It is with sadness that I chronicle the destruction of the Kleier farmstead which stood neighbor to my farm for well over a hundred years. Of the farmsteads that I remember in my immediate neighborhood, eight are gone, a testament to the loss of the family farm. As the value of grain failed to keep pace with inflation more and more land was required to support one farm family.
The Kleiers were our closest neighbors. In those years without air conditioning, the doors and windows were open in good weather and we heard what was going on at the Kleiers. We heard them calling the cattle, yelling at the dog, or talking in their yard. We heard their car start up, and heard their machinery in the field. When the old lady, known to me only as “Mrs. Kleier,” was alive, we occasionally visited with her. I remember her well, she was a thin woman with a very large goiter. Her husband, Herman Kleier, died before I was born.
When I was a girl Mrs. Kleier lived there with her two bachelor sons, Al and Edwin. Al married when I was eight leaving just Mrs. Kleier and Edwin. Edwin was as overweight as his mother was thin. After his mother died he never bathed and had an unpleasant body odor. His overalls were so crusted with dirt they probably could stand up by themselves. My Dad loved to tell this story. One day while he was out in the yard Edwin stopped by to visit. As they stood there talking our dog walked around Edwin sniffing, then heisted his leg and peed on Edwin’s overalls. The pee just ran off, didn’t soak in. Edwin didn’t notice. My Dad said he could hardly keep a straight face.
As neighbors did in those days, Edwin and my Dad occasionally worked together in the fields, and Edwin stayed for supper. When Edwin ate meals with us Agnes and I argued over who had to sit next to Edwin at the table. The Kleiers believed in “signs,” a natural occurrence that indicates things to come. I remember one time Edwin said “I heard an owl hoot last night, it will frost in six weeks.” My Dad said joking “Someone should have shot that damned owl.”
My mother often reminisced about the Kleiers. “Mrs. Kleier was my neighbor for years. She was a little old wiry woman with a great big goiter hanging on her neck. In those first years when we lived here [1930s] neighbors were more neighborly. They did more work together and helped each other, because they needed each other. There was no entertainment those years, visiting the neighbors was entertainment. We went over there and they came over here. We sat and talked. If they ever played cards I never heard of it. One night we were going over there, you were small. I said to you “You mustn’t ask her for something to eat, because that isn’t the way to do.” So you looked at me and said “Mom, you better put an apple in your pocket.” I never forgot that. We didn’t have Agnes yet so you were about three years old.
In earlier years Mrs. Kleier helped all the neighbor women with their cooking. One time they had a threshing run and Kochs were in that threshing run and some other neighbors around and they were threshing on this place here when Koch’s dog and the man that lived here’s dog got into a fight. The men got mad at each other over the dog fight, so Koch stomped off home and didn’t help with the threshing the rest of that day. He even came to the house and made his daughter who was helping with the cooking go home too. So Mrs. Kleier was saying “What are we going to do now, we are short of help,” but the next morning Koch came back because he happened to think that he had to get his grain threshed yet. Old man Koch was a real hot tempered man. Mrs. Kleier often told that story.
Mrs. Kleier was a person who oversaw everything. She saw that everybody had a job for the day and was doing it too. The Kleiers were very mistrusting of people.
She often talked about the different families that lived here. She talked about Utecht’s kids getting on top of the barn and walking right to the edge on the east side and looking over. She said she couldn’t even stand to look this way and see those kids on top of that barn and they were small yet. She didn’t like Utecht. At first Mrs. Utecht went to Kleiers to visit while Bill went to town to drink. She was afraid to stay home alone. And he wouldn’t come home until way late and Mrs. Kleier wanted to go to bed because they were up early to do their work. So she told me, one night he came real late and there was another man with him and Mrs. Kleier could see they had been hitting the bottle pretty good. So she said “I met them at the door and I told him enough of this. I want to go to bed when it is bed time.” Well that ended him leaving her over there.
