Oral History of Helen Bostelman
Interviewed by Charlotte Wangrin (CW), January 20, 2010, Alpine Village,
CW: Could you tell us anything about the Prohibition era? We just don’t have much information on that and it is important that we get it.
CW: Oh did you! We don’t have much on Girty’s island either.
HB: I don’t have a lot but I was there a couple of times.
CW: Tell me what was it like?
HB: First of all there was a light sandy beach like they have at the lakes now. The people from all around there would come out and even the people from Napoleon would come out and go swimming there. Of course there was a wire there so you could cross on the ferry. They didn’t run the ferry while we were there.
CW: Why did they have a wire across?
HB: Because they had a ferry to bring their machinery and horses over there. In the summertime the people that lived there at the time by the name of Kerns. In the summer they lived there and farmed, and then when fall came they went back to Holgate and lived there.
CW: Oh really!
HB: That was interesting. They raised crops and harvested them over there on Girty’s Island. Then there for a while they would have dances there on a Sunday night until the beginning of the fair. Of course, I was young, I think I was 14 and I think I got to go once. I think my dad took me. One thing that was nice was my friends and I why we walked wherever we went you know. We walked there from home.
CW: Of course people didn't have any cars at that time.
HB: Of course our fathers sat on the bank and wouldn’t let us girls go by ourselves when we went swimming. There was a cemetery there.
CW: Was that Florida’s cemetery?
HB: No it was Cole’s Cemetery, by Cole’s Creek.
CW: Oh, so Girty’s Island had a cemetery. Was it on the island?
CW: On the bank? On the south bank?
HB: There would have been a couple of graves there.
CW: Would it have been on the south bank of the river?
HB: Yes, wherever the ferry was it was only two miles from where I lived. One tragedy we saw was some people had a boy staying with them for the summer. I forget what you call it when you take a child in just for the summer months. He was there visiting and he drowned in the river while we were there.
CW: Oh dear!
HB: They got him up out of the river and laid him down and he was dead. He had had strawberry shortcake for supper, and they used to tell you not to go swimming on a full stomach and that is what he did.
CW: Back in those days there wasn’t a funeral parlor, was there? Didn’t they have to be taken care of in there home?
HB: Yes they did. They kept the body in their own home. My mother-in-law passed away seven months after we were married. We lived out in the country. It was very cold and stormy. She died on the twenty-first day of January and the roads were bad, but the undertaker did get there that same night and took care of him. They would keep the bodies in their parlor you know. Farm homes all had parlors years ago.
CW: My Grandmother had a parlor too.
HB: I still live in the same house.
CW: Oh do you really!
HB: For 75 years in May I have.
CW: Back in those days then, the undertaker must have come to the home to take care of the body. The body would never have went to a funeral home to be prepared.
HB: He would have a short service at the house usually and then at the church.
CW: My brother died when he was a year old and we were not allowed to go in that room and I wanted to go in so bad to see him to say goodbye or something. Children couldn’t go in there. I don’t know why. He didn’t die of anything we could catch.
HB: My husband’s sister, he was so much younger than his sisters and brothers, and one of his sisters got diphtheria and two of her children died within a couple of days. Another one had it but she survived. She lived to old age then. The family all had to stay on one side and they had a funeral then. We have a picture of the boy in his casket. Why they took a picture of the boy and not of his sister I don’t know.
CW: In those days you had to bury them quickly and you had to have a sign on the door stating “quarantine” so nobody would come in. That was probably a good idea.
HB: Going back to Girty’s Island, their name was Currian’s, this boy, I don’t know if he is still living, he would have been older than I was, he would come to school. We lived right across the road from Farison School. He walked from Girty’s Island to our school until he got older. Then he went to Holgate School. His name was Dallas.
CW: That was the name of my brother. What did you wear when you went swimming?
HB: We had a swimming suit.
CW: What did they look like?
