IX-More Tragedies

The chicken house needed cleaning and Anna was elected to help Mama.  My job was to watch Hilda.  When a colt came out of the barn, I was concerned.  I found a short board and threw it as hard as I could, but the colt evidently batted the board right back against my head.Hilda, unattended, went to find Mama in the chicken house.“What are you doing here?  You go play with Anna.  Where is she?”  Mama asked.“Sleeping in the yard.” Was Hilda’s innocent reply.  Mama ran. Wen I awoke on Mrs. Eitzen’s lap, the lamps were lit and the house was full of people.  My head hurt.  Everybody asked me what had happened.  All I knew was that I had thrown a board toward the rear end of a frisky colt that came too close to my baby sister.That fall, before Jonas was a month old, our blue-eyed Hilda became very ill.  My parents did all they could and called a doctor from Peabody.  He came and administered medication.  He briskly told my parents, “She will not live.”  Papa called a Hillsboro doctor.  When he arrived, he examined Hilda and said, “Her fever is too high and he has been over-dosed on morphine.  She cannot live.”What was her illness?  The first doctor thought it might have been poisoning, but he did not know.  Mama tried to think of something Hilda could have eaten to no avail.  Was it appendicitis or encephalitis?  No one seemed to know.That night Alma and I were called downstairs to say goodbye to our little sister.  She died in convulsions.  Hilda was bathed and carefully ‘laid out’ upstairs in the north room.  Nickel coins were placed on her eyes  to help them to remain closed.Papa went to town to buy another little white casket.  Mama and Aunt Marie sewed a white China silk dress for Hilda.  The coffin was white velvet lined with ruffles. Of pleated satin. The pillow looked soft and beautiful.  Hilda, now robed in her China silk, was carefully laid into her white bed.  She did not look asleep because her cheeks were badly blistered from the high fever.Mama and Aunt Marie took another look at Hilda.  “The neckline looks too bare.  We need something, maybe a pin.”  What could they use for an ornament?  They both looked at me and Mama asked, “Would you mind giving your new bar pin to Hilda?”Yes, I minded.  I loved my shiny gold pin, but I went upstairs to get it.  I loved Hilda more and I was never sorry love won out.  I was proud for Hilda to wear it.For the third time Papa and Mama followed a small casket to the cemetery east of the Ebenfeld church.  Hilda became a sweet blue-eyed memory to us.  Life goes on.  Mama cared for a new baby and Papa had chores.  Provisions were made for winter and winter turned to spring with field work and garden care.As summer drew to a close, Mama sewed school dresses for us.  Alma would return to school and I would be in the first grade.  Papa and Mama were confident that Ebenfeld school had an excellent teacher in Joelle Hiebert, later, Dr. Hiebert of Boston.  He was our minister’s oldest son and such a kind man.  He was a good teacher and it was a good winter.On April 24, 1914, Paul Gerhard was born…again with Mrs. Eitzen’s help.  With this sweet cherub Papa once again had two sons.  We had our picture taken – Alma, Jonas, Paul and I.Scarlet Fever came to the Ebenfeld school in late winter of 1916.  Since I usually brought every cold or sickness home from school, I was the first in our family to have Scarlet Fever.  We all took turns with sore throats, rash and high fever.  The health officer came to post his bright quarantine sign on our front door to keep all relatives and neighbors away.  It also meant no school, no church or any gathering for the whole family.After Alma and I were recuperating, Mama had a solution for our boredom.  We must learn how to quilt.  She just happened to have a pieced-top made out of dress scraps – mostly in pinks.  The frame was set up in the dining room.  Mama said, “Thread your needles,” and we began.The end of our thread must have a knot small enough to hide in the batting and large enough to hold.  We had never used thimbles.  They were awkward and often fell from our fingers to roll on the linoleum.  We tried to sew without them but the needles punched painful holes in our fingers.“Keep those thimbles on.  You can’t quilt without them,” was Mama’s patient advice.  We pulled threads up and down through three layers of the quilt.  We stuck our fingers and screamed, “Ouch!”  Stitches were crooked and some large enough to catch an unwary toe in the future.  But with Mama we dared not quit.If the stitches were really too long, she pulled them and and we did them over.  That was embarrassing.  Two little girls learned a new skill until it became an enticing pastime.  When we were not washing dishes or rocking Paul in his new cradle, we quilted.Paul called his new cradle, “E – E.”  It hung on a wooden frame to rock back and forth on hooks.  In spite of oil and bee’s wax, that cradle squalled its long E-E-E sound with ever movement.  Paul loved the squeal and the rhythmic swaying.  Whenever he was tired, he begged for his “E-E”.After our Scarlet Fever bout, Paulie became very ill.  The doctor made a house call but was not very encouraging.  He said, “Unless the fever breaks soon, he will not make it.”  Papa and Mama were afraid.They talked and cried.  We heard Mama say, “Gerhard, you have to.”  Whatever that meant.  Papa took us (Alma and me) by the hand and we slowly walked to the small hayroom in the barn.  Papa knelt down on the soft-strewn hay and we knelt beside him.  We had never heard such a prayer before as he sobbed these words in Platt Deutch:  “O Heavenly Father, I have to do this.  I love my child and I want to keep him.  And yet, if you want our Paulie, then I give him back to you.”We could not understand the intent of Papa’s prayer but we listened with our hearts.  Papa wiped his tears with his red bandana and blew his nose.  He rose and reached for our hands.  Together we walked back to the house.  Papa had given Paulie back to God.Mama met us with a smile to say, “The fever is broken and he is fast asleep.  I just know he will get well.”  