Martha Mathews, Ann Wells, and PJ Pronger

Recorded November 13, 2020 Archived November 13, 2020 40:45 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby020196


Siblings, PJ Pronger (67), Martha Mathews (68) and Ann Wells (75), recall their upbringing on their family ranch in Texas.

Subject Log / Time Code

PP describes his upbringing with his sisters MM and AW.
"We had lots of freedom out there."- AW
"Our family valued hard work and we all got a dose of that."- PP on the different chores he and his siblings had.
PP and his siblings describes their meals.
PP recalls an Air Force pilot stopping at the house to use the phone after he parachuted out of his plane.
AW recalls a place of play and joy on the family ranch- the junk pile.


  • Martha Mathews
  • Ann Wells
  • PJ Pronger

Recording Location

Virtual Recording



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00:03 Your intro

00:06 I'm PJ Pronger 67 years old today is Friday November 13th 2020. I'm speaking from Amarillo, Texas. My recording partners are and Wells and Martha Mathews. They are my sisters.

00:25 My name is Ann Conger Wells.

00:32 My age is 75. Today is Friday, November 13th 2020. I'm speaking from Stratford, Texas.

00:42 And my partner's are PJ Pronger Martha Pronger Matthews and this is our total number of siblings there are three siblings in our family

00:56 I'm Martha Pronger Matthews, and I am 68 years old.

01:02 Date is November 13th. 2020. My location is Huntingtown, Maryland and my partners are my sister and Conquer Wells and my brother PJ Pronger the third and now I'll turn it over to PJ to begin our discussion.

01:21 So I'm PJ and my my to recording partner share my sisters and and Martha we all grew up together on a ranch in Sherman County Texas show me counties in the very top tier of counties in the very Northern reaches of the state where we grew up is closer actually to five other state capitals and it is to the Texas state capitol sounds unlikely I guess but if you look at a map, you can see that Sherman County is actually closer to Cheyenne Wyoming then it is to Austin so politically speaking as we were growing up and let me know where we were kind of Out On The Fringe and I don't think that we minded that too much we did have some ties downstate but but not not so many really our forebears that founded the ranch for Victorian Englishmen and ice in me not in the truest sense of the term. They grew up in England under Queen Victoria before immigrating to the US in search of a better life.

02:21 And that this ranching operation that they built in Texas reflected that to some degree I Ranch headquarters almost resembles a little English Village on the Prairie with all the houses in the shops in the Barns and various out buildings in it. And it was a great thing for a kid to grow up in a place like that. They're just nice places to explore and we live there with his family and then some other families that were changing cast of characters of Hired Hands and their families. We we live in very traditional households. The men were responsible for the work outside the house the women were responsible for the work inside the house now, but there was shared responsibility for us as children sometimes our mom and have it sometimes your dad just depended on the schedules and circumstances in this children. We were given a lot of responsibility in a lot of ways. I remember one time my cousin and I were sent to pick up a car that

03:21 Mother had wrecked down in Abernathy, Texas. And so at the time my cousin was 14 years old. I was 12 years old and they put us in a grain truck equipment and supplies and some money and sent us like 250 miles down the highway to get this load up this wrecked car and bring it back and we got down there fine. No problem at all. Sure. I should mention you could get your driver's license in Texas at the time when you were fourteen. So Fred my cousin just had his driver's license. So we were legal but we when we went down to Abernathy, we got this car loaded up in the back of a of a grain truck and of course a car won't actually totally fit in the bed of a grain truck. A lot of it has to hang out the back so we had to change anything in and we we managed all app no problem started back, but then this was a dump bed on the screen truck. So it would start dumping on the highway is

04:21 They were driving along and it didn't jump the car out cuz we had a change in but it wasn't a great situation. So we stopped at hardware store and bought some chains and Boomers and managed to Boomland Jane the bed down with wouldn't have any more we got on into Amarillo and when we got there, we had been given authority to sell this car also, so we stopped at a place on Amarillo Boulevard. They told us to stop and ask if you would buy the car and they said their instructions were if they if you can get $600 or more sell the car so we show the guy at the car we talked to him and he says I'll give you $600 for the car and we just looked at each other's that. Okay, so we got rid of the car in Amarillo and got to drive the rest of the way back to the ranch without a load which is a blessing for us, but that it's hard for me to imagine today giving a 14 year old that a twelve-year-old a responsibility to do any of that.