HB: They were very simple. I can’t just remember. They were probably as cheap as we could buy. There were seven in our family.
CW: If they were sisters they would have to share. Did you know when Prohibition was, when did that come in. Was it after the Depression?
HB: That was before. It was before my time really. The first that I remember that was at a belling and they had a keg of beer. That was what my dad referred to as similar as a reunion is now.
CW: That was the first time they were allowed to have something like that.
HB: We didn’t know any different. Our family didn’t drink, but we made wine and we maybe had cider. We didn’t really drink. So I don’t know what year that was.
CW: Some people in the area and some of the farmers made their own whiskey.
HB: I don’t know much about that. That was before my time.
CW: How old were you when you moved there?
HB: Well I was nineteen years old when I got married. That’s when I moved and went to Holgate. That will be 75 years now.
CW: Yes, that is a long time.
HB: We had the Depression.
CW: What do you remember about the Depression?
HB: I remember we were poor.
CW: Everybody was poor.
HB: We lived on the farm and we had plenty to eat. We didn’t have any electric. Most people didn’t in those days.
CW: That is right.
HB: My parents lived there too and we had to do with what we had. It was pretty rough sometimes. One outstanding thing that I can remember was that on a Friday night Mom and I would sit down at the table and decide how many eggs we needed and how many eggs we would need to sell. You see we would take a bunch of eggs to sell and buy groceries.
CW: My grandmother did that too.
HB: We would write down with a pencil how much money we had to spend. We would have to save back a nickel for Sunday School. We each would get a nickel for each one of us for Sunday School. I remember that.
CW: Did she give you a penny to spend in the store?
HB: Sometimes we did get a penny.
CW: Was church different in those days from what it is now?
HB: We always looked forward to going to church. We went to church in Florida at that time it was the Reformed Church. We did go back and forth for Sunday dinners. That was a family thing. We would get invited and maybe next week we would invite somebody else.
CW: Yes that was the custom because they didn’t have any TV or a radio. Did they have telephones?
HB: Not right away. Then everybody started getting them.
CW: Was yours one of those where you had to listen to a certain ring?
HB: Yes, we had one short and two longs.
CW: When you wanted to call somebody else how did you do that?
HB: We would call Central. The rings didn’t go any higher than three rings. We had a lot of people on one line. When you wanted to call anybody you would have to pick up your receiver and listen to see if anybody else was talking on your line before you could use it.
CW: That was kind of a custom doing that.
HB: Yes it was.
CW: How would you do it if somebody’s number was two rings?
HB: You would ring one and then a half of one. You kind of learned that, and then you would ring one more.
CW: And then to ring, you didn’t push a button.
HB: No, I have my telephone upstairs yet.
CW: Is that right! Yes and those phones were on the wall, weren’t they. Could you hear pretty well on them when you were talking on them?
HB: Oh yes. We were on the New Bavaria line first. Then we got on the Holgate line, it was improved by then. It was nothing then like it is now.
CW: You just push buttons now. How would you know when a call was for you?
HB: It would ring in just like it does now.
CW: When your number was two I suppose you would have to wait till it rang twice I suppose.
HB: Oh yes. Everybody on your line would know if it was for you.
CW: Would they pick it up to listen in?
HB: Oh yes.
CW: That would be pretty interesting.
HB: I am very happy that I have been able to have lived all through these different changes.
CW: Yes you have.
HB: My grandchildren have lived through changes too. When they were younger they wanted to talk about my old days. I have been fortunate that my mind has been very good.
CW: Yes your mind is very good. That is what Connie, my youngest daughter, said. She said my Mother’s mind is very good.
HB: Thank goodness for that.
CW: Do you remember going to any movies as a young girl?
HB: No, I never went to any movies.
CW: During the Depression there wasn’t any money anyway for going to the movies. You probably didn’t buy any clothes. Your mother probably made those.
HB: She made most of them. We wore hand-me-downs.
CW: How about shoes?
