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Re: Can We Talk About Suicide?

The Frey’s/ My maternal link -------- The Gifts of XL and Mae.               5/4/2018


I been finishing a game my mom’s family provided called “Connect the dots”.

You get a group of dots and instructions on how to connect them by pencil lines.

You know where the dots are but not what they represent.  Some dots are important and some are just points -- connective material. But the whole picture eludes you.


All my life I have been given dots of information, one at a time, most of them very important dots, wrapped in silence and memories shared only by those who were there. 

(XL lesson 1…… you only know what you know, never assume…you will get lost in mental backtracking.)


A few days ago I was sitting in a theatre next to two friends, A retired medical doctor (my golfing idol), and my wife, the daughter of a long time MD who also served in Western Kansas.   Through a musical nudge from the stage, I was reminded of a trip I took back to my wife’s hometown to get an award her dad had earned for assisting a young Hispanic family.  Just another dot received 50 years after the doctors death and only recorded on a thank you note form the girls mother returned to her marked-- Paid in full for services rendered.  Doctors are not gifted in accounting my golf friend says.

 I came out of that concert thinking there was a set of dots I had not connected in my mothers family and her brother (now age 91) is the only one left in that household. The Frey’s lived and taught personal success, but it is a mass of dots that suddenly took shape for me this last week. Like pieces of a corpse you still can’t identify.  So much wasn’t important enough to tell me, but so obviously important.

            And then an unknown digital friend on an agriculture “web site” brought up the subject of suicide in agriculture….. an article he had seen and wondered if we could talk about it…..I am thinking…yes, but why do I think that?…  but first… I got dots to connect that might answer that question…….. “ Can we talk about that?”


So the subject is XL and Mae Frey… and the lines I added in the last 2 weeks…. Most of these details I had not been told.



XL’s father was raised in Pennsylvania and learned construction in the Amish style.  He relocated to SW Kansas to homestead land in Ford County around the turn of century 1900. The home built by and for the Frey family is still home to a family on Mulberry Creek north of Bloom, Kansas.  Several homes were built in that area by XL’s father.

XL found himself in line for a trip to Europe when WW1 ended.  He and Mae married and rented a farm down stream on Mulberry Creek.  Mae’s dad was the postmaster in their local town, he and his wife lived in a room on the back of the post office.

In 1925 XL & Mae’s first son(FA) was born the week before Christmas at the Post Office, his grandparents home, where the local doctor could access in any weather.

Being born in a post office, I always thought was a joke.

  A daughter(FW) was born in ’28 and a second daughter(JN) in ’30. There was a house, a barn, land to farm, chickens, pigs, and by 1930 a herd of 25 milk cows and 12 plow horses.

The line between dots-----on the plow horses was , teams of 4.  Two fully trained teams and one young team in training. 4 hours per team per day then a switch at the barn for the second teams 4 hour pull.  My uncle FA’s first job was to entertain his sisters with in a wagon morning and night, while XL & Mae milked 25+ cows by hand.  By the time FA was 11 in ‘36, Mae kept the girls in the house and FA pulled half the cows—or “as many as he could”.  At age 14 he was handling 16 a day.

A few lines between the dots, of the 1930 are filled in by common knowledge…. I never heard about it from XL.  But this last week I learned that the dust storms and pneumonia took 6 of the 12 horses….  And in 1932 the older girl died…. I learned it was peritonitis.  And on memorial day we decorated some unspoken graves as long as XL and Mae lived.  Lots of people in the area lost children in the depression.

A line between some sad dots…… Around 1934 XL bought a young milk cow at Dodge City to add to the herd.   In 1938 FA the son, weak and thin just healed from his apendicitis, was diagnosed with Undulant Fever and began a fight that took 4 years to fully win—the antibiotics that came with war were not available.  “We should have known, that cow sluffed her calf the first two years and tested positive for Brucilosis”, FA said this week.  The family contracted it and all took medication…. FA survived to be a navy man in the Pacific and write his doctoral thesis in Education while serving in Kansas and California school systems.  Never had a child, (a line between dots I will not draw).  Lost his love to a drowning/epileptic accident and later acquired three wonderful children by another marriage.


Brucilosis(Undulent Fever)……………….loss of a fetus is part of the name, I am told.

Mae delivered 2 stillborn boys during the 1930’s,  and the loss of three children she could not hold,  along with the economic reality, took away her heart for the farm, and her joy.  Like many others her life in the depression era left her preparing for the worst and wanting a steady paycheck.  And the back brace she wore the last 40+ years of her life was a constant reminder of their time on the farm and the undulant fever.   

XL developed appendicitis in the mid 30’s, like the rest of the family (a byproduct of the struggle with brucilosis)  2 year after his daughter died.  He wanted to delay his surgery by a local doctor to whom he had a debt he was working on.  The doctor’s comment “My experience is that live patients pay bills better than dead ones”--- was a convincing argument.

