Friday, August 5, 2016

Hand Tools

Babies don't care about much beyond eating, sleeping and a clean diaper.  Youngsters focus on their friends and their games.  Teens and college students are dealing with hormones.  It's not until much later that one recognizes the essence of family ancestors.  While I've been curious since the 80's, I was in my 40's, my mother had hundreds of relatives and was willing to help me, I'm now over 70 years old and think about how I'm going to gather and share information about my ancestors several times a day.

All my ancestors are old and has always been old, or so it's seems.  They sat and talked while others threw balls and played with the children.  They fixed dinner and cleaned the kitchen, sewed clothes and waited in the truck waiting for the grain from the combine.  Their tools were old and didn't look like those in the hardware store or farm supply shop.  Their clothes were simple and they looked old also.  Their conversations were void of modern technology.  Of course, I'm almost 20 years older than they were when I first thought they were old.

Now I'm doing what my ancestors were doing.  I paint small projects with a shaking hand.  I do small jobs around the yard, hoeing, raking, watering - with old tools that I have maintained with replacement handles made of tree branches.  I have a hoe - I love it, it's my favorite - that has been sharpened so many times by grandpa Ziegler that it's not much more than a sliver.  The metal part is loose where it connects to the wooden handle.

In the shop I treasure several tools.  While I can't read the numbers on the carpenter square that I got from the Ziegler estate, it's unique and special because modern carpenters have two legs measuring 16 and 24 inches, both divisible into the standard of plywood 48", and the square I have has legs of length 18 and 24 inches.  This type of carpenter square was common before the use of plywood and studs were placed 18" apart.

In the kitchen are several items that one might find in an antique shop: a crank butter churn with a cracked glass jar, a toaster where the sides fold out, a milk bottle and a couple paper lids, all of which don't get used because some part of them is cracked or broken.  In the same kitchen is a large wooden bowl for shaping butter or kneading bread.  Some of these may have been used by the Ziegler or Weisz ancestor, maybe one of my great-grandparents.  There's also a butter spatula for shaping butter and a wrought iron iron.  Neither get used as we have an electric iron and we don't have a cow for cream to make butter.

As I work in the kitchen using some of these items I realize how long they have been in use, and I can envision how my ancestors might have used them.  Not far from where I'm cooking stands a China closet.  The sides are curved glass, as is the door.  The feet and top are eloquently carved.  It's a cabinet that I envied as it sat in grandma Ziegler's living room near Hebron.  Mom acquired it after Lenhard and Elsie died.  I acquired it after Mom died.  Our grandparents bought it from Rev. Debus, one of the first ministers of our church in Hebron, when he left Hebron.

On the wall behind the China closet is an oval shaped picture frame with domed glass front.  The picture is Wilhelm and Regina Weisz Ziegler, our grandparents, at their wedding.

The most cherished and therefore carefully stored in my desk is a measuring tool.  It's like a foot long ruler but different.  When folded, yes, it folds, it's six inches long.  When unfolded it's two feet long.  The hinges and edges are metal, maybe a brass; the core where the numbers and hashmarks are scribed is wood.  I played with this as a child, completely intrigued by its structure and function.  This valuable antique is probably worth less than $20.  For me, invaluable; it was my grandfather's and maybe his father's, made after 1870.

Now I am my ancestors, old, stiff, with old tools so I am in a place where I want to share this heritage with those who don't care yet.  But when they will care, I may not be here remembering what they want to know.  So I go to write.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Small World - Hoeraufs

As we left the conference hall we stopped at a table selling chocolates and nuts.  The gentleman behind the table was from Sweet Home, Oregon and had been there since the '60's.  In response I asked if he knew of Ernest and Ann Wolters; he was mayor of Hebron, North Dakota, my childhood town when I was child.

"Ann and Ernie.  Oh yes.  If you're from Hebron, do you know the Walter Hoerauf?  He's my sister's husband."  I do and did.  We often attended the Hoerauf family reunions when my mother Erna was visiting.  Both Walter and his wife have since died as well as Walter's brothers Emil and Albert.  I replied that through marriages several generations back we are related.

The father of Walter and his siblings was Louis Hoerauf and his father was Michael Mishel Hoerauf.  One other son of Michael was Jacob who married Christina Saxowsky, my grandfather's sister.  With this conversation as a motivator, I looked deeper into the Hoerauf family and added some information to the Saxowsky Family Tree website.  This website is password protected but open to anyone who asks for the password.