HB: When we would outgrow a pair of shoes we passed them on down.
CW: That would have been better than none. I remember this one lady telling about how they had so little money and they were a large family that they could only buy one pair of shoes a year. Sometimes it would have to be every other year. If it wasn’t their turn to get a pair of shoes they would have to make do with the old ones. That would have been hard because kids keep outgrowing their shoes. Do you remember your mother making any pretty dresses for you or anything?
HB: No, nothing special. She still made my dresses when I went to High School. I was the oldest and I didn’t get to go out in the evenings like a lot of them do now.
CW: They were strict with you. Did they let you go out on a date with your boyfriend?
HB: My brother did once in a while. There weren’t many dances around or much recreation. We would go roller skating.
CW: Where did you go when you roller skated?
HB: We would go to Wayne Park.
CW: Really! That would have been right west of Napoleon. That was a roller skating rink.
HB: I never did learn. My husband before we were married went there. He was good. He enjoyed it and wanted me to go along and learn. I would keep falling down. I guess he gave up on me.
CW: Where would you go to dances then?
HB: At first when I was young, we would go to Elery.
CW: Did they have a dance hall there?
HB: Oh yes. It was fun dancing there. They usually had large crowds.
CW: Was it in the same building where they have the restaurant now?
HB: Yes. I don’t imagine the dance hall part is still there. I will have to check on that. It was a family gathering place for the whole neighborhood. They would have regular dances in there then.
CW: Was it for boys and girls?
HB: We went as three boys and four girls. This was during the Depression. My one sister is here. Did you know Evelyn Palmer?
CW: Is she living here.
HB: She is living in Alpine Village. She is 9 years younger than I am. My brother is Don Armbruster.
CW: Is he your brother?
HB: He was my oldest brother. Ken is my youngest brother. He is eighteen years younger than I am. There are just the three of us living. The youngest and the oldest.
CW: Your mother had a long period of having children didn’t she. She probably had a lot of work to do.
HB: Well, we all had to work. We worked hard.
CW: You had to help with the housework probably.
HB: Oh yes.
CW: Did you do your cleaning on Saturdays?
HB: Friday or Saturday was cleaning day. Monday was wash day and Saturday was baking day. Tuesday was Ironing day. I think all the older people all did their baking on Saturdays.
CW: That way they had something for Sunday dinner.
HB: I remember the coffee cakes and the cinnamon rolls. she would make coffee cakes always on Saturdays. We would have that for our Saturday night meal and our Sunday breakfasts. We made quite a few. Yes she did.
CW: Did she make bread for your family to take to school?
HB: Oh yes. She baked good bread. You ate what you had.
CW: That would have made it simpler for the parents anyway.
HB: We would take it to school in our lunch bucket.
CW: I bet all the kids brought their own lunch.
HB: Oh yes.
CW: Did they have a cafeteria in your school?
HB: I don’t think they even had one started when I went to school. I graduated in 1934. They did later I know.
CW: They didn’t have anything cooked at your school either probably. They wouldn’t have had a hot lunch. Everybody brought their own lunch.
HB: We didn’t have a hot lunch.
CW: Did you walk to school?
HB: In grade school I did. We lived right across the road from the school.
CW: You did!
HB: So when we attended the country school we went home for our lunch. That took a little fun out of our days. We had to go home for lunch. We had one teacher that told us to bring some food and she would make some soup for our lunch. She was going to cook bean soup. One person had to bring an apple and another person brought some beans and so forth and we got to stay at school that day for lunch. That was fun to eat that cup of soup. We all had tin cups at that time.
CW: Did you use the same cup for the soup that you usually used to drink water with? Or was that a different one at the pump.
HB: They didn’t think about sanitation.
CW: They didn’t worry about sanitation in those days.
HB: Of course they consolidated the summer I was headed to high school. I was four miles from high school and they told me I would have to find my own way there if I wanted to go to high school. Of course after consolidation started they began using school busses.