05:20 I'm just wondering it. And did you you have any stories about the responsibilities that we were giving her things like that?

05:32 Other than much younger like when I was when I was a preschooler, you know, we live about a mile from headquarters. And if my cousins were there my mother to get us up at the morning and fix us a lunch with a little bit of water probably peanut butter and crackers and she would send us a a mouse. We were walking like to headquarters to spend the day and in our only responsibility is to be back before the sun went down.

06:11 I mean I was probably 4 and Henry and Bill would have been 7 maybe 7 or 8.

06:19 And sometimes we got a ride home, but not always sometimes we walked back but you know, I'm the way we can grasshoppers or I don't know what we did something.

06:44 We had lots of Freedom out there.

06:52 Yeah, I might Martha. What do you remember about that kind of thing. I remember being responsible for collecting the eggs or the chicken house and I did not like that at all because I didn't like the chicken because I would pack my hands specially if they were trying to lay if they're trying to hatch eggs and and that was never one of my favorite chores, but it was one that I had for years, but I'm like and I remember the freedom just being able to to spend the whole day outside and playing and doing doing work too. But we just had to listen for the Bell when when Mom Ringwood Bell we had to come in and we didn't come in with that bill and Jamie Woodring the huge bill that no one could ignore and then we had to come in. But yeah, just the

07:49 The different lifestyle of being able to to play outside and end in to do the work that they asked us to do too, but it's very different than than today.

08:03 Right. Yeah, and we are after school if somebody else needed to keep us when school in Stratford and we would just be told to walk to this aunt's house or that aunt's house or somewhere else, you know just around town and that's that kind of thing doesn't happen much today, either. You just don't let kids walk around the town unsupervised.

08:24 Up young and we were talking about cousins that that's kind of Segway into one of my stories but I counted there were 24 first cousins who lived within a 10 mile radius all with our biological parents. I didn't know what a blended family was.

08:45 Until I got to college. I think I just

08:50 Religious song

08:54 Original mother and father

09:01 Right. Yeah, we had we had what I would call a really strong family Network and that it won the things I was going to add in with the Our Father actually died at a fairly young age. And what strikes me about that occurrence now is that our mothers did not have to go get a job. She didn't have to move in with somebody else. She didn't really have to change anything about her life or our lives growing up because that family support that we had nothing really changed for us except that our father wasn't there anymore. Everything else went on is it always had?

09:36 I always think of that is one of the greatest blessings that we had was that stability of Lifestyle. It was if it was just really really stable.

09:50 Yeah, one of my stories was the first summer after daddy died. One of my responsibilities was to help with the garden every summer and I wanted to have it. I didn't know Daddy would let you know and help me get it planted. I didn't do a whole lot of it, but I did part of it and I wanted to plant a garden in the summer after he died, but I didn't know how to tell it. I didn't know they do those kinds of things and so our cousin Henry came out and helped me plant the garden.

10:20 And it was just

10:23 I have the fact that I can still participate in those kinds of things even though as a system had to change it was still important to me and I did a lot of candy when I was a lot of my responsibility was to help cam the Black Eyed Peas and the green beans and the corn and

10:44 Oset Segway into corn story at one time every Labor Day which was the first weekend in September all the cousins the aunts and uncles and grandparents would gather at one person's house but men would get up men and older boys are get up early early in the morning and go around and cut that corn and bring it in and pickups in the back end of pickups and then they would sit out outdoors and shuck the corn and the kids were running corn back and forth the women and older girls were inside and they would

11:29 Blanchett in intelligent boiling water

11:33 And then cut it off the cob and freeze it and it was always like the big thing was how many pints of frozen corn did you get this year? I got 32. I got 41. I got to take out and put in your freezer and it was both wonderful of the frozen corn that we put up as a family of sometimes. There can be 60 or 70 in our family gatherings.

