My mother called her “Aunt Katie,” but she wasn’t Mom’s aunt, she was her great-aunt, sister to her Grandma Kline. On the Kline side of the family there was Aunt Kate and Aunt Katie. Aunt Kate was my Grandpa Kline’s sister, and Aunt Katie was my great-Grandma Kline’s sister. Aunt Katie was Catherine C. Horschler, born December 29, 1854 in Mount Pulaski, Logan County, Illinois. (I do not know her middle name, but if I had to guess, I would say Cecilia.) She was probably named for her mother’s sister, Catherine Jung Schick, who also lived at Mount Pulaski. She grew up at Mount Pulaski where her father, Melchior Henry Horschler, was a shoemaker and farmer. In 1870, at the age of 16, Catherine was living in Mount Pulaski with a family from Kentucky and working as their maid. She married Michael Pressler December 31, 1874 in Logan County, Illinois. It was not a good marriage for Catherine. Mike Pressler was not a Catholic and he was a member of the Masons, anathema to the Catholic Church at that time. However, as evidenced by a photo taken in Hastings he was a handsome man.
The Presslers moved to Hamilton County, Nebraska about 1881 and purchased 80 acres in Section 32, Scoville Township, just a half mile north of the Clay County line. In 1882 John J. Kline, made a trip to Hamilton County to view the farm across the section from his brother-in-law, and he purchased the 160 acres. The following spring the Kline family moved to Hamilton County from Illinois and settled across the section from Aunt Katie and Uncle Mike Pressler. Their farms adjoined in the center of the section.
Aunt Katie bore four sons, only one of which, Bill, was kind to his mother. The great tragedy of her life was the death of Bill in May 1900, caused by the kick of a horse. He was only seventeen.
These reminiscences by my Mother are from interviews conducted in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Grandma had a sister that lived across the section, Katie Pressler. They took her along (to church) a lot. Her husband wasn’t a Catholic; he was real obstinate. She had a boy that took her, but he was killed, kicked by a horse. She was a little bit of a quiet woman. She was very particular, everything was just so. She wasn’t very healthy. She had, she called it neuralgia, a pain in her face. I think it was infected sinus. Even in the hot summertime if she went out she put a handkerchief over the one side.
They had 10-foot ceilings in their house. It looked like it was a long ways up there to a kid. Her house was very clean; she had a white oak floor in the kitchen that was spotless. She had lots of things around that were crocheted. Her house was really Victorian. She died in 1928 and after that it was kind of down hill. The oldest son was always given everything he wanted and after he got married he was always home wanting more money. Times got hard (1930s) and they lost the farm after she was gone.
Aunt Katie died at home from cancer of the stomach. She couldn’t eat for a long time, several weeks. Nothing would go through her. They gave her a teaspoon or two of water and tried to give her a little broth and it wouldn’t stay down. She would say “pan, pan” when her stomach was upset. She wasted away to nothing and before she died the cancer broke through to the outside.
I went to her funeral. I was 14. It was one of the first funerals that I attended, that really struck home to me. It was a cold winter day. I remember going out in the Case cemetery and seeing her casket sitting out there. The thing I couldn’t forget the most was the priest took a shovel of dirt and said “Dust thou art and to dust thou shall return”. He took some of that dirt and put it on the casket and that really shook me up.
In a 1996 interview my Aunt Dorothy Kline Myhrberg said: “Grandma Kline never liked Uncle Mike Pressler, he didn’t go to church. I remember Grandma taking Aunt Katie to church.”
Edna (Mom): “Yes, and he was mean and didn’t let her go. He was a Mason. He was a blow bag. He talked loud, in a big voice. The Kline’s never liked him. He got stubborn and wouldn’t let her go to church for a few years and she lost her mind over it. After that happened, he let Aunt Kate [Kline] take her to church. He could see what he was doing to her. Aunt Katie had four boys, the one that was always good to Aunt Katie was kicked in the chest by a mule and died. He was just a young man. That hurt her so bad. He was the one that took her to church.
Her son, Walt, lived in Trumbull. They called his wife “the Foxy one”. She was always dressed up. Walt could never make enough money; he was always borrowing from Uncle Mike (his father). Dad told me when they were young men, he and Walt would go somewhere and Walt would have $5. (A large amount for a young man to have at that time.) His Dad always favored him and gave him money. Walt and his wife finally moved to California and they got a divorce. Walt had three girls, one wasn’t very bright.”
Aunt Katie died December 20, 1928 and was buried in the Case Cemetery which is located in Section 22, Scoville Township, three miles northeast of the Kline farm. Uncle Mike Pressler died in 1943.
The Juniata mill was an important fixture in the lives of our Assumption area ancestors, for it was here that they hauled their wheat and corn to be ground into flour and cornmeal.
The original mill, erected in 1875, was owned by D. H. Freeman and others. It was a steam roller mill, which is a type of grinding mill using a stationary steam engine to power its mechanism. The mill did not use the huge grinding stones associated with older mills, but rather cylindrical rollers, either in opposing pairs or against flat plates, to grind grain.
Farmers brought their grain to the mill and received back ground meal or flour, minus a percentage called the “miller’s toll.” The mill also purchased wheat from local farmers which was ground into flour and sold in 100 pound cloth bags.
The Freeman enterprise went bankrupt and the property was sold by the sheriff in February 1878. A sad story connected to this bankruptcy was that of Catherine Nerminger, who was born in Prussia about 1839. Along with her husband, John and three small girls, she arrived in Adams County about 1874. Like all new immigrants, the Nermingers were searching for a brighter future. What Catherine found instead was poverty and an early death. John Nerminger, unable to speak English, lost his money in a mill investment. This was most likely the Juniata mill as it went bankrupt about this time. His girls remembered in later years that the only English word they ever heard him speak was “swindler.”
Looking for better opportunities after the loss of his money, John abandoned his wife and daughters on their homestead. When neighbors discovered Catherine and her girls were starving, they were taken to the County Poor Farm. There Catherine became ill and eventually the little girls were placed in the homes of local families.
Years later the oldest daughter, Mary, recalled her mother’s death and burial. Poormaster, Timothy May, realizing Catherine was dying, brought the girls to see their mother for the last time. She admonished them to be good girls and told them good-bye. The following day Catherine died and was buried in an unmarked grave in the County Farm cemetery where she remains today. Her husband, John, was never located.
Nordyke, Marmon & Company of Indianapolis, Indiana, manufacturers of roller mills, purchased the mill at the 1878 Sheriff’s sale. Probably they had furnished the milling machinery and had a lean on the mill. S. W. Clark operated the mill until 1888 when it was again sold by the Sheriff. Adams County purchased the mill for back taxes and sold it to O. R. Palmer in January 1890 for $2,100.
The Juniata Milling Company was organized in March 1890 and purchased the mill for $5,000. O. R. Palmer continued to operate the mill until disaster struck September 30, 1892 when the mill and contents, as well as the Sewell Grain Elevator which stood north along the Burlington tracks, burned down. The flames were seen over eight miles away.
