Interviewed by Skip Honeck and C. Wangrin, May 4, 2005
CW: Olga, do you have any memories or stories that have come down in your family?
OK: Oh my! No, not really any stories, just the way the kids grew up.
CW: Okay, where did they grow up?
OK: We lived in this house with the kids all here, lived in this house with two rooms upstairs and nine kids.
SW: Raising most of your kids in Gerald.
OK: Yeah, Gerald. First we lived on a farm and I had all of my kids at home.
CW: What was that like, having kids at home?
OK: It was hard. Usually I had a neighbor with me. She would wrap the baby up and wait for the doctor
CW: Is that right?!
OK: I guess like that. Well we and some friends had gone to Irish Hills on a Sunday and got home late that night. I didn’t feel too good and then after we got home then he was born and…
CW: Was that your first one?
OK: Yeah. He was seven months. Yeah that was my first one, a seven-month baby.
CW: So you were not expecting a baby at that time.
OK: No because we had a great big fire there three days before—a barn burned down. He did real good. He was in the hospital till he weighed five pounds.
CW: Did you try to nurse him? You couldn’t nurse him when he was in the hospital.
OK: No. When the doctor came he weighed three pounds. The doctor went on and got a fruit can of water. That was the thermos bottle he used. I had him at home seven days because the doctor had took my wash basket and made a bed out of that. He put a wire over the top and a light bulb in the middle. He had no incubator. He was home seven days then he kinda turned blue.
CW: How about your other children then? They were born at home too?
OK: Oh yeah, they were all born at home.
CW: But they were healthy.
OK: They were all healthy. I never had any trouble with the kids. Well Donnie… her birth was normal too and we started doctoring with her right away and until she was 7 years old. She had surgery on her legs to straighten her legs. For that there was nothing, no medication.
CW: She couldn’t walk.
OK: No, huh-uh. She never walked. She was in a wheelchair.
SW: One of the stories in Gerald . . .
OK: Yeah, the Central office in Gerald belonged to Mom and Dad. Yeah, that’s where I grew up. You know where that is?
CW: Oh yeah.
OK: That’s where I grew up.
CW: When did you learn English?
OK: It was about the eighth grade. We had some English in school but . . . I knew it but then my studies were all German, and I never went to high school because Mom needed me at home so I got to be home.
CW: And helped raise your brothers and sisters yourself, right? Helped your Mom?
OK: Oh it was a lot of fun! So fun, even when we lived here—the kids, how they’d play and stuff with Donnie in her wheelchair.
OK: And then at the top of the hill they’d give her a push. That girl went through so much, but fun—oh they used to have fun! We had 43 kids from this corner to that corner, all about the same age. And don’t you know they always come here, ended up here. (laughs) (phone rings) They’d put a blanket on the clothesline and play out there but it is so different. They would play.
CW: The Depression. . .
OK: Stayed at home, made the girls help. There were two ironing boards in the room.
CW: That was a lot of work.
SW: Back in the days you helped everybody.
OK: Everything got ironed. (laughs) And my kitchen wasn’t any bigger and all of us ate at the table there. We’d pare about a peck of potatoes and usually it was fun there but later . . . .
SW: We’re no longer young.
OK: Yeah but back then we were a very close family. I’ve got ‘em all because they’re really right there when I need ‘em.
CW: Did you have any family reunions?
SW: We don’t have many records of family reunions but the family record book . . . our family reunions. We started having them at the Fairgrounds… I mean it was a day of picnics, ball games, horseshoes, I mean it was a full day of fun and games.
OK: Now we have ‘em at the Legion.
SW: We had to switch to have them at Thanksgiving to hold us because we got too many. (laughs) And we’ve always had… I think one year when we had the ball games and sandwiches there was this big water trough that was filled with ice. I can’t remember what we were doing with that. Feeding trough that was for the animals filled to the top with ice, but I can’t remember what we were doing with that.
CW: I’ll bet you had pop down in there or beer.
SW: I don’t remember what was in there! And why it was so full. Oh, we’d go fishing and we had a lot of fun. Everybody grew up and they started falling apart.
SH: Do most of them still live in this area or have they moved away?