12:20 But yes, our family was a big big part.

12:26 Yep, that's one of the Traditions that we've tried to continue. We don't do it every summer but we try to get the kids and the grandkids to our house and put up corn back. Brandy asked me she said what do you mean by putting up corn pudding it up includes the picking you up and asking and all of that and we still a special occasion. We put it up for Thanksgiving Christmas and Easter and that's about it, but it's not it's stems from and how important that was to us and the kids love the corn to it. It just tastes so much better than

13:10 But you buying the groceries.

13:12 Yeah, I did in the environment that we grew up in our family really valued hard work and I think we all got our share of that in one way or another from a pretty early age. We had kind of a retaining information for several of us are that you know, we had chores everyday twice a day 7 a.m. And 7 p.m. You're supposed to be in the barn at 7 a.m. Not 7:01, and that mostly the chores mostly consisted of feeding stock that we had in the various growls and Barnes and what not and had we had some milk as we took care of we lived on a ranch but we also had Farm ground because most cattle operations work better with some sort of farming operation combined and so driving tractors was a big deal at our place during the summer in the official age at which he became a tractor driver was 9 years old when the summer that you were nine.

14:11 You're taking app put on the tray, you know, if an adult got on the tractor with you showed you how to run the thing that's got you going to Pam's couple of times then hopped off and you were on your own and we weren't totally on her own because when we were farming in the summer in and typically it's a sun-up to sun-down saying when we when we really intensively for me. So it was long long hours now that they would be a lot a lot of us in the same field at the same time in nearly all of his kids. I mean, but the technology of the day it took a lot of tractors and a lot of tractor drivers to cover much ground and so there'd be 4 5 6 7 solving same field working that work in the same ground and it's anybody out there is into meditation. You have never had an opportunity to meditate not driving the tractor for 12 hours a day with no radio no phone. No outside contact of any kind. It is a kind of his inexperience. Just go round and round in my wife still SBI.

15:11 Just sit sit down and not be thinking of anything. But that is how I managed it because you just ran out of things to think about there was there was nothing to think about after a while. We also work during yeah, it was lots to do you could smell the Earth because the Earth freshly turned Earth has a smell all the time. You can watch the clouds and you can observe nature all kinds of nature four-legged things that ran through or hop through the crawling things, but we're trying to get out of the way or

15:53 Get something out of the way in the insects. That would give me the flying ants that used to come by and swarm sometimes or grasshoppers, you know, the flying ant deal, you know, how our dad always handle that was to put a flat but I just a rag or a flag or something up on a sucker rod and make it up put it up high on the tractor cuz I was financed would always be attracted to the highest point. He said in that and it kind of worked.

16:25 But they might land on you.

16:34 Let only get to a certain point in their lives and they have to crawl is the only time they sting which I never got stung. So I guess it's not that the other thing I meant about driving the tractor was you always wanted to be in the field that was close to a county road because you might get the opportunity to see somebody driving by.

17:04 Human contact drove the tractor, but I did have to drive the pickup out to the field to get someone off the tractor or in the and again, I was probably 9 or younger when I had to do that in the scariest part was driving over the cattle guard because her the two sides that I had to be careful not to hit either one of them once I got out into the problem, but

17:45 Yeah. It's you about giving our drivers license. We got it the minute we could just because we love to drive and we've been driving since we were even earlier than 9:00 sitting in the pickup heading towards the windmill. So Daddy can put the cattle take out for the cattle and school ban. I was preschool age when I did that if you were if you were tall enough to stand on the seat and works the steering wheel does a little throttle and he would put it in an hour and he would jump in the back and feed the cat Thompson cake.