The mill was rebuilt and Edward G. Collins was proprietor in 1894. In 1901 the mill was sold to W. H. DeSanno. The building was struck by lightning in August 1907 and again burned to the ground. The insurance was insufficient to rebuild, but the citizens of Juniata, realizing the importance of the mill in drawing farmers into the village, quickly subscribed stock to build a new mill.
In July 1908 the village passed an ordinance authorizing H.C. DeSanno to construct and operate an electric light plant in Juniata. DeSanno agreed to erect the transmission lines in the village. The light plant was housed in a brick building attached to the mill and electricity was generated by the machinery which powered the mill. Lights in Juniata were turned on for the first time in October. The Juniata Herald newspaper observed “Juniata now has quite a cityfied air.” However, modern residents of Juniata certainly would not be happy with that light plant. The electricity came on at dusk and was turned off at 11 PM, excepting Saturday when it remained on until midnight. The Juniata Light and Power Company operated for ten years until Hastings Utilities connected with Juniata in August 1918 and supplied 24-hour service.
In March 1925 an era came to an end when the Juniata mill burned down for the third time. By this time many farmers had automobiles and housewives were buying name-brand flour at grocery stores. The mill was not rebuilt. In 1927 the lots were sold to Daniel Bittner and in 1951 the Juniata Farmers Co-op purchased the vacant lots. The Co-op eventually built an office and storage building where the old mill had stood.
When memory takes me back to my childhood, one of the first places I visit is Grandma Trausch’s kitchen. How well I remember the special smells in that kitchen; the sweet smells of apple pies and sugar cookies; the pungent smells of vinegar and sauerkraut; the mouth-watering smells of fresh ham roasting and of fresh baked bread.
It seemed to a child that Grandma was always in her kitchen busily preparing food for her large family. She always wore a huge apron, one of those bib types that covered the entire front of her dress. In the large pockets were items a child might need, handkerchiefs, pencils, safety pins and maybe even some hard candy.
Grandma’s kitchen was a large high-ceilinged room. Along one wall was the big oak built-in cupboard Grandpa had made by hand when the house was built in 1913. Tall wooden doors reached almost to the ceiling. To a little girl they seemed to reach almost to the heavens. Behind those doors were Grandma’s every day dishes and utensils used for cooking and baking. What secret things were hidden on the top shelves I never knew as they were unreachable. The countertop was of dark red linoleum with a metal edge. Under the countertop were the big, deep drawers and doors. Here was located the tip-out flour bin. It held fifty pounds of flour. Grandma needed that flour bin because she baked eight large loaves of bread every other day. She used large, flat bread pans that each held four loaves. Two pans went in the oven at once. Fresh baked bread was the main ingredient of the simplest, and yet to me the best, treat Grandma made. It was her “cream schmear”—a thick crust of fresh bread, spread with thick sweet cream, sprinkled generously with sugar and love.
On the east wall of the kitchen was located the big, heavy, yellow pine, swinging door that led into the dining room. I was always in awe of that door. I longed to shove it just to see it swing, but I knew I shouldn’t. I was also a little afraid of that awesome door, afraid someone would come hurrying from the dining room and swing the door into me if I stood too close.
The kitchen range that I remember was an extra wide gas stove with double ovens. She needed the extra space. It was not unusual for her to prepare fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, green beans, cabbage slaw and cake or pie for a dozen or more people. On top of the range on either side of a clock sat a pair of large white and black salt and pepper shakers in a special frame.
Just west of the range, between it and the refrigerator, was the large, white enameled, cast-iron wall-hung sink. It had two faucets, hot and cold, on the high back-splash.
The only refrigerator Grandma had on the farm was natural gas powered. She had gotten both it and the gas range when the Kansas-Nebraska Natural Gas pipeline cut across the farm in the late 1940s.
Just off the kitchen, under the stairs was the pantry. It was small and dark. In there Grandma kept a jar filled with her special frosted sugar cookies. They were plump, soft cookies with a hard white frosting. How good those cookies tasted to perpetually hungry children. The pantry shelves were filled with huge kettles and roasters, baking pans and small crocks filled with special treats. How long the minutes were while I waited for Grandma to emerge from the pantry goodies in hand.
When I grew older, Grandma would occasionally send me down the long flight of steps into the dark, scary basement to bring up a jar of canned goods. Each summer Grandma canned hundreds of jars of fruits and vegetables, which were stored in the basement. My most vivid memory of the basement is of the doorway which led even further down into the room where the pressure tank for the water supply was located. In my childish imagination all sorts of creatures lurked in the dark depths of that room. I hurried to grab the jar I was sent for, and then ran fast as my child’s legs would carry me back up the stairs to the safety of the kitchen.
If I listen carefully I can still hear Grandma’s kitchen clock chime the hours. The clock stood above the sink, high on the wall, on its fancy oak shelf with a drawer underneath. It had been a wedding present from Grandpa’s Schifferns grandparents and was treasured by Grandma. It was a typical clock of its vintage, decorative pressed design in the wood around the front, full length glass door that opened to allow the clock to be wound with the key. Why the clock was so high on the wall I never knew. Grandma was only five feet, two inches tall. Perhaps Grandpa had nailed the shelf on the wall. He stood six feet six inches, very tall for a man of his time. Perhaps it was because Grandma wanted the clock out of the reach of the scores of children who passed through her kitchen over the years. Whatever the reason I remember being impressed by that fancy clock so high on the wall.
Buster was also a part of Grandma’s kitchen. As a pup he had appeared at the back door one day, long before I can remember, looking tired and hungry. Kind-hearted Grandma took him in. By the time I was about twelve he was a grizzled, scared, arthritic old dog who spent most of the day sleeping on a rug by the back kitchen door. He had earned every one of those scars protecting the barn and chicken house from marauding possums, raccoons and coyotes. I remember how careful I was not to step on Buster and awaken him from his dreams of rabbit chasing. If accidentally bumped, he yelped and struggled to his feet, tail wagging in forgiveness. It was a sad day when Buster joined the many other pets in Grandma’s private pet cemetery, her flower bed.
The kitchen table I remember was a large wooden one, painted white and decorated with red, stylized flowers that Grandma had painted in the corners. The wood chairs were painted white with red seats. Red was Grandma’s favorite color. Tons of food must have been set upon that table, yet it outlived Grandma. It was still straight and sturdy when it was sold at her estate auction.
The auction was a sad affair for me, watching the items accumulated during Grandma’s long lifetime being sold to strangers who neither knew her nor shared the happy memories connected with each one. Perhaps Grandma’s belongings will serve their new owners well, becoming part of the memories of a new generation.
I wrote the above story in 2004. Bert’s memories were taken from reminiscences taped over several years.
Bert’s Memories of His Mother’s Kitchen
For many years the kitchen floor was plain oak. In the 1940s a linoleum was glued onto the oak floor. This was considered a great improvement at the time as the linoleum was much easier to clean.
