Volume V, No. 4, Summer 1978
AN INTERVIEW WITH WALTER NIEWALD
by Stephen Ludwig
My great-great-grandparents came over from Germany in 1856, along with the many Germans who began immigrating to Missouri as early as 1820. Like many other German immigrants to the Ozarks, they did not come directly, but moved in from other states. After a short stay in Illinois, they joined others who had already settled in central Missouri.
My ancestors settled south of the Missouri River in present day Osage County near a little village called Freedom. They came to America to leave hardships behind. Here they hoped to start a new life in a country where liberty was guaranteed.
Publications in Germany at this time influenced many immigrants, including my family, with descriptions of the easy life in America--large green pastures and fertile soil in which crops flourished to supply every need. These writings painted an inviting picture of what America had to give them.
When my great-great-grandparents arrived, they found many things different from what they had anticipated. Before they had lush green pastures, they had to clear the trees. In the Ozarks the rocks and clay soil made the land very difficult to till even after the trees were gone. Crop failures and hard times forced many people to return to Germany, disillusioned that America was not the dream land of a new life. Most families lived from year to year on the hope that the next year would be better.
Despite the hardships they faced, my family stayed. Though they did not immediately recognize it, the hard work was worth the effort. The family was one unit with each member working as hard as the other.
This family togetherness, shared with me by my grandfather's brother, my great-uncle Walter Niewald, is my heritage.
My maternal grandparents, Frederick and Mary Krueger, came over in 1856. They sailed from Bremerhaven, Germany, to New Orleans. They were on their way about thirteen weeks in their rickety sail boat when they got caught in a terrific storm. I believe it was the hurricane season and the boat was tossed around. The captain and the crew had given up the ship. They didn't think they would ever land. Three weeks after they were struck by the storm they were in the same latitude as they were when the storm began. Their food and water ran short--especially their water. They couldn't use the ocean water so they rationed it each getting one-half gallon a day until they got into the mouth of the Mississippi where they could drink all they wanted. Eventually they did land at New Orleans.
From New Orleans they went up the Mississippi on a steamer. I guess they landed at St. Louis where they disembarked from their boat and settled at Maeystown, Illinois, south of Waterloo. There they lived three years but they were sick with malaria. The doctor told them if they didn't get out of there they would be under the sod perhaps in another year. He suggested that they try to get into the hills of Missouri. That's how they headed out this way.
So my grandfather started out in 1859 with an ox team and a horse with no idea where he was going. I guess he started out on Highway 50 which was then the State Road, but it wasn't much of a road because people weren't interested in the State Road but the roads to market.
They got about seven miles east of Linn near present day Freedom where he found a place along the Gasconade River where he could have what he grew without paying any rent for five years. But he had to clear so much every year. That was his pay. They had a very, very difficult time. The little cabin had just a dirt floor and a fireplace built of wood and daubed over with clay where most fireplaces were built of rock. They had no windows in the place. The cracks between the logs were chinked on three sides except the south side for that was how they got their light. To keep the cold out they hung something over the wall.
Before they came over my grandfather had a grocery business. It burned but they had some money left. They spent that on their passage and others that had people over here begged him to take them along and they were going to pay him back when they got over here. But when they got over here, of course, they had nothing with which to pay back. So they went through tremendous hardship which we have no conception of today.
Grandma Krueger would walk those seven miles to Linn to sell the few eggs she had. If she found out in Linn that Loose Creek was paying a couple cents more per dozen she'd walk five more miles to Loose Creek. That would be a twenty-four mile round trip. There was some kind of a stable that wasn't in use that was built out in the woods. If she couldn't get back in one day, she would sleep in that old stable, then go on again.
Grandpa Krueger did have some problems communicating. There were a number of Germans living around there but most of the people in our section of the state came from Kentucky or Virginia. They were not immigrants from Europe directly.
Then the Civil War broke out and Grandpa Krueger enlisted in the government Union Army. He had had military service in Germany. During the war the people at home lived in constant terror of the bushwhackers. That was a fearful situation in those days.