She was right He recovered quickly and soon was out playing with Jonas.One day in late April, our pregnant Mama was worn out by noon.  When the meal was over and the boys went out to play, Mama called, “Jonas, please watch out for Paulie.  I want to take a short nap.”  Papa was back on the field and Alma and I in school.  Mama slept.She woke with a start.  Awkwardly she rolled out of bed to check on the boys.  Jonas busily dug a cistern with an old spoon just north of the chicken house.“Where’s Paulie?”  Mama asked.  Like a typical four year old, he was too busy to realize Paul was gone.  Mama called and checked through the yard – the chicken house, the shed, the garden, the barn.  She stopped short when she saw a little bucket beside the stock tank.  Cisterns needed water!  With a cry she ran.  Paulie was floating in less that 12 inches of water….face down.  God had just given him back to her and now he was gone to be with God forever.When we came home from the school, the yard was filled with buggies, horses and hushed people.  We heard weeping.  When we walked into the house, we saw our baby brother on the dining room table – pale and fast asleep.Once more a white casket was brought home.  Paulie was laid on that beautiful satin bed with a pillow of ruffles and lace.  Alma and I were sent to the orchard to pick cherry blossoms to ring our silent sleeper.  Mama must have thought of the blackened cherry blossoms when Daniel died.Once more the procession moved to our church for a funeral.  Grandmother Loewen worried about Grandpa’s new Ford.  Could it go slow enough for all the other horse-drawn vehicles.  That was the first car in our neighborhood.  I turned to watch, but they had no trouble at all.After the service the congregation marched, moving like a sea, past the out-houses, the horse barns to the cemetery east of the church.  Paul Gerhard was laid into the earth beside Hilda, Gerhard and Daniel.  Papa mourned deeply and Mama would not be comforted.Just a few days before Paul died, Mama kneaded a hugh batch of bread dough.  The house needed cleaning meals had to be cooked and she was tired again.  Paulie, nose running as usual, bounded in with rosy cheeks and wide blue eyes. He ran to Mama like a little beam on target saying, “Kith, wanna kith.”Mama didn’t have time.  But with doughy hands held high her elbows loved the tyke and kissed him on the cheek.   She smiled and told him, “Now, go play.”Paulie smiled and the door banged behind him on his way out.  Now Mama thought back to say, “Why didn’t I wash my hands and hold that child!  Why was I so tired and impatient with him?  Why did I have to take a nap?”  Her why’s were endless.Albert Horton, a well-known figure about Ebenfeld, had been an abused orphan child.  He and Mama had been in school together and they were good friends.  Without a place to stay, Albert went to the minister’s home.  He had always been slow to learn and he was different from most people, but his heart was pure gold and belonged to God.  When Albert had something on his mind, nothing deterred him.Several weeks after Paulie died, Albert came to Mama after church to say, “Anna, I’m coming over for dinner today.”  He must have noticed Mama’s grief and he had to do something.  At our house he came to Mama, touched her arm and said, “Anna, God only punishes the children He loves.”Such simple advice and yet, Mama later said, “Of all the fine words of comfort from preachers and educated people with fine-sounding phrases, nothing touched me like Albert’s gruff words.  I realized God loved me as His own and it gave me hope to live in thanksgiving.  After all, I loved my Paulie for two years.”Papa now clung to his only son Jonas, literally trying to protect him from any grief that might come his way.  Jonas went to the field with him, they chored together and I remember seeing them side by side on the high wagon seat as they headed for town with a load of wheat.  Papa had had four boys and only Jonas was left to him.  But on August 9, 1916, Eli was born with Mrs. Eitzen in attendance.  Now Papa again had two sons.Mama’s heart began to mend but she had added more to her memory box.  I can see this sturdy wooden box – unpainted and plain.  Mama remembered her four eternal babies on their birthdays and death days…armed with hammer and tears.  The claw hammer pried off the lid to reveal precious clothing.  Among the items were Daniel’s blue velvet suit, Gerhard’s baby dress and Hilda’s cap.  That cap intrigued us – white satin ribbons held into shape with feather stitching.  By now the things were yellowed treasures.At Mama’s invitation we shared her memory day when she pried the box open to add Paul’s black patent shoes with navy velvet tops that buttoned down the side.  We shared more of these sad wistful days of Mama’s memory rituals.  After tears and sharing precious incidents, Mama carefully  tucked each article back into the box.  The lid was closed and nails were driven back into place.  We were always happy to welcome our cheerful Mama back in to the family circle.Papa maintained an orchard with a variety of fruit trees.  The peaches were ripe.  Who has not tasted a sun-ripened peach—sweet and dripping with flavor?  The fruit had been harvested and canned for winter eating.  Then we spied it!  A large red-cheeked peach hanging on the top branch.  I tried to get it but failed.  Alma climbed the tree, reaching for her prize when the branch broke.The sharp stump pierced her back thigh as she fell and left her dangling from the tree.  Alma screamed in terror and pain.  Mama came running.  We unhooked her and Mama carefully washed the wound.  She bandaged it with strips of white cloth.  Alma wore those bandages a long time.  Healing was slow for such a deep wound and it eventually left a lifetime scar of her painful peach tree episode.Our tragedies were over and we can end this chapter on a happy note.  Very early on July 19 1919, Papa took Mama to the hospital.  We were left to take care of our little brothers.   No one told us, but we knew Mama would come home with a baby.  She did and we named the baby Bernice.  We were very proud of her.Our family circle was completed on December 8, 1922 when Irene was born with Mrs. Eitzen in attendance.