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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

October 08, 2000 Bernard Siehling YOU CAN ALWAYS COME BACK TO THE FARM In a long delayed attempt at writing a biography of sorts, I want to make this first feeble effort. Why do I live in the Grand Rapids area? In about 1890 my grandfather Johann Suehling's younger brother Aloys, being the second born son, struck out on his own to found his clan in "Amerika". He sailed to New York and duly passed through Ellis Island, where the ü in the name Sühling was without any fanfare changed to read Siehling, most likely because a customs agent misread the German umlaut. My granduncle Aloys from Westenborken/Westfalen took a train to Grand Rapids and as he stepped off the train, the story goes, he noticed an immigrant girl debark and promised himself to pursue the idea of getting to know her. Her name was Louise Wormser; she had left Alsace Lorraine in search of a new home in Grand Rapids. They were married and set up farming, the only reliable profession of their time, in Alpine township and town of Wright, near Grand Rapids. They worked as farmhands until they bought various parcels and finally liked the 40 acre square at the corner of 4 Mile and Cordes. They lived in a big farmhouse with their 3 children: Valerie, Amalie and Albert. Albert died as youngster of nine years and is buried in St. Joseph's cemetery in Wright. The two girls showed no interest in farming and grand uncle Aloys (by now known as Louis Siehling) established contact with his nephew Bernhard on the old homestead in Germany who, like his uncle Louis, was the second son on the farm and again had to search for making his own living since by ancient tradition only the oldest son could inherit the farm and continue the family lineage. Bernhard's decision was made easier by the fact that his older brother Hermann, who lost a leg during the First World War, would not be ideally suited for farm work with an artificial leg. Hermann was ruled by family consent to study for an alternate profession, namely dairy manager, and his younger brother was to become the farmer instead. Legal and financial considerations caused older brother Hermann to change his mind, with agitation by clan members, who convinced him, that his government pension should always allow him to pay a hired hand, thereby qualifying him to claim his heritage as the oldest son. Bernhard had put in a few years of time as prospective next-generation -farmer, and some friction in that respect made his decision to leave for the U.S. simpler. He and his close friend from school and brass band days, Bernhard Looks, swiftly sailed for Michigan. They hired on as farmhands and saved a nest egg for going into independent business as farmers. Eventually, as old age made it optional, Ben Siehling was to help his uncle with farm work with the idea to buy his uncle out. Uncle Louis' two daughters were not interested in the homestead. The oldest, Valeria, had a brief liaison with a traveling musician and bore a child, George Southard; Amalia married a neighbor, Carl Bergman, also a farmer. They died at 80-90 years of age without offspring. Before Bernhard Suehling left Westenborken, he had on the occasion of a brief stay at the Stadtlohn hospital eye clinic for treatment, met a young student cook and had the courage to slip a note under her bedroom door, telling her of his admiration for her. He left the country without further encounters with her, and for the next 4 years maintained mail contact until they thought they knew each other well enough to make plans for her to sail to America. Hedwig Hopp was 24 years old when, after much family planning and
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

debate, she set sail in 1928 from Bremerhaven to New York. Bernhard met her in New York for a first face-to-face get-acquainted meeting and they rode the train to Grand Rapids. To avoid problems of homesickness, she took a job as housekeeper for the Adolph/Augusta Rasch Hake couple for one year, courting all the time and they set a wedding date for 17 Nov. 1929 at Holy Trinity Church in Alpine. They set up housekeeping in a small house built next to grand uncle Louis Siehling's farmhouse on the corner of 4 Mile and Cordes in Alpine township. That little paradise became the collection point and gathering place for many of the German immigrants that rode the 1920s wave to a life in the New World. Hedwig was known as an excellent cook and many an out of work (depression) young man/woman could be counted on to help with farm chores. When, after a few months of married life, Hedwig was not expecting yet, the young couple got worried about being left childless, until the situation suddenly changed. I, the writer, was under way, slated to be born in late 1930. The baby's room was ready, the baby showers took place, until at the beginning of October 1930 the following happened. Hedwig was at a baby shower and notified of an accident that happened on 4 Mile Rd. near Fruitridge Ave. Bernhard, with older friends August Bockheim and Adolf Stille, had taken a quick trip to pick up medicine at a Marne (Berlin) pharmacy, when on the way home with Adolf Stille driving his car, they collided with a diesel-electric passenger commuter train. The driver A. Stille was seriously hurt and August Bockheim was thrown clear of the wreck with some broken ribs. Bernard was riding with his beagle dog in the back seat and was trapped in the car wreck. The train stopped and loaded the injured up for the ride to St. Mary's hospital in Grand Rapids. Even though Bernard was alive and briefly made eye contact with his very pregnant wife, Hedwig, he passed away shortly with unspecified internal bleeding injuries on the 4th of October 1930. He was buried in Holy Trinity cemetery in Alpine township. Hedwig notified the families back in Germany and it was decided that she stay to await the birth of the baby. Five weeks after the accident, I, Bernard John Siehling, was born and that year was now complete in as far as Hedwig, my mother, became a bride, a housewife, a widow and a mother all within the time of one year. With the help of friends, Mathilde Schneider (later Bockheim) she survived the problems of a first time mother and a new baby and returned to her parents in May of 1931 on board the German liner, Bremen, with the baby Bernard being the youngest passenger on that crossing. As the liner arrived in Bremerhaven a series of snapshots documents the maternal grandparents waiting dockside to welcome their widowed daughter and first grandson, who were to make his home for the next years with Heinrich and Elisabeth Hopp as doting grandparents with the support of daughter Aenne (19 years old). As time went on, the question of my mother Hedwig's remarriage was discussed in family councils. She had rejected out of hand a possible liaison between her as a widow and my father Bernard's buddy Bernard Looks. But with constant visits of her and the baby Bernie to the homestead in Westenborken, a consensus developed that a union between her and her first husband's older brother, Hermann might be a given. Her parents-in-law were enthusiastic when the topic came up, more so, since the single premium payment of my father's life insurance left her with a sizable amount of cash, that was now quickly invested in the expansion of the existing living quarters to get the house ready for several generations living under one roof.
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

5 children were to come of that marriage that took place in 1932, 4 boys and finally one girl. As a youngster, I remember tears in my mother's eyes many times over, without comprehending the reasons. During the next 5 years of her second marriage, she lost to death a (maiden-aunt) sister-in-law, her parents-in-law, a son, Walter, at one and a half years of age, her own father, and experienced her 2 sisters-in-law and her own sister, Aenne, enter the convent. Only seven years later, she saw the outbreak of the 2nd World War. It was her joy of life on the farm with all inherent duties and work pressures, and her constant, sometimes exaggerated concern for her children's safety that left me with a definite impression during my childhood years. Life on the farm was a cycle of constant seasonal enjoyment of newborn livestock; in between I could hardly find time to visit my maternal grandparents and the restricted life style circumstances in the village left deepseated impressions on me. As children, we learned early on that during springtime, during hatching, foaling, farrowing season, the mother animals get very touchy, very protective of their offspring, and special care is absolutely necessary. We would let the sow out of the sty, so we could play with the litter. The piglets did not like to be picked up, and would call the mother for help, if you held on to them. An irate sow might just be able to raise the latch, open the door and come storming in; so caution was called for. Mares that were known as docile suddenly became undependable, would kick and bite their handlers, all to guard the offspring. My uncle Aloys obtained a tooth mark on his forehead when Malchen's mother Olga seemed to detect adversary intent on his part. A hen with newly hatched chicks would battle us kids if we ever tried to pick them up. The most fearless fighters were the little banty hens. My first bantys I raised by begging some eggs from the neighbor and talking my pigeons into setting on them. The obvious problem is that pigeons take 18 days and chickens take 21 days to hatch. If the time runs out without life in the eggs trying to peck its way out, the mothers abandon the nest by nature's rule. My pigeons were patient and 4 eggs all hatched successfully, however, pigeons cannot raise chicks; they feed their young beak-to-beak. I raised the chicks under a light bulb, but during the day left them in a hot bed, depending on the heat of the sun and fermenting horse manure to provide warmth. On one occasion, the heat overwhelmed them. I came home from school and quickly opened the glass cover for ventilation. The cat had watched me and one chick was prematurely dispatched. The other three grew up as 2 roosters and 1 hen and next year swelled the numbers by a dozen chicks. When I was 5 years old, our 2 year old St Bernard, a male without offspring to worry about, turned on me for no known reason. He was tethered on a chain and had a doghouse to sleep in. All the kids would often crowd into his abode and he would crawl in with us making for tight quarters. He had never even growled at any of us kids. I remember seeing my hands covered with blood and ran to call for Mom, who almost fainted when she saw me. The dog had ripped my cheek and lower lip but I never felt it. The vet happened to be visiting and expressed the common claim that St Bernard dogs just don't react that way. My guess is, that he was eating and felt intruded upon. I never held it against the dog. My cheek got repaired with 7 clamps and my lip sewn up and the "Schmiss"-scar remains as identifying body mark. When the potato silo behind Gantefort's "Spieker" was built, I was about 6 years old and the neighborhood children were watching the cement pouring process. The adults kept warning us to stay out of the way, or we would get a spanking, if we didn't. listen. My reply: "You with your bow legs cannot get me!" I had heard adults refer to this hired
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

hand's deformity. At the first chance, when I could not run away, I received a good cuffing of the ears by him. I have never forgotten that lesson. I did not tell at home, or would have received another spanking. "That's how a village raised its kids!" At 6 years, I was trusted to ride the train "Pengel Anton" (small spur) to Burgsteinfurt and change to a bus for the remaining 20 minute ride to Oma's house, where I would sleep in her big bed, with the heated taylor's iron wrapped in towels, to keep my feet warm. I entered first grade in Westenborken together with 3 other candidates and found grade school a lark. At Stenkamp's house, there was a small shed, for storage of grease and oil, away from the main buildings; a perfect place for children to meet after school. Hermine was 1 year younger than I and had found a book in her parents' bedroom dealing in graphic detail with all things pertaining to human sexuality. One quick look and I recognized it was not intended as "children's story" and I told her to bring it back "stante pede". To this day I can retrieve knowledge I would have never been privy to without the book and Hermine and I have recalled the incident occasionally during the past 60 years. Stenkamp also had set up a business of raising rabbits, stacks and stacks of cages, to help consume offal from their commercial garden and then to be sold on city markets. I had only a few bunnies, and knew I had no buck, and therefore would never be successful in my enterprise. After asking Hermine a few pointed questions, she introduced me to the buck in cage 13. During afternoon adult naptime, I carried my Moerken over and placed her in cage 13. I stayed out of the way inside the barn and allowed a few minutes; not knowing that under proper conditions only a split second is needed. I grabbed my female and ran home; trying to calculate how many bunnies I would have in a few weeks. Someone observed me carrying my Moerken and suspected theft. In a confrontation a few minutes later I had to confess what I suspected as the cause, but was not really to know yet about animal husbandry:"Next time you must ask permission!" The outbreak of the Second World War was impressive in that we were sent home from school with the first tears we ever saw in Fraeulein Schnittker's eyes. We knew something tragic had happened. Frl. Schnittker had been my father's 1-4 grade teacher and had big plans for me. She insisted that I was higher-learning predestined and most likely saw me becoming a priest. Against my gentle protests, I was given a bicycle to ride daily 4 km to the town of Borken, to the Gymnasium. From early on I wanted to become a farmer, and farmers don't need advanced studies!!! School wasn’t too hard - but why learn English? Why not have everyone speak German? At 12 years, Latin was added, and math, and chemistry and history. At 14, French was added and geography and physics and biology, 6 hours a day, 6 days a week, and one could barely keep up with the demands. There were some innocent excitements, like troops stationed in the neighborhood and learning to assemble a machine gun and how to aim a bazooka. I remember the morning the sky was dark with planes and a constant hum as from a threshing machine was heard. The Westfront war against France had started. The newspaper was filled with war news, exciting for a 10-12-14 year old boy. I never missed reading all pertinent information available, however tainted it may have been, to keep the home front in line. We children were exposed to different cultures, as Polish, Russian, Yugoslav, French and Belgian prisoners of war came to live with us on the farm to help with the chores. We picked up morsels of their language as we kidded them and tried to convince them, how much better we would all be off, if all spoke German. We soon came to distinguish between the more or less rabid anti-Hitler among them. Others from the East
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

