VII – Life on the Reiswig Farm

Since Grandpa Loewen wanted a farm for each of his children for their inheritance, he bought the farm where we had lived.  This freed Papa financially to afford the Reiswig farm.  Three years later, when the Nikkel estate was settled, Papa added 34 acres adjoining our land for $2,720.00.  This gave Papa a quarter section of good land in Marion County.

Anna, Alma, Paul & Jonas Suderman

What excitement on moving day.  My clearest memory is driving up the big hill just west of Ebenfeld.  The horses heaved as they reached the top of the hill with our household goods.  Somehow the years have shrunk that hill to a rise in the road.We followed in the buggy.  Mama held baby Hilda.  Alma sat on Aunt Marie Loewen’s lap, and I wiggled and worried on Aunt Lena’s lap.  Where was our cat?  She could not be found when the wagon left.The wagon turned into a strange yard with our belongings.  The house looked like a huge castele to us – three porches and an upstairs with windows.  We soon scampered all over the place to see what our home would be like.The T-shaped house had three upstairs bedrooms with slanting walls and little side windows.  The largest downstairs room was the kitchen (the leg of the T) with a bedroom and the parlor to the east.Our woodburning range, a china closet, sewing machine, table, and chairs were set into the kitchen at Mama’s direction.  This room had a double closet with a smaller door.  It intrigued me.  We could hide our small bodies in its dark recesses.  The first part was long with shelves for stables on the west side.  Hooks beneath the shelves held our wraps.  A tiny north window gave it an eerie light.  East of that window was the opening to the second closet under the stairway.  Shelves for medications filled the high part and Mama set a large wooden box on the floor to hold all our sewing scraps.  Once a year we pulled the box into the kitchen for a sorting spree to make quilts, aprons or baby things.Under the stairs on the lower end of the closet Papa stored our 50 pound bags of flour.  Once a ear he took a load of his best wheat to Ragolsky’s Mill for a year’s supply of flour.  Mouse traps were set here to discourage any hungry varmint from eating its way into our source of home-made bread.Since lightning had struck the upper chimney and scattered debris into the west bedroom upstairs, Mama decided Alma and I would have to sleep downstairs.  Our white-painted iron youth bed was set up in their bedroom.  Papa soon hired a man to plaster the area above the chimney and paper the room.  Large bouquets of pink roses “swagged” up and down the slanting walls against their pale green background.  All except behind the chimney.  We always wondered why the man  hung one strip upside down with the swags looping upward like a row of rose-rainbows.This room had one normal-sized window to the west and two short windows on the south and north.  The room proved to be hot in summer and frigid in winter.  When it became the boys’ room, Papa put a vent in the floor above the downstairs heater.Mother made a decision.  “I think the southeast bedroom would be more comfortable for you.”  She papered it with our help and we moved into this room with a large south window that opened wide for summer breezes.  From here we watched birds in the large maple tree branches that almost touched the window.  In winter time the chimney wall in our room gave us a hint of warmth.By then we had a full-sized iron bedstead (also painted white) and a second-hand dresser.  Mama hung a picture on the wall that taught me of God’s care.  A small child, crossing a deep chasm on a plank, was protected by an angel hovering above the child with outstretched wings.  I claimed that angel for my own.With us settled in the house, Pap tended to his business affairs of farming.  He needed a new and larger barn  to shelter cows and horses; also to store fresh alfalfa hay from the field just south of the house.  A builder was called and plans completed.  The building – pounding hammers and hand sawing – began.  Mama prepared food for extra men.The new barn seemed like a monstrous cavern with stalls for six milk cows, a pen for calves, a large oat room and a hay room – all to the north.  A long east-west hall divided the barn.  The south side had ten horse stalls, complete with managers and oat trays.  A harness hallway with a swinging gate divided the north from the south side.The hayloft, one giant empty room, echoed our shouts in play as we ran from end to end.  