Harms Thiessen Families
Story of John L and Elizabeth Harms By Florence Harms Entz Valley Grove Livestock Farm
The summer of 1911 was an exciting time. There was the big garden that kept the ladies of the house busy. The men folks tilled the ground, but the ladies planted the white or red potatoes. And would you believe that this large family ate lots and lots of potatoes—boiled with jackets, boiled and mashed, and fried in lard? When fried, those potatoes had a dressing of home made ketchup.
Beans were planted, as were carrots, and long rows of lettuce, and cabbage. So now during the warmer days there were green beans to pick and to can for the winter, besides the kettles of vegetable soup and the creamed carrots that often accompanied the potatoes dishes. Carrots were sometime canned with the beans for the winter. Variety in the menu was not bought at the store but had to be homegrown. Soon there were rows of vegetables in glass jars, sparkling like jewels on the cellar shelves, green and yellow beans, red beets, dill and bread and butter pickles.
There were always long rows of tomatoes planted in the garden. Some were large for slicers and for stewing tomatoes, and anybody that could find ripe little pear tomatoes certainly enjoyed that snack. Everybody had all the fresh tomatoes their hearts desired. But canning time saw the larger fruits of those plants put up in gallon syrup pails cleaned which had been dried well so they wouldn't rust, and stashed away just for canning. For stewed tomatoes, they were put in boiling water to quickly remove the skins then boiled and poured into the syrup pails. Someone had the job of melting the red sealing wax that was quickly poured over the edge of the lid making sure there was no crack left uncovered by the wax because that would allow the tomatoes to spoil.
These tomatoes kept well, as the containers protected them from damaging sunlight. Then, when the winter snows were flying, some would be eaten as breaded tomatoes. (Some liked to sprinkle on a little sugar and that was good)
Or they were especially good in borscht when Aunt Margaret dressed a big fat hen, which she put on to boil in a big kettle. She added several springs of fresh parsley and a bay leaf. Everybody within earshot had a part in making this soup called Borscht. Someone peeled several large potatoes and cubed them. And onions were sliced. All this time the hen was merrily bubbling on the old iron cook stove. Now the onion and potatoes were ready, and into the big soup kettle they went. Sometimes several chunked carrots were added, and in some households, they added red beets. The head cook, usually the oldest daughter added the seasoning—several pepper corns, parsley and salt. O yes, Beware! If two salted the soup, it could ruin it! When the potatoes and the hen were done (the cook knew the proper timing) a large head of cabbage was shredded and the cabbage as well as a generous helping of the canned tomatoes would up in the kettle. The cook watched it carefully and when the cabbage was tender, the kettle was set on the back of the stove to simmer till the family was ready to eat. Now the table had been set, and the family plus guests were ready and guess what! A large ladle of thick cream was added to the Borscht. Oh, the thought of such a meal with home baked bread and freshly churned butter would make the doctor of today cry "Oh the cholesterol!" But to these people who worked hard at physical labor it was delicious and energizing.
No, No, that wasn't all the fall work! There was the fall potato crop to dig and sort, as well as put them in the root cellar, together with carrots, parsnips, and the pumpkins and winter squash.
Some of the cabbages were saved back for sauerkraut. The shredded cabbage was placed in large stone jars, with an inverted dinner plate on top of the cabbage. A heavy jar was placed on this plate as a weight and the stone jars set …for most of us it was too long. What a relief when it was time to pack the sauerkraut into glass jars and seal them after all the fuss. It really tasted good with homemade pork sausage and boiled potatoes especially when snowflakes were falling. Another fall job was soap making. The instructions came on the Lewis Lye can and so if one had the right kind of fat and tallow from butchering and saving of fat scrapes and of course, one really needed a large iron kettle to mix it in and with the proper amount of heat one ended up with a winters supply of extra good laundry soap.
In some households they made cheese, DaVoi they called it. It was made of cottage cheese mixed with a good quantity of caraway seed made into small flat patties the size of a half dollar. These were put on a large plate and allowed to ripen for quite a while—at least long enough to saturate the room in the house with its pungent odor. The odor was enough; it wasn't really necessary to taste it. Well, to each his own. Haven't heard lately of anyone making "DaVoi".