Again the research brought me back to memories of events and people of my past, many whom I did not know at the time was related or connected even in some remote manner.  Neighbors and friends who were special have now become more special even in another way.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Grandma Cookies


Laura Ingalls Wilder writes of Christmas in one of her book.  I recall that one of the previous gifts was an orange.  How different Christmas gifts are now when many children receive Wiis and iPods.  Yet parts are the same even in the differences.

The making of Grandma cookies is reserved for Christmas time.  They earned their name because only Dad's mother, my grandmother, ever made them.  In my small world.

So in a effort to continue the tradition of Pfeffer Nuss (pepper nuts) I create a couple batches before Christmas.  On the wall hangs a large wooden bowl in which grandma probably mixed the ingredients with a wooden spoon like the one in the crock by the stove.  I, however, use a KitchenAid mixer.  I don't remember seeing her drop the thick cookie batter onto the cookie sheets but whereas I drop the batter from a spoon she might have rolled the batter into smooth balls.  Her cookies were smoother.

After the baking and cooling process, it's time for the chocolate frosting.  The difference here is that she dropped the cookies into the bowl of chocolate and coated all surfaces including her hands.  I dip the top of the cookie into the chocolate and knock off the excess with a spoon.  While licking the chocolate from my fingers is a great joy, I don't find the same joy in emerging my hands completely in the chocolate.

Baking is both a joy of the moment and a connection to the past, but eating them is not recommended for a slender waistline and so the variety we enjoyed as children are not on today's agenda.  Sugar cookies with colored powdered sugar frosting and sparkling candies continue to grace the kitchen around Christmas as well as a batch of gingerbreads.  Others come rarely and exist mostly in memories.

Each Christmas will start a new tradition which will last far into the future.  One we offer is a braided bread with strands of three types of bread, white, whole wheat and rye.  Looking back fifty years from now our descendants will talk about grandma's braided breads.  As well as grandpa's grandma cookies.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bread for Thanksgiving Day

It's hard to imagine how Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in 1621, the traditional first Thanksgiving, or 150 years ago when President Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving and Praise.  Today, the day before Thanksgiving Day, thoughts of past Thanksgivings come to mind.  In particular, the thoughts come as I pull down the big wooden butter or bread bowl of my grandparents and maybe their grandparents to make bread.  Certainly this was one task common to many years back.

The recipe would be similar to that of our ancestors a century ago; yeast, water, flour, oil, a sweetener and a bit of salt, maybe some special flavorings.  The yeast, probably Fleischmann's, a newly formed New York company trying to create a dependable yeast, would be similar to the yeast by the same name that we use today. Today's flour is probably more refined than that of a century ago although at times we grind our own flour which is no more refined than any time in the past.  Bee's honey and milk from the cow would be similar now and then.  Oil may have been lard rendered from the fat of a pig in the past.

The process is different although both doughs ended up in the same wooden bowl to rest and rise.  The bowl is stained and scratched after decades of use; the edges soft and pitted with age. The larger and perhaps older sister bowl still hanging on the wall has a metal strap holding a crack from splitting further.

The next stage of the bread making is as old and universal as time and space itself, kneading on a board with our bare hands, folding and pushing down, and folding and pushing again and again.  Finally the shaping, placing in pans and baking.  Fortunately for us today's oven is regulated by a thermostat and starts by merely turning a knob or pushing a button, which allows the baker to move to another task instead of stoking the fire with coal or wood and trying to maintain a uniform heat.

I would have loved to share the next moment with our ancestors as they cut a slice of fresh bread or tear off a piece, placing it in their mouths and savoring the taste.  Perhaps they too reflected on their ancestors of a century earlier.  For now the bowl is back on the top pantry shelf and the bread is ready for the celebration of thanks tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fall Canning

Tucked in a far corner of the basement is a little room lined on opposite sides with shelves reaching to the ceiling.  On the shelves sat rows of jars, some full, some empty, some quarts and pints, some smaller with jellies and jams, some larger with pickles.  In our farmhouse there was an additional root cellar dug  out beyond the regular basement which was cool, dark and had a dirt floor.  Against one wall a crib held the potatoes for the year.  In another corner was a box of carrots covered with straw.

Root cellars were standard equipment in early North Dakota homes, and fall was the season for canning.  Actually everything revolved around winter; spring, summer and fall were for planting, growing, gathering and preserving food for the winter.  Most of the food was grown in family gardens but some foods that didn't grow locally were ordered and purchased in large boxes from the local grocer.  Fruits like peaches, pears and plums were examples.

