THE BALMER LEGACY
Thelma Hostetler Kauffman (Granddaughter)
THE GERBER CONNECTION
As the second oldest grandchild, and oldest granddaughter, of Ferdinand Balmer and Lina Gerber, my memory reaches back farther than that of many younger cousins. I feel it is privilege given to me by birth-order, to record this collection of memories for posterity.
The Balmer story began in several small villages located in the picturesque valleys snuggled under the towering mountains of Switzerland where our ancestral roots began. At least this part of the story is going to begin there. Both our Balmer and Gerber roots found soil close by in Switzerland and we'll follow them to America.
In the year 1763, Michael Gerber was born into the Christian Gerber family. He was the oldest son. Twenty years later in 1783 the last son, Ulrich Gerber, was born. These brothers played an important role in our family history as they are the two who headed the 1822 family migration to America. Considering their advanced ages at the time, (Ulrich 39, Michael 59), you will understand that they were not young men embarking on a daring adventure, but serious in their quest to escape the treadmill of bleak economic life on the mountainside in Switzerland.
The fist Anabaptists from Switzerland to come to America in 1815 were two young men who deserted Napoleon's army. Six families followed in 1817 and were the first of several hundred to come as settlers to Ohio. The Gerbers were among those immigrating within the next decade. The period of persecution by the government to bring the Anabaptists back into the state church had subsided by 1822, but lingering reminiscences of being a persecuted people, plus recent years of harvest failures due to "the year without a summer," turned the dream of living in a country which allowed religious and economic freedom into reality for our Gerber ancestors.
Traveling in beautiful Switzerland today, it is difficult to imagine any condition so severe as to warrant immigration. The year of 1816 was "a year without a summer." It snowed and froze during every month of that year and there were no crops. The worst famine in Swiss history took place in 1816 and went into the next several years, and that had to affect our ancestors.
What created such havoc? In MENNONITE FAMILY HISTORY, Jan. 1997, an article by David L. Habegger gives insight as to conditions in Switzerland that triggered this "little ice age." Far way in Indonesia, the volcano Tambora erupted in 1815 and the volcanic dust from it caused severe weather in much of Europe in 1816. Switzerland was especially hard hit because of the high altitudes that foster freezing. According to Halbegger, this was the largest ever recorded volcanic eruption. The explosion was as powerful as six million atomic bombs and was heard up to 1,000 miles in all directions. It was ten time larger than any other recorded volcano to date, ejecting 100 times more debris than Mount S. Helens of 1980 in the United States.
In fact, history records that North America also experienced repercussions during the summer of 1816. The New England states were particularly hard-hit by the effects of the stratospheric veil of dust.
There is little doubt that our Gerber ancestry escaped the adverse conditions which prevailed. They apparently were among the thrifty who were able to accumulate the means with which to immigrate. They chose to use their funds to leave before they were all used trying to survive in what appeared a hopeless situation.
The family of Christian Gerber, father of the two immigrants, at the time of their births, lived in the Emmental near Langnau, Switzerland. They migrated to the Sonnenberg community near Tramalan because of an old law passed in Switzerland years ago that forbade the Mennonites from owning the good land below 3,000 meters in altitude. Sonnenberg is a rural farming area, like a plateau with mountains in the distance. When the Gerbers first moved to Sonnenberg they were afraid to hold church services and held their first one under a bridge where they could not be seen. In the previous centuries the Mennonites had been persecuted, so they took precautions until they were comfortably secure.
The tenacity of our forefathers has to be admired as we read the account of their long, and far from comfortable, road to the fulfillment of their "American Dream." Leaving their ancestral home in the hill community of Habback, near Langnau, they traveled with their earthly belongings by wagon across western Switzerland, across France, and finally to the port of Havre, France, where they waited two weeks for their ship to arrive.