Price's Raid was through there in 1862. Price was a southerner sympathizer, trying to take the capital of Missouri at Jefferson city, but he didn't succeed. The women were to report any losses, violence, looting, or anything that happened to a Mr. Rhoades who lived on the old State Road. Something happened there and when my mother and her sister went to report, they didn't know that the State Road was crowded with rebel troops. They finally got through to report and then they were afraid to go home. They stayed as long as they could. Grandma Krueger was on needles and pins-didn't know what had happened to the girls. They finally got enough courage to go through the ranks of rebels. It seems to me it took about two or three days for the whole rebel army to get through. See, the roads were not highways, not like they are today. They were trails you might say. Grandma and the girls were not molested otherwise. However, more of the soldiers did branch out from the State Road and came to the little cabin. Grandma had some money that Grandpa had sent home. She didn't know what to do with it so she wrapped it in some old rags. They had a little smokehouse and she ran in there. She threw the money down and set an old empty barrel on top of it. The rebels ransacked the smokehouse and kicked the barrel over but they didn't pick up the old rags. The money was saved in that way, and no harm came to them otherwise during the civil War.
Grandpa's last active duty was at Vicksburg, Mississippi. He had a lot of eye trouble and he was put in what they called the invalid corps at that time. He didn't see any more active service and was mustered out in July, 1865.
I don't think they lived there in that place much longer. Incidentally the log house was up on the hill, and the spring was down at the river a quarter of a mile, and they had to carry all their water up that hill. My mother often spoke of carrying that water before they moved on that farm where your grandpa lives. Well, near their new place down the creek about a quarter of a mile was a spring on the Liesemeyer place. There was no well there when they built their house, they still had to carry their water a quarter of a mile, but that was really some improvement. They didn't have to climb the old Gasconade hill. They could at least walk on level ground with their water.
My father, Herman Niewald, came over from Germany in 1866. He was the youngest of seventeen children and he followed six of his other brothers who had come over before him. They lived with some relatives at Drake which was about seventeen miles from where Grandpa Krueger homesteaded.
There was a man living at Drake that had a special trade. It may have been the stone layer that laid up the outdoor oven for the Kruegers, but I'm not sure. He came by mule to the Krueger place to do some work and brought Herman with him. Herman became acquainted with Wilhelmine Krueger in the fall of 1868 and on January 27, 1869 they were married in the Krueger home by the Lutheran minister.
They made their home with the Kruegers and helped Grandpa run the farm. Herman and
Wilhelmine had eight children. The boys were Emil, Henry, August--your grandfather--and me. I
was the youngest of the boys in the family and I didn't really know my sisters Lydia and Mary too
well because they were already married.
I was born too soon for the tractor. I couldn't even start one. As long as I was home we never had a tractor until 1918. We did all of our work with teams. See when I was going to college, my summers were always spent on the farm. I liked that. The whole farm there was two hundred and eighty-four acres, less than half of that was tillable. We had a lot of woods and rocky hills.
Farms were not fenced in my early days. We didn't fence animals in, we fenced them out. The cattle would roam over large areas, and everyone lost some of their cattle those days. Fences were made by splitting rails and this took a lot of rail splitting.
If a farmer wanted to build a barn in those days, he would usually get a sawmill on his place--saw down his own trees' or have them sawed into lumber. That is what our neighbors did. They got a sawmill out there, hauled the logs in and had their lumber sawed. In those days they had more timber than money. If you wanted to build some small thing, it wouldn't pay to have the sawmill come over there, so they would cut their logs and haul them to the mill. Maybe they would have to haul them two or three miles and then get their lumber back.
I liked farm work, didn't matter what it was, driving posts, hauling manure, milking cows, I just liked farm work. They wanted me to be a minister but I didn't feel that way at all. My father would have been glad to send me to college, but I had no intention then. I wanted to be a farmer. I didn't make up my mind to study for the ministry until I was about nineteen years of age. Then I went to the Lutheran Seminary in Springfield, Illinois. It amazes me what those professors accomplished in the few years that they had us. I never saw the inside of a high school. In fact the highest grade I was ever in was grade seven and I didn't know what I was in then. Then in five years they take us hayseeds and accomplish something. I still marvel at it.
