Olive (King) Gorrell

Olive King, daughter of Absalom King (of Loreburn) and his third wife, Emma Alice Morgan (of Port de Grave), was born in St. John’s on 30 December 1930 and she passed away on 23 May 2009 in Fresno, California. This interesting autobiography was prepared by her grandson, Michael Redman, for a school project in 1991.


Olive (King) Gorwell, 1999

What is your earliest memory of your house?  Of your family?

My earliest memory of my house growing up is having our bedroom at the top of the stairs with one bed and myself, and two sisters slept in that bed together.  It is good we were all little.  Also on Sunday morning always before breakfast we all had to kneel around my Mom and Dad and Dad would pray for a real long time.

Did you grow up here?  If not, where?  When did your family move here?

No, I did not grow up here. I grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.  My husband and two daughters and I came to America in 1951 to the State of Texas as my husband was in the US Air Force – he was born in Indiana.

What are your most vivid memories of your childhood?

Hard work – that is about all I did. I took care of my mother who was sick for many years and was in and out of hospitals.  And after she would come home she had to stay in bed so it was up to me to do cooking of meals and supper had to be on the table to eat at 6:00 p.m. and I did the dishes, put things away, got my little brother and sisters cleaned up for the night and put to bed.  Then I had to make a pan of bread which was a stone of flour (14 pounds) so I could bake it the next day.  I made bread every night but Saturday and Sunday.  Then on Monday I had to do the family wash which was all done in a wash tub, scrubbing on a scrub board, and boiling the white things in a big iron pot of water with lye.  Also all of this I had to hang out on the long lines in our back yard and that was hard because I am short so I would jump up and throw something over the line and pull it down so I could hang the wash.  And in the winter was the same thing but we got lots of snow and everything would freeze as I put them on the line.  I could go on and on but I think you get my story.  I never played house or played with dolls or things like that.

Olive King Gorrell on the left with her best friend, Shirley Pearcey on the right, 1940 St. John’s, Newfoundland

Tell a few stories about yourself when you were young.

Like I said there was no childhood, just work.  My Dad would come in my bedroom every morning at 5:00 a.m. and say “get up, are you going to sleep your life away?”  So I was up. My Dad would have the fire going and the tea made and I would get his breakfast and make his lunch for him to take with him but in the winter he worked at home making doors and windows for when the weather was better.  He would then be ready to build more houses that was the kind of work he did.  We always had a new house because my Dad would sell the one we were living in and build another one for us so we always had a nice house.

When I was 13 years old, I went to work in a clothing factory cutting out lapels on men’s sport coats.  We worked from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 5 ½ days a week.  The half day was Wednesday.  We got off at 1:00 p.m. then went home and worked.  I got $5.00 a week and I had to bring that home to my Dad on Saturdat.  Also we had to walk everywhere as no one in my family had cars in my day.  My job was 3 ½ – 4 miles away and coming home was all uphill.  And I still had to make bread every night and bake bread from the night before and get the dishes done, get my sisters and my little brother ready and to bed.

What was your relationship like with your brothers and sisters?  What stands out about them?

Well I had five older brothers but one (the older one – Alfred King – half brother) I don’t remember him living home as he was married.  Then when the war broke out in 1939, he went with the Army overseas.  He was missing in action for six years.  He was on the first boat out to war and on the first boat to come back.  That was a very happy day for all of us to see him and know he was home.  Then my next brother (Alfred Allen – half brother) went with the Navy.  He got sent to England and married and made his home there.  I saw him 44 years later.  My next brother was home for a few more years (William (Bill) Thomas Allen).  He was married and lived close by until they had two kids, then they came to America to work on the farms because they were taking everyone to fight the way.  My next brother (Thomas Chesley Allen) was in the Army but got to stay in Newfoundland.  The next one (Joseph Wylie King) is 18 months older than me so he got taken out of school like myself.  He worked with my Dad and to make money for himself as my Dad never paid him.  He worked at night at an ice cream factory and he is still there as far as I know so he has more than 50 years there now.  They sent him to school at nights when he went full time.  Then there was myself.  After me, another two brothers (Maxwell & Ralph King) and two sisters (Sadie & Marjorie), but I was the first girl so that’s why the work was my job.  My sisters and myself had to wait on the boys and my father.  We had to clean their shoes, press their pants, have everything ready for them at all times.  It is sad but I don’t have any good memories of my brothers and sisters because it was all work and no play and we never played games like card games or anything like that because we were not to have that kind of thing in our house.  My dad would never let us do things like that.