CW: If you had four miles to walk that would be pretty far. Especially when it got cold in the winter time you would have gotten cold.
HB: I don’t know of too many people that went to high school especially if they had no way of going. It just happened when it was my time to go to high school they consolidated. Of course consolidation happened the year when I started to high school. I was a Freshman.
CW: I know my cousin lived in the country and when she wanted to go to high school she had to take a job as a maid in town somewhere so she could go to school during the week.
HB: I can understand that. We went to The Forida school.
CW: How far away was that.
HB: About 4 miles. It would have been more than that.
CW: Do you know why they called Florida - Snaketown?
HB: I never heard it called that.
CW: Oh didn’t you! I have often wondered. I guess maybe because it was by the river.
HB: I never heard it called that.
CW: We need all this information you are telling me. We need it for future generations as they grow up so they are able to understand how it was in the early days.
HB: My mother couldn’t believe that I all my married life, it wasn’t just my people or his people, but we could just get up and go whenever we wanted to.
CW: Do you mean dropping in on friends and relatives?
HB: Yes. When you wanted to go visit people you just went. When people would come over you learned to mix things up in a hurry. We always had meat, canned meat and you know that helped. We could always fix a meal in a hurry. The town people enjoyed that.
CW: It was fun for the kids and also fun for the parents and grandparents to be able to visit with each other. During the week you didn’t get to do that. You couldn’t just call somebody up and go visit for a while because there weren’t many phones around.
HB: I can remember a few times when somebody came to the door with a suitcase and I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t know who they were. They might have been a relative. They would just come to stay a week.
CW: Oh my a week!
HB: We had a lot of people stay, just because we were the homestead.
CW: How many brothers and sisters did your husband have?
HB: He had three brothers and two sisters. He was a lot younger. He was twenty-five years younger than his oldest brother so they. In fact they were all older except the one bachelor that lived with us. We always had a very good relationship with all my relatives and we had a happy life.
CW: That means a lot.
CW: So then you would have these relatives of your husband’s dropping in and staying too.
HB: It wasn’t my side of the family. They had big families too. Don’t get me wrong, but you would invite them ahead of time. We had one bachelor he came from a great distance and he would stay a week at our house. We would make a bed for him someplace.
CW: Did you have indoor plumbing?
HB: Not until 1942 when we put indoor plumbing in.
CW: Were you kind of skeptical of having that inside your house?
HB: I don’t think so. We were happy.
CW: I know that my mother-in-law said that I’m not having any of that stuff in my house. We are still going out to that backhouse. One day one of the sons who was grown came driving up and he had a bathtub on the back of his pickup truck. She liked that. She was ready for a bathtub in the house.
HB: There have been lots and lots of changes in my lifetime.
CW: Do you remember the first radio you got?
HB: Yes, my husband got that hooked up in our house. He did a lot of benefits for people who had radios. We had to have a battery in the house. It was a big battery. We had one at our house too. We got it in 1937. That is the year electricity was started. That was a happy day when we could just turn on the lights.
CW: Oh yes. What did you have before that?
HB: At home we just had kerosene lamps. We had one big one called Ray-O-Lite. That was a real big one. Now my husband they had gas lights that hung from the ceiling.
CW: Oh. So now his parents had that?
HB: Yes his parents had that. We had that too. A lot of his family would get together and the men would play cards.
CW: Oh yes.
HB: That is why they had the gas lights. Everybody could see better with the gas lights.
CW: Did you butcher at your house?
HB: Yes we did. The farmers did during the Depression. We had our chickens and eggs. We had our vegetable garden too.
CW: They didn’t have a big variety of vegetables at that time did they.
HB: We had broccoli and we had cauliflower. I remember we had Chinese cabbage when I was a kid. That was new and that was good.
CW: They usually grew cabbage, carrots, and potatoes.
HB: Mom raised fresh celery too.
CW: Oh, she was able to raise celery!
