Tell It Like It Was - A Shortt Story
Adapted from the original email-letters from Paul Ovaitt - Original date November 29, 2021
Hello again, gentle readers. Many years ago, a former resident of Augusta told me that people pay way too much attention to national politics, and not nearly enough to the state, county and town scene. He said it’s your local elected officials who have the most effect on your life. At the time, I couldn’t fully agree with him, but now I think there was a fair amount of truth to his statement.
More recently a young woman told me her father was always the grand marshal at the Memorial Day service in a small midwestern town. She laughed as though to deflate the importance her father placed on his role in the event. I surprised myself when I responded that there’s nothing more important than what happens in your own neighborhood.
And that, my friends, is why I keep writing up interviews until we resume live Tell It Like It Was interviews at Harmonie Verein. Some people think I’m a historian. Hilarious! History is merely a by-product of what I’m doing. And even though what I’m doing has no name, it does have motivating factors that have little to do with history. One thing that motivates me is a desire to repay my debt to this town that always treated me kindly…well, mostly. There are more reasons, but they can emerge later in another story.
So, when I texted Donna Shortt Meinershagen on July 12, 2021, to ask for an interview, she texted back, “I’m not sure about the Shortt family history – we don’t have much history in Augusta. I think it must have been around 1954 when Dad moved to Augusta and then my grandparents came after I was born in 1957. Most of my family history is in Virginia. The Meinershagens are a whole different story! (Paul’s mother was a Nadler) so there’s a lot of Augusta history there!” Once again, I had to explain to a potential interviewee, that it didn’t matter. I only want to hear herstory. Our conversation eventually took place August 12, 2021.
Here we go, gentle readers. Please assume that any words in parentheses are mine.
Paul: Would you like to start at the beginning, and tell me when and where you were born?
Donna: Okie-dokie. I was born on ___, ___1957 at St. Joseph Hospital in St. Charles. My dad (Bud)…they…were living in Augusta at the time in that house that Bert (Robert) Carmon lives in.
P: Yes, Alma Berg used to live there.
D: Absolutely. That’s where my parents lived. I’m guessing they rented it.
P: I just remembered that my neighbor on Duke Road, your second cousin Glendell Shortt, told me that Ann Shortt (Bud’s wife) is not your mother.
D: Right. My mother, Mary Grace Oliver Shortt, died nine weeks after I was born…due to complications of childbirth. They apparently didn’t get everything out…and she ended up hemorrhaging. She was 23 years old. Dad was 24…and he had these three little girls. My mother died on my oldest sister’s (Kaye’s) third birthday. So, there was a 3yo, and Cheryl was probably a year and a half old, and me, the newborn.
D: I get a little confused on the timeline for what happened next after she passed away. My grandparents, my dad’s parents, lived in the Appalachian Mountains, in Flat Gap, Virginia. And they moved to Missouri. They…well, first off…their property was sold as eminent domain. It’s part of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest now. There’s actually a campground there we go visit. There are three trees that my grandmother pointed out to me that my dad’s brother, Rueben…who was killed in Vietnam…that he planted there. He was like…10yo. Anyway, there was eminent domain…and I remember Gran always saying there wasn’t any work there in Virginia. Pop’s (her grandfather’s) family had a sawmill on their property…so, now they don’t have their property…and they moved here to help dad (Bud) with us three kids. So, they moved, I think, into what is now Augusta Reserves. You know, where Langfo
rds lived…the one where the house sits on top of the cellar on Church Street. We played in that cellar…we weren’t supposed to…David (Bud’s brother, Dave Shortt, who would somed
ay sing and play in the Texas Giants band) would play guitar and it would echo so cool.
D: And I lived there until I was probably 8yo.
I guess I’d better back up. I was raised by my grandparents. Apparently, what happened…and honestly, Paul, I didn’t find any of this out until I was 34yo. I had no idea why my grandparents were raising me. I guess I didn’t care (laugh.) Dad was always close. And my sisters were always close. I mean…we stayed at each other’s house all the time. I never thought about it. It was just the way things were. But I found out when I was 34, because I finally asked Dad. Apparently, there was a battle when he remarried. Gran, his mother, didn’t want him to take his girls from her because she had been raising them.
D: Dad told me she was ready to take him to court. So, they came up with a compromise: Gran would keep the baby (Donna) and he would take the other two. But they would always live close to each other. And we did!
D: Then we moved into that house that’s next to Dad’s, that little ranch style on Lower Street. Dan Kemner built it in ‘66 or ’67, and I lived there until I got married. The land was owned by…I don’t know if you’ll remember Old Man Tom.
P: Sure! Tinker Tom.