**Note : there were also five more sisters from Absalom’s first wife:  Alice, Myrtle, Mimie, Beatrice & Martha Jean (died at birth) King

Olive King and Glen Gorrell, 1949, St. John’s, Newfoundland

What relatives do you remember best? 

The nice one was my grandfather on my Mom’s side.  He was a sweetheart.  I loved him very much but my grandmother on my Mom’s side I never liked her.  Well I never knew her much because she always would keep the gate locked so we could not get in her yard.  Their house sat way back in the yard and I remember it was like a park with lots of lowers, trees and nice chairs sitting around.  What I could see from the street was nice.  She was a trouble maker and my Mom was her only daughter.  She also had two sons.  One was 10 years older than my Mom and one 10 years younger.

What holiday do I remember the best with my family? 

I don’t know, I guess Christmas morning or better yet, putting the tree up the night of Christmas Eve after church and when we got up in the morning we would all have a sock hanging on our bed and we all got three or four walnuts each, and apple, an orange, and some candy.  We only got oranges and nuts at Christmas.  We did grow apples in Newfoundland and my Dad would buy them in the fall and we would have them most of the winter but they were to cook with – like making pies, tarts, and things like that.  My Dad was a good cook when he did cook.  Our Christmas was a Holy time.  We would go to church Christmas Eve, and again on Christmas morning.  The day after Christmas day is called Boxing Day in Canada.  That is when you got your gifts or gave gifts to the ones you had gifts for, but it was never much.  Our tree stayed up for 12 days.  It is bad luck to take it down sooner and also we dressed up every night we could for that two weeks.  It’s called mummering and it’s like you do here for Halloween, and go around to the people you knew close by and they would never know who you were but they would ask you in and there would be four to seven of you and when you got in their kitchen, you would sing or dance, or do something and the folks would give you a slice of fruit cake and a drink, then you go on to the next house.  We had fun doing that.

Olive and Glen, 1964 Fairfield, California

What were family customs on weekends and summers?

Well weekends all day Saturday, there is shopping for food to be done also other shopping.  There is baking to be done, everyone had thing to do to get ready for Sunday.  My big job was get food in, get all vegetables cleaned and in cold water for Sunday, clean all the family shoes for Sunday, and at 10:00 p.m. my Dad would take the needles and anything to do with sewing and ironing away until Monday.  When I say I had to clean all the vegetables, that was carrots, turnips, cabbage, and potatoes.  My Dad would not let us clean anything on Sunday.  We always had a roast of beef and brown gravy, with steamed pudding, I also cooked corned beef and cabbage and yellow peas pudding dinner that I had to cook on Sunday morning when my Dad and the rest would go to church.  Also Saturday night I would put salt fish to soak overnight for Sunday breakfast.  Also on Saturday night was when everyone took their turn getting their bath for the week and washing their hair and I would roll my two sister’s hair for them in rag curls.  Every night when I went to bed I had no trouble sleeping.  I had long days and hard work.  Every night at 10:00 p.m., I would have to fix tea for my Dad and brothers if any of them were home at that time.  With the tea he had to have something to eat.  They called it a “mug up” before bedtime.  Also my Dad would turn on the news at 10:00 p.m. and no one could talk or do anything when the news was on.  Then when it was over, he turned off the radio and if anyone was there for tea and they were not living in our house, he would tell them he was going to bed and they would have to go home.  Like when my husband and I had a date, I had to be in the house by 9:00 p.m. and he could stay for a 10:00 p.m. “mug up” and then out the door.  I still had to make the bread before I could go to bed.  Something I like to tell you about when we had our supper every day, we ate in the dining room.  The plates were fixed in the kitchen.  Everyone had their place you sat there every time, but my Dad sat at the head of the table with a stick on his lap.  We could not talk at the table.  You never asked for more food.  If there was more, you would have it on your plate.  If you said anything, he would hit you with the stick.  Dad would always say the Grace before we could eat and you had to be clean and hair combed before you went to the dining room.  We never used the living room – only if someone died or the new baby was getting its name or there was a wedding, but it was cleaned every Saturday.

What unusual events do you remember from your family?