18:37 And you could you just stood there was one time that you told me not to do that.

19:09 Well the other topic I was going to bring up his kind of Highway 8 you do. I normally we have three meals a day and they were breakfast dinner and supper dinner was the Noonday meal and it was the biggest mail today because it's what fuel this after the kind of work that we had to do supper was a lot lighter meals usually leftovers your soup and sandwich something like that an awful lot of fried food and live through it. And remember I might have kept the coffee can full of bacon drippings on the stovetop that she use just like you would use some sort of cooking oil today if you needed a little bit of oil pan or something like that, but I enjoy that food and unfortunately, I still would enjoy that too because it's what I grew up on that I have to have to give that kind of food up now.

20:00 We know another thing about the the meals is whatever she made for dinner and in the leftovers, you said that we often have it night. She would just put them in back in the oven with the pilot light on and it would just stay until we got ready to eat it that night and I can't imagine now that anyone would think that was healthy, but I don't think it was more airport to be like a warming plate, but I'm wondering if that's why we all have such strong stomachs now and we can withstand.

20:44 And if you did that today your neighbors would turn you in for child abuse. Do you know what it was? The one that said that I remember growing up was it was a gas-fired refrigerator? It wasn't like when they were quite did understand the physics of that but it works.

21:13 When you when you called him breakfast dinner and supper that's a Scottish thing.

21:26 I asked mother about it one time. She said Well, normally people Call It Whatever the biggest meal today is that's what people called dinner. I don't think you're at or not.

21:35 Hey. Heard, this is Levi from mother. But well is because you needed that fuel to be able to go back out and do the rest of the work from 12 till 7. And you can do that at 12 to 10. Sometimes a lot of fried food lot of things like that, but nobody gained any weight on it.

22:21 That you don't know the things that I thought about in terms of we talked about the health aspects of the meal preparation thing. They're do you remember when they would nuclear testing out a New Mexico when they told us just don't eat the snow. That's the only brought that's only thing you need to be worried about you remember that contaminated. I didn't remember that the rain was contaminated, but that I was older then I was

22:58 I can't remember when it was but I just remember someone told me that don't drink the rain water is contaminated.

23:08 But I remember the snow storm of 57. We had piles of snow between our house and Jimmy's house and it was like our own little ski slope.

23:20 I mean that.

23:27 I was so yeah, I barely barely remember it but I was talking to somebody on the East Coast this weekend and told him that we had had some snow on the ground. They said snow in Texas and you know, where we live in Texas that are the blizzard of 57 that was that was the megastorm that that the history of Steel remember but you could walk across houses. There was so much snow and it it it was a heck of an event and it is that's that's why I remember I think because it was just so monstrous.

24:06 Feels good and Jimmy's house got all that snow in the attic and she was having to shovel it out of the attic and mother went over to see if she can help me Jesus Jimmy. How can I help you? And she said I just should never have left South, Texas.

24:26 Because of that snow we were out we had no electricity for weeks school. We had no school for weeks. The school bus couldn't get out there.

24:41 Yeah, it was I think we had no water for weeks. I think our water pipes for a well there was water in the windmill for drinking and cooking we had to carry it and it's yards away but is a kid a hundred yards is like a job if you want some weight training just carry two 5 gallon buckets full of water for the ways that will do the job. I think also during that blizzard. We we somehow put together a snow sled or something. I've tried full by tractor and we went around all our neighbors in the in the area and got their orders for groceries cuz everybody's kind of groceries and made it into town to the grocery store bought everybody's groceries and came back out and deliver them all around the neighborhood.

25:37 All right. I didn't remember that but I do remember.

25:41 Our dad got a tractor and we had that sled yeah case of metal and my dad was on the tractor and we had to go out and try to find the one thing that blizzard was in March. So Weber cabbing, we had baby calves everywhere and we were trying to find the log house and get hi to them and find the babies in full amount of snow drifts us some of the babies made it and some of them.