Mother baked bread once a week, baking sixteen to eighteen large loaves in an outdoor oven. The side walls were about two and a half feet high with a clapboard roof over it. There were two openings, one in the top and one in the bottom. Quite a thing and that was used for many years. When baking we would light the wood in the upper opening to heat the fire brick on the inside. When we had the oven heated, we would rake out the coals and mother would put her hand there in front of the opening and she could tell whether the heat was right, or if not, she would wait three or four minutes to cool a little bit. Then she would put her bread in where the coals had been raked out, all the loaves at one time, close the front up with a board and in one hour the bread was done from the heat stored in the bricks. After the bread was out, we would put wood in the top opening and then it would be ready for the next baking. If we had extra wood we would store it in the lower opening to keep it dry. I carried a good many loaves in and out.
Housewives made their own yeast, too! in those days. They would take corn meal, mix it with some of the yeast that was left to the right thickness, cut it into cubes, place the cubes in a thin cloth and hang them up to dry. Then when they would bake, they would take as many cubes as they needed for the bread they were baking. In the early days, too, if their yeast went flat or their fires went out, they would borrow a start of yeast or some coals to start their fires. My nephew tells a story he heard where the farmer took a wooden shoe to carry home his coals. The shoe burnt up before he got home--no shoe, no coals.
Most of our food was put up in gallon or half gallon jars and crocks. We usually put up some forty gallons of apple butter. Apple butter was always put in gallons, blackberries and sauerkraut were put up in half gallon jars. We always filled a barrel with sauerkraut, and then when it had fermented, mother would put it in the half gallon jars. There was no spoilage after that. Pork was cured, hams and so on. There was no such thing as fresh meat during the summer unless you had chicken. Maybe when the threshers would come around we would butcher a sheep and have mutton, but there was no way of keeping it. There were no refrigerators and strangely, nobody thought of canning meat in those days. They did put up pork patties, bake them good and done and then put lard over them. That would keep them for a long time.
A person wonders sometime how they got by. Of course there were some very lean seasons. There were parts of the year when we had neither fresh meat or vegetables.
One way of curing bacon was to hang it after being properly cured. It may have been there until July but by that time it was getting pretty strong--"strong enough to pull a plow." But we did it differently. We would get a barrel of salt around butchering time. We would salt the meat, bacon and so on, and leave it long enough until it drew salt, then we'd take it out of the salt and hang it up for a month or so and then put it back to store in thick layers of salt. That is where the barrel of salt went. After it had drawn salt and had been hanging for a considerable period of time, you could put all the salt on it you wanted, because it wouldn't draw salt any more and it kept much better.
Our apples were dried in the sun. We never used the outdoor oven. We spread the apples on what we called drawers--clapboards nailed on two by threes or something like that. Then at night we'd stack the drawers one on the other and cover it all with oilcloth in case of rain or dew to keep them dry. Apples would discolor if they got wet. The foods we dried were mainly apples, some peaches. The peaches we had were called "fence corner peaches," and you didn't have much left after drying. We grew apples by the wagon load as we had a large apple orchard. We never sprayed--never heard of that. We had mostly summer apples. Out of them we would make cider, dry some of them and make apple butter. We gave a lot away.
Mother sewed quite a bit of our clothing, having a sizeable household. She didn't make everything like they did in the old homespun days but made shirts and so on. I don't know if we could buy them ready made in the stores or not. Everybody wore homemade shirts and pants. However further back they had the old homespun as they called it and they would also raise their own flax and treat it. They would run the flax through a thing with nails or sharp pins. They slapped it on there and got the threads out of it. It wasn't used in my day but Grandma Krueger undoubtably used it. In those early days of my grandparents, people had no money, and even if they would have had some, they wouldn't have been able to buy material. It just wasn't done that way. They had very scanty clothing too. They had no underwear, the houses were cold and you wonder how they survived, but they did. There was no rich Uncle Sam to back them up--root hog or die was the old saying.