D: Yes. He and Pop (Bud’s dad) were really good friends. He was over at our house for breakfast and dinner all the time. Every day. Our family was his family; he didn’t have anybody else. That property was actually his. I don’t know if he gifted it to them or if they bought it.
P: I don’t suppose you have a picture of Tinker Tom and his house? I was always fascinated by that guy. It was fun to go in there and chat with him. He always had the time!
D: He was a talker. I’ll see if I can find a picture.
Gentle readers, Pop and Gran Shortt’s house at 276 Lower Street is now owned by Paul and Martha Kampen. Bud and Ann Shortt’s house, 266 Lower St., is the site where Tinker Tom’s brick dwelling/shop was located. I don’t recall if Tom had any tinkering skills at all. His front yard and his brick house resembled a junk shop, and I think everything was for sale. I don’t remember if I ever bought anything from him, but I often stopped to chat with him.
D: Anyway, I was raised by my grandparents, and I called them mom and dad. I always felt like I was a lucky kid because I had two of each. (LOL) I guess I was an optimist at the time. I remember Kathleen Boffa told me she knew my mother, that they were friends.
P: Which mother? It gets confusing.
Gentle readers, let me interject here that Kathleen Boffa is no longer among the living. She lived in the house at the intersection of Walnut and Lower Street. This same building once served as the post office of Augusta and is currently owned by Esther and Chuck Nobe. Directly downhill from that building is a house which resembles a Swiss chalet. This is the home of Kathleen’s daughter-in-law, Betty Boffa.
D: I had two dads and two moms, and I would say dad this and dad that, and I had to change that. I say Pop and Gran now for my grandparents.
P: Does that explain why everyone knew your grandfather as Pop Shortt?
D: Well, probably because dad is a junior; they’re both named Millard. It was always Pop and Bud.
P: What else can you tell me about your birth mother?
D: She was born in Princeton KY. She and dad met in STL. Dad came to Missouri because he was stationed at Scott Air Force Base. He was assigned to the police (Air Police, as in rounding up AWOL airman basics) in St. Louis City. I think my mom was living with her sister at that time. She was from a large family also. And in dad’s family, there were 12 of them.
P: When Bud married Ann Wall, I guess you had another mother.
D: Oh yeah, I call her mom.
P: Did she have any career outside the home that I don’t know about?
D: I don’t think early on, but she did end up working at Ladue School District. She retired from there.
P: When I owned the Salem Schoolhouse near Berg’s crossing, there were some relatives of Ann’s living behind me a little uphill, also Pauline Chambers.
D: Yes, that was her brother and his wife, Pat and Rose Wall in one house. In the other house was Ann’s mother, Pauline Chambers. Her name changed to Chambers when she remarried.
P: Please give me the name of all your brothers and sisters.
D: There’s Kaye in St. Albans, Cheryl in between Krakow and Union, and I’m outside Krakow. Harvey (Bud and Ann’s first child) died in a car accident in 1984. He was 25yo. Vicki lives in Marthasville. Velma is in O’Fallon. Annette is in Washington. Monica lives off of Highway T; her address might be Augusta. And Michael died in a pickup accident in 2004.
P: I was just thinking about all the tragedies your family has endured…your mother, Rueben in Vietnam, Pop (grandfather) in a truck accident, Harvey, Michael…your husband, Paul Meinershagen…and maybe more.
D: I was actually just thinking that…like, oh my gosh, we’ve been through so much. It’s part of our history. And honestly, my sisters and I are so close…well, my whole family. And I think it’s through tragedy. It brings us closer. You realize that you may not have them the next day.
P: Where did you go to school?
D: I started school in Augusta while the high school was still there. (This was the last year the high school was there.) They didn’t have kindergarten yet. What I remember most is when President Kennedy was shot (11/22/1963). I was in first grade and didn’t understand presidents. It probably wouldn’t have been a big deal to me, but in the bathroom…the high school girls were in there, and my two aunts, Dad’s sisters, Paula and Jane, were in there crying. So that set me off and I started crying.
D: I went to 7th grade on 3rd St. in Washington, where the administration building is now. Then they built the new middle school by the next year. And then on to Washington High. Paul Meinershagen and I got married and I quit school. Then I went back after Trisha was born. (Donna’s first child was Tracy, then Travis.) I got my GED and then went to East Central. I got an associate degree in business.
P: In what ways did you use your degree?
D: Well, I worked awhile for Tony Kooyumjian at Augusta Wine. I also worked at the Children’s Factory in Union. At first, I sewed there, but I eventually became a supervisor
P: Recently, I was looking at some back issues of the Augusta Neighborhood Notes and I saw your name listed as staff. How did that come about?
