It’s noon, Thursday, July 5, 1945, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Harry Smith, 58, owner of Smith’s Flower Shop, 2606 North Monroe, is wearing a freshly cut red rose in his suitcoat buttonhole.
Lulu Morse Stapleton, 51, enters the display room and gravitates to the bell-shaped lilies. She bends over and inhales the sweet aroma.
Harry approaches with a greeting. “Welcome, Mrs. Sheriff. While our country celebrated its freedom yesterday, I hope you had an enjoyable birthday.”
“Thank you, Harry. Your flowers were beautiful. Steve and I didn’t hear any firecrackers this year. That may be one of the few good results of war rationing. I’m sure the materials for fireworks have been redirected to the war effort. With Germany surrendered, now, Japan is getting our full military attention.”
“We’re all tired of the rationing,” said Harry. “When we defeat Japan, we’ll be able to buy new tires again, and have gasoline to travel.”
I remember how confused I was at first with the ration points,” said Lulu, with a laugh. “I wanted to buy a can of Pork and Beans, but it wasn’t clear if the points would be figured as meat at six points or a vegetable at four points. When rationing ends, I’m going to be sure that our boys, Stevie and Bill, never miss another birthday without sweet, home-made cake and cookies.”
“Amen,” responded Harry, “I think I’ve about lost my sweet tooth. It’s been replaced with a fondness for macaroni and cheese.”
Lulu wasn’t sure if Harry was joking. Eating macaroni and cheese regularly got old, but it was available, filling, and cheap—in price and points.
“As sheriff, Steve will be pleased to have more resources to catch criminals,” said Lulu. “I remember early-on when the OPA (Office of Price Administration) mistakenly assigned “C” ration books, instead of “B” ration books to the sheriff’s office. The criminals enjoyed that. They had a better opportunity of escaping from a crime without a strong law enforcement response searching the area.
“One day, we’ll be buying new cars again and men will be visiting the sheriff’s office, looking for employment.”
“When Matty recovers from his war injuries, he might decide to return to deputy work,” said Harry. “Right now, Ruth is in the other room talking to him on the telephone. He’s back in the USA, calling from New York City.”
“Oh, my! That’s great news,” said Lulu, raising her voice. “She’s waited so long.”
“Ruth often reminds me that it’s been nearly three years since Matty was drafted into the Army,” said Harry. “He’s served as a staff sergeant and tank commander with the 47th Tank Battalion, 14th Armored Division. Wounded about three months ago along the Rhine River, he’s been hospitalized at Verdun.”
“I remember Matty pitching for the Larks” said Lulu.
“Thanks to the Hutchinson Larks professional baseball team,” said Harry, “Matty came to us from Illinois in the spring of 1934. He was a strong right-handed pitcher. Hutchinson attracted several good men who married and lived here in the winter off-season. Matty and some of the other Larks’ players rented space at the McFaddon rooming house.”
“I remember when Matty was hired by Sheriff Guy Ankerholz,” said Lulu. “It was 1940 or ’41. Matty was a service station manager at C. W. Kelly at 30th and Main. When he occasionally learned news helpful to local law enforcement, he would call the sheriff’s office. Due to Matty’s reliable information, one day Guy drove up to the station and invited him to work as a deputy sheriff.
“Matty remained on the force until drafted December 15, 1942. The Army was lucky to get him. He’s a born leader, good with men, and knows his directions out in the woods.”
Ruth Ann McFaddon Mathias, 34, bookkeeper at Smith’s Flowers, enters the display room, smiling while wiping tears from her face. She’s been speaking with her husband, David Orville “Matty” Mathias, 39.
“Matty’s in New York City!” said Ruth. “He’s in a cast from his head to his waist. He’s itching so bad he’s threatened to eat his way out of it.
“I’m going to be patient with Matty; he’s been patient with me. He thinks he’s got bad luck because of being severely injured by the shrapnel in his back, however, I think it’s a blessing he’s alive. Rather than him being wounded, we could have a gold star on our door.”
“I’m so happy for you two,” said Harry. “This is the news you’ve been waiting for.”
“Congratulations on getting Matty closer to home,” said Lulu.
“The Hutchinson Larks brought him to Hutch: I kept him here,” said Ruth. “Then, Uncle Sam took him away. Now, I want him back home again.
“Matty’s next stop is Okmulgee, Oklahoma, where he’ll remain hospitalized until he’s better. It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen him; I can’t wait any longer. He’s asked me to join him in Oklahoma. I told him, ‘I’ll start packing today.’”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.