The family had extremely hard times during the depression. Your grandpa told me this himself. He said that they kept track of every penny that they spent during the year and they spent five cents for non-essentials. They bought a five cent box of potted ham. Your grandpa, he went through the mill there. He really did. He put in an awful lot of hard work. They had some real rough times there, your grandparents during the depression and before that, too.
The men never left for St. Louis but many of the young girls would go to St. Louis to get a job there. In the country five dollars a month was top wage for a hired girl. Those that would go to St. Louis got twelve, fifteen or eighteen dollars a month, so a lot of the girls would go to do housework in the city. Factory work and all that sort of stuff was not even dreamed of for women in those days. They all did housework. The men would find work in the country. It took a whole crew to operate a farm in those days. But there wasn't much left for the young unmarried girls but get a job in the city.
We always talked Low German to our parents and they always spoke German to us, but among ourselves we talked a kind of pidgin English.
The people did carry on a lot of the old German customs. When we came here in the early forties to take the church at Boeuf, I didn't know there was a place in the United States where so much Low German was spoken, as here. Even the children would play ball in German--Low German. There are many dialects of Low German. In Germany one town wouldn't understand the people in another town, for they had a different dialect. High German is the univeral German. Any educated person speaks or writes High German, but among themselves they keep up their native dialect.
When Luther translated the Bible he used the German of the Saxon Chancellery. Wittenberg is in Saxony and the official Saxon language is what he used for his translation. Luther is generally regarded as the creator of modern German. Before that every little principality had its own dialect and these people didn't understand those and vice versa--at least they had difficulty. All the preaching and teaching in schools is High German. Some think that High German is something that elevates you a little and Low German is a little lower, but that is not it. High German people lived in south Germany, the high country, the mountainous part of Germany. The Platt Deutsch, flat Dutch, lived down in the level part of Germany so these were the LOw Germans. The modern High German is the German of today and has been for over 400 years, from the time of the Reformation. Among themselves they may talk Low German as we did but all my reading was in High German.
My education began in German. I went to the parochial school at Freedom in the years 1900 to 1901. They didn't have English for the pastor was an elder man from Germany. In those days English was not considered as too important. There were the English speaking people, who were more or less a community and the Germans living among them were sort of a community. While there was never any friction or trouble, in a certain sense there was segregation. People of a common ethnic background were more closely knit together.
When we had a pastor we went to parochial school. When there was a vacancy we'd go to public school. We didn't have German in the public school but in the parochial school we sometimes had both. The first year I went we had only German. I learned to read German and then I went to public school two years because we didn't have a pastor. Then in 1903 I went back to the parochial school for three years. In the morning we had religion, catechism and Bible history, and then we would have German reading, writing and so on. In the afternoon we would have arithmetic and English. School was from nine to twelve and from one to four, so we would get home almost at dark. The parochial and public school hours were about the same and the term was about the same, about six months.
We had no grades in school at that time. If you could handle the second reader you advanced to
the third, so it went on. Learning and teaching and so on was rather primitive in those days. If you
finished your freshman course in high school could get a permit to teach grade school. In my early
days, I never knew the inside of a high school.
I did quite a bit of studying at home on my own. I did a lot of German reading, much more German than English. So the years went by. In 1912 I entered into the Lutheran Seminary at Springfield, Illinois. Never a dull moment. I liked going to school, but if I should choose between working on the farm a day or going to school, as far as getting real enjoyment or satisfaction out of it, I would have stayed on the farm. If I could have gotten an education without going to school, I would have probably never gone.
A church was started there in Linwood in a little log house. They worshiped there and a layman, Giedinghagen, from Mt. Sterling, would come over there and hold services. They organized the Pilgrim Lutheran congregation at Freedom in 1868 and my grandfather was one of the charter members of it. I think there were five men that effected the organization at that time. Then they bought a piece of ground about a mile north of Freedom, across Contrary Creek. They worshiped there in a tobacco barn that was still standing when I was a boy.
