Strieter Autobiography: Vermilion

[Continued from Part 18. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Into the Ministry (conclusion)

We [i.e. my new bride and I] took the railroad cars from Elyria to Vermillion. When we arrived, my Lisbeth’s cousin, H. Ernst, peeked in through the door and sees us sitting. Then he was gone. We went to Mother. As already said, she had her own house in Vermillion. The T[heiss]’s25 were already there. We sit down at the table and eat our good noodle soup, which Mother Ernst had cooked for us. There goes a racket outside. There was a large open space in front of the house. There stood a large group, big and small, making a shivaree that was tremendous. Among other things they had planed the edges of a large merchandise box and smeared it with resin, and now two people were sawing on the box with a scantling. Boom, boom, it rumbled dreadfully. My H. T[heiss] says, “You’re going to have to give those guys some money to get them out of here.” But I didn’t have any. The last cent was spent on the trip. H. T[heiss] reached into his money-bag and took out a handful of small stuff – apparently he had caught wind of what was going to happen – and gave it to me.

I went out and asked who was in charge. They pointed me to a large guy, to whom I gave my handful of money and I thank them for their kindness. They say in English, “Hooray for Mr. Strieter! Hooray for Libby Ernst!” and now they headed for the saloon. After that, those guys were uncommonly friendly.

Libby Ernst was a beautiful, sensible, and virtuous girl and a good student. During winter the sailors would lodge in Vermillion. My Lisbeth’s cousins were also sailors. One of them, Caspar Ernst, went to the college [Hochschule] in Oberlin every winter. He would pester Mother Ernst to let Lisbeth go along with him to the school. He said he would take care of everything; it wouldn’t cost her a cent. Mother Ernst would say, “Lisbeth knows enough to get along in the world. She is not going to Oberlin.” Others would come and want to take her to a party or a ball. Mother says, “Lisbeth is staying at home.”

During winter they oftentimes had “spelling school” there. That was a always a big deal. Everybody ran there together, so that the large schoolhouse was crammed full. It was conducted like this: Two “choosers” were elected, and they posted themselves up at the desk opposite each other and now chose their spellers. Soon the aisle was filled in two rows back to the door. The “choosers” elected were always the two best spellers, and that was Gust Pelton and Libby Ernst. The spelling got going. The schoolmaster gave the words. During her final years there they had a fine schoolmaster, Mr. Salos. Pretty soon the rows were spelled down, since whoever missed a word had to sit down. Finally Gust Pelton and Libby Ernst would still be standing. It might occasionally happen that one of these two would spell down the other, but most of the time they would say in English, “We will give up.” Even Mr. Salos one time posted himself opposite Libby when she was the only one still standing, and someone else gave the words. But Libby spelled down Mr. Salos too. In this way Libby was generally liked and the boys were understandably not too happy that the minister had caught Libby.

I now lived at Mother Ernst’s house and had it nice and good. I held church, two days of school, and went down to the South Ridge and held school the remaining days and still preached on the South Ridge, for in Elyria everything was finished. T[heisen]s26 had moved to Liverpool and [Mr.] B[öse] moved back to Germany. Apart from that there was only a German joiner still there, who never came to church though, and a Catholic store-clerk.

Even on the South Ridge I only had seven to eight listeners left; the others moved back to Germany, especially the Hessians. Here’s how that came about: The daughter of [Mr.] S. – the lovely house I mentioned earlier – married a brother-in-law of T[heisen] the miller who, as already mentioned, ran out of work. He [i.e. Mr. Theisen] would kind of sit around and often on the front steps with his small little daughter. Soon his sister-in-law27 started talking badly about him, saying that he was just sitting there to look at the women to see if they were pretty. She said that to a woman and her mother, and they in turn immediately told the T[heisen]s about it. [Mr.] T[heisen] went to her and confronted her about it and was probably a bit harsh. The young woman ran home immediately and complained about the experience to her parents.

I came home, for I was still living in [Mr.] S.’s house at the time, and was met with dark faces. The daughter had already left again. I asked what was the matter. Then she starts in and relates how [Mr.] T[heisen] had treated her daughter. I went over and spoke with [Mr.] T[heisen] and then with the young sister-in-law, but she denies everything. [Mr.] T[heisen] says, “I have my witnesses.” They were brought and both the young woman and her old mother verified that she had said it.

I dismissed the witnesses and said, “Now there’s no more denying it.” She now confessed that she had said it and apologized.

I stayed overnight. When I came home, I was immediately asked how it went. I say, “Very well; they have reconciled.”

“What!” [Mr.] S. pounded on the table. “My daughter has reconciled with that milljack?” And right away he went over to see her. Then she was making an angry face again, and my hosts were now like people possessed by the devil. Before that the old man would eat with me, while the others ate outside. But now the small boy would call over into my little room, “Dinner!” When I came out, no one was there and the door was closed. I ate by myself. I also used to prepare a family devotion. When the man and I had eaten, I would call the others inside and would read and pray. But now he would read outside and would yell loudly, so that I couldn’t help but hear it. None of them gave me a kind look any more. I kind of let this go for a while and then I spoke with the old folks. They looked at the floor and said nothing. I spoke with the old man in private, but to no avail.

I thought, “Okay, it’s time to have a serious talk with this man.” We went to church; he was carrying my robe. I start in and confront the man with his sin, especially the Fifth Petition.28 I sincerely admonished him that he needed to break his stubbornness.

We now stood still and I stopped talking. Now he goes across under his chin with his hand and announces, “Mr. Pastor, this head will have to come off before I will reconcile with that milljack.”

I say, “If that’s how you are going to talk, then you, sir, are no Christian.”

“So!” he says and marches off ahead of me into the schoolhouse, laid his bundle on the table, and went home.

The following Sunday only six to eight people came to church on the South Ridge. The others, mostly Hessians, stayed away. I go to them and speak with them. Then one would give this excuse, the other that excuse. I found out that [Mr.] S. had gone around and told the people that they should not go to listen to me in church any more; I was half-Catholic. He had seen in one of my books that it said “you should bless yourself with the holy cross” and signs of the cross were printed in it.29 That was why they stayed away. But I preached to the few people out on the South Ridge. I always went the eighteen miles there from Vermillion on foot. It was a very difficult walk for me, for the poor, misled people weighed really heavily on my heart. A few remained faithful. One widow Z. even moved up to Vermillion and later moved to Newburgh when I did.

Endnotes

25 The print edition mistakenly reads F. for T. (cf. endnote 18).

26 The print edition mistakenly reads F. for T. (cf. previous endnote).

27 Namely “the daughter of [Mr.] S.”

28 That is, he referred especially to the man’s ignoring of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

29 Mr. S. probably saw a page from Luther’s Small Catechism in Strieter’s Book of Concord. In the section on “How the Father, as the Head of the Family, Should Teach His Household to Bless Themselves in the Morning and Evening,” Luther says that in the morning and in the evening, before praying, “you should bless yourself with the holy cross…”

[Read the next part here.]

About redbrickparsonage
Red Brick Parsonage is operated by a confessional Lutheran pastor serving in the Midwest.

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