Ken and Joan Struttmann in a recent photo.
Editor’s note: The Advertiser-Courier received a book in the mail titled “This is My Life,” by Kenneth E. Struttmann, who now resides in Tulsa, Okla. This is the last serial we will share from the book about his life growing up in Rhineland and Hermann. This is the fourth and last installment in this mini-series and we give a big thanks to Ken for sharing his memories with us and our readers.
Living in town
We moved to Grandpa Struttmann's house that he built in town. He lived with us until he died. The upstairs was a big open room that five boys slept in. Wilma slept in a downstairs bedroom. Our home was small. There were no dens or great rooms in those days. We did have three plots. One plot was dad's huge garden. He spent his evenings working that garden. Another plot housed a wooden backboard basketball goal. We must have shot thousands of goals. The ground was smooth and well worn. We never had a net. We used the garage door as a backstop. The house and shed were situated on the middle plot. It included an outhouse in case the cistern went dry or there was no room in the one in the house.
One of the things we enjoyed as youngsters were the outstanding views from our front window. Since there were five brothers sleeping in the dorm room, Ron and I slept in the bed next to the front window. It was very hot in the summertime. In zero temperature nights, we often looked up at the clear nights. The stars were beautiful and sparkling. I remember daydreaming about what the future would bring. Also, thought about the wonders God has created.
General store days
Our general store sold everything from soup to nuts and bolts. It operated under the Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA) membership. Later it was not Walmart that affected dad's business, but rather the new Kroger store in Hermann. We bought hardware from Shapleigh's in St. Louis, shoes from Wolverine (excellent farmer's work shoes), soft goods from John D., butchered our own beef and purchased other meat from Swift's. Bread, candy and tobacco came from regional truck purveyors.
I worked in the store filling shelves, waiting on customers, sweeping, and what have you. One of my favorite jobs (ugh) was to clean out the coal bucket. Tobacco chewers spit their chewing tobacco into the bucket or near it while sitting around “chewing their cud.” Many of the locals chewed plugs of tobacco or dried wrapped leaves. Once, a farmer returned a plug of tobacco because it had a chicken or bird feather in it. I gave him a new plug. Ha Ha!
Uncle Eddie Kruse helped dad in the store for a few years. Eddie was also our barber for years. Genevieve Van Booven worked part-time. The store was open six days a week. We also opened for a short time after Sunday morning Mass. Occasionally a customer would take advantage of the store's credit policy. Customers were expected to pay at least once a month. When I would complain, Dad's answer always was, "They will pay when times get better for them." I would retort, "You have to make a living also." Oh well, he was a great dad. He was known as a gentle "gentleman." Dad was nicer than I was.
Work, work, work
Other occupations dad did to support a large family included selling insurance through Farmers Insurance Group and Kansas City Life. He dug fishing worms to sell at one penny each. He sold Pioneer seed corn for many years. Dad measured wheat fields for government set-aside payments. He delivered milk in town (the milk was purchased from Uncle Walter). It was bottled in bottles washed every night by us kids. He trapped muskrats and mink for their furs. Muskrat furs were sold for $15 to $20 apiece while mink furs brought $50 to $75. We often checked the traps daily during the winters. He did many other odd jobs. In evenings and weekends, dad often picked up pecans from the many pecan trees in our area. He cracked the pecans with an interesting looking cracker. It was a hand machine that was bolted to the edge of a table. A lever crushed the pecans by bringing two pecan holders together to crack them. He picked the nut meat from the shells and sold many a pound at the store for $1.
We also picked up walnuts and shelled them for the walnut pieces or sold them in burlap bags to a regional walnut company. All the walnuts were brought to one Sheller, which was brought to town annually. You did not want to get the shell juice on your hands as it dyed your skin.
Dad also made the best sausage links in the world. He used good hog meat and very little spice. He used a stuffer that squeezed pork into an intestinal casing. He also 'made wood' from the 40-acre land in the hills; the best buy dad ever made was paying $450 for those 40 acres. My summer jobs included tying bales of hay on a hay bailer, which was a dusty, dirty job. I picked blackberries and peeled bark off cottonwood trees. I was the night counter waiter at The Diamonds on Highway 66, which was billed as the largest roadside restaurant in the world. I had 15 seats to cover, which were often all filled at one time since every highway bus stopped there. We did not write down orders, they were just hollered to the fry cooks. We then tried to guess who should receive the order.
It was a 10-hour night shift and I received about $15 per week. Room and board was furnished in an old hot house. We slept in a room that had no windows. First cousins Noriss and Glendo Kruse also worked nights with me. Many of the workers were transient travelers who were broke and needed work. One night, Glendo was taking a barrel of bottles across Highway 66 to the trash container. The barrel slipped off the cart and the bottles all fell over. Cars were slamming their brakes while crunching the bottles. Luckily no one was hurt.
Route 66 was one of the few roadways that had four lanes. It went from Chicago to Los Angeles. There still are markers designating Highway 66 as a historical highway. In fact, there was a famous song “Take your kicks on Route 66” sung by Perry Como.