SW: The farthest is Paulding. They all stayed close. (laughs)
OK: Oh yes. This reunion book is from my Dad’s side and that went all through us. Grandpa always sat on the Day chair at the Legion shaking his head like he started all of this! (laughter)
SH: That would be quite a feeling.
SW: Oh yes, there were over 200 then when Grandpa was still alive.
CW: Did the children have to ‘speak a piece’ then?
OK: No, they didn’t have much time for that.
SW: Had Santa Claus and songs—always had that there and Uncle Harlan and them, they’d bring their accordions and they’d sing, yeah and they’d play the spoons.
OK: peppy music
SW: Yeah and Grandpa just sat there and shook his head all the time. If I only knew…
OK: It was kind of hectic when they all wanted to get ready for school at the same time.
SW: I know. It’d be hectic.
SH: Probably had a time schedule.
SW: Oh yeah. You don’t use fifteen if you’re allowed ten.
OK: And the young kids had so much more fun. It was clean fun. They told me about riding in the trunk. There was too many girls. They had both seats full. They didn’t know what to do with the rest of ‘em. (laughter) So they just stuffed them in the trunk.
SW: I remember Josephine Lightheiser had the prennials and I mean, what a time! How you’d play games out there and we’d have trails and all that. Nowadays kids wouldn’t think of playing like that. We’d be out here playing Kick the Can and Hide and Seek.
CW: Oh I remember Kick the Can, wasn’t that fun!
SW: I mean, like Mom said, the kids would just swarm around here and in the winter time we used Josephine’s flower garden out here, and we had a lot of fun.
CW: One thing we did was, we’d set the can out, you know, and then everybody’d run and hide and then whoever was It had to go and try to find each one; well he’d go out and get them but if he didn’t do it quickly the ones he’d caught would run out and hide someplace else. I hated being It because I could never find anyone.
SW: I couldn’t catch everybody. I can remember using Josephine’s garden all the time.
CW: You spoke of fishing. Did you fish in the river?
SW: Oh yeah. We used to fish a lot down here. We’d catch bass and the… I want to say crappies. Is that what they are?
OK: There’s crappies, yeah.
SW: Yeah, but we used to go down there fishin’ all the time. We took Donnie down behind Cornie Shumaker’s and sit down there and we’d fish all the time there. I don’t know why they call it that, and that was always a good place to fish. Do you remember that? They called it ‘the Stink Hole’. It’s someplace that goes into the river a little bit but that was always a good place to fish.
OK: Where was that?
SW: It’s down in—across the street there—
SH: The River Road?
SW: No no, across the river. Way back. I think it was way back and then it was towards the river there and they always…
CW: There were two places, one by the hospital now.
SW: That’s right
CW: And the other one was toward town a little bit.
SW: I was thinking of Gertie’s Island. I know we fished down there where the cemetery is on V. We used to do a lot of fishin’ there. Whatever we done we always included Donna. We got to join the Red Hats too.
CW: Oh did you? (laughter)
SW: Well I work with Hope Services and we have our own little Red Hat Society.
CW: You don’t have far to go then, do you.
SW: No, and I just live right by Campbell’s, so it’s just a mile and half to work. With the bridge out that’s very good. (laughs)
CW: So they made that building into quite a different place I suppose?
SW: Yes, the back part that used to be the Sun Drug is almost the whole department that I work in, the Seniors. And then they added new offices to the front. So the building where I work is about the size of the one where Sun Drug was. We have about 19 Seniors with disabilities every day.
Ours starts at 50, yeah, 50 and over with a disability that they belong to our little group up here.
CW: So your sister belongs?
SW: Ethel and I have her all day or so. (laughs)
OK: I can’t handle her anymore. It really helps to have two girls come in every morning, get her up, I gotta call for help. It really bothers me to have to do that, that I can’t do that.
SW: Well I used to carry her around but I says, “I’m getting older. I can tell the difference that—I still carry her around.”
CW: Don’t try anything that you don’t have to.
SW: At work I’m not allowed. We use lifts and stuff but this house is not big enough to have a lift so I carry her around here. But many years.
CW: Where did you—uh—grow up?
OK: In Gerald. Right by the grocery store.
SW: The grocery store—we had that for a couple years too.