were happy, if it can be called that, to have escaped the Communist regime. History tells that all who returned to the homeland, paid with their lives; they had seen too much of the normal world! We learned to use expressions, mostly cuss words, in the predominant languages of Europe, and promptly got spanked by them, if we dared use them. The last group were Belgian farmers, who in effect kept agriculture in our area humming. They stayed for 2 years and years later returned with their families for large reunions. Even though regulation called for them to sleep in bedrooms with barred windows and deadlocked door, they were treated as family members and seemed to know on their own what work needed to be done. They were only 200 miles from home, a distance they could have covered by bicycle, none ever escaped. They received regular mail and Red Cross packages, and shared all with the rest of us. Before the days of electric power, all work on the farm required muscle powerabsolutely all work! However, almost all farmers who had a horse or an ox, found an ingenious way to draw on animal power, the "Goepel". The animal was driven around in a circle and with gears and shafts, the rotary power applied to a series of pulleys attached to drive shafts running in hard wood bearings about 30" above floor level. Simple farm machinery obtained its rotary forces all over the house all the way to the butter churn and washing machine, even the rocking baby cradle. I often heard the story how sheep ducking under the turning shafts caught their long wool and were thrown around this vertical carrousel-bah-bah-bah-somebody stop the horse!. I never heard if oxen or horse power was more dependable. There was never a shortage of food on the farm, even though lost relatives suddenly showed up, explaining that their grandmother grew up here or had served as milk-maid for years at the end of the 19th century and therefore had a claim to some vitamins and calories, the acronym for bacon, butter and other high-energy foods, even though in later war years, their expectation was much humbler. My mother was always generous to the point of shortchanging her own family; after all, everyone was on rations, even farmers. By hook or crook, there was always a little leeway on a farm, when it came to requisition a new supply of food. "Black" slaughter -without permit- was the more common. There were ducks, geese, sheep, goats, rabbits et. al. that were not counted in regular cattle census and served as sources of food, all in secret, of course; I recall my mother saying often: Bernie, I don't know what to cook tomorrow, Sunday. She asked me, because Papa Hermann with one leg was hard-pressed chasing down that spare rooster. Without lengthy discussions, I started the search for a victim. At 14 years of age I had experience in clean killing and dressing of many animals and put to use what I had observed many times, when the butcher came to the farm for the yearly butchering of pigs. Again, there rarely were discussions as to legality; we had to eat. Killing a sheep or small pig became a routine duty, when conditions were right. During these years I attended the Gymnasium, a 6 hours a day, 6 days a week occupation, even though in 1941-42-43-44 school was more and more often interrupted by the events of war. I was visiting my Grandma in 1941, just before Christmas, when I was ordered home immediately, because during the night a mine, actually a bomb, exploding above the rooftops, had killed a number of people in Borken. It was the very first consequence of WW II that hit on the front close to home, a forerunner of much more to come. The nightly air war soon intensified, and even in our subconscious we would perceive the hum of approaching bomber formations, get out of bed and spend part of the night in an earth bunker, basically a hole in the ground, picking a high, dry spot, covered with wooden beams and a thick layer of dirt. The entry trench zigzagged to
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

protect the doorway against shrapnel. Raised board bedsteads where covered with straw and we kids, together with 2 neighbor families, Gantefort and Stenkamp, used the bunker as needed, the louder and closer the explosions, the fuller the bunker, the more crowded the space. The straw soon got moldy and was exchanged, but somehow we felt safe in this hole in the ground. We could watch the air action as it took place on moonlit nights to the south, above the industrial Ruhr valley, with searchlights latching on to a plane, and flak-guns and exploding grenades getting closer and closer, and many a plane going down in flames. In the beginning of the allied bombing campaign, the attrition rate (1942-43) was certainly in the 20-40 percentiles. As time went on, daylight encounters took place that could be observed from the ground without being able to tell friend from foe, and I saw fighters attacking bomber formations to pick out victims and would see them go down in flames. I remember a German fighter plane plowing into the ground 3 km away, bursting into flames. By the time we rode the bicycles for a close-up look, we could see only a body boiling, cooking, and burning in the middle of the wreckage with the expected smell of flesh. At 12-13-14 years we grew accustomed to such events. We also got used to the war taking a turn for the worse, brought home by the fact that the obituary much too often started with: He fell on the field of honor, giving his life for Fuehrer, Volk and Fatherland, many farm families being hit 3-4-5 times because they were traditional 10-12 children families. Five of my uncles were on the front and almost invariably, sooner or later, it was bound to happen. As it turned out, the news got bad near the end of the war, when Hitler demanded, that every German male should be ready for the ultimate sacrifice. I can remember a rainy November morning, I was steering the sowing machine, drawn by Malchen, the mare that was about my age, the horse that I could direct with word signals, because we understood each other; putting in rye seed on the Lange Fohr (im Esch). The steering arm had a tendency to push me, instead of the reverse, and Malchen, pulling the machine, tried to step for convenience sake, into her former foot steps, which were not necessarily in line with a straight row, and even though I was rather young, I already lived under the unwritten law, that you recognize a good farmer by the straightness of the furrow, or in this case the small green line of leaves that would appear through the soil within 2-3 weeks. My father's youngest brother, my uncle Aloys, remarked that I was pretty young to handle horse and machine. My father replied: He has to be able to! Uncle Aloys left for the eastern, Russian front, turned up missing in action and was never heard from again. The same fate was to be my future father-in-law's. Of my mother's 4 brothers, one died in a Russian prisoner of war camp, being stabbed to death as he tried to defend his charges as senior camp commander against unreasonable demands by drunken Russian guards. Another uncle tried to escape the Russian war machine after being encircled in East Prussia; he escaped on a ship heading for neutral Sweden; the ship was torpedoed at the Swedish coast, he swam ashore and died of pneumonia to be buried in Sweden. Another uncle was stationed on a German airforce base near his home and saved his life. A fourth uncle was battalion commander of a battle group charged with preventing the crossing of the river Rhine (25 km to the west). His troops scattered when operation Varsity started; he stopped at our farm, said goodbye to his family living with us, advised that we would see the first invaders within 20 minutes and should raise the white flag of surrender as soon as he was gone with his staff. He stated he swore an oath and had to keep on fighting and retreating. He saved his life.
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

During the last few days prior to the allied troops moving in, life had become Russian roulette. All farms were occupied to the absolute hilt by town families expecting the announced bombardment, which took place on 3 consecutive mornings, all the action plainly visible from the farm 4 km west of Borken. During the early dawn hours, I took horse and wagon using roads that were not blocked, bridges not blown up, and approached the town from the southeast, to get as close as possible to my aunt's apartment (her husband, my uncle Aloys, was at the front). to carry out and load on the horse cart any furniture and household goods that could be salvaged; they would be stored in the barn, until such time, this aunt with 3 girls cousins could return to town. Their piano gave me a chance to try my musical luck with self-taught notes. I would write in pencil on the keys and find the notes to a song, copy it and assign it to memory. Very unsuccessful, I found out. As we inspected the ruined town, it was hard to find certain streets. The terrain had been ploughed over and under, that it was simpler to survey the layout for new streets I never forget, that I found in our destroyed school a bottle with dried, but red ink as sediment, no cork, I proudly carried it home, mixed it with water and now had what only teachers had on hand, red ink. But at the next monthly confession on Saturday afternoon, my conscience bothered me sufficiently that I placed that stolen empty bottle back on the pile of ruins where I had found it. It needed not be confessed as stolen goods! I also recall ploughing a field in preparation for planting potatoes with a tilt-plow and 2 horses, when suddenly a fighter-bomber took a close diving look at the action of ploughing. He was probably hard-pressed at finding moving targets. Luckily he did not strafe, fire or bomb. I would have been a likely WW II casualty. 14 year olds were also assigned to help drive cattle away from the approaching allies toward the center of the "Reich" in a scorched earth policy. Luckily, that scheme found no response among civilians. The first British troops arrived on the late afternoon late in March. The moved methodically slow, firing a shot here and there at an earthen fortification, leaving intact all farms displaying the white flag of surrender. If there was a recognizable uniform moving about, an incendiary grenade would turn the farm into an instant inferno. A British tank rolled down the meandering entrance to our house, without doing any damage, even opening the gate to the fenced-in milking enclosure for our cows, indicating to us that he would represent the frontline for the night. Mine and my mother's English did not bring much of a response, fraternization was frowned upon. They did pump their water from our well, however. Giant troop movements were visible during the next days down the gravel road with occasional nightly bivouacs in our apple orchard; otherwise the liberation was rather uneventful as far as all inhabitants of our farm go. Our neighbor Gantefort had to vacate the premises which served as commando post for a few days. They used our pig barn with chimney serving as smoke draft for their cooking hearth. The war was over. No more nightly bombing runs. The battle for survival had begun. . Only military authority counted. Germans could not ride a bicycle without permission (documented). My American citizenship was temporarily of little practical use. All people living on the farm (ca. 25) had to find fuel to cook with, ingredients to make meals and generally keep from "killing" each other over real or imagined problems. Rations were something the population was used to and the system continued. Cash or coin had no value; barter took the place of commerce, survival was the issue of the day. All the people were suddenly good Christians, the Sunday services were crowded, and
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Bernard Siehling

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many had learned to pray again, many a contract with the Lord was made: get me through this and I will never complain again. Every field was inspected multiple times for missed grain, beets still in the ground, potatoes hidden in soil. I had no socks to wear: unravel feed bags or old sweaters and find someone who could and had the time to knit. Wool makes nice warm socks in wooden shoes. There was some wool along the barbed wire fences, where a herd of sheep stayed during the night. It takes much wool for a pair of socks. Someone had to spin a thread. I learned to do it, with a 6 months effort I had a pair of socks. They scratched, but it was a warm scratchiness. We felt we needed our own supply of wool. The next herd of 600 sheep over-nighting on the farm gave us a young one to keep as a pet. Soon every neighbor had a group of sheep. We were lucky to get a small brown buck to become the sire of preferred qualities in the neighborhood. His dominant color showed up in many socks, eliminating the frequent laundering of white socks. Production of wool was assured, but spinning wheels as our grandmothers had used, were hard to find in usable condition. A carpentry shop entrepreneur built a partial device that would attach to the frame and drive mechanism of a sewing machine, a feature of every household. That's how I learned to spin with much patience and self-teaching lessons, how to produce an even fine thread, the longer the wool the better, the more natural lanolin the better, don't wash the raw material even if it stinks, spinning becomes much easier. That first single thread filling a spindle after hours of patient work is useless unless twirled in reverse rotation with another or better yet, 2 other threads. With my patience at risk and the need great, most of my yarn was 2-ply and much in demand for the next socks or sweater, particularly at Christmas time. The patience required and the demand upon my available time were in direct ratio to other time consuming duties such as field work, work in the barn, home work for school, time spent in church. At 12-13-14 I had no spare time ever. Farm boys always envied the city-kids who at the end of vacation could write interesting essays about vacation adventures. Invariably, at the end of summer vacation a teacher would ask for "my most exciting summer happening". Ours were confined to getting hit by thundershowers, chasing down an escaped heifer, waiting for a newfound clutch of pheasant eggs to hatch, a breakdown of farm machinery at critical moments, helping with the birth of a calf (an unacceptable topic) If on weekends our city cousins came to play, we had to instruct them from the ground up. We would play "robber and cops", the cousins would get the easy assignment and be designated "cops". They had no idea how they would find the "robbers." We would fade into the woods, hide in tall grain, back track and disappear in the terrain, but quickly get back to the farm and climb high into the barn, from where we could watch the "cops" in action, who would come home from a fruitless chase, hungry and tired, and could then join us in the barn on top of straw, among spider webs and dusty hideaways. It made their Sunday complete, especially after we had shown them, how to catch Maikaefer. You had to shake vigorously the hazelnut shrubs and trees and they would fall into the grass and in no time you had a jar full, if the season was right. Farm kids would feed them to the chickens, the city cousins used them to drive teachers nuts the next morning in school. Our neighbor had a tendency to allow his young heifers to be bred ahead of proper development time, with a consequence that the mother was too young and small to give birth to a calf sired by an adult bull, and invariably the veterinarian had to be called at inopportune times that didn't improve his temper. He was aware of the underlying cause also, and neighbors would be called upon to lend a hand. All methods of natural birth
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were exhausted and the only way to save the mother was limb-by-limb dissection of the calf. We young men were called on to supply power to the bone saw, a braided wire rope, in a see-saw-action, while the vet guided the tool and delivered the calf piecemeal. But our neighbor had again the largest number of cows - a proof of success. Cooperation was a time-honored tradition and helping a neighbor in need an unwritten law. That attitude pervaded all aspects of family and farm life. There was a designation of first, second, third neighbor that over the centuries had served a community purpose. When a child was born, the mothers and grandmothers were there to help with advice (good or bad). The first neighbor had the honor of furnishing driver and horse and carriage to the baptismal service, and would in turn be invited to coffee, cake and schnapps. The same held true when it came to weddings, funerals, any disaster in family or barn, any sudden need for additional bodies, at threshing time, at building a shed or a barn or a house, with the only acceptable remuneration being a generous passing of the Korn bottle, grain alcohol. I remember when I was eighteen, and the oldest able member of our farm, I had the duties as first neighbor to place the body of a deceased neighbor into a casket. It was my first experience of handling a dead human and my assistant was a second neighbor without prior experience with such a task. We were fortified under solemn atmosphere with a schnapps or two, it helped to cover up any developing scents in the air; evergreen branches were in place to help subdue unpleasant odors. The body was in bed where the person had died, a casket filled with wood shavings next to the bed. We two handlers looked at each other in dismay. There was no one who could help us, our decision was not questionable. Few words were spoken: I head -you feet, a quick nod, a heave and the bed was empty. A paper dress was used to cover the corpse, tucked under shoulders and hips, the wood shavings covered by a paper blanket and the much talked about "embalming" in the US was complete. The casket was of pine wood and would be lashed on a horse-drawn wagon by all responsible neighbors the next morning, and on foot a procession of mourners, slowly growing in numbers, made its way to the cemetery. Last rites were said and with careful quiet commands the casket was lowered into the ground, as generations had been buried for centuries. After 2-3 years, the casket caved in, the wood had rotted, and the grave was leveled off, all graves appearing like miniature parks. After 50 years any remaining bones would be dug up and buried in a mass grave, so the space could be used for future burials. Land space is at a premium. Within a year's time I was called on twice to do my neighborly duty, each time with the same helper, both no worse off for wear. This neighborhood extended to all kinds of tasks. I remember when one decided to build a milking parlor; the building is in place to this day, but no longer in active use. The floors were poured in concrete, the brick walls up to the planned height. The topping off of the roof construction with the laying of roof tiles was imminent. The word was passed, as to the day of this key action, the weather was always a factor, and the final beams were fitted with much consumption of schnapps and many good poems spoken in the vernacular, as it had been done since time immemorial. The idle talk got louder and I remember joining the excited action, nailing work pants to a beam, but happened to pick on a neighbor, who unknown to me had a mean streak, that came through after the spirits went to work. I was cussed mercilessly as being a nitwit who had no respect for customs and quickly proceeded to remove the partially driven nails, no material damage was done. But the ego of this teenager was deflated by not knowing what precisely custom und rule of habit called for. It made me more careful in judging people who acted perfectly
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

