Edward Schwandt and Mabel Sommers were married December 6, 1905 when Mabel was just past her twentieth birthday. They looked intently into the camera on the picture taken on their wedding day. Ed was seated while Mabel stood beside him with her hands behind her. Her heavy auburn hair was pulled up to one side on top where a huge bow caught it at the back. Her white dress had a full blouse with leg of mutton sleeves and a tight high neck. Many tucks ornamented the skirt that hung gracefully from the tightly-belted waist line. All the stitches were beautifully done with her own hands.
Ed wore a dark suit with vest. The shirt had a stiff collar fashionable in those days. It was attached with a special collar button and had to be sent to a special laundry for cleaning. Ed's hands appeared relaxed while his blue eyes had a glint of amusement. All his life, even in repose he looked as if he were about to break into a smile.
This picture was never displayed in our home or even called to my attention as their wedding picture. Both Dad and Mother look so attractive that I can't imagine their feeling shy about showing it to me. But my own experience is that the pictures taken when I was younger often look so different from what I wanted to appear that I'm not proud of them either. Maybe Mother felt that way about her pictures. Then too, one's children are often the first to laugh at styles that are no longer being worn. Being laughed at was something my mother was not going to risk.
Ed was born October 31, 1879. He was the second child, the first of six sons, of Henrietta and Ferdinand Schwandt. Mabel was born October 24, 1885 to Wilhelmina and Albert Sommers. She was the fifth child in a family of four boys and four girls. Ed and Mabel may not have noticed the first time they met. The two families very likely were together on social occasions because they were related. Ed's paternal grandmother, Louisa Birkholtz Schwandt was a sister to Mabel's grandmother, Josephine Birkholtz Wolfgram. One of Ed's six sisters, Emma, had already married Mabel's brother, Will Sommers. All the children of the two large families would have attended that wedding.
At the time when Ed proposed Mabel was working as a waitress at the Markesan Hotel, which in those years was located on the central square of the village. Mabel spoke proudly about the neat buggy and the fine driving horse Ed drove when he came to call for her. At their home near Marquette the Sommers family was aware of Ed's approach before he came in sight as he came to call for Mabel. They could hear him whistling as he drove smartly up the hill to their farm. He sat very erect with his hat set at a jaunty angle on his dark hair.
My mother's comment about accepting Ed's proposal was, "I had to work for other people. I decided I might as well work for my own household." That statement didn't have a romantic ring. But their years of hard work and sharing proved that there must have been a strong attachment. Mabel trusted Ed's judgment in every major decision. He decided when to sell livestock or trade a horse. Often they went to look at farms that were for sale. He seemed to like to imagine what it would be like to make the change, but he didn't make any hurried trades. For her part she might campaign for certain changes but she accepted his verdict if it was different from what she thought. On the other hand he did everything possible to provide her with more than the usual household conveniences. He maintained kindness and patience and often responded to inconvenience or trying situations with humor.
My mother understood her role. She once explained to me that meals needed to be on the table on time. Ed was paying the hired man to work and not to wait for a meal. The precise schedule for meals was followed all their lives. In later years when she visited us my mother was disturbed because our meals were not served on that same schedule.
Mabel's good facial features were accented by her green eyes and long, thick auburn hair. Her fair skin was protected from the sun by big hats and long sleeves. Of course, no one wore short sleeves in those years and a suntanned face would not have been considered beautiful. As long as she was physically able she was always neatly and appropriately dressed in tailored styles. Whenever work permitted she changed into a clean dress after lunch. It was part of her routine. In her late years she often looked in the mirror and said to me, "Don't I look awful?" I could not agree with her. I thought her features showed a soft refinement. Like all of us who grow old she was having difficulty realizing that she was not still the slim young girl she had once been. It was difficult to realize the passing of the years.
From our viewpoint in 1991 I find it very interesting that their checking account was in Ed's name only. Yet Mabel wrote nearly all the checks. "Edward Schwandt" in her handwriting was on record at the bank. Not until Ed became ill with Parkinson's disease did they change their bank accounts to joint accounts, although the deeds to their farms included her name. It did not seem strange to them either, that only his name was on the flyleaf of their Bible. Ed's name was written in Mabel's handwriting. She did not have a Bible of her own.
