Saturday, February 5, 2011
Once Mom knew that her time was limited, she thought it very important to do her part to maintain a living history. She told me that one of her favorite memories from childhood was sitting on the back step with her mom, listening to her tell stories of the way things were. We crammed a lot of things in those last few months, but Mom gave me a piece of her past almost daily. Inevitably, the stories she shared were both warm and funny…and I kick myself for not writing them down at the time so that I would always remember even the tiniest detail.
Since Mom valued the magic of a memory as only a loved one can recollect (as opposed to a history book), she worked with her mother to get some of her origins on paper. I had completely forgotten about the project until the other day when Brenda left a copy of a type-written document on my desk at work. Grandma finished her history, spanning from what she knew about her parents coming to this country to her childhood living on a farm. She was born in 1928.
It was many months after Mom's death when Grandma announced, "I've decided that I'm going to live." I suppose it's difficult to outlive your children—heck, I think it's difficult to outlive your parents. There was a cloud of depression that seemed to hang over my family for that first year. If my grandmother in her late 70s (at that time) was willing to put herself out there for that painful thing called life again, a 20-something with many more years ahead of her had no recourse but to do the same.
I typed her words to have a digital copy. I was humored by a few things while reading her history.
First, you must realize that I come from centuries of Lutheran stock (from my mother's side AND my father's side, actually), and when immigrants first came to this country, their first thought was to preserve their identity. There is a part of the story regarding my great-grandmother going to a Catholic school because the nuns there could communicate with her while she learned English. When she came home from school wanting Catholic prayer beads, my great-great grandmother put her in public school, pronto.
I also couldn't help but chuckle over reading about my grandmother's grandfather. He died in a rocking chair when my grandmother was quite young. She doesn't remember much about the man, but she remembers being afraid of rocking chairs afterwards—apparently, they can kill you!
From this, I learned that I'm actually not nearly as German as I was told growing up. True, my mother's family all left Germany for America, but my grandmother's ethnicity appears to be tied completely to the Scandinavian or Nordic countries instead. My maternal grandfather is 100% German, and my father's family is 100% Norwegian (it was quite the scandal when my father's generation married non-Norwegians). I have absolutely no idea why I tan so easily. Descended from farmers who spent long days in the field beneath the sun, I suppose.
All these modern conveniences that we take for granted: personal transportation, telephones in every home, and butter that we don't have to churn ourselves! If you enjoy reading about days gone by, read on!
Written by Grace Paske Thorman
Since there are so many things in the past that I have experienced that no longer happen, and there is some history that I would like to pass on to you all, I will put something in writing while there is still time.
As you all know, my mother and father both came from Europe. In about 1880, my father came from Uckamark, Germany. His parents originated on a small island between Finland and Sweden, which was called Äland but is now called Ahvenanmaa. So my father may have been either Swedish or Finnish instead of German by origin. His parents came to this country when he was about six years old, and his memory about the trip was not very good. He did recall that he was almost washed overboard, and if someone had not grabbed him, we all might “not have been.”
Dad’s family consisted of his father, Herman Nehls; mother, Rekka (Schimille) Nehls, who died when my father was about 10; brothers, Gustave, Wilhelm, and Herman Jr.; and sisters, Minnie and Anna. Dad’s name was Otto.
His family somehow got to the Pardeeville-Wyocena area where they farmed. His parents are both buried at the cemetery in Pardeeville. I have very vague recollections of Dad’s father and I believe I liked him, but I know my mother was not very fond of him. I was very young when I remember a neighbor, who had a telephone, coming one evening to tell Dad that there had been a phone call to tell him his father had died. I recall Dad packing up and taking the train to Pardeeville and being gone a few days for the funeral. In those days, it was not a simple matter of jumping in a car.
In about 1892, my mother’s family also came from Germany, but they were Danish by origin. They had lived in an area called Schleswig Holstein, which the Germans took from Denmark in a war. Her parents left there because the German’s were conscripting everyone into the army, and Grandfather Hansen was not about to serve in the German army. My mother was about five or six when they came to the United States. She did recall being held at Ellis Island in New York with other immigrants until their papers were approved and they had health examinations before they could enter the United States.
They first settled in Milwaukee, where her father found work. Mother had to attend a Catholic school until she learned English, as the nuns were the only ones able to understand her. She attended that school until she came home and asked for a rosary. That made her mother mad, and she switched her to the public school.
Mother’s family consisted of her father, Hans Hansen; mother, Anna Marie (Petersen) Hansen; brothers, Albert and William; and sisters, Christina and Anna. Mother’s name was Margaret but was always called May. The only other family member I recall her talking about was her Grandmother, Christina Petersen.
Mother’s family later moved to a farm near Wyocena. My cousin, Keith Luther, now lives on that farm. Mother’s parents are buried in a small cemetery near Wyocena. Grandmother Hansen died at the age of 51 in 1917, mid-winter. Mother took the train to Wyocena. There was a blizzard on the day of the funeral, and Mother told us that they were barely able to get the coffin to the cemetery, even on a sleigh.
I also vaguely recall Mother’s father. He lived with Albert and Willie, who never married. I remember him as having long white hair and a long white beard down to his waist. As a little girl, I was very afraid of him. Grandpa Hansen died rocking in his rocking chair on the back porch, but I don’t remember his age or the year—it was in the 1930s. I know I was afraid to sit in a rocking chair for quite a while after that.
My mother and father were married in 1908 and settled in a farm near Morrisonville, where we were all born. They rented that farm for 35 years. It was owned by Mr. and Mrs. C.M. Morrison (actually by Mrs. Morrison, who was a Caldwell and had inherited it from her father).
My father worked the 160 acres of that farm with six horses for many years. The first tractor I recall him having was a big Case tractor with steel wheels with lugs on the wheels for traction. Tractors in those days did not have much speed, but they did have a lot of power compared to horses. Even up to the time I was in high school, Dad still kept some horses and used them for some of the field work.
Dad milked about out 12 to 15 cows, all by hand. I know my mother helped with the milking until the kids were old enough to help. Dad’s herd of cows was the Durham breed, which is the same breed as the Milking Short-horn. They were a beefy-red cow who milked pretty easily and gave quite a lot of milk with a very high test. We always “separated” the milk and sold the cream.
The cream was sold to the Lodi Creamery; the “creamman” came twice a week to pick up cream and to leave butter, which we bought from them. The cream was kept in large milk cans in the cooling tank by the windmill. The creamman weighed the cream cans and they were paid by the pound, but he also took a sample out of each can in a small glass bottle to test for fat percentage; this set the price per pound that they received.
However, before they sold cream to a factory, I know that mother churned the cream into butter, and it was packed in small wooden tubs and sold to the stores or “traded” for groceries. They did not have that many cows then though, possibly six or eight.
I remember mother having a churn that was in a small barrel on a stand that was turned by a handle, it was set so it turned end over end and made a lot of butter at a time. You could take out the plug in the end and drain out the buttermilk. She also had a very large wooden bowl into two butter paddles. After the buttermilk was drained off, the butter was dumped from the churn into the wooden bowl and worked with the two paddles to work out the remaining buttermilk. It was then washed several times with the cold water and worked with the paddles and then salt worked into it. It was the best tasting butter you can imagine!
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