Back to Square One

A year or two after returning home, I heard that Alma Gluck, noted soprano, and Efrem Zimbalist were coming to Fargo. This was in the dead of winter. Joe took me by team to Brandon where he left the horses in Hopfner's barn and Carrie accompanied us to Fargo. After returning home to Brandon, Joe and I went home by sleigh. I froze so, I begged him to stop at Guenther's, but I knew they had a big house which would be cold too. We got home where I still froze and then the next day we attended Mrs. Meissner's funeral at the German Lutheran Church northwest of Millerville. I never thawed out till spring.

I started giving piano lessons during the next few years. Some of my students were: Blanche Hopfner, Helen Wilken, Evangeline Wilken (John's), Viola and Elfa Meissner, Annie Hockert, Helen Jones (a teacher), Eleanor Koeplin and Melvin DeBuzan who was an excellent student. A Conrad Knarel brought his daughter and said she could take lessons if he could hear what I could play. So I played "Rondo Capriccioso" for him and I passed the test.

In later years my son and I played duets together. He advanced through the second grade level, but lost interest when the field and yard work took up more of his time.

When I was still in Fargo, I saw a picture of Enrico Caruso on the wall. The most handsome man I had ever seen and I thought If only I could see him in person let alone hear him, I would be so happy. Well, I saw an ad in the Minneapolis paper that he was coming to the city. I asked my sister Annie if she'd go with me because she also loved classical music. He was the greatest tenor that ever lived. She had some of his recordings on their Victrola, so we knew what a grand experience we were in for.

The auditorium was a new building at the time. When we got into the building and showed our tickets to the ticket takers, he would say further down and further down and further down. Annie said, "Oh my, we should have gotten better tickets. We'll never get close enough to see him. " We kept on moving and low and behold we wound up on stage sitting on kitchen chairs. Caruso came out from a corner of the stage and stood about 25 feet from where we were sitting. We could see his side view and his chest would expand eight inches. He was a heavy set, well proportioned man. He could hold high notes until you'd think he would burst (and later he died because of the strain on his vocal chords). His voice was powerful, yet rich, sweet and tender, so much so that I cried so that the tears ran down my cheeks. It was fun watching his accompanist too. Before he sat down, he would flick his coat tails up. A violinist played several numbers to spell Caruso. The ladies were dressed in fancy evening gowns and wore corsages. This was the greatest treat and experience in my entire life. Annie and I stayed at Delia Levitz' house. Her husband was a fruit broker and he gave me the heartiest hand shake I've ever received. Oh yes, ticket prices for the concert ranged from 50~ to $20.00 for the box seats. Our tickets were $4.00.

The day after the concert, Delia served us breakfast and then we had to wait for the train to take us home again. We should have asked Delia where there was a restaurant, but I had no thought of food, I was filled with the music from last night's concert. Annie kept saying, "Oh my, I'm so hungry, oh my, I'm so hungry!!" Finally I spotted a little place that looked as if they served food. They only had teeny fancy sandwiches cut in triangular shapes on a plate. Annie woofed these down and looked for more. On the way home, we finished some of our lunch we had taken along, but this didn't quench her hunger either. All the way home she kept saying over and over again, "Oh my, I'm so hungry!" When she got home, I think she must have eaten everything in sight.

Joe and I attended the Eucharistic Congress in Chicago the summer after our wedding. We stayed at Annie Woida and her husband's, a Maroteck acquaintance from Millerville, home. Went by street car to the Celebration. We never got into the Stadium proper because we didn't get up early enough. If you wished to get inside, you would have to get up at 3:00 a. m. to be included in the Stadium itself. One day a young man, a relative of the Maroteck's, said he would take us because he knew Chicago like the back of his hand. Well, he got lost and drove into the Negro district. Big, fat mama's sat near the curb with a flock of kids roaming around. He got scared and so did we!

We stood outside the entrance to the stadium to watch the dignitaries arrive. There was a long impressive procession of Cardinals, Bishops, priests and nuns, plus an honor guard of 4th Degree Knights and members of the Order of Foresters of which my husband was a member. Then there were the usual banners, flags, canopy and the main celebrant carrying the Monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament. The whole ceremony consisted of the Mass, Sermon and Exposition. We had to stand for hours at a time in the hot sun. One day, as the procession was approaching, Joe lifted me up so I could see. When he let go, the crush of the crowd was so intense that I was stranded in mid-air and couldn't touch earth again for the longest time.

One day we heard there was to be a parade, so we went to see it. We had a good spot to view the parade, but the buildings were very tall and the humidity extremely high, plus a huge crowd of people around us, causing me to faint. Joe grabbed me and carried me into a store when the owner gave me some water to drink. And I revived.

