V – Gerhard and Anna

Gerhard and Anna Suderman

In 1900, March came in like a lion with a heavy snow storm.  Rains followed the snow to leave the country roads slush and mud – almost impassable.The Jacob Loewen family cleaned, cooked and baked to feed all the people who would attend their first family wedding.  They wanted everything perfect.  Anna secretly planned to sew a white wedding dress – even a grey would do.  But Jacob Loewen was adamant.  His Anna would be married in a proper black dress.  The bride had nine brothers and three sisters.  Everyone shared in the work except little Daniel and baby Solomon.March 8 dawned clear.  The Sudermans and the Loewens hurried through their morning chores.  Pressed serges and polished shoes waited.  This was a family wedding day.  Gerhard and Anna would be married at the Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren church, two miles east and four miles south of Hillsboro, Kansas.  The following report was sent to German Ziones Bote, a church paper.Suderman-Loewen Vows (written by Jacob and Aganetha Suderman) On March 8, 1900, our children celebrated their wedding vows; namely, our son, Gerhard, with Anna Loewen, daughter of Jacob Loewen.  Anna’s grandparents lived at Waldheim and later at Friedensfeld in Russia, before they moved to Kansas in America.  They now live in Oklahoma (near Hitchcock). The roads were almost impassable due to the heavy rains; in spite of this, many came to the wedding to fill the church completely.  When the hour of marriage finally came, we asked the Lord, our Great Helper, for His blessing. Brother H. Schroeder opened the ceremony with Psalms 5:8 (Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness ?       because of my enemies— ?       make straight your way before me.)  We can depend on God’s goodness and may we follow David’s example of asking God to guide us – especially the young couple so they may have a good marriage.  Elder Jacob Wiebe, from Gnadenau, made some remarks before Elder Johann Foth performed the ceremony using Jeremiah 32:37-41 as his text.  He dwelled on verse 39 – (“ I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and to good of their children after them.”)After the blessing everyone was invited to a meal.  No one had to leave without a physical or a spiritual blessing.  To enhance the ceremony, gospel songs were sung.  For the evening, the church family, especially the young people, gathered at the Jacob Loewen home where many songs were enjoyed.  Brother Cornelius Nickel had a short and interesting devotional before a late evening meal.So came the hour of departure into the night of muddy mire on the slow homeward trek – knowing the day was spent in blessing and happiness.  With all greetings, Jacob and Aganetha Suderman.March 8, 1900, came to a close.  Guests and friends, shouting their farewells, waded through the mud to their buggies and wagons.  Finally  the Loewen family was alone with their new son, Gerhard.  Evening prayers were said and children were put to bed.Gerhard and Anna spent their first night together in an upstairs bedroom.  Years later, in Mama’s Journals, we read:  We knelt at our bedside for prayers that first night and done this through out our years together.One by one every lamp was pulled out our years together.  One by one, every lamp was puffed out for the night.  The Loewen house was dark.With morning came the realization of mud.  Mud everywhere!  Floors were swept and scrubbed.  Some boys chored while others were sent out to find hoes to scrape the porches so they could be washed.  The girls helped in the kitchen.After a hearty farm breakfast, Anna’s things were readied – clothes, linens, bedding, wedding gifts, canned foods from well-stocked shelves.  Perhaps even some meats from the smoke house.  A crate of chickens was loaded and a milk cow, tied to walk behind the wagon.Anna was leaving for a new home with Gerhard.  The family thoughts must have been mixed:  Blessings – for Gerhard would make a good husband.  Sadness, for Anna was the first child and such a great comfort to her mother.  She would be missed.The wagon was loaded and everyone gathered round to say their goodbyes.  Gerhard helped Anna to the high wagon seat and jumped in beside her.  With a flick of the lines, they moved forward.Can we see the parents, surrounded by children who were left at home – shouting admonitions and waving until the wagon was out of sight?  All thoughts and words of the happy bridal pair must remain a secret.  The horses labored over the muddy miles.  Gerhard was taking his bride to a rented farm west of the Cresswell School.  He knew the house was old and small – not very clean.  He tried to warn Anna that her first home would not be like the home she left.  The Loewens lived in a new and spacious home with five bedrooms.Yes, Anna was disappointed with the dirty shack…but they were in love.  