The German service was pretty much what they were accustomed to in Germany. The men and women sat on separate sides of the aisle, the elders sat up in front in the chancel and the children usually sat up in front. It wasn't a custom as now for families to sit together.
We always had church services Christmas day and second Christmas day--second christmas day simply emphasized the festivities of Christmas. We had Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. When I was a boy Ascension Day was always a holiday. We would go to church in the morning. Maybe in the afternoon if it was urgent we would do something, otherwise nobody worked--that is of the church people. Pentecost, too. The three high festivals of the church year, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. christmas day, the 25th, you had your Epistle and Gospel for the day, Scripture selections for the 26th, the second christmas day, and in some areas, not where I grew up, they would even have the third day, three services in a row.
Things haven't changed greatly as far as the real meaning of Christmas is concerned. The Germans gave the Americans many of their Christmas customs. They brought the Christmas tree, many of the Christmas songs such as the immortal "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht' .... Silent Night, Holy Night" which has become a part of America's musical heritage.
There was always the Christmas trees as far back as I can remember and long before that. History
has it that the Germans brought over the lighted Christmas tree as early as 1833. I think as long as
my sisters and brothers were in school they had the Christmas programs and the christmas trees
there and in church. Decorations were a little different than now-a-days. We didn't have all this
tinsel and this kind of thing. We had a few ornaments but not many. They would put candy on,
maybe run a thread through an apple or orange and stick candy mainly. There were always
candles on the tree. In church the trees nearly reached the ceiling. The tree lighters would fasten a
candle to a cane pole to light the tree candles. Then when they would get through lighting them,
one or two would put a wet rag on their cane poles in case something started to burn that was too
high to reach. They would put it out then with the wet rag. It didn't happen often but I did see
that they had to use it. So Christmas was observed pretty much as it is now. There was the
Christmas program, of course--in the early days it was mostly in German, then later on it went
over to the English more and more.
THE AREA AROUND FREEDOM
In my days I would go to Hope, have four, five or six sacks of wheat and exchange them at the mill for flour, bran, and so forth. That was the new way. The other way was the old way. You took your little pack of wheat to the mill, and you waited in line. You got there sometime before sun up and you wouldn't get started back home until late in the afternoon because every little jag of wheat would be put into the hopper and ground so you would get your own flour. In the old days you got exactly what you brought in. If you had a bushel of wheat, they would put that in and grind it--all in rotation like at the doctor's office, to await their turn. So it would take them a day. I remember they said they would leave long before daylight to get there early before the crowd. There would be so many before them that they would be sitting around there yet in the afternoon, waiting for their little grain to be put into flour. The miller usually took his share out. If you brought in a bushel of wheat, let us say, why he would figure so much flour you get, so much bran, so much chip stuff. His percentage was deducted from what you took home.
Then another thing that interests me a great deal was transportation. The only means of transportation was what each provided for themselves. They had either to walk, ride horseback or hitch up to the old farm wagon. Later we got a spring wagon and I thought that was about the greatest thing on earth. We were about twenty miles from MoPac [Missouri Pacific] and forty-five miles from the Frisco, in an area of forty-five miles with no transportation except the Gasconade River. That was a pretty busy stream in those days with three steamboats that I recall that made regular trips. There was the Peerless, the Kingfisher and the Wallace. They would go up as far as Vienna--maybe they couldn't make it year around but if they had water they would go to Vienna. Then in 1901 or there about the Rock Island built through there, so that eliminated the upper regions of the Gasconade for steamboating.
The steamboats always fascinated me. How they could maneuver those boats with the little water they had at times was just incredible. They would make a sharp turn, then ring a bell, then reverse it, then forward, then backward, then forward, then backward. Sometimes it seemed like the big wheel was not more than thirty or forty inches from the trees and roots on the bank but they would never get into them.
Also interesting were those early ferries at Mt. Sterling. I remember well when they poled that thing across. They Had a long pole. Sometimes one man would handle it, but if the river was up a little and had more current, then there would be two. They would go where there wasn't much current along the bank, go up the stream a certain distance, they knew how far, then swing the boat around and push forward. That would land them at the landing on the other side.
