Catherine Johnson Oral History
INTERVIEW BY CHARLOTTE WANGRIN, MAY 14, 2007
CJ My name is Catherine Shaffer Johnson. I live on County Rd. N.
CW In Henry County? And you have lived here many years I believe.
CJ Yes I have, in this house since 1943.
CW Is that right!
CJ We came back from Detroit. My husband Ivan & I were in Detroit about 5 years and came back then to the farm.
CW Is this the farm you grew up on or was that another one?
CJ I was raised on a farm on Rd. P ( N of McClure). My husband grew up here. When we were married he got a job with General Electric in Detroit after he graduated from high school. We lived in Detroit those years after we were married in Ô37. His father had failing health and asked if we wanted to come back and have my husband farm the farm, and so we decided we would because it was better to raise the children around here than it would be in the city.
CW That's right. Where in Detroit did you live, probably in the heart of the city, it is such a big place.
CJ No it was more on the south side. Brightmore was the name of the suburb of Detroit, and when I go back there now it has all changed so much. They put a big highway in there now. I don't even recognize the place and hardly the street even where we lived.
CW Oh my! Now how many children did you have?
CW I haven't seen them around here. What are they boys or girls?
CJ I had 4 girls and No. 5 was a boy.
CW Isn't that something. I had 4 boys and 1 girl.
CJ Oh is that right. The youngest one the girl?
CW No the next oldest one.
CJ I see.
CW They're wonderful to have aren't they, but they are a lot of work.
CJ I would never have it any different. They are all so precious and helpful.
CW Is that how many you had when you came back to McClure?
CJ I had just one when we came back to McClure. The second one was born during the war in 1943, and my husband was drafted, had his physical and ready to go into the service when the war ended. He didn't have to go.
CW They didn't like to draft farmers anyway I believe because we needed the food.
CJ But it was getting to the place where they needed men, and I know he had his examination, but like I said the war closed then.
CW Isn't that a scary feeling though.
CJ It is - it is.
CW Your life is not your own. You can't control your own life.
CJ I had two brothers that were in the service. I had a brother in law that was injured - schrapnel hit him in the head. He was taken out for a few months and then put back in again. One of my brothers was in the Navy and the other one was in the Army.
CW Were they a little too young do you think?
CJ No I think my older brother was a farmer with a family, and he wasn't called right away and the other one was a teacher and didn't get called until near the end of the war. One got to Japan and the other one was in the Navy.
CW Did you grow up here or in the Detroit region?
CJ My husband and I went to McClure to school. I lived north of McClure and he lived here. I a m now at the place we were married. We were school days sweethearts from the 8th grade on up.
CW Is that right. It's kind of unusual to stick together that long.
CJ Well we were married two years after getting through high school, but neither one of us got to college. His uncle helped him get a job in Detroit..
CW Well you don't need to go to college I guess to go into farming.
CJ He wanted to be an electrical engineer, but his father needed him back here. Then he gave that up and didn't go on to college and he came back and helped here on the farm. He did a lot of electrical work. He worked here at Weasel's too besides farming. (Tem Cole)
CW Did he do electrical work there at Weasel's radish factory?
CJ He was maintenance man there. He was working part time nights and was called out so much that he couldn't take all the hours plus the farming. He quit here and went to work at Campbells third shift. It was more regular and he knew his hours at Tem Cole he was just called at any hour of the evening.
CW Did he do electrical work for Campbells?
CJ He was a maintenance man there on the lines. And he worked up to Class 1. He started in at Class 3, then on up to Class 1. He had a good job there.
CW Your great grandfather?
CJ Yes, Levi Shaffer cleared eighty acres north of McClure and from that lumber built the house that I was raised in, farthest back in the lane. He raised a family of eight. My grandfather was one of them - Samuel Shaffer. Then when he got married he built a second house in the same lane. He lived in the one closer to the road. My father sold that house and it was moved to McClure and it is still being used.
CW Yes and it was a pretty sturdy house. Was it made from wood from this area?
CJ Yes it was. I was told Levi Shaffer came from Pennsylvania, but I am not too sure. He bought land here, then he cleared the land and built his house, raised his family and my grandfather was one of his children. My grandfather was Sam Shaffer. When my father Guy Shaffer married Lena Schlotz in 1915 they moved into the Levi Shaffer house where I was born (plus my two brothers Robert and James). When Samuel Shaffer passed away, I was living in Detroit. They moved in with my grandmother (first house in lane), sold the Levi Shaffer house, moved it to McClure. The Orville Babcocks remodeled it and Leona is still living in it. When we moved back from Detroit and started farming my father in law had been farming with horses and it wasn't too long until we got a tractor and sold the horses and I remember our first corn picker and it was just a two row and everything is changed from what it used to be.