While in Chicago, we also took the opportunity to see a Major League baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox in old Cominskey Park. The seats were rough wooden planks. Joe had played baseball in Millerville and loved the game. I played ball in grade school and my brothers played ball east of our house on the farm. So I too enjoyed the game and still watch the Twins on TV. I couldn't stay for the entire game as we had been invited to Horken's. She was Della's teaching friend and she came with Della one Thanksgiving to the farm and remained for a week or so during school vacation. To return our hospitality, she asked us to their home which was beautifully furnished. Her two sisters owned a hat store and Horken wanted to "doll" me up by getting me a hair appointment and a new hat. Well, I had to leave the game for my appointment; took a taxi alone through Chicago and got to the hair dresser a few minutes too late, so she refused to take me.

Before we left for home, we had dinner at Marshall-Field's. The dining room was several floors up a spiral stair-case and the room itself had a charming atmosphere. The customers looked to be mostly business people. We had plank steak (very juicy and tender) and stuffed green peppers with a hot filling. In Minneapolis, Joe looked up a Roers relative who had fourteen children. He worked for The Great Northern as a switchman.

Before I continue on to another subject, I need to say something about my going to dances and what I say will cover the span of several youthful years. I could hardly wait to go to dances, but my mother wouldn't allow me to go until I was sixteen. My brothers and sisters had been going and I was impatiently awaiting my day too. Most of the dances I attended were either in the upstairs Brandon Hall or at Matt Stariha's in Millerville.

As a young girl, I met Henry Satterlie from Evansville. He being Scandinavian and I German, he asked me to teach him German. All the German he knew was "Ich habe em lange nase. " (I have a long nose) which was indeed true. I danced with Odell Johnson who lived half-way from our place towards Evansville. He took me home once. A polished gentleman! I knew a Peterson (Alexandria drug store pharmacist) who was considered to be an excellent dancer. There was a dance contest at Matt Stariha's hall to see who was the best couple. He came like a bullet to get me as his partner. As he was certain we would win. But Clara Stariha was the niece of Frank Buscher, the contest's judge, and her partner was Lloyd Schwantz of Evansville. They won, which proves that politics was already at work in those days. Anyhow, Peterson was disappointed that we didn't. The Hands Orchestra provided the music.

A Borgin (can't recall his first name) lived close to Evansville and he continued taking dance lessons in Minneapolis. His dancing was far different from any I had ever witnessed. The foot work was extremely fancy with intricate steps, dips and whirls. I could follow him flawlessly. One time later, at a dance at the Brandon Hall, Johnny's Annie said to me, "There's one in the back who is eyeing you. " in her soft slow drawl. It was again Borgin and I was the only one he danced with that evening which made some of the Brandon gals green with envy because they thought they were hot stuff compared to me, a farm girl!

The biggest community work project was our annual Church Bazaar (total slavery). The meals were prepared and served in the old wooden frame church which most of my nieces and nephews should remember. Father Siegler was the pastor at the time and he demanded a dinner to be served on Sunday noon; a supper served that evening and another dinner the following day. Now mind you, the ladies cooked on wood-fired stoves in the heat of summer. The kitchen work area was located in what was the sanctuary of the former church and was jammed with stoves, tables and bodies. Not only were the stoves used to cook potatoes, vegetables, coffee, etc., but also to heat the water to wash the dishes.

Each family was requested to donate a given amount of food: homegrown chicken (10 lbs. ), cream, butter, pies, cakes, bread, a bingo prize and kitchen money. Ladies came the day before, ground up the giblets for dressing and stuffed all those chickens. Remember too, this in the day of no refrigeration!!! The chickens were taken to various parish homes in the morning for roasting and then returned to the hall for serving. Some were kept hot in the kitchen ovens until used. The work was divided into different departments. Some did the potatoes, cut the chicken, cooked coffee, cut pies, etc. The younger girls of the parish waited on tables. The service was family style.

Immediately after the dinner food had been served, dishes washed and tables cleared for bingo, the ladies preparing the evening meal, warming up leftovers and adding fresh to make enough for the next crowd. The following day, the same ritual for dinner. Thinking back to those days, I don't understand why no one got ptomaine poisoning because how could we keep the food from spoiling in all that heat and no means to cool it. Truly, the good Lord must have been watching over us.

My folks wished to visit the Hockert relatives at Freeport, Minnesota. I drove the car for them. These Hockert's were cousins of my mother. To get this straight-Joseph and Nickolas (Bertha's father) were sons of Johannes Hockert. Joseph was the father of Peter and another Nickolas Hockert and these two Hockert men married and lived at Freeport.