normal in a sober state but instantly displayed an alter personality after the first or second schnapps; strong silent types became bold and boisterous, and vice versa. But Korn, that is 32% alcohol, straight at room temperature, has been the preferred intake to help setting up courting deals, business deals, in social settings, as a reward for a messenger bringing good or bad news. A visitor, announced or surprise, could always expect to have the bottle being hauled out of the cupboard, with a shot glass serving as common multiple serving utensil. Since "no one can stand on one leg", the second shot glass was emptied in one swig, also. When Korn was not available through legitimate channels, there were enough timehonored recipes around to produce your own "moonshine". It took another generation or two to popularize beer drinking. Everyone knew who the regular consumers were, the ones who left the half-empty shot glass on the tavern shelf to attend mass, and come back first thing after the final blessing to nurse that schnapps until dinnertime on the farm at 12 noon sharp. In the interval many local problems were discussed if not settled during this crucial time of the week. I earlier said liberation was accomplished, but many aspects of everyday life after the official end of hostilities were far from "liberal". The infrastructure of the country was in shambles. The farm family was probably the smallest intact nucleus of community. Under normal conditions even with antiquated methods of production, the family should have been able to feed its members without fail. But every farm was overcrowded; the city people could not live within cities totally bombed out. They had to stay in place and draw on the available food supply. Farm houses did not lend themselves to be split into flats in order to afford some privacy. Most families were waiting for male members to return from POW camps. In addition, by allied decision, 2 million Germans from the German areas ceded to Poland, were shipped to the bombed-out west, and shelter had to be found, often by ordering rooms to be opened up under maximum protest. Many of the extra inhabitants of our farm made themselves useful, but had no training. In fact, when they were notified that the coal ration was to be picked up in town, the farmer had to stop work, harness the horse and cart to accommodate the often unwelcome guests. But everyone had survival concerns. I was about 16 years old now. A major survival issue was the nightly marauding gangs of eastern European conscript laborers who refused to return to their homeland and were waiting for other solutions to their future. They lived in camps without useful activities, but were given much latitude to take revenge on their former employers, however involuntary and often enforced their labor had been. They often appeared heavily armed to rob farm families of their remaining assets, killing upon slightest signs of resistance and thereby terrorizing the entire countryside. Here a personal encounter: On a Sunday afternoon 5-6 men on bicycles came to our front door and demanded bacon, meat, butter, eggs, all items usable on the black barter market. My mother and father interrupted their afternoon nap and the demand was repeated. My father's answer: I am sure you have enough food, what we have we need ourselves. After a few remarks, they grabbed their bikes and said: We will be back tonight. That type of threat was taken very serious. We passed the word in the neighborhood and found out by coincidence, that a British patrol in a jeep had been cruising around. Someone got word to the English sergeant and he stopped by for details. We relayed to him what had transpired 2-3 hours earlier. He sent 3 enlisted men for the night to guard the farm, with what we considered an extremely kind gesture for our safety. We fraternized in our limited English, but felt secure for the night as we hit the
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

hay. The soldiers stretched out on benches around the living room table. During the night I heard calls in the neighborhood of "Hoelpe" (low German for help). I woke the troopers and my parents. We soon established who was calling: Stenkamp. The signals were passed: you come to us, we have support here. The troopers insisted they were commissioned to guard only our farm. As the neighbor tried to leave his barricaded front door to meet us (250 m away) a hand grenade exploded just as he slammed the oaken door shut again. With that our British troopers fired their M. P. s into the air for a show of force and slowly made their way in my company over to the neighbor’s house. We found the entire downstairs cleaned out of valuables, even found some items that were dropped in the haste of retreat, but were unable to make contact with the family who had secured the upstairs and were not about to open any deadbolts. Our guards showed up for 3 more nights and even though we never felt secure, we never received further visitors or threats. We surmise they simply missed the farmhouse in the dark and picked on our neighbor's instead. Almost every night we heard reports of roving bands ransacking and looting farms and no defense was possible. Should a German use a pitchfork in self defense, he was guilty. We even considered 380 volt booby-traps for protection, but such was illegal. Germans were without rights, game to be hunted down. These liberated times (2-3 years after the war) were nerve-wrecking. Since farmers work all day and sleep soundly, they were always objects of surprise attacks. We formed vigilantes, roving from farm to farm with regular duty schedules during the 4 most dangerous hours of the night. This selfdefense was successful, nothing further happened. The camps of displaced persons were soon closed, most headed for the U. S. A return to their homeland under communist rule was a death warrant. I should report that on one of our patrols we noticed a suspicious light in the pig barn at our neighbor Lammers. We soon recognized that moonshine was being distilled there for the upcoming wedding. We discreetly marched away into the night-(We were on the list of guests). The entire population was hungry. Extra food was to be had by hook or crook only in farming areas. Our heifers were in a pasture 1 mile from the house; it came time to pump their drinking water from the cistern. One heifer was resting in the far corner, looked disinterested from a distance. On close inspection there was only the head pretty much in place, the hide covering the innards; the meat was gone. My Uncle Franz followed some bicycle tracks through the sand and found the meat 1 mile away, hidden under fresh broken branches. He hurried home for horse and wagon to retrieve the meat, only to catch a glimpse of the loaded bicycles disappearing in the distance. Call the police! German police had no authority I had also raised a dozen geese by first begging for the eggs, then coaxing 2 turkey hens to hatch them, then hand raising them so they could serve in getting food on the table. One morning, they had disappeared out of a locked barn, they probably didn't keep quiet (it's not their nature) as burglars came to carry a 100 lbs. bag of flour and the meat out of the salt brine. We were out of food once again. Bernie, can you slaughter a 120 lbs pig? Sure. To protect yourself against all kinds of unexpected visits, we finally hit on the idea of a watchdog. After much searching, we acquired Asta, a female German shepherd. Brother Adolf and I were delegated to pick up the dog in Heiden, 10 km away, on a Sunday afternoon. The kennel on the farm was ready for Asta. Bringing the dog to the farm was an adventure. The owner hooked two ropes on her collar, one for each of us.
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

Only when the ropes were stretched tight, could she not attack us; we had to walk for a while carrying out this balancing act. Some distance from her old home she became more docile and we could then mount our bikes, while she trotted between us. She had found new masters. As soon as she was inside the kennel, she was unapproachable again. My mother would bring her left-over dinner and talked without a growl coming from the dog. Asta produced 2 sets of pups a year, with the unexpected demand, our brand of German shepherd was present everywhere, and people began to feel safer. We were hoping that at puppy time, the neighbor had a lot of calving problems; every fetus was turned into dogfood. Concerns dealing with the food supply were always in the forefront. Mom's wonderful pancakes, buckwheat at that, could only be produced if she had lard, grease, bacon fat or any kind of oil. We raised rape for that purpose, let it ripen, cut it when dry, let it dry in the sun, and thresh-flailed it on a clean barn floor, to finally end up with 50 lbs of rape seed, had to find a press and came home with 5 quarts of oil, unrefined, which meant the air in the kitchen was not breathable except when all windows were open. But the pancakes were good, 3-4 meals and the oil was gone. The sugar ration per person per/week, I am sure, was less than what is contained in a candy bar. How could we enhance the sugar supply? We raised a few rows of sugar beets. You clean and slice the beets, boil the juice off, drain the juice, and boil it down to syrup consistency. Now we had beet syrup on bread (no butter, yet). Two days of work, maintaining the right wood fire, constant stirring, skimming off the dregs, and suddenly 2-3-4 quarts of delicious syrup. You could even dip your finger in and lick it clean. The longing for sugar can drive children to extremes. Bread and butter and molasses make good breakfasts and snacks. Butter was rationed, 250 grams per person per week. Once in a while the last quart of milk was not delivered to the dairy as the authorities demanded. Set it out in shallow pans and skim the cream off the top. Collect the cream for a few days and churn it and after 2 hours of solid effort there was a pound of butter. Even the buttermilk (yogurt-like in taste) was wonderful. Bread and butter and jam is delicious. It had to be homemade. Elderberries, blueberries, blackberries, wild raspberries grew waiting to be picked. There were gooseberries and currants in the garden, never enough for a jam with a name, so the multi-fruit jam was born and was it ever good, because there was so little of it. But it always was enjoyed and appreciated. Breakfast on the farm was generally a milk soup, thickened with oats or flour, or pieces of bread. A special treat was oven-dried pears, plums or apples, no sugar was ever wasted on breakfast milk "Papp". Breakfast time was 6:30-7 am. Field work started soon after, depending on the season, and bread with cold cuts, one slice each, was served in the field; coffee was ersatz; roasted rye grain with chicory flavoring (Muckefuck). Twelve noon was dinner time, the horses knew when it was time, they were hungry and thirsty and the foals had to be nursed. Dinner was on the table, kale and potatoes and slab bacon, sauerkraut and potato and pork, bean soup with wurst, beet greens (Stengel) with potatoes and pig hocks. Almost all ingredients were produced in the garden. Grosse beans, a Westfalian specialty, Pferdebohnen, One of our neighbors, the story went in all seriousness, liked Sauerkraut 6 days a week, plus Sundays. The cellar contained barrels and barrels of Kraut. On Sundays my mother always prepared special meals; chicken soup for a starter, potatoes, peas and carrots, chicken gravy and pudding, pudding, pudding. Or noodle soup and pork roast, potatoes and gravy. Or mutton roast, our own sheep, with vegetable,
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

potato and gravy, and pudding. At the afternoon work break at 4 pm we had bread and cold cuts and coffee. Supper often meant leftover boiled potatoes sliced and fried to a golden crisp with a fried egg if the chickens could be depended on. And there was sour milk (yogurt) on the table at every meal. Occasionally, for a few weeks our 12 milk cows did not have enough pasture in the immediate area of the farm grounds and they were driven to the Welle, about 10 acres of meadow 2 km away. Just to get them to walk there, could turn into a contest, cows like to stay close to the barn. Even if it seemed they had happily settled in with the abundant grass condition, they often opened the gate and made their way home. No place like it! Milking was now an additional burden, because cows like to be milked in familiar surroundings, not in the middle of the field. And the morning yield of milk had to go to the dairy on the 7 o'clock truck because there was no refrigeration available. The noon milk would be hung in the cool water of a ditch with very little volume, just enough to keep the milk fresh till the morning. In that ditch a hole was dug wide and deep to hold up to 4 cans. Now this pasture was normally used for haying and that was always a good time for children to go along watching the grown-ups do their thing. Adolf was just a toddler and happened to accidentally trip and tumble into the afore-mentioned collection hole in the ditch. Someone happened to notice him missing and pulled out a very pale and scared youngster, his guardian angel had been momentarily preoccupied, It was determined on the spot, that Mom was never to gain knowledge of this close call. Our chickens were always under pressure to produce, but the seasons took their toll. My mother also depended on excess egg production to pay bills in town. In leather shopping bags, padded by (Hecksel) chopped straw, she would hang one bag on each side of the handle bars of her bike to deliver the eggs at the stores she owed money. My mother baked bread once a week, if she ran out, our neighbors would be called on to help out by loaning us half a loaf. The neighbor's always tasted better; they claimed the same, when we returned the half loaf. Wheat flour makes baking easy, but it was not always available. She used up to 75% rye flour. That mixture needed more care by the baker, but the bread stayed fresh much longer. Stone baking ovens were on every farm. Usually one or two loaves out of 10 or more would be primarily wheat flour. Those were ripped apart when the bread was done and left in the still hot stone oven to completely dry out. This "Knabbel" bread would be saved for old timers or children who would dip it in coffee or milk with a little sugar as a special afternoon treat "Koffee koepken" especially during winter afternoons, when the time was spent darning socks and mending clothes. I can barely remember the time, 1937, when all water on the farm came from one hand activated pump. It was located in the Deele, next to the trough for the cows; at least it was convenient to water the cows. All other water had to be hand-carried in 5 gallon buckets. To the pig barn to water the pigs and also on wash days for the boiling and rinsing of all laundry, to the chickens, to the horse stalls, to the young acattle, to the kitchen and the Spuelkueche, where the dishes were washed, to the jugs and wash pans in the bedrooms. In 1937 central water was installed, a pump drawing from the well and providing 50 gallons of storage under pressure, and pipes delivering it to all use stations. What progress that meant, even if it was only cold water. I was about 8 years when one night, a severe storm damaged many farms, lifting the heavy clay tiles right off the roofs. Our fir tree patch behind the machine shelter was flattened. It normally protected us against western winds. I remember my bachelor uncles spending their vacations at the farm to untangle the criss-crossed mess of twisted
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

