We caught the school bus by the store, too, when going to school in New Baden. The Grocer had a small table inside the door where your order from the general store was left. Hazel would call and order some grocery items that we needed and one of us kids would go from school, which was only 1/4 mile away from the place. You would pay for it the next time you were in town.
We had neighbors to the north of us, Bill and Teena Johnson and their Daughter Erna. On most Friday nights for years we would get together and make homemade ice cream, a different kind every time -- even Dewberry. But I think they all sank to the bottom. We had peach, pineapple, vanilla, and chocolate. Bill Johnson had an accordion and I believe a Concertina. He played the accordion a lot. It seemed I remember him playing a song called "RED WING" more than any other. They lived about 3/4 of a mile north of us, and many summer evenings you could hear the strains of Red Wing carried on the breeze in the quiet of the evening.
Dad played the violin and had played a lot at square dances when he was younger. He could even play it behind his back. Often on Sunday afternoons we would get together. Hazel and Mother would stay with Teena and Erna while Bill, Dad, Harold and I would go to Melines, a tavern where they had a couple of bottles of beer and we had soda -- Red Cream Soda -- made by the Mascoutah Bottling Company was my favorite. I guess Al was a baby at that time.
The Gee-Haw Method of Driving Horses
Bill's Dad lived with them at that time, and while Bill farmed the home farm, his Dad farmed rented land down in the Okaw Bottoms near where Dad rented the land I mentioned before. Anyway, he used the GEE--HAW method of driving the team. He had driven oxen in his younger days. You could hear him for a long distance, in varying degrees of loudness, some to just correct a little, I guess -- a quiet "GEEE"....then "HAWW". When he'd get to the end of the field it would get very loud, I guess, because he wanted a full turn. We would hear "GGGGGEEEEE **?!!!*#@?!!#@HHHHAAAAA @!*$#.@&^%!!!" He would really get into it.
He raised corn and always cucumbers, I remember. He wore thick rubber knee boots and carried a pair of pliers to pull the rattlesnake fangs out. One time fangs came all the way through and just scraped his leg, but didn't really penetrate his skin.
In this part of the Okaw Bottoms there were many hickory nut trees, with large meaty nuts. We gathered a lot of those in the fall, using a lot of them in cookies that Mother and Hazel baked. We usually sold some hickory nuts, too, when there was a good year. There was one grove where there were a small area of hazelnuts, the only group I ever saw. We collected some pecans from some wild trees in the timber, but none were as good as the variety we had in our pasture at home.
On the road to the farm and just below the hill and beside our pasture was a yellow clay bank where sassafras sprouts grew. In the spring we would dig out some roots, and after washing them clean we boiled them in water and drank it hot with sugar. It was a spring tonic to thin your blood after the cold winter. Often if you drank too much of it you would get a nosebleed. It was very good and I still like it, but all you can get are roots that have dried for so long they don't taste like fresh -- at least I don't think it does. But then, probably nothing can be as good as remembered tastes.
In early summer there were a lot of dewberries on waste land, and we would pick a lot of them, making pies, cobblers and canning some for later use. They were good with sugar and sweet cream, too. Also we had a thicket of small blackberries, and these were sweet with a very intense flavor. They made real good pies and cobblers. They made very good jelly, too.
We had a area of elderberry bushes at the edge of the grape arbor, and Dad made some very fine wine from these. He also made wine from the large blue grapes we had. Also we had grape pie when the grapes were ripe. It was very good. I liked it much better than raisin custard pie. I think that was my least favorite of all the pies. There was rhubarb custard, dewberry, apple, custard, grape, raisin, peach, and blackberry. Pies and cobblers were a great part of our deserts.
During Prohibition when it was illegal to make alcoholic beverages and sell them, you could make a certain number of gallons of wine and beer for your own use. Dad made elderberry and grape wine and home brewed beer. The ingredients were mixed up in a crockery jug -- malt and hops, sugar and water. You could buy the malt and hops in any grocery store. We had bottles and a capper that you operated by hand. We made our own catsup and used the capper for that, too. After the beer fermented to a certain point, it was strained into bottles and capped, and allowed to age a short time, I believe. I liked the flavor. It had a malt taste.
