Volume IX, No. 2, Winter 1981
A VISIT WITH ESTELLA MUENCH
Edited by Sheila Jones
I had a funny life. It was backwards and forwards from St. Louis to the !farm. I was born in St. Louis and moved to the farm when I was ten. Then it was backwards and forwards until I married and lived several years on the farm, then back and forth some more until 1946 when my husband died and I sold the farm.
It was a lot of fun on the farm. We had our sad times, too, and our bad times.
My grandfather on my mother's side belonged to the Grey Beard Regiment. It was authorized by Washington. He farmed in Iowa and that was the only state that had the Grey Beard Regiment. They were fathers of sons who fought in the Civil War, and they were sent to guard the prisoners that were captured. He was sent to St. Louis. Now you know where St. Louis University is now down on Grand Avenue? That was Camp Jackson. Then he was sent to different places to guard the prisoners, but when that war was over, one daughter married and moved to Kansas.
The other daughter, my mother, Clarrissa Paulk, remained in St. Louis and married my father Fred Schwaebe in 1867.
My father came over from Germany in 1854. I have a record of when he was naturalized. He had people here already who sponsored him. He left Germany because he didn't want to serve in the German Army.
When he lived in St. Louis, the Civil War started and he saw how the Negroes were mistreated. The reason he left Germany was because he saw how the officers mistreated their boys when they had to serve in the war. They were so mean he said he never wanted to serve in the German Army. My father never once asked to go back to Germany. He never taught us children one word of German.
To finish his architectural work my father went to college down on Broadway. His business was on Fourth Street, so he worked on a lot of these houses in St. Louis. He worked at Shaw's Gardens and on Mr. Shaw's house. He also worked on the Eads Bridge.
I would be in the 1890 census. I was born in St. Louis, on Belt Avenue off of Easton Avenue which is now Martin Luther King Street. I was raised there. My maiden name is Schwaebe. I had four brothers and four sisters. There was really ten of us. My mother had lost the twins. She raised eight of us. They're all gone now. All but me.
In St. Louis I went to the Arlington School which is on Byrd Avenue, and I went to the Dozer School which is on Waterman Avenue. Dozer School is still in existence.
In the Arlington School when I went there, our teachers were strict, and we had a principal and if we didn't get the answer right, we'd get a crack across the knuckles with a ruler. She carried that ruler around with her. She used it to rap them across the knuckles. Some of the boys would get sassy, you know.
My favorite subject was history. I still love history. I turn on the television and listen to anything that's on there about historical things. I love history. I hated grammar. And I'm like the commentator, Jim White. As long as you can communicate, what's the difference? The commentators, they always say "a tall" instead of "at all" and they also say "safternoon" instead of "this afternoon." Some lady called in and complained about that. Jim White said, "What's the difference as long as you can communicate?" But that's not what the teachers think.
We used to have Arbor Day at school. We don't have no Arbor Days anymore. We don't have Maypole anymore, either. We had the Maypole at school. They all went round and round. They used ribbon. When I went to the Arlington School, everybody got a valentine. Nobody was missed. We had boxes, but the teacher instructed that everyone had to have a valentine.
All photographs in this story courtesy of Estella Muench.
There was only one high school in St. Louis when I was a girl, and everybody couldn't go to school. You had to pay and it cost quite a bit of money. We never went to high school. Of course, my girls all graduated from high school. I only have an eighth grade education.
My father was great for kids. We had to learn how to play dominoes. We had to learn how to play checkers and he helped us with our lessons and he done everything for us. At Forest Park when I was just seven or eight years old, my father would take us to the park on a Sunday evening. They had a bandstand by the lake and we went in the buggy--all them horses and all them buggies--and listen to that band. I was a little kid and I didn't care a hoop about it. Then on Sundays we would have chocolate drink as a snack and a big bowl of ice cream after supper as a treat.
And Christmas was nice. We always celebrated it. Of course, my father was German and my mother was English descent. We always had a nice Christmas. We always had a Christmas tree. My oldest brother, the one that served in the Spanish-American War, he dabbed in electricity. He fixed us up a bunch of tree lights for our Christmas tree when I was just a child. He said candles were dangerous, which they were. Before, we always lit the tree with candles.