CW Was it hard to get used to living on the farm after being in Detroit?
CJ I was raised on the farm until I was married. I was out in the field with my grandfather helping with the combining and setting up sheaves of wheat and oats and threshing, butchering and all those things. My grandfather had a shop where he made cider. He had apple trees and cherry trees and also in the spring of the year he had his spraying outfit hooked up to a cart, was pulled by a horse and he went from neighbor to neighbor and sometimes far enough that he never came home at night and stayed overnight until he got his job finished.
CW What did he do?
CJ He sprayed fruit trees.
CW Did it affect his health then with all the spraying?
CJ I don't know. He did get cancer on his face and at that time they were told not to remove it because it would spread and so he went to some faith doctors for a while and it would clear up, break out again, and he did have a large spot on his face when he died. That was not the cause of his death. I don't know if it was due to the spraying or not.
CW What did he die of then?
CJ He had a heart disease too and that is what took him. He also, my father and he worked together and they would take chicken manure, and work with it and put it up, so they didn't have to buy fertilizer. They used that on their fields. Of course he was only farming 80 acres. They used that kind of fertilizer instead of buying because they had the chickens and manure from the cattle and horses.
CW How did you make ends meet when you only had 80 acres?
CJ We couldn't get any more acreage, but I remember helping with all that. They butchered. They made apple butter.
CW That would take a lot of apples. Did you have to cut them?
CJ Yes you did and you had to peel and core them too, and when we were going to make it we would call in the neighbors the night or so before and peel apples, cut them in pieces, and they had the cider mill there, and had the cider ready to put the cider into the apple butter.
CW Now did you cook the apple butter in one of those big iron kettles? And then did you have a wooden stirrer that had a 90¡ angle. Then you stand out here and then you would go straight in front of you and come straight down into the kettle. Would that scrape the bottom of the kettle then?
CJ Well it had a pad on the end of it that made it so it didn't scrape the copper bottom.
CW And it would keep the apples from settling on the bottom.
CJ That's right. My grandfather Sam was very talented. He made a cooler and it had water pumped through the pipes to the many pipes going through this big cooler, on its way out to the watering trough for the animals. And that would be the cooling system. He made this, it was a beautiful piece of wood that he designed.
CW Now what did this refrigerator look like? Was that a big piece of wood too?
CJ It was in a small room and across the end of the little room and the pipes were all in there and the doors were all cut to a beautiful design.
CW Hm. Did he do that too? He was quite accomplished, wasn't he.
CJ He was, very much so.
CW And then your children probably helped with the work on the farm.
CJ Yes, when we got married and moved over here south of McClure, that
is where we raised our children. Our farm equipment was smaller then
too, so the children could manage it and they cultivated corn and beans.
They were four and three and fi
CW Did you have sugar beets?
CJ No we never did. It was just corn, beans, wheat and oats.
CW My husband had said that working in the sugar beets was the hardest work he ever did because he had to bend over all the time. What they did they call it cropping or something, I forget the word.
CJ We did try popcorn. We raised popcorn for several years.
CW You had a lot of help if you had all those children. You had help in canning and stuff didn't you?
CJ We did a lot of canning. The girls mention it now how we would get three bushels of peaches and can them and now I don't even try. But I was glad for freezing too. I saw the beginning of freezing food. At first I wondered about its safety.
CW Oh it is much easier now. Isn't that nice.
CJ Yes it is much easier. I don't know how they ever did that much. Our third daughter had appendicitis and it ruptured. She was taken to the hospital and at that time penicillin just came out and that was what saved her.
CW They must have been pretty healthy.
CJ They were. My first two were born at home, and the next three at Heller Memorial Hospital.
CW A lot of people tell me they were born on the kitchen table.
CJ Is that right. I have heard of them having their tonsils taken our. My husband had his tonsils taken out on the kitchen table by his uncle Dr. Bernard Johnson who practiced in Deshler many years.
CW They used to think it was advisable whether the kid was sick or not. Take those tonsils out then they wouldn't have to worry about it. I guess eventually they found out that the tonsils did do something to contribute to our health.
CJ I often wondered what they were doing. Only two of my children had their tonsils removed and the others were fortunate enough to keep them, but they had a lot of earaches and colds.
CW Were you glad to move back to the McClure area?
