. One day we were running errands. I was probably 19 years old. For some reason we were at Safeway on South Street. We were walking arm in arm, slowly through the parking lot to go into the store. As we walked and chatted, a young mom with two attractive little children moved by us on their way to the car. That was when Grandma loudly asked me if I had seen the "little nigger children". I remember my eyes getting quite big as I gasped and looked around me, wondering if anybody had heard the comment. While I waited for people to pop out of the woodwork and start beating us up, Grandma was giggling and talking about how she thought little picaninny children were so cute, especially the little girls with their braided and beaded hair.
She giggled again as she said she knew she wasnít supposed to say those words anymore. She was supposed to say "Negro" but it sounded weird to her because she had grown up using the other words. I changed the subject as quickly as I could. Even now itís hard for me to swallow when I recall the incident. Itís strange that the same woman who later spoke with such fascination about the Indian people she grew up beside in Niobrara could harbor such prejudices about black people. But I had to keep in mind the times she grew up in. She was only expressing what she knew. She had grown up in the times when segregation and lynchings were normal and most black people working in lowly positions as servants and laborers. I remember her turning off the TV one day when she wanted to hear the news, but the only program she could find had a black newscaster. She didnít think that was right. There was only one station that didnít have a black person on it, and that was the station she watched. I could never excuse her behavior, but I learned to understand it. My Grandmother grew up in a very different world that the one I knew.
It was during those times that I began to see a need to record some of her stories and memories. Years earlier, as part of a high school project, Doug had made an audio recording of Grandpa, talking about life in the depression. I wasnít in the room when Doug spoke to him; it was just the two of them at the dining room table. But I remember that Grandpa broke down in tears just talking about it. I distressed all of us as Doug and I had never seen Grandpa cry before. It was scary. Unfortunately, the tape was later lost. But making the tape was never forgotten. I knew that I wanted to record the family. My Grandparents were an interesting link between the present and a past that was beyond my understanding
Life has a way of moving quickly by and though I had it in my head to take the family history, other things distracted me for awhile, such as my boyfriend, later my husband Tom. I was only 19 and he was 21 when we met at Valentino's in Lincoln. We were serious after just a few dates. What "serious" meant at that time, was that he got the privilege of meeting my family right away.
Iíll never forget the "first" time Tom met Grandma and Grandpa Bice. I laugh now just thinking about it. We were with my Dad and we all drove out to the little red brick house. Tom had commented as we drove there.
That particular side of Lincoln was complete opposite of where Tom had grown up near East high school on 70th and A Street. But he was slightly familiar with the area as heíd had a brief stint selling TriStar vacuums there. When we pulled into Grandma and Grandpaís driveway, Tom commented on how the house looked familiar. There was a popular bar near there and Grandmaís house was the most visible from the highway, so I figured that was why it was familiar. But as soon as we got in the house and made introductions, Grandma was exclaiming, "I know you. Youíre the nice boy who vacuumed my carpets".
What was really funny was that Tom sold TriStar vacuums for a very short time. He had told me several stories about the nightmarish job. The vacuums were high quality, but so expensive that very few could buy them. Once or twice he was overcome with guilt as he managed to talk some less than wealthy elderly person into the lengthy payment plan. But Tom worked on commission and it was extremely difficult to sell enough machines to make a decent living. He had to make "cold" calls. That meant he would be given a long list of names and telephone numbers. He would call the name on the list, and try to arrange a time for a demonstration. In exchange for listening to his sales pitch, the customer would get a free gift, a knife set or a case of pop, something like that. Then Tom would vacuum one of the rooms in the house to demonstrate the machine. Most of the time, he would vacuum his heart out, give his speech, give his free gift, and then be sent on his way minus the sale.
Grandma was one of those people. Later Tom laughed as he recalled Grandma had talked him into vacuuming the whole living room and the kitchen, told him he was a nice boy, took the free knives and had no intention of buying a TriStar.
Such a funny coincidence shouldnít have been unexpected. The family is full of such things. After all, Grandma had originally dated Grandpaís cousin. When she met Grandpa she had no idea he was related to her beau. Same thing happened to my Dad. Before he dated my Mom heíd had a few dates with her cousin. It wasnít until later that they learned of the coincidence. No, I never dated one of Tomís cousins. But learning my Grandparents had met my husband before I had, should have come as no surprise.
Sadly, Grandpa died less than two months before Tom and I got married, shortly after his 88th birthday. His passing was another reminder that life is unpredictable and the family stories should be captured. Iíll never forget how shattered Grandma was over the loss. They had celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary before his death, so it was understandable that her heart was broken. But I also remember Grandmaís strength and resiliency. The woman who was often "deathly ill and pukey sick" had a backbone of steel.
It made me feel good that Grandma could still be excited about my wedding. I think she used it as a way of coping with her loss. A wedding can make for a good distraction and she used it. I remember her talking to me several times about picking out a special outfit to wear. She made sure it matched my wedding colors and she liked hearing the details of the wedding preparations.
During our little cake and punch reception in the church basement, we had a videographer there who let people record messages to the bride and groom. Grandma looked so sweet as she recorded her message. She didnít understand the concept of being videotaped, but she held the microphone and smiled and congratulated us. She wished us a long and happy marriage like sheíd had, "63 years and thatís a LOOONG time. And may you have some of the romance that Grandpa and I hadÖ" Iíd never witnessed the "romance" between Grandpa and Grandma. But they come from an era where such things were private, so it certainly might have been there. I certainly appreciated the thought of being wished 63 years with Tom and I still do. That would be wonderful.
I was pregnant with Kaylie when Grandma and I sat down officially to record the family history. She was living by herself in a cute little apartment and doing pretty well. I remember that we had to make a special date for the event. Grandma had needed time to prepare herself to talk about her past, especially the sad parts of it.
Gladys Meyer is on the left and Florence Bice on the rightóDec 1999.
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