My Uncle Elmer Johnson and his brothers remind me a bit of my dad, Al Spencer and his brother, Bill. They all had a mischievous past. I don’t think any of them were true troublemakers, but rather I think it was the era they grew up in. Kids did different things in their mischievous antics. My dad and his brother liked to set of dynamite, but then they were farm kids who, at times had a need for dynamite, like clearing a field of a big rock or tree stump. Of course, they didn’t really need to sink the gate post by two feet in an experiment with dynamite. Nevertheless, they did that. Uncle Elmer and his brothers were not above the idea of scaring their dad with the tractor, while he was using the outhouse. They tried to make him think they were going to run over the outhouse. Their dad came running out with his pants down around his ankles, and he was not happy with his boys. Nevertheless, they lived, so I guess he forgave them for their joke. Uncle Elmer’s brother, Les was his main “partner in crime” for their crazy activities.
For most of his work career, Uncle Elmer was a truck driver. He drove for a number of places, including furniture delivery, working for Burke Moving and Storage and for United Van Lines, working for Tom Aurelius. The job took him many places, and sometimes he could take his eldest son, Elmer with him. Maybe that is why they both really loved driving trucks. I’m sure they had a great time seeing all the sights and talking about everything under the sun. Those summertime trips made Uncle Elmer and Cousin Elmer good friends.
It seems like some men have skills that others don’t. I don’t know if it was that era, or what, but both my dad and Uncle Elmer, and most likely their brothers too, could cook. Yes, they could grill too, but these guys could really cook. They could cook good old fashioned comfort food, and some fancy stuff too, but mostly they were good old American down-home cooks, and that is the best kind. There aren’t many things I remember about my Uncle Elmer, not like his kids do, but the uncle that I remember was always sweet and funny. He was fun to be around, and I know that my parents enjoyed spending time with Uncle Elmer and Aunt Dee too (my mom’s sister). When they were around, it always seemed that the fun accompanied them. I was 25 when Uncle Elmer went to Heaven, but I remember the feeling of loss, both for me and for his family. It was such a sad time, and that will never change. Today would have been Uncle Elmer’s 90th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle Elmer. We love and miss you very much.
The first official Groundhog Day celebration in the United States took place on February 2, 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but it had its roots in Germany and was brought to the United States as a German tradition. It may have had other connotations to some people, but for most of us, it’s just a fun way to break the monotony of Winter, by guessing how much longer it will last. It is my guess that old Punxsutawney Phil is wrong about the prediction as often as he is right about it.
Since, my husband, Bob Schulenberg’s grandma, Vina Hein was born of Groundhog’s Day, the day has always been a little bit of a fun day for her. Of course, I suppose the level of “fun” would depend on the prediction for that year, and whether or not she liked Winter, which I don’t believe she did…as an adult anyway. Montana winters can be harsh, and Grandma even had to have her daughter Esther Hein live with her son, Walt Schulenberg, and his wife Joann during the winter, so she could be able to get to school more regularly. So, I’m sure she…like most of us, preferred an early Spring prediction, not that the prediction mattered much anyway. After all, what could she do if old Punxsutawney Phil guessed wrong? The same thing we can do today…nothing.
Grandma Hein stayed busy all year long. Between canning in the summer, cleaning, cooking and baking, as well as helping out with the garden and the animals on the ranch, life could sometimes be pretty fast paced. She also raised five children, two from her first marriage, Marion and Walt Schulenberg, and three from her second marriage, Esther, Eddie, and Butch Hein. A ranch, a husband, and five kids can keep a person very busy. Nevertheless, even with the hard work and distance from town, Grandma was happy in her life…most of the time. Having an outhouse wasn’t the easiest thing, but they had one the whole time they lived on the ranch. Grandpa did put one in the house later on, but they only used it in the winter. I’ll never forget using that outhouse. It was like living in a backwoods campground. Still, I loved going to visit Grandma and Grandpa Hein.
Today marks the 114th anniversary of Grandma Hein’s birth. She has been in Heaven a long time now of course, and I’m sure that the Winter on Earth makes no difference to her. Nevertheless, for any of you that do care, old Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow today, so there will supposedly be six more weeks of Winter. My guess is that old Phil does better with his predicting when he sees his shadow than when he doesn’t. Happy birthday in Heaven, Grandma Hein. We love and miss you very much.
It would be hard for most of us to imagine a world where we got to go to town only once a year, and yet that was the way of things back when my Great Aunt Bertie Schumacher was a little girl. The Schumacher family moved from Minnesota to a place 8 miles from Lisbon, North Dakota, and the school house was 3 miles from where they lived. Bob and I, in our many evening walks have walked 8 miles at a time, but not in the winter, and since that walk takes us 2 hours, I can’t say that it would be feasible as a way to go to town for groceries, because then there is that walk back loaded down with groceries. Just the thought of 4 hours of walking in the winter cold is enough to make me cringe.