This transport across the deep, dark and unending waters of the Atlantic Ocean was twenty-three feet wide on deck and ninety-nine feet long. The masts were one-hundred twenty-four feet high to capture the needed wind power--no turbo jets for our ancestors! When the wind didn't blow, the ship could not go, so many days were spent waiting on the high seas. As with many early passenger ships, by the end of the journey the food supply suffered spoilage and the water supply ran low. Baths and clean clothes were not a priority! To travel each day without sea sickness was a major accomplishment.
After 66 days on the ship, the Gerbers arrived in New York. Here they spent a week buying supplies, and a wagon and oxen, to carry them on the next leg of their journey into the Mennonite community of Lancaster, PA, where they were met with hospitality. After several days of rest, they started on the long, slow trek across the mountains of western Pennsylvania.
It was a pilgrimage conquering continual mountains, up the ridges and down the valleys, across the rivers and creeks where there were hardly any bridges. After 41 days they arrived in the wilds of Sugar Creek township in Ohio. They arrived 145 days after leaving their home in Switzerland to the mammoth virgin forests of Ohio which required clearing before crops could be raised.
Michael and his wife had three daughters and two sons. His wife died while yet in Switzerland. Only two of his children, Barbara and Jacob, immigrated with him. Ulrich and his first wife, Elizabeth Lederman, were married before they left Switzerland. She is listed on his immigration paper, along with the name of his sister, Barbara age 49, and her 21 year old maid servant. Ulrich's marriage ended with Elizabeth's's death the next year. Hers was the first burial in the Sonnenberg cemetery in Ohio in 1923, leaving Ulrich with one infant son, Christian.
Ulrich was a minister in the early Sonnenberg Church. In the book SALEM co-authored by Rachel Waltner Gossen, we read that he lost his position as a minister in 1829. (His co-minister had lost his position in 1827.) The church record states "They were strict about outward ceremonies. They requested that the men wear beards when they were married and members of the church. They did not govern very long and deported themselves in such a manner that they were considered unworthy to hold their office."
Both men who had been deprived of their ministry stayed in the congregation but faded into obscurity. Ulrich lived 40 years after he left the ministry and died at the age of 86. He is buried in the Sonnenberg Cemetery. After Elizabeth's death, Ulrich Gerber later married Barbara Falb and they became our first American grandparents. The first of their three children was a son, Abraham, born in 1834, followed by Michael and Catherine. Abraham became our first forefather in Kansas on Grandmother Lina's side.
While Ulrich, around age 40, was establishing his family, his brother Michael's daughter, Barbara, 14 years Ulrich's junior, had married Peter Hofstetter. They had two boys and four daughters. Magdalena, the second child, born in 1827, grew up and fell in love with her mother's first cousin, Abraham. An interesting note is that Magdalena was seven years older than Abraham. In the contained community of which many of our ancestors lived, there was not a large selection of marriage material. They married within the church, of course, and by someone who spoke their native tongue. Abraham Gerber and Magdalena Hofstetter were married December 15, 1855, in the Sonnenberg Church and the marriage lasted until their deaths in 1901 and 1903. They are resting side by side in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery, Harper, KS. (Abraham's younger brother, Michael, is buried in a lonesome grave in Riverside Cemetery in Ness County, KS.)
Abraham and Magdalena had nine children. The first daughter, Judith, the first son, Joseph, and the last son, Tobias, died in infancy and were buried in the old Sonnenberg, Ohio Cemetery in unmarked graves.
No record was kept of children who had not joined the church.
Also born into their family were Sarah (1858), Rebecca (186), Benjamin (1862), Salome (1863), Lina (1865) and Leah (1871). From Abraham and Magdalena's marriage in 1855 until 1888, they lived in the Sonnenberg community near Kidron, OH, cutting down trees and clearing the land to farm in this Wayne County, OH community. Records indicate that Abraham was drafted during the Civil War. He never entered into actual service, so he must have paid the two-hundred dollar exemption.