D: Anita Mallinckrodt wasn’t shy about asking me to help. I was the treasurer for a while. But I also managed the mailings for people outside of our delivery route. That was actually fun…talking with people who once lived in Augusta…they would share memories…and we often knew people in common.
P: And what are your kids doing now?
D: Going to work and raising their kids, although their kids are mostly raised. Tracy and Aaron are in Marthasville. Travis is a carpenter for Higginbotham Custom Homes, and he lives on Ferry St. where Paul and I had lived. His son is Kale, and he’s living in Augusta. Kale bought the house behind the funeral home, the house that Trisha and Clinton Hedrick (as in Hedrick Bros. Roofing) used to live in. Trisha and Clinton live in Leslie and Dorothy (Nadler) Meinershagen’s old house on Hackmann Road.
Gentle readers, I know some of you will remember that every year for Halloween, Dorothy Meinershagen would produce a ton of homemade donuts to distribute to young, and even adult trick-or-treaters. She was a first cousin to Leland Nadler, whom many of you remember as a fiddler and bass player. And I will never forget my first several meetings with Leslie Meinershagen. I was, for months, kneeling on the cold ground and jacking up the Salem Schoolhouse because it was in the Missouri River floodplain. As I raised the building, I would lay more stonework for the foundation. It was hard, brutal work, and Leslie would often stop to encourage me.
P: Tell me what paying jobs you had in your youth.
D: My first job was at Mt. Pleasant Winery when I was 16. I think we made $2 an hour. We picked grapes by hand. We’d get out there in the morning. You had to dress in layers…it would be cold in the morning and burning up by the afternoon. Lucian would always buy us lunch at the Whitehouse Tavern. Once in a while, Eva would cook for us. She made the best minestrone soup ever.
D: We worked in the summer too. I and my younger sisters, and my younger cousins…Lucian would have us wrap a bag around the base of the vines so they could go through and spray them with weed killer.
P: I didn’t know you were connected to the wine biz.
D: Ha! We used to always…it was part of a game when we were growing up...to tease the tourists…give the tourists trouble. We always felt like they expected us to be all pigtails and buck teeth…and we’d sometimes play the part.
P: What sort of recreation did you pursue when you were young?
D: When we were little, we’d play in the woods behind Gran’s house on Lower St. We figured out how to get to the railroad tracks. So, we’d play on the tracks, and walk down to where Hackmann Rd. meets the track. We went down there during the flood one time. Uncle Bud Thielemann came down to get us; we were in BIG trouble. We would also climb the bluffs by the tracks.
P: Dave Klaas showed me something interesting in that wooded ravine below your grandparents’ house. There are barely visible remnants of a foundation and a stone dam. I think there’s a future story there for me. Did you ever see any of this?
D: No, but I remember them telling us a story…it was probably just to scare us…but there was a place where there used to be a little pond…and somebody told us that somebody drowned there. We tried to stay away from it. It kind of gave us the creeps.
P: Okay, we can talk about something else. When I moved here in the 70s, I became aware that newcomers were often referred to as ship-ins. In recent years I mentioned it to a local farmer, and he told me that in his youth, the German descendants called all newcomers, Yankees.
D: Growing up…I don’t…I felt like all of our neighbors were so nice to me. We had “Foots” Kemner on the corner, Bob Buenemann, Alma Berg…those people were always nice to me. But…I do remember Gran talking about when they first moved to Augusta, that somebody said to her…because my grandparents were from Virginia…oh, you’re the ones who caused the Civil War. And that really…she said, “I just told them I didn’t start nothin’.” It was before her time!
P: You were married to Paul Meinershagen, who died in 1994. I always found his family so interesting. They were so self-sufficient…let’s just say they could live anywhere and somehow survive. Paul was likewise versatile.
D: Yeah, when I think about that house Trisha’s living in…Leslie and Dorothy (Paul’s parents) built that house out of salvaged material from other houses. It took him…I think they lived in the basement two years before it got built…enough to move upstairs.
P: It’s a beautiful house…and they could raise and preserve their own food…he made his own cordial wines…they could do anything.
D: I’m telling you, when I married Paul, I learned a lot. You know, my family had done that when they were in Virginia, but not when we moved to town. Paul always joked with me and called me a city girl. But yeah…to learn how to butcher, and gosh, clean casings for sausage…I’m grateful that I had that opportunity to learn that. Of course, Travis still does butcher.
P: Before Leslie and Dorothy moved into town, did you spend time at the log house they lived in behind Salem School, and now at the bottom of the lake at Augusta Shores?