The first kitchen table my father remembered was a huge rectangular oak table. It had three leaves which were permanently in the table because the top was covered with a geometric patterned linoleum, which was glued on. This table was large enough to seat thirteen family members plus an occasional hired hand, friend, neighbor or relative.
The first cook stove Grandma had in the brick farmhouse was a huge cast iron affair called a “water front stove.” Water circulated in pipes around the firebox, then into a hot water storage tank in the pantry. This was the only source of hot water in the house.
Water front stoves can be very dangerous. Since the fuel used in cook stoves was corncobs and wood, the fire went out quickly. During severe Nebraska winters, it was not uncommon for the water in the pipes at the front of the stove to freeze during the night. When the fire was lit in the morning, steam built up in the pipes at the back, but was blocked by ice in the front pipes. Steam can build up a great pressure. If this happened the front of the stove could blow up.
My father always delighted in telling of a man who arose after a long winter night, lit a fire in the cook stove, and was sitting on a chair with his feet in the oven warming up. He had just gotten up and gone into the next room when the stove blew up. The chair he had been sitting on was blown to smithereens.
Next to the fire box end of the stove stood a wooden fuel box. This box was usually filled with cobs and wood. Coal was not used in cook stoves because it burned too hot. Cobs made the best cooking fire as they burned quickly and the fire was easily regulated. However, they also took more time as someone had to keep hauling cobs in and putting them on the fire. After corn shelling Grandpa and the boys scooped a wagon load of cobs into the basement through a window.
In the old frame house the basement had a dirt shelf all around the outside. We set fruit and beer there to keep it cool. In the new brick house we stored potatoes in the southwest basement room. We put them down through the window on the west side, usually about 70 bushels. In the fall everyone who could walk helped dig potatoes.
Repairing shoes was one of the chores Grandma performed in the kitchen. Shoes were handed down from older to younger children and when the soles wore through the shoes were half soled again. The metal shoe last had three sizes of feet. The shoe was placed onto the shoe last and the new sole nailed on. When the tacks hit the iron last they clenched over, fastening the sole to the sides of the shoe. During the depression Grandma used old leather belts from farm machinery to make new soles for the kids shoes.
About thirty steps south west of the kitchen door stood the windmill and next to it was a brick building which was a combination smoke house and wash house. In this building was a large cement cooling tank. Water from the windmill ran into this tank and then flowed out from it through a pipe into the horse tank. Well water is about 55 degrees, and in this tank were kept perishable food items in cream cans or crocks. Grandma never had an icebox.
The cream separator stood beside the cooling tank. Grandma, Martha, Elmer and Charles milked eight to twelve head of cows twice every day. The cream was separated from the milk, put in cream cans and lowered into the cooling tank.
Twice a week Grandma churned butter in a barrel churn that stood on a stand. A handle turned the barrel over and over. The five gallons of cream inside made about one gallon of butter. When her children got old enough, turning the handle was their job. The butter was packed into a crock and put into the cooling tank. For special occasions butter was pressed into a one pound mold with a design on the top.
Cooking for her large family was a tremendous chore for Grandma. When Martha grew old enough much of the kitchen work fell to her. Three large meals were cooked every day, plus in summer a lunch was served about four or five in the afternoon. This was often taken out to the fields where the men were working. Lunch was necessary because in the summer supper was eaten about nine o’clock in the evening, after the days work was done. Lunch was usually sandwiches made of cured ham or scrambled or fried eggs and something to drink. During threshing in July and corn shelling in October or November there were always extra hands to feed.
Bert reminisced “In the winter we spent the evenings in the kitchen. I played checkers at the kitchen table with my brothers. If the checker game got too violent, Dad put the board away until things cooled off, clear up on top of the kitchen cupboard. He always kept the rifle up there, so the kids wouldn’t get it. He had a 22 short rifle; never had a shot gun. Winter evenings we listened to the radio. It was in the kitchen for a while then they moved it into the dining room. In the winter bed time was nine o’clock. We got up early, did chores first thing in the morning, and we walked to school, two miles to Assumption. We had to be at school at 8 o’clock.
These pages don’t give you even a glimpse at the amount of labor Grandma performed. Besides cooking she raised a large garden, canned food, fried down meats and packed them into crocks, salted and smoked meats, raised hundreds of chickens, ducks and geese, milked cows, butchered cows twice a year, butchered hogs in winter, made homemade sausage, head cheese, and blood wurst, kept the fires burning in winter, sewed clothes in winter, and mended clothes during the evening.
In the early years she hitched up the horse and buggy and went to Juniata to sell butter, cream, live and butchered chickens, ducks and geese. The weekly trip took two and a half hours each way. Laundry and ironing were big chores in the days before electricity. Besides all this she had time for a flower garden and took in stray dogs and cats.
My Dad often said “Women now days don’t know what work is. Two days of Grandma’s routine and they would raise the white flag.”
In honor of Independence Day I will tell you about one of our Revolutionary War patriot ancestors. Ebenezer Cole is recognized by the Daughters of the Revolution as a “patriot” meaning he provided patriotic service to support the revolution.
Ebenezer Cole Junior was born October 27, 1715 at Swansea, Bristol County, Massachusetts. Swansea, located about 40 miles south of Boston, was founded in 1662. Ebenezer’s grandfather, Hugh Cole, was among the town founders and also involved in King Philipps War with the local Indians. The entire village was burned during that war.
Ebenezer married Prudence Millard in 1737 and they had twelve known children. Their son Edward born in 1751 is an ancestor of Grandma Clarice Clark Renschler Bugg.
In May 1758 Ebenezer was appointed to the office of Justice of the Peace in the town of Warren, Bristol County, Rhode Island. Warren was part of Bristol County, Massachusetts until 1747.
The following was taken from the book “The Descendants of James Cole of Plymouth 1633″ “In 1762 Ebenezer Cole purchased a tract of land in the heart of the town of Warren and built a house for hotel purposes. This house afterwards became one of the famous hotels of New England. It was kept by the Cole family, Ebenezer, Benjamin, and George Cole, for over one hundred and twenty-five years. In 1778 General Lafayette assumed command of the ports about the island of Rhode Island, and for a time was encamped in Warren. He was a frequent guest at Cole’s Hotel. Ebenezer Cole died in 1799,[sic] and was succeeded in business by his son Benjamin, or as he was commonly known, Colonel Cole. There were two large brick ovens. The size of them may be judged when it is stated that at a large dinner twenty pigs were roasted in the ovens.”
From “The History of Warren Rhode Island” the following was taken: “The gallant French officer Lafayette was very popular with the townspeople. Tradition states that he was extremely partial to the old-fashioned Rhode Island johnny-cakes baked on a board at the hostelry of Ebenezer Cole, famous throughout the colonies for its good cheer.” Johnny-cake is a flat cornbread baked in a cast iron skillet.