A huge door with a crane lifted hay from ricks into the loft by pulleys.  After the hay came in, play in the loft was dangerous fun.  The hay loads could be dropped (whenever the person bellowed tugged his rop) as it rolled along the steel-ridged rail high in the roof.  Papa was very proud of this horse-powered additions to his new barn.  He did not paint the barn with the old proverbial red.  This barn gleamed in a new modern gray.Papa’s mind turned to the hen house. The chickens had a small tumble-down, mite-infested shack with patches of peeling red paint.  It could not hold Papa’s layers – not mentioning broilers or brooding hens.  He planned and bilt a long two-room chicken house with elevated roosts that swung upward for cleaning.  A hinged lid raised above the nests for easy gathering of eggs.  It was a very modern structure for that time.  Later he built several broiler houses to raise baby chicks and a new crop of laying hens.A large tin shed was Papa’s next venture.  It housed all horse-drawn implements – binder, rake, mower, cultivator and plows. There was enough room for the buggy and a carriage.  It also served as our garage for our first car – a Baby Overland.Our two-seated surrey had no fringe on top, but it had kerosene brass lamps on each side for night driving.  One day we sneaked matches out of the kitchen to light those lamps.  When we pulled the sliding shed doors shut, it gave an eerie light.  Mama  caught us and we were soundly spanked for playing with matches.That shed was an excellent place for storage, but if we left the doors ajar, hens liked its dark corners for nesting areas.  Whenever Mama heard cackling near the shed, we were sent searching – in, under and behind the implements until we found the cache of eggs.  If they were not found in time, we had out of season chicks.  They made good fall fryers.The tin shed also served as our view to the outside world.  From the wooden corral fence, newly-built just west of the barn, we scaled to the ridge of the roof.  From this vantage point we viewed our world in wonder.Every 4th of July, it became our ringside seat for Peabody fireworks.  We saw the “rockets’ red glare” from only twelve miles away toward the south east.  We never had fireworks at home for Papa did not believe in wasting money.  He reminded us in all wisdom that “God’s stars are brighter than anything man can made and they last much longer.”While Papa upgraded and modernized his farm buildings, Mama envisioned her dreams.  As a farmer’s wife she realized that farm buildings must come first.  They are investments to assure a farmer’s income.  But Mama had her plans ready.“In summer we always eat in a hot room since the wood buring range is our only means of cooking,” she told Papa.  “In winter the babies always have colds because the south and north doors create a draft across the kitchen floor.”  Papa listened as Mama continued.Once again Papa called Mr. Wall.  The south door was closed and the narrow south porch was removed.  A bay window to the south gave light and a place for the house plants Moma loved and collected.  To the west of the old kitchen a swinging door led to a new kitchen with a pantry and bathroom.  The new addition extended for a door to the north porch.  This was screened and was convenient for rocking the baby to sleep, shelling new garden peas or reading The Kansas City Star. Who could boast of a pantry with shelves, a cabinet, plus a cooling cabinet that lowered into a small basement by pulleys?  Milk and butter could not be cooled without wearisome trips to the cellar.  Or, who had running water in the house?Papa built a sink, low enough for children (adults could stoop) with a red pump that brought cistern water into the house.  And best of all, we had running water into the bathtub.  It was cold but who cared.  Our bathroom had no stool so we used the outhouse near the woodpile for years to come.Papa ingeniousy set a large tank with a carefully devised over-flow on the beams above the bathroom.  The new itchen roof area drained all rainwater into this tank.  Presto, running water in the bathtub.  It rained out into the yard.  What a far cry from the washtub, set in the middle of the kitchen floor, for our weekly baths.  In summer the sun heated our tub water.  In winter?  We always had warm water in the kitchen range reservoir.One morning after a hard spring rain, we slept late.  Mama pushed the swinging door to the kitchen and screamed.  