Sunday, November 30, 2008

Those were the days...or were they?

Because of my daughter's interest in genealogy, she has asked me to write down my memories. I'm thankful that my mind is still good even though my body is wearing out. How I wish I would have used a tape recorder and recorded some of the information from my parents, but for some reason my Grandpa, George Koleber, didn't want to talk much about the old country. (Grandpa Koleber was born in 1874 in the colony of Germans in Kratzke, Russia). My mother, Mollie Koleber Margheim (pictured above with me in 1923), was born in Kratzke Oct. 6, 1902 and her family immigrated through Ellis Island, arriving in Russell County, Kansas in 1904. Her uncle, her dad's brother, also came over and in those days they worked for the Union Pacific Railroads. Mom's uncle returned to Russia, facing starvation in the 1920s. The Bolsheviks took away their livestock and grain and any means for subsistence.

My parents lived in the country west of Wakeeney, Trego County, Kansas. So for my first year of public school in 1928 I stayed with my grandparents (Mom's folks) near Trego Center, 9 miles south of Wakeeney. I remember one time Grandpa Koleber (pictured here with his wife and grandchildren) received a letter from his family still living in Russia (1928) and it told of life under the Bolsheviks. Grandpa was in tears reading that letter.

I was one of those kids who was raised in a German-speaking home, thus I had no inkling of the English language. You can imagine having to learn English upon entering public school. I went to a one room country school west of Trego Center, KS. Fortunately in those days, teachers often were only high school graduates that had a Teaching Certificate. My teacher was a local Deines lad, and his household was also a German speaking household as many Trego County farmers were at that time. But the byword was no German speaking on the school yard! I was told that wherever you see that American Flag, it is against the law to speak German. They implemented that where I went to school. Remember, right after World War One German families were somewhat ostracized. I also remember school always began with a salute to the flag and then the teacher would have a Bible reading before we took up our lessons. This was an every morning routine. And that was "Liberty School", a government public school. We also had a framed picture on the school house wall of George Washington and were taught who he was.

In those days, in front of the teacher's desk was a bench, and when it was time for a particular grade class, the kids came forward to that bench in front of the teacher. There might be only three kids in a class.

Some kids came to school on horseback, so they had hay in a trough on the school yard. My Grandparents had two of their sons still going to elementary school, so we walked cross county to school. It was only a little over a mile. Snow, rain, or shine, we walked. Those boys had set traps by a draw bank in those pastures, so they checked their traps on the way to school to see if they had caught a skunk. Once in awhile, kids came to school and their clothing smelled of skunk. All farm boys trapped and sold the furs. In those days, the courthouse paid a bounty for the ears only of coyotes. Yep, those were the days.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Aromas: Fresh Baked Bread and Fresh Laundry

This picture at left shows me kneeling at the left when I was about 9 years old in 1930, with my brother Alfred at bottom right, age 7 and my mom and dad holding our brother and sister, who were twins, age 1.
One of the highlights of my growing up about this time was Mom preparing and baking homemade bread. Our household seldom ate store-bought bread. Every household in those days had a fruit jar of Starter. If it ever went bad, households were always glad to share their starter to begin at square one again. I don't remember what it was. I heard that you can bake bread by just buying those yeast cakes, small two inch square units, but most families had their own Fruit Jar Starter. As I remember when they baked bread, from their initial process, somehow they derived the new jar of starter to use next week. Nothing beats the smell of fresh baked bread.
The other thing I remember, EVERY WASH DAY it was beans that, it seems, took 3 hours to cook. I know us kids always had to watch the cooking process on the stove as Mom was out in the wash-house doing laundry. Our wash-house was in the east side of the garage at our home in Hoisington, KS. In the house we had before that, the wash-house was in a little building behind the house. I still have the big black kettle that Mom used to heat the wash water. 24/7/365, rain or shine, everyone had a wash day! Sometimes the clothesline items would freeze, so you had to be careful they did not crack (tear) in handling them. But my my, I will never forget the fresh smell of those clothes once they came back into the house, and to sleep on those sheets. After enduring the cold on the clothesline, they still had that fresh smell.
Funny how experiences like that stay with a person the rest of your life.

Games we played when I was a boy

As my daughter sat down to show me how to make my first posting on my blog this afternoon through my email program, I suddenly remembered to make a note of some of the games we played when I was a boy. Since I was born in 1921, we're talking many years ago. And while this is on my mind this Saturday afternoon, I'll post this short story first.

One game we played a lot was called "Mumble Peg". We would take our pocket knife, open two blades, one being straight and the other at a right angle to it, and flip the knife into the air, hoping that when it landed, one blade would stick in the dirt. I don't remember how we kept score, but this game was only played with two boys at a time.

Another game we played often was played with marbles. We'd dig 5 holes in the ground, each about 3 inches across by two inches deep. Each hole was about 2 feet apart. The second hole was placed about 2 ft. north from the original hole, then the 3rd, 4th and 5th holes were each dug straight east of the second hole. Directions are irrelevant, but used for example in the configuration of the holes. The game was open to several kids at once, each taking a turn to put a marble in the hole. I just don't remember other details, but it's interesting that the only things that were bought at the store were the marbles, and in that first game above, the pocket knife. It was entirely up to us to create a game to play. Every boy carried a pocket knife, so we were always prepared to play if the opportunity arose. We played this during recess at school and after our chores were done. In fact, we played so much, that we'd develop holes in our thumbnail from shooting the "shooter" marble, which was the largest marble in the bunch.

Another marble game we played a lot was "Keeps". Each boy contributed about 5 marbles to a pile in the middle of a 5 ft. circle, on the ground. Taking turns, each boy would shoot his shooter into the circle, hitting marbles. Those that he could shoot out of the circle became his. And the boy holding the most marbles at the end of the game won. My family was poor so I had glass or clay marbles, which we could buy for about a penny each, but some of my friends had Agates that cost about 15 cents each! They were an actual stone, so were much harder. If my glass marbles were hit with much force, they'd "explode". And were gone for good! Obviously the "rich" kids who had agates usually won that game!

If any readers were born in the 1920s or 30s, you may remember playing these same games. Or maybe you've heard others tell about them.