Nevertheless, the children needed to be in school, so Great Grandpa Carl Schumacher got up early every morning, to get the horses out and break a trail, then hook up to the sleigh for the 3 mile drive in to the school with his older children, Anna (my grandmother), Albert, and Mina. Aunt Bertie remarks in her journal, that she and Elsa were very glad that they could stay home with their mother. The sleigh was nothing like the more romantic New England cutters we all think about, but was rather a grain wagon box placed on two heavy runners pulled by their sturdiest horses because of all the deep snow the area got. Great Grandma Henriette would bring the older 3 children out to the wagon, and place bricks she had heated by their feet. Then she would wrap them in blankets that even covered their faces to protect them from the bitter cold. In all the time the children went to that school, they were there everyday, unless they were sick. It was by far the best attendance record in the school, and the Schumacher family lived the furthest away from the school. When Aunt Bertie went to school, a place she was not very fond of, she had to force herself to do what she needed to. It was at this time that she met the only teacher that would remain in her memory for the rest of her life. She was beautiful, and well dressed, but it was her graciousness and her love for children that made her the best teacher little Bertie would ever have.
Not long after Bertie started school, the family moved closer to Lisbon, and the school was only a mile away, and much to Bertie’s delight, it had an indoor bathroom. No more running outside to the outhouse in the middle of a freezing cold day and then running back inside in the cold again. Bertie felt like she was attending school in a palace, I’m sure. One day, when her mother had to drive the long distance into town on a very cold winter day, she decided to leave little 4 year old Elsa at the school with Bertie and their brother, Fred for the day. Elsa had never been away from her mother before, and they were very close, so she proceeded to cry. The older children could not console her, and finally a teacher came and took Elsa under her wing, calming her and allowing her and her siblings the peace of knowing that everything was going to be alright. Bertie recalls how it is funny that the memories that really stay in your memory are the ones where someone showed such love and kindness that the memory of it lingered on for years to come. What a lovely way to be remembered. That is something I think I should like to be remembered as. Loving and kind enough that the memory of my acts of kindness and love stay in the memories of those whose lives I might have touched.
All too often, in this day and age, we don’t think about the modern conveniences that we have. Things like electricity, indoor plumbing, gas (both for cars and houses), cars, television, and telephone are the normal everyday items we count on, but think very little about.
When you consider that not so very many years ago, people had to either get out of bed, practically get dressed, and go outside…even in the bitter cold of winter, to go to the outhouse, you know the outdoor toilet which was a little building out back of the house, or have a pot in the bedroom to use, and then emptied in the morning. Neither choice was perfect, but I suppose the pot in the house would have been better than going outside in the bitter cold of winter. These days we abhor the thought of stopping at a rest stop on a trip and finding out that all it has is an outhouse, because we expect that every place has modern indoor plumbing, whether it is a fact or not.
In times past, people went to bed and got up with the sun, because it was too expensive to light candles or lanterns. The work had to be done by daylight anyway, so they might just as well be up at dawn. of course, most teenagers these days consider anything before noon to be pure torture, and might even whine a little if they have to be up before that hour. Still, there wasn’t really any shift work back then, and families were together in the evening, unless the father was working in another state or town.
Letters were used to communicate, and unfortunately that often meant that if your loved ones didn’t live in the same place you did, you might hear of their passing months after the fact. It took a long time for letters to arrive, especially if they were coming from back east. Today, we can inform people of events that happen in our lives, almost the second they happen. In fact, it’s almost like they are there with you, and if it is an event you know about ahead of time, you can Skype with them, and they can watch it happen. Sometimes, even with all of our modern conveniences, we still think life is really hard, but if we think back to days gone by, we will know that we really have no idea what a hard life is.
My Uncle Elmer died in 1981. Most of his nieces and nephews never got a chance to know him very well. The other day, his son, Elmer was telling me some of the stories of his dad’s childhood, and the mischief he and his 2 brothers got into. This story reminds me a little bit of some of the MASH episodes. Having had no brothers myself, I didn’t really understand the inner workings of the minds of three brothers who were egging each other on. The story Elmer told, goes like this…
One day Uncle Elmer was plowing with an old tractor at his dad’s place. His dad went out to use the outhouse, which is what they used back then. That is when Uncle Elmer and his brother Les got an idea. Uncle Elmer drove the tractor right up by the outhouse. His brother Les hit the outhouse with a 2×4 as Uncle Elmer revved up the engine. Their dad came running out of the outhouse with his pants down around his ankles and the Montgomery Ward’s catalog in hand. Their dad wasn’t very happy with them, but he was relieved that the outhouse made it through whole ordeal in good shape.
Of course, not many of us knew Elmer’s grandfather, but he was quite the man in his own right. He pumped oil out in Midwest early in his adult life, but in the 1940’s he received a piece of property on Poison Spider Road in the Homestead Act. He continued to pump oil in Midwest while he and his wife and sons built the house on Poison Spider Road. The boys lived in an old crude oil tank that had been cut in half, like a Quonset hut. It had a dirt floor and a pot belly stove for heat. In the Fall, the boys learned early on, to throw something on the floor before getting out of bed. Apparently the rattlesnakes liked these cozy surroundings, and as the weather grew cooler. A throw rug thrown on the floor was a good way to alert you that danger was on the floor, and so your feet shouldn’t be.
Yes, what Uncle Elmer didn’t think of, his brother Les did. Their brother Tom was the baby and therefore wasn’t involved as much, but he had a mischievous side too. Elmer figures it is an inherited trait, and one that probably got Tom is as much trouble later on, such as when the boys were racing their Harley’s out by Evansville. I don’t know how many of you know about the Evansville area, but the police out there don’t take much to racing…if you know what I mean. I’m sure Uncle Elmer and his brothers found that out too.