HB: That made the best potato salad. It had a better flavor than what you can buy now. We had green peppers too. That is what we would take for our lunch then. We had green peppers, red peppers, and green onions too. I don’t know just what all we had. It was all good.
CW: It would have been good for you. So when you went to Sunday School did you have recitations in Sunday School? Do you remember standing up to recite?
HB: No, we had Bible Study. We would listen to Bible stories. Those are the ones you never forget.
CW: Would your teacher tell the Bible story or did he just read it?
HB: We had Sunday School cards that had the whole Bible story on it. Then we would read a little. Now we have Bible classes. At that time we called it Sunday School.
CW: Did they give you a card to take home then?
CW: Now in the country where I grew up every year at the end of the school year they had a recitation time in our church. Kids had to remember a certain verse and have to recite it. Did they do that in your church?
HB: I can’t remember very well. We did I remember have something like a Children’s Day. I think we did have recitations on that day. That would have been in June. I am glad you brought that up because it brings back a lot of memories. We did have a program in our church at that time. Everybody would get to recite at that time. Our Pastor would usually have some of us speak.
CW: My mother used to tell about my sister who was two years older than I was and she was very bright. She had this big long thing she was supposed to recite. She went up and got to the middle of it and then she forgot. All of a sudden I got up and recited it for her. I knew the verse as well as she did. She had forgotten the rest of the verse.
HB: I remember at the Christmas program we used to get up there to say that speech.
CW: It was really important at that time.
HB: It was a big day in our life wasn’t it. We had more family life in our days. Of course we didn’t have sports like they have now.
CW: The families spent more time together at home.. More than they do now. Don’t you think?
HB: Oh yes. TV has changed that. We can stay home now and see a program.
CW: They don’t visit like they do now. Well it stands to reason if you don’t have TV or a radio you are going to have to talk.
HB: You have that right. Our treat at night was apples. We had two apple trees in our front yard. Mom would sometimes make popcorn balls and sometimes she would just put them in a pan and cut them in squares. A lot of times she would do that.
CW: Did she sometimes just make the plain buttered popcorn?
HB: A lot of times. We didn’t get to eat popcorn every night. She wouldn’t have time for everything.
CW: How did they fix it? Did they have a big pan or something?
HB: She would put it right in the middle of our big table and we would sit around and eat it.
CW: Did you grow your own popcorn?
HB: Yes we did. We raised popcorn. I remember we kept it upstairs. We had kind of a dryer where we put it on. You couldn’t put it in the corncrib because of mice.
CW: Did your mother dry beans or anything?
HB: She dried corn. Oh I loved that dried corn. I haven’t had that for years and years.
CW: I bet.
HB: We poached it in the oven.
CW: My mother-in-law used to dry it on the roof of the porch. She had a sort of a metal roof. It reflected the heat real well. She would put green beans out there and corn. The girls in the family were supposed to get up there and stir it every once in a while.
HB: A lot of people would make dried apples. Mom didn’t. They would call them schnitz or something like that.
CW: I bet they would have to slice them first.
HB: Oh yes they would slice them first. I know other people did dry apples, but my mother didn’t care for them. She never made any. She used them a lot of ways, but never dried any. We used what we called a schnitz brot, which was like a Christmas bread.
CW: What was that?
HB: Well it was just regular bread dough and you would put in some raisins and some people put in dates. You would use broth instead of milk to make your dough. Oh it was very good. You would put frosting over the top like they do with raisin bread.
CW: That sounds real good. Did your mother like to bake?
HB: I think so. In the later years she did all the pie baking. I never baked a pie before I got married, so that was a new experience.
CW: I bet.
HB: My mother-in-law would bake a pie on occasion. My other sister who was four years younger would make a lot of cakes. You made them from scratch in those days.
CW: It took more ingenuity to make cakes from scratch. Now about those pies, how did you manage that? My daughter-in-law said she needed a pie and I didn’t know how.