At that time Freedom had a church, had the store and a blacksmith shop. Herman Linhardt opened the blacksmith shop about 1903, and August Gerschefske had the wagon making business. Those were the industries of Freedom say about 1900 and for some years later.
The Freedom Store in my time had a post office in the back. The store handled general merchandise. Coffee was shipped in barrels, also sugar and salt. Flour was sold in fifty pound bags. Crackers were packed in crates. Herring also came in barrels, six large herring for twenty-five cents. Blue jean material maybe sold for seven or eight cents a yard, maybe less.
The first automobile came in there about 1908. I would say the first automobile I ever saw was at the World's Fair in St. Louis 1904. They had them on the grounds there and you had to pay for a ride. They were all driven by chains. You could hear the chains rattle farther than you could see the automobiles. Then out there, I would say maybe around 1908, Wesley Cox was the first one that had an automobile. He had a little old red Maxwell and he would scare people's horses and he even got sued for scaring somebody's team. The animals were definitely afraid of the things. They never had seen such a monster before nor smelled one either. The fumes probably did as much as the noise and the color. Those were the days. If anybody would drive thirty or forty miles and didn't have to clean a plug or two or patch a tire, he had a real news story to tell. I went out with Emil and I don't know how many flats we had. We went to Feuersville Mission Festival, about seven miles from Freedom. We got pretty near the Gascon-ade River and had a flat so we fixed it. Then on the way back he said someone else would like to ride with him in the car and would I mind riding back in the buggy. I said no, anything to get out of that business of pumping up those tires. So when we were about two miles from the church there was Emil putting air in the tires. When you pumped up a front tire, you put sixty pounds, back tires you were to carry seventy pounds of pressure. That is no fun to pump up a tire to seventy pounds of pressure even if it is only a three and a half inch tire.
Kind of interesting, the post office there. See, Linwood, now known as Ryors, was the post office, about a mile from Freedom across Contrary Creek. Fritz Niewald wanted the post office at Freedom. He got a petition to call it Liberty because he was an immigrant and here he had liberty and because he was so elated with the American way. But that was not possible because there was a Liberty, Missouri. The postal service told him he would have to choose a different name. I got this directly from Dr. Tainter, who was the dentist in Linn. He said poor old Fritz Niewald was really down, for he wanted his post office to be called Liberty. Well, Dr. Tainter said, "You can have the same connotation--call it Freedom." They sent back to Washington, D. C. and that is how Freedom got established in 1889.
The mail was carried in the early days by horse. There was no rural delivery, no delivery in town, either. Before I can remember mail came out twice a week from Chamois, but as far back as I can remember the mail started off at Freedom every morning six days a week. We had no parcel post, we had no daily papers, at least not out in the country. Maybe the more prosperous ones and leaders of the community got a little weekly sheet once a week or every two weeks. So he would start off with one horse, one pouch. Everything was in there. He would deliver to the post offices, starting out from Freedom and going to Welcome, Mint Rill, Stonner, Deer, Chamois. Later on Useful was added. Then when mail got heavier, they had to use a conveyance with a little more capacity, and then one horse with a fellow driving a spring wagon.
This was before the rural routes were established--I think they came in about 1903 if I am not mistaken. That was the star route. He delivered to the post offices, but the route was competitive the lowest bidder would get the contract which ran over a period of years, seems to have been like four years. About the turn of the century Peter Renfro was the contractor. He got $400.00 a year for carrying the mail between Freedom and Chamois, and for this amount Mr. Renfro supplied horse and saddle to the carrier whose pay was fifty cents a day. For fifty cents a day he had to ride pretty close to fifty miles. Later increased volume of mail made it necessary to transport the mail with a spring wagon and team. My brother Emil kept one team there at Freedom. He would feed and water them and harness them up so that the carrier would come, stop at Freedom, then go on to Useful, then come back to Freedom, unhitch his team and hitch up the other team to drive back to Chamois--forty miles a day.