Now we are 1500 miles from North Dakota and a half century later but still canning food for the winter.  We picked the peaches from a local farm; the pears and apples from our trees; beans from the local fruit stand and tomatoes from the garden.  Most garden products typically are blanched and frozen these days and spices and herbs are dried for storage.

Water boils on the stove.  Peaches or tomatoes are heated so that they peel easily and then sliced into wedges.  The jars are washed in hot soapy water, rinsed and filled with the wedges which were waiting in a bath of cool water.  Rims are wiped clean for a good seal, boiling water, maybe with a little bit of sugar is poured to fill the jar.  A new cover is dipped in boiling water and secured on the jars with bands.  These then bathe in boiling water for 15 minutes after which they rest and cool down before they are labeled and join the rows of jars in the root cellar.

This may be a far cry from what happens in most contemporary homes and a poor facsimile of what happened more than a half century ago, but it is here.  It's a connection to the past, a family event and way of securing good food with no preservatives.  It's part of who we are and what we consider valuable.  Good eating.

Did I mention the sightings of mice and the evidence that mice were in the root cellar tucked away in the corner?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Threshing Day

Typically the day had the potential of being a hot one, in the nineties or possibly the hundreds.  Even during the morning chores there was a sense of excitement looking to the south and watching between tasks.  It was thrashing day and Uncle Karl, actually Dad's uncle, was going to come from his place a mile south of our farm through the pastures with his low-slung metal codded tires Minneapolis Moline and this thrashing machine.

Once he was in the yard he would walk around the thrasher, checking each gear and chain making certain that everything was probably greased and oiled.  The slow running exposed chain spit the oil that came from the long-nosed oilcan as they quickly turned over the gears.  Each bearing in which the staffs turned was lubricated with grease forced down a small pipe by the tightening of a grease-cap.  After the cap hit it limit, the cap was removed, refilled and replaced on its home ready to force more grease into the bearings.

I was quite young and there was no task for me other than to bring water and sandwiches to the workers so I wasn't on site to be fully involved.  Dad scooped up the bundles of oats, typically, and dumped them into the wagon from which someone pitch-forked them into the throat of the thrasher.  Uncle Karl's tractor sat in front of the thrasher with a very long belt to run the thrasher.  The straw blew out the back through a large pipe which could be manually adjusted to carefully create a stack of straw. The grain itself came out another pipe on the side of the thrasher into awaiting pickups.  Oats was not fun to stand in so I seldom would climb into the pickup to play in the grain.

Besides the work of thrashing, many stories are told about the meals that the farmer wives put together for the thrashing crews.  I can't say that I remember any significant events surrounding those meals which in our case only included Karl, Dad, grandpa and my uncle Heinie.  While the same crew worked all three farms I was allowed only to visit the fields when they thrashed on our farm.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Games

"Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,"

Is this even politically correct now?

"Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief."

As a child I never wanted to be a chief; I wasn't even an Indian much less a chief.

We would recite this lines when we got dressed and counted the buttons on our clothes: button one, rich man; button two, poor man; and so on. Or if noticed that someone had lots of buttons, we would go through the same verse.

If you had more than eight buttons, you'd start over again, but I remember almost never starting over and often stopping in the first line. Girls had a better chance of getting into the second line.

WIth no television and limited access, our heads were filled with little verses and mind games. Cousin Cheryl came with a verse during one of her rare childhood visits from MInneapolis or California. It was designed to appear as a speech:

"Ladies and gentlemen, horses and mules,
I hate to tell you, but you're all darn fools.
I come before you to stand behind you...
Admission free, pay at the door
Grab a chair and sit on the floor!"

That's all I remember but I found this version:

"Ladies and gentlemen, horses and mules
Cross-eyed mosquitos and bold-legged fools
I've come before you to stand behind you
To tell you something I know nothing about
Next Thursday, which is Good Friday
We'll have a father's meeting for mother's only
Admission free, pay at the door
Grab a chair and sit on the floor!"

From the third grade which was at the end of the hall on the second floor of our school and was designed more as a foyer to the fire escape at the rear of the building, I remember:

"Christopher went
When he was sent,
And came when he was told,
And all together
Whatever the weather
Was brave, bright and bold.
When he was nine, or maybe ten,
He traveled the world again and again
With a cape, a cap and a fountain pen."

It's probably the only poem I remember.