and uprooted trees. They even found turtle doves and squabs in tumbled down nests that ended up in pigeon dishes. When there were stumps left standing, my solution was to take Malchen, the mare, and hitch her up to pull some tree stumps. I now began to understand the limitations of 1 horse-power. Strong as a horse is just relative! The differences in seasons were very pronounced in the age when central heating was just a dream found in mansions. Common people, particularly on the farm, heated one central room with a wood and coal combination stove and cooking hearth. Of course, the fire would die down quickly at night as people went to bed early, and by morning the house was cold and ice flowers were covering the window panes, and the drapes frozen to the frames. Even if Mom got up at five, long before the children, to start the fire, it was no guarantee of a warm room. We kids might have forgotten to get her the kindling wood ready for a fast starting fire that then required a few solid pieces of wood in preparation for the coal. If the weather didn't allow for good draft, or the wood was still somewhat green or wet, the cook stove would give just enough heat to get the pancakes and milk soup ready but by far not enough to heat the kitchen. The best solution was staying close to the stove and switch from pajama to school clothes in minimum time. Our wooden shoes were arraigned around the cook-stove the night before, if we remembered, or else you were best advised to put a pad of dry hay in the bottom of the shoes and, maybe, wear 2 pairs of socks. Luckily the wooden shoes were always bought 1 size too large and the leather strap made them fit. If there had been a winter snowfall of unusual depth, a log chain was wrapped around a heavy stone water cattle trough, a horse hitched to this "drag", producing a 24" wide walk way all the way to school for the kids to follow. Even under the best of circumstances. We had to step careful, since with every step a snow patch would be kicked up behind the walker that had a tendency to end up under the heel of the sock, getting the wooden shoe wet on the inside. Since there is no flexing to the sole, our feet were always wet by the time we arrived at school, so we carried our slippers and let the wooden shoes dry by the radiators to get ready for the walk home. Generally speaking, wooden shoes are warmer winter wear than anything that was available at that time. During my early first grade attendance, we kids had to be taught that school is a duty (for the next years) and that classes started at a certain time. Anni Gantefort and I were the only school-agers in our area and we could think of lots of games to play on the 20 minute walk and we often heard the beginning bell and were only halfway there. Little by little was the teacher able to impress on us the principle of punctuality. Defying weather, snow in particular, was part of the dangers during the winters, different perils lurked in the summer. Many times we were picked up at school by horse and wagon, because the neighborhood bull had burrowed his way through a thorn hedge trying for a conversation with a brown cow in an adjacent pasture. When bulls reached the age of two, they became almost totally undependable. A cuddly former pet would turn into a raging bull. , and turn on people he had grown up with, even killing their masters on occasion, all in a friendly game of trying to establish who is dominant and rules the roost. The fun of being in first or second grade was to listen to 3rd and 4th graders perform and work. I always found German grammar so easy to use, simply use the case that sounded best and I was right. Many kids who grew up speaking "Platt", had a harder time; they had to do battle with the rules- aus, bei, mit nach, von , zu (durch, fuer, gegen, ohne, um). How did I learn to spell? By sight of the written word! If it looked right, it probably was. I liked dictation best, there was no thinking involved, just write what the
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teacher said. Arithmetic seemed to come to me without much effort, the multiplication tables were again a matter of memory. At the end of the 4th grade, when everyone went to the "Oberstufe", I suddenly had to find my way to the Gymnasium. I didn't know a soul there, and I was the only one from my neighborhood. It wasn't pleasant. The neighbors didn't help by calling you "stuck up", especially when I needed glasses 2 years later; I wore them in class only to avoid negative remarks. I could see a lot better and was now able to copy off the blackboard. In grade school I was never aware of there being any scholastic competition. That changed quickly at the "Penne", all my grades were suddenly not an automatic "B" and I began to treasure the benefit of careful homework, especially when it came to building a reliable vocabulary in English. Any question I directed to my mother she either could not answer or corrected me falsely with her American English background of 1 year of night school. She translated Grand Rapids as grand rabbit (Gross-Hase) and was absolutely convinced she was right. So I had little luck asking for adult assistance and if questions came up, I tried to get the answers by being early in the school yard the next morning and asking around. Others often had a reference library available. My main fears were coming to class unprepared and then being called on to recite. Written tests were usually nerve-wrecking but somehow my grades survived. Homework was frequently put off till the hours of darkness and there was always so much of interest to do on the farm: inspect all the animals, clean their shelters and allow in fresh air. Old country farm lore rarely believed in airing out the cows, heifers and pigs; maybe it simply was too time consuming. Our young cattle spent the summer in pasture 3 km from the farm and it was the children’s duty to see to it they had sufficient drinking water while at the same time counting all present. A low spot in a drainage ditch had always collected enough water to fill a cement basin, but it was hard work to lift a 1 gall. dipper on a long handle 100 times 10 ft. We decided to dig a cistern and install a hand pump. A neighbor with magical powers and a divining rod picked the perfect likely spot and the enterprise became neighbor-help-neighbor effort. Round cement rings were sunk down. The first ring was very porous. There was barely room inside the 4 ft. ring for 1 person to pick, scratch and dig, filling bucket after bucket of dirt that was heaved up. By digging under the rim, the rings would slowly sink into the ground and a new one was stacked on top. The process had to go on until suddenly, often with a gusher, a water bearing vein was struck, sometimes up to 40 ft. deep. The sunken shaft would then be backfilled, a heavy cover installed, the hand pump mounted. Since the pumps in those days had leather seals and dried out within hours, the pump had to be primed with every use. This meant you had to bring a jug of water and slowly pour it on the leather, pumping now and then to test for suction. Now you were ready to pump 300 gallons. If you forgot to bring priming water, one had to think of alternate liquid, boys can be ingenious. I was in the Sexta, first year of the 9-year German high school, when German troops invaded the Low Countries and war news became of utmost importance. The newspaper was devoured as soon as I got home from school by bike at 1:30-2 pm, and over lunch I read all the news while eating. Of course, the early reports of German military success were enjoyed all over Germany; the last war was a total loss after all. When soldiers died on the battlefield they were eulogized as heroes who gave all for Fuehrer, Volk and Vaterland. Josef Goebbels war minister of propaganda did his best in weekly radio appeals to whip nationalism into a frenzy.
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Since only one radio station could be heard on Volks-receivers, the masses were almost without exception in favor of Grossdeutschland in every respect. Many of our teachers wore brown uniforms and tried to raise all the youngsters in the spirit of the "Movement", reducing as much as possible the influence of home and church. Collection of iron and precious metal, copper, and brass became school efforts and were equal to good scholastic work. The same held true for "Heilkraeuter" natural medicines contained in wild flowers and plants; I spent a lot of time picking nettles, chamomile and raspberry leaves, air dry them and collect them at school; it was the national duty to carry out. Little by little, spare parts for everything became sparse; it was tougher every month to keep my bicycle rolling, the tires were getting bald and I had to scavenge to keep from walking the 4 km to school. But on Sunday, in a show of solidarity, all of us walked to church, Mass in the morning, Sunday school in the afternoon. Sunday afternoon, right after dinner, the kids had to walk 3 km to Proebsting chapel for Sunday school religious education. That chapel also served as center of instruction at First Confession and Communion time for all youngsters in Westenborken and Hoxfeld. Not all teachings of love and charity fell on good ground, because after the end of instructions, the townships had to settle unspecified grievances with name calling and rock throwing. The railroad bed served as never-ending arsenal of ammunition. Nobody ever got hurt, the combat was not close enough, but nothing ever got resolved. Those idiots in Hoxfeld! As we retreated across the railroad tracks we barely had time to look for the copper pennies we had placed on the tracks for "coining" purposes and if they did not shake off, they were now about 2" in size and very thin. If I needed bike repairs beyond my capabilities I would go to VanAlten bike repair and learned by watching many of the tricks of my life's trade. I was always welcome to watch Vince, neither of us saying a word. As a Sunday treat we sometimes harnessed the horse, Malchen, to the Kutschwagen and even though 6 adults plus children could ride in relative comfort, my pride in steering from the exposed-to-the-elements seat soon faded, since the horse knew on her own to find the way, command the middle of the road, when there was no oncoming traffic, and move to the right when there was. Soon the horses needed the rest on Sundays for the other 6 days of work. That was even more important when they had foals, and nursing time, work and rest time, with a balanced diet was properly divided up; field work still had to be completed. Cleanliness and personal hygiene was never stressed on the farm. Saturday night was bath time for everyone. The copper laundry stove was stoked up to produce hot water. This stove was used also at slaughter time, holding maybe 40 gallons of boiling water to help remove the hog bristles. It was again used to boil the sausages in order to preserve them. It was also used to boil the laundry at "Grosse Waesche" time. But back to Saturday night; the kids were first because they had to be in bed by 7 pm. A big galvanized tub in the shape of a rounded off casket was partially filled and everyone took turns. The kids fit in several at a time. The air in the "Speicher" room was chilly. This same room was used for baking, laundry and slaughtering. The so-called "Pottkammer". Part of the water was poured out and more hot -cold water added with every subsequent bather; the call was passed time and again; who is next, depending on work schedules. The same towels got more and more soaked and the bar of soap shrank, Soap was at a premium, and soon attempts to produce soap according to ancient recipes were more or less successful. Every bit of animal fat, bacon rinds and anything containing fat was cooked in the wash pot together with a chemical that broke down the fat and after cooling left a sediment that looked grayish-brown. The substance was cut by knife into what
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resembled soap bars. It was a sticky gooey mess that did not feel like soap. I don't know if it was helping the cleaning, disinfecting process in any way, but it was all we had. The use by all in the family of the same towels did nothing to prevent the spread of germs. Infectious boils soon affected many people. They started with a scratch or a pimple, developed a painful hard boil, and it took about 2 weeks before breaking open. Hot flax seed plasters may or may not have speeded things up; quite often lancing was the only way to bring about drainage, and about then a new boil had developed on a new site on the body. They were likely all staph invasions, but no one knew about it. It had been a busy day on the farm, as life is busy always. All one had to do is look around and find things that needed attention, or could be cleaned up, swept, straightened out. Such was done in a systematic method, when company might be coming, or after the days of hauling hay, hauling grain or most of all after threshing. There would be straw blown all over, in every nook and cranny, and it was begging to be raked and swept up. One night, Mama had made wheat pancakes (as opposed to buckwheat, by far our favorite) and we were hungry and had consumed all possible, even to the point of causing me a stomach-ache. I had noticed that after good and exhaustive Sunday noon meals, I often ended up with an out-of-sorts belly-ache. "A weak stomach" Mama would say, "a family inheritance just like Papa in Amerika. It will go away when you go to bed". The opposite happened. By 11 pm I was still hurting, more if anything, by midnight. I made it known, the doctor was called, loaded me into his car in the middle of the night. Dr. Conrads had been the family physician for years. He delivered me to the hospital. The operating table was still not fully assembled or had been recently moved. I distinctly remember my legs being supported only at the calves and I was soon "put under". I woke up with a groggy head, ready to throw up time and again. My burst appendix had been removed, the doctor told me days later, that I was a mess inside and that he was personally not convinced of my survival. But then he would go into stories of his student days, every laugh causing real pain and only pressing down with both hands could I contain the uneasiness. Soon he removed a gauze plug and infection had set in together with fever. Remember, there were no antibiotics. The wound was kept open to drain, which stopped after 2 days, not altogether a good sign. The fever did not reappear and only then the doctor told me of his real concerns; I had got away that time and cheated death. From the time I was 13, I also had to take the mares to the mating meeting. I am sure, my mother never knew, and many other affairs of that nature, whether dealing with bulls or boars or bucks, were handled between father and son with few words of explanation. That is why it is rarely necessary for farm boys to be given official lectures about the birds and the bees. Nature is the best teacher and dealing with animals makes one aware of the state of their current state of sexuality, if they are in heat or about to deliver. The news from the front kept getting more negative during '42-43-44 and in spite of governmental promises of secret weapons to be put into action, everyone little by little came to the conclusion, that the cause was lost; it is just that no one knew what the end would be like but people recognized: besser ein Ende mit Schrecken, als Schrecken ohne Ende (terrors without end). Now the question arose how to best survive the unknown tumultuous conditions, in case there was fighting: in case evacuation was ordered, the home was destroyed or ransacked or family members died in the expected action. The search was on how to best preserve material resources, clothing, food, and things essential to survival of the family. For years our wagon shed served as shelter for the "Dampfkolonne" steam generator that was used in rotation by all interested farmers to
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steam-boil potatoes not usable for human consumption and fill them into silos tightly packed for preservation and covered on top with straw and a weight of sand to squeeze out the moisture. A sharp spade was used during the winter to slice off vertically a layer of pickled potatoes; the pigs loved the taste served with cracked grain. About 4-5 large pots or barrels holding 200 gallons with air-tight covers were part of the equipment and lent themselves perfectly to serve as buried caches sunk into sandy ground and covered with scrub branches. We would bury meat, bacon, sausage, and any food stocks in one, spare clothing, bedding, coats etc. in another. The important thing was to find a secret burial place and make sure very few people knew about it. We even offered some containers to the neighbors for their needs. It finally sounded like the front with grenades, bombs, and live ammunition was upon us. The city of Borken was 80% destroyed, our school 2/3 wrecked; but after about 6 months of life without school, all days being filled with the battle for survival, the announcement was made, that life for this student would be back where it left off. Papa Hermann was suffering from a stomach disorder and spent more and more time on his back, he was full of pain, it showed in his facial features. Medical science, what it was at that time his problems were never diagnosed until it was too late. Under those circumstances it was understood that work on the farm always took precedence over my school work. At school it was determined that all previously used books were obsolete and subject to de-Nazification, and since the country was in a state of chaos, I actually never saw again until my graduation any book giving guide lines, so our studies were lectures by the teachers and the students to apply in their homework and tests what they gained from the lectures. Those students who lived near libraries or monasteries with a store of technical literature were at a distinct advantage. So in spite of paying close attention during class and taking voluminous notes I often could not complete the math homework, if one little misstep in the calculation occurred. It was very frustrating at times; sometimes even the teachers questioned their own pronouncements. I scavenged through the attic at our neighbor Lammers, three of their children in a previous generation attended my school and now and then I could find old Latin books, old math problems to help me out; it was tough going. Even pencils, fountain pens and plain paper were in very short supply and any scrap could serve to get your homework committed to. It was definitely not fun. And with every year the dreaded Abitur would come closer. Everyone knew me by the name Berni Suehling. At Abitur (graduation time) it became utterly important to know the absolutely correct spelling, because with higher education about to be entered into by most candidates, a mistake could be disastrous under the German system, that does not allow for such things. I became, among much ridicule, BERNARD JOHN SIEHLING. In Germany, middle names are disregarded. The school work became tougher, the load more intense and then Papa Hermann died of stomach cancer. As a family we were totally unprepared. The economy was down in spite of the new currency, cash was sparse. Our mother had no idea as to our financial situation. We searched through drawers and cabinets for hints. It had never been discussed what a budget was all about. The funeral had to be paid for, where were any funds to be found?. The bank account was down, but repairs had to be paid, utility bills were due. My mother suggested selling a horse; would we then borrow the neighbor's horses to plow our fields? The cows were sick and dropping the premature calves, no milk funds coming in; the pigs were bringing good prices but we had to buy Kraftfutter, high protein to get results, but had no cash. The roof above the hay loft
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