Family life was much different--the family was a unit. You didn't have any place to go so you stayed at home.
Some of the people got to be quite old, my grandmother Krueger got to be eighty-seven and Grandpa seventy-eight. But if you go to an old cemetery today, you will see a child's grave for almost every adult grave--the mortality among children was very high compared to now, and the older ones too. Many died middle age and earlier in their early twenties maybe. They knew no cure for appendicitis or whatever it was but fortunately the doctors were not too far away. They had to ride horseback or drive--most of them would ride horseback to answer calls. There were no telephones like when I had that broken leg. A heavy gate fell over on my leg and broke it above the knee. They carried me to the house and then went for the doctor on horseback. The doctor came and it took three to set my leg--one to hold me down, Dr. Jett to pull my leg and me to holler.
In time of illness the neighbors would help. In case of severe illness, neighbors would come and sit up with the patient all through the night. I can think of a number of instances myself when I stayed with a patient overnight so that the family would get some rest. There were no hospitals at the time, except in the cities and in those days, the hospital was the last resort. If it was a matter of life or death someone might be sent to the hospital. For instance in 1906 Pastor Seidel was stricken with appendicitis on the way home from a preaching engagement. He was so sick he couldn't make it home, so he stayed with some people. The next day he did make it home, and then they had to take him all the way to Chamois--made a bed in the back of a spring wagon--then by train to St. Louis, 100 miles. His was a very serious case.
I still remember the first time I went to Chamois to town. I was about seven and I never had seen a town. It was an exciting time. My brother, Emil, was going to town and he said I could go along. That was a big event that was a lot more than going to the world series now-a-days.
Once a year we would get a barrel of salt. Whoever went to town would bring it along for when we needed it during the year, but there was no such thing as a family going to town. I guess those who lived within a few miles of town may have gone, but it was no pleasure for us to rumble the twenty miles into town from all the way out there and back unless we needed to. Your grandpa and I made a trip once. We started out at two in the morning and got back at ten at night--to Chamois and back. And mud! It started raining on the way in and kept it up, and when we started back the mud was stiff. It is hard on your team when the mud sticks to your wheels. If it is thin and sloppy, it doesn't retard you much.
You know how the farm at Freedom is off the beaten path, down in that hollow? People in town or where there is a little more going on would say when I was a kid there, "Don't you die of lonesomeness?'' I couldn't see how anybody could ever be lonesome there. I never was lonesome. I had a good time.
On Sunday afternoon a bunch of us boys would get together and have the time of our lives--a lot better time than if we had gone to a big ball game. I mean more satisfaction in our own simple way. We would get together on Sundays and evening, especially in winter when the nights were long, visit the neighbors, and they would visit us, maybe play dominoes--something to pass the time away Some Sunday afternoons we'd get together and play "sow." Each one had a stick and a hole with one hole in the middle of the circle. You take an old tin can and batter it up. That would be the "sow." I think you would try to get it into the middle hole. I think you could choose who was "it" after that. Each one is defending his hole in the ground. If you got it in there then you were "it." Sometimes you would get a pretty hard bang across the shins with those sticks as you defended your spot. We got a lot of fun out of that though.
Pete Hoffmann and I had an imaginary engine--parts of an old binder. He had a big bull wheel and we would pretend we were running the engine You know, a little scrap of iron lying out there--each one had his engine. We were pretty small then. Things like that would while away hours if we had nothing else to do. When I was a boy every little thing, even crossing the river on a ferry or fording the stream was a big event.
I think my parents liked the area where they settled, and I think my generation was many more
times contented than people are today. They had hard going but there was real contentment. You
know I often thought if I had my choice to grow up when I did or to grow up now when we have
automobiles and all our modern conveniences and luxuries that people in those days never
dreamed of, I'd take the old days. I don't think people growing up today would have the memories
that I have of my childhood days and young days. To me, the standard of living is not how much
you got, but how content you are with what you have and that you find real satisfaction in what
you are doing. Now to me that is a standard of living.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.
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