CW: Did they have a school?
SW: A mile and half. That’s where St. John’s is. That’s where we went to school.
CW: Now, going back for their lunches.
SW: We walked home every day, had lunch and walked back to school. I’d get so tired of packing them. I think most of us ate at home until . . . I know I was working when I was in high school. I went half days and I started working.
SH: What was the maiden name?
SH: Oh yeah, that’s been in Henry County for a long time too.
CW: Where did they live? Did they live in Gerald?
CW: Oh, when she got married, that’s when they moved there.
CW: Is that where your father was from?
SW: No. He was from around here. That was Miller, Alvin Miller.
CW: Oh, the Miller family? That’s well-known too.
SW: Oh yeah. They all kinda stitched together there.
SH: Everybody’s related to one another somehow.
SW: I know we are.
SH: We are too. (laughter) (Donnie enters)
SW: Did you have fun today?
DK: Oh yeah.
CW: You have a nice family.
SH: They’re tellin’ lots of stories here.
SW: We walked across the river to go to school. And I would not do that anymore. It was so handy ‘cause we lived here and the school was right over there. Didn’t take us very long. And the guys driving the cars on the river.
SH: I remember that, yeah.
SW: Two of my brothers used to take cars there. I think one was a ’57 Chevy that he kept taking out on the river. But I think, as they said, the winters were so much harder, and it froze. It was nothin’ to take their cars out there.
CW: I remember big hunks of ice
SW: We used to go down here either by Campbell’s or Corny Shoemaker’s because that ice’d be halfway up the big hill and we’d have to stand there and watch it. We wouldn’t get carried away but we’d just stand there and watch it come up on the yards.
CW: It would come up on the yards on the north side of the river or…
SW: On the south side. The whole back of Corny Shoemaker’s would be flooded and then the ice would come up and come almost all the way up the hill to where Wayne’s garage is. We lived high enough here that it never got up here.
CW: Which house did Corny Shoemaker live in?
SW: Let’s see, third house from the bridge.
SH: Is that one where Josephine’s house is? And then Fergusons lived next and then the brick house is where Corny Shumaker’s lived. That was fun watching that.
CW: When you got home from school a computer wouldn’t be inside. I’ll bet your mother said, “Oh go on outside and play.”
SW: Many times, I mean. . . I don’t even remember staying inside the house watching TV much. It was always “Go outside and play,” and that’s the . . . you know.
OK: The only reason we had a TV was—you know. Donnie was 7 years old when we got her her first TV.
SW: We weren’t allowed in the house. It’s like, “Go outside and play.”
CW: Yeah. My mother’d say the same thing.
SW: And I think you grow up with it. It’s like when I had my girls it was like “Go outside and play. The TV is for a rainy day.”
SH: Yeah, that’s why you’re all healthy.
SW: TV is alright but I think kids are watchin’ it too much. The kids don’t play outside anymore like they used to.
SH: If it weren’t for the, for my husband, I wouldn’t have one in my home.
SW: I leave my radio on. I listen to the radio.
CW: This man that I interviewed yesterday said, “They didn’t ever buy us toys. We made our own. We’d take a stick or a bow and arrow; we’d go hunting with that.” And he told about some of the things they made out of nothing.
SW: Now when we were little at home we would have one thing. Dad would buy 5 gallon pail of candy and we always knew where they hid it. It was always way back in the closet. We would always find it. And then each one got one toy, just one. That was Christmas.
CW: Did you have popcorn?
SW: They usually had popcorn when they had plays at church and stuff. Yeah, that was…
CW: When Kate Winzeler popped corn she had a big kettle, about that big, put it on the stove with a little lard on the bottom, put this homegrown popcorn in. She would fill a huge dishpan full of corn and it wouldn’t be very long till it was gone.
SW: Y’know, back there kids used their imaginations and things. When we were growing up where all those houses are back there, that was all fields.
OK: There was a chicken house, chicken coop.
SW: Yeah, and fields, and you’d just go out in the fields, you’d just have so much fun!
OK: Not even one house there.
SW: A lot of hiding and corn in a lot though.
OK: We had to do the farming also.