Ebenezer was one of the founders of the First Baptist Church of Warren. In 1763 he began framing the building. It was about 44 feet square with a four-sided hip roof surmounted with a small belfry, in which was placed a ship bell, with the rope hanging directly down in the center of the middle aisle. On top of the belfry was a weather vane. There was no porch. The building was never painted. The communion table, used bimonthly, was brought to the church from Cole’s Hotel. Ebenezer and was elected one of the first deacons of the church in 1764 and served as deacon until his death.
On May 25, 1778 the church, along with its parsonage and college building were burned by the British. After the fire Deacon Cole found the weather vane in the ashes and took it to the attic of his hotel where it remained for many years.
By the time of the Revolution Warren Rhode Island was a prosperous maritime community. There was a shipyard and Warren sailors were engaged in coastal transport, the West Indies trade, the slave trade, and some whaling. The revolution nearly ruined the town; there was chaos and near starvation. Business was destroyed, twenty-three vessels were lost, shipyards were empty, farms neglected, and the population destitute. In May 1778 the British and Hessians raided the town, burned buildings, destroyed ships, looted and vandalized homes and businesses. They took about 60 persons captive. The young men were sent aboard the notorious prison ship Jersey where some died. Of course these tactics only inflamed the populace and furthered revolutionary zeal.
Ebenezer, too old to serve in the army, was a member of the local militia company which served when called upon, similar to the National Guard. He enlisted August 3, 1780 in a company of militia which answered an alarm to defend Trenton and other Massachusetts towns. He served only a few days until the alarm was over. He was 65 years old at the time. He probably served at other times when called but many records of the local militias are lost. Two of his sons, Ebenezer and Benjamin, served in the military during the Revolution.
He also served as a deputy from Warren, Rhode Island to the General assembly of Rhode Island during the Revolution. This service is considered “patriotic service” by the DAR.
It is known that Ebenezer owned slaves which was common in the town of Warren. The 1774 census of Rhode Island lists Ebenezer owning one slave. Shamefully, he also owned a slaver (a ship used in the slave trade). Interesting how persons who were willing to fight for their own freedom denied it to others.
Ebenezer died July 9, 1798 at the age of 83 years. He was survived by ten children, 53 grandchildren, 36 great-grandchildren, and one great, great-grandchild. He was buried in the North Burial Ground at Warren, Rhode Island.
In honor of my 70th birthday, June 30, 2016, I will tell you what I know about my birth. My parents were Engelbert Thomas Trausch and Edna Marie Kline Trausch. Bert, as he was known all his life, was 40 and Edna was 31 years old when I was born. They had been married nearly nine years but I was their first child. My mother had been unable to conceive and had consulted Hastings doctors, but at that time they knew little about infertility. Mom never told me about their feelings when she learned she was finally pregnant, nor did she discuss the pregnancy. Things like emotions and anything involving sex or pregnancy were not discussed.
On my mother’s 89th birthday, November 13, 2003, she reminisced about my birth. These are her memories.
“Rita [my mother’s younger sister] was here, she came over to help Bert while I was gone to the hospital. You were born on Sunday; she came over a few days before that. She was living at home yet. Bert was harvesting wheat. The weather was partly cloudy and the temperature was in the high 80s.
About 12:00 at night I told Bert “We’re going to have to go to the hospital.” So he got up to go over to the south place [one mile south and a quarter mile east] to milk the cow. All our cows were in that pasture over there. I wonder what the cow thought about that—1:00 in the morning. He didn’t know what time he would get back because we already knew that I might have a caesarian. Doctor DeBacker had taken some X-rays a week or so before that and you were in a breach position and probably would stay that way. He took X-rays to see how big my pelvis was, and he said it looked like I would have to have a caesarian. “But we will give you a chance to see if you can have it”.
Rita stayed here. I told her to go back to sleep and she was prepared for the long haul. So we went into the hospital, it must have been about three o’clock when we got there; and you were born at five o’clock. So Bert came home and Rita was surprised. She was up tending to the chickens.
I was in the hospital eleven days. Rita was here and cooked for the harvesters– Bert’s Dad, Bert, and Bud. She took care of the chickens and raced up to the hospital to see me every day. She drove Bert’s car; he came up to see me sometimes in the evening, not every day. If a little shower of rain came up and they couldn’t get the combine in the field, he came up.
That combine they had was the first combine I ever saw work. It had belonged to a man by Trumbull; he got a new one and traded that back in to Samuelson; and they bought it from Samuelson for $400.”
What bedroom were you using when I came home?
“The downstairs bedroom. Bert and I used the south bedroom upstairs, but I went in that bedroom with you. It was so hot in the upstairs in the summertime.
Rita stayed a couple weeks. After I had laid in bed for eleven days I was weak as heck. I don’t know why DeBacker kept me so long. The other women from around here that had kids the same time were all gone home—Mrs. Joe Zubrod had Danny the day after you were born; Mrs. Harry Brooks had Darlene that same Sunday evening; Marie, Mrs. Art Hoffman had a boy. I was in a five bed ward—I didn’t know any of the women in my ward.”
What baby clothes had you made?
“I had several dresses made. At that time all babies wore dresses when they were little. I hadn’t made any boys clothes. I had made some baby quilts from chicken feed sacks. It was right after World War II and fabric was hard to get.”
Did anyone come to the hospital to see me?
“Ya, my folks did and I think Bert’s folks did. If Grandpa got the idea they came; he did things in his own way and time.”
Tell me about my Baptism.
“Edward and Grace [mom’s twin brother and his wife] stood up for you. It was on a Sunday after Mass. Father Lisko was such a guy for every little detail, and Grace thought he was never going to get done with all the commotion he was having. Take another step forward and say some more prayer and they were to come another step forward. Grandpa and Grandma Trausch were there.”
You mentioned that you had pasture on the south quarter that belonged to Grandpa Matt.
“There was a good sized native pasture there. Bud [my father’s brother] broke it up. See, when Charles lived here Bert didn’t farm where we lived; he farmed that quarter down south. Then when Charles left Bert farmed all of it. There wasn’t any native pasture on this farm. Bert planted that brome grass pasture about the time he started farming this farm.” [My father’s brother Charles lived with my parents until he was left for World War II.]
I was born breech (feet first) and on a Sunday. Breech deliveries often cause long difficult labors and often, before modern medicine, the death of the baby and sometimes the mother. Consequently, there are many superstitions, most of them bad, concerning breech births. Perhaps my Sunday birth, considered a good omen, offset the bad ones.
I live in the house I was brought home to after my birth. I am proud that the original 1893 structure is unaltered except for the 2008 sunroom addition. However, in many ways the house and farmstead are very different. In 1946 the house had no electricity, no running water, and there was no telephone. There was no furnace and no air conditioning, no insulation and no storm windows. The only rooms heated in winter were the kitchen and to some extent the bedroom above.
My Dad had a tractor, but he also had work horses. He milked the cow and took care of the livestock. He was farming 400 acres using out-of-date equipment. I came home from the hospital in my Dad’s 1936 Chevy. My mother didn’t drive then.