CJ Yes, we were given a choice would we like to come back and we did and both of us were born her, raised here, and then we came back and lived here. My husbad had quite a time in his life. He had a heart attack. He had arthritis in his ankles. You don't want to hear all this.
CW Why yes.
CJ He had an ankle operation and it wouldn't heal right. So we went to the Mayo Clinic and finally they amputated his leg and he was on an artificiial leg and he had open heart surgery - but we did spend nine nice winters in Florida and then he went out on a fishing trip with a group and he had had open heart surgery before we went to Florida and about eleven to twelve years after that he went out on a fishing trip that he got sick and they thought maybe it was due to waves. Since it was a group they didn't want to return to the land they were on a trip so he put up with it. When the trip was over they took him into the hospital and he lasted about five days. He passed away then.
CW So he was having a heart attack.
CJ He was having another heart attack. Besides his ankles, his two to three ankle operations, he ended up at the Mayo Clinic. He had heart problems too, so we had a rough time for a while.
CW Yes, how old was he when he died?
CJ He was 73.
CW He had a good number of years together.
CJ Yes we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary plus two years.
CW I see by the paper you must be more than 90 years old.
CJ I was 90 on March 29th, 2007.
CW Well your mind is really good what do they call it - or something.
CJ I don't know about that. I am thankful for being on my feet and in my home.
CW You're doing really well, and you don't even use a cane do you?
CJ No I don't, but I have one of these little walkers to go out to get
the mail. I can't stand any length of time. We used to go on little trips,
day trips and you do quite a lot of walking. I can't stand that any more.
I had to give that up. But I have that little wa
CW I bet you go to the same church-St. Paul's Lutheran,McClure-the Rowlands do, because they mentioned you. That is how I got your name.
CJ Well we go to Sunday school together, the ladies group together, and then we have another social group. Yes, I have known them all my life. I have seen Bob grow up. And I feel at home here. It was nice. I liked it in Detroit for a while. My home was here on the farm.
CW And that's where your heart was too.
CJ That's where my heart was. My grandmother Shaffer liked to piece
quilts. One time when I worked, the only time I worked was at Tem-Cole
and that was after the children were all grown and out of school, well
my daughter was a senior and I g
CW You were talking about quilts.
CJ Well anyway that was when I was in Detroit yet. I took my Grandmother Shaffer back with me for a couple of weeks and I bought the Lone Star quilt pattern and the material and we cut it out and started piecing it and worked with it and she helped me till we got it all pieced and then she passed away. She never saw it finished. So when I retired we put up the quilting frame. My husband always wanted to play the organ so we bought an organ, a Hammond organ and he took lessons. We'd go to Toledo once a week for lessons and this winter that he bought the organ he said we're not going to Florida. I want to play the organ and you can quilt. So we put that quilt in a frame and I quilted that all by myself, but my grandmother never saw it finished.I was kind of proud of having done it all by myself. It now hangs on the wall of my bedroom.
CJ It sure would be. Way back the Kryders, Steve and Pat went to a sale, bought a quilt. There were a lot of names on it. We have tried to find out what organization that was done by and we still haven't found out. They have the names on the quilt. They have asked a lot of different people, but we haven't found out what organization those people belonged to. Now one of the Kryder boys started the Applebutterfest in Grand Rapids.
CW Oh did he.
CJ It might have been Steve, because it was out to his farm and they make apple butter every year. It might have been.
CW There was George and Steve. There were about four or five boys. I can't name them all. I think there were more than five though. Well they raised one that wasn't their son.
CJ That's true. There were quite a few. Katy always comes over and talks to me when she comes back. She's in college, now she is in Chicago.
CW Now whose daughter is she?
CJ That's Steve and Pat's daughter.
CW Oh Steve's daughter.
CJ He's got two sons and a daughter. The boys have all gone through college and she's had a couple years of college too.
CW I think people in small towns like McClure are unsually friendly.
CJ But you know we used to know our neighbors. When I was a kid we would get together once a week. My parents did and they would have card parties. On Sunday afternoons they would go visit each other. We always liked to cross the river and take those side roads over to the Oak Openings area. Well anyway we knew our neighbors then. Now I don't know my neighbors on this road even.
CW Oh, you don't!
CJ They built a couple of new houses here. I don't know those people. I know across the road we are related to them.
CW Did people just walk down the road and knock on the door and visit in those days?
CJ Yes, or drop in on you. We always had a telephone, so that was convenient. We never could have Toledo Edison because we were back into the lane. They didn't want to wire back into the lane. It was too expensive for us to pay for it so we had a delco plant and that was run on batteries. We would have to charge the batteries up and we had a sweeper and an iron, but they were a little different. They were delco operated.
