A Flint Hills romance bloomed in a blizzard almost 60 years ago
By Jim Patrico
Kathryn first laid eyes on Happy Jackson in 1930. She was girl of 18, a schoolmarm come to teach in the one-room schoolhouse that sat just down the lane from the Jackson ranch. It was the custom in the Flint Hills of Kansas that the new schoolmarm stay with a local family, and the Jacksons were to be the host family for Kathryn.
"I'll never forget the day I went to look at the Jackson house where I was supposed to live,” Kathryn says. "When I came out the front door, there was Happy and his two brothers lined up to get a look at the new schoolteacher. If they had known how long I'd be around, they wouldn't have been in such a hurry to see me.”
Tall, skinny Happy was about the same age as Kathryn. He had never traveled much beyond his family's Greenwood County ranch, and it was quite an event to have a new girl from Fall River move into the neighborhood, especially one with rich, auburn hair and a broad-brimmed hat that trailed ribbons from the back.
"I was shy in those days,” Happy recalls. "But I was interested in her.”
If this were a Gothic novel, there would be a torrid romance to describe next. But this was real life in 1930s Kansas. And, while Happy and Kathryn did date, they didn't fall right in love. They went to country dances with his whole family, attended ice-cream socials with neighbors and only occasionally got off by themselves.
"We weren't even steady at first; he went out with other girls,” Kathryn recalls. "He never mentioned his dates, but his younger brothers made sure that I knew about them.”
Kathryn lived with the Jacksons for a year, then moved to another school and another family seven miles away.
Absence may have made Happy's heart grow fonder, or it may have made him a little bolder: Once Kathryn ceased to live under the same roof, he started courting her more in earnest.
"I was living with the Ericksons then,” Kathryn says. "We had certain days when Happy would come over, and we'd play cards and talk for hours. I don't think we felt like we needed to go anywhere to have fun. Of course, we were 10 or 12 miles from town and didn't have money to do anything even if we did make the trip.
"One of the hired men used to sit up nights with us and play cards. He was nice, but sometimes we wanted to be alone. One time, I remember, we tricked him. He would always go to bed before 10 o'clock because he had to get up real early to feed the chickens. So, we set the clock ahead one hour. He went to bed because he thought it was late, and we had an extra hour by ourselves.”
On Valentine's Day, two years after Kathryn and Happy began courting, the roads were muddy up to a truck's axle and a snowstorm was brewing. That day was one of Happy's days to visit Kathryn. So he saddled his horse and set out for the Erickson Ranch.
"He was later than usual getting there, and since his family didn't have a telephone yet, I didn't know for sure that he was coming,” Kathryn says. "I thought that any sensible person would have stayed home on a day like that. But when you are that age, you are not always sensible.”
He finally arrived, wet and cold, and as he warmed himself, the two of them sat and talked. Outside, the blizzard that had been building hit. The wind howled, the snow blew.
After a while, Happy announced he would have to ride back home. He said a reluctant goodbye to Kathryn and started for the door.
"Where do you think you're going?” Mr. Erickson asked.
"Why, I have to get home,” Happy answered. "My mother will worry.”
"You're not going anywhere in this storm,” Mr. Erickson said. "It's dangerous. Go out and unsaddle that horse.”
Years later, Happy remembers: "I slept with the hired men that night, and the next day, they kidded me about how I tossed and turned in my sleep and kept them awake.”
Kathryn was not laughing the next morning when Happy left. She had seen a side of him that impressed her. "I was very flattered that Happy had come to see me even though he knew there was a blizzard on the way,” she says.
A few months later, the two eloped. "It just didn't feel right anymore not to be married,” Kathryn says.
They have stayed married through 58 years. They have ranched, raised three children and survived other blizzards together. After all those years, "I still love that Valentine's Day story,” Kathryn says.
Farm Journal, February 1991