Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Inspiring New Year’s Story by Erwin A. Thompson—Of a time when a man’s character and long friendship was “the best security in the world” for a life-changing loan in December 1941

My father Erwin A. Thompson, grandson of E. A. Riehl, writes fondly of Lee Maupin, his boyhood neighbor...and how Pop changed the course of Lee's life...with a big boost from my Great Aunt Mim. Lee is gone now. And the farm is completely changed. Pop and I still visit Kay Maupin up in Otterville. Kay brought by the best gift of all after mother's death in the spring of 2006....a bucket of fresh asparagus from their place...and a private joke we share about cakes.--JGR

Erwin A. Thompson, author of Thompson Western Series and Folk Treasure
Erwin A. Thompson, author of Thompson Western Series, musician, whittler, folk treasure


I first became acquainted with Lee Maupin in 1926, when his parents bought what we knew as the "Bob Smith Place." This was on Riehl Lane, about a mile from the Riehl property where I was raised and still live.

He was either one or two years ahead of me in school. When he graduated from the eighth grade at Randolph, he went on to go to Alton High School, and graduate. For a country boy or girl to graduate from high school took a lot of work, planning, cooperation, sacrifice, and just plain dedication to a purpose.

Lee had all of them. He was intelligent, and interested in any worthwhile subject. I cannot go back and detail the starting of it, but he developed a strong friendship with my Aunt Mim Riehl. He was a worker. Nobody ever called him lazy. He was a thinker, always trying to find or figure out a better way to do something. Girls were not there. If he ever was interested in one I never heard of it.

In 1938 and '39 I was sponsoring dances in the Elsah Village Hall. We made our own music. Nobody got paid. Lunch at eleven thirty with donations from most of the families.This, the background.

I was also the secretary of the Alton Horticultural Society. In this capacity I was visiting with Mrs. Harry Meyer, on East Elm Street. She was a member of the same committee I was on and we needed to have some conversation on that subject. After we had settled our business she said: "Erwin, you ought to get acquainted with the two young men that live down the street. They play the same kind of music that you do." I agreed.

Violin close-up

I walked two doors down the street and knocked on the door. I was greeted by a young man about my age. I explained my mission and he invited me in to meet his younger brother. We found that our musical tastes and experience were right on the mark. So I told them about the Elsah dances and invited them to attend the next one, the following Saturday. They asked if they could bring their sister and of course I agreed. We were always short of girls.

At the next dance the two boys showed up with their sister. She was a nice looking girl, just the right age. I didn't have a girl at that time, and had thought it might be an opportunity to get one.

But it didn't work that way. Lee saw her, danced with her, took her home, and married her about five months later.

It was a good marriage. Kay was a worthy partner for his dedication to the goal of having something to show for his work besides rent receipts and empty beer bottles which was the goal of many of his contemporaries. He had a job at Laclede steel Mill, which would have satisfied the urge to work for most of the young men of the community.

Lee also took on seventy acres of corn ground from what we called "The Marsh Place." It had passed on to other owners by that time, but the old neighbors always referred to it by the name of the old time owner. Later owned by Bob Young and then the Elliotts. There were layoffs at the mill, sometimes, and Lee filled his time in farming. But sometimes things needed to be done when he was needed at the mill. At that time Lee and Kay lived in the little house on the Elliott property that was situated on the extreme West edge next to the Jersey County line.

The corn ground was "overflow" ground. Not so much from actual "high water" in the big bodies of water like the Mississippi, but "headwaters" when there was a big rain and the water from the rains exceeded the size of the regular creek bed. When this happened, the creek overflowed its banks and went over the corn fields that were along its shores.

Thus, it made good sense to get the crop out as soon as it was ripe enough to "crib." So, it was that in the late fall of 1941 he hired Ben Droste to come in with his corn picker and pick the crop. But then someone needed to take the load of picked corn from the picker and put it into the corn crib which was above the level of the flood stage of the creek. It so happened that all of Lee's brothers were otherwise employed at that time. I was not busy. The blight had killed our chestnut trees, so we did not have a fall harvest any more.

The Federal Government had confiscated our bottom land where our corn field would have been. He asked me to help him, and I agreed. Fifty cents an hour. Good wages for that time period. Ben ran into trouble picking. His little Ford would not handle the picker with the weeds and vines that inhabit creek bottom fields. So, Ben used Lee's F-30 tractor on the picker and I used Ben's little Ford to pull the wagon with the picked corn to the crib.

One of the "fringe benefits" of this deal, (and this was before I ever heard the phrase used, just a joke) the custom of the day was that harvest crews were fed! And Kay Maupin fed us like visiting royalty!

Along with the meal, she got to talking about their hopes of someday owning their own farm. Her heritage was Montana, and she was well fitted both mentally and the skills that were her heritage, to pursue this goal. They had one in mind, eight thousand dollars. A fine farm. But the hitch was that they needed a thousand dollars cash, to get the loan and the mortgage. It might as well have been a million, so far as their financial status was concerned.

At the evening meal at home, I related the experience and their hopes.

"I'd like to give them that thousand dollars," Aunt Mim said. "I have three thousand dollars in the building and loan."

(Note: This was all of the extra money that she had. We had come through the depression on the nut crop each fall, and the grafted trees that we grew. Also the peony flowers that we cut and shipped to Chicago. All of these sources were either gone or going. This was a big item, not a small hand out.)

She said she would like to go over and talk to them. So we went. They were quite surprised to see us for several reasons. Evening company was rare. They knew that Aunt MIm almost never went anywhere at night.

Lee explained his hopes, just to follow the friendship that they had always shared;never dreaming that there might be a practical suggestion coming.

When he finished Aunt Mim said: "Lee, I have a thousand dollars. I would like to loan it to you."

"I don't think you ought to do it," Lee replied. "I have no security to give you for your money."

"Lee," Aunt Mim replied, "I've got the best security in the world. I've got you! Some people bet on horses. I like to bet on men." So she loaned them the thousand dollars at two percent interest.

It was hard going, but they bought the farm, repaid the loan, and lived up to Aunt Mim's good opinion of both of them.

Kay says that when they were in the process of buying the farm the lawyer said to them: "I don't know why you'd want this farm. No one has ever paid for it."

But they did.

Great people! I consider it a privilege to have known all three of them!

Remember Pearl Harbor Sheet Music

Note: Pop wasn't much for listening to the news on the radio. He had other things to do. The next Monday morning after Aunt Mim made the loan, Pop went over to start his week's work for Lee. They told him the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor that Sunday, December 7th, the start of America's involvement in World War II.---JGR

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2 Responses »

  1. As always, I so enjoy these stories. The thousand dollar loan reminds me that my father loaned money (perhaps smaller sums, I don't know the amounts) to young men who wanted to go to college during the depression years. Some of them never repaid him even though they prospered and in his older years he was bitter about their failure to honor their debts. I wonder whether nowadays anyone lends money because they trust and want to help a young person.

  2. four years ago my grandfather died. it was a year since I last saw him when I got the call. he asked about us all as be laid still. he could barely chew or speak. this story in some way opened that memory and has inspired me to start getting the experience I've filed away out on paper, on my blog and to the readers maybe stuck like I was stuck.

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