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.