We all came running.  The oilcloth from the ceiling hung pregnant with water and bits of plaster hung on Mama’s head.  Papa got a ladder to investigate.  A sparrow’s nest clogged the over-flow.  After the mess was cleaned up, Pap screened the over-flow to prevent another disaster.The next building project was our slippery-slide.  Well not exactly.  Papa rebuilt the storm cellar with a walk-in door that led down to the cool cave.  The tinned roof of that stairway was our slide –built for hours of fun.The rebuilt cellar held ceiling hooks for hams and shelves to store Mama’s food supplies – jars and jars of canned fruits and vegetables in all their iridescent colors.  Large crocks of hog lard, sealed with white cloth and newspapers, were set on the floor beside the barrel of watermelon pickles.  There were smaller crocks of dill pickles.Just north of the cellar door Papa built a wash house – a laundry and butchering room.  A huge black kettle filled one corner.  Here, summer and winter, spring and fall, we heated laundry water each week.  In dry seasons we used hard wellwater that had to be softened overnight with lye.On winter butchering days, hog renderings filled the huge kettle with pure lard and cracklings.  Those butchering days gave us as much excitement as today’s television fare.  At times we saw the gore of “killing the pig” and the awfulness of cleaning intestines for sausages.  The peak of excitement came with liver and onions for the noon meal.  By evening the spareribs were served with fried potatoes and thick slices of rye bread.  We fell into bed with full “tummies” and sweet dreams.  Somehow, when Mama served smoked sausages with mashed potatoes for a Sunday dinner,  we never thought of those intestines we cleaned behind the chicken house with twigs and lots of water.One corner of the wash house eld our cream separator where gallons and gallons of skim milk ran into huge buckets.  This was calf and hog feed.  At times Mama gave orders to set aside a bucket of milk to clabber for cottage cheese, for delicious spring soup/salads, or for baking purposes. Rich cream, ladled generously for the taste, enhanced Mama’s cooking.  We churched endlessly for table butter or extra grocery money.  Once a week the large cream can went to town for Mama’s cash.Another privilege we enjoyed at the Reiswig farm was the pasture west of the house.  After rains we found every puddle and streaked through them in old dresses Mama saved for the rains.  We had never heard of bathing suits.  Farther down the hill we had our own portion of Mud Creek.  We watched baby fish in the shallows while green frogs hopped away as we splashed in fun and wonder.Papa assured us that perch and mud-cats lived in the deep holes.  He taught us to rig a fishing line with string, a tiny nut for weight and a real fish hook.  If we had no cork bobber, Mama shared an empty wooden spool from her sewing supplies.  With an inserted twig, it made an excellent bobber.   The pole was cut from a tree limb in the yard.  We watched those nodding bobbers in Mud Creek many an hour.  Every fish we hauled out of its murky waters was our bonus for invested hours of fun.The Reiswig pasture also had a mountain – now shrunk to a ridge above the creek.  We climbed our hill to view our world as we gathered many a tin can full of snail shells.  We had one goal in mind – a snail necklace.  We tried nails and Papa’s drill but somehow, the shells always broke.  We never mastered the art of making holes in fragile shells.  We turned to other goals.We enjoyed walking to church on lovely evenings since we lived nearby.  We held hands with each other and talked.  When we heard the clip-clop of horses behind us, we stepped aside to let them pass.Alma began school in September with A. J. Harms at the Ebenfeld country school, District #20.  His strictness frightened her.  Since there was no law to keep children in school, my parents decided Alma could wait a year.  She and I would start school together next year.Jonas Edward, our new baby brother, was born on October 16, in 1912 with the help of Mrs. Eitzen.  She was the community midwife.  Papa was so proud to have a son again.  Jonas had blue eyes and soft blond curls.  We loved him.Papa and Mama’s blessing cup was overflowing – four children, living close to church and school and owning a good farm.  It was no longer the Reiswig farm; it belonged to us.  But  even with all these blessings, life never stays on a high plateau….