Friday, January 25, 2008

Life History of William Ricketts Smith, Part 5: The Bicycle, the Saxophone and the Orchestra

Sorry I haven't posted anything all week... hubby broke his ankle, kids home from school on MLK day...busy, busy, busy!

(Part 4 is here.)

The next summer my dad bought his only competitor and was doing quite well. My friend Claude Abel was the paper boy for the Billings Gazette and we were getting the paper. I guess that was my introduction to the "funny papers." One day there was an insert in the paper from Mead Cycle Co. of Chicago for a Ranger bicycle for $32.00. It had a headlight and even a tool box. I asked my dad if I could get it. He said that if I could get a job he would help me to get the bicycle. He got me a job leading the stacker-horse in the hay field of his friend Howard Johnson. Even though their farm was only about 3 miles from town, I stayed with them during the harvest of the first cutting. I earned about $14.00 and was very anxious to order the bicycle so my dad said he would give enough money to place the order. I didn't try very hard to find another job after that. Some time later the bicycle came on the local freight train and as it was my dad's business to meet all the trains, he hurried right home with my bicycle. He was a wonderful dad!

My best friend Wendell Forman, of a progressive and fairly well-to-do family, decided to take cornet lessons from a local barber and musician. I had had the desire to learn to play the saxophone for some time and this was my opportunity to prevail upon my mother concerning my desire. My mother had a cousin living in Casper, Wyoming who was a musician, so she wrote to him requesting that he might find a used horn that we could afford. His return letter listed quite a few and his recommendation of the best buy. The price was $35.00. This would amount to about four months' worth of groceries for our family in 1933. Somehow my mother, probably with my dad's help, came up with the money and I got my saxophone.

The manager of the hardware store had previously played the saxophone but said he would not attempt to teach me, but would loan me a book. I began to learn on my own and finding that I was unable to play like Jimmy Dorsey within a few days, became quite discouraged; however, my friend Wendell was progressing quite well and not wanting to let him get too far ahead of me, I got back to it.

A local music teacher, Mrs. Cornwell, became aware of the fact that there were several of us in town struggling with our musical education and decided to organize a sort of orchestra. She was an accomplished musician and played the harp and piano professionally and was learning the xylophone. She had quite a library of music, some of which was well-known semi-classical music that beginners could eventually learn. In a town of 500 people, it didn't take long for the public to become aware of our presence and we were called upon to provide entertainment for various occasions. The local School Board decided to set aside a few dollars for the program and we became the School Orchestra, with the school providing the music and even paying Mrs. Cornwell a small salary to be our teacher and conductor.

In my senior year in High School we had a band instructor, Mr. McNeil, who was also coach of the athletic program. Real progress for our little school.

(Part 6)


  1. Hi Millie! I heard it was your birthday. And since I don't really know you or anything, this might seem a little weird... but anyway

    "Happy Birthday" from a complete stranger!

  2. Heard from NCS it was your birthday--so I'm here to wish you ALL THE BEST.

    By the way, I think it's so wonderful that you have a genealogy site--unfortunately, mine would be blank!!!

  3. Happy Birthday Miss Millie!! It's Livie's bday too!!

  4. A Happy Birthday wish to Miss Millie Vanillie!

  5. A cute little birdie told me it was your birthday, so I came on over to serenade you:

    "I'm glad it's your birthday,
    Dear Millie!
    Happy birthday,
    Happy birthday to you!
    I'll sing you a song
    For your birthday...
    Happy birthday,
    Happy birthday to you!"