I think I was about 15 years old when my grandfather Morgan died.  I was with him when he died.  In those days you took care of your own dead.  My Dad made the supper that day and I had to take care of the dead.  I went up the street and asked a woman we knew if she would help me and she did, as I had never done this before.  So her and I got busy and gave him a bath, put on the things he told me for years he wanted to be buried in.  We also put cotton in his ears, nose and mouth, put pennies on his eyes for overnight and then put him in a real nice coffin and put him in the living room.  The coffin was resting on two chairs, and three days later was the funeral.  I had to get rid of all his things before my Dad got home.  My Dad never liked my grandfather but yet he let him live in our house with us after my grandmother died.  All this time my Mom is still sick in bed.  She was sick about six years or so by then, but some days she was feeling better than others.

Did your family take any special trips when you were a child?

No, we never went anywhere as a family.  There was too many of us.  Also my Mom was sick and we had lots of work to do.

What special activities did you participate in?


Olive and Glen, 1995

What historical events happened in my lifetime?

A lot of them like four wars, seven presidents in 40 years in America.  Also all things that have happened in space – like walking on the moon – the first man on the moon July 20, 1969.  The impeachment of Nixon, the killing of JFK in Texas, the San Francisco (Oakland – Loma Prieta) earthquake Oct. 17, 1989, and all the happenings in USSR and the invention of television, among other things.

What has had the most significant effect on your life and why?

Waiting for JFK to take office because I was waiting to get my citizenship and I had already taken my test and passed everything.  When JFK got in office, I got the word to go to Sacramento to take the oath.  That was a happy day for me and my family.  We were so happy I just don’t have words to tell how we felt.

Why did our family move to the US originally? Where did they settle and what did they do?

My husband is from Indiana and he was stationed (at the American base) in Newfoundland when we met, married, and had two daughters.  After four years he was to come back to USA.  It was a long hard trip with two little girls.  We got stationed in Wichita Falls, Texas at Sheppard AFB.  We were there about 1 ½ years and my husband went to Korea for one year.  Our two little girls and I lived in a little town about 20 miles from base in Charlie, Texas.

Do you remember any interesting stories about your ancestors?

No, I don’t remember anyone saying anything.

What was your early education like?  How were the schools different then?

Well I went to school at seven years old and I remember walking to school but I don’t remember much about it.  I was taken out of school the November just before I would have turned 10 in December.  I have not been in class any more until in Fairfield CA, I went to night class once a week to get my US citizenship.  I had been in the USA 10 years then.  Yes the schools are different or they were when I lived in Newfoundland because every church had their own school and you had to wear uniforms.  So when you looked at someone you knew by the way they dressed what school they went to.  Also, no one cared if you went to school or not.  My Dad only went to school for ½ day.  The first day he went to school and sometime that morning he had to go to the bathroom and they would not let him go so when he got out for lunch he never went back.  He could tell you how to spell his name, but he could not read or write.

I thank God I have the husband I have because when we were first married, he would give me words to remember.  Then the next night when he got home from work, we would have supper then he would ask me to spell the words.  Then if there was any I did not know, he would give me them again and some new ones.  That is how I got what (education) I got.  Then I was able to write my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law in Indiana.

What did you do for entertainment when you were my age?  What were the styles like?

When I could, I would go swimming in the summer time, pick berries, and take walks.  When I was dating, I had one boyfriend before my husband, but that was very short lived because my Dad said I was not to see him anymore because he went to another church.  I never went out much because after working and doing for my mom.  She was lots better now.  She was trying to walk again because she was in bed a long time but she could cook now but we did the dishes.  My other two sisters were able to help now, but I still had to make bread every night a little after 9:00 p.m. because that’s when I had to be home even if I went out at 8:00 p.m. 

The page boy hairdo was in, hats, gloves, dresses just past the knee.  Women and girls never wore long pants or shorts.

What are two things in your life that you are especially proud of?  Is there any part of our family’s past that you are proud of?

Yes one thing in my life I am proud of is our two daughters and son-in-law.  They are all hard workers, busy all the time.  They do a lot for others.  I could go on and on about them.  And the other thing I am so proud of is I never had any education but we have one granddaughter at Chico State and one granddaughter at Valley Jr. College in Van Nuys and working.  And we have our only grandson.  Michael’s last year at Vacaville High and we hope and pray he goes to college next year.

In today’s society, what causes you the most concern?

  1. the dope everywhere
  2. AIDS
  3. killings, drive by shootings like folks sitting in their own home being killed
  4. the homeless, the kids with no food
  5. I worry about what is going to be done to help the old folks that can’t help themselves because so many of them don’t have anyone and they can’t get sick because there is no money for hospitals and medicines


Posted September 8, 2019