MY STORY: THE AUGUST & DONALD
BY DONALD FISCHER
My life, my story must begin with a final adieu to my grandparents. The several events following may help to think of us as very ordinary people with out-of-the ordinary experiences.
Grandpa Wilhelm Fischer was a farmer through and through. That is all he had ever known. I had never known him on the farm. But on occasion, I would hear a story. I remember him telling of one of his neighbors having the habit of consuming too much beer, when in town. But it was no problem, because the neighbor could head his team homeward and then stretch out in the wagon box and sleep. Another incident that comes to my mind is about a barn. He had built a new barn with a hayloft and all pertinent parts. I don’t know how old my Dad was, but he was old enough to try smoking. It was a terrible experience for my grandpa and dad. As you might have guessed, the barn burned down.
During our stay with my grandparents, my dad and I had the same bedroom that he and my Uncle Ed had shared. I mention this because of an incident that occurred one snowy night. The bedroom was on the second floor with a window and screen facing the front. One night my dad jumped through the screen as he took off sleepwalking, clad only in a nightgown. Snow was thick. His path was discernible in the snow. There was no house just north of Grandpa’s house at 604 Country Street. His footprints showed him entering the house on the corner at 610 Country, the August Beyer home (They thought it was their son coming home.) and then going toward Main Street. He saw a light in the Hector home at 706 Main Street and knocked on the door. Amelia recognized him and called out his name, “August.” With that, he awakened. I never forgot that, hoping it was not hereditary, especially when I was in the navy and surrounded by water.
In the loft of his barn was a one-horse, open sleigh. It had been there unused for years. When I was a junior in high school, I think it was 1937, we had a huge snowstorm. The roads were mostly shut. He was kind enough to get the sleigh down from the loft for my use. Mr. Herman Moritz was more than willing to let me use one of his horses. I was really outfitted, because grandpa had a floor-length, fur coat, fur hat and big gauntlet mittens. I remember making a trip with my cousin Wilma Koehrsen out to visit Margaret and Alfred Koll.
During our stay at Grandma Fischer’s house, our days were pretty well structured. The highlight came after supper, when five of us (My Aunt Milda lived at home with her parents.) gathered around the library table for a couple of games of hearts. It was very competitive and fun for me to see the joy it brought to all of us. I believe conservative had an entirely different meaning to that generation. For example, two methods were utilized for keeping score. Within the confines of the library table drawer was a small slate used as a scoring device. The other commonly used method for keeping score was using great numbers of sheets from calendars which were blank on the back side and discarded only when fully utilized.
When visiting relatives in the wintertime, since we had no heaters in cars, we used heavy robes we called horse blankets to keep warm. Upon arrival at a destination, Dad would jump out of the car and drain the water out of the radiator. When ready to leave, water would be heated and placed in the empty radiator reservoir. It was also our custom when returning home on cold, wintry nights to heat bricks and place them on the floor boards. The heated bricks served us well in keeping our feet and legs warm.
My grandparents were very special to me. The memories they left warm my heart: like Grandma’s red geraniums in the southern window, like all five of us paring an apple after our traditional game of hearts, and like Grandpa digging in his coin purse for a nickel when I would bring him bread crumbs for his chickens. And so ends the story of my grandparents’ lives and the rich heritage that I inherited.
Life began for me in February of 1921. I want to tell you something about the family into which I was born.
My mother’s name was Ella Marie Krohn. She was reared on farms around Avoca. She was all for which a boy could ever hope. Her demeanor was sweet and kind. She was an All-American girl of that time. She was my pillar of strength when I needed encouragement. The big leather chair in our living room was the place of solace on such occasions, with me in her lap. She and my dad, August Fischer, were married on January 27, 1920. My dad was 22 and my mother was 19.
The house in which I was born still stands today at 402 Country Street. It was a small house of about 900 square feet. There were no improvements, no built-in cupboards, and no closets. The electrical wiring was crude; our water came via a cistern and a well. Today, two very large trees stand on the parkway. I remember so well my dad and I visiting a plant nursery, I believe near Griswold, where those two trees were purchased as saplings. The only other tree nearby was on our neighbor’s lot. It was a tall cottonwood in which hung my swing. Not much of a house or accommodations in those days, but it held lots of love.