leaked badly and the hay would rot; shingles (tiles) shifted because the nails in the Dachlatten -cross pieces had rusted away after 3-4 generations. We knew we needed a new roof, carpenter relatives advised us to fell of series of poplar trees and use the money to build a new roof. We had no choice. When the hayloft was empty we tore down the old roof, getting ready for reconstruction. The lumber was promised but didn't show up until 4 months later and then had to be paid for. My sleep was filled with nightmares of going broke or missing tests at school. Mother was absolutely no help in any practical, logical discussions on finances. I was almost 20 and could not produce any income while going to school; Adolf was 16 and we agreed that he should spend a year in apprenticeship. I prepared myself for final exams while running the farm chores as I had seen them done in many years of growing up, watching the work change with the seasons. My neighbors were of help when necessary, but were probably wondering how the Suehling family could survive. I was by now almost 21 years old and I still was the second youngest in the group of 21 graduates. We were given talks by professionals advising us as to fields of endeavor we should pursue. Most fields were overrun and accepted only limited numbers of applicants. It did not affect me personally much, since I was planning to head for the U. S. The planned parties involved some expenses and money was hard to find, especially for frivolous things; but we wanted to let go of inhibitions to a small degree and I heard about the low price of moonshine (pst-DM 3 a bottle), went to the drugstore to fix it up for appearance sake and turned it into Danziger Goldwasser with some sugar and the fake flakes of gold leaf specks floating around. Naturally I had to taste for consistency and since I had only limited experience in the effects of 32% grain alcohol, I became aware of delayed action at the supper table when the world suddenly seemed skewed, and supper didn't taste good any more. My date enjoyed the party also and thought the Goldwasser superb enough to light up her own cigarettes, what a shock to me! I was too awestruck to offer her a light! Schuetzenfest is celebrated by time-honored, century’s old tradition as a combination war-dead memorial, a hunters ball, a harvest festival and a coming-out party for each year's young generation. First there are preparations to be made and everybody's input becomes more communicable with the passing Korn bottle. The premise, a dance hall barn, is decorated with birch greens and paper roses. The next day the entire community attends a religious service in memory of all young men who gave their lives in many past wars. As a group they march in formation to the memorial monument for a reading of all of the names and solemn vows to never allow this slaughter to happen again. Around noon the men meet under the Vogelstange where the figure of a wooden bird carved from very knotty oak and decorated by the young women is raised on a tilting pole 40 ft. into the air, and soon the first shots ring out in a battle to determine this year's king. To make the last remnant of the bird dislodge takes a 2-3 hour barrage. Toward the end, only serious contenders till have the courage to aim, less serious ones often miss the target on purpose. A brass band entertains, while youngsters gather pieces of the "bird" downrange, with plenty of help and moral encouragement by Korn the final candidates keep battling it out, until with one master blast the "bird" disintegrates. The new king is hoisted on the shoulders of the other gunners and is now pretty much responsible for liquid supplies. His first announcement deals with the queen he has selected and a committee races to her house to warn her: get a hairdo and your wardrobe in order, there will be little time for that during the next day or two. In most cases the queen comes out of the family of
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the "first" neighbor. In 1969, on the occasion of my visit with my family from Michigan, old-timers would relate, that my father Bernhard blew the "bird" away, even though he was also playing in the brass band, and was shortly to leave for the U.S. The next two evenings, after farm chores are done, the dance floor is filled to capacity till 5-6 am and no one is left sitting down. The wooden benches, chairs and tables never see any use. Now it is time to milk the cows. Many fanatics of Schuetzenfest, knowing they couldn't do justice to their cows, hire outside help to avoid unnecessary suffering. The fact that dance music brings all to their feet, young and old, boys or girls, is predicated by everyone knowing how to dance. There are no wallflowers allowed. German youngsters take ballroom dance lessons when Americans learn to drive. If any inhibitions remain, the Korn shall overcome. Mom got married a third time with open disapproval of her sons; now even more people had to agree in all decisions. I was planning for some years to return to the U.S. and set the date for summer 1952. In 1951 I registered for the draft at the American consulate. Adolf finished his year away from home, and together we made plans for the farm's future. One of our projects had to do with installing electric fencing, so we could subdivide our pasture land; the cows would get new grass every 3-4 days and not trample an oversupply when a large area was opened up. This system required the use of simple single wire, moveable posts and we went ahead revamping all old fences. Our neighbors watched in disbelief: have the boys gone crazy? Within 1 year they all had electric fences and their cows paid heed to the system and all now operated on the 3-4 day rotation principle. Not all experiments panned out. Topinambur was the secret word. A tropical crop equally liked by pigs and milk cows, said the advertisement. We tried a batch of seed stock. It grew slow at first, but then 10 ft. high. When was the time to harvest? We cut the stalks and the cows sniffed, only to turn their backs on it. We dug the roots for the pigs to watch them fight over them, no such luck. Pigs eat all but not Topinambur. I left the country and left it to Adolf to eradicate this small patch of exotic growth; he said it took a few years. The secret, we knew, was you never had to replant again. How did the farm do financially? We somehow found the cash for 2 train tickets to Genua and the fare from Genua to New York. I forget how Adolf and I spent 2 days in Italy, and said goodbyes. I left behind the old world and all that was familiar, which was life on the farm, and an occasional trip by bicycle or horse/wagon to the co-op for fertilizer pickup or grain or potato delivery. More importantly I left behind family ties that I had grown up with and that had dictated by tradition every move of this young inexperienced man. 21 years old. Most dramatically, I had to leave to uncertainty a young girl, whose looks and manners could turn me to crying. Only thoughts were to bridge the gap of 4 years of separation, expressed in letters arriving at regular, but long intervals over the years. I could report on many new things, she could only tell me about the routine of our previous life style. Some day she might fill in gaps with words I will leave unsaid for now. The passenger ship Homeland took 9 days to cross the Atlantic with stops in Marseille, Barcelona, through the straits of Gibraltar, 2 days on the Azores, Nova Scotia, and finally New York. Hundreds of people lined up to find their luggage, most of them not knowing what was lurking around the corner. The ship had come from the eastern Mediterranean to load Arabs, Egyptians, Greeks and Italians. Many were WWII displaced persons and all had one goal; life in the U.S. I found my luggage on the pier stacked among thousands in the cavernous loading sheds. I knew I had to take a train for the rest
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of the trip, but I was still thinking in old country dimensions. Asking a cabbie for Grand Central R. Station was one thing, the answer: it's downtown Manhattan, and we are in Newark N. J. How far is it? 20 minutes? That's a long walk with 2 suitcases! Others were boarding the cab with thesame destination and so did I. It turned out to be a 20 minute cab race. How much is the fare? How much cash do you have? $12! That is perfect. Now where is the train? Nothing looked liked a Railroad station. And it said Pennsylvania Railroad station on the giant building I was facing. I lugged my suitcases inside; there were no train tracks visible, nothing but massive stairways swallowing and disgorging people, people, people. I went to a counter with the ticket in hand; this is not your station, but we will honor your ticket. Your train leaves in 6 hours from platform x. I sat on my suitcases leaning against the wall to watch the beehive. I checked in my luggage and took a look outside and searched for the train platform 3 stories downstairs. The time passed by fast, I did think about hunger, was happy that the Bockheims had the foresight to provide me with a train ticket. Who were the Bockheims? They were strangers my mother told me about. How August was in the car-train accident that killed my father in Amerika, he escaped with broken ribs; how Tillie had helped her out when I was born, they cried together, she babysat me when my mother had to leave the house. I was not easy to babysit, since I never drank from a bottle; when I was hungry I wanted the real thing, said Tante Tillie, and nothing else would do and she had to lull me into a holding pattern till my mother returned. I had met Tillie 3 days before Papa's death in 1950 and August when he visited Germany 1951. I picked him up at the station in Borken with horse and buggy. I was promised a home with them and boarded the train for Grand Rapids at 6 pm. The train left on time, snaking underground for miles and rolled and rolled. How far could it possibly be to Grand Rapids? The sun came up as we entered Detroit where I had to change trains; we were 2 hours late, what a disappointment. That would have been impossible in Germany. My connection was gone, the next to leave at 6 pm; nothing to do but wait. During the night I had a sandwich, ham and cheese on white bread, $2.50, that is 10 DM. Now I found a hamburger stand, with no idea how to order a burger. It cost $2.00 but it was 3 hours to go until my train left. I shuffled back to the station and sat on the wooden benches of the waiting room, when suddenly a familiar face showed, Onkel August with friend Jack Heinzelman had driven to Detroit to pick me up. It couldn't be far now. Jack did most of the talking, in a Schwaebisch-English mixture, August was driving. I was dead tired and we drove and drove for 4 hours. It was a real run of mercy on August's part, the road conditions were still simple by today's standard, but we found 513 Kenwood NE by darkness. Tante Tillie was worried what could all have happened, but showed me to my room and set the table. I was hungry but too nervous to eat. And within minutes the Brechtings showed up former neighbors of my parents, with son Bob and daughter Leonore. Florentine was married already and Mary Catherine already a Dominican nun. I tried my best manners, greeting the ladies first, and sensed something wrong: they were not used to shaking hands the old country way, a very awkward situation; I didn't know where I missed. Their colloquial English went way over my head, here I had studied the Queen's English for 9 years and could not carry on a simple conversation, what a definite shock. The fault went both ways, as I later found out, their English was sloppy and no effort was made to pronounce syllables and my everyday English was rudimentary. I could discuss world politics but didn't know fork from spoon. I wondered what was to become of me!
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It was Labor Day weekend 1952, and Bockheims had time to show me the neighborhood. We went to Uebbings, to Looks, to the cemetery, where I saw for the first time my name on a headstone and sensed this closeness to the father I never knew. We inspected the road/railroad crossing where August gave me what details he could remember, and I saw the small house, "little paradise", where I lived the first few months of my life. On weekends, Brechtings asked me to help in the orchards. It was fall and harvest time for peaches and apples. Eat and eat, and eat some more and lunch and suppertime and get generous pay on top. Many a Sunday was spent at their house in family reunion. Winter set in and what I thought was unbearable heat in the fall, gave way to icy cold. I also found a first job in an assembly plant and could pay back what I owed Bockheims for the ticket and my room and board, financial obligations I had never experienced before. I tried to see my savings account grow at 2% interest. Brechtings thought I needed a car. Cars were built to order and they knew of a dealer, who had one on the floor, because a buyer changed his mind, you had to act fast, all showrooms were threadbare. Such were conditions in 1952. I had a critical look, mostly concerned about my bank account. $1,800: take it or leave it! A 1952 Chevy, two-door, bench seats, stick shift, spare in the trunk, but brand new. I paid $1,800 but did not know about insurance, license plate. That had to wait until the next payday. Bockheims were not really happy about me blowing the money, they never owned a new car. Tillie had gone to big trouble to get my German Marks exchanged-2000 DM. It was all gone now. Now I had to learn to drive, in spite of my International License. I still had to reconnoiter the areas on my own. And winter came, there were no radials and my tires spun a lot in frustration. Gas was 26 cents/gal. Spring came and things looked better. My job at the McInerney Co. was complemented by part time at Hill Machinery, 2 people were barely finding enough to do. I must have made the right impression, and after several requests, was allowed full time work. $1.80 hr. was a small fortune. I compared it to the hired man, Siegfried, on the farm. He made 80 DM a month, which was $20. I was going to be rich. All my new impressions, pictures of my car, went to Paulskamp 22. Gitta didn't seem impressed, I had to do better. Some of the young German immigrants were drafted on short notice. Mr. Schmich still was learning to drive the big Oldsmobile, the boys were in Ft. Knox. I tried my hand at driving school every weekend. We missed hitting a lot of cars. I then was drafted. I parked my car at Joe Uebbings farm in Conklin. They would use it on Sundays to go to church. I found myself at Ft. Knox for basic training. 3 Wollner boys in my barracks. It was October and wet and cold. I caught pneumonia, only to be released from the hospital in time for graduation. We car-pooled to Grand Rapids, arriving late at night. Tillie was the one who heard me knocking and was happy to see me home with a big hug even though her morning coat was barely buttoned. My own mother could through the years not have provided me with more feeling of being home. She often waived my weekly room and board because I would play her game of coaxing August out of the house, and during my furloughs she was happy I could chauffeur her. The arthritis in her knees always bothered her, especially in icy weather. She would bank my savings for me, and mail things like my camera. Nothing was too much; of course, soon I would be doing their annual taxes. During the first weeks August and Tillie talked about me taking a night-course in English, but they soon gave up when they had trouble answering my vocabulary questions. After my Christmas furlough, I went back to Ft. Knox to await orders. My advance training was radio school for 3 months. Many times I could see
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

