Frances (Cathie Green) Wilder
Will Green Is Passing Out Cigars
A news item in the Okobojo Times for September 24, 1903, read as follows:
Will Green is passing out cigars this week. The cause of this phenomenon is the arrival of a baby girl at the Green homestead, Saturday, September 19, 1903. Her name is Frances Catharine. Mother and baby are doing nicely, but there is little hope for the father. Congratulations, Bill!
To say that I arrived is an understatement. I made an entrance! The occasion was Okobojo's annual Old Settlers' Meeting. Since my father was president of the association, he should have been presiding over the festivities of the day; but I saw to it that he had more pressing duties.
While the Okobojo band played "Semper Fidelis," Papa was giving a fine demonstration of fidelity by streaking across the prairie to the home of the midwife, Mrs. Mallick. While the baseball team was warming up, he and Mrs. Mallick made a home run
to our house--and later that night, the old settlers in the Green homestead welcomed a new settler--me.
The most important thing about me at that time was that I was a girl! Papa had been one of seven sons. His mother had named each one "Viola" before he was born, and then had to change the name to Will, Hugh, and Charley. Two of the boys died before they were named, and Grant and Sherman lived only a very short time. Grandfather John Simpson Green was one of nine boys, who had only one sister--known to all her nephews as "Aunt Sis." As the one girl in two generations of the Green family, I was a rather special package. Two younger brothers, Willis John and George Hugh, completed my parents' family, leaving me still the only girl.
From the time Mama was a little girl with red curls and Papa was pulling them to get a rise out of her, she had been teased about having the "Viola" responsibility passed on to her. With this still simmering in her mind, any chance of Grandmother Green's having a little Viola for a granddaughter was definitely out. Mama wanted to name me Josephine, for her mother; but Aunt Kitty, who was present at the birthing, said that name was to be reserved for her daughter, when she had one. While I don't regret that I wasn't named Josephine ("Josephine Green" would have been an unfortunate combination), it has always given me considerable satisfaction to recall that Aunt Kitty's "girls" are Charles, Wilbur, and Dudley.
I think it was gracious of Mama to name me Catharine, after the Aunt Kitty who took away her first choice of a name. Papa put Frances in front of the Catharine, for reasons Mama didn't fully understand or approve. (It seems that Papa had once showed some attention to a girl named Fanny Crawford.) I was called by the double name until my younger brother, Willis, shortened it to Cathie. Aunt Kitty is the only one who still calls me by the original combination, but then she is a very determined woman who insists upon honoring me with her name.
The events of my life for the first few years are purely hearsay. The family declares that there was never another child like me, and I have always been in doubt as to whether that was a compliment. Judging from the trend of later activities, I gather that it was very doubtful.
They tell me that I fed pork strips into the sausage grinder at the tender age of sixteen months, supervised by my father, who furnished the hand power for the mill. Thus began a business partnership that was to end only with Papa's death when I was eighteen.
When I was a year and a half old, Willis John was born into the family and under my protection. I was held responsible for his conduct as soon as he was able to crawl. More than once, I was spanked soundly because he had misbehaved. Whenever I was spanked, Willis cried in sympathy--and on those rare occasions when corporal punishment was administered to him, I think I actually suffered more than he did.
Mama's spankings were quite an ordeal. Aunt Kitty used to swish a buggy whip around her sons' legs and then take them into the pantry for a lengthy lecture on their sins: the extent of them, and why punishment was needed. The process was reversed at our house. When Mama called any of us children into the pantry for a spanking, we went in with fully justified fear and trembling. Her procedure was always the same, and I shall never forget that minute it took her to unbutton the three buttons on my little panties. Then she stretched me across her knee and administered the sharp, stinging spanks that literally "burned me up." She always gave one more spank than I thought I could possibly endure. When I came out of the pantry, I was a very reasonable child and easily influenced for good.
From early childhood, Willis and I got along well together--largely because, as Papa said, I learned very early to be diplomatic. When Willis had a toy I wanted, I would get another toy, take it to him and say, "Wissie want this pretty toy?" With an eager "Yah!" Willis would drop what he had and grab the substitute. Then I would go off to my corner and play with my chosen toy.
I worked hard to please Willis--even "playing horse" for him by putting on rope reins and hauling him, in his little red wagon, all over the yard. When we were a little older, it seemed only fair for Willis, in return for my services as horse, to play house with me and be the father of my dolls. The trouble was that Willis whipped the "children" so hard that he nearly destroyed them. One day he hanged poor Polly Jay in a tree and almost tore her head off. When I showed Papa what Willis had done, he took poor Polly Jay down from the tree and then gave Willis one of the hardest switchings he had ever had. Needless to say, that was the end of our playing house--but I still pranced, galloped, trotted, and even ran away once in a while with my exacting driver. It was still a nag's life, but it kept the peace.