Tell It Like It Was - Ellen Berg Mallinckrodt Part 2
Adapted from the original email-letters from Paul Ovaitt - Original date January 10, 2022
Hello again, gentle readers. The writing of this interview came from 4 separate conversations with Ellen and 3 with Brent Mallinckrodt. During a preliminary call before our hour-long session on 10/22/21, Ellen turned the tables by interviewing me. She told me she had heard something interesting about me…that I had gone to Mizzou…and I had a degree in journalism. Her tone said, “what’s up with that?” Well, Mizzou, yes. J school degree, not so much. It’s kinda funny that I never got my degree, even though I walked away from Columbia, MO with more credit hours than were needed for a bachelor’s degree, and I had a high GPA too.
What can I say? Do you recall in part 1 that I attributed my tipi dwelling to the idealism of youth? Something similar was at work in my spirit as I walked past the 6 Ionic style columns of Francis Quadrangle on my way to and from class. I was only going to college for the sake of knowledge itself. Mostly I took classes in what interested me: Greek, Roman and Norse mythology, literature, ancient history, philosophy, cinema, and for good measure, 2 years of college French.
And then I discovered you could game the system a little by taking “honors” courses which doubled your credits, like 8 hours for the price of 4. True, they were tough, and in class I must have seemed like a deaf-mute…can I say that? Okay, like the Buddha? Like a mummy? I mean what does a boy from Jeff City know about Blake, Coleridge and A. E. Housman? The professor would walk in 5 minutes late with a wonderful smelling cup of coffee and start dispensing knowledge to the dozen or so students huddled around the rectangular table. And I kept my mouth shut.
But when it came time to write a paper, I drew my own conclusions about what the esteemed, dead poets were saying. Then I strung sentences together until I impressed even myself with my baloney. After I turned in my first essay on Robert Browning’s Fra Lippo Lippi, the professor rewarded me with an invitation to his cozy, cluttered, coffee saturated office. He proceeded to grill me for 30 minutes on my paper. In his mind I was too dull to write such a brilliant script In the end he wearily conceded I had done the deed unaided, but he never liked me. College professors often have large egos that don’t easily accept unintended deflation from a mere child. He didn’t offer me any coffee.
Ultimately, I did enter J school, and I even sat in a lecture hall with CBS correspondent, Charles Kuralt, who was going back to school for a master’s degree. But I didn’t care about a degree or working for the news media. And by now you probably think I was being unfair to whomever (or whoever) was footing the bill for my schooling. Maybe that was the problem! I was paying my own tuition, room and board, vehicle maintenance, beer consumption, maybe some recreational drugs…amplifiers…guitars… I suppose I was making more money, playing rock n’ roll across the Midwest, than a teenager/minor really should. But guess what. I’d probably do it all the same way again. (And yeah, anything in parentheses is my input.)
Paul: Ellen, would you describe your parents for me?
Ellen: They were both very hard working…I can hardly remember being disciplined or getting into trouble…we knew what we were expected to do, and we didn’t question it. We just did it. There was no paddle to make us do it. We’d get up in the morning, and before school we’d milk the cows, and then change clothes to go to school. It was a ritual every morning. And I was just thinking about the odor of the barn…we had to have some of that on us…but I guess we weren’t the only ones.
P: Hmmm, okay. Your dad liked baseball a lot.
E: Yes, before he was married, he tried out for a minor league team, but his parents wouldn’t let him go because they needed him on the farm. So, he didn’t do that, but if there was time in the evening or Sunday afternoon, we’d play ball in the backyard.
E: My older sister Marion played quite a bit, and I played for a long time too. When I first started as a teenager I played in Matson or in Defiance. Defiance had a ball team too. I didn’t play in Augusta until later…after I was married. That’s where I got more involved with Patsy (Kemner Baravik) and a bunch of locals who were more my age. One of the teams we played on was called the Hopewell Honeys in Concord Hill.
P: How about your mom…did she have any particular talents or interests?
E: She was very good at sewing...like quilts. I remember during the winter there was always a quilt in the middle of our living room. We had to work around that, and she’d have people in the house helping, and she’d do the same for others. It was their entertainment.
P: Arthur once told me that the quarry on the property was very good to him because he was able to sell stone, and more than a few times. As you grew up, did you see the quarry expand?
E: Not necessarily, it was mostly after we left home. They took some out, but it was nothing like what they did in the later years. It helped Mom and Dad pay for the farm and put a little money in the bank. Part of the rock…well they never did finish it…went to raising Highway 94, and the Katy Trail…some was used along the river, which was awfully convenient because there was a natural river landing right there for loading.
P: Tell me a little about the name “Berg’s Crossing” that was given to the stretch where the MKT crossed 94. What was your relationship with the railroad? I think your dad told me about a small task he would do at the crossing when he was young.
E: I don’t know about that, but I remember there was a fellow who lived in Matson, that right at dark…he had this machine…and he’d rock the handle back and forth...and go down the track and make sure everything was okay on the tracks.
Gentle readers, you may be interested in this article by local historian, Bob Brail, entitled, Trackwalkers. http://justawalkdowntheroad.blogspot.com/2015/02/normal-0-microsoftinternetexplorer4_66.html. Trackwalkers were paid to do just that in order to keep the MKT tracks in good shape.
E: I was more involved with the railroad when we lived there where the Belts lived. (This is at the end of Sanders Road, and you’re not apt to see the house these days unless you ride the Katy Trail.) We rented that house the first 12 years we were married. Klondike Quarry was still in business, and the trains stopped to get that silica sand. And towards evening there’d always be a train stretched out in front of our house and someone would get off wanting a bite to eat, and it scared the liver out of me.
P: They’d come knocking at your door?
