Strieter Autobiography: Winter Woes

[Continued from Part 24. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Hardships and Happenings

Now something about hardships and happenings.

Whenever it worked out, I would also take my wife along. Yes, we even did some fishing. We would make 3 seats on the buggy and the wife, the 5 children, the schoolmaster, and L. would climb in and we’d head for the milldam, towards Harrisville. Mostly we’d catch a nice mess of black bass.1 What a thrill that was!

One winter we also had a bad cold spell. It was Christmas and there was supposed to be the Lord’s Supper at Tagatz’s. My administrator [Mr.] B. comes with his face all wrapped up and says, “Are we still going?”

I say, “Yes.”

He says, “There won’t be any church though.”

He and my schoolmaster R[öske] head out. I hitch up, Mama and L. climb in the sled and take my effects in their lap. They sat in the box and I throw the buffalo blanket over them, get in, and away we go. The horse is running at a terrific clip. Before the schoolhouse I have to make a turn and I knock the sled over.2 My wife gets back in the sled, and I get the buffalo over her. L. runs ahead 50 steps or so to the schoolhouse and already has white blotches on both cheeks as big as a dollar. [Mr.] B. tells her that; she gets some snow to draw the frost back out. They had a fire going in the stove and had moved the table over by it. The wife sets my effects on the table; I drive to [Mr.] T. to nail my sled box back down. Even when I get back, my wine in the bottle still looks like chopped ice. We have to return home without having church.

For eight days we led a camp life. In the living room stood a box stove with one hole on top. On the floor above us stood the meat barrel. I go up to the schoolmaster and say, “We have to bring the meat downstairs, otherwise all of it will freeze into one clump, and we won’t have any meat to eat then.” I grab the top of the barrel and he grabs the bottom, but it starts to get too heavy for him. He jumps off to the side and lets the barrel crash. It rolls into the wall so hard that the house shakes. But that was our good fortune, for it had already frozen all the way through, and the collision broke everything up into pieces.

I go out with my face bundled up and fill my arm with wood, then my schoolmaster goes out with his face bundled up and makes another armful, and we stack a pile in the corner.

The well in front of the house, 12 feet deep, was frozen in. We take the pump out and lower a ladder down, chop the ice apart and draw water with a small bowl. The water came out of the sand and was not deep, but the well never gave out. Soon we had another small hole, from which we would remove the ice chunks and draw water with a small little cup.

My stable was a log stable surrounded with straw and thatched with hay. But whenever I came into the stable, my horse, a dark chestnut, and my brown cow were snow-white, and I would wipe the frost off again. My hens also roosted in the corner of that stable. They would not get down, and I had to hold their feed in front of them, their water too. I held water in front of the livestock in the stable, but they didn’t want any. For several days they drank nothing. Then I went down to the Mecan and chopped the ice up. I chopped a hole as deep as the axe-handle was long. Finally the axe broke through and the water shot up as high as our house. My schoolmaster and my boy3 brought the livestock, but they didn’t get them there. The horse yanked himself free from the schoolmaster’s hand and went home, and the cow followed after.

Since the stove had only one hole, L. boiled potatoes on it. We had a hole under the floor where the stove stood where the potatoes were kept. They didn’t get any frost. They were cooked, meat was roasted, then coffee was made. We would eat and L. would start all over again.

At night we brought the beds out and threw them around the stove. There we would lie down for bed, the whole herd of us. Before falling asleep I would give the command: “Whoever wakes up, stick wood in the stove!” When the stove was full of coals, we scooped them into an iron kettle and dumped them outside so that there would be room for more wood.

Several people froze to death. After 8 days I drove to Buchholz’s for church. A man had died, and I was supposed to give a funeral address in the house before church, and since I had to drive 14 miles or so, I headed out early. Several times I had to stop and rub the ice off around my horse’s mouth so that it could breathe. I drove through the woods. When I came into the open, the wind blasted me in the face and I suddenly get a stinging pain in my head, as though someone had stabbed an awl into me. I quickly get my head under the buffalo and start rubbing my forehead. Someone later told me, “One more sting, sir, and death would have claimed you.” For I long time I felt the effects.

One time I was driving over a creek that ran very swiftly and was never frozen over otherwise, but now it was. I go in. Halfway across the ice breaks, and my horse sinks in the water up to its belly. The wheels plant themselves in the ice and the swingletree breaks off. I grab the reins at the very end and let my horse through, call to it, and it stops. I get down – the ice held me – and tie my horse up and cover it up, tie the reins to the shaft, pound the ice down, and try to pull the buggy out after me, but not a chance! I go and get my horse and tie the traces to the reins and let the horse pull the buggy out. I take the halter strap, tie the swingletree on, hitch the horse and off we go! But the horse ran so fast that I had my hands full controlling it.

One time I’m driving home at night and have to cross a marsh. They had cut a path through there in the fall, stuck a ditch on both sides, thrown twigs in, and piled the dirt from the ditches on top. All of it was an icy plane. My horse is trotting along, unfortunately directly above the ditch, so that it was hollow beneath the horse. Suddenly it breaks through and is now situated in a hole just as as large as the length and width of the horse, and its legs sink into the mire so that the ice is exactly level with the horse’s back. I get down and think, “You should go over to that house and get somebody.” It was 40 rods or so [about 220 yards] away. I start walking and make it as far as the fence. “Wait,” I thought, “you’d better not. You can’t just leave the horse by itself.” I go back again, grab my horse under the mouth and say, “Fanny, come.” Then the horse pulls its front leg up, sets its foot on the ice, and just like that it was out of there. —

One time a young man told me he would like to ride with me to the next church. He gets on. When we came to the marsh, two miles wide or so, I asked, “How good does it look? Will it still hold?”

He says, “Oh sure, just fine!”

I say, “It’d still be best for me to drive around.”

He says, “Oh no, yesterday they were still driving hay over it. Just keep going.”

I go in. It works. Every so often the horse puts its foot through, but nothing serious. We come to the far edge. There everything is a pool of water. We go in. Bump, my horse is situated in it so that the water is level with its back. I say, “Now you’re going to have to get down, sir.” I had shoes on. He climbs down into the water. I say, “Undo the horse, sir. Grab it by the head and say, ‘Come!’” He does it. The horse heaves itself up and works itself out. I say, “Tie it up, sir, and come grab the buffalo and cover the horse up.” He does it. I say, “Alright, now pull the buggy onto the land.” He pulls, but it won’t budge. I say, “Go get the reins, sir, and tie them tightly to the buggy and take the reins over your shoulder.” He does it and now starts pulling like an ox. Bump, there he lies prostrate in the water. I didn’t dare laugh, but very secretly thought, “Serves you right. Why did you lure me in here?” He gets up and pulls again and thankfully gets the buggy onto the land. We hitch the horse and off we go, but now it ran. My young man got down by the church. Where he went to, I don’t know.

One time my wife and I were driving home from Berlin and also had to cross a marsh. We come to water; my horse goes in up to its waist. Two young men, one bigger and one smaller, came along with fishing poles and I ask them to help. They did. We unhitched the horse and all three of us pulled Mama across and continued on our way.

Endnotes

1 If the fishing back then was the same as on Harris Pond today, these were largemouth bass.

2 This accident seems to have taken place at what is today the corner of 15th Drive and Eagle Road (today State Road 22 basically runs right through that same intersection), as Strieter was attempting to turn east onto Eagle Road. (See endnote 8 in the previous chapter.) This would also mean that there was once a schoolhouse about 50 steps east of this intersection.

3 Doubtless Friedrich, the oldest

[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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