My dear son, David,
I wanted to give you something SPECIAL and UNIQUE for your 50th birthday.
I hope you will enjoy reading this and also enjoy many MEMORIES!
This has been in the planning stage for years and realizing that I would not be able to keep it in true chronological order, I would just write as things came to mind.
I want to entitle it: YOUR MOTHER'S HANDS
I could write using the computer; however, I want you to always remember how much I enjoy cursive writing.
Love always, Mom
(Mom's cursive was impeccable, as were so many of our Mother's of that time period. I have three full books of stories to enter and I don't think that I saw more than 2 or 3 spelling corrections or attempts at erasure or correction. She knew what she wanted to say, and the thought process was complete.)
I was born on a snowy day, as I was told, early----4:15 am, the first day of winter 1944. Daviess County, Washington IN. Delivered by Dr. Strange.
My Mom spent several days in the hospital. I'm sure she and my Dad counted all of my fingers and toes. My tiny hand clasped to the strong working hands of my parents. (Emil and Emma)
My Dad and older brothers, Bernie and Eugene, spent Christmas day at the home of Edith and Walter Lents - Mt. Pleasant Road. My brothers named me Charlene after one of the Lents' girls. Mrs. Lents was a teacher at Whitfield schools where my brothers attended. The Lents family were special friends to our family. I remember in later years that my Dad and uncle Nelson took Mrs. Lentz to the Mayo Clinic for special treatment. It was a long trip and my Dad drove a 1947 Frazer. He had just bought it new that year. Mrs. Lents bought me my first "store bought" dress and I wore it for my FIRST YEAR photo. In that photo you can see your MOTHER'S HANDS.
My Mom said I did not walk until after I was a year old. I'm sure as I was learning to crawl and learning to eat. I had busy little hands. My little hands probably grasped the stronger fingers of my brothers as I learned to walk. Mom said I really didn't need to walk as Bernie and Gene carried me EVERYWHERE. My little hands probably hugged their necks. I was in love with my brothers!
(My paternal grandmother told me that Dad didn't talk till he was almost 3. His older sister Patty just said, "Brother wants this, or Brother wants that". I'm sure this is the relationship of many siblings and a connection that begins and grows through a lifetime.)
I barely remember our old frame house. It had a living room - blue couch, platform rocker and a wood rocker. We had a porcelain finish wood burner stove. We had a "guest bedroom" with a bedroom suit that later went upstairs in our new brick house. I loved to go in this bedroom and play in the "handkerchief" drawer and look at Mom's necklaces and pins.
Gene and Bernie had a bedroom behind the kitchen. They put together a special cardboard toy chest and seat. It had a treasure chest look with a lid that lifted up - and special compartments. They let me keep my toy box in their bedroom.
Our kitchen was cream and had green porch siding. We had a Hoosier Cabinet. My little hands loved to take out the pots and pan lids and baking dishes. It had a bread drawer. We had a pink pottery cookie jar and Mom kept it on the cabinet - out of the reach of my "little hands".
We had no running water. We had a granite water bucket and an aluminum dipper. I had a little aluminum cup that just fit my little hands. I had a little divided plate. I learned at an early age - DON'T LET MY FOOD TOUCH! I had a little fork and spoon - light green bakelite handles, just for my lttle hands.
( My Grandparents watched me while mom and dad worked when I was little and I used the same utensils at their house as good Germans, have little that isn't necessary and waste nothing.)
We had a wash stand and a wash pan. Here is where my Mom taught me to wash my little hands. I slept in the same room as my Mom and Dad. I slept in a baby bed, and at night Mom would hold my little hand.
We lived in this house until 1949-50 when my parents built a new two story brick house on the same site.
Gene graduated and went to Indianapolis when I was five years old.
( Mom's brothers Gene and Bernie were 13 and 15 years older than she.)
My Mom had a treadle sewing machine. Since I was too short to sit on a chair to "treadle it", I sat on the floor and did it with my little hands.
There was a door chime bell on our front door and I twisted that with my little hands.
We had a small radio. I turned the dials with my little hands.
I learned to untie my shoes and later to tie, and my brothers read to me and I turned the pages with my little hands.
There were no Kleenex, I used a tiny handkerchief and refolded it carefully with my little hands.
I learned how to pick paper off a sucker, eat sliced peaches and pickles, hold an ice cream cone, dunk my doughnut, eat corn on the cob, hold a hot dog, and maneuver a slice of watermelon. Now, spitting the seeds is another story.