26:27 The cattle were hungry and and Confused they can walk. That's no woodpile. And the cattle with a horse drift With the Wind they would drift South and then they got to offend. So we packed that snow down and then they could just walk over the fence and go to the next to the next mile where the next fence was and I think people found kettle

26:54 In the next County south of us after it was before it was all over there were cattle everywhere that didn't that were not where they belong.

27:04 I remember going out with Daddy and the pick up when I don't know if it was that specific time. It was multiple times when the Cavs would be born when it was too cold and put them in the in the pickup like under on the floor under my feet and we would drive around counting cows or whatever. And then as soon as the cat seemed well enough, he would take it back to the mother and let her know that but if it wasn't well enough then we would take it to the house and that lived in the utility porch at the house. So it stayed there until it was weird baby calves in the house.

27:50 It would one of those baby calves up and then as soon as he thought they can survive he would put them back in the pickup and take them back to their mothers on their feet start walking around. It's okay. You're ready.

28:19 Yeah, you know something else it was that we had at one point in time place. We had the only telephone out in the country but none of our neighbors had songs, but my uncle had served in World War II in the signal Corps in when he came back in 1945 the first job that he was given was to build a phone line for my Ranch headquarters into the AT&T substation in located in the town of Stratford. So built 9 miles of private phone line so that we could have a telephone on the ranch and then all the neighbors ever needed to use a phone maybe come by and just borrow the phone nothing and it was always a reasonable use the front door mom opens the door and there's a guy standing there in an Air Force jumpsuit and he was a Air Force pilot at the time. There was an air base in Amarillo and he had bailed out of his airplane.

29:19 And parachuted the Earth and we were the closest house and he walked over to our house to use the phone and he had to call his superiors at the air base and it was not a very happy situation. I don't think that anyway he made it. Okay, actually it says he's like a three-person crew on that plane and then the other two guys managed to fix whatever the problem was with the plane and got it back and landed safely in Amarillo. So it wasn't it was not any kind of a tragedy everything except it might have been for his career cuz he wasn't supposed to be allowed. I don't think it's okay because they are you still there. Yes.

30:12 For the time they got to our house. It was the middle of the night and he didn't have to call but I think they got it back to Oklahoma City. That story was in the Reader's Digest and something else at one time.

30:33 I don't know that there's anything you specifically have to cover. I just eat out when I when I think back on our childhood. There was a lot of drudgery and there is a lot of boredom and I rarely remember that what I remember is it to me was all one great adventure, you know, we had that entire Ranch headquarters to play in and nobody was hovering over us with a wicked as long as we got our work done we could do what we wanted there were places to explore. You know, I used to I used to climb out my bedroom window at night. What was the last time to go hunting with one of my friends off in the in the you know, the far reaches of the ranch and never far as I remember never shot anything? I don't think you can probably do much honey night really, but man it was a lot of fun just to be able to do stuff like that.

31:26 One thing I did I want to tell that our dad was sick in at one time. He he was so active in the Hartford.

31:36 Organizations there were several around like within a hundred-mile radius and a lot of times he would be the president of those.

31:46 As organization and so as president he got to be speakers their annual banquet and his speeches mostly consisted of jokes. Just one joke on me. I don't know where he got them, but he would think she would tell me this joke and it's a dinner to at the supper table. And if I laughed he would put it in his repertoire did not like any kind of joke or off-color joke.

32:25 She was

32:28 She was a little more straitlaced. I think than our dad was but

32:35 That was one of the things that I want to tell TJ, you don't remember as much about that as I do but

32:44 Now that I've met, you know, I've had it I had somebody come up to me one time and it and say, you know, I remember your dad speaking at this banquet. He said that you know to just to just stand and talk to him. You wouldn't think that he could have been a speaker at all. But then he would get up there at the podium and he was the best speaker there.