We three were a typical family. My dad was a merchant; my mother was a cook, a domestic servant, washerwoman, Sunday School teacher and peacekeeper. Our days were governed by the town whistle, which began the day, announced lunchtime and pronounced the end of the work day. All of which were recognized by one blast. Several blasts implied an emergency of some sort. All the residential streets were unpaved; as a result, much mud was deposited on the main street after a rain. The business area of downtown required hosing down by the volunteer firemen.
The grocery store was our source of income. Actually, it was more like a general store in the beginning, with dry goods, patterns, women and men’s hosiery, overalls, work gloves, tobacco, kerosene and a full line of staple grocery items. On busy Saturday nights, my mother helped in the store. Such days did not end until midnight or later. There was a routine that was followed. The farmers would begin arriving about 7 in the evening. They would arrive with their grocery list in hand and eggs in various sized crates. Eggs, homemade butter and chickens were taken as partial payment for supplies purchased. It was a barter system, paying the balance with cash; although, the store did a large amount of business by extending credit.
Saturday night was a recreational period for most of the farmers. After leaving the grocery list to be filled, the men would head for the tavern, barber shop or card room. The women often got together in cars parked on Main Street and visited. The late closing time was because of the men who frequented the taverns. The store would have to remain open, waiting for them to pick up their egg crates, now filled with groceries. I, being young, would crawl into an empty shelf under the counter and sleep.
In those days bananas came in the original stock; they were transported in basket-like containers made of a light wood, like balsam. The baskets were about 5′ tall with a diameter of about 15’ to 18′. Vernon Paasch was always at a loss as to how we got the stocks out of the basket. Well, the answer was that we had a pulley in the ceiling, a hook to attach to the bulky part of the stock and magic.
In the middle thirties refrigeration was not available in the sense it is used today in keeping perishable items fresh. It was a constant battle for the grocer. My dad took a couple of steps toward resolution of the problem. Certain fruits and vegetables were a cause for monetary loss as evidence by the burn pile behind the store building. In an attempt to cut the losses a section of the display area was fitted with a mist system. Throughout the day a fine mist would be released over the produce for the purpose of cooling and maintaining freshness. This system did wonders, but more was required. Twice each week my dad would drive the 1/2-ton pickup into Omaha to buy fresh stocks of the perishable items. A section in Omaha just a few blocks south of Dodge on 16th St. was all devoted to wholesale fresh-foods markets. It was almost entirely dominated by Italian families. Since I often rode along in the summer time, many of the facilities became familiar to me. The most interesting to me was the storage of bananas. A large darkened, basement room with high humidity was the place of storage, where hundreds of banana stocks were hanging. It was an interesting experience for a boy to enter a world where almost all were Italian and so friendly and enthusiastic. I was the victim of much kidding.
I enjoyed being around the store. There was a time when I assembled 30-dozen egg crates to accommodate the eggs received and shipped on to distributors. I enjoyed that as a source of income. For each crate fitted together for service, I received 2 cents. I had other chores. The several large windows to the front required regular attention. On the outside I could use water and a squeegee; the interior required the use of Bon Ami. By spreading an oily sawdust material on the wooden floor, a daily sweeping kept the floor free of dust and debris.
I enjoyed my youth in Walnut. I had lots of friends. We played baseball, went swimming in the various creeks, had rubber-gun wars and every imaginable thing boys do. At one time I spent most of my time with the three Caddock boys. An unoccupied building that had been a laundry room stood on the alley behind their house. We moved in, established our presence by setting up beds and a wood-burning stove. This is where we spent considerable time on weekends, planning our next step in fulfilling the name of our club. We had posted a sign above the door, which had a secret meaning: The TGCR Club. Today it is safe to divulge the secret: The Trapping, Gun, Camera and Rod Club. We were well organized and followed all those pursuits. The wood-burning stove served us well, upon which we made traditional popcorn or called upon our storage of field corn in the attic to make parched corn. The animals we trapped were skinned, placed on shingles to dry and when ready, shipped to Chicago.
[To Be Continued.]