My mother raised several hundred chickens a year and she also grew a large garden, canned fruit, vegetables, and beef. Mom supported the household with her egg and chicken money, purchasing what she did not raise, salt, sugar, flour, coffee, spices, etc. Her egg money also purchased any household items she needed and the fabric she used to make our clothing. The work was unending, but life was good.
What Were the Events of 1946?
There were several important political and scientific events in 1946. The Japanese had formally surrendered in September 1945 ending World War II. In 1946 President Harry S. Truman ordered desegregation of the US armed forces and established the Atomic Energy Commission. The first meeting of the UN was held in January. On July 1st nuclear testing began at Bikini Atoll and in a few days the bikini swim suit went on sale in Paris. Winston Churchill delivered his Iron Curtain speech in Missouri, and Nazi leaders found guilty of war crimes at Nuremberg were executed.
World War II wage and price controls ended in 1946, however there were shortages of most consumer goods. The average cost of a new house was $5,600 while the average existing house sold for $1,450. Average wages per year were $2,500. The cost of a gallon of gas was 15 cents; the average new car cost $1,120. Following the war there was a great demand for consumer goods. The first Tupperware was sold and Tide detergent was introduced in 1946.
In Adams County life was returning to normal after the war. Veterans were returning home, as well as the bodies of those who had not survived. Agriculturally it was a good year, and large wheat yields help ease the flour shortage. Wheat sold for $1.75 a bushel and eggs for 25 cents a dozen. In July the Soil Conservation office opened in Hastings. The dread disease polio killed at least six in Adams County. There was a great demand for new housing and, despite shortages of almost everything, 416 new structures were built in Hastings.
1946 was the first year of the Baby Boom Generation, and the average life expectancy was 66.7 years. The Dow-Jones high in 1946 was 212. The cost of a first class stamp was three cents. The Franklin Roosevelt dime was issued. Christian Dior founded his Paris fashion house. The film It’s a Wonderful life made its debut. Popular singers were Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald.
The continuity in my mother’s kitchen was wonderfully soothing for me as a child. Just as sure as the trees budded in the spring and put forth leaves, and just as surely as the leaves turned golden and fell in the fall, another rite of passage was taking place inside my home.
Each spring the heating stove that had dominated the kitchen for five months or so was relegated to an ignoble spot on the back porch. The large, round black stove had been the center of our existence all winter. We simmered food on it and popped our popping corn in a long-handled wire basket, a forerunner of modern air-popped corn. It dried my wet mittens and warmed my cold fingers and toes after an afternoon of playing outside.
My parents faithfully fed it cobs and coal through the hinged lid on the front top and just as faithfully opened the small bottom door to remove ashes and clinkers. It warmed the kitchen and our lives revolved around it all winter.
I was never part of the decision making process about when the move should take place. I imagine it was a combination of the weather and the time available. I’d wake up one day and it would be stove moving time, or come home from school to find the place in turmoil with the job half done and stove pipe scattered on the front porch.
Moving that black behemoth was a ritual that meant a certain collision course for my parents. Mom was fussy about things. She wanted it done her way, and that meant done right. Daddy was in a hurry. Maybe he had plans to move the stove quickly and then attend to farming duties. They were married at least 20 years before I could have a memory of stove moving so that meant many previous bouts of moving the stove, and they still didn’t seem to agree on anything to do with the whole ordeal.
First the black chimney pipe was removed. It led from the top back of the stove to a hole in the chimney about two feet from the top of the nine-foot ceiling. If you’ve never experienced chimney soot then you wouldn’t understand why this maneuver had to be done very carefully. Soot is a dark “poof” of material that can quickly make a mess of a room. One false move with a dirty stove pipe means a fine layer of grimy soot everywhere. Perhaps that was part of the problem because mom didn’t want the extra work of cleaning up soot and daddy just wanted to finish the job quickly. She didn’t want him to do anything when she wasn’t looking and he tried to do everything quickly while her back was turned. “What do you have to do that for, you’re just making a lot of work!” my father would shout as mom scurried around being particular about the stove, the pipe and the linoleum just to mention a few. As a child, the worst position to be in during stove moving was the middle. Even though we were all in the same room, both sides voiced their frustrations with the other to me. It was the old “daddy is going to scratch the linoleum” and “mom has to make all this work” routine. A blank stare and innocent shrug was usually enough response to keep me out of the direct line of fire. Stove moving was an opportune time to practice the childhood art of laying low.
Stove pipes came apart in two to three foot sections that were cleaned outdoors, then rolled in newspapers and stored in the storage part of the upstairs. The chimney hole left open after the removal of the pipe had to be cleaned out very carefully to prevent soot from flying all over the room. Then the hole was closed off with a round tin “plate” with spring-loaded clips on the side that slid into the opening. The plates were made especially for this purpose and had colorful painted scenes or designs on the front. They could no doubt be found in antique shops now and most people would have no idea what they were used for.
The stove was tugged, shoved, and wrestled across two rooms and through two doorways, being careful not to chip the woodwork paint, and onto the back porch where it was wrapped in oilcloth to spend the summer. How soon its presence was forgotten after it was moved out of the kitchen. The electric range moved to take its spot and the kitchen seemed so much roomier and brighter after that.
The whole process was reversed the next fall. My parents were always careful to check the chimney for bird nests that may have been built over the summer. A nest of dried grass and sticks could mean a dangerous chimney fire. I remember such a fire caused much alarm once. Flames shot from the top of the chimney and the walls became very hot from the inferno inside the brick chimney. The roar of the fire was easily heard inside the house. While it was a novel and somewhat frightening experience for me, I can now imagine how concerned my parents were at the prospect of a serious house fire.
While visiting the farm where I grew up, I happened to run across that black heating stove wrapped in oilcloth and stored away, never to be used again. It was much smaller and less imposing than I remembered from my childhood. It was just metal and iron now, not the center of my universe, and that had made it shrink considerably. It’s been 23 years since I moved away to my own life and family, but the stove still fills my mind with wonderful memories just as it filled the kitchen of my childhood.
In the late 1970s Pat and I took a trip to Oklahoma to visit Renschler relatives in hopes of learning more about the Renschler family history. We visited Bud’s (Pat’s Dad) first cousin Lester Renschler who owned a typewriter and business supply store in Ponca City, Oklahoma. He told us some interesting stories about his aunt Pearl Renschler Boon but little about his Uncle Harley. Perhaps he was reluctant to talk about Harley because as we would later learn he was the black sheep of the family.
After visiting with Lester we drove on to Oklahoma City to visit Ida Mansfield Aument a niece of Harley’s. She allowed me to copy some old photos she had and told us that Harley was buried in the cemetery at Wheatland, Oklahoma beside his sister Pearl. Their sister Maggie and her husband James Mansfield are also buried there. She didn’t say much about Harley except that he had a pleasant personality, was an alcoholic and that he had been in prison. She didn’t know why, when or where. Well, the statement about prison certainly piqued my interest. But many years would pass before I learned “the rest of the story.”