In Switzerland, in the same decade as Abraham and Magdalena were married, another wedding took place. Jean Jonas Balmer, son of Jean David Balmer, married Marie Nobs, daughter of Benidict Benoit Nobs, on August 9, 1862 in the Cathedral Munster, City of Berne. They made their home in the community of Mont-Tramelan. on December 13, 1865, their first son, Ferdinand, was born in Fontaines, a part of this community. He was baptized as an infant in the Reformed Church in Tramelan on January 21, 1866.
Those are the recorded facts. From hereon we have only sketches to piece together about Ferdi's, our grandfather, adventures, When he left Switzerland, he totally left! His aim upon leaving was to find more than poverty where he went. He never told his daughters very much about his coming to America. He did not keep in touch with his family in Switzerland. He told his daughters that his family would only be interested in his whereabouts so they could beg for money.
As the oldest son, Ferdi was expected to help support the family. We don't know how many children there were, but too many. His parents lived a beggarly existence. When he left for "the new country," his parents admonished him to "Send money" He did not have the fortune to be born into a family of barons or lords, and in the structure of society at that place and time, if you weren't born into such a family, you automatically were a poor servant or peasant, with no chance of promotion to a "higher class."
Ferdi told his six daughters that his father was a beggar. Whether that was literal, or his way of describing a miserable existence, we do not know. Perhaps Ferdi was put out to do some begging as a youngster.
It's not difficult to imagine that looking into the bubbly face of that short and chubby child, it would have been easy for a passerby to respond! Any labor he would have been able to find would have been menial at best. The Swiss mountains were fine for pasturing cows and sheep herded by young boys. He had very little formal schooling.
Coming from that background, how did Ferdi get to America? It is reasonable to assume that he traveled to this country with a group of migrating Swiss. There were both Mennonite and Swiss Reformed who migrated during those years to the community near Kidron, OH. Where did he get the money for the trip? Many immigrants came as indentured servants and worked for their benefactor two years, or until the fare was repaid. It is reasonable to think Ferdi earned his passage in this manner. Certainly he received no help from home. As the oldest son he was expected to give his wages to the support of the family until he turned 21, at the very least, which he had fulfilled before immigrating to this land of opportunity.
Granddad Ferdi arrived in New York with two dollars in his pocket in 1886. His ocean voyage was 60 years later than the Gerbers, so perhaps passenger conditions had improved from those described fro the
earlier travelers. At best, it was still a far cry from the ship of Queen Elizabether II. It is reasonable to believe that he must have found his way to Ohio to an established Swiss community with his benefactor. Even though money went much farther in 1886 than today, the two dollars he had in his pocket upon arriving in New York would not have stretched quite enough to get him to Ohio.
Lina had been born to the Abraham Gerber family on September 10, 1866, and was 20 years old, just right for husband-bait, when Ferdi arrived in 1886. Ferdi fell for this lovely lass and no doubt had visions of a helpmate, but did they did not rush out and get married. Ferdi was a person who needed to be financially secure before he made a commitment. He was a hard worker and dedicated to escaping poverty.
In Ohio, Ferdi became "best friends" with Fredrick Beyler, a fellow Swiss who had come to America with his parents at an earlier date. Fredrick was dating Lina's sister, Salome, and with Ferdi and Lina, imagine the jolly times that four-some had together--after work, of course.
When Lina's brother, Benjamin, was around 18 years of age, he and his father, Abraham, made an exploratory trip to Kansas to look for a place to put down roots for possible family expansion. Benjamin remained in Harper and worked; his father returned to Ohio. When Benjamin was 23 he returned to Ohio to claim his bride, Mary Schwarts. At age 54, Abraham was persuaded that the entire family should move to Kansas, too. Perhaps the lure of more available land beckoned him, along with recent dissention and a split in the Sonnenberg Church. When talk was made of moving the entire Gerber family to Kansas, the two young Swiss men said, "If it's good enough for the girls, it's good enough for us." Ferdi's indentured debt was completed by the end of the two years. So plans were made for all to join in the exodus to Kansas.