Schmichs' (Frank and Wendel) tanks rolling by while I was trying to read Morse code. I was hoping to spend time in Europe, I should have passed my German Language test, but the Far East was next. We were flown to Seattle (we wondered why the hurry), and then waited for the next troop transport ship. To keep occupied, we collected rocks in a pile on the parade grounds, so the next group could scatter them again. My mail from Paulskamp became sporadic. I had no definite address yet. The troop carrier General Mann was our slow boat. In April 1954 we were in southern Japan, every one wanting to stay there, or Okinawa, but it was to be Korea. After a stop in a Japanese harbor, we sailed on to Inchon, Korea, on the Yellow Sea and rode a truck to Kimpo Airbase near Seoul. I learned that I was to serve in the Communication section of an anti-aircraft battalion dispersed in the rice paddies around the airbase. I asked about reveille in the morning; a big laugh. Things were very relaxed. Our tents were almost directly under the wing tips of B 27 bombers, they warmed up the engines every morning for 20 minutes. If you wanted breakfast, you got up, or else you walked to the Airforce dining room and in return for your signature you could eat breakfast until 11 am. A library, chapel, and cinema were on the base, but I was waiting for mail from Paulskamp 22. But first I had to make my new address known. A first class letter would take 3 weeks each way, phoning was unheard of, so I could always be lonely and think, think, think. On weekends the Army-truck-bus gave us a chance to get into Seoul, at that time a cow town filled with shacks, a lot of slick boys, who could walk up to you to lift your wallet, ballpoint, or anything else. We could also go on "field trips" to the burial parks of ancient Korean kings but there was little information available, to tie in their burial mounds, temples and stable of stone animals. Our unit supported a Korean orphanage and we would be treated to the children's reception with vocal and instrumental music. The kids would hang unto arms and legs hoping to go to the U. S. My duty on base consisted of staffing the 3 radio channels and relaying phone calls, mostly within the unit; from the gun emplacement to headquarters and battalion. Very rarely a secret message from 8th Army had to be decoded, to check if people were on the ball. 6 weeks before my arrival at Kimpo, a Russian Mig with a North Korean pilot landed undetected at Kimpo, the first Mig to fall into U. S. hands. The pilot had heard about the $400,000 reward. The plane was only identified as it rolled to the end of the runway. A few months later my unit was moved to the harbor of Inchon, where I spent about one year. Life was very routine - occasionally we had to go on field exercises with other U.N. units. The Turks always took first place. They were known as fierce soldiers. A Korean thief that was caught and was seen hung above the entrance to their compound, no more problems with stealing. About half of our personnel were now "Katusa", Koreans attached to U.S. army. They were excused from guard duty at night. The Commo. Section, however, had to man the radios and pull guard duty at night. Just outside our compound, railroad tracks passed by and every locomotive was shoveling coal to the shacks along the track, a flourishing black market. Our houseboy for the Commo tent, cleaned the floor, and our carbines, polished our shoes, kept the oil stove going, took the laundry to the village, and turned my 2 cartons of cigarettes a month at $1 each into enough cash profit to pay for expenses, so that my salary could go directly to my savings account at Bockheims. We played a lot of pinochle and chess, Jack Wilcox and Cliff Vanberkum being part of the regular gang, the same guys I still hear from at Christmas time every year since 1955. We also carried on discussions in the religious fields. We got a good impression of the
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differences and similarities of Lutheran, Mormon and Catholic teachings. Cliff reported back to his minister, who warned him about Mormonism, the Catholics were o.k. he shared with me, but Jack was not supposed to know. The Armistice had been signed and promotions were sparse. We all made Corporal just before rotation back to the States and discharge. What a wasted 2 years. I did spend two R. and R. leaves in Japan. The first time I sent home some trinkets and china service for 12. I didn't know at the time that someday my clan would need it. My second trip landed me in Tokyo where I strolled around the Imperial palace, ate and slept cost efficient at the Japanese Finance Ministry turned into a hotel for G.I.s. I also met future sister-in-law Maria's pen pal Kazuo Wanibuchi who together with Mr. Takeo Fukuda showed me the town. They also invited me to an overnight stay at the Fukuda residence outside of the capital, to see a typical home and family, taking up all of 6x8m with a backyard of 3x5m for a total of 66 square meters. Japan was crowded then. The three of us conversed in Japanese, German or English, only two of us involved at one time. We went to a Japanese restaurant and dined according to their custom, and I treated them to a steak dinner at our PX. A fiasco for them to cut the meat. All in all a unique experience. Years later Kazuo got to Egypt in the foreign service and hitchhiked to deliver his marriage proposal to Maria in person. He knew what he was after, even if unsuccessful. Also, while in Tokyo, I managed to buy material, I don't know if I could call it silk, for my bride, should the occasion mature to that point. Letters kept crossing the oceans and a direct request obtained in a reply the definite need to ask her mother's permission. After intensive soul-searching and a massive quest for the proper vocabulary, my letter was put in the mail. I had about 3 months to go till rotation. The reply was quick and to the point. "Even though she is young, you can grow up together" It would be interesting, what that letter would be containing these days: "Why don't you shack up first for 1 or2 years to test yourselves?" We set a tentative date for 1 year after my discharge. I sure needed to improve my finances before I could afford to take a trip by boat to pick up my bride; army wages, after all, amounted to about 8 cents/hr, in view of the fact we were on 24 hr duty. I believe that my savings amounted to $3-4,000. I bought the boat tickets and planned on some spending money and half of it was gone. After discharge I immediately went back to Hill Machinery and was soon being paid $2.00 hr. and overtime improved my income, many nights until 10 pm. Gitta had incurred expenses and needed help, for silverware had to be paid off. And our intentions to marry in Germany in the presence of our families cause legal expenses at the Oberlandesgericht Hamm. A special permit was granted when a $200 fee was paid and the bride had to submit to a physical in Bremen at the American Consulate. After my 2 years of service in the U.S. Army, most of it under U.N. command, I was discharged back to Grand Rapids and lived with Bockheims again. Our wedding plans called for 1 year of intensive savings, so that by common demand of the family I could take a trip to Germany to be married in our hometown. Frank and Mary Brechting, former neighbors of my parents, who had children in my age group, heard about my plans and decided to get on the same boat. Since I was not marrying any of their daughters, at least, they wanted to be sure, that I was not totally led astray by my infatuation. We drove 2 days to Montreal and boarded the Seven Seas for a nine day crossing of the Atlantic. First stop was Halifax N.S. and the next Le Havre. Brechtings debarked and took a train to Paris and then on to Rome before returning to Borken in time
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for the wedding on Sept. 28 1956. I should have taken a train across France to Borken, but instead stayed with the sea voyage to Southampton and Bremerhaven. The boat entered the harbor in the middle of the night. At 6 in the morning with all the boat decks still deserted; I looked out at the pier, where a heavy fog was just lifting in the dawn's early light. There was no activity quay-side except one lonely young girl waiting in the shadows of a pillar. My heart triple-skipped, my breath and voice were gone, I did not expect to see her. And customs check was not scheduled for 2 hours, the distance too far for a conversation. I had not seen her for 4 years, and what a beauty I found. As I left the gangplank, I had to search in the milling crowds and tried to kiss her with all the courage I could muster:"Not with all these people!" And then we arrived, many luggage carriers were on hand to help us in Borken to Paulskamp 22, just in time for afternoon coffee. I was checked over carefully on arrival and I remember what a tough time I had buttering my bread on the plate instead of G.I. style in my hand. We began a round of never-ending visits to aunts and uncles, extending invitations at the same time. Each visit required advance exchanges of the facts of the family connection, what to say, and what subject to leave alone. We had to check with all authorities and settle dates for civil and church weddings, get the proper suit to wear, even if there was to be no further use of black ever. The day arrived, the weather unreliable as always in Westfalen. The wedding dress was done in time; I had carted the material from Tokyo to Grand Rapids and now to Borken. The bridesmaids and groomsmen were willing to do their respective duties. There was some discussion of proper dress; Germany was very conservative then! It became a 3 sisters-3 brothers act. Before the time of official camera men with lots of electronic equipment, -the proofs are in a few tiny black and white photos taken by bystanders who happened to own a camera. The bride looked radiant, slim and exotic at the wedding breakfast. The ringing of wineglasses by Brechtings brought no response from other guests, besides; kissing in public was not "in". We stopped by the photo studio and I offhandedly asked about color wedding pictures. The photographer had never done any but black and white, but had color film on hand and he was more than willing to abide by our request. In fact, we started by this innocent question a whole new trend in color photography, especially since he took the liberty to display our wedding picture in his show window for the next year. We received reports during the next few months: your picture is still on display. We drove back to the farm, not however, without the time-honored tradition of being way-laid and having to buy the right-of-way with Korn before the chain stretched across the road was removed. The bottle of Korn was passed incessantly by my younger brothers, but they complained, they couldn't get the guests to drink. Too many of them never heard of the habit of accepting a full "Pinneken": emptying it in one swallow and following with a second, all "to keep the balance, because nobody can stand too long on one leg." Some thought the shot had to be nursed along, little did they realize, this lonely little glass had by itself raised the neighborhood spirits during past generations, and others were thirsty too, or had a stomach that needed settling. After the evening meal, the band played on the Diele and bride and groom took advantage of the first dance (we hadn't danced in years) before everybody else joined in leaving no one standing. It had been a long, nerve-fraying day and a far-sighted Uncle Willi Keuper (Gitta's godfather) offered us a ride back to Muenster, where he had reserved a honeymoon suite for us. On the next day we took a train to Bremen and 2 days later we would sail home. Our luggage was heavy with wedding presents and books and 6 towels and books and 6 bed
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sheets (metric size) and books. The bride had visions of plenty of reading time. Our silverware was complete and paid for in late haste. My black wedding suit went along; we lived up to the final German tradition with all rigid rules. But just breathing the salty air made my beautiful bride sick to her stomach, not even the gentle rocking wave motion in the English Channel could calm her stomach down. The invitation to the captain's table was for naught. Her perfect size 8 did not allow for days without food. The Seven Seas had waited for us in Bremerhaven and we now shared one room, the same that Frank and Mary Brechting had on the way over. They were given separate rooms. The stops at Southampton, Le Havre, Halifax did not help. We debarked at Montreal, and packed our belongings into Brechting's station wagon for the 2 day trip home to Grand Rapids. Bockheims welcomed us home, and the search for our own abode started, looking at houses every spare minute and the finances always too feeble. After 3 weeks, we found a bungalow around the corner from August and Tillie, took over a land contract of $13,500, paid closing costs and moved in. Again we were short on cash. We also had to buy appliances, furniture and every item needed in a household. Bockheims generously agreed to a 2nd mortgage, to be paid off in 2 years. I worked and worked and we made it on time. We bought hospitalization insurance but too late to cover pregnancy. Barbara could not wait and we had to pay cash for her and her arrival fees. The insurance was Bankers Casualty, very appropriate. Now we also needed mortgage and life insurance. I worked some extra hours, so we could afford it. We still had not asked anyone in-the-know about the cause of pregnancy. Little by little we paid off what we owed and even saved some money. Because Gitta wanted to take the 2 children home on a trip to Germany to her mother's, we had to wait for Mark to turn 1 year. Our bungalow supposedly was well insulated, in the vernacular of its day. But a heavy snowfall on the roof would guarantee beautiful icicles along the eves, with a bank of ice and water caught behind the bank dribbling through the kitchen cupboards into the basement drain. One cold winter's night, thegas valve of the furnace quit. The original builder had installed a used valve, with no replacement available on the market. It was quite a cost to fix the problem. The talk about nuclear war intensified and people took it serious enough to take defensive action. Many designs for backyard shelters were on the market. We opted to build a concrete block cubicle inside the basement, a do-it-yourself project. I wonder if it still exists. Our '52 Chevy wore out and we bought an American Motors Lark. Quality left things to be desired, until foreign competition forced the Big Three into better design and quality. We had a Chevette station wagon; at 22,000 miles a front wheel fell off while driving to work at 25 m.p.h. What would have happened at 60 m.p.h.? A green Ford wagon was quickly full as Deborah arrived. She was a baby when Oma Keuper, Tante Maria Reinelt and Opa Gerhard Welchering visited us. All of us fit into the 2 bedroom expansion bungalow. About that time we paid off all mortgages and were briefly debt-free. Debbie was 1 1/2 years old when a shock hit us. Without any fanfare, except a lot of kicking "in utero", the Twins showed up, no warning whatsoever. They came home and Debbie had no choice but to grow up fast, and she did. Our first home served us well for 7 years, but was not spacious enough for 7 people. We set out to build by starting with a model that we could take apart and actually walk through. Our first home cost us $13,000, and when we paid off the mortgage, we received a bonus, $600 that had to be put in escrow by the original builders with F.H.A. We accepted with glee. Our new plans were coming along, when we noticed an ad in the paper of a new home, having all the same features as our model; that's how we met Case Lubbers, the builder,
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Bernard Siehling