My father was a contractor. He had his own business. My father had horses and wagons and we had cows and chickens. We lived on a big block. We had a cow to milk and my mother used to churn our butter, so I know how to churn butter. When we moved out to the farm, then we got the old cream separators. I said, "Get that out of here" There were a thousand parts to it to clean. I would rather carry the milk to the cellar. We would put the milk in crocks and nice cream would come up.
We didn't have bathtubs. We used the wash tub. Even in my home when I was a child in St. Louis, it was many years before we got a bathtub.
Then came in the plumbing and its piping and the bathtubs. Well, they're handy and I'm so happy we have lots of water, and I'm afraid maybe we won't one of these days if we're not careful.
I remember when the waterworks were built and we got our first water, it was kind of a little bit muddy yet. When it came out of that faucet, Mama said, "We can't use that to wash with!" But it didn't take them long to settle it down. I know when the waterworks were built. My brother worked on them.
We didn't have a radio. The little crystal sets come in first. But we did have a gramophone. Out at Arlington, that was one of the towns we used to go to to do our shopping, there was a grocery man there, Pillman. There was another fellow set up a grocery store across the river from him. To get the customers away from Pillman's he gave coupons. We got enough coupons from buying from him that we got a big box. It wasn't one of these that bear the Master's Voice, but it was a big box and we got a whole lot of records with it. That was our first phonograph. They called it a gramophone. You wound it up and it played. It wasn't electric. This one didn't have no horn to it.
The first moving picture I saw was at the World's Fair in 1904, and it was nothing but a flicker. It was moving, but not talking. They were first experimenting.
There was much to see at the World's Fair. They brought some savages from the Philippines. They were all naked, you know. They just had on a loin cloth. They were learning them to speak English. It was a tribe called Igorots.
Well, we had them there at the fair, and I heard John McCormack sing before he became famous. I heard him sing in the Irish Village. He wasn't famous then. He was just an Irish boy come over here and was singing for a living.
I saw the Queen's jewels and all those policemen with these red coats. That was in the Washington University grounds. That there was part of the fair. The English queen had her jewels all there and then the big ole policemen were standing there, the "red coats," they called them. But we went in and looked at them anyway.
There was so much to see. I had a beautiful silk shawl from Chinatown and a silver bird. Each country had its own village. I remember most hearing John McCormack sing. Also we saw Buffalo Bill Cody and his Indians put on a play of Custer's Last Stand. Annie Oakley was with them.
I'll tell you why that stands out in my memory. Mama said, "I never thought Bill Cody'd ever amount to anything." You see, her father was sent to St. Louis. Now Bill Cody and my grandmother's brother were buddies. They came to see my grandma, and brought Bill Cody with him. Mama walked to church with Bill Cody and she said, "I never thought Bill Cody would amount to anything." That was funny. But we watched him. And I saw Annie Oakley. She was with him.
There was never a World's Fair since like it. They couldn't compare to the St. Louis Fair.
I was ten years old going on eleven when we moved out in the country with my father. He got sick and the doctor told my mother to take him to the country, so they sold one of their houses and moved to the country. Well, it happened to be Phelps County, not far from the Muench place. We moved to the farm the year of the Spanish-American War. My brother had to go to that war. We moved out in the country in May and my father died in November. That was in 1898.
When we went out in the country, and sick as he was, he taught us how to make rabbit traps to catch rabbits. We let them go after we caught them because we didn't like to eat them. He built a little kind of chicken coop to catch birds in. We'd catch them and let them go. I guess I'm funny. I'm a square.
I don't remember the name of the first school out in the country I went to. It was a one-room log school, but it burnt down, and then they built a school on the corner across our field. That was called Cook Schoolhouse. That was built about the time I was married. I didn't go to that Cook School.
My mother didn't continue to live on the farm after my father died. We did keep the place. Mama and I would go backwards and forwards, because she still had a house in St. Louis and all my sisters and brothers were in St. Louis. I was the youngest. She'd go out to the farm and so would all of her kids. I said we kept up the Frisco Railroad. Of course it only cost three dollars to go from St. Louis out to the farm. We all traveled by train. We never had any automobiles at that time.
