Now I will move on to the second period of my life: Youth in Schröttinghausen.
After the death of Uncle Fritz on 15 April 1905, and once it was formally decided by my grandparents that my father should inherit the farm, he then gave notice to the two old Von Der Recke ladies. They found it difficult to come to terms with the news, having trusted him so completely for so long, and until their deaths, they still sought his advice in special situations and would also just visit with us every now and then.
The move took place on June 15th, 1905. Liesbeth, who had in the meantime taken on work as a maid in the Minister House, remained with the old ladies for an additional year. For Father it was the beginning of a beautiful life, as he loved being a farmer with his whole heart and soul. He and Grandfather had the best kind of relationship, and for the year and a half that Grandfather was still alive, there was not a single note of discord between them. Even when he’d become old, Father said that not a day went by when did not think of his father, and that in all he did, he attempted to act as his father would have acted. For the rest of us, the situation was somewhat different. While Grandfather was never one to complain, grandmother was difficult, and everything had to always go exactly as she wanted it. Mother always gave in to her, even when it made no sense. For example, Mother had acquired an extremely rare potted begonia with very large leaves, and Grandmother cut them all off because they allegedly took away too much light. To her great dismay, the flower then died.In Obernfelde we had a small, cramped apartment, but considering the times, it was both refined yet very cozy; there were curtains on the windows, many flowers, a tablecloth on the table, and nice pictures on the walls, usually gifts of old ladies.
In Schröttinghausen, by contrast, it was cold and chilly everywhere, and the place was outfitted with ugly and cheap furniture. What was beautiful, like old antique cabinets, stood around neglected and unnoticed, until mother “discovered” them. Putting a tablecloth on the table on any day but Sundays would be condemned as a criminal form of vanity. Flowers were considered an unnecessary waste of time. And Mother had learned certain things about cooking and canning in Obernfelde, and every so often would perform particularly the latter, but only because father once put his foot down and stood up for her.
Some things couldn’t go down without a fight. The rest of us also found the heavy agricultural work to be very difficult, as there were tasks to which I was not at all accustomed, and nor was mother, or at least not to the extent that she been used to in the past, and later Liesbeth also joined in too. Fortunately, Father was reasonable, knew our limitations, and when I was 12, I was charged primarily with keeping Grandmother happy. And even for that I was still quite small and delicate physically. But in general, it would be Mother to always hold us to our work.
There were also changes when it came to what we ate. In Obernfelde there would always be some of this and some of that, never anything too expensive, but always prepared with care so as to provide a savory meal with as much taste and variety as possible as compared with the eternally boring combination that bacon with sausage, or sausage with bacon always was. In the evenings it was always and forever, “Körksel” which was reheated from lunchtime, together with milk soup. The only kind of dessert was, “thick rice”, and that was served on holidays, but seldom any other time. Sunday after Sunday we had “barrel string beans” which was served with a thick sausage, and they were seldom, if ever canned. Pancakes were practically deep fried in rapeseed oil which had a smell I could hardly stand, let alone taste. Cakes were only prepared for the most important holidays, and those did not include birthdays. In contrast, they had always been regarded as very important in Obernfelde and made to be so festive, and we had looked forward to birthdays almost as much as Christmas. In Grandmother’s eyes sugar was a luxury, and when she would take a nap, Mother would secretly put the necessary sugar into the marmalade and then cover it up with fruits. However, one day Grandmother crawled out of bed unusually early and when she went on her little discovery tour and saw the hidden sugar, it resulted in quite a serious uproar.
When we had visitors, we would buy a Corinthian bread or crackers, or sometimes “Zuckerzwiebäcke” the so-called coffee rolls, which incidentally, were delicious. It was just a good thing that we had our other grandparents from “on the Masch” for those times when a
more “fancy craving” would torment us. Then we would quickly run over there, and Grandmother would let us eat sugar to our heart’s content… wonderful, giant pieces of loaf sugar, or brown or bright colored candy. Grandfather would always have delicious pieces of licorice in his pockets which he would share with us. Or we’d go begging him for 5 Pfennig, with which one could purchase a little bag of candy, a licorice stick or carob. These were pleasures that could satisfy us completely. In the summertime we would have to eat our “Plundermilch” pastry milk and quark (cottage cheese) without sugar, but in Obernfelde, there had been magnificent “stipp”milk. Of course we then compensated when we went to visit my grandparents, by sprinkling sugar more heavily than ever into the bowl and then eating it together with the cream from the top. My grandparents then ate the rest with a hearty appetite. To this day I’m still so grateful to them for having given us these small pleasures. They also liked to make us happy on our birthdays. One year, hungry as I always was to read, I requested and received a book from them, without telling Mother about it. It was so wonderful and exciting from the first to the last page, and cost a single mark. Oh, what a scolding Grandfather and I got for this wasteful extravagance!