You Can Always Come Back to the Farm Oct. 8, 2000

but no salesman. "Did you build this? Yes. Do you own it? Yes. Are you the seller? Yes. "A little hard sell might have clinched the deal for him. "Would you look at our modelplans? Yes - tomorrow.” He gave us a tentative price of $29,000 depending on the cost of the lot. A few days later we arranged for a new mortgage at 6 1/4 % for $12,000. Case had just started another home on speculation, ours was next! With a wide expanse of hilly terrain behind us, it was ideal for the children, with lots of neighboring families of around 5 children. Two years later we burned the mortgage. As a side remark; the bungalow we sold because it was crowded, was quickly picked up by a family with 6 kids. Case Lubbers and his wife Fran (Flikkema) became our next-door neighbors for the next years. The kids went to St. Alphonsus elementary school in a carpool set-up with Neerings. We had 5 children at St. Alphonsus's at one time. They had a monopoly on scholastic awards, and other families were happy to see them graduate to high school. Three of them managed to get a scholarship for a cost-free session at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in various instruments. Barby entered the prestigious girls' high school of Marywood, to see it close in her junior year, to be dragged to Aquinas College by her favorite teacher, Sr. Ann Mason. All our other children elected to go to West Catholic high school, marking their presence there in no uncertain ways and soon scattering to various colleges leaving only Abe, our Irish setter, at home, who kept the parents on their toes, when he needed to be picked up within a 20 mile radius because he got lost easily. The pool we had built in 1971 suddenly saw no further use, and Abe needed more space, so we bought 40 acres on Squires Rd. in 1972 and 10 acres on Egypt Valley in 1976. By 1980 new plans were executed and became our present abode. As my mother took me, the 6 month old baby back to her parents, she decided to leave some money in a bank account in the Comstock Park State Bank, funds that she thought she might need to pay outstanding bills or that accumulated as she sold her household goods. Nobody could foresee the imminent crash of the market and subsequent bank holiday. In any case, all remaining funds were frozen and pretty much forgotten about. But the U.S. Government had taken control. In 1957 a final check made out in U. S. dollars arrived at my mother's house for a final total of $44.23 settling for whatever funds were lost in 1931/32. I don't know the amount of losses. She took the check made out to her name sometime in 1944 by the Michigan State of Escheats in Lansing (during WW II) and now delivered into her hands in 1957, to the local bank, where everyone shook their heads. The check stated: to be cashed within 48 hours. No dice! She thought I might want the slip of paper as a souvenir and mailed it to us. I handed it to a teller at Old Kent Bank, they checked the endorsement and counted out $44.23 without any questions. I asked about accumulated dividends and interest: No! That's not our government's way! I took home the $44.23 left over from 1931, administered and issued in 1944, cashed in 1957 and mailed one half to my mother: a quick and equitable settlement, wouldn't you agree? I would- like to devote a little more time and space to the early years of our marriage. After living with Bockheims for about 6 weeks, we could move into our first home, a modest little bungalow without any frills, consisting of kitchen, bathroom, living room and 2 bedrooms. We had to buy all new appliances, refrigerator, stove, washing machine and some furniture, and we were broke. At $2.00/hr., even if gas and groceries were cheap, every hour of overtime became important. Realty fees and property taxes had to be paid and an escrow account set up. There was precious little left for extras. McDonald's and many of today's restaurants did not exist yet and would have had little business. The evenings out consisted of visiting friends and eating with them and
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inviting them back. Our lawn was cut twice a week with a push-type reel mower that needed grinding twice a year. Our yard had to be fenced, so Barb and then Mark could play unsupervised in a sandbox Dad built. The furnace quit one night, because the 20 year old gas valve (the house was only 5 yrs. old) had an old-fashioned heating element opening device and it burned out. The house was built from used parts. For the next night and day we opened the gas valve manually to keep from freezing until we found the $150 to install a new valve. There was no humidifier so Dad installed one. Per Bockheims advice we acquired an old-fashioned wringer washer, something they had grown up with. It wrecked many a diaper and small piece of clothing, until we ruled out well-meant advice and bought an automatic. Mom could not drive, so grocery or other shopping was always a family affair. As we returned one night, Mom remembered she left the Sauerkraut on the gas stove and we had to duck under the smoke filling the house. Any kind of snow fall meant carrying the snow from the side of the house to the front or back. We could not throw snow on the neighbor's (the nice Anderson/Smith family) sidewalk. Living on a small side street condemned us to waiting for city ploughs getting around to us after 2 days and plugging our clean driveway with solid snow-ice mix. The '52 Chevy had no snow tires, radials were not invented yet, and it took little to get stuck at every intersection. The car, and we were proud of our late model, had the following features: stick shift 3 gear, 2 doors, bench seats, spare in the trunk- very basic transportation at $1,800 or 1,000 hrs of gross wages. After Mark was born, I felt that I should contract for additional insurance protection for my family and made an afternoon appointment for the required physical (Dr. Sevensma). I asked for permission to take time off and Don stated very positively: forget about the exam, I will buy life insurance for your family and handed me a policy 2 weeks later. I felt relieved; my family was taken care of in case of my death twenty years later, as the company ownership changed hands. I presented the policy and said it might well be paid up by now. The official answer: Just forget about that document. The agent disclosed: one single payment was made! My family's protection never existed, except for one year! As it turned out, it was unnecessary! An earlier application with State Farm, the company that held all my other policies, was turned down flat in 1960 for reasons the company would not divulge. But the State Farm agent was accompanied by a friend from Lincoln National and they sold me a policy without dwelling on any reasons for the previous rejection by State Farm. I was happy I had protection and did not ask enough questions, and no explanation was volunteered by Lincoln. By coincidence I found out 5 years later, that Lincoln charged me double the premium, because State Farm turned me down and did not say "why". I checked with Prudential, gave all the pertinent background info and picked up a policy at standard ratings. Lincoln dropped the extra charges. State Farm never answered any questions. It is now 40 years later and I am still alive. When Debbie announced she would be coming, we enlarged our dinette by a modest 6x8 feet. This addition had a flat roof and snow build up would make the roof leak, the water descending down the electrical wire, filling the glass bowl of the ceiling light, making it a hanging aquarium, with a good chance of blowing a few circuits. Since Debbie was not happy sleeping in the living room, we quickly finished the upstairs expansion attic. The insulation was in place. We had the slanted walls plastered and Dad laid flooring. Luckily heat ducts were already installed and Barb, Mark and Debbie could have the upstairs to themselves as combination play and sleeping quarters. They
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suddenly enjoyed their grown-up independence. School had started for Barb at Riverside. She seemed to enjoy it and her teachers were anxious to meet her parents. She soon took Mark in tow, together with many other kids in the neighborhood. Despite the very remote possibility, we recognized we were going to complete our family of 4 children in due time. Bockheims were alerted to serve as babysitters and Dad received the call to come home from work a little early. Dr. Braunschneider insisted he wanted to see us in his office on the west side first, but then dropped everything, sent his other patients home at 4pm and told us to follow him to the hospital. I checked us in at close to 5pm. We now had private insurance to cover such expenditures. Barb had taught us to plan ahead. Her delivery expenses of $120 covering physician and hospital had to come out of pocket. Mom was in delivery by the time I filled out all papers, and fathers were not in attendance in that generation; nothing left but to pace the floor. While it seemed forever, it probably was only minutes, when the doctor appeared and advised me to sit down: "These German girls keep doing this to me! Your wife had a set of beautiful identical twins, all three are o.k." I had not yet recovered from shock, when I asked Mom: “What are you doing?”, and not “How are you doing?” Her warnings had been faint, vague remarks like: This last baby has more than 2 arms and 2 legs; but the doctor calmed her down, it seems like a good sized baby, should be a boy, and twins don't run in either family. Several days later, Tante Tillie was happy to give up mothering the 3 older children, even though she would never admit it. Her "grandchildren" could do no wrong, and Onkel August concurred. We had foundsome godparents in Arlene and Greg Bockheim, and Ted and Duane Thompson. Now we had 5 kids and they took their toll on their mother. An old lady in the area helped out during daylight hours for very little pay. It occurred to us to call on my baby-sister Mathilde to live with us for a little while. She had just finished training as a pediatric nurse and found some practical application at our house. It became apparent that our house was getting crowded and Dad built models of what kind of space should be available to us. We planned and we saved, but the price now came to $28,000 compared to the first $13,000 investment. In 1960 Gitta had taken Barb and Mark to Germany to introduce to the clan. Different trials and tribulations showed her that 10 weeks was too long a visit. Both Grandmas came over in alternating years to spend a few weeks with us and got to know our offspring. Our kids being the first grandchildren on either side insured them prime attention; too bad they were not fully blond-haired. Aunt Mathilde was still with us when we dug the basement at 1412 Worcester NE. Once the decision was made, it seemed to take forever, but in the fall of 1964 we could move in and spread out. Spring saw a lot of muddy shoes at the back door, the soil was clay, but during the summer the landscaping came alive, and we felt at home. We picked a neighborhood with many 5-children-families, just coincidence. After a few months at Beckwith, all children switched to St Alphonsus school. The Twins started Kindergarten at Beckwith. Kathleen got bored on visiting day, left her guardian, Karl Neering behind, and walked home, much to Mrs.Larson's chagrin who did not even know which twin was missing. Careful calls through the area proved that Kathleen had made it home. She knew the way home and thought school was not what it was made out to be. With all the ponds and creeks behind the house, we needed some place to keep the turtles, fish and pollywogs. We installed our own "pothole" near the backdoor and the build-up deck and it became the depository for the neighborhood.
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All our kids made the rounds among the neighbors, it so happened they found playmates their age aplenty. It was hard to tell how many friends might be at our house or where to start ringing the phone to get our childrenhome for supper. There was little friction most of the time, although there were occasions with ample. Mark and Steve Flikkema tumbled in the backyard and one of Steve's front teeth was knocked out. Robert Nielsen (Depriestis) found some bricks in the field and tried to use them to smash something or other, when Mark's thumb was caught and flattened bloody; his question: Am I going to die, Mom? The Twins were only about 1 year and learning to climb on furniture. Kathleen slipped and came up with a split lower lip as she hit the corner of the coffee table. I did not hear much of a whimper as it was sewn up in the emergency room at Blodgett hospital. When Barb was 4-5 years old she tried to coax a strange dog from under a car, the dog did not like the attention and snapped at her and opened a cut near the eye. All in all we were lucky, no broken bones ever. When some of our friends had pools in their backyards, we decided on an economy edition, with a second-hand air dome left over from the downtown home show. It soon became the magnet of the neighborhood and with very few basic rules of behavior, the playground of the area. Even the Twins learned to swim in a jiffy. We no longer worried about the dangers of water. When cousins Andrea and Gabriele came in 1972 and were more than game to join in water fun, new rules had to be set: no more racing around the pool, no body contact with boys, jumping on their back like primates; they didn't know that boys are defenseless by our society's ground rules. "No rough play" meant for them going back to the bedroom and eating hard candy. They did not gain anything from associating with other youngsters, much to our chagrin. As we were in the process of building on 1412 Worcester, Bockheims and Heinzelmanns felt they had to inspect the roughed-in shell and came back to us with real concerns. They misinterpreted the floor plan and felt the kitchen was too small. They had mistaken the laundry for the kitchen. They sounded very approving, once the house was finished. Onkel August retired soon after we moved in, and enjoyed his leisure life for only 2 years. His lack of physical exertion was not good for him, combined with Tante Tillie's good cooking. He soon succumbed to various medical complaints. He supposedly caught something sitting on a stump squirrel hunting. There was a blood disease that did him in. He died after a brief stay in the hospital of a lung embolism. Our children had transformed him into a grandfather, even though he never cared for children of his own. He never tired of our kids climbing all over him and riding on his foot, as he sat with crossed legs in a chair. Tante Tillie was stirred to tears as Mark asked at the funeral if he could touch Onkel August's face one more time. Tante Tillie was to live many more years by herself, with some help by Gitta, when it came to shopping and getting to the beauty parlor. She depended on Mark to cut the grass around the house and was happy to pay him generously. Dad could always be depended on to fix things, in the garage, in the basement, to install a humidifier. Her arthritis caused a reminder by her doctor to take lots of hot baths, but she could no longer get in and out on her own, as she confessed one day teary-eyed. I could be on hand occasionally to help, but got to thinking of a mechanical device, so she could handle it on her own; by using city water pressure in an air-cylinder to a cable attached to a car seatbelt in a yoke around the chest and counterbalanced by a bucket full of sand in the basement. She soon developed confidence and pride in the use of the "lift" and even showed the visiting minister, who could not quite understand all the principles. She
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could not boast enough of what it meant to her. On another occasion she confessed in tears that her mouth hurt to the point that she could not eat anymore. She was not given to complaints ever, so I called our dentist who agreed to see her within the hour. The dentist asked when her dentures were last checked and she admitted: 25 years ago at installation. He enlightened her that it needed to be done every year, but with a little grinding and fitting of pressure spots, he fixed the problem that had seemed insurmountable to her. What a relief. This was also the time when certificates of deposit came into their own and since her savings, the result of years of intensively collecting quarters and dimes, were only paying her 2-3% in a savings account. I suggested to her the advantage of taking out a $10,000 C.D. As the first quarterly interest payment was mailed in, she gained some confidence in my advice, even though she admitted, that it was contrary to August's thinking. She even allowed me to buy a few additional certificates and 6 months later stated to me: I am rich, I cannot use up the income. She finally recognized the difference between a 2% savings account and a 10% C.D. and did not need further convincing. She had never had a checking account, much less a credit card, and always paid her utility bills in person downtown, as long as she was able to take the bus downtown. One day she got sick with a bladder infection. It was conquered by antibiotics. She always wanted to stop taking them as soon as she felt better, and promptly had a relapse. But eventually her symptoms pointed to a blood disease, aggravated by age. Her heart was affected by physical deterioration and after very few months of being sick she died at 82. Since she had appointed me administrator, the task of gathering all assets for probate purposes was left to me and took about 2 years to handle, even though some heirs were getting impatient. After we moved to Worcester, all our kids attended St. Al's, even though Kindergarten at Beckwith School served as jumping off point. The various school activities at St. Al's took up many a free evening with science projects, plays and band concerts, and school and church demanded free time with ushering and festival duties, finance committee and fund drives. The bell tower was leaking. Ed Kolenda and I took a few buckets of compound tar to patch the cracks. Changing burned-out light bulbs had for years been a big budget item and usually needed attention just before major holydays, with scaffolding having to be brought from the convent, assembled inside to reach a few burned out bulbs. John Neering and I installed six $12 chain hoists permitting us to lower the giant chandeliers, so all bulbs could be changed without ladders, at no further monetary costs except for the bulbs. Our children were always afraid what we would do with our spare time, once they started leaving for college. That and other concerns were answered with Abe, our reddish, long-haired Irish setter that joined our family at age 1 year. Abe really never was a problem! He liked enclosed cubicles and was happy to sleep on a mat in the shower. He was a people dog, and he just had more energy than most people. He hated a door ajar, and was often obliged to take advantage of us to gain freedom. He knew the neighborhood well and everybody knew him. On a leash he could have pulled a fully loaded dog sled on dry land by himself. He was very intelligent, but never learned to spell "walk". He felt all traffic had to watch out for him, until he was bumped by a car in front of our house; luckily the pavement was icy and he skidded down the road. Resting on the couch, he didn't feel too good, but an aspirin wrapped in cheese every hour helped to get him back in shape. Irish setters like to wander. He was a happy wanderer. Mom picked him up at the darndest places when he got lost;even as far as the airport (after
