Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
September 3, 1997, Page 28
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
IN THE Good Old Days
Compiled by Dee Zimmerman
Sunday, Sept. 7th, is “Grandparents’ Day.” How many of us were fortunate enough to know our Grandparents? Grand-parents can be very special to their grandchildren. They can spoil them a little, as no one else is allowed to do. Granting grandchildren little favors is an expression of Grandparental love.
My paternal Grandparents both died before I was born. Our dad often talked about them, sharing memories of the family’s life on their Iowa farmstead.
Until I was twelve years old, we lived a few miles from my maternal Grandparents, Joseph and Maria, visiting them at least once or twice a week.
Natives of Slovakia, the third, most easterly, region of Czechoslovakia, both Grandparents immigrated to America at the turn of the century. They had each lived in villages near the Austrian border. Grandma worked for an Austrian couple in Vienna, and learned the German language. Grandpa lived three miles from the border and six miles from Vienna, so he visited the city often.
The Slovakian culture placed great emphasis on the arts – singing, instrumental music, dancing, crafts or skills – all were a part of the “Art of Living.” Two hundred years of semi-serfdom and the circumstances which were created by it encouraged the peasants to master the arts. Mastering music or another art allowed one to elevate beyond their circumstances. As a couple, Grandpa and Grandma had excelled in dancing, earning medals at festivals. Once Grandma told me, “Someday you must go to Vienna. There is such beautiful music as is heard no place else.”
Grandpa worked in the Belaire, Ohio steel mills. After saving enough money, he continued westward to South Dakota. He settled in the same community where two older brothers lived.
Having an uncle in Schenectady, New York, Grandma lived with her uncle and his wife after she found employment. After working for a time, she returned to Slovakia – and later decided to sail back to America and eventually South Dakota.
After being married, Grandpa and Grandma started farming. There were many challenges for them to contend with during their life together.
Their eldest child, Gizella (meaning graceful dancer) was my mother. Mom, her brother, Bill, and sister, Josephine, all shared the same birthday, May 29.
When Aunt Josie was a few months old, Grandma became ill and had to be hospitalized in a sanitarium for eight or nine months. Grandpa had to find someone to care for the three little children, seven months, two and four years old. A Catholic Church congregation which had a parochial school, taught by a group of nuns, took the three little ones in to their care. Busy with farm work; traveling by train to visit Grandma occasionally and trying to go fifty-five miles the other direction to see his children, limited visits for Grandpa.
At the end of Grandma’s hospitalization and return home, Grandpa traveled on the train to pick up their little children. As he started conversing with them, he was surprised when they spoke in the German language. The nuns all spoke German in their house, and the tots learned it quickly. There seemed to be a special bond among my mother, her brother, Bill and sister, Josie. Never did we hear a disagreement among them. They would always share the same opinions. Their togetherness may have bonded back when they were toddlers, living with the nuns those few months. A sister, Mary, and brother, Alex, joined the family later.
It is interesting to recognize the characteristics we inherit from our Grandparents and parents.
Grandma was independent, and feisty, yet very sharing. Grandpa was quiet, a perfectionist in several ways and also had a sharing nature. Both enjoyed their family gatherings, entertaining family and friends when they came to their home.
The only times I heard Grandma sing Slovakian folk songs was when she was up to her elbows in a pan of flour. Some baking specialties were butter horn rolls, fruit filled kolachies, prune knedliky, dark rye bread, apple strudel and cinnamon rolls – all made without looking at a recipe card. Another enjoyment for Grandma, was reading. Every afternoon, a half hour after the noon meal and at least an hour in the evening, she read the local daily newspaper and the Slovakian or German newspapers. When she was through reading the foreign newspapers to which she subscribed, she traded with a friend, reading other foreign papers.
In 1939, Aunt Mary and Uncle Alex were home to visit during the holidays, both lived in Minneapolis. Grandma entered the kitchen after reading session, announcing, “There is going to be a terrible war, such as our country has never seen. The whole world will be at war.” Uncle Alex said, “Oh, Ma, you read too many of those foreign newspapers.” Grandma, said, “You will see and I fear the day my sons are called to fight in the war.” She was right. Both were called to serve and the older son didn’t return.
A humorous event, instilled by Grandma’s reading, happened during the initiation of labor strikes. It was mid-summer, the men were busy with field work, too busy to drive to town and buy some staple foods Grandma needed for cooking meals. One noon hour Grandpa and Uncle Bill came home to eat and no meal had been prepared. They looked in the living room; Grandma was sitting in her rocking chair, rocking away. They asked, “Where’s dinner?” Grandma said, “I’m on strike and will be until you go to town to buy what I need.” Needless to say, they drove to town.