Pat’s grandparents, Harley Joe Renschler and Clarice Sivilla Clark were married in March 1912 at the courthouse in Nelson, Nebraska. Clarice was 17 years old and five months pregnant. Harley was 25 years old. Their first child, a boy named William Frederick, died at birth. Merion Eugene “Bud” was born March 1, 1915. Clarice filed for divorce in April 1917 at Republic County, Kansas. In her petition for divorce she stated that “the defendant is guilty of habitual drunkeness, that he would come home drunk and curse and abuse her and would spend all the money he earned for liquor and compelled the plaintiff to take in washing and keep boarders to support herself and child. That on December 13, 1916 defendant abandoned plaintiff and their child, and since date has lived separate from them, and has contributed nothing for their clothes, support, or maintenance. The plaintiff has been compelled to work for other people to obtain money to support herself and child.” The divorce was granted in November 1917. Harley, whose whereabouts were unknown, never appeared in court. The court ordered $10 a month child support, but Clarice told me she was “never paid one cent.”
In October 1918 Clarice married a second time to William “Bill” Bugg at Hastings, Nebraska. Bud Renschler was three years and eight months old. Bill Bugg was the only father figure in Bud’s life, consequently Bud knew very little about his biological father. In fact he didn’t even know his own name was Renschler until he was about 10 years old. Thank goodness he learned and used his real name. I would have hated to spend my life named “Katie Bugg.”
As the years passed and I continued to research family history, the tidbit about Harley serving time in prison remained in the back of my mind. I wrote to the Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and South Dakota state prisons without success. Then recently Ancestry.com posted an index to prisoners in the Federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. And there I found Harley J. Renschler, case No. 49912. It had to be him. I’ve never run across anyone else with that name. I emailed the Kansas City Branch of the National Archives and received instructions on how to order the file using my credit card. First I received via email scans of the inmate file which was three pages and included mug shots. After determining it was our Harley, I ordered three scans of the Crimial Docket and then 14 scans of the actual case, US vs Harley Renschler.
This is what I learned: On January 4, 1936 at Chamberlain, South Dakota, Harley Renschler unlawfully and feloniously sold one-half pint of whiskey to Reuben Skunk, a Sioux Indian. On March 23, 1936 Harley pleaded guilty in the US District Court of South Dakota at Sioux Falls to the crime of “selling intoxicating liquor to an Indian.” He was placed on probation for one year and six months. But Harley, an unemployed stationary engineer, hadn’t learned his lesson. On October 23, 1936 he gave away intoxicating liquor to an Indian, Albert Crazy Bear, in violation of his probation. On October 29th a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was arrested on the 31st, thrown in jail and appeared in US District Court on November 12, 1936 where he was sentenced to the US Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas for a term of one year and one day at hard labor.
Wow! That seems like an excessive sentence for something that isn’t even against the law now. However, today we have drug laws that are even more draconian. The 21st Amendment to the Constitution had ended the Prohibition on the sale or consumption of intoxicating liquor on December 31, 1933. So why was Harley in trouble? After the US Government succeeded in forcing the Native Americans onto reservations, it exercised “guardianship” over them. In 1897 an amendment to the Indian Appropriations Act had banned the sale of alcohol to Indians. The 21st Amendment did not apply to Native Americans. In fact, they could not legally consume alcohol until 1953.
Consequently, Harley, age 49, was sent to Leavenworth for selling alcohol to an Indian. He arrived at Leavenworth on November 13, 1936. His file includes this description: occupation: steam engineer; height: 5’ 7”; Hair: dark mixed with grey, balding; eyes: dark hazel; complexion: ruddy. On April 5, 1937 he was transferred to Federal Prison Camp #11 at Kooskia, Idaho. Prior to the Kooskia camp’s establishment, the location housed a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp from mid-June to mid-October 1933. Beginning in late August 1935, the site became a 200-man federal prison camp for inmates convicted of crimes against U.S. laws, such as mail robbery and selling liquor to Indians. The prisoners, all trusties, helped construct the Lewis-Clark Highway, now U.S. Highway 12, between Lewiston, Idaho, and Missoula, Montana.
Harley’s alcoholism plagued him the remainder of his life. He was often unemployed. After his release from the Idaho prison camp, which should have occurred in November 1937, he moved to Oklahoma City to be near his older sister Pearl who was divorced. Sometime in the mid 1950s he lived briefly with his son Bud in Juniata, Nebraska. However, his alcoholism was an embarrassment to the family, and Harley returned to Oklahoma City where he died on March 3, 1959 two weeks short of his 72nd birthday.
Engelbert Thomas Trausch known all his life as “Bert” was born in his parent’s home in Roseland Township on Thursday, March 22, 1906. He was the second son of Matt and Catherine “Kate” Kaiser Trausch. His older brother Edward was fifteen months old that day. Probably Mrs. Nick Theisen, Kate’s aunt and closest neighbor, attended the birth. The Roseland doctor was Dr. Fox. At that time doctors charged about three dollars to deliver a baby at home. Grandma would have been confined to bed “lying in” for ten days as was the custom. Matt may have hired a girl to cook, clean, do chores and care for Ed during her confinement, but more likely one of Kate’s sisters came to help. .
Grandma recalled in later years that Matt was building a kitchen cupboard the day Bert was born. I remember the cupboard, similar to a pie safe, standing in the basement of the farm house. By the 1950s Grandma used it to store her jars of home canned vegetables.
Engelbert Thomas Trausch was baptized March 25, 1906 at the age of three days. His name is written Thomas Engelbert in the church baptismal register. He was named for the priest, Father Engelbert Boll, who was well liked by his parishioners, and for his grandfather Thomas Trausch. Bert’s baptismal sponsors were his “Grosspop” Thomas Trausch and an unknown woman written as “Elizabeth Trausch” in the baptismal register. Grandma did not attend the baptism because she was “lying in.”
On March 30th in the “Assumption Neighborhood” column, the Adams County Democrat reported “Matt Trausch and wife have a little boy since last week.”
Grandma Trausch told me a few tidbits about my Dad’s first year. In the summer of 1906, when Bert was four months old, to occupy him while she worked in the kitchen, she put him in a high chair with pillows around him. Also, Bert was sipping coffee from a saucer when she heard his first tooth clicking on the saucer. Grandma also mentioned that Bert cried a lot as a baby, she described him as being “colicky.”
In a 1982 interview Uncle Ed Trausch recalled an amusing incident from his brother Bert’s childhood. “I remember when we were living in the old house yet, there was a big snowdrift between the house and barn and we took a scoop shovel and slid down on it. A turkey gobbler came along and got Bert down in the snow bank and hammered him into the snow. He cried and hollered and Mom came running out with the broom and saved him. He was a crybaby.”