SW: That wasn’t fun though. But I mean you make trails, you know, you follow each other [inaudible] a game and all, so you had some place to play whereas now you’ve got roads around. We always had a lot of fun out there.
SH: Did your family own it at first?
OK: No, we bought it from Travis. He had come in from the service and we paid $600 for this house.
SH: What year was that?
SW: ’49, the year I was born. It was [inaudible] then; we had to pay $30 a month.
SH: That was a lot of money back then.
SW: Yeah, it was.
OK: It was in Gerald I was born.
CW: What did your husband do when you moved in here?
OK: He worked in the Creamery, and then worked for Gerken Construction.
CW: I remember the daily bottles of milk on the porch and it would freeze. You’d wake up and it would be this high. The cream would push the cap up.
OK: He’d be the one to go to the farmers to get the cans of milk, take them to the Creamery where they’d separate it.
SW: Remember the Jewel Tea?
CW: Oh, my mother bought from Jewel Tea.
SW: Yeah, and you’d get something. One thing I always liked was butchering. I loved that.
CW: What was that like?
OK: Well first they’d kill the animal and get it all cleaned up and then the women had to help all day long. You had to cook and . . .
CW: Did you each have a job to do or…?
OK: Yeah. Each one almost knew what we had to do. The girls didn’t help. That was the mothers that did that.
SW: It was like, you did one process and moved it on to the next?
OK: Yeah. Makin prettles, makin’ summer sausage—we did all that. You know what that is, don’t you—prettles?
CW: Oh yeah. I don’t know what it’s made from—liver?
OK: Beef and pork, pin oats. Summer sausage the same way.
SH: I wonder how long it had been there or…
OK: Butchering is still . . . the way Napoleon is changing I wonder what my husband would think. Everyplace you look you…
SH: The way these houses are going up…
OK: But the poor old south side sure don’t have much right now.
CW: My husband and I wanted to live on the south side shortly before he died. We looked all over the south side and we could find only one place for sale and that wasn’t big enough.
SW: I love it here.
OK: I wouldn’t want to go across to the other side. I like it here.
CW: Do you remember who your neighbors were?
SW: We were your neighbors at the lake. You took me on my very first sailboat ride at the lake.
CW: Oh you didn’t know you were in kind of a precarious place. (laughter) I used to tip that thing every once in a while. I never worried because, well I could swim well, but there always seemed to be someone sitting on the porch watching the boats go by. They would bring their motor boat out and rescue me.
SW: I always liked Lime Lake. That was a nice lake.
CW: That cottage next to ours. . .
SK: That was Margaret and them that had that.
CW: I’ll bet I saw her there too.
SK: Oh, yeah. We were up there quite often.
OK: It’s the little things.
OK: When I grew up the thing that always worried me was when their dad told them, “Now you can drive to the corner but you must come right back again.” I think that worried me more than . . . these young kids in school yet… (laughs) I never thought I’d make it this far but I can’t complain. I’ve never been sick.
CW: Have any of the children been?
OK: Now Norma Behrman, she’s had. . . .
SW: Oh yeah. She fell out of the car when she was sitting in the back seat and they say when anything like that happens usually 20 years after that . . . There’s a joke that a mom had so many kids that she didn’t even realize one was gone. (laughter) What—you’re losing one more child? I mean . . .
SH: Probably till the ones in the car started making enough noise. (laughs)
SW: Oh yeah. That happened out there by the Lutheran Church we noticed the door was open and she was in the ditch so we went back after her.
CW: When my mother was learning to drive you know the cars were all open. She saw a truck coming and she didn’t want to pass it so she just drove in the ditch. My sister bumped her head on the coat rail. You know there used to be a railing behind the front seat to hang blankets on. I was little and fat and I just rolled out over the top of the car door, landed in the field and wasn’t hurt a bit. (laughs) My mother then said, “I’ll never drive again. I can’t do it.” So she didn’t.
SW: I’d be lost if I couldn’t drive.
CW: Oh me too. You really need it now.
SW: Well this morning by the time I got out there all you could see was cars. I thought, “What in the world?” and here I got into that procession. They drove 35 miles an hour. The traffic was all stoppin’ the other way. Thought I’d never make it to get home.
(end of tape)