CW Was that quite expensive?
CJ It was expensive.
CW You would have to buy your own plant in the first place.
CW We didn't have electricity back to those two houses in the back of the lane until I was married. And then Toledo Edison finally wired back there, but up to that point it was Delco power.
CJ We used to slide down the hills when there was snow.
CW Where did you find a hill to slide?
CJ Oh on this same road going towards Napoleon. There was a hill we would go to and there was a pond at McClure near the school house. My family couldn't afford skates for us so we would go up there and just slide on the ice. A whole bunch of us. We played with sleds too and slid on the ice.
CW You didn't have ice skates!
CJ No I didn.t. Some of them did, but I didn't . We lived about two and a half miles north of McClure and my brother and I would walk uptown to skate, sled, and slide on the pond uptown.
CW Where would that be then?
CJ It was called the Old Mill Pond. I think they filled it in now, but it was right on the edge of McClure.
CW Was there a mill beside it?
CJ I don't know why they called it that. It's not there now. It's been filled in.
CW Back to what you were saying about neighboring more with people, I think lots of times younger people think well it must have been hard to have to do without all these modern appliances, but I think you are right, you spent more time with people as a result.
CJ We used to have movies uptown.
CW You did!
CJ Yes, for the summer maybe. Once a week they would have free movies uptown.
CW Were they in a movie house?
CJ No, it was outside. There was a movie house up there though. The elevator would once a year have a dinner. My father had bought shares in it and I always got out of school to go to the meal. The elevator would have it at noon. They would have entertainment at the little movie theater in McClure and the school kids would be left out of school a couple of hours to go to the movies. It was paid for by the elevator once a year. Tlhey would have a dance at night too.
CW What did they do for a dance floor?
CJ There is the Legion Hall where it is now. It's been there a long long time. And that's where it was held. It comes to mind too the Farmers Institute was always up there.
CW What was that?
CJ They had speakers. It was two days, morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. One session would be run by the churches. There would be a speaker for each session. The Institute speakers were hired to come and talk on different subjects. And there would be music. The school would furnish some music. The church session would furnish music. I played piano. I played duets with one of the girls a couple of times. Another time I was a little bit older and I had a group of around eight or ten year olds and we pantomined a couple of religious pieces.
CW That would be fun for them.
CJ It always ended up with a play too. The last session somebody would have organized a play by the people right in the area. But anyway one night it was always in the wintertime in February so my Dad hitched up the horses and had a bobsled and picked up three or four families from our neighborhood and rode up to that Institute for the evening in a bobsled on the snow.
CW That would be fun.
CJ I wouldn't want to do it I guess anymore.
CW Would they have straw in there to pull the straw over them to keep warm?
CJ They would keep warm with blankets. It was drawn by horses. It was quite a thing, they enjoyed it.
CW Everybody pitched in so nobody had to pay a lot of money.
CJ That is right. I remember when the Deshler road, it is Road 2 here I think now, I had cousins living on the road and they had about six children. My mother would always help when one of the children would be born. It was a mud road at that time. We would hitch the horse to the buggy and go from our place around the corner to this family and mud was up to the middle of the wheel. It would be that muddy in the spring.
CW In their driveway?
CJ On the Deshler road!
CW On the main road?
CJ On the main road. It was not paved at that time. I remember that winter it was so muddy that the wheels of the buggy would cut through the mud. I remember when our road P was stoned, ah paved, no it was stoned first and then I remember it being paved too. When I went to school the first couple years was an enclosed wagon drawn by horses when I was in the first grade. Of course then they got into buses.
CW You mean they had horse drawn wagons that picked children up and took them to school?
CJ First year or so.
CW That's nice, I didn't know they ever did that.
CJ But it soon turned into busses. They picked them up in busses. Now we don't even have our school up here anymore.
CW What did you do for the mail? Did the mailman come around?
CJ He came around in a little old mail truck too.
CW That was drawn by horses?
CJ When I was real young it was, but they soon changed over to cars too and trucks. I remember yet when I was real young they were drawn by a horse.
CW Did you have to help take care of the horses on the farm?
CJ The horses I would help once in a while to clean out the stables. My father was very proud of his horses. He had Belgian horses. He raised colts, two or three colts. They were very pretty. I would throw hay down from the haymow, put grain in their box to eat, things like that.
CW Now did those colts have to be trained so they weren't so wild?
CJ He trained them too. When they got to be a certain age he worked with them and trained them by putting a bridle on them and leading them around.
CW Wasn't that scary?