I met my husband going to school and just being in the neighborhood. We kept that farm until I got married. Then my mother sold the farm.
Fred's father, Mr. Muench was a hotel keeper in Berlin, Germany. His father was a hotel keeper, but he had to go serve in the German Army when he became of age, and he lost everything he had. He got married and then they came over here.
Grandpa and Grandma Muench came over here in 1867 but they were naturalized in 1877. They came over in a boat and landed in New York and came directly to St. Louis. I don't know if they knew anyone in Missouri or not. I never asked Grandma who sponsored them. Now Mr. Muench and Mrs. Muench, they taught their children German. They all learned to speak English, too.
That was a German Community, German and some Polish people. The Muenches didn't homestead that land. Grandpa Muench bought that. And I'm so sorry I didn't take down the date of when he bought it. There was two farms. First they bought one then they bought another. There was 120 acres in a section and there were three sections which made it 360 acres. I don't know if most people homesteaded or not. My folks bought their farm. Land was very cheap.
Then he finally quit his business. I think he must have been in business in St. Louis twenty years. He was in business in St. Louis before he retired and went out on the farm, but he had the farm and he'd go backwards and forwards just like we did. He was the first owner of the place, then he gave it to the boys.
I guess my husband got the most of his education in St. Louis because they were backwards and forwards just like we was. He went to that little log schoolhouse also.
My husband was in business in St. Louis. He started doing the same as his father before, but he branched off into tuck pointing and plastering, and he used to paint. He used to calcimine all the school buildings, and then they quit doing that and they used to paint them.
Tuck pointing is where you put the bricks together and you put the cement in there. That's what happened to the farm house the first time it caught on fire. You see the chimney--the tuck pointing, the cement--had given way and the sparks had went in between the bricks into the wall and set the wall on fire. But the neighbors all came and knocked the wall down and found where the fire started. And they put it out. And then they had to paste up the bricks with cement again.
Fred and I were married in 1907, the fifth day of September. I was twenty years old. We lived there on the farm for eight years. I had three little boys one right after the other. I never had my girls until I lived in St. Louis. Johnny and Herman were thirteen months apart. And then Carl, he was a little further along. See, Herman was born in 1909 and Carl was born in 1912. I had six children, but my oldest one died. We had to bring him to St. Louis and he died in the hospital. He was five years old when he died. I had six children and I raised five and they're all living yet.
Oh, I'll tell you I've had some experiences on that farm. We had cows and we had sheep and we had pigs and calves and guineas. You know guineas made such a noise every time anyone would come near the place. They are good watch dogs.
There was a whole bunch of sheep there. There was always fifteen or twenty. There was a funny thing too that happened. They was a man and lady stayed with us. Somebody from St. Louis sent them out to build them a house on some property they'd bought, and they come and they stayed with us. They told them to come to the Muench farm and we would take care of them. Well, we didn't know them from Adam, but anyway they came and they had two children. We were so glad when they were gone. That little boy, he was about four or five years old. The yard was fenced off and he was invariably out of that yard. Fred said, "Now stay in the yard when I bring the sheep because the ram will buck you down." You know the big ole ram has horns. Sure enough as soon as Fred got that gate opened up and the boys drove them sheep in there--there was that little kid out that gate and into that lot, and that ram went for him and bucked him down. His brother come screaming, "Get up, get up." "I can't get up," he said, "He keeps knocking me down." 'Course, as soon as he'd get up, the ram'd push him over again.
We always hired somebody to come in and shear our sheep, and then they rolled it up in tight bundles and packed it in sacks and took it to the market. I never did spin any wool or anything like that. And Grandma Muench, I never knew her to do anything like that. Some people did.
We bought the wildest bunch of ole hogs from them Franz's near us. I said, "Why do you bring such things on the place for?" Fred said, "Keep the children inside." They were wild right out of the woods. They were acorn fed, you know. They run wild. They had to feed them corn before they could take them to market. Well, they finally tamed down before they left our place, but them there hogs was so wild and I was scared to death they would attack the little boys.