With lye soap, rags and scrub brushes, she cleaned ceiling, walls and floors.  Wrapping paper from the store was carefully pressed and cut into intricate designs to hang at the windows.  Gerhard told her, “They almost look like lace curtains.”They soon noticed a severe problem – field mice.  At night they could hear the gnawing rodents everywhere.  Anna set traps and soaked rags in lye water to stuff into the holes they made.  Bits of tin were nailed over the holes.  When the groaning only grew louder, they knew rats were joining the mice.The lilacs were in bloom and an old-fashioned rose bush scented the yard.  But even this beauty could not appease Anna when a skunk tried to move in under the house.  She drew her line to say, “We have to move.  This is it!”When the farm in the next section became available, they moved.  The house seemed spacious after those first months in a one-room shack.  The few pieces of furniture looked lost in three rooms – a living room, a small bedroom and a turning stairway to a loft where a hired hand could sleep.  The kitchen must have been an afterthought for it was a step lower than the rest of the house – a split level.  Later, this became a place for babies to tumble into the kitchen or sit in the doorway to play.  But it was home.When the first tax assessor came by, he asked about their possessions.  In Anna’s Journal, she later wrote, “we owned two horses, one cow, a wagon, a top buggy and a sulky plow.  He asked if we thought we could farm this way.  “He must have thought we couldn’t get along, but we did.”They both worked hard.  Whenever she was needed in the field, Anna helped.  An hour before noon she hurried home to fix a meal.  She learned to walk through the yard, catch a fryer and skin it on the way, to have a savory chicken dinner ready for Gerhard when he came in from the field by twelve o’clock.  With fish in the creek, fruit and vegetables from they garden, they ate quite well.On February 1, 1901, Daniel, their first child, was born.  Just before his third birthday, January 27, baby Gerhard was born.  However, their pride in two sons was short-lived.One morning when the baby was three months old, he was fussy.  Ana checked him often – he was dry and fed.  She hurried through her chores to bathe him.  She noticed a red spot on his back.  After his bath, she dressed and nursed him.  She checked his back and noticed the spot had grown.  It looked like an angry blister.  They called for help.In horse and buggy days, antibiotics were unheard of and people could not rely on paramedics or speeding ambulances.  They the doctors finally saw the baby, it was diagnosed as a spider bite.  No help was available and little Gerhard died.Why?  Gerhard had so often said, “You are such a good housekeeper.”  How then did that spider get into the cradle?  With little Daniel they made their tearful way to the Ebenfeld church where relatives, friends and neighbors gathered.  At the end of the service the little white casket was lowered into the earth to lie near his great-grandparents in the southeast corner of the cemetery.  It was such a tiny mound to leave behind…and Anna went home with empty arms.Daniel was now a precocious three-year old with a curiosity about everything.  How could red cows give white milk?  Why was butter yellow?  If cherry blossom were white, why were cherries red?  He enjoyed animals, growing things and good food.  “Force” was a new product and if Daniel could have had his way, he would have eaten Force (cornflakes) three times a day.When Daniel was five, Alma Louise was born, April 3. Once again there were two children.  Grandfather Suderman became ill that year and died of cancer in January of 1907.  There had been a special bond between Daniel and his Grandfather.  The little boy missed him sorely.  Yet, even in this, he was wise beyond his years and accepted his loss.Gerhard took his father’s place as choir director and church music leader.  He loved music and this meant making more time for singing.  When the horses were worn out from field work, Gerhard walked the three and a half miles to choir practice.  Without instruments, except a pitch pipe, Gerhard had to know each new song he taught to the choir.  His head and heart were filled with music and he often sang his way to church and home again – walking down the road.On choir nights, Anna was usually busy finishing chores and taking care of the children.  After the little ones were in bed and weather permitted, Anna would sit on the stoop to wait for Gerhard…but she must be careful.  She was expecting again.This time of waiting gave her time to count her blessings.  Life was sweet and full.  Gerhard was a good husband, two little ones with another coming.  Her ears were always tuned to hear singing down the road – Gerhard coming home.  Was her life too full of blessings to last?