I'd cry and fuss and carry on when I'd have to have my hair washed and curled and then combed. I'm sure Mom smacked my hands, but usually I ended up just getting and old fashioned whipping-------and, I'd cry. And, suck mu thumb.
I got a new tricycle that I'd pedal like crazy, grasping the handles. I rode it in the barn yard, down the dirt path, back through the chicken lots. When it got dirty, I'd take it to the horse trough and using an old wash rag, I'd wash my "TRYK". I learned how to pump water, pumping the handle up and down. I learned how to open the yard gate, "be careful"------don't hurt your little hands. I learned to pick up chicken eggs----"only pick up one at a time---easy---don't break them. I held baby chicks. Be easy with your little hands. I'd pick bouquets of flowers, clover and dandelions, ,running them to Mom. And, petting my pets Tippy and Scotty, loving on them for hours, brushing them and throwing sticks for them to retrieve. My Dad would let me try to milk, but the cow's teats were too big for my little hands.
(Mom loved animals, and when she passed and I moved home she still had a feral cat colony. 6 years later, the neighbors still have Nipper and Bubba still follows me around the yard like a puppy.)
I'd go berry picking along the woods with my Daddy. He let me carry one kettle and my own little "lard bucket". He would pick two gallons before I could pick half a lard bucket, of course, I'd be eating them with juice all over my chin and down my shirt, and all over my little hands.
Dad built me a huge sand box under a big blue plum tree next to the smoke house. He and my brothers brought sand by the gunny sacks full from the creek bed. I spent my summers playing in there, wetting down the sand with water that I had pumped and carried. My brothers showed me how to make barns and roads and I poked little branches for trees. I had a little broom and I'd sweep the hard packed dirt "clean". I also made mud pies, carrying dirt from the plowed area behind the barn. I'd poke different shaped rocks in them to create faces.
I also had a wonderful rope swng in the plum tree. I could pump my legs and really swing HIGH. I would swing for hours gripping my little hands.I was taught to bow my head and fold my "little hands" My mealtime prayer was in German. ________ _________ Fater, Amen. I think it meant, "Bless this food". Mom would then, also, pray a German prayer.
My brothers were first taught German and then English. When they started school at Whitfield, they were called "The Dutchmen". I was never made to speak German except for my prayers. I could understand it very well. My parents conversed in German with each other and their families. My parents attended German grade school and church services. They were married in a German church service.
(As a child I also remember understanding my Grandparent's German conversations. When visiting their siblings, the conversations would be exclusively in German, animated and full of laughter as if a safe haven of their youth and common history.)
This was the year my parents planned to build a new house. They liked the new houses that were being built in the Jasper area. The contractor they used was Edwin Hochesang. I remember driving east of Jasper to view his house. Dad still had the '47 dove gray Frazer. It had navy blue and gray wool interor. It had a really big back seat and I'd sit there with my brother Bernie.
Mom and Dad got blueprints for our new house . Bernie understood them. He studied the prints for hours. Plans for the new house got underway. Since the new house was to be built where the old frame house set, the old house had to be moved. Dad contracted Aaron Swartzentruber, an Amishman, and his crew to do this job. First they cut off the electricity. Then the men jacked the house up off its foundation and put huge rollers under it. Then they let the foundation rest on the rollers. They rolled the housed over the garden area, through the orchard and chicken lots, back to the edge of the woods in front of a walnut grove. Moving a building using rollers is a unique method. One that requires knowledge and patience. Mr. Swartzentuber displayed both. Bernie and Dad helped. I had plenty of questions-------WHY?
(years later in '65, when I was 2, Garndma and Grandpa built their "retirement" home on a piece of property behind the old farm. I remember it in much the same way that mom recalled the previous process. There are many photos of me playing in the dirt with our German Shpeherd "Duke", much in the same way mom would play with Tippy during construction.)
I wore boys pants and shirts, tie high brown shoes. All hand me downs from my cousin Larry. Those were my favorite kind of clothes for home and work . Most of the time my hair was in pigtails. At this time I was 5 1/2 years old and my little hands were becoming work hands.
While the house was being moved, my Mom had a fire going in the kitchen cook stove and continued cooking for everyone. She never left the house. She said that she could barely feel the house move, that it all happened so smoothly. The only time she could detect movement was when she actually looked out of the window. She served dinner to all the men, and rhubarb pie freshly baked while the house was being moved.