We butchered our own hogs. I also learned how to take care of different kinds of meat. We used to wash out them stomachs. You know what that is? Wash out that stomach and turn it wrong side out. We cooked the snouts, the jowls, and I'd make head cheese. They wanted to put the tenderloin in the head cheese. I said, "Nothing doing. You ain't putting no tenderloin in the head cheese. And no sausage either." Something Grandma used to make was blood sausage, but I never would. I couldn't stand that. We used to fry the pork sausage and can it in the grease, and we used to smoke part of it. We'd use the good white leaf lard out of the hogs. Their fat would come in like leaves and you would just pull it off. Then you would just put it in the kettle and melt it. We used to fry this pork sausage. We'd put it in the jar and fill it up with white lard, and put it in crocks, then put a clean cloth over it. we put a lid on it and then a rock and it would keep with that fresh lard. The lard just sealed it.
I learned a whole lot of things on the farm that I didn't know. I didn't know anything about plucking geese. You know we had to pluck the feathers from the geese and ducks to make the feather beds. Well, Grandma Muench taught me that, but I didn't like to do that. How would you like your hair pulled out? They weren't dead. They were alive when we used to pluck them. Grandma'd say, "Stella, the geese are losing their feathers." And I'd say, "Oh, Grandma, I hate to start that. I don't want to start that." You know you had to lock their wings, and I thought that was just torture and that just turned me against it. We just plucked the soft down because they would be losing it all anyway. Ducks and geese do lose their down in the spring so we would have to pluck them. I didn't like to do that. That was one thing Grandma told me. I didn't know how to do anything like that.
When Grandma Muench lived in Germany as a girl, she said they would put a goose in a box, and they would make long rolls like pills of dough out of the stuff from the mill. Her father was a miller. They would stuff that goose. They would get them geese up to twenty pounds, and then they would sell them and that was their spending money. They'd stuff it down their throat. You know a goose'll only eat what it wants, but a duck will eat all the time. And if you want to fatten geese, you've got to stuff them with a certain kind of food. They would make these dough biscuits, and they stuffed them geese with them dough biscuits. I asked her, "How did you get them to swallow them?" She said, "Well, if they wouldn't swallow them, we just pushed them down their throats." That was awful. I learned a lot of things from her that I'd never know about.
Funny thing happened with one of our geese. We had steps going up to the granary where they put the grain above the workshop. One day the geese were all out there in the yard and Herman, he was just a little bitty fellow, had these coveralls on. He went out there, and an old gander got him by the seat of the britches, and he started a-screaming. And I said, "Run up the granary steps and I'll get the broom." He run up the steps with that goose hanging on to the seat of his pants. I laughed. I got the broom and I went after that gander good and proper. He never bothered Herman anymore. That was one of the funny things that happened on that place.
One year I had a whole bunch of goslings. Every morning they'd go out in the pasture and eat and go down to one of the big ponds. I said, "Something's taking one of my goslings every day. Now I want one of you boys to take the gun and go down and when I turn them geese out I want you to watch them." And do you know what it was? A big ole black crow was swooping down there and getting my goslings. He swooped right down there with that boy standing there, and he had the gun, and I said, "Why didn't you kill him?" He said, "Well, I'd a-killed the gosling." I said, "Oh, the goslings dead anyway! He'll come back and get another of my goslings."
We always had so many chickens, and we always kept that big egg box that held twelve dozen eggs on one side and twelve dozen on the other side, and we'd always fill up that box and when that box was full we'd sell them. Now I was taught to always turn them eggs over so they'd keep better. Eggs were only ten cents a dozen at that time. Isn't that terrible?
There were lots of snakes. Copperheads and rattlesnakes and things like that. You had to watch out for them. Once a snake got up in a tree and we pulled him out with a rake. It was getting into a bird's nest.
One day I heard the children, I heard Johnny--that was before my little John died--I heard him and Herman call, "Mama, Mama, Mama!" I run quick out, to see what was going on, and they were in the workshop. Now this is what they were a-doing. They had a box and they were building a telephone. Now these little bitty kids like that were building a telephone! But there was a copperhead snake in there, had come in from outside, and they got up on top of the work bench and called me. And I went to the door and I seen that snake, a-a-rw! I grabbed that hoe and I killed that snake one, two, three. It's head was gone right now, but I killed it. That's some of the things you had to go through with on the farm.