In 1886 Benjamin, with his new bride, his two sisters Sarah and Rebecca, and her new husband, Edward Chatelaine, and his young son, Lee, made the move to Harper, KS. We believe this move was made by wagon. Two years later in 1888, Abraham, Magdalena and the remaining sisters, along with the two suitors, followed by wagon to Kansas.
The group of Gerbers arriving in 1886 were a part of the charter members of the Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church, Harper, KS, established in 1888. The second group, in which Ferdi and Lina traveled, missed the charter date by one month.
Frederick and Salome were married at Harper, KS, in her parent's home by S.C. Miller after their arrival in 1888. But no wedding bells for Ferdi and Lina. He worked for the next five years before marrying Lina on March 26, 1893. He was 28 and she was 27 years old. The wedding took place, like her sister's, in the bride's home, by the same minister, S.C. Miller. By then Ferdi has accumulated enough money to buy forty acres of land, located three miles east and about one mile south of Harper, KS, where they made their home.
Lina's sister, Salome, died in 1897 of toxemia during pregnancy and was buried with her unborn child in the first grave of the Pleasant Valley Cemetery east of Harper. Frederick returned to Ohio with their three small children for a short time. Abraham promised him the family farm in Kansas if he would come back and marry Salome's older sister, Sarah, to care for the children. So that is what he did.
So deep was the friendship of the brothers-in-aw, that Ferdi's daughter recalled the only time they ever saw their Daddy cry was at Fredrick's untimely death in 1913. Sarah continued living on the farm with his sons. Leah, his daughter, had recently married Oliver Hostetler, and they soon moved back home to help with the farming. The Balmer-Beyler cousins were very close-knit.
Benjamin and Mary Gerber also are buried in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery, along with his parents, Abraham in 1903 and Magdalena in 1901, Sarah, Salome, Lina and their husbands. Rebecca and husband, Fred Chatelaine, moved to Fowler, KS to make their permanent home, and are buried there. The youngest sister, Leah, was living in Newton, KS when she died in 1925 and was brought to Pleasant Valley Cemetery for burial. Her husband, Henry Hinkle, is buried in Gladstone, MO.
FERDI AND LINA
Ferdi never bought anything that he couldn't pay cash for. His first farm of 40 acres was all that Granddad Ferdi ever farmed himself. He used only horses and that was plenty of ground to cover by that method. The neighbors said that Ferdi never walked, he always ran. At his death he left approximately 240 acres for each of his six daughters" Lavina, Lillie, Della, Dessie, Ruth and Rena. His reputation for being thrifty was well grounded.
Ferdi had no desire to contact his family in Switzerland, he maintained they'd only want money. When a grandson, Melvin Headrick, was working for MCC in Europe, he was able to locate Ferdi's sister, Marie, and her son. With this address Ferdi's daughters sought to correspond with them. The response was written in German and needed to be sent to a translator. The day after Ferdi's death the first translated letter from Marie was received, and sure enough, after not seeing her brother for over 60 years, she had asked for money! His daughters were glad that Ferdi didn't ever know the contents of that letter.
Granddad always milked Brown Swiss cows. He came from a country where milk, butter and cream were a priority in cooking! He said cream gave his daughters rosy cheeks. They had ample dairy products to use and also milk or cream to trade for staples at the stores in town. Ferdi had an unique way of milking. Instead of wrapping his fingers around the teats with his thumb overlapping on top, he put his thumb in first and wrapped his fingers around it. Ferdi was milking a cow or two until 1845 when Rena and her husband moved in with him and brought their dairy herd to the home place.
Many of Lina's grandchildren, born after 1930, do not remember her. Ferdi's longer life gave more of the grandchildren opportunity to enjoy his resounding laugh and his teasing-also his generosity of "nickels and
dimes" for ice cream treats! (He treated our friends, too, so we were never without company!) However, Lina was a devoted grandmother, rocking the babies, letting small hands help gather (and occasionally drop) the chicken eggs, "help" stir when cooking, and especially make a mess washing dishes.
