Birthdays spark memories

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By Bonnie Strassell

They sat in a variety of comfortable, lovely tapestried chairs in the home of Lela Maude Hawkins and shared family stories of their Owen County history. This setting and the ensuing conversation served as background last week as several Owen County Historical Society members gathered to celebrate the birthdays of members Lela Maude Hawkins and Margaret Alice Murphy. Although she is still in Owenton Hospital recovering from a broken pelvis, Verna Katherine Payne could have been included in the group, for all three ladies have recently celebrated over 90 years of life. Actually Lela Maude’s birthday is in February, but given the weather we’ve recently experienced in Owen County, it was deemed we should celebrate when the opportunity presented itself.
Currently, quite a few historical society members are in their 80s and 90s, and what changes in Owen County they must have seen over the years. Many grew up during the Depression and shake their heads at the opulence of today’s society. Except for necessities — such as flour, sugar, and coffee — most grew their own food; and at the birthday party, the delicious meal included freshly canned, homegrown Silver Queen corn and snap beans.
I’m sure some remembered the advent of the automobile, though in the 1920s Owen County had very few improved roads; and a round trip to Georgetown (35 miles from Owenton) in an automobile would require a day of travel — barring flat tires, broken springs, or trouble with the motor. Bad roads may have broken the springs, but speeding wasn’t much of a problem given the prevalent chuckholes. Many incorporated towns imposed signs announcing to motorists an eight miles-per-hour speed limit; so travel was typically accomplished in leisurely Kentucky fashion.
In August 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed giving women the right to vote; however, according to Mariam Houchens in her book, “History of Owen County, Kentucky,” some women in Owen as well as other areas of the country, refused to employ that right, saying they had no interest in having the vote. Mariam also declared that the “Saturday Evening Post,”  — still selling for five cents a week and long a self-appointed guardian of traditional American values —  was beginning to let its moral standards down. “It began to wobble on Prohibition. It allowed drinking, petting, and unfaithfulness to be mentioned in the stories it published, and its illustrations showed women smoking.”
One diversion for Owen countians in the ’20s was attending the movies. Owenton’s Pastime Theatre remained open into the 1950s, and the Dixie for a shorter period. Both theaters gave opportunity, especially for the young crowd, to escape to the world of “the stars.”
Baseball was the popular sport of the day and the county had many outstanding teams.
 Owen also boasted of many dedicated, well-educated teachers and principals. The students of Miss Martha Holbrook who were sent to the Northern Kentucky school tournaments in the 1920s, rarely returned without medals; and perhaps some Owen countian remembers the punishment administered by high school principal H.W. Puckett, whose firm approach to the problem of persistent talkers was to throw an eraser at the culprit.
Owen County is a rich resource of history and family stories, and the birthday party attendees  were greatly enriched listening to the reminiscences of Lela Maude Hawkins and Margaret Alice Murphy. The Owen County Historical Society depends on everyone in the county to help preserve these stories and others by sharing and recording them for posterity.
 A historical society board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the museum. We cancelled the meeting in December, but all board and committee members are requested to attend the January meeting as important business needs to be discussed.