A hundred years ago a mile was a lot longer than it is today. In this story Esther relates that they didn’t get to visit her grandparents very often, and then just for funerals. The five hundred miles from North Dakota to the old home in Nebraska was just too much.
That distance barrier still existed in the fifties when I was a child. Esther and her husband lived in Montana at the time, and I lived with my mother and her mother (Grandma Luehr) in Jamestown, ND. Once we took the train to Libby to visit them. Once. I don’t remember much about the trip, but I do remember being on the train for a very long time. Maybe it was lack of resources, but we very rarely visited family other than the few who lived within fifty miles of home.
Esther starts this story talking about her mother’s name. I never used the word Fanny to address my grandmother. She was Grandma Luehr. There was no question about that.
One side note comes to mind about her name. There was talk that when Ted died and the family was going through the legal entanglements to transfer the farm to Grandma, there was an issue with her name. In some places she was Fanny B. Luehr, and on other papers she was identified as Fanny Beulah Luehr. Beulah was not a word ever used in our house.
Her name was Fanny (my mother). She never liked her name – always said it was a name that people gave their dogs and their horses, but should not be for their children. For some reason, most of the neighbors and business people always called her “Mrs. Luehr” with very few using her first name. I’m sure this must have had something to do with how they perceived her, perhaps as more formal or less approachable than most, and because she did not object. Formal address was common then, and people taught their children to address their elders formally.
But Fanny liked to talk with people, and being pretty well confined to being alone and/or with the children a great deal of the time, she probably missed being able to talk with others. Since the boys often were required to be doing chores or field work, I must have frequently been her only company. Therefore, much of what I record in these stories is based on things she told me. This includes most of what I know about her parents and my father’s parents.
Since we lived 500 miles from them, we did not get to know grandparents. The Luehr grandparents came to visit when Henry was a baby; as far as I know, the only time they came to North Dakota. I don’t believe the Hinkens (Fanny’s parents) ever visited except for Grandma Hinken coming alone in about 1936. Neither did we travel often in the other direction. When Melvin and I were 4 and 5, we traveled by train with Mama to Nebraska when Grandpa Hinken died. We were there before he died, and for the funeral. I have some rather vivid memories of this trip. I remember being homesick and feeling neglected; the undertakers coming to the house; Grandpa in his coffin in the living room; being at the cemetery; and parts of the train trip back home. I remember being in the depot in Jamestown waiting for someone to come and pick us up. Mama had placed a call and had to wait for a call back. It was my impression that this took some time because it took the words a long time to travel down the wires; and having no phone on the farm at that time, this idea remained with me for some time.
I remember some of the things Mama told me about her childhood years. She grew up with her two older brothers and a younger brother and one sister on a farm near the small town of Waterbury in northeast Nebraska. She went to country school through the seventh grade. I do not know why she quit, but probably did not receive encouragement to continue. She must have been a good student; when we needed help with homework, she could parse a sentence or do the math problems. Like most children at that time, she had to do her share of farm work. I know that she milked cows from an early age, worked in the garden, cared for the chickens, and cooked, cleaned, and sewed. I think she had very little opportunity to socialize with other girls her age, although I remember her talking about neighboring families, and boys and girls in her age group. I perceived that my grandmother was a very shy person and seldom visited outside the home, or even went to town. Fanny was resentful that her older brothers often had the use of the family horses and buggy to go to dances or to town, but she was not allowed to go along, probably because the parents never intervened when the boys said no. This may have been the roots of her “feminism.” She was a feminist, you know, at least for her time.
Fanny was always anxious to learn, but had few sources. We had no books in the house except the Bible (which gathered dust on a shelf), the “doctor” book and the “horse doctor” book, and the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs. She avidly read what few publications were available to her—the “Farmer’s Wife” and the “Dakota Farmer” are two that I remember. She was a member of the “Homemaker’s Club,” which I believe the County Agent sponsored, and she served as President for a term.
Mama (as we all called her) was a hard worker and always ready to try to do things to help herself or to try something new. When she wanted more cupboard space in the kitchen, she made a plan, purchased the lumber, and with only the most elementary of tools, built a freestanding cupboard which served well for many years. When the walls got painted, it was she who did it. For many years our walls were painted with a water based “stuff” called Kalsomine which came in a powdered form in five-pound bags and had to be mixed with water, and was painted on with a wide brush. It was a messy job, but it covered the dirt and fly specks which gathered generously to cover each new coat. Of course, this finish was not washable, so new coats were necessary quite often.
Mama always raised a big garden. She pored over the seed catalogs, and although she sometimes saved seeds, she mostly bought them, and liked to try new varieties of tomatoes or other vegetables. The big garden was hard work, and my father also helped with it. Of course, it was his job to plow it in the spring with the horses or tractor and rake it and mark the rows with the cultivator so that it could be worked with the farm machinery to keep the weeds down. There was always plenty of hand hoeing to do; which my brothers and I sometimes participated—most reluctantly! Canning was a major activity during July and August, when we picked and canned peas, beans, corn, and sometimes spinach. The corn was usually field corn (as opposed to sweet corn). She also raised her own tomato plants indoors so as to get an early start. Some plants were offered for sale to “town” people and neighbors as was produced in season.
Meat was also largely home-produced. We butchered hogs and cattle during cool weather. Some meat was canned, and pork was sometimes preserved in a brine. Chickens were available all year, and we ate them often. Wild prairie chickens and pheasants were frequent fare in the summer time as the men always had the “22” in the vehicle and shot the birds along the road. (Illegal, of course, but the farmers figured they “raised” them so helped themselves.) We had domestic geese, and sometimes dined on wild geese or ducks.