The other grandchildren have precious memories of being wrapped in grandmother's apron and held in a secure hug. She was as quiet and gentle as Granddad was loud and opinionated.
Lina's duties, along with rearing six daughters, were gardening, gathering and canning the garden produce, tending the chickens (from "setting" the old hens to hatch eggs, and dressing out the young fryers for good old country fried chicken!) The Balmer dining table was ample for Sunday dinner guests and most often included fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, capped off with the most delicious pies! The standing invitation to the married daughters who lived nearby (Della and Ruth), was for their families to grace grandmother's table every other Sunday, a custom which extended beyond grandmother's years.
The Sunday dinner was cooked after we returned from church. The potatoes had been peeled, but were cooked and chicken fried when we got home. If it was a roast for dinner, it would be in the oven. Many times the dinner invitation included other guests, so often it was more than one table full. The custom was for the ladies to serve the men first. If the table wasn't full, some of the older children would sit with them. We just ate wherever space allowed. Often the aunts would have to wash some of the dishes before they could reset the table and sit down to eat. Many a Sunday afternoon rolled around to almost 4 o'clock before the kitchen work, with much laughter and chatter, was completed.
Saturday night supper was always potato soup, with added cream, crackers and cheese. As we ate the delicious soup the steady ticking of the mantle clock broke the stillness in the room. Granddad then wound the clock, a weekly chore he never missed. The gasoline light of our early years added it's own "hissing" sound as we enjoyed our supper. At bedtime a kerosene lamp would be lit and carried up the stairs.
While Ferdi didn't become too modern in his farming, he did provide for Lina. Sometime around the late 20s the house was remodeled to include an indoor bathroom as a convenience for Lina's failing health. Of course the old "path" and outhouse remained and Ferdi was reluctant to use the new. Some of the cousins got acquainted with the bees reroute to the outhouse, down the path past the garden and bee hives, which Granddad kept to provide honey. The irrigation tank and strawberry patch filled the other side of the path. [The irrigation tank was still standing in the 1940s for the enjoyment of we younger grandchildren. The water level was lowered in the summer so we could use a ladder and climb in to splash in the water. ed.]
In the same time frame as the bathroom was built, a Delco plant was put into the basement to furnish electricity, another convenience for Grandma. Grandson Lester Hostetler remembers they used the Delco plant several years before the electric lines were installed. This allowed usage of a refrigerator!
As the family grew in the first decade of the 19th century, the original small house was remodeled from it's two small bedrooms downstairs and another bedroom in the small attic known as "the old upstairs." (The old upstairs, what a wonderful fun place for energized grandchildren to play!) A new parlor room was added to the old front room with a wide opening between, supported by colonnades on either side. The kitchen was extended and was separated from the dining area with a section of floor-to-ceiling cupboards.
A wash sink in the corner by the outside door with running water, via a pitcher pump, is where Granddad washed for meals. A lean-to summer kitchen was built on to the north. A long screened-in porch along the east side completed the first floor.
In the winter the cooking was done on a wood burning range to help warm the house, along with a basement furnace. In the summer, a kerosene oil burning range in the summer kitchen kept some of the heat out of the main house.
Above all this was the new upstairs, accessible via a steep narrow stairway. Many grandchildren remember the stairs with fear, where several kids had the misfortune to tumble down. One very large bedroom was on the south side, another small bedroom to the north, and an area that could be a bedroom, but usually was used for storage, made up the "new upstairs." Originally there was a small door opening between the old and new upstairs, but the opening was closed when the grandchildren discovered it was a neat place to run through! Very dimly can I recall the excitement of going thru that small door to the "wonderland" of what was on the other side.
Ferdi Balmer was a legend in himself. He was known county wide for his humor, hearty laugh, and explicable ethics. Lina would be remembered for her quiet and loyal devotion to Ferdi and their daughters. They were both short of stature and as the years rolled on, their petite figures rounded out with that traditional Swiss diet! However, Grandma was not as "rounded" as several of her daughters.