HB: They would use lard of course and plenty of flour. My parents had a cellar and of course that was soft water. I never baked bread. He told me I should bake some bread. I had never done that. My Mom showed me how to bake bread.
CW: Did you make apple butter?
HB: Not in the big kettles. I never did that. Mom always made her apple butter in her oven or else on top of the cook stove. Now when I make it I don’t so much use the oven, but I put it in my crock pot. The kids never had time to help make it. I have a granddaughter who is a physical therapist. She is 29 and she cooks a lot. She wanted to make apple butter. She called me over the telephone. She came with some applesauce and some apple butter.
CW: What kind of spices did you use for this?
HB: I put in a lot of cinnamon
END OF SIDE 1
HB: We were talking about school days earlier. I have a sister who is nine years younger.
CW: Did she go to a one room school?
HB: No she didn’t quite make it. She started in the first grade.
CW: Did she go into the Holgate system?
HB: No she went to Florida.
CW: Oh that would be right.
HB: I would imagine you lived the same life that we did, except I came from a big family. People always told about somebody living up on Girtys Island. They said he never lived there, but his brother did.
CW: Did you ever hear anything about Simon Girty?
HB: He or his brother were supposed to have lived there. They said Simon never lived there but his brother James did. I studied up on that too and read about him. I used to read a lot.
CW: Do you remember reading anything about Simon Girty or the Indians.
HB: No I never studied it, but just read about him. I read too about the Indians and Simon Girty, they robbed or did stuff. That’s why they were over here on the island to hide their stuff. They had a hide-out there too.
CW: I think they did.
HB: They were there first I think. I really don’t know the story. We lived on a farm and didn’t know all these things.
CW: I lived in a city. It was very different.
HB: Do you remember the Depression.
CW: I remember my father had a butcher shop and he was in partnership with his brother-in-law. His brother-in-law said I can’t make a living here so I am leaving. Then my father found out that my brother-in-law had left a lot of big debts. My father had to pay them. Then he had to close the butcher shop and we moved to Erie where he got a job there as a meat jobber. Well wouldn’t you know on his first couple days on the job, he somehow lost his wallet with $87.00 in it. That was big money in those days. This was in addition to all the debts from the shop he had to pay it all back. Later on they bought a house that was brand new with three big bedrooms, a tiled bathroom and all for $5,000.00. He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to make the payments on it. $5,000.00 for a brand new home.
HB: My husband too got that Rural Electrification out. My husband got into that and made extra money you know. He farmed his 40 acres that he got from home. He wrote out a check for $3,000.00 for the farm of 40 acres and he bought it. He was so proud of that, so he put it in a frame. He had paid cash for it.
CW: Cash! Isn’t that something!
HB: That was something. Like you say how some people got. His brother got the same thing. It was a real estate thing. He wanted to see an estate. That was his in-laws. So he heard there was a house, barn, and machinery and 20 acres of land on the rest of it. His brother got it for $2,000.00. It was 20 acres, a house and a barn. They remodeled and have a very nice home yet.
CW: Did they buy more land?
HB: They owned 40 acres, the other brother. He paid more than that. I don’t suppose that family with the real estate knew. This was before 1943. And then we had the war. Then it was how we had to live during the war. We were fortunate we didn’t have to be there. What our boys did for us.
CW: Your boys didn’t get into the War. They were probably too young at the time.
HB: My oldest brother belonged to the National Guard in Napoleon for years. See they had been gone for quite a while. Then his time was up and he had been gone for quite a while. He then enlisted in the Air Force. He didn’t pass. There was something wrong with his lungs. He had pneumonia at one time. Whether it was scar tissue or something. He didn’t get in. The other two brothers got in. They were never right out in front for a battle. They missed that.
CW: That was a terrible war, World War II. It was awful.
HB: People are still fighting and that earthquake over in Haiti was something else.
CW: Oh my yes
END OF TAPE!
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