I went out many times to California in the desert, and I never once saw a rattlesnake out there, but they say the place was full of them. The only time I saw one was my great-grandson went up in the mountains and killed a snake, and you know what they did? They skinned that snake and brought it down and cooked it And my daughter-in-law says, "Well, will you try a piece, Mom. It tastes just like fried chicken." "No snake for me," I says. "I don't want no part of his snakes."
We didn't have much wild game. Fred wasn't no hunter. If anybody brought us a squirrel, I would cook it. I didn't like squirrel and I didn't like rabbit. We never used much wild game unless the boys caught something and brought it over and give it to us. Grandma Muench was a good cook, but I don't think she cooked much wild game. Grandpa never went hunting.
Now Mama, she was raised in Iowa, and her father liked to fish and hunt. She loved them squirrels and she could sit and eat them squirrel heads! Did you ever see anyone eat a squirrel head? Oh, she would crack that skull and get that brains out of there. We had lots of fish at our house. Mama would go down to union Market in St. Louis, and we had white fish, smoked white fish and we had salmon and every kind of fish there was. She said, "You got to eat fish to have brains." I guess I didn't eat enough fish!
We grew popcorn and peanuts. We had a popcorn popper. We would sit around the fire and pop popcorn. And if the popcorn popper was broke we used a skillet with a lid on it.
But I never done one bit of work in the garden. Grandma said, "One horse and one double shovel could do more than a woman could do in a whole day." We planted everything in rows-carrots, string beans, everything-and it didn't take them no time to go through that with a horse. I never hoed that garden at all.
I done the most of the planting, but they made the rows. We raised sweet potatoes and we raised peanuts and everything. Do you know how to raise sweet potatoes? You mound them up. Do you know how to raise peanuts? That's the same way. The peanut plant is a vine, and you cover them all up and the peanuts are all on these little sprouts like the sweet potatoes.
We used to grow okra for flowers. I never used okra. My mother used to put it in soup. Now I've found out you could fry it and cook it all kinds of way. You can pickle it and everything. It had a beautiful flower on it. But out in the country women used to plant different kinds of flowers in the garden to keep the bugs away-marigolds, zinnias and things like that. We never had very many flowers in the yard--never had time to plant them. There was no time for that.
We had several buildings and sheds for preparing and storing our food and other things we needed. The smokehouse and the storage place over the round cellar was all dirt. There was no wooden floors, because of the fire that was always going smoking the meat. It was my job to keep the fire going. We used green hickory. The shed where we kept the press was built on to the smokehouse. That's where they kept the cider mill and wine press. There were three sheds, one was to store the cider press. Then another one was for the wine press. We always made wine for our own use. Then there was a storage shed where we used to put the wood.
We stored all our vegetables under the storage house and the smokehouse. It was big. We had one side for our canned stuff and our milk and butter and on the other side was our vegetable bin and a place for barrels with his kegs with his vinegar and his wine.
Then there was a workshop with just anything we had to work with on the place. There was a great big bench in there and all kinds of tools in there--the rakes and the hoes.
Then we had them old corn shellers where you shell the corn. We had the mowing machines where you mow the grass. One time Fred was out in the front mowing grass and he ran into a bumble bees' nest, or hornets' nest. I threw up my arms and yelled. Then he came in and I said that he was lucky he didn't fall off that thing. He could've gotten cut or hurt bad if he had. Of course the team ran off.
Most of the time we took the corn and wheat up to Dixon. The wheat we always had ground what we wanted for our own use and the rest we sold it.
We had to carry the water for the house in from the cistern. We had a well down by the barn, but we had a cistern that we used our water from, and they made a charcoal bin before the water would get into the cistern to filter it. We always did that. To draw the water from the cistern you turned the crank and you brought up the water. The buckets were little things with a lot of little cups on the chain that brought the water up from the cistern. We used to put our melons down in there to keep them cool. My sister brought her girls out and we had a lot of melons, and them girls thought it was just wonderful. They went in the spring wagon or the hack and went out in the fields and got the melons and put them in the cellar. Then we kept our stuff cold putting it down in the cistern in a bucket. You could put a melon in a bucket or in a sack. We usually had clean sacks to put it in for down in the cistern. And when we would bring it up it would be nice and cold. We never had a spring house. They would have them down on the river or where there was a spring.