E: Oh yeah, they’d ask for something to eat, and I’d never refuse them. There were a few times they would sleep in the barn that was there…in the hay. And Hube was hauling a lot of cattle to St. Louis, and here I was with 2 little boys…and a knock on the door…and a stranger…
P: Even in the 80s, at the schoolhouse, there was a guy who used to walk across Missouri on the tracks…a different version of a hobo. His mother still lived in St. Charles. He stopped at my place a couple times, and I’d feed him and give him a place to sleep. He seemed harmless, but he didn’t smell so great.
E: Oh, I remember one time, Leslie Meinershagen and Ed Belt kept bees on the hill behind my house, and right at dark, I looked out and here’s these 2 people walking with white sheets…and here again, I was home by myself with the 2 kids…and I called Hube’s dad. Well, they were just getting honey from the bees, and I felt like a fool, but no one told me they were going to do it.
P: I guess you weren’t working outside the home at that time.
E: No. Brent and Craig both had vision problems, so they went to school in STL at the Missouri School for the Blind. It’s on Magnolia St., just off of Kingshighway. It’s still there. We had to bring them there on Monday morning and pick them up on Friday. That was pretty much my job. So, I made sure I had everything done during the week so we could spend quality time on the weekend.
P: And now for something completely different…do you have anything you want to say about Hoffmann?
E: Nnn-no. I have some thoughts about it, but I’ll keep them to myself.
P: Ellen, thanks so much for speaking with me today. Do you have any comments about Matson or Augusta you’d like to add before we finish?
E: Not in particular, no. But the kids always enjoy coming back…they marvel at the sunsets here…they live in the big city, and they don’t see sunsets…the last thing they do when they come out here…towards evening…is get out there and take more pictures!
Gentle readers, I called Ellen back on December 28, 2021, to expand this interview with more info on her husband, Hubert. (He was, of course, the brother of the late Anita Mallinckrodt, our town historian.) I guess many of you knew him well, but some of the more recent residents of this area, probably only know his name. I may not be qualified to sum him up, but I will say he was a prominent figure in the Augusta I encountered. He was a farmer, of course, but he was also known as a consummate storyteller with a keen sense of humor and a sharp wit. I recall that in the early 80s, Hubie hired Jeff Stewart and me to nail down a loose, metal barn roof, and then coat it with that thick gooey mobile home paint, which was about half tar, half aluminum paint. He came to inspect our work and then told us that before paying us, he was going to lie down, buck naked, spread eagle on the floor of the barn in a rainstorm. He wanted nary a drop to touch his skin.
Hubie and Ellen’s son, Brent, was visiting her on Schell Road, when I called, and he joined in the conversation.
P: Tell me about your husband, Hubie. I assume you went to school together.
E: I knew Hube in grade school, but he was older than me, and you just don’t associate with older people when you’re in grade school. In high school we started going out, off and on.
Brent: They both played basketball. Also, the Korean War was going on already while they were in high school, and dad thought it would be better to enlist, and choose your area, rather than be drafted. So, he enlisted in the army, and very shortly after that, the armistice was signed. The war was over, but he still had his commitment. So, he trained at Fort Leonard Wood to be an army engineer…and then Fort Chaffee in Arkansas was another place he was based…and then he served in Germany. Even though he signed up during the Korean War, his entire military service was in Germany.
P: When did you guys get engaged?
E: About a month before he left. He got me on the hook.
B: Yeah, you can imagine that conversation, Paul…I’m going into the army dear, let’s get…
P: What year was that?
E: Engaged in 1953, married in 1955.
P: Brent, what is your occupation?
B: I’m a professor of psychology. I teach at Western Washington University, in the state of Washington.
P: What does your brother Craig do?
B: Craig is a biostatistician, and he works for a company called Cortexyme, a biopharmaceutical company centered on Alzheimer’s disease.
P: And your sister, Lisa?
B: She’s an early education teacher and she works in the department of education at Stephens College in Columbia, MO. Hey, Paul, do you have anything written about Grandpa Berg and his mules? Mom’s smiling.
P: Let’s hear it.
B: I was born in 1956, and my earliest memories would have been about 1961, and grandpa still farmed with mules. There was a barn there at the foot of the hill where the Augusta Shores Clubhouse is now. That was the mule barn, and he had a tack room with all the gear you needed to hitch a mule to a wagon. And I thought those mules were mean. They were like no kind of animal you wanted to get close to. This was not a pony to ride on the back of. Grandpa had all these verbal commands to make the mules stop and go…and turn left or right. He had tractors, but for some reason, he hung on to his mules longer than just about any other farmer in the county.
Gentle residents of southwestern St. Charles County, I’m going to wrap part 2 up. I’ve got more written, but I don’t wish to try your patience. You can see it whenever part 3 emerges. BTW Sally Heining lent me a key to the museum, and I found a great picture of grades 1-8 for 1947-48 at the one room Lutheran school. Not only will you see a young Ellen, but younger sister, Leona Berg. I also came across a photo of the Augusta Baseball Team c. 1925-1935. That’s Arthur behind the baseball bats. Posing in front of a brick house at Camp Chaffee, there’s Ellen and Hubie.
One more thing: Craig Mallinckrodt told me Ellen’s favorite singer was Charley Pride, who died December 12, 2020, from complications of Covid 19. One of her faves was Is Anybody Going to San Antone? Hence, I recorded my own rendition of the song on my handy iPhone. "Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone" is a song written by Glenn Martin and Dave Kirby, and recorded by American country music artist Charley Pride. It was released in February 1970.
Performed by Paul Ovaitt, Original by Glenn Martin, Dave Kirby, performed by Charley Pride
Goodbye and stay curious.