As punishment, I wasn’t allowed to read it at all at first, but then later, Mother let me have it, but only for 10 minutes at a time. But because the book was so compelling, and then of course got ever so much more exciting towards the end of the 10 minutes, the punishment felt doubly harsh.
Grandmother Hermjohannes had her own space behind the stove, that included a chair and a small dining table, and I think this kind of thing was probably common on the larger farms. She had her extra coffee beans, her wheat crackers or double baked toast, and there was no skimping on butter in her case. On her behalf alone, fresh meat would be fetched from the butcher, and whatever else she wished, she received. One would have thought she would be satisfied. But with time she became weaker and more compliant and allowed Mother to do what she wanted more often. Mother was also frugal, but sought to cultivate a more interesting standard of living.
And there were other ways in which the first few years in Schröttinghausen were very sobering ones for me. In the summer and winter I missed the forest, a place we’d so enjoyed spending our time and which was practically right out our back door. I did not like the school either. In the village school in Lübbecke, we were a few years ahead in almost all subjects. I always like to learn and was good at it, and so what happened when I came that Easter was that I started in the lowest place in my class and then shot up to become the best. I was envied by all my classmates and it was an unpleasant feeling. It was also suggested that we’d “lubricated” the teachers, and though such a thing was not rare, of all people, Father was straight as an arrow and would never do it. As a result, having the coveted honor of being the, “Best in the Class”, gave me no joy at all, at least not at first. I was able to maintain my top spot though, and later felt more comfortable in it, especially because I was gradually able to form friendships, ones that still exist today, and of course we had in common that they were like me, at “the top”. I also played with the other children of the neighborhood, though some of them were devious and sneaky, such as the Jungemeiers, who, as father and grandfather had said, never fit well with our ways, since the Hermjohannes were always direct and open people. But we got along with them peacefully, and in the wintertime we visited them nightly and we always got together on holidays and in the evenings. It was completely different with the Treselers. It had supposedly been a particularly good relationship for generations already, but between father and his neighbor, who was 3 years younger, there was a truly extraordinary friendship. The way they understood one another and helped each other in the most selfless way was quite exceptional and unique. When Father lost his trusted friend, Treseler, who unfortunately died at 63, he mourned him like a brother. He had, one could say, worked himself to death. His father had been an alcoholic and had run the property into the ground, and his son, daughter-in-law, and in particular his grandson, my friend Heinrich, had to spend an entire lifetime toiling at the tortuous job of getting it back on track again.
And boy did they do it – Treselers and our farm were surely the most advanced and best managed in the area.
The aforementioned Heinrich was my favorite playmate, and despite his apparent coarseness, I do believe that he had a sensitive soul. He resembled his mother, who had such a tough outer shell, that it was really only in the last few years that we were able to get to know and truly appreciate her. Heinrich also died early, and I think it was probably due to having worked too hard during his youth.
This brings me to a memory I’d like to weave into the story, one that brings to light the technical advances that have happened since the turn of the last century. It must have been around 1900, that a group of us kids were playing on an old pile of house-building timber. There was Heinrich Treseler, Walter and Martin Baade, who were the two boys of our teacher, and I, all around 6-7
years old. The boys were sauntering around and bragging about how great and manly they were to me, who was just a little girl. For example, they claimed that one day when they were big they would get a bicycle, a “Flizzepee” as it was called back then. Neither I nor the boys themselves actually believed this to be a possibility. A bold statement like that held about as much weight as if someone would say today that they’d be flying to the moon in a couple of years. And yet today Walter Baade is a famous professor at the Mount Palomar Observatory in California, home to the largest telescope in the world.