She found the time in her later years to embroider a quilt top for each of her daughters. I remember at least a couple of the tops being meticulously quilted after she was gone. This was Grandma's last gift and it was precious beyond price. I have one of those quilts hanging in my house.
Among my memories are the times when I could go out to ride with Granddad when he emptied the manure spreader over the fields. I can still hear the clip-clop of the horses' hooves. Grandmother didn't let me go out nearly as often as I would have liked. I probably wasn't a very sweet smelling kid when I came in, but I never noticed!
Another memory is the old buggy shed. In reality, it was an open lean-to shed attached to the side of the granary located just across the drive yard from the house. We would crawl up on the seats of the old buggy and ride off into the wonderful land of make believe. Tucked away back in my memory are the buggy rides we had on the way home from church. Granddad bought his first car, a Buick Touring around the mid twenties according to Lester, but for some time he preferred driving his horses. He had Della learn to drive the car and she later taught him, so we rode along in the car, too.
Between church and Granddad's house was the low-water bridge at Sand Creek that was so scary when the creek was high. That was one of my breath-holding fears, whether in the buggy or car, to have Granddad drive into the deep water! He told of almost being swept away one time, when he was alone with his wagon and horses. He was daring in his driving, even with horses!
My dad, Ura Hostetler, built Granddad a concrete water tank, about five feet deep, for garden irrigation. This was also a swimming pool for the grandchildren and that was another special summertime treat when we went to the Balmer house, which we often did. How they filled the tank we don't recall clearly. Where the water came from is a mystery. I remember a pipe with water, but the water source? As close as they were to Sand Creek, they were on the south side of it and there just wasn't water to be found going that direction.
There was a cistern pump in front of the house which we turned around and around to bring the water up in little cups attached to the circular chain going down into the water. A tin cup hung there for a nice fresh drink at any time. Another cistern was under the house for the pitcher pump in the house and another long-handled well pump in front of the wash-house. We had to "prime" it when it was to be used. Lester recalls the two cisterns were filled with rain run-off. A well with a windmill by the barn kept barely enough water in a tank for the livestock. It was not a good well.
Our grandparents lived between our house and town, so we were dropped off while my parents went to town. One afternoon we were playing there and Aunt Ruth came out to tell us that we had a new little brother (Dewey) at home, to which I replied "I don't believe it!" Who needed another brother, I already had two!
Along with modernization and water available from the storage tank, they planted a green grass lawn! What a luxury and fun to play on. The best time of all was Easter, when the tulips were blooming and the colored Easter eggs were hidden among the grass and flowers. Aunt Rena loved to do these things and Grandma and Granddad loved to watch the children frolic! I can still see Granddad sitting on the steps and hear his laughing.
Another special time was Christmas. The artificial tree was brought down from the old upstairs and decorated. With the advent of the Delco plant, it even had real lights! It was the most beautiful tree in the world, although by today's standards it would be pretty shabby! The first Christmas I truly remember, there was a fantastic little aluminum coffee percolator hanging near the top of the tree. It had a glass dome in the lid like Grandma's percolator. They teased me that it was for some other little girl and I believed them. So when it was taken down and handed to me, my joy was full!
Ferdi had very little formal schooling. All that he ever wrote in English was his name. He read a little from his German Bible and taught himself to read bits from weekly newspapers taken in their home after his daughters went to school. He lived in this country nearly seventy years but never became a citizen of it. But he did leave a lot of little citizens who followed in his footsteps. Lina had a bit more schooling as she could read and write; however, education wasn't a priority when she was a girl.
Their daughters finished elementary school, but only Aunt Rena graduated from Hesston Academy with enough "normal training" to become a teacher. Lavina was a nurse, which training she received at Bethel Deaconess Hospital (she completed grade school with no high school education.)