If we got any ice we had to go to town to get it, and then we wrapped it up in a blanket and we wrapped it up in sawdust and everything. And by the time we got it home we only had half what we started out with. We didn't have any ice house which they should of had on the farm, because in the winters it was very cold and they could have had cut ice from the pond and stored it. There was no river. We just had ponds on the place.
Did you ever can tomatoes and use sealing wax? That's what we had to do until we got the Mason jars. We canned in tin cans. Then the Mason jars came and we were all happy. But we had to buy the lids. The lids were zinc and we had to buy the rubbers to go with them. We preserved some things like pickles in crocks. We tied on a cloth and covered it with a dish and set a rock on it.
We had barrels of wine and vinegar for our own use. We never drank wine steady, but on a cold day, Grandma used to come over like one very cold morning when Fred was going to go to town with a load of butchered hogs, she brought over a container of hot wine with spices in it. I can't remember how she kept it hot. She was all bundled up and came walking over there. They didn't live very far from us in the other house. "Now Fred," she says, "you drink this on the way to town because you're going to get awful cold. It's very cold out." They used to have wine when they had company. I don't remember ever using wine for medicinal purposes. We drank it off and on. Most of them people out there drank wine, anyway.
We made our own vinegar. Grandpa used to grind the apples. Grandma and I had to help with all that apple stuff, you know, clean all them apples. We never did throw no worms in it. Some people throw everything in, but we didn't. We cut every bad spot out. Then he'd press them and we'd all have a glass of fresh cider. That didn't last very long 'cause you know cider turns. Then's when it goes to vinegar.
We also dried apples. We used to cover them with mosquito bar. Can you buy mosquito bar anymore? You never heard of it? Mosquito netting? What they use when they go hunting or fishing to keep mosquitos off. We used to put that over the fruit to keep the bugs and hornets off of them. Oh, the hornets! They loved them apples when they're drying and the peaches, too, for that matter. We would spread the apples out on planks on trestles, but then if it started to rain, we had to run and bring them in. It depended on how hot the sun was to know how long to dry them. Sometimes it took a couple of days. And you'd go out there once in awhile with one of the paddles and stir them up--turn them over.
We used to cook apple butter and peel that tubful of apples and stand there all day to make apple butter in a copper kettle. We used to put cider in it. We used to store the apple butter in crocks, and then sell it for fifty cents a gallon jar. That price was terrible!
You had so much to do on that farm. Besides these once a year jobs there was lots to do in the house every day. Oh, I only weighed ninety pounds, Grandma and I each. She weighed ninety pounds and I weighed ninety pounds.
We had kerosene lamps. I had to fill all them lamps every morning and trim the wicks and wash the chimneys and take and put them where they belonged.
We had wooden floors. We didn't have no oil cloth and we had to get down and scrub them floors. We scrubbed them once a week. They were pretty dirty by that time with all the traffic we had in that farm house. We had rugs in the parlor. We called it the parlor. Now it's the living room. We bought our rugs.
We used all the old material and braided the rug to put outside the door. We had strips of rugs in our bedroom where we got out of bed because them rooms were cold unless you made a fire in them, and we didn't always stop to do that. We didn't spend much time in those bedrooms.
One day a week we washed all of our clothes. When we ironed we had three irons--them flat irons. We had a big one and then a smaller one and we had to have a potholder to hold them with.
We had to do everything the hard way. Now everything is so easy. Every morning we had to get up and get that stove going. That was the hardest thing to get up in the morning and make the fire, bake biscuits and fry ham and eggs and cook breakfast food and everything for a whole gang of people. We always had a bunch around there working.
We had to bake everything in that wood stove. Oh my! We used to have to bake all of our bread. One day we baked bread to last for a couple of days. We'd bake rolls and coffee cake and cake. Did you ever eat a jelly layer cake? It's a layer cake with jelly in between and on top. It's delicious. We used to make coconut cake and chocolate cake.
