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Pioneer Memoirs

Mrs. Elva Hawkins, Plymouth County, Iowa

Mrs. Elva Hawkins was my Grandmother’s oldest sister.  What a sweet dear lady she was! I post here on this page one of our favorite family photos of her. I also include the article that was written for the LeMars Sentinel about her for Easter of 1996.  I am very grateful to all of the pioneers of Plymouth County for their strength and perseverance. My Aunt Elvie & Uncle Harry Hawkins were among those that paved the way for the rest of us.  Enjoy her memories as retold by the Sentinel writer.

Memories of Chicks and Eggs Sweeten an Easter Birthday

Elva Hawkins, who will be 94 on Easter Sunday, beams as she dips another egg into the dye at Plymouth Manor Care Center in LeMars.

“I have the fever right now. I’d like to go out and tend to my baby chicks,” she says.

By the looks of room 7 in Plymouth Manor’s north wing, the farmer-at-heart Hawkins has settled in well as a resident these past couple of years. Books, jigsaw puzzles and spiritual materials are stacked on the bed and table in the room.

“It’s a good thing I don’t have any more tables or they’d be full, too,” the longtime Methodist says with an easy laugh.

Settled in and intent on being content at the care center, Elva still can’t hide her excitement this week. Dyeing those Easter eggs in their pastel colors evokes memories galore for a woman who has more than done her time in the chicken house.

Take the eggs themselves which Elva is casting into the dye.  They are white and suitable to becoming Easter eggs.  Most of her life Hawkins was accustomed to the large brownish eggs produced by her favorite breed of chicken, Rhode Island Red.  “You had to look out for what color you dyed them.  It had to be a dark color,” she notes of the eggs.

And watch out she did all those years when she was dyeing Easter eggs as a child and then later with her four sons.

As her Easter birthday approaches, she admits, “When it gets this time of year, I think about baby chicks.  On a nice morning they can go out in the sunshine.  When it’s cloudy, they have to stay in.”

Elva Lois King did not get her start on Easter Sunday.  It was a Monday, April 7, 1902, when she was born to Warren and Birdeen King on a farm two and a half miles southwest of Adaville.  Her grandfather, Oliver King, a Civil War veteran, had acquired the farm after the war. “This was all new country then.”

She received her name because her parents had given a similar name to her older brother, Elvin Lee, who had died the year before at the age of 3 months. “They didn’t have a picture of him, so they took me to the photograph studio in LeMars when I was 6 weeks old—nobody had home cameras in those days.”

When Elva was nearly 4 weeks old, her parents took her to the Adaville Methodist Church, where she continues to be a member.

Elva grew up doing both house and field work, which included picking corn with her own wagon and team of horses.

The 1919 graduate of Merrill High School had two brothers and three sisters.  She is now the oldest living sibling. Her brother, Stanley King, and her sister, Ferne Tindall, lived in LeMars, and her sister, Freda Dreeszen, resides at Akron.  Her third sister, Ione, is deceased.

Following high school graduation, Elva taught in country schools before marrying Harry Hawkins March 1, 1922.  The couple began a life of farming, which included raising chickens.  That was nothing new for Elva, who had been gathering eggs since she was about six.

At the same time the couple began farming, a neighbor had left a small flock of Plymouth Rock chickens on the farm for Elva to feed and tend for the eggs.  She also raised some baby chicks of the Rhode Island Red variety, a wedding present from Herb and Jessie Johnson.

Hawkins always preferred the Rhode Island Red breed. “They’re quite friendly.  They don’t get scared nearly as bad as Leghorns do.”

No matter the breed, Elva loved her animals.  In her journal, she recalls an incident with occurred during the first year of marriage.  “The old hens took the chicks to the rose bush hedge for shelter from a sudden rain one afternoon and several baby chicks drowned” before Elva was able to drive the hens and chicks to the hen house.  “They were determined to stay under the inadequate rose bushes,” states Hawkins’ diary, which she has been keeping for years.

Raising chickens was work. Every morning and evening, Elva had to feed and water them and then shut them up at night.

“We had to look out for skunks in the spring.  They would take eggs right out of the nest.” A mother skunk began bringing her babies near the hen house.  One day Elva was ready with the rifle, but when she saw the mother skunk and babies, she could not shoot.

Every Saturday night, Harry Hawkins and his sons would go to town to trade the family’s eggs for groceries, usually going to Sioux City in the summer and to grocery stores in Akron and Westfield in the winter.  Elva would stay home and scrub floors while the family was trading eggs for groceries.

In the Spring when the hens were laying well, the family would trade in a case of 30 dozen eggs each week.  Cash, not groceries, was the reward reaped from the spring roosters sold in early fall.

As Elva begins dyeing another Easter egg in the dining room at Plymouth Manor, she admits to being somewhat of a connoisseur of fine eggs.  Rhode Island Reds produce large, brown eggs.  HyLines lay white eggs, and Plymouth Rocks are halfway between, being lighter than the Rhode Island Red eggs but not pure white.  Each year Elva would attempt to have her hens hatch over 100 eggs, with each hen generally taking charge of a nest of 13 eggs.

Farm life revolved around chicken:  eggs for breakfast and chicken for Sunday dinner; eggs in the baked goods, which included three batches of bread a week—baking powder biscuits, Johnny cake and bran muffins; eggs in the two pies baked on Saturday; and don’t forget the two cakes and one batch of cookies which Elva baked every week.  Those were the days she was cooking for six men; her husband, their fours sons, and the family’s hired man.

Elva starts her day with an egg for breakfast at Plymouth Manor. Just make the yoke solid please.

Helping Elva mark her Easter birthday will be her four sons and their wives: Duane and Leola Hawkins, of Wakonda, S.D.; Royal and Dorothy Hawkins, of Minneapolis, Minn.; Norris and Pat Hawkins, of LeMars; and Lorvan and Phyllis Hawkins, of Ireton.  Elva also has nine grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

Memories of Elva’s days on the farm with baby chicks are bound to be one of the topics for conversation on her 94th birthday this Easter Sunday.  After all, “that was part of Spring.”

Elva Lois (King) Hawkins
b. 7 Apr 1902
d. 23 Jul 1996

Link to the personal memoirs, written by Elva in 1986 regarding her life story.

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