Peter Hockert had two daughters, Della and Lena. This Hockert family dressed commonly and spent everything on food. Della married Mike Reiter. They were both short in stature and as wide as they were tall. Mike went into the country one day and came home with a whole car load of watermelons for two people. They had a shallow cellar beneath their house, hence the steps to the cellar was also shallow. There was an oak beam across the opening as you descended the steps. Mike would hit his head on this beam and leave out a loud "Grrrrrrr." He and dad visited together and instead of answering yes, Mike would lean forward, raise his eyebrows, stick out his lips and make a "Ummmmmrrrr" sound. I laughed myself silly just watching him. Later when Della died, her sister Lena married Mike.

Nickolas Hockert had some of the following children (I can't recall them all, but the ones that we associated with over the years) were: Srs. Nickolas and Harvette, Fritzy (hardware store), Dr. Harvey (dentist), Clara and Annie. This family was dark skinned and thin. They liked fancy clothes. Their mother was a cousin to George Herberger of the clothing chain. Sister Nickolas came to our house before she became a nun, in a sailor hat with a veil and fashionable suit. She tossed this aside to become a nun. But before becoming a nun, she kept house for her parents until they passed away. Because she was older, the order of St. Benedict didn't want to accept her. She didn't have training as a nurse or teacher, but they accepted her anyway and she was the receptionist for the Motherhouse at St. Joseph, Minnesota for many years.

We had no electricity until 1929. Our house light was first a kerosene lamp by which to read books at night and I often read a story to my mother. Ma couldn't see well enough to read. She had gone to several eye doctors for help. They would give her a pair of glasses; she'd wear them a few weeks and then discard them because they made matters worse by giving her headaches. I now believe she had cataracts and there wasn't any method of correcting that problem. But she enjoyed my reading to her. Later we had gas lights and they sooted up the glass chimney surrounding the flame. Della, who was home only during vacations, objected to cleaning the glass. So she and ma insisted we get electric lights. Joe and I had just bought a new car that year, so we weren't in the mood to spend $500.00 for Otter Tail Power to provide us with electricity. Della said she's pay $75.00 and ma promised $60.00 and we got hooked for the rest, Otter Tail wanted four families to sign on before they would build the line. A neighbor to the east wouldn't allow Otter Tail to build the line through their woods, consequently, they had to come up from Uncle Nick Hockert's (one mile to the north of us which made the line more costly). I believe Gabriel Wagner, Mike Korkowski, and John Schwartz joined in with us. A few years later the price dropped to $130.00 and still later free of any charges. Then one day, Otter Tail came to us with a proposition. If we signed our line over to them, they would maintain us service; if we didn't, then we'd be stuck with any repairs on the line. Since we didn't have the tools or the knowledge to repair electrical equipment, we donated (as it were) our line over to them.

Our son, Jimmie, was born September 30, 1931, just before the days of the Great Depression. Luckily for him, he grew up happy and full of energy because he had no way of understanding our circumstances. I'm not going to spend much time on the depression because most of the next generation experienced it even though, as youngsters, you may not have felt the full emotional trauma and financial impact. Joe and I had been married six or seven years when the banks closed and we lost whatever savings we had. The closing of the banks and people losing their money had a lasting effect on people's lives-they no longer trusted the financial institutions with their money and because of this, their money was hidden somewhere at home. This is where the saying "cream can" comes from. The cream can was buried in the ground behind some building or in the woods to be unfound by snoopers.

To make matters worse for the farmers, a severe drought took hold in '34 and again in '36. Joe had to sell most of the cows because there wasn't enough feed for them. Lots of farmers were in the same fix, consequently a deluge of cattle hit the market, depressing prices even further. The government then offered to buy the cattle for $12.00 a piece. Willie Lund was our trucker at the time and he told Joe his cattle were too nice and they should bring more than the government price-he should sell them instead on the open market. If they didn't bring the $12.00, he, Lund, would make up the difference. Lund had to make good on his promise. Hogs at the time were $2.00 and eggs 6~ per dozen.

The wind blew constantly and the land was parched. The temperature remained over 100 degrees for days on end. The dust came into the house and literally inundated the place. You could write your name on any piece of furniture. Some people hung wet blankets over the windows to keep the dust out. The only spot I could hang out wash was west of the granary where it was somewhat sheltered from the wind and usually hung it out in the evening when the wind subsided slightly; left it hang overnight and took it in the first thing in the morning before the wind picked up again.

Joe tried to save the growing grain by hauling straw pile manure over the field to anchor the roots. He purchased hay for $20.00 a ton, which was mostly cattails and rushes. We never bought anything during these years so as to save the farm. I had raised a few turkeys and sold them for $17.00 hoping to buy some clothes with the money. In the fall Joe said, "I need the money to pay the real estate taxes." Somehow we pulled through this difficult period by personal sacrifice and self denial; two important virtues lacking today.