XL saw education as “the future” at a time when children were labor.    FA turned 14 in 1939 and living miles from town XL had saved back $25 and bought FA an education.  It was a 1927 ford model T.   With a little work it ran.  It ran to high school and was sitting there for him when he got out of the Navy, and when he taught his first class, and when he went to college.    

XL & Mae left the farm unexpectedly at the end of 1939 as the military draft was coming and the farm owner had a renewed desire to farm.— While economics hurt, money did not take them from the farm.   The weight of the depression was with them like everybody else.  As Mae lived her final years in the 1990’s, FA was helping her, He told me Mae carried the paid medical bills for her lost children of the 1930’s in her purse until her death.

In 1939 & 40 XL & Mae lived in 2 houses in town and by 1945 a big older two story building in the same small town.   Mae managed the small town drug store and XL delivered fuel to farmers for the coop and ran a gas station.

Their “big house” building gave Mae a chance to care for her parents at home. The bigger house gave XL opportunity to get several farm boys to consider staying in school past the 8thgrade by staying at his place at least during the week.  A couple of those boys just needed a place.

His surviving daughter eventually married one of XL’s young men and of that group at least 5 became life long farmers and community leaders across SW KS.   The depression, I am told hurt children as much as adults.  XL had tried to plant  potential in young kids instead of discouragement………. In his later years, every chance he got to run a combine and help his son in law with a pat on the back, he was there and thought that “His” Massey 27 with the open seat was changing the world. 


Mae & XL moved to Dodge City in their later years.  Both worked, Mae as a cook & bookkeeper and XL worked for the Kansas Highway Dept. long enough to earn retirement benefits. 

Being the only grandson, I was around them a lot.   XL died when I was 15.  He left us with an understanding that being a friend and having a tight rein on ones mind were important.   Not one time did I ever hear him complain or blame. “and if you ever tell get mad again, I’ ll tan your hide again”.   He told me once & never needed to say it again.  I never wanted to disappoint him.

The depression broke people.  Money was a small issue compared to the mental conditions hardship creates if we allow it to. Children of the farm left agriculture by the thousands in SW KS in those years and have since, and most walked away with bad memories and lost confidence………  XL understood what was in your mind was a choice and yours to control and the key to a better tomorrow.


 XL had a “pinky” wave for kids that might happen in any circumstance—I saw it once in a family reunion behind his back and saw three kids smile, and he had a sly deviancy to his character that meant a trip to the grocery might entail 2 hours of playing baseball with the kids down in the park,  a piece of pie at a (“Howdy XL”)café down town,  or snooker at the “Odd Fellow’s” Lodge when we get the lawn mowed. 


My mom (JN), his girl, survived childhood with the least damage from the bad milk.  She married one of the 8+ young men XL helped “educate” and mentor living at his house to finish high school while his only son served on a ship in the Pacific.


 Fortunately(JN and her guy) my parents were able to farm the rest of their lives in Stevens County, Ks.  They raised three children and enjoyed a lifelong closeness to FA, so far away. XL’s affect of my father’s life was greater than I can express.  “What we think in life is what we choose to think, we should not blame anybody else for that”.

Mom’s brother FA spent most of his life dealing with the schools of Rio Vista and Antioch, California after his service on the USS Dixie.  He found fulfillment caring for the kids also.  He is 91, lives at home and still drives himself where he get his “Howdy Mr. Frey” and email connects him to the world. 


My favorite memory at XL’ & Mae’s house in Dodge City, Ks. was Halloween. Those same kids he supervised at the park seemed to line up at the door.  A treat at XL’s required the performance of a trick.   We applauded dances, singing, cartwheels, juggling, poems, report cards etc etc --for a couple of hours or more, year after year. And if one came unprepared XL would have some things ready, often including him playing the piano and them singing a tune we all knew.  I remember him having a young guy stand on a chair behind him and hold a harmonica from behind XL so “he/they” could play a duet together, “juice harp” and piano.  I can remember at least 4 different songs XL could duet.


 “ the part we have control over needs to be between the ears”

                                                                        XL Frey through my father.




Can we talk about suicide?   I said yes. But maybe not...   

In this day when we can all “call a friend” or get our tweets at a moments notice, do we have control over our thoughts? And are they thought out well over time? Can our thoughts survive the pressure of diverse opinion, when we can change neighbors and friends with such ease and never leave the desk?


And most important can we really help each other before we are  labeled or “blocked”?  

People are becoming uncomfortable with personal contact or conversation where there is no hiding behind a screen.


And way too often parents just give their kids a hand full of dots and then expect them to see the same picture we see.  We have such a small amount of time to transfer our experiences and most of us won't until the proper question is asked.  Can we fit it into a few texts?