Hold the Phone!
Gerhard Suderman may have emigrated from the Ukraine at the age of five, but he loved this new country and all the gadgets that were invented in the beginning of the 20th Century. It was not unexpected for Gerhard to add the telephone when it became available. Wires were strung on the poles that Papa installed. A party line was established. Soon a rectangular oak box was installed on the north wall of the dining room. The phone rang in every house on the party line, and often you would hear clicks along the line during a call, as curiosity reigned. It was possible to make an announcement to all by an all-ring signal, or reach the operator. The phone was turned off on holidays. Thus, one of the big happenings in the Suderman family was not announced right away.
.. Gerhard was deep into wheat harvest. Although he hired help, he was weary, but no less weary than Momma. She cooked three meals a day for the harvest crew. In the late afternoon Momma took a Faspa, usually consisting of cheese, iced tea and Tweeback, two-story rolls. It was difficult for Momma to take Faspa to the field. She was almost 9 months pregnant, and caring for one-year-old Alma.
.. The wheat harvest was finished that year on the 3rd of July. Exhausted, both Papa and Momma fell into bed after the evening chores. After a few hours of sleep, Momma woke up with labor pains. Could it be? She waited a little longer, not wanting to wake Papa. She experienced another pain. She waited until the pains grew more intense before she awakened Papa.
.. “Papa, the baby is coming. Go get Mrs. Eitzen.” Then Momma grimaced again as another pain convulsed her body. Papa knew he better hurry.
.. “What will I do? I don’t want to leave my Anna.” He remembered that John Litke, one of the harvest hands was still there. He went into the barn, “John, wake up, it is Anna. She is having a baby. Hurry, go get Mrs. Eitzen.”
.. John saddled his horse and rode off into the dark early morning hours. He returned with Mrs. Eitzen.
.. Mrs. Eitzen rushed to the bedroom and quickly saw there was no time to lose. The baby was on its way. She gathered sheets and towels and reassured Anna.
.. She sent Gerhard out of the bedroom, “This is women’s work, Gerhard, go talk to John. You will soon have a baby.”
.. Although Gerhard witnessed many births of animals but he felt helpless with his precious Anna. He could hear her moan and cry out. I wonder if Alma woke up. He peeked into her bedroom. Alma was still asleep. Maybe he would make some coffee. He wasn’t sure just how, but he thought he could manage.
.. He and John sat at the dining table, drinking coffee and waiting. Once in awhile one would say something, but neither heard what the other said. Waiting was such hard work.
.. At 6 am, they went outside to do the chores, always with an ear listening for a baby cry. At 7 am, they returned to their dining room vigil.
.. At 8 am, the clarion call of the new baby’s cry pierced the air. The baby was born. Mrs. Eitzen came to the door to announce, “It is a baby girl, Gerhard. A healthy baby girl.”
.. Gerhard closed his eyes and gave thanks for this tiny bundle. A baby girl, he needed a boy, but God knew best. Now he was the father of two baby daughters.
.. Soon Mrs. Eitzen appeared at the bedroom door and beckoned. Gerhard moved closer. Mrs. Eitzen placed a tightly wrapped bundle into his arms.
.. “Hello, little one, welcome to the Suderman family. What will we call you?”
.. Mrs. Eitzen reappeared again, “Come, you can see your Anna now.”
.. Even after the excitement of birth, his Anna was beautiful. There were tears of joy in her blue eyes. Her brown hair curled with beads of sweat attesting to the labor that she had already forgotten. “What will we name her, Gerhard, I thought Julia.”
.. “No,” Gerhard stopped a moment, “That name is too fancy, she will be called Anna after you and your Mother.”
.. Anna frowned; she really liked the name Julia. Then she remembered a story she had just finished. The girl in the story was named Daisy. Anna Daisy, she thought. “Gerhard, could it be Anna Daisy?”
.. “Anna Daisy, Anna Daisy, I like that. It will be Anna Daisy Suderman.” Gerhard grinned at his new little daughter, not a boy, but a gift from God.
.. “Now I will tell everyone on the phone.”
.. “But, Gerhard, the telephone is turned off, it is a holiday.”
.. Thus it was that Anna Daisy was one day old before the operator came back on duty and the community could rejoice with the Suderman family at the birth of their new daughter.
.. Anna Daisy was a curious child, climbing as soon as she could walk. Every time Anna Daisy toddled through the living room she spied the telephone on the wall. An inviting object. Momma and Papa would talk to it as often as they talked to her. What could it be?
.. Anna looked at the black circular speaker that jutted out from the front of box. On the left side, a receiver was hanging. On the right side the small crank was ready for the caller to turn to make a series of long and short rings. If the party they called had the number 23, it simply meant two long rings and three short. Anna often studied the object. It would be fun to turn the crank, put the receiver up to her ear, just like Papa.
.. One day Anna Daisy, her mind as agile as her body, assessed the matter. A red horsehair sofa sat beneath the phone. If she could get climb on the back of the sofa, she could talk into the telephone, just like Momma and Papa. She began her ascent eyeing her goal. Climbing to the top, she grabbed the speaker and lost her balance. She hung on to the phone as it pulled from the wall. Anna and the phone fell with a crash to the floor. The speaker shattered and pieces were embedded underneath Anna’s left eye.
.. Momma found Anna crying with the telephone box lying partially on her. She scooped her daughter into her arms and held her until the sobs subsided. She carefully cleaned the particles of the phone from Anna’s face. Momma cringed as she could see how close to losing an eye Anna had come.
Momma could not clean all the particles from under Anna’s eyes, and Anna Daisy carried the reminder of her curiosity, bits of black like eye shadow, until her dying day.
Card written to Anna Daisy (daughter) on her 1962 birthday:
My dear daughter, 55 years ago we celebrated, it was a hot day, the telephone was off, because it was a holiday. But you came early that morning, arriving at 8 a.m. Daddy stayed at home that day, did not go out to work. That evening when the telephone came on he called those that should know about it. John Litke worked for us that harvest and the wheat was finished the afternoon of the 3rd. John was the one to go get Mrs. Eitzen, Papa got Grandma Suderman and we had 2 little girls. I’ve always been glad for you both. (Would have been so nice to have the two boys) But God’s will was different. He’s made it all right. Thanks for the visit, and you know I did not think of your birthday when you were here. Nice warm weather today. Have a good time and keep well.
Love from Momma