Out of the Past:
Mrs. Hauner and her girls went into action like a well-trained team. Potatoes and vegetables had been peeled and washed before the family left for church. The beef had been roasted and left in the oven. They set the huge bowls of mashed potatoes on the table, mashed rutabagas, green peas topped with home-made butter, freshly baked bread, home churned butter, pickles, carrots, cabbage salad, brown gravy, roast beef, blueberries and pumpkin pie.
The men came in from the barn, the dog at their heels. Â“Ve eat, now, voman,Â” Fritz said. They washed at the big crockery washbowl. The children pulled the log chairs from under the table, and we all sat down to eat.
We sat for one second in silent prayer, then Fritz said amen.
Vee handed an ironstone plate to her husband, who piled on slices of beef and spoons of gravy. Vee heaped on the potatoes and other food and handed the first plate to me. They served the children, the eldest first, and themselves.
Â“Eat. Ve got plenty,Â” said Fritz, and we ate possibly the best meal I had ever eaten in my life.
Â“Mien Frau, she ist vun dam' fine cook,Â” said Fritz. His frau flushed and smiled. She said nothing. No one said anything during the dinner except Mr. Hauner, with occasional responses from Vel.
Â“Ve milk t'irty cows, now. I got plenty hay, plenty oats. In the summer ve got plenty pasture. Ve sell cream butter. Ve got chickens and ducks. Der ducks, dey like play in der river.Â”
A creek flowed across the back of the farm, supplying water for the stock.
Â“Seems like you've got a lot of work here,Â” Vel observed.
Â“Jah, ve work hardt. Ve eat plenty. Engelbert, he ist dam' fine boy. He vill be a big help ven he get a leedle bigger.Â”
Engelbert, the eldest of the four children, was seven years old.
Â“Ve make hay, ve thresh da oats. Ve feed da cows. Ve milk. Everybody vork. Still, always, dere is more vork to do.Â”
Fritz paused, a forkful of roast beef halfway to his mouth, and said innocently, as though a thought had just come to him, Â“ve could use anoder man sometimes. Maybe you like to vork fur us some days. Ve gif you beef, pork, chicken, cabbage.Â” Vel winced a little when he said Â“cabbage.Â”
Â“Und milk. Maybe you could use a leedle milk for der baby?Â”
Vel hesitated only a moment. He had plenty of work - in the storage shed, hauling for various people. Whoever said there was no work during the Depression was inaccurate. There was plenty of work; there just wasn't any money to pay for it.
Â“That sounds good to me,Â” Vel said. Â“Glad to help you out. You're right. Ve, we, do need milk for the baby.Â”
And a lot of other things, I thought. That dinner I had just finished surely beat cabbage and beans.
Vel helped Fritz with the evening chores, while Vee and I visited. I offered to help with the dishes, but Vee declined. She put the empty plates on the floor, where the cat and dog licked them clean. The girls went into action again, one standing on a block of wood to wash the dishes, another clambering on a box to stack them on the shelves.
The chores finished, Fritz and Vel harnessed the horses and hitched them to the shed. We all rode back to town for the evening services at church. The Haurners were to become lifelong friends.
We ate well that winter. And, our house was fairly warm, once Vel had banked it with snow and nailed cloth strips around the door and windows. Our problem was clothes. We hadn't bought anything new for three years. I bought a few yards of muslin and made clothes for the baby and for myself, stitching them on the old Singer we brought from St. Paul. The winter passed.
Unless one has lived in Minnesota for a time there is not too much to endear it. The winters are very cold to be sure. Fires were kept going all winter long in both heater and kitchen stoves. Luckly there was an abundance of wood for the taking. The best wood for heating is tamarack. It is long lasting, and burns hot with little ash. Two sticks of tamarack wood would keep a fire burning all night long and start up with the opening of the draft. Four cords of wood kept fires all winter long in our small house. A cord of wood was $3.
Snow shoveling was the biggest problem. If one had a door that opened out and most storm doors did, then one was faced with the problem of shoveling from the inside first, after a heavy snowfall.
Vel was not idle. The house was clean and warm, and to me it felt like a castle.
Four rooms! A big kitchen, two bedrooms and a large living room. The best thing about it was the tall ceiling. I had been used to bending over to avoid bumping my head, and now, here, I could walk tall again. It was like heaven to me. In this house I lived and lived and lived. We were not used to much, and every small thing we accumulated, to make the home more serviceable and attractive, we celebrated. We would splurge ... two large meat balls for dinners or some kind of special food, we might have a liking for, or we might dress up and walk around the town and bow to imaginary people, Â“ah good evening Mr. and Mrs. Browden,Â” (or some other important name). Â“We have a new cream pitcher. You must come over and see the lovely scene painted on it. Imported, you know, from Japan. Do come.Â”
Â‘Homer and Me' can be purchased online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Authorhouse