A story that often came up, while family reminisced, happened in the Grandparents’ earlier years. Grandma wanted her own horses and buggy so she could go shopping without waiting for someone to drive here. Grandpa bought her a nice little matched team of black horses and a covered buggy. Apparently, the fast little team was more than Grandma could handle. As the team was reined to go left on a country road intersection, the speed was too fast, tipping the buggy over and Grandma with it. That ended the solo trips.
To make extra money, Grandpa would sell seed corn and some small grains. There were times he would take me with him down to the drive-through granary and corn crib. He would hand-select each ear of corn to be shelled with the hand-cranked sheller. The small end kernels were removed from each cob, leaving only the uniformly shaped kernels for seed. In early January, he sent packages of seed to the state agriculture department for germination testing, always having a high test on the grains and open pollinated corn. Each spring, his regular customers would come to the farm to buy their seeds.
Going into the barn, Grandpa had everything neatly in its place. The horse harnesses were cleaned and oiled, hung on the wall pegs with care. His teams of horses were not only matched in weight, but in appearance. Never would he have a brown bay horse teamed up with a white horse, as some farmers did.
Once a year, Grandpa went fishing in mid-January. Two of his Slovakian friends accompanied him to the nearby James River. After dark, Grandpa would hitch a team to the sleigh and leave to pick up his friends, Jim and John, along the way. Each would put empty washtubs and boilers on the sleigh for holding the fish. John’s wife, Annie, always worried about John going ice fishing in the dark of night, fearful he would drown. Another of her worries was the little flask of spirits that Jim took along in one of his pockets. She shared her concerns with John, saying “John, what would I do? We have six little ones and I can’t bear to think of our living without you. Promise me, you won’t drink from Jim’s spirits bottle. I won’t be able to sleep because of worrying.” Jim was the rascal of the three men and John reassured her he wouldn’t taste the spirits. He told her to bake some goodies and prepare an early breakfast as they would be hungry when they returned from fishing. The fish were divided equally, taken home and packed with ice in a wooden barrel set on the north side of the house. The women pickled some in a wine sauce, others in a sour cream sauce and canned the pickled fish for summer eating.
As a boy in Slovakia, Grandpa had learned how to snare birds. There were many ring neck pheasants in the South Dakota fields. During the winter, Grandpa would place small string snares in the corn stubble, leaving a trail of corn kernels toward the trap. Shotgun shells were expensive and the snare method worked successfully, as he brought many pheasants home. Grandma complained to her friend, Annie, that she was tiring of eating pheasants. Annie said, “Maria, I hear tell the fancy restaurants in Chicago serve ‘pheasant under glass’ and it’s real expensive. Now think how lucky you are that your Joe brings you so much pheasant.”
Memories of Grandma and Grandpa’s farm are numerous. Grandma grew several varieties of herbs in the garden, drying them to use in cooking. The walk-in pantry at one end of the kitchen held many aromas. The various herbs and woven bag holding home-grown garlic hung from the ceiling, each adding to the mixed aroma.
The backyard had a cave for potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables and some canned goods. The old settler house with its little rooms that held Grandpa’s tools and other things; intrigued me. I enjoyed watching Grandpa grind feed with the old grinder powered by a single horse walking around the mill and pulling pole that moved the grinding gears.
One summer day, staying with my Grandparents, I realized they would protect me, no matter what. They always kept and raised geese. The old gander wasn’t used to seeing me, a little gnome creature that showed up at the farm one day. As I made a trek down to watch the windmill pumping water, I hadn’t seen the gander near the barn. Engrossed in the wind-mill, suddenly I heard hissing and flapping wings. As I started running toward the house, the gander was pinching the back of my legs with his beak. Of course, I cried and screamed along the way. Grandma came out of the house carrying a broom. As she met us, she swung the broom, knocking the old gander end-over-end. After laying on the ground a second or two, he finally regained his equilibrium and ran in retreat.
The next time we visited Grandpa and Grandma’s; I didn’t want to go outdoors to play. I asked where the gander was and Grandma said he was gone. As we sat down at the table to eat, I saw roast goose on a big platter. As much as I disliked that old gander, I couldn’t eat any roast goose for dinner.
The family gatherings, the music, the laughter and sharing in so many ways are memories to be revered. I give thanks for having been able to know and experience the love of at least one set of special Grandparents.
A grindstone was used to sharpen axes, sickles, etc. on the farm. Early models were powered with foot pedals to turn the stone.
Grandpa’s drive-through granary provided storage for small grain and cob corn. A winter project was shelling corn with a small sheller, as above, without the powered pump jack style gasoline engine. A hand crank was mounted on one side, which Grandpa cranked to move the shelling wheels inside. (Photos courtesy of Ed Statz)
My Grandparents owned a 1920s Chev touring car equipped with snap-on side curtains. The touring cars also served a make-shift pickup in those days. One or two little calves could be taken to the nearby stockyard. A gunny sack was placed over the calf’s backside and secured by a wrap-around twine-string, for obvious reasons.
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