Several times a year Margaret and Henry Kuhn, Dad's niece and her husband, would have a get together and we'd have a Chicken Mulligan. I think it's like what the Cajons call a Gumbo. Anyway, it had chicken and rice and many vegetables. They made their own root beer and bottled it, too. Together with pies and cakes, they really would have a great meal. I believe we supplied the chickens and potatoes. Henry was a good carpenter and did some carpenter work for us at times.
We had Turtle Mulligan parties at Uncle Gus and Aunt Rose Klingelhoefer's house and Turtle Mulligan and Roast Raccoon at Uncle Otto and Aunt Clara Friederich's house. The Roast Raccoon was in the wintertime. Their sons, Alvin and Ray, went coon hunting a lot.
Ray took Harold and I coon hunting sometimes. He had a compass and would look up at the North Star and come out of the darkest woods. After we had followed the dogs for hours, we used carbide lights like miners used in those days.
First Communion and Religious Instruction
We had an arrangement with the Pastor at St. George's Church in that we would go to St. Georges for the sixth grade, polish up our religious education, make our First Communion, Solemn Communion, and be confirmed the same year. They didn't have Confirmation the year I went so they arranged for me to be confirmed at St. Henry's in Belleville. We sometimes rode the school bus to the Catholic School in New Baden. Dad paid $1.50 per week for me in 1938 when I went. That was pretty high at the time. The bus would drop us at St. George's in the morning, and in the evening we would walk over to the high school a couple of blocks away and catch it. Often I remember rushing down to the Piggly Wiggley and getting a dozen tangerines for 10 cents a dozen and carrying them home in my lunch box.
When the weather was too bad for me to walk the mile to catch the bus, I would stay in New Baden with Margaret and Henry Kuhn. This is where payment was made in food: chickens, bacon, pork, sausages, and potatoes.
Working In The Coal Mine
Henry was a coal miner who was put out of work during the Depression. He was a good carpenter, so he made a little that way, and when WW II was heating up he got a job at Scott Field, working there for many years. Hazel had stayed with them and Harold, too before me. They never had any children of their own and had kept many of the relatives' children and help them get their religious education. It being during the Great Depression, payment was usually made in food. Henry worked in the coal mine at New Baden, and the wage was $5.00 a day, which was top wages in those days. When Henry Ford raised the auto workers pay to $5.00 a day so they could buy the cars they were making, the mines had to follow suit. There was a great uproar about it at the time. They were against giving the workingman so much money, afraid he would get lazy and not want to work, believing that a common laborer would get lazy and wouldn't work unless you kept him hungry.
We went out several times to the coal mine at New Baden to meet Henry Kuhn. When he came up out of the mine he would be as black as the coal that they mined by pick and shovel in those days. They still hauled it to the to the hoist in carts pulled by mules. These mules were stabled down in the mines all their life and soon went blind in the darkness. Henry would go into the washhouse and scrub off the coaldust with lye soap to get it off. He was completely bald. After the mine closed, he would rub vaseline on his head each day and he grew hair again. It was very fine and gray.
When You'd Like To Live Forever
Mother and Dad intended to build a new house, and she had picked out the spot she wanted it to be. It was on the crest of the hill next to the apple orchard. It gave a good view of the countryside.
It was my favorite place, too. In the spring and summer at times I would lay down on the close-clipped grass and cool ground in the shade of a certain apple tree, looking up into the deep blue sky with a wispy cloud floating here and there, watching some birds soaring, riding the thermals, far away. I'm looking to the east and south and the sun is to the west behind the apple trees. I still like to recall that scene. It reminds me of a panel of different scenes like that that ran in the Globe Democrat at the time. The heading of it was "When you'd like to live forever".