Grandmother Lina was diagnosed with diabetes around 63 years of age. Eventually she was on daily insulin shots. She developed ugly sores on her feet that wouldn't heal. She spent many hours soaking them in epsom salt water. The girls were not aware that heart problems were associated with this disease, so it was a great shock when she died in her home of a heart attack the morning of September 6, 1934. I can still see Granddad Ferdi shuffling down the walk, through the gate as Mother and I drove in. Mother asked "How is Mama?" His reply, "She die-t." The bottom of my world fell out on that day.
We went into the bedroom where Aunt Rena had Grandma sitting in a rocking chair with her feet in a pan of water to warm them, as she had been so cold. The doctor hadn't arrived yet so I ran upstairs and cried and prayed that the doctor could do something for her when he got there. I just could not understand how a loving God could let MY grandmother die! Her death was a terrible shock to the family and the next few days were really rough. Aunt Ruth spent the entire days until after the funeral on the living room sofa just wailing.
In those days, Mr. Squire, the mortician, came to the house to prepare the body. They closed the bedroom door and pulled the window shades.
I remember Uncle Amra going from window to window trying to see if he could see in and we kids trailing along behind him. When her body was ready, mother took us kids in and we touched Grandmother and felt how cold she was.
That was the beginning of the healing process, although I didn't know it then.
When the body was kept at home until the funeral, some of the neighbors always volunteered to stay up in the house all night. Then there was a short service in the house for the family before we all went to church. The children were all hustled around and loaded, and it was only after we were in church that grandsons Milford Roupp and Albert Hostetler were discovered to have come to their grandmother's memorial service with play dirt still on their faces!
My most poignant memory of Grandmother was her aprons. An apron was one of the most important items of her attire. It was used for everything from drying hands to gathering garden produce, and eggs. Many a little nose was wiped on the hem of an apron. A clean, starched apron always hung on a coat hook near the door ready to be exchanged for the everyday used one, in the event company came. A Sunday apron was always fresh for the special day and often was trimmed especially for "dress up." She wore her white prayer covering all the time, tied under her chin with black ribbons.
Another memory that stays with me is the old wall telephone positioned on the wall between the two north dining room windows. Grandma's number was 12F16. When it rang with one long ring and six short ones, they answered. Aunt Ruth's number was 12F33, it rang with three long rings and three short. They were on the same line so when they wanted to call each other, they just turned the handle and did the ringing. If they wanted to call Della, out west of Harper, they gave just one long turn of the handle, this rang the operator in town. She asked, "Number please," to which they answered, "33F12." She connected the lines and rang one long ring and two short ones. I have to grab a book to call my neighbor, can't remember the number! But those three numbers are fixed!
Granddad never lost his Swiss brogue. He was a delight to listen to when his words got tangled as they tumbled out. He would instruct his daughters to "Run the barn down and throw the old cow over the fence some hay." When inquiring about a new baby, he would invariably ask, "Is she a boy?"
The characteristics of the parents certainly were passed on to the girls. Depending upon how one viewed an encounter with any one of them, they were like their Daddy; whether solid-as-a-rock, bold and firm, staunch Christians, or on the other hand, for those who might not agree with them, they could be opinionated, unreasonable, judgmental, and just plain stubborn and inflexible. This led to many heated discussions around the dinner table (which left a big impression on small ears!) over whether to wear strings on the prayer coverings, cape dresses, plain coats, way of Bible interpretation, where you doctored, the kind of car to drive, how the neighbors raised their children, what was worldly and what was not! To admit being wrong would have been "next of kin" to sin, or for that matter, so would allowing the other person to have a differing opinion. To live a sinless life each one had to be right! Time and maturity managed to resolve
most differences. The "gift of being right" was from their Dad. He didn't necessarily argue with you, he just stated his opinion (very loudly) and you could take it or leave it and that was that!
In all fairness to our Balmer heritage, I need to insert that they were not alone in "having to be right." This was a teaching of the church. Certainly, if you were wrong and died tonight, you'd surely wake up in hell. In this period of time more of the teachings were about the wrath of God, and the Merciful God didn't seem to exist.