Every Struttmann boy delivered the daily Jefferson City Tribune. I had 17 to 20 customers. Friends and classmates in Rhineland and neighboring area included: Donna Bucker, Ramona and Marilyn (Butsie) Bucker, Severian (Sib) Elsenraat, Dale Hagerdorn, Larry and Roy Heying, Wilmetta Kiderlin, Valerian (Manny) and Gerald (Ferd) Metzler, Billy Dean Scholten, Bobby Gene Scholten, Dennis Van Booven, Kenny Van Booven (named after me) and Velora Van Booven.
Per mom and dad, they met at a Pie Dance at the St. Martin Parish's Hall. If you were high bidder for a lady’s pie, you ate the pie with her. Dad bought mom's pie. I never heard what kind of pie it was, but I bet it was good and Ann caught dad's eye. Mom lived on a farm in the Starkenburg region. I remember this type of social event in Gosen's Hall in Rhineland. I also was told that dad, Ray Kruse and John Scholten were the only graduates from the McKittrick secondary education school one year.
We boys collected baseball cards in shoeboxes. Unfortunately, mom cleaned the upstairs after we left and threw the cards away. If we only knew what their value would be in the future. We also cut out the funnies and sorted them later into piles by strips.
We all liked sports — baseball, football and basketball. There was a huge basketball court in the new grade school. I was a fanatical Cardinal fan. I listened to every game on our radio starting in 1946. If the Cards would lose, I would kick our AM radio. My greatest memory was the Cards playing the Boston Red Sox in the 1946 World Series and beating them in the final game. Slaughter scored from first on a double. In those days, most of the games were in the daytime and we could hear them on our AM radio. Later they played many night games, and those broadcasts could not be received in Rhineland. Soon after that, Overkamp's Garage bought the only FM radio in town. We sat around his radio in the evening to hear Fran Laux, and later Harry Caray and Joe Garagiola. One evening, one of the men asked me to go to a doubleheader against the hated Brooklyn Dodgers. What a thrill for a young fan from Rhineland, Missouri!
We played Corkball using a large fishing cork taped with masking tape and a broomstick. We played Corkball whenever we had a small group gathered. You only needed three players, a pitcher, catcher and usually a fielder. Rules were simple: A foul ball anywhere behind home was an out, no running and usually no fielding. A caught pop-up or liner was an out, two strikes was an out. Our makeshift ball became a professional small leather ball and the broomstick became a narrow bat. I could really make that Corkball curve. Later, Corkball became a big sport in St. Louis. It was often played behind taverns enclosed by fencing. The losers bought the beer. One day, the nuns came to our yard and one of my brothers asked a sister, "Where are your feet?" All the nuns wore long habits.
I collected postage stamps and still have most of them. The Post Office lady always saved the 4-corner block of newly issued postage stamps. Billy Dean Scholten and I made picture negatives in his dark room. We had box cameras that took black and white photos. We made a printer to make the pictures.
We believed in Santa Claus until we were older compared to children today. I would take all the "believing" siblings to the upstairs room until Santa Claus left. Dad stoked the furnace as a sign that we could come down to the presents. We were happy to see a baseball and a bat, etc. We only got one bat and ball for the whole year. If a bat was broken, we nailed it together and wrapped it with tape. We taped the balls after the cover came off. We each got one or two presents and we were happy with what we received.
Besides sports, we had Pinochle card parties and snow sledding on Sib's hill, bicycle riding and fishing. Dad often took us fishing. We fished for yellow-belly catfish. As noted earlier, yellow-bellies have a musty taste due to the dirty creek water. They taste nothing like today's channel catfish fed in clean water ponds.
We watched football games on the television at Sam's Tavern. He had the first one in town. The TV was very small and the picture was snowy. On Friday nights we watched boxing. We also watched Saturday night wrestling. Lou Thorpe was considered the best, and we also enjoyed Vern Gagne with his sleeper hold around his opponent's neck.
We listened to many radio shows, including The Green Hornet, Sky King, The Lone Ranger, and Jack Armstrong, the all-american boy. We also listened to Blondie, Fibber McGhee and Molly. The kids gathered around the radio console. It was huge and had legs. There was no bickering as to what we listened to as there was only one story available at a time.
The Hermo in Hermann showed movies. We went very often. I remember well the Looney Tunes and News Stories of the past week being shown before every movie. I hated horror movies and would sneak out or close my eyes. Frankenstein movies were tame compared to the current movies.
We kids and first cousins often went to Grandma and Grandpa's farm in the hills. I remember sledding down a hill on a round lid. Not through snow, but on clay dirt. We had baseball games. We fished in their creek; the water was perfectly clear. The fish were sunfish, especially beautiful—colored. We caught grasshoppers to use as bait. We had to catch many because the fish ate them in one bite.
The youth belonged to the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and 4-H Clubs (Head, Heart, Hands, Health). The CYO group took annual trips to St. Louis, visiting the Admiral on the Mississippi River. My 4-H project was building a chicken coop for young chickens. The back part was for baby chicks with a Kool-oil heater under their compartment and a screened-in area for the chickens when they were bigger and it was warmer outside.