Ed described the house they were born in. “It had a cave under a slanted cellar door on the south side. We used to get on there when we were small kids and slide down the door. Inside, the floors were just wide 6-inch boards. The first thing Mom was going to do was get a rug for the parlor floor. She was really pleased about that. The house was very cold; there was no heat upstairs. There was just one room upstairs. That was the room where Martha and I were playing. I was a Priest and we had Mass on the windowsill and the candle set the curtain on fire. Mom came running and put it out. That house stood right north of the brick house. The cellar door was right by Dad’s bedroom window. In the old house the basement had a dirt shelf all around the outside. We set fruit and beer there to keep it cool.”
When I inquired about the clothing they had as children Ed and Bert responded “Two or three overalls at the most, a jacket, shirts, shoes, a suit for church, made of blue or black wool. Probably two shirts and one pair of shoes that were wearable. Dad used to sit in the winter and take old thresher belts and resole the kid’s shoes. During the depression we used old tires for shoe soles.” Grandma made all the clothing, including the overalls.
Uncle Ed reminisced about spending time at his Kaiser grandparent’s home. Uncles John born in 1893 and George born in 1895 were unmarried and spent a lot of time with their Trausch nephews. Aunt Lizzie, born in 1900, was a playmate. Bert liked to go there, but would not stay away from home over night. He was too “timid.”
Birthdays were “just another day” in the Trausch household. If Grandma remembered and had the time, she made a cake. The Trausch children did not receive birthday gifts.
Christmas was a religious holiday and there were few presents, usually some candy and one toy for the boys to share. Uncle Ed remembered some of those toys “We got tinker toys once; that was real enjoyable. We got a sand mill once. You filled the hopper with sand and it ran down a slant and then ran back and dumped it. We enjoyed that. We played checkers a lot. The first years I remember Santa Claus brought the tree and the toys. Dad went out and cut it. We went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve; then Christmas dinner someone always came over.”
A combination of German and Luxembourgish was spoken in the Trausch home in 1906. Church services at Assumption were in German and the Assumption School held classes in German. One of the subjects taught was German grammar. All of that changed at the time of World War I, but that is a story for another day. In 1982 Bert reminisced: “I remember Grandma [Trausch] would call us on the phone and I’d talk German to her. She didn’t talk loud enough and I’d say “Nich verstehen.” They didn’t understand English very well. We talked German at home then too. When we visited [the Trausch Grandparents] the kids would talk in English and the folks in German. Mom and Dad would talk along and some words were in English and some, if they knew better in German, they said them in German.”.
Bert made his First Communion on June 7, 1914 at the age of eight. Twenty-eight children were in his class that year. It was traditional for boys to wear knee-length pants until they made their First Communion, which was to occur when they had reached “the age of reason.” The transition to long pants was an important “rite of passage” which Bert often mentioned during the many hours he spent reminiscing.
The United States President in 1906 was Theodore Roosevelt and the Pope was Pius X. The great San Francisco earthquake occurred in April. The Wright Brothers patented an aeroplane in May. The Panama Canal was under construction and President Roosevelt became the first president to leave the US when he went to inspect the progress. He also proclaimed Devil’s Tower the first National Monument that year.
We may look back on life a hundred or more years ago as idyllic, stress free and romantic, but for many of our ancestors it was a dreary round of poverty, grinding toil, and frequent illness. For our rural ancestors, the doctor was many long miles away by horseback. Those available were often lacking in medical education and probably did as much harm as good. They didn’t know or ignored basic hygiene and spread germs from one patient to the next. My father and his mother, Catherine Kaiser Trausch, often said “The further away you stay from doctors, the better off you’ll be.” Many times people made do by doctoring themselves with what they had on hand. If a doctor was called it was usually after all home remedies had failed and by then it was often too late. However, without modern drugs and surgical techniques, doctors could do little more than Grandma with her home remedies.
Most women used remedies that had been passed down from their mothers and grandmothers. Goose grease was an ingredient in many home remedies. It was smeared on hands and faces to prevent chapping, combined with turpentine or kerosene to be rubbed on chests and throats for colds and applied to burns and blisters.
Lavina Clark, wife of Silas “Doc” Clark of Juniata, (brother of Grandma Clarice Clark Renschler Bugg) told me that her mother used goose grease because it was “greasier’ than lard. Her mother combined goose grease and turpentine for a chest rub to loosen congestion. She also remembered her mother making a cold medicine by combining raw onions, lots of sugar and a few drops of turpentine, placing it on the back of the cook stove and letting it set until it turned into a syrup. This syrup was good for colds and coughs.
Then, like now, there seemed to be more remedies for the miseries of colds and chest congestion than any other ailments. If my Dad felt a cold coming on he rubbed his neck, chest and back with Mentholatum, took a good shot of whiskey and went to bed to “sweat it out.” There was a firm belief that the stronger or more unpleasant the remedy, the better.
Mustard plasters, strong enough to take off the skin, and substitute a new pain for the original, were often used. To make a mustard plaster, take a small amount of ground mustard, combine with a little flour and water to make a paste. Spread the paste on a cloth, cover with another cloth and put on the chest until the skin turns red. If left on too long it will blister the skin. My Grandmother, Leona Bassett Kline, told me that when Grandpa Dan Kline broke a rib he thought a mustard plaster would help relieve the pain. The heat felt so good he left the plaster on too long. When it was removed the skin came with it, leaving a big sore. Grandma Leona Kline also remembered onion poultices. Fry onions in a small account of lard, spread between cloths and lay on the chest why hot. Cover up, leave on until cold, and repeat. She remarked that the onions stunk. “We put up with a lot.” She also remembered her father, Jule Bassett, making a cough syrup. In the fall he would take a bottle of whiskey, add to it rock candy and “some kind of oil” and shake. “We took a couple spoonsful whenever we had a cough.”
On can imagine a desperate mother, whose baby is ill using what she had on hand trying to cure her sick child. Home made cough medicine, onion or mustard plasters, goose grease; whether it was the remedies, the mother’s tender loving care and prayers, or just luck, if the baby survived, from that time on, the mother swore by her remedy. If someone wasn’t feeling well, many mothers would remark, “All he needs is a good physic.” A physic is any medicine or medicinal herb and the word was often synonymous with laxative.
In addition to being an ingredient in cold medicines, whiskey was also used as a pain reliever. In a December 1984 interview of my Mother, Edna Kline Trausch, she told this story. “Just before prohibition began my Dad bought a quart [of whiskey] and he sealed it with wax and put it in the attic in case somebody got sick. And somebody did, the neighbor’s boy got real bad and the doctor said if they could find some whiskey it might help. The neighbor came over and asked Dad and he went up in the attic and dragged the bottle down, melted off the wax, broke the seal and gave them some. The boy died the next day. He had real bad sinus infection. They gave the whiskey to him to kill the pain.