33:06 It was kind of a last-minute thing.

33:14 You're not a nice one more thing. I want to tell about loose or junk pile. For those of you who don't who didn't grow up on a ranch for you. Every time you get something done. Do you have something that's probably not usable anymore whether it's harness for horses. When you get tractors, you know, you have harness when you get a new pick up. Sometimes you have an old one when you get a new refrigerator. Nobody want your half a mile south of the of the headquarters was this.

33:50 Junk pile and his kids we could go to the junk pile and spend all day long. We would rearrange check we would build forts. We would have contest shooting contest or a bow and arrow contest or I don't know if you know what we did we come had to come up with their own entertainment when we didn't have TV the radio wasn't all that great.

34:26 But there were plenty.

34:29 I just say that that reminds me of one time to start being able to do things like that. And we had Vehicles parked. You know, we had we had pickups for Hired Hands when we had them for our own purposes. And anyway, they were just like a lot of vehicles here and there and there was one out there by the by the fuel tanks. That was it was probably on a 1940 Ford Vanette it have been sitting there for a year to

35:04 Okay, maybe it was maybe I think is me and Fred said, you know, can we can we do some of that pickup and knock yourself out? So we managed to but then we had to take us to drive around and call it red bird. I don't know.

35:31 Moved into the what we called the Rec Hall. Was that one summer or were you at? How long did you live out for the summer this this was a house that was on the property that was in was recently built for a Hired Hands family live in but nobody was living in it. So we talked to folks into letting us move into that house for the summer and then it was supposed to be for the summer and then it's fall came along and we were getting back in school and and Mom eventually made me move back into the house, but we sure like living out there.

36:08 And then another time she was out there I think for the summer but you just batching out there kind of showed up for work when you were supposed to I think nobody really bothered you very much.

36:32 I think we were very fortunate that we were able to grow up in the country like that. Sometimes I was envious of my friends who could get on their bicycles and go down to the drugstore and get a Coke or a Sunday or something. But I knew how lucky I was to be out in the country with the Wide Open Spaces in the freedom that we had. It was wonderful.

36:53 It's not like I'm Fairytales, except it was real. I mean it was

36:59 I don't know it was it was odd feel like

37:04 It really was and it was and it was kind of a golden point in time that will never come for us again, maybe it will for somebody else. But the one thing that I think back on all so is that growing up? You know, we were told that this this is what you have. This is the way it is and this is the way it's always going to be but that part didn't turn out to be true, you know, everything changes everything has to change and so that that did too but it's hard for me to imagine anybody having a better childhood than I have then I had I guess I still agree same here.

37:48 Akin to Fort Lee is the three of us grew up with your kids didn't get to experience it as much I mean they do now it's adults but

38:06 Your grandkids kind of day when they come. Yes, we talked about because we had we had not only all of this family close in but we had family far away and I are Ranch was kind of like a summer camp of choice send them to our Ranch to work for the summer because that kept him out of trouble and they got to earn a little bit of money and somebody took care of them for a while. We had just a whole revolving cast of relatives that came and worked for the summer.

38:44 Another thing I was going to tell if you know our house was three bedroom two bath, but the five of us used 2 bedrooms and 1 bath and the other bedroom and bath is for guests. It was on it was called our guest room and we had lots of gas in the summer.

39:08 How long to minutes to 2 2 minutes?

39:14 Until until we got to be teenagers and then another kind of separated the girls from the boys, but

39:23 Yeah, that one that one bedroom and bath was called our guest room because it you know, it's somebody else to talk to you for a while.

39:47 I think that's all I've got you guys have anything else?

39:53 I don't have to type it on the over. So I have three children in my family and then Martha you have to and PJ you have to do so at the second generation is 7 first cousins to think I mean, they're closed, but they didn't grow up like that. It's not your graphics.

40:31 So it's over.

40:34 Okay.

40:37 You also.