Regarding our neighbor across the way, the restaurant and bakery owner, Ballmeier, there was not much neighborliness to speak of, as he was a tight-lipped and unhelpful type. And though he would constantly take advantage of our help out of necessity, it was difficult for him to ask for it. His wife and daughters didn’t have an easy time with him. Strangely enough, his relationship with his son in-law, Heinrich Koch of Dummerten, was quite good, but unfortunately he died in World War 1.
Our relationship to the Heuerlings, and the Kottenleutens was quite different. They belonged to the farm, so to speak. We worked together with them practically all year long, if not daily. The farm area they occupied consisted of about 3 Morgen of land and 1/2 to 1 Morgen of meadow, so they could keep a cow, pigs and chickens. The land, house and garden, and the span of services that they had to pay were calculated at a very low rate. In return, the husband and wife worked the first 30 days, and the last 60 days of the farming season, those times when the farmer was most in need of help, and they received 25, that is, 12 1/2 pfennig per day plus food. It was in this way – Father never adhered to stringent penny-pinching ways, and was usually quite generous – that we always got along well with our people.
When it came to deaths and weddings, as well as the other milestones of life, of course, we would always take part. If a farmer or his wife died, the servants and hirelings would receive a funeral gift, such as a dress. They would mourn the dead as they would a relative. They also received a gift when the farmer got married.
But I’m getting completely off the topic of such neighbors as these.
When we came to Schröttinghausen, the Coors, a young married couple with 3 children, were our first hires. Coors was an extremely good-natured, funny man whom we all liked. His wife died soon of tuberculosis, and he married again, and then they moved to another situation, where there was a different working relationship in which he thought he might be able to pursue his daily work as a craftsman better. Later we heard that he ended up regretting the switch because he would have had a better standing in his hireling situation with us. After that, the Jokhecks moved in, a widow with 3 children. The family still lives in the house, but purchased it with the garden for 3000 marks when father was still alive. He sold for good reason, he said the farm lifestyle as we’d known it had played itself out, and he was right. There probably still are hirelings around today, but they are an increasing expense. Most build themselves a house, and pursue a salaried job. The Jokhecks –Volberts relationship was a good friendship, especially for me, and it still is even today.
Regarding some of the original people of the village, I will share the following:
There was the “Neieske”(seamstress), whose real name was, I believe, Charlotte Wilke, but practically no one knew it, and she was known only as Neieske, and that was also how she was addressed. She had a little parlor with us in the cottage, and would pay 2 Thalers per annum. On his deathbed, she’d been left this rent by her grandfather, with whom she had grown up, though she did not deserve this last act of mercy; she was called our “housecross”. She was incredibly crooked and twisted looking and ugly, and looked like the witch in Hansel and Gretel – a real scarecrow. And as she was outwardly, so was she inwardly as well – there was not a lovable trait to be found in her at all. One ought really to have felt sorry for her; she was an illegitimate child, and had been pushed around from one home to another her entire youth. But she also enjoyed life in her own way and was harmless enough to have done it by eating. She ate everything that she could fit down her gullet, and then, unbelievable as it may sound, when she could eat no more, she’d go outside, put her finger in her throat, vomit, and then continue to eat. Her appetite knew no bounds. She was responsible for sewing clothes and hoods in the houses, the so-called nightcaps. At dinner she’d pick out all the best pieces in the meal, and should someone be so clueless as to take something like a piece of sausage from the plate, one that she had already mentally selected as her next target, she’d instantly snarl, and say, “You put that piece back again! I had already picked that one out, and I’m an, ‘ault Minske!’”
To that one would smile good-naturedly enough and let her have her way, and as a result, her greed was not inhibited by anything or anyone. Daily she would eat as many as 8 eggs, if they were available, and she would have them made for her when she wanted them. People gave her what she wanted, only she never got love and she never demanded it. Every Sunday morning she’d get her milk from us for free and delivered to her door. When Mother once forgot to bring it to her, she trudged over and snapped bitterly at Mother who quickly brought her the milk. Another neighbor who had a different delivery day and also once forgot, was vehemently admonished, “You old tow rope! You didn’t bring me my milk!”