In a 1982 interview my great-aunt, Elizabeth Kaiser Pittz told me about the remedies used by her parents, Nicholas and Susanna Theisen Kaiser. “For colds she used goose grease; Mother raised geese. She rendered the fat from the geese, and put that on our chest; put a cloth over it. I think she put a little turpentine in the grease. We didn’t like it, that goose grease had an awful smell to it. It warmed a little; I think the turpentine did that. Mother made onion plasters. Fried onions put them between cloths and put them on. My Dad took half whiskey and half sugar, shake that up so the sugar dissolved, we got a tablespoon of that for a cough. If you had an upset stomach, they had spirit of peppermint, fix that with sugar and water. That was good for diarrhea. Mother used to raise a plant that she dried and made a tea out of for a physic. It was a little bush that got little white flowers on. In German she called it Cinna Blatter. (Cinna leaves) If you didn’t feel good, that was the first thing she would think of, a good physic. My Mother’s sister and brother died from diphtheria or scarlet fever when they [the Peter Theisen family] were in Minnesota, but she never talked much about it. Some said they used kerosene on a feather and put it down the throat for diphtheria. My Mother never did that. Mrs. Peter Eltz would do that. She used to get the kerosene and take a chicken feather and swab the throat with that. My folks knew the Eltz family from St. Donatus. Grandma and Grandpa Theisen used to visit Eltz when they came out from Iowa.”
Most families had a recipe for a medicinal salve. The Ron Wright family still uses a salve they call “Grandmother’s Salve” which has been handed down in his family for four generations. According to family tradition, Great Grandmother, Adeline Schnase, had a goiter. She consulted an Indian Doctor who gave her the following recipe. Mix equal parts bees wax, sheep’s’ tallow and castor oil. To this add 1/3 part resin. Place the mixture in the top of double boiler with water in the bottom part. Melt together over low heat. Bottle. Whether this helped the goiter is unknown. The salve is still used to this day for slivers and stickers as it has a good drawing quality. Another drawing remedy is the skin of an egg. Break an egg, remove the skin, place on splinters, boils, etc. Leave on until dry, repeat. Bread and milk were also used to draw.
Clarice Clark Bugg recalled a remedy used by her mother for burns. “When I was very small I was badly burned. My parents feared I might die. We were in a wagon train going to Arkansas and no doctor was available. My mother found some cattails, pulled off the fuzz, mixed it with castor oil and bound it to the burn. It healed, but I had a scar for many years.”
Some mothers also attempted not only to cure disease but also to prevent it. Many children wore asafetida bags. These were a cloth bag on a string worn about the neck. The bag contained one or more foul smelling substances. These were thought to ward off disease. They may have worked to a small degree as they stunk so terribly no one could get close. Leona Bassett Kline recalls “They were put on in the fall when we put on our winter underwear. Oh how we hated that sack! We covered it up as deep with our clothes was we could – it stunk so!” She recalls that most of the children in her school wore one. One can’t help but feel sorry for that teacher.
My Dad, Bert Trausch, reminisced about a remedy for poison ivy. He had gone to his Dad’s farm two miles north of Holstein to get prairie hay. He was up on top of the rack tramping the hay down and he got poison ivy on his legs from the dry hay. Bert went to Dr. Mace at Roseland and his remedy only made the poison ivy worse. Mrs. Ben Theisen told him to use permanganate of potash liquid on his legs and it dried the poison ivy right up. During the 1920s permanganate of potash was used as a remedy for chicken cholera. It is a water soluble salt which when dissolved turns water purple. It is a strong oxidizing agent that was used as a disinfectant and a water treatment.
Some of these remedies undoubtedly worked, some were useless and some many have been harmful. The sight or smell of some home remedies must have been enough to work a miraculous recovery even in a really sick child. The primary ingredient in many remedies was tender loving care. In the days when doctors knew little more than the general population, remedies were an important factor in the family’s health. The remedies themselves stand as a testament to the ingenuity of our ancestors.
Ash Wednesday this week brought to mind a long-forgotten tradition of our Luxembourg ancestors who settled at St. Donatus, Iowa in the 1850s and then in Adams County, Nebraska in the 1880s.
Pre-Lenten carnival (“Karneval” in Luxembourg) is a Catholic tradition and is found almost exclusively in Catholic countries. We are all familiar with Mardi-Gras, the French pre-Lenten celebration at New Orleans, Louisiana. However, Luxembourg also has a tradition of pre-Lenten Karneval celebration, known to our ancestors as Feusend.
In our grandparent’s time the 40-day Lenten period of fasting and abstinence was strictly observed. People refrained from drinking alcohol or eating meat, milk products and eggs. Of course all sweets were forbidden during Lent. No parties could be held and no weddings solemnized during Lent. The English word “fast” (to refrain from eating) is related to German fasten. Another word for the pre-Lenten season is Fasching which dates back to the 13th century. In modern German: Fastenschank is the last serving of alcoholic beverages before Lent.
Since the Middle Ages, in the small villages of Luxembourg, young men have dressed in costumes during the week before Ash Wednesday and gone from house to house collecting eggs, fat and flour that was then used by the women to make pancakes (Paangecher), waffles (Eisekuchen, Wafelen), fried dough balls (Nonnebréidercher, Fuesbréidercher) and fried pastry knots (Verwurrelter). The pancakes were eaten on Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday), also known as “pancake day.”
In some Luxembourg villages, the end of the Karneval period each year was marked by the burning of “Stréimännchen” (straw man) late on Shrove Tuesday. This tradition dates back to pre-Christian times and symbolized the end of winter. The Christian religion adopted customs it could not suppress and changed the meaning. The modern meaning of the straw man burning is a symbolic burning of the sins committed during Karneval.
During the 1970s and 1980s I interviewed many of my older relatives asking them about the lives and customs of my ancestors. In January 1982 I interview, my great-aunt, Elizabeth Kaiser Pittz, youngest sister of my Grandmother, Catherine Kaiser Trausch. Elizabeth was born in 1900. Following is what she told me about the Luxembourgers pre-Lenten parties in Adams County.
“Before Lent they went masquerading. Like they do now for Halloween. People would give them money and then they would go celebrate somewhere. Get a keg of beer with the money and have a party for the families of those that went masquerading. If the house was big enough they would have a dance. We went to several of them. Just the Luxembourgers, the Theisens, Konens, and Mousels, and some Germans around did that. They would go to all the houses. They called it “Fuesends Boken.” [sic] We didn’t know who they were when they come; we tried to guess. George and John [Kaiser] used to go masquerading. Some girls went too, but mostly boys.
When they came to the door, they said they wanted a treat. They would come in and pull jokes around the house. We’d give them a treat and then they would go. When I was around 18 or 19 years old they still went, then we got together and had the parties, just before Ash Wednesday. There wasn’t any certain day; for a couple weeks before Ash Wednesday you could expect them (at the door) any time. They wore regular masks and old suits and ladies dresses. Some people wouldn’t let them in, but we always did; we kids always looked forward to that. Then in later years you couldn’t trust to let people in any more and it all fell apart.”
Next year when you read about Mardi-Gras, remember that our ancestors once held similar parties in Adams County.