CJ It seems like it would be but he got along real well with them. When they got along so far he would hitch them to one of the older horses and so they would walk along side of them. He trained about three or four colts.
CW How many cows did you milk?
CJ We never had any more than five.
CW It was just for your own.
CJ At that time we had a cream separator.
CW Would you describe one for children that wouldn't know what that was like?
CJ You would pour the milk in the bowl on the top of the little separator that had a crank on it. That is where you put your milk. Then you would crank it at a certain speed and then there were two spouts. The milk would come down to a spout. The cream would be taken out of the milk and that would go through one spout into a container. The other would be skim milk we called it and that would be taken out to our pigs or our chickens.
CW Is that right!
CJ The cream we would keep it for a couple days and take it uptown. There was a creamery uptown McClure.We took what eggs we didn't use uptown too. There was a place right there. She did both. This lady had her creamery and her eggs.
CW Did they make cheese there?
CJ No, I don't know who she sold it then to. It was just a place you could take your things and have it collected. I don't know what she did with it. She sold it to somebody too, but I don't know where it went from there. Saturday night we would take our eggs and our cream to McClure, sell it and buy our groceries.
CW I'll bet that was one reason why people went to town on Saturday nights. They would have to at some time in the week take their produce in or it would spoil.
CJ We never had a refrigerator, we kept things cool in an old cellar. Now I talked about my grandfather having this homeade refrigerator, but we never did. At groceries you would go to the counter tell him what groceries you'd want, and they would get it up off the shelf. I saw the change from that into self serve. I always thought how strange it would be to have a cart and go around and gather up your own groceries.
CW They have a lot more of supplies. They had barrels at that time too didn't they.
CJ That is right, they did. It was up to the grocer to dish that out and weigh it, and you stood there. Then when we threshed we would call in an order what we wanted for the meal, and they would bring it out to us. The meat and whatever we ordered.
CW You had a big bunch. Did you have friends that came in and helped you at threshing time to help cook the meals?
CJ Yes we did. We had two or three ladies. We would bake pies the day before. They didn't help with that, but they helped put the meal on the table and we young girls would keep the water glasses filled for the men.
CW Oh that's right.
CJ We had these sticky things hanging from the ceiling you know. We had fly swatters and we girls had to swat flies. Sounds terrible now.
CW It was better than having the flies in your food. Now my grandmother used to take newspapers and shred them and she had a strip at the top to hold the thing together. Then she would put them at the top of her screen door.
CJ My grandmother did the same thing.
CW I think that was before they got those sticky coil things.
CJ I think it was.
CW We have seen lots of changes.
CJ We surely have.
CW I remember the first radio and the first television. Was that exciting when you got your first radio?
CJ Yes I was in the fourth or fifth grade or maybe the sixth grade and they had a program on. This program had a lot of questions and answers. I would write down those and then take them to school the next day. The teacher would try them on the class.
CW You must have been one of the first ones to have a radio.
CJ There weren't too many of them. We had a neighbor boy who made his own radio. Then after the radios came the televisions. I can remember the first television too.
CW What was it, a news thing?
CJ Oh Amos & Andy, Lum & Abner. Everybody would listen to them. We would gather around the radio and listen to them play jokes going back and forth, plus the news.
CW Did the relationships we all had with our churches. Did those relationships change over the years do you think?
CJ Do you mean different denominations?
CW No it would be individual and his or her church.
CJ Ours hasn't although we are a small church over here at McClure. My daughters all like praise services. No, I don't think it has changed in our church, but maybe that's the reason we don't have many young people either. They like their kind of music and we don't have the leaders up here to change it, but we are still hanging in there. I saw the basement going in, plus classroom addition, plus a new parsonage. I remember my mother and ladies taking food up to the men who were working on it. We used to have a large Luther League. Every Sunday night we would meet and there was at least twelve to fifteen kids there at 6:30 every Sunday night. We would go out on our dates after that. We don't even have a Luther League now.
CW That was probably one of the highlights of the week then, I bet.
CJ It was. We used to have a roller rink up here at McClure too.
CW You did!
CJ It was above Nelson's building. Nelson's used to have a drug store, a grocery store, I think he even had medications. They had school books. We had to buy our books at that time.
CW I think you have done very well. You say all of your girls took piano lessons.
CJ Then we got a little Hammond organ up at the church and the oldest daughter was fourteen. She started to play there and when she got married at eighteen, the other one come along and she played. There were four of them that played. I had played too. Not very fancy but I got through it. The girls have all been organists at their churches, played for weddings and funerals
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