Then there was syrup-making time and it seems everyone got in on that. That must have been a lot of excitement. How long that lasted would depend on the crop and the weather. Yes, there was wheat-threshing time. That meant feeding a large crew. There were the men who hauled the bundles to the threshing machine: those who hauled away the wheat in wagons pulled by houses. There was the water boy he had a large round barrel on a wagon chassis also pulled by horses. Yes, someone had to fuel up the boiler. There was also they tell me, a grease monkey. He had a grease gun with a long spout so he could reach any place that needed oiling. There probably were many more helpers, but that's a long time ago and I don't remember.
The corn was harvested usually after Thanksgiving shocking they called it. It was a race all the way to see who could shuck the most corn in a day. The corncobs were the fuel for cooking and heating, too. They burned quickly but were clean and economical.
Every farm in the area had a corn crib or two. They were built of lumber and usually were rectangular structures but the side were not built solid but had the boards spaced almost an inch and a half apart. This provided circulation of air to dry the corn.
When all this work was done, the farmers could catch their breath, if there weren't other pressing jobs that needed attention. And the Harms family had several "extra-curricular" items, as they say in higher education institutions, that had to be taken care of and soon.
Grandpa Harms had acquired a farm that bordered on his farm. This one had a larger house for his growing family. Besides with five sons he needed more land to keep his boys busy.
If this was a secret, I'm not sure, but there was going to be a move to the larger house, and that would free the little yellow house for the oldest son, in case he was hearing wedding bells ringing in the distance.
A very important activity in the neighborhood was the fall "revival meeting" –usually a two-week session. The little clapboard church was packed. Without organ or piano accompliment music was uplifting and Christ honoring. The speaker was a Brother Wall, and mother told me how in his soft, gentle voice he pleaded for people to come to the Savior. Many responded and a large group of young people lives were changed.
Next followed a series of doctrinal instructions based on the Bible. This was to make sure that each one had the assurance of salvation through Christ. This was in preparation for baptism. Baptism would follow in early spring.
Now it was time for the big move to the larger farm. It was a busy season, and everybody got into the act. There were no trucks, but the wagons and horses were practical though slower. Finally the family was settled and the old red house must even have seemed too large for a while.
One Sunday morning a group of young ladies were standing under the trees at the church talking. Not far away a brand new shiny black single seated buggy appeared. Several of the young ladies gasped and the more outspoken burst out with "That's Henry Harms, Wonder which of us will be the first one to ride in that buggy?" Turned out it was Margaret Thiessen who later became Mrs. Henry R. Harms.
After the baptismal services thing really blossomed in that romance. Soon not only Henry but also the whole community hear the wedding bells ringing.
Margaret, as the oldest of the Peter B Thiessen family worked as a domestic, and so, she learned many things that were new and exciting in housekeeping. She worked for a Dr. Greebe, and it was here she learned how to make the new dish called potato salad. She spoke English fluently, and also German. Henry, her bridegroom to be, grew up in a community of many different backgrounds so he also was well versed in English and German and after several years …[can not read] German, as were the church services at that time.
Now the wedding day was drawing near. Margaret, being a good seamstress fashioned her own dress of robin-egg blue. She saved a small swatch of the material as well as the beautiful white lace covering the front part of her waist. These were kept in a small wooden hinged box of lacquered wood. Many a time I fingered that lovely material. How I admired it!
Years later, after her passing, the box came back to me with her mementos but the box was now empty.
Well, Mother's sleeves were long and plain. The skirt was softly pleated and around her neck was a narrow band of self-material, and a brooch.
As I look at their wedding picture Dad and Mother were a truly, lovely couple.
The day of the wedding, March 31,1912, was a snowy day and there were drifts everywhere. But a wedding was a special occasion, and snow didn't keep friends and relatives from attending, so at 2:00 p.m. Pastor D. A. Friessen welcomed the guests, and the service had begun. Music was furnished by a male quartette. One of their numbers was "Christ went a building to prepare—not made with hands"* A sermon followed in German, and then the ceremony. (no rings, no attendants). After the service all the guests were invited to the farm home of the brides' parents at Alexandria, Nebraska west of Jensen where they were served zwieback a German bread made with one ball of dough on top of another and baked till light brown. These zwieback were usually dunked in coffee or postum. Sometimes cheese or bologna were also served.
Since there was no time for such frivolities as a honeymoon, the couple went to their future home across the creek from the groom's parents.
* A real song-words here
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