Mother Lina contributed to her daughter's the gift of generosity. So many of the first cousins remember their mothers' giving of their time, gardens, talents, and bountiful meals, all traits learned from their mother. She gave of her gardens and her purse. Each time the preacher's wife had a new baby (and there were many of them) Lina gave her two dollars (that was a lot then). Ferdi didn't like that too much. He said she was just paying a breeding fee! Rena recalled that Grandmother Lina was generous with her younger sister, Leah Hinkle and family, taking her food from the abundance of the garden, furnishing them rides to church or wherever the need was. Leah was so very poor, Rena recalled that Henry may have had a drinking problem. Lina and Ferdi didn't discuss the problem in front of the girls, but that is what she remembered may have been the problem.
Grandmother Balmer was a grandmother, first and foremost! She listened attentively to all aspects of the grandchildren's activities. When she was surprised by any new item, she'd exclaim "Ac-tually!" I can still see Grandma's face the day that mother told her I was now wearing a brassiere! Her surprised look was accompanied with hands thrown up in resignation and her favorite exclamation, "Ac-tually!"
Through hard work and thriftiness, Ferdi amassed enough wealth that he was able to lend out money in the 1930's depression years to quite a few fellow church members during those hard times. Today we would call that mistake number one! In return he gained several farms from his brethren and that's not quite the way to win a popularity contest. One of the farms he acquired was that of preacher Reuben Weaver, but Ferdi let him live there as long as he wanted it, which was around 20 more years. The Balmer family considered that to be most generous of Ferdi, but during the Pleasant Valley Centennial in 1988, we learned that the older Weaver children, at the time it happened, thought that Ferdi was hard and cruel to accept a preacher's farm in exchange for debt owed. It's all in the eye of the beholder.
The grandchildren can not recall any time that Grandmother Lina uttered a cross word or ruled with anything but kindness. After reviewing the daughters' method of child discipline, I think she may have spanked her little girls, however difficult it is for me to imagine my sweet grandmother doing that! Granddad Ferdi was gentle with the babies, but firm with his daughters. His daughters said that he was hard on them, and whippings were in order. He could become angry with his animals and spoke the right words to them in his native tongue! Beating a cow with the milk stool when she kicked the bucket was a way to discipline them. He could spank his daughters, surely not too often necessary-his manner of speaking was persuasion enough to shape up quickly.
The summer before I was married, I stayed with Granddad for several months, doing "the house work." In the mornings he went out to milk and I could sleep until I heard the old wagon, which he pulled, rattle up the walk with the milk can in it. I could scramble out of bed and have breakfast ready by the time he had separated the milk. He had his 80th birthday that year and still enjoyed doing his chores each day. He bought a piece of land that summer and I had to fill out the check for him to sign.
It was for $11,000 and I just knew that would be the biggest check I'd ever see in my life!
Granddad Ferdi died at the Galloway Hospital, Anthony KS, on March 31, 1951, four days following a massive stroke. His daughters living in the area took shifts in sitting with him at the hospital during that time, and they also had those of the married grandchildren in the area take our turns. I remember sitting there holding his gnarled hands and listening to his labored breathing as his lungs filled. I had been married 5 years by then and we had moved back to Kansas and were farming some of his land. We had our first two children and I had anticipated more years with him so that my children would be able to enjoy him as I had. But it was not to be.
Times had changed in the twenty years since Grandmother's death, and Granddad's body was taken to the undertaking parlor. At that time it was located in the back room of Squire's Furniture store. We walked in the front door located on the north side of west Main Street in Harper, past the lamps, chairs, rockers, rolls of linoleum and carpets to that little room in the back where a soft lamp burned beside the casket. And there I was explaining death to my young children as my mother had done for us twenty years earlier.
That generation had passed and a new one begun. There will never be another Ferdi Balmer, but the legacy continues.
To be continued...
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