When the thrashers come, that was a big day back then. They had to have coffee cakes and things like that.
Before I was married, when I lived with my mother in the little log house on her place, we used to quilt and we had quilting frames. We used to pull them up to the ceiling when we wasn't working on them and then let them down. Did you know about that? They had the rope fastened up there when we would have to quit. In the farm house we usually had them in the bedroom upstairs. So whenever we had a minute or two to spare, that's where we went. Grandma would come over or my sister-in-law or some of them and help me. We'd stitch away with them little tiny stitches. The one who made the tiniest stitches was the best quilter. They always asked, "Well, how many spools did you put in that quilt?" I never could remember. It was just for ourselves. We didn't sell any. I had all I could do to make enough for myself. I never sold a quilt in my life.
I did a lot of canning and crocheting, all kinds of work like that, and embroidery.
We always had boys in the neighborhood and people around us always worked for us. There was a silly thing I done. I was always doing something like that. Fred had rented another farm down on the river for corn, and they'd go down there to harvest it. We also had the whole field out in front full of corn shucks. He said, "I've got to get more help to shuck that corn out there in that front field." So one day a man come by here and I went out and he said, "Hello." They always used to come to the gate and holler, "Hello." And he said, "Lady, have you got any work for me to do?" And I said, "You want to work?" And he said, "Yes." I said, "Go right out there in that field, and start shucking off that corn. Mr. Muench wants that corn shucked and he's got to get help to do it. Go right out there and when I have the dinner ready, I'll ring the bell. Maybe my husband will be home." I knew Fred wouldn't be home, but I told him anyway because I was a little bit scared.
Then Grandma and Hattie were going over to see the other sister, Bertha. They stopped in and said, "Stella, who's working out in the field? .... Well, I don't know who he is," I said. Hattie and Grandma scared me worse. They said, "Stella, you shouldn't take in anybody like that. You don't know who that man is." We had a dog and he was crazy about us, and I said, "Herb won't let him hurt any of us." And sure enough, when I rang the bell for him to eat dinner and the man come to the gate, that dog went after him. He said, "Lady, call off your dog." I said, "Okay. Herb, come here." And he come and stood right in front of me and the children.
Well, anyway the man come inside and he started eating. I guess he saw I was frightened. It was Grandma and Hattie that scared me. I wasn't until they come along. He started talking about Sunday school and church and all this stuff. He thought he'd put me at ease. Well, that fellow, I can't remember his name. I often wished I'd wrote down his name.
But you know he stayed all winter with us and worked there on the place. And I used to have a lot of books, and I'd be mending there and he'd say, "Do you want me to read something to you?" He'd open one of them books there and read to me. While I was doing my mending with them little kids, he would read me stories and read me stuff out of my books. I had a lot of books that I loved to read. I always did. And it is hard for me now not to be able to. It's very hard.
You know he stayed all winter with us. And he always called me "Lady." He never called me Mrs. Muench. And he'd play with the little kids.
He left all at once after he got a letter. I never knew him to get a letter and I never knew him to write one, but of course he could have. He could have gone away from the house and went to the post office and wrote it. But he got a letter. He packed his suitcase and he left, and he thanked me for being so kind to him all winter, of course, Fred paid him for working. We had lots of work. We had work in the wintertime just as much as we did in the summertime. And he thanked me for being so kind to him, and he left and we never heard a word from him since and I can't even remember his name. I often wished I knew who he was.
One winter I got an urge for ice cream. I was carrying one of my sons, Carl. We was all sitting around that hot stove. I said, "Would anyone like a dish of ice cream?" I said, "If one of you will go in the cellar and bring up a crock of milk, and one of you go to the barn and get a bucket of salt, and one of you go outside and knock all of those icicles down, we'll have ice cream." So one got the crock of milk and one went out to the barn and got a bucket of salt. ODe went out and got the icicles wherever he could find them. They brought that freezer and got it to going. It was one of them you crank. And we had ice cream. I told them to bring up a jar of strawberry preserves and we had strawberries over the top. There we were in the middle of the winter, sitting in front of the hot stove eating ice cream!