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somebody had picked him up in our area). He literally outgrew the neighborhood, and we had to invest in our own 40 acres for a dog run. Miraculously, out in nature, he never got lost. Even if we tried to lose him by silently hunkering behind some shrubs, he would back-track and somehow find us. He learned to leave chickens and ducks alone but tried to be helpful when I tried to catch one. He wore his name and address and phone number on his collar and never left home without it. Even when a sheriff's deputy met him a mile from home, he allowed him to read all pertinent information, then promptly climbed into the cruiser and the officer took him home to Mom, without even hinting at illegalities. Someone on Bear Creek came driving up our driveway, furious at Abe, who he said, had been chasing his ducks. We walked through our garage and there in our backyard was Abe, ducks and chickens all around him, not a sign of excitement on anyone's part. The man could not believe the sight. Of course, it was partly Abe's fault we had to move in 1980 from Worcester to Egypt Valley. Our old neighborhood just couldn't contain all of us anymore. On the other hand, the children were close to leaving home for college and we could see us living in the country without inconveniencing anyone. It was a bold move and we didn't quite know all the possible consequences; what to do in deep snow etc. as our old friends used to worry, with no sidewalks in front of the house? But we did not need drapes on the windows and could watch the deer get up from their slumber, hear the whippoorwill call all night, look at the owl watching us, have the hawk carry off chicks, outwit the raccoons raiding the chicken coop and steal the eggs of ducks just before hatching. Honestly, it has been tough, living off the land! Some years ago we rented a herd of goats to keep the pasture along the creek cut. There were no major problems the first 2 years. Mr. Housemann would deliver the animals, 4 at a time, in his sedan; my only requirement was to take them off his hands instantly as he stopped the car, because the need to eliminate as soon as the car stoppedis simply overwhelming. That was one bad goat habit, but there are others. The bark of 20 years old spruce trees is often preferred to a monotonous grass diet. Our front yard shrubs or the leaves of weeping willows are more delicious to a goat than luscious young grass. A single electric wire could keep the 15 head herd confined generally, especially as long as there was an experienced nanny with leadership qualities in the group. Occasionally a strange noise might scare them during the night and the fence did not exist; the whole gang would be at our front door waiting for the sunrise. One summer afternoon a drama unfolded. A neighbor from the other end of Egypt Valley was walking her pit bull down the road, she had raised him as a puppy on select tender chicken and she was very proud of her pet, until his hidden bred-in instincts took over at the sight of our goats. In spite of the woman's pleading he found his favorite pastime to be grabbing the goats by the throat and otherwise tearing them up. In time the surrounding neighbors heard the mournful cries of the dying goats, many dragged themselves into the cool waters of the creek. Some lady found her husband's shotgun and tested it. It worked, but now she was out of ammunition. The dog tired after a while and the goat herd was scattered to the winds. Luckily, the dog owner carried homeowner's insurance. The vet got paid, and the dead ones paid for before burial. Pit bulls cannot be turned into pets? Our Muskovy ducks are very hardy. Even in cold weather they make their way down to the creek; if the air is very cold, the running water is warmer. Sometimes an ice bridge forms as snow drifts across the creek, but the water runs underneath. The ducks do what comes naturally, they "duck" under the ice, poking their heads through holes here
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and there, and get caught by the current. The feathers get caked with ice and they freeze to death. I am sure that accounts for attrition, but the neighbor kids alerted me one year. As I got to the creek, I saw only heads sticking through the ice. I broke the ice around them and dragged a number of very cold, very heavy ducks on solid ground. They could not move, they weighed 30 lbs. or more - real cold duck. Under the infra-red light in the barn, they became lighter and very hungry. They might have been stuck for days, certain death was ahead. It's tough living off the land! During the last 2 years we have tried to get our peacocks to survive. The first family of 3 soon mourned the death of their baby daughter, who did not look right or left before crossing the street. The parents raised 4 little ones; that is they laid the fertilized eggs, a chicken hatched them and took good care of the youngsters, who behaved like chickens. Kuesters inherited 2 chicks, and 2 were traded for a white hen. In the spring, when the ants invaded our house, I sprinkled ant poison, the peacocks found some and the white hen succumbed. Erwin Kuester and I bought a hen each, our team of 1 rooster and 2 hens laid about 15 eggs, even though most hatched in the incubator successfully, they died one by one except the last, late hatchling. We have lots of tail feathers togive away, life is a battle. I was lucky to have had a profitable job all my life. When I first came to live with Bockheims, I had only a faint idea what I might do to earn a living. Onkel August took me around to get my Social Security card and apply for jobs with various firms. In 1952, the economy hit a low, but I did not know about that aspect. One of the places I applied was McInerney Spring and Wire Co. and I was promptly given a job as assembler. Car seats with all their loose straps and coil spring were put together on a moving line, out of metal stamped parts that came in from other divisions of the factory. It was a 40 hour week on a swing shift, starting at 7am or 3pm with a switch every 2 weeks. The parts came down the line at a precise interval and all operations had to be performed within the allotted time, no easy task for a complete greenhorn. The old-timers knew which positions on the line were preferred, the tools to be used were furnished by the company, but they were worn-out hand tools, and it was tough to look at them and judge the quality. So it was a day- to- day struggle, reflected in sore hand muscles that caused the coffee cup to shake while drinking. Nobody ever said, Hurry up, but getting behind made the entire line look bad. The pay was the same for all-$1.65/hr or $52/wk take home. I met family men with 4 children who lived on $52/week, one lived off Plainfield and I had a chance to ride with him coming and going, and I was happy to pay him instead of the bus, because I was home within minutes, but he was not interested in a deal. By bus the trip took better than an hour, and quite often an old German, Val Huber, would see me standing at the bus stop and stopped to give me a ride. But he generally left earlier, because as foreman at Keeler Brass next door to McInerney he felt he had to be on his station 1 hour ahead of the whistle, to turn on the lights and check the status of work during the night shift. He was very proud of his kids, who attended Creston High School, from where his daughter had just graduated as valedictorian. His work ethic was beyond compare. Many years later he asked me about a machine at Keeler Brass, that he heard I had designed and built. He could not believe it, where would Bernie have learned that? The school of hard knocks, I answered. As a few months went by, I realized that McInerney did not hold any future and on my morning shift I rode the bus to Michigan and Lafayette, where Hill Machinery was located. I talked to Don and he showed me around. I heard the names of many machines for the first time. Would I like to stop by, he said, and if he had extra work, I could help
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out a few hours a week. I would center H.S.S. and mill blanks and turn the required taper. These tools were used in the newly born die cast industry to mill mold cavities. The difficult process of spiral milling was done by Don himself; only Hill Machinery could handle this process in Grand Rapids, because we had the only Universal Mill with powered dividing head. Soon I was allowed to set up and operate this process. It took me more time than it should, but I could be depended on to stick with my job. In those days there was no time clock, no starting whistle, no breaks, no insurance, no paid holidays. You were directly responsible for making a profit for the company. After a few months of part time work, I asked for an opportunity to work at Hill full time. Don was reluctant to commit himself, because even though there was only Bob Peck, Don and I, it was tough to predict that a continuous work load could be insured. The year was 1952, Don hired me and I have never worked a 40 hr.work week, probably more an average of 55 hrs. In 1953 I took a leave of absence, when Uncle Sam had a job for me in Korea, came back after 2 years, returned to work and little by little helped turn Hill Machinery into a name recognized all over Grand Rapids. It was a stepby-step process, taking advantage of new trends as they developed, from Permanent Molds to Trim dies to more and more automation, automation 1950-60-70- style, throwing people out of work occasionally and feeling sorry for them, but increasing output many fold. One of the first attempts was a mop-making machine for $600, that we lost $2,000 on, but it worked after many headaches and did not hurt our reputation. We slowly gained confidence and realized that automation might hold promise for the future. So we took on more and more automated drilling, tapping, studding machines and became adept at quoting and building to our customers satisfaction. When I see a list of “Who is Who” in the manufacturing field in the West Michigan area, I can say that at one time or another we produced equipment for 95% of the firms. For years we enjoyed close established relations with a number of firms, even when their chief engineers retired, we were called upon to even advise them during their quoting process in trying to land the jobs It often seemed they had impossible confidence in us when they asked us to combine previously unheard-of operations. When it came to odd combinations of machining operations, here are examples of until then "far-out" procedures. Keeler Brass made a lot of furniture hardware and many ornamental pieces required a single tapped hole. They would cast a cluster of parts in a circular position held rigid by a system of gates and runners. After the die cast step they would be water spray-cooled and then lead-screw tapped before being trimmed off the gate. It eliminates all other handling except for the plating process. The manufacturer of the vertical die cast machines offered our design of a lead screw tapper as an option package. Another example of new design was a line of equipment that would from the single power source of a hydraulic motor tap holes of 2-3 different pitches simultaneously by simply using a gear train to provide the coordination of lead screw ratio to the various pitches. Variations of the above principles we would use in other production machines; if a prospective customer had doubts, we could always give him favorable references. It was fun! It was fun to the extent, that I realized in 1969, when all 7 of us left on a trip to Germany, I had been working for 13 years without an official vacation leave, and the assembly job of a Keeler cabinet hinge machine was still waiting to be shipped when I came back, even though it had been test-run for 2-3 weeks at the rate of 1400 assemblies per hour in house with total success. I never forget Jerry Jakeway from Keeler Brass stopping by years after his retirement to ask: Bernie, are the people at
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Keeler Brass giving you a free hand in your decisions? He said: after all I am still holding 400 shares of K.B. stock. Don asked: How much a share? ($1,000). In the 60s-70s-80s the price of a project was a question of negotiation, no computer determined a required payback period of 6 months! If unexpected difficulties arose, most firms felt free to fund the costs within reason, they knew in advance, that they would recoup their investment in short fashion. Things were done on a personal basis, with confidence in us being a major factor. We saw the gradual development of the automotive market since 90% of our orders came indirectly from Detroit. When zinc die cast was a novelty, every possible part of the car had to be made of zinc, from grilles to bumpers to ornamentation that had no bearing on function. We got our share of trim dies, usually combined with angular piercing features, for a while we became experts in trimming intricate emblems and nameplates, Later we simplified the assembly of die cast parts eliminating the need for screws. We riveted any number of studs with heat and pressure to produce rattle free assemblies. Soon plastic appeared on the scene and the same assembly process no longer worked. Very early on we developed a two stage process of reducing the plastic stud or tab to its original molten condition by the application of a hot air jet of variable duration and then spreading the soft material to form a durable rivet head. We dubbed it "hot air-cold stake" and we pretty much cornered the market in the West Michigan area for some years. I remember taking a trip to IBM in Lexington KY; they could not conquer the problem of affixing the cover on the bottom of the first automatically assembled computer keyboards. It was tough to convince IBM of our process except by demonstration. One of their engineers found a location, where I spent all day producing assemblies by our process and handing them to interested parties passing by. As a result we landed millions of dollars in orders from IBM. With the profit-sharing system in place then at Hill Machinery, a good deal of growth was experienced in the funds of all employees. Don was always very vocal and unbiased in his pronouncements and often stated: I would rather be known all over town as a high-priced S.O.B. than a cheap bastard. It was also amazing to watch him change over the years from a rabid Democrat: ("Any others were not allowed in my dad's (Harry) house") to a dyed -in-the- wool Republican: "That Jimmy Carter is nothing but a communist democrat". Morale of people was at a constant high, because Don saw to it, that everyone received a promised share of remuneration on a quarterly basis. In return the company received an hour's work for an hour's wages, starting with the morning bell, the noon break start -and-stop and at quitting time. Without anyone rushing, it was a matter of making maximum use of the time allotted, people often running 2 or more machines to generate better profits for all. While I had a lot of total responsibility, from discussing, to quoting, to ordering and designing, to arranging for control panels, to shipping on time (we rarely missed a delivery) I often got bogged down to the point of having to solve detail problems in my sleep. My best relaxation was producing chips during the day at a maximum rate. Our principles of treating customers as equals, listening to their wishes, giving them sound advice, producing reliable apparatus for a fair price, and backing up with good service in case of defect, served us well over the years. The customers realized, of course, that almost every piece of equipment was a first and likely to have some weak spots and links. These chapters are intended to help my children and grandchildren understand the background and circumstances of my growing up 1, 2, and 3 generations ago. The manifold recollections and diverse memories lead to some extended sentences, as I tried
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to pack as many facts as possible into every paragraph. I also find myself thinking German but writing English, as reflected in some of the phraseology, sorry!

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