Mother often played the piano while Dad and I stood by to sing. Beyond that, I remember my mother singing as she went about her housework. A song that I can not readily find nowadays was "His Eye is On the Sparrow." Her favorite she once said was, "When Peace Like a River", but she knew many hymns and a few of the popular songs of the day. I remember brown paper covered books of children's songs which she played and taught us to sing. My favorite, I now sing to our grandchildren.
Once there was a froggie living by a brook
And his lessons he would learn from out a book.
On the long brown cattails,
How he liked to swing
Down beside the little brook where froggies learn to sing.
Once this little froggie falling fast asleep
Drifted down below the stream to waters deep.
Said this little froggie,
I am lost you see
But I'll say my lessons over, A, B, C.
Dad's singing and melodious whistling made the days brighter as he went about his work. I was always a little surprised that he knew the words and tune of "The Holy City". I expected him to be acquainted only with the hymns more usually sung. Mabel learned the virtues of work and being economical early in life. When she was twelve she spent a summer helping a Mrs. Friday. She was told she would be helping with the new baby. Instead she washed dishes, washed clothes, and scrubbed hardwood floors. After those jobs were done she could take care of the baby. Once a week her mother came by to see her and to collect her wages from Mrs. Friday. I think it may have been customary for parents to expect their children to contribute their earnings to the family income. But, like any twelve year-old Mabel always wished her mother would say, "Would you like to come home for a day or two?"
As a young girl Mabel learned to do what was necessary in spite of her fears. She had to take the cows to the pasture. One piece of their farmland near Marquette lay away from the larger acreage part. The small marshland piece was used for grazing. Mabel drove the cows along the road to get to the marsh. The dog, Old Shep accompanied her. Water snakes lived among the bogs and water holes. Just the sight of a snake filled her with loathing. She had only to speak to Old Shep and he came instantly to grab the snake and swing it around so that its neck snapped. Mabel told me about Old Shep many times. He was her friend and protector when she had to face going to get the cows each day.
One summer before her marriage Mabel worked as a waitress at Sherwood Forest, a hotel set on the wooded shore of Big Green Lake. Her descriptions of associations with other girls who worked there sounded as if this was a happy time. She described going swimming in the big lake and the dangerous undertow that it has if one gets too far from shore. During other off hours there were trips around the lake on large pleasure boats.
Mabel took pride in her work. In those days a waitress was expected to be able to verbally list the menus of the day and to take each person's order and remember it. (There were no printed menus and no pads on which to write the orders.) The diners were flattered that she was able to serve them correctly. If a guest sent her back to the kitchen with a complaint about the food the big cook's angry face and threatening words struck fear in her heart. She dreaded having to take a plate back to him.
Wealthy families from Milwaukee or Chicago came to spend the summer at the hotel. They brought their own maids and governesses to help with their children. Mabel saw in them a way of life she had not known. She formed an attachment with the young children and loved serving them foods they especially liked. The experience of being a waitress added to her knowledge of proper table setting and serving. She liked to maintain those standards in her own home as far as possible. Silver was properly placed for each meal. Until her late years a linen tablecloth was used even though it required washing and ironing. Cloths were soon soiled at the edges by the working men's arms.
When Ed and Mabel married, his sisters, Ida and Emma, were already married but they lived only a few miles from the rest of the family. Ed and Mabel began their married life farming the Phelps Farm next to the Schwandt family home. Many times Mabel drew verbal pictures for me of the associations she enjoyed with Ed's family. A wife as young as she needed the larger family group. She appreciated the humor Ed's brothers and sisters exercised even when they were busy working. After she and Ed moved to the Card Farm they were still only two miles from "the homeplace". His brother, fifteen year old Erwin often stayed with them to help with the farm work. Six-year old Henry and eight-year old Aaron came to spend days or even stay overnight with them. Aaron liked to sit near the heater and whistle while he warmed himself. He had an ear for music and could whistle and sing very well. In later years it grieved Mabel that the child she had loved became estranged from the family after he married.
Mabel was a sociable person. She liked having Ed's brothers and sisters and their families or those of her family come to her home for special dinners. She was cheerful as she went about the work of getting ready. She sang as she cleaned the house and prepared food. I liked those days when I could help with the preparations for the guests. On the other hand she was much concerned about making the right impression. She worried that the food might not be perfect. Once the guests were at the table she could not be seated with them, she must serve and urge them to eat more of this or that. Cake