All the dishes were washed in a dish pan, set on the table that was covered with oil cloth. I dried dishes with a feed sack towel. Mom put them away as I was still too short to reach the cabinet. One of the most inconvenient things was that now we were so far away from the well where we pumped our water, It was Bernie's job to carry the buckets of water. I "helped" pump.
After the old house was moved, we no longer had electricity. We used coal oil lamps. I remember we had a long flashlight which we used sparingly. We had a smoke house that sat on top of a cellar. There was a door cut in the floor of the smoke house that could be lifted up and one descend down a set of stairs into the cool cellar. The cellar had poured cement walls and floor. It was really cool and dry. Only occasionally did it seem damp. It had shelves to hold the many cans of fruit and vegetables that mom put up every summer by cold packing. Dad had built a box up off the floor for our potatoes. We had crocks of sauerkraut. Part of this was dad's wine cellar. Many crocks and UHL jugs of different sizes. This cellar was about 3 feet deeper than that of our new basement that was to be dug. Our new house was to have a porch that was to set over the entire old cellar. From then on the only way someone could enter the cellar would be through our new basement. Keeping this vey useful cellar was a unique feature.
Dad was a very good wine maker. Guests were often served a glass---or two of Mr. Braun's homemade wine. His specialty was blackberry. Our farm had many areas of beautiful blackberry patches and Dad would pick gallons every day while they were in season. We would pick grapes at my aunt Hilda's and make wine with them. When mom peeled peaches, Dad would take the peelings and over-ripened fruit to make peach brandy. Dad also made plum wine,, but never made "home brew"..
The smoke house was lifted off the cellar and moved to the west of the new house site and set on a former chicken house foundation. This old smoke house still housed our wringer washing machine and wash tubs. It had electricity run to it so we could do our washing, but we still had to pump our water and heat it on the cook stove. The same for taking baths. The smoke house had a half upstairs where we stored glass jars. We stored supplies for making soap. We used it as a garden shed too. It had a grinding wheel where we sharpened our knives. We stored our canners in there as well as the kraut cutter. It held tables and other items used when we butchered hogs and chickens. On the outside wall we had an area where we butchered turtles, cleaned fish and skinned squirrels. I often used the smoke house as my "play house". I had a "spring seat" to sit on and I could let my pets in and out. Outside the door, we had flower beds in and along the old foundation. Here Mom would often start her seeds before transplanting them to the garden. It was in this old smoke house that my "little hands" learned many grown up chores.
I learned how to sort and care for glass jars, how to carry and handle butcher knives, how to make lye soap, how to clean and put garden tools away, how to hang up buckets, hang up chicken mash sackes, set mouse traps, gather and save seeds, dig and hang onions and peppers, keep a tackle box and fishing poles, and how to plan a garden and flower beds.
( These were many of the same tasks and chores that my Grandparents shared with me that were truly less than 20 years later in a time that didn't move as quickly. Having these skill throughout my life has often made me feel that my young parents often felt like an older brother and sister, much in the same way Mom's brothers were to her. These are a skill set that ground you to the earth and give you an appreciation of all things necessary and simple. The building blocks of all things more grand.)
Soon the big day came. After our old house and smoke house were situated, the bulldozers arrived. The stakes had been set according to the blueprints and the digging for the basement began! Was THAT ever exciting. Bernie actually walked the "plank", and carried me in his arms down in to the newly dug basement. The dirt was heavy, yellow clay. Then they strung string, and what a sight when the Redi-mix cement truck came. It was Breidenbaugh's Better Block from Jasper. Next came the laying of the blocks and "connecting" the basement walls and the cellar walls. They let me sit on top of a dirt hill while the cement floor was poured and "floated" out. I believe the wood/coal furnace was set in before the floor joists were nailed in.
Then the lumber truck and wood framers came. There seemed to be a different group of men for each job. I really do not remember power saws. I think they sawed everything by hand. My job was to pick up and sort all of the sawed off wood and pick up all the nails. I worked like a little trooper. I was "up at the house" before the workers got there. They would work for a while and I would help Mom carry up fresh baked cookies or something. Some days she would bake pies for their lunches. There were five big maple trees left in the front yard and the men would rest and take their lunch break there. That summer, I no longer took a nap. Along with helping "build the house", I has to help feed and water chickens, hoe my little part of the garden, pick strawberries and pump water for the fattening calves. At this point we still had no electric pump.
Finally the house was framed, the basement steps built and it was time to wire the house and put in the plumbing. Then the plaster board went on, the roof was delivered and the brick and stone work started. By then there were so many different crews of men I could hardly keep up with them all. I would sweep the floors with my little broom, and walk the planks without fear! The back fill had not been done yet. Septic tank was set and hooked up. The roof was green asbestos and the upstairs over the porch was white. It required a special tile cutter. Of course, I had my nose in the middle of that operation too. I remember, to this day, of many of the steps it took to build this house. And, everyone made me feel special!
(Years later, long after Grandma and Grandpa had died, the new highway came through and took this house. Mom had the opportunity to walk though it one more time and called me. She cried and told me it was every bit as emotional as losing her parents. As I have moved home and lost only one large maple tree to I-69, I can only imagine, after this detail of memory, the level of her emotion.)
Then the windows were delivered. Mom was so proud to now have a picture window. Bernie had made her a lamp of walnut and he won a Grand Champion ribbon on it in 4-H the year before. She wanted a "drum table" to sit in front of the window - to set that lamp on. She later got the table. The living room had a fireplace of white glazed brick with black mortar and a hand made golden oak mantle. That was another item that she really loved. The next step was the plastering. Oh, how that fascinated me, I could go watch , but I had to stay out of the way. The plaster man's name was Buddy Honeycutt, and if there was anyone that I ever admired more than my brother Bernie, it was Buddy. He was like an artist with plaster and a trowel. He had someone to mix for him, but he did the work. The kitchen, hall and bath were smooth and the living room and bedrooms had a swirl finish, which looked perfect. Then the oak floors were laid, trim put on and doors hung.
(later when the retirement home was built, many of these same techniques and features were again used. If it ain't broke, don't fix it...!)
The kitchen cabinets were put in and mom wanted them painted white and a deep double hole sink. All these wonderful cabinets, a broom closet and gun closet for dad. Mom loved the kitchen. The upstairs had two bedrooms, two closets, a walk-in closet and dormer storage. Bernie turned one attic area into a play area for me, and my treasure chest toy box had a home of its own. This was a great space for me...…..a 5 1/2 year old. Bernie had the north bedroom. He was going to be a senior in high school that year and I was to start first grade. The front (south) bedroom was to become a sewing for mom and later a nice desk was added for me. Bernie finished out the closets. Later I really appreciated those closets!!!
During the summer our wonderful brick house was being built, "my little hands" experienced blisters and callouses for the first time, at the young age of 5. I learned to GET UP - have breakfast, plan your day, and whatever you do, do it with all of your might. Don't start a dozen things and finish none. Do a job. Clean up the area. Take a little rest. Start again. You don't have to work fast, but steady. I remember Dad and Bernie filling the dirt in around the house, tamping it in. It seemed like a long time. Then the front door steps were framed and poured and sidewalks built. 60 years later those same steps were in place. The top of the cellar was framed in and a special cement was poured on it to make our back porch. It was really smoothed out nice and slick. OK, I have to admit the temptation was too great and even after being warned , I HAD to walk on it. I realized I was making foot imprints, however, I just walked a little faster and then practically RAN into the new kitchen. By then, Mom was raising "holy hell" and Daddy came to my rescue by getting in the house through the front door. The cement man, who was working on the sidewalks had to refloat the porch. Of course, I got a "whippin " . Man, I REMEMBER that! A peach tree switch. It sure burned my legs. Afterwards I heard Mom and Dad say they wished they had left at least a couple of footprints. But, no one said they wished that I had no gotten that whipping!
I've heard my brothers say that our Mom whipped me daily to "keep her arm in shape". It seemed like I got a wipping nearly every day. Now I could not have been THAT bad! My Dad would often say "Oh, I believe you ought not have done that", and Mom would get a peach switch, yard stick or a wire fly swatter. . . . .and, I'd get my daily switching! No, I wasn't really mean or bad. I'd say I was very curious, and during the course of the action of trying to find out HOW things worked, I'd break things, etc.
We had a pair of perfectly shaped flint stones about 6x3x4 inches. I'd seen my brothers "strike" them together and set a fire. Of course, I wanted to do that too, with my own little hands. So I "sneaked: the flints out of the smoke house, got me a handful of straw used for chicken nesting and went behind the big chicken house. After a few minutes of "striking", I made sparks, and blowing on the sparks very gently, I created FIRE! Somehow, Mom caught me. Yep, pulled herself a nice peach switch. And, hence , my whipping for Thursday. Well, I guess I deserved that one.....!