D: We would go out there and butcher…everybody would gather and butcher then…the Bergs, the Mallinckrodts…we would all go to Meinershagens to work…and Meinershagens would go to their house to butcher theirs.
D: Paul and I moved away from Augusta in 1978, I think. We moved to De Soto, MO for about 6 years. We came back in 1984, and then stayed with his parents until they redid the little house where Travis lives now. We had lived in that house before De Soto, but it didn’t have any running water, no plumbing, no heating…we had a woodstove and an oil stove. It had two rooms, and that’s where we lived when Travis was a baby. When we came back there in ’84, they dug the basement, added rooms, a garage, and added heating and plumbing.
P: So, you may be the last of the primitive dwellers in Augusta except for Mops Fuhr.
D: I’m sure we were. One of my cousin’s friends came over with her, and she asked me where the bathroom was. And I said, “outside and down the hill”, and she started laughing, like I was joking. But when I lived on Church St. with Pop and Gran, there was no plumbing or heating there either. I remember Gran cooked on a wood stove…and in an oven on her woodstove. When they built the new house on Lower St. (now Kampen’s), I thought we had a mansion. We had a bathtub and a bathroom…a gas stove…gas furnace. It was amazing to me as an 8yo.
P: You’ve had a wider experience of living conditions than the average person has. I’ve lived for periods under primitive conditions, but it was a choice…or a lark that I could walk away from when I chose.
D: I think it brings a greater appreciation to when you can turn on a faucet and have water run out of it…not have to carry a bucket.
P: How long have you been living in the Krakow/Leslie area?
D: Let’s see, Danny (Niederschulte), Trisha and I moved to Dutzow in 2001, about. And Danny and I moved to Krakow/Leslie area in 2006 because it was closer to my job in Union and most of Danny’s work was in Washington.
P: What do you miss the most about Augusta?
D: That’s a tough one. I really don’t miss it, because I’m there a lot. Travis really wants me to move back, but right now it wouldn’t even be convenient to move back. Danny has to be at the cancer center at Patients First so often. (Danny was diagnosed with cancer in November 2020.) But moving back, and being around my best friends, my kids and my parents…that would be awesome.
P: Do you have any comments you’d care to make about the changes going on in town with Hoffmann?
D: I have mixed feelings. I think getting your feathers ruffled abut it is not going to help anything. The man is there to make money; that’s what he does. He didn’t come in to be the savior of Augusta. But those buildings were dying. I didn’t have the money to save them…because I hate to see them go…if he can save those buildings, I say go for it…and his other business ventures…that’s just something we have to put up with. I know that hotel is supposed to go in right behind Clinton and Trisha’s. But at the same time, their daughter, who is 15, has been putting in applications at the Emporium and different places. Hopefully that’s a plus, that she can get a job in town, maybe. I’m sure there’s pros and cons there.
P: I think we can wrap this up, Donna. You’ve given me plenty to work with. Thank you.
D: Well, I hope writing stories doesn’t get to be too big of a job, that you end up not doing it. And I discovered something when I read your Koenig stories. Apparently, they moved here about the same time my grandparents did. My mother died in January of ’58, so my grandparents moved here that same year, and that was the same year the Koenigs arrived. Dave Shortt and Junior Koenig, or Frank Jr., were always good friends. And I’m thinking that’s why; they both started school as new kids. I don’t remember the other Koenigs, but I knew Junior because he and David hung around together. Later, Junior’s daughter, Ashley was good friends with my daughter, Trisha. She would come and stay at our house.
P: Hey, thanks for reading my stories.
My neighbors, Glendell and Colleen Shortt, were the first to contribute a photo for this story. It’s a photo of their wedding day, with Donna as their flower girl. Donna texted, “I love that picture!! Gran made my dress and I thought for sure that I was a princess!!”
Also included are a photo of hog butchering day at Leslie’s and a lovely picture of Bud’s first 3 kids on Church St. with the outhouse in the background, (left to right – Kaye, Donna and Cheryl.)
Pictured behind their home on Lower St. are Pop Shortt (Millard Sr.) and Granny (Helen.)
About the next two photos, Donna texted: “I found a couple more pictures for you. One of Mr. Tom (Tinker Tom) ~ his name was Albion Charles Thompson. And one of his house when he was living there. Dad later moved a small trailer in for him when the house was really not livable anymore.”
Lastly, we have a photo of the lyrics…oh, I’ll just let Donna’s words speak: “This is a short version of our history (lol, no pun intended!) We needed a theme song for our reunion several years ago, so I wrote this. Now we sing it at our reunions.” And because I can never let things be, I have recorded my own version of the Shortt Family Song.
Stay healthy and stay curious.
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