She had a child but it died at birth. Seven doctors were present and none of them thought that she would survive the event due to her physical deformities, but she was tough, and pulled through. Later when she and “Doctor Paul” (Dr. Lücker) were standing on the Duzfuß chatting, he at some point said to her, “Oh, Neieske, you’re forever young and forever beautiful.”
When a ladder fell on her head resulting in a quite serious injury, the doctor did not come immediately, and she said that had the “Kürstangen” been finished a couple of days earlier, her situation would not have gotten so bad. She was referring to the telephone poles which, at the time, (1908) were being installed to service our village’s first phone at Ballmeier’s auxiliary post office. She had already reached old age, but this event ultimately led to her death. Since she now lived alone in the house, someone had to take care of her. She had no close relatives, and at the time there had not yet been a public health nursing system available, so mother felt obliged to sit up with and look after her at night. A distant relative offered to relieve her for part of the night, but because the situation was so awful, they watched her together. After the two had faithfully carried out 14 days of what they perceived to be their civic duty, (at 4am they went home, slept for two hours, and by 6 o’clock mother went back to check on her) mother arrived one morning and discovered the allegedly terminally ill Neieske skulking around in the barn foyer wearing only a nightshirt and snooping around to see if everything was in the right place. Mother of course became very angry, and from that point on no longer looked after her at night. Neieske lived another six weeks after that, and shortly before she died, did indeed lay “on her deathbed” for several days.
Margarete Käßner was another one who was not exactly pretty, was thin, gaunt, and disagreeable in general. She too was unmarried, but had a son, Wilhelm, a unique person with a great sense of humor, but who used the most unbelievably crude language, not only towards his mother but also everyone else whether young or old. But there was a distinct difference between them and Neieske. Margarete was a diligent and faithful worker who was never a burden to anyone, and she handled her situation and raised her son with decency.
Mother and son were there for each other and neither ever abandoned the other. The tone between the two was extremely unusual even for rural conditions. Margarete would scold and nag in all manner of voice, and William would listen patiently. Only if she went on too long would he would put the brakes on her with a few carefully worded expressions not exactly suitable for a ladies parlor room. But ultimately Wilhelm became a very capable and sought after carpenter. Just one example of his sharp wit; there was a boy who sat next to him in the schoolroom who was not particularly bright, and had a stutter to boot. The teacher asked him to recite something, but as he’d not been paying attention, he had no idea what to say, and so Wilhelm interjected, quoting Moses’ words to God from Exodus 4:1: ”Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, for I am slow of speech, and have a heavy tongue.” The boy repeated after him in his stuttering way, and though it may not have been the right passage, it was fitting, and Wilhelm once again had the audience on his side. Then there was Frau Krukemeier, who had an altogether different manner. She was a kindly old woman, who often came with Frau Vetten, with whom she lived in the Kotten, to visit Grandmother. There they would have edifying conversations with one another about the Bible and hymn-book, and regarding the Sunday sermon. She too had an illegitimate son but he lived in America. She married later in life but when I knew her she was by herself. She was very likely not as pious as I perceived her to be, but she too managed to slug her way through life as best she could. She had her vices too, and in her case it was nosiness. Sometimes, in the evenings when it was already dark outside, she would come to visit Frau Jokheck, who was also living in the same house, and invited her to come sit behind the parlor window and eavesdrop on their fellow villagers. On occasion others got wind of her eavesdropping and lured her into a trap. For example, just as she had leaned her ear to the door, it would be slammed open onto her head. The matter ended up before the town arbitrator. There she then claimed that she had wanted only to return a bowl.
All of these women, and a few others, had no breadwinner, and had to really struggle to make ends meet, but no one needed to go hungry. At big family celebrations or when meat was butchered or sausages made, they were always thought of and got a bit of everything. That was at least our custom, and that of many others too, though perhaps not all, I do not know exactly. Even in times of sickness, they were cared for and spared of more serious emergencies. And in any case, even when they were not guests or neighboring inhabitants with the big family festivities, it was customary to bring those not invited to the banquet table a kettle of soup, a bowl of rice, and a piece of cake. The custom was, and still is today, to offer neighborly help in christening, deaths, and weddings. Every farmer who owned two horses, enabled those neighbors who had no means of transport to attend such events and/or ride in the hearse.