Before Utecht there was two bachelors named Peterson who lived here. They threw cobs in the wash room so they were on hand for the winter and they got rats and mice in the house and everything got chewed up. The corners on doors were chewed up. Kleiers had a dog and those Petersons had a bench in the kitchen and they had a ham on that bench and they were cutting meat off of it along. Kleiers dog got in and got the ham and carried it home. Mrs. Kleier saw the dog out there and she went out to see what he had and it was a ham. Petersons said someone stole their ham and Kleiers kept their mouths shut. They used to laugh about that.
There was another couple that lived here. They were young. Mrs. Kleier told me that she came over to help her cook for threshers. The gal that lived here told Mrs. Kleier “I can’t bake a cake because I have to put the bread in the oven.” So Mrs. Kleier said “I will make doughnuts.” But first Mrs. Kleier went out in the orchard and picked apples and made apple sauce for supper. Then she made doughnuts for supper. They had those summer cooking apples in the orchard. Mrs. Kleier had to go home to do the chores so when she had supper ready she left. At the supper table the woman’s husband said “Well who planned this meal?” and she said “Mrs. Kleier.” He said “Well that’s what I thought.” The wife wasn’t much to go ahead with anything. She had all those apples out there and didn’t cook them.
Mrs. Kleier told about the little boy that got shot in the kitchen. She just said that the hired man came in with a shot gun and said “This gun isn’t safe, sometimes it just goes off.” He had the gun laid over his arm and the kid was setting on the floor in front of the cook stove and the gun went off and shot him. They called Mrs. Kleier over and I don’t know if they had an inquest or not. Mrs. Kleier cleaned up the mess. She said the boy’s blood was splattered all over the walls and ceiling. Mrs. Kleier said she could hear the mother screaming over at her house.
Kleiers went to Evangelical Lutheran Church on Adams Central Ave. Mrs. Kleier played the organ at the little Lutheran church over East. She had an organ at home and she practiced.”
In a January 1990 interview my parents reminisced about the Kleiers.
Bert: “I remember the Kleiers well. She ruled the roost over there. One night we were over there and she chewed him out something terrible because he was supposed to walk through the field with a hoe and replant corn where the gophers took it out. She kept him going. He stacked wheat a few weeks before he died. He always said “I talked” instead of I thought. He said it all the time. He had heart trouble and dropsy. They came over sometimes in the evenings and his feet would be all swelled up. They would set and talk until about ten o’clock then go home. He died young, only in his sixties. Charles [Trausch] set up all night at Herman Kleier’s wake. He died in the winter, they laid him out in the northwest room and he froze solid.”
Edna: “When the Kleiers moved onto their place, the kitchen part of the house was the whole house. When they built the big two story part, they moved the old house up and fastened it on for the kitchen.
The old lady Kleier had an operation on the dining room table. It was appendix or something like that. The doctor came out and said if they didn’t have any wallpaper, just plaster, on the wall, then he could operate. She was real sick, but what she had I don’t remember. It was during the winter and they kept it real warm in the house for her.
I remember she told me that when they were still building the house her mother came to visit and she told her mother they had a mouse in the house. All at once the old lady said, “I’ve got your mouse.” She reached down and pinched real hard and down fell a dead mouse. He had run up her skirts.”
The Kleier Place was originally homesteaded by Levi Chambers who is buried in the Juniata Cemetery. In September 1893, the 80 acres where the farmstead was located, the E ½ , SW ¼ Section 6, Ayr Township, was sold to Friedericke Kleier who died in 1898 and is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. In 1899 her son Herman Kleier acquired his sister, Ernestine Gardiner’s half of their mother’s farm. In January 1936 Herman and Elizabeth Kleier purchased at a sheriff’s auction the Burton place, which was the 80 acres west of their house.
Elizabeth Kleier died in 1966 and Edwin continued to live on the farm. After Edwin Kleier’s 1979 death the farm was sold to the present owner, Melvin Buss.