The house was an eight room house, had a porch and the upstairs went up off of the porch. That's where the house caught fire when we were there. Johnny discovered it. He called, "Mama, Mama, dust, dust, dust up there." I said "Dust, where's the dust coming from. Oh my, the house is on fire!" The upstairs chimneys needed tuck pointing. The cement fell out and set the upstairs on fire. I went out on the porch and opened that door and the smoke was all there coming out. Fred was gone. His sister was staying with the old folks and she had a son, Johnny. He always was over at my place playing with my children 'cause there were only old people over there. Everyone called him Honsey. I bundled him up and told him, "Honsey, run quick and tell Mama the house is on fire." He comes back and I said, "Well, is she coming?" He said, "She says her house is not on fire." I said, "Oh Honsey, our house here is on fire. You see that smoke up there, Honsey? The upstairs is on fire." And I said, "Go tell your mama to come real quick.'" "Oh, oh," he said. So he went and she came back.
That's when the old funny phone came in handy. I turned that crank. I was so excited and Bertha was listening on the telephone and I rang their number. I said, "The house is on fire," but she said, "I thought you said the horse is in the well." I said, "Oh my goodness: Everybody misunderstood me." I guess I was excited being there alone with them children. She said, "Now wait a minute, Berry is over there." That was Berry Hance. She said, "Berry's over in the field rabbit hunting. He'll be right over." I ran outside and rang the dinner bell. I heard someone over in the field. I ran out and called, "Oh Berry!" He said, "I'm coming Aunt Stelly." He always called me Aunt Stelly. They talked so funny in the country. I said, "The house is on fire, hurry!" He didn't know what to do. Well, I slammed the door shut on the stairway. That kept the blaze from spreading.
By that time everybody in the neighborhood was there. They all knew about the fire. They was always on that country phone. You grind it and everybody listens. That was fun. There was funny things happen and there was sad things happen. That was a terrible feeling, 'cause I didn't know if anyone would come. I needed somebody there. Me and them three little kids! They had to knock the wall down to put the fire out. It did burn a little hole in the roof. But then we did get a new roof.
Oh, we used to have good times out there. They had pie suppers and box suppers. They used to have dances in the neighborhood, and we used to have oyster stew. I remember Grandma talking about the oyster suppers they used to have at the old schoolhouses. They'd have a supper and they'd cook a big pot of canned oysters. Everybody had to buy a big bowl of oyster soup. It was for some benefit for the school.
And swings. We used to have swings on the trees--tire swing and sack swing. We used to take a big gunny sack and fill it up with straw. Somehow or other they would tie it with a rope. We straddled it.
We played checkers and dominoes, all such foolishness as that. I liked to read. Of course I can't anymore. We used to have baskets and fill them with flowers on May Day. The children don't do that now. And we played jacks. You don't see children now days do that. We used to play hop scotch, king on the mountain and lie low sheep. We used to hide. The children would all hide and the mother sheep would go hunting us. And they'd say, "Lie low sheep." Just like hide and seek only they used to call it lie low sheep. We used to play jumping rope and we used to play when two of them went together, double pepper, double dutch. When we were fast they used to call it pepper.
We took the first automobile and airplane out there on the farm. Grandpa said an automobile would never last. "Stick to the horses," he said. Then my son flew my husband out there and they landed in a field.
We sold the place after my husband died in 1946. My husband is buried in Mill Creek Cemetery. My father is buried out there too, although he was a soldier and could have been buried down at Jefferson Barracks. But he wanted to be buried out in the country. My little boy is buried down there and the Muench family, the older ones are all buried down in Mill Creek Cemetery.
I had a birthday card from Jimmie Carter and Roslyn and I have one from Gerald Ford on my birthday. And also I have a flag that was flown over the capital in Washington D.C. on my ninetieth birthday and a certificate. A soldier delivered it at the door. I have a certificate stating it flew over the capital. There is lots of people who have flags, but mine is hand embroidered.
I was ninety-four years old on January 5, 1981. I've had an eventful life. I saw the telephones come in. I saw the automobiles and airplanes come in and washing machines and refrigerators. I lived in a wonderful time.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.
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