Times have changed, my friend. Some things have changed for the better. Some things would have been better had they stayed the same. The point is we can’t go back in time, but we can remember what was and that gives us pleasure, peace and contentment. Also sometimes the stories about the past can teach us how to live our lives correctly in the present.
Gramma Frieda, my mother, me and Gramma's father, William
My Grandmother Frieda was quite a storyteller. I remember sitting in her kitchen in Watseka, Illinois, and she would tell me stories about “the olden days.” Through her stories, those days would come alive for me, and I could see them in my mind’s eye. I knew that Gramma was a girl with a lot of life in her. Maybe she got it from her father whose nickname was “Wild Bill.” Her mother was just the opposite. Isn’t that the way it goes sometimes? Marriage partners who offset and complement each other’s personalities. Mother Tina was the firm disciplinarian. Father William was playful. His photo doesn't show it but trust me, he was.
One story Gramma told me was of an escapade that cost her dearly. She never forgot it, and one day she told me what happened. It was haying time on the farm. Everyone had an important job to do because the hay had to be put up swiftly and correctly. The winter feed was dependent on it. If it wasn’t done right, the hay would spoil and then not be good. The women working in the kitchen – cooking all day preparing a big breakfast and dinner – was integral to the men working in the fields. It was a team effort and everyone worked hard. Lunch was called dinner then, and it was the biggest meal of the day. Supper was light. Everyone was tired at the end of the day. The day might last well into the evening. If the hay was ready to be mowed and shocked the men were at it from sun up to sundown.
Courtesy of Old St. Andrew's
Here’s what Gramma told me:
“I was born in 1896 so the year was 1912. I was 16 at the time and not fond of helping my mother in the kitchen. If I had any choice in the matter I’d rather be out helping the men in the fields. I didn’t like being cooped up in the house. I thought men's work was more fun.
"But this was not what my mother wanted me to do and besides she needed the help so I had to obey her. There was a big dance coming up at the Grange in Onarga. I had been looking forward to it for weeks. I planned what to wear and I talked about it with my sisters Esther and Martha. My special 'beau' Bernhard was going to be there. You know we eventually married. He was the son of the local Lutheran minister and shy. (Here she giggles.) I was more than enough outgoing for the both of us! He won my heart with his good looks and calm, confident manner.
"On the day of dance, my mother Trientje but who was called 'Tina,' instructed me, 'No lollygagging' and 'to be home by 10 p.m. There is a lot of work to do tomorrow!' My father William took us girls in the buggy and dropped us off at the door. Then he hitched the horse to the hitching rail and went inside to have a bit of fun with his friends before going home. We girls were again instructed as to the curfew and then Father William went home confident we would obey.
"The 10 p.m. curfew came and went and only my sisters obeyed. I was just too sassy. I was the oldest and it made me mad that I had to be home at a time I thought was too early. I was old enough to be married so why couldn’t I stay up and dance? I loved to dance! So the curfew came and went and I just ignored it.
"Pretty soon I realized that it was starting to get light. Everyone else was going home so I just hiked up my skirts and made my way through the fields back home. When I got to the house I hoped everyone was still sound asleep so I could sneak in, get in bed and hide the fact that I had come home at such an hour. Just as I opened the door to the kitchen I heard my mother call 'Frieda, is that you?' There she was at the sink washing something. She never said a word further about my disobedience. She just told me to start my chores. 'No sleeping for you, young lady!'
"So I had to work all day just as though I’d had a full night’s sleep. Mother never said anything more about my disobedience. Having to work all day with no sleep was enough. Mother didn’t get angry. She simply meted out the consequences of my thoughtlessness. Always after that I would think before I did something. She taught me a valuable lesson in thinking ahead about what might happen if I didn’t do the right thing."