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. We will share a couple chapters from the book about his life growing up in Rhineland and Hermann. This is the second installment in this mini-series.
Church and School
We were Roman Catholics, attending St. Joseph's in town (Joseph is also my Confirmation name). The area was at least ninety percent German Catholic. The church was later destroyed by fire and after being rebuilt, was named the Church of the Risen Savior.
Our family went to Sunday Mass, Saturday night Eucharistic Devotion and Sunday afternoon prayers for the Blessed Virgin Mary, including the Rosary. Each family had a reserved pew. At one time a Pew Tax was expected as a donation. Each pew had a number on it.
Often we served during the summer. Father Kurtz had his own plane. The servers cleaned it so we received airplane rides. What an experience for a young country lad!
We had a Catholic grade school in a town of 194 people. There was even a two-year high school for a few years. The nearest public school was in the country. Our school had three classrooms: first grade, second through fourth grade and fifth through eighth grade. The Sisters of the Most Precious Blood (CPPS) from O'Fallon, Missouri taught us. My favorite teacher was Sister Elizabeth Marie.
Each day at lunchtime, the entire student body marched into the gym (also used as the cafeteria), to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever, a famous John Phillip Sousa marching song. We ate our jelly and peanut butter sandwiches. Sometimes we had lunchmeat. I will never forget the fried egg sandwiches with grape jelly on them — they were uuuugly. We could not eat meat on Fridays, so we ate cheese,
egg or tuna sandwiches. One of the nuns did the domestic work, taking care of the convent. The parishioners furnished most of their food.
The students went to daily Mass. I was called the Teacher's Pet because I was often chosen to be a Leader by Sister Marie. She begged me to take singing lessons. I wish I had. Many people still say I have a good voice. (I am sure our
kids would disagree, I often made up songs and sang them on our trips). I did sing in the Our Lady of Lourdes choir.
One day, I screamed because I thought I had bugs all over my sweater during noon break. They were actually beggar lice, a sticky seedpod from a weed.
Ron and I walked to school for two years and rode in Uncle Fritz's Model T Ford the other two. Often I had to do 'number two' on the way home. I would find the nearest cornfield and then used corn leaves for tissue paper. Boy, were they sharp!
First Communion Day was a big day for us. At the afternoon picture-taking session, Mom and I both were embarrassed since I was the only one wearing a sweater when we were supposed to wear our new suits and ties.
I was a very good student. I had mostly I had 90s to 100s. Our Report Cards used numbers instead of A’s to F’s.
Other school memories
Once I stuck a sharp pencil in Leoba Schluss's rear. I was punished for this stupid incident. One day, Manny Metzler was sent home for misbehaving. He had to walk more than a mile home and his mother Helen made him walk back to school. We were held accountable and disciplined, not like screaming and lawsuits brought by parents today. The students were considered guilty until the teacher was proven wrong. The nuns could crack our knuckles with a ruler if they wanted.
Daily living on the farm
We had no indoor plumbing until the last few years. Those Sears and Roebuck pages were slick and very cold during the winter. Sometimes we used corncobs — red for wiping and white for seeing if
you were done. We bathed one time a week, whether we needed it or not.
Mom heated a big pot of water to use in the tub for bathing and we all used the same water (ugh).
We did have electricity from the REA. The phones were not private. Anyone on your line could listen to your conversation. It was easy to spread a rumor. The only saving grace was, you could hear others pick up the phone because of a click sound. Our number was one short and two longs.
We boys and Uncle Fritz slept upstairs. It was freezing cold in the wintertime, so we used huge homemade comforters and wore our long underwear, which had flaps in the rear so we could do number two. You never wanted to have diarrhea! There was a hole in the floor down to the room in which the wood stove was burning. I can remember hearing mom starting the wood stove every morning. There was no heat during the night.
We played various games such as "Store" using tin cans and dirt to be sold, Tag, Find the Thread Spool and Baseball. We also fished for yellow belly catfish. I did not like yellow bellies as they had a musty, earthy taste. Carp was a delicacy, but we did not likethem because of the numerous bones. During floods we often gigged large carp in the wheat fields.
Other farm memories
Wilma swallowed a lead five-mill coin and dad and Dr. Workman, from Hermann, set a speed record to a St. Louis hospital for it to be removed. Thank God the coin had a hole in it, which allowed her to breathe. During the War, five-mill coins were made from plastic.
I remember having nightmares. In one, a Japanese pilot stood on the wing of his plane, firing his gun at me. Another war memory—we collected pods from milkweeds to be used for lifesavers for the military.
Sunday afternoons often included visits to and from relatives. We always had fried chicken. The women used lard in the pie crusts. Nothing was better than apple pie with a crunchy crust. Our entertainment was to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and first cousins.
Our family churned butter, made homemade_apple butter and homemade jams. We often picked blackberries during the summer. That was a hot, miserable job because of the thorny nature of the blackberry plants. We wore long sleeved shirts so we would not be scratched. Homemade blackberry pancakes, jam and pie made it all worthwhile.
Our clothes consisted of bib overalls, denim pants, high top shoes called Clod Hoppers, long johns, winter caps with wool flaps that kept your ears warm, and wool shirts for the winter. We always wore hand-me-downs; that is, everyone except Wilma. Ha Ha! We only wore nice clothes on Sundays or Holy Days. Mother darned our socks and patched the knees in our pants to extend their life.
Nowadays, teens buy jeans that have holes in them. I guess this makes them cool.
Washing, chopping, sewing
Mom used a tub of hot water and a hand-turned wringer to wash our clothes. Lye soap was made during butchering time. We did not have sweet-smelling soap like Dove. The clothes were hung on clothes lines to dry in the wind. Of course, the clothes froze on the lines during the winter. Iron plates were heated on the stove to be attached to the ironer. Can you imagine doing this without searing the clothes? A then-popular riddle: Have you ever been in Bloomer, Wisconsin? It was named after bloomers drying on a clothesline.
We chopped wood for the stoves. Sometimes, if the wood was tough, it had to split by using an axe or with a wedge and sledgehammer. Growing up on a farm was different. There were no extras. We used what we had or could make, such as dresses from flour sacks. I would not consider us poor folks because we always had food on the table and clothes to wear on our backs. We worked hard to obtain the necessities of life. It was not a glamorous life, but we enjoyed it. This was all we knew at that time. Most of the farm women had sewing rooms where the looms were set up. The women would get together to quilt. This was a great time for them to gab and visit with fellow sewers, usually neighbors and church ladies. I wonder what they talked about. I remember them enjoying these hours together; quilting was not work to them. Quilts were often made to sell at the church picnic or as a raffle item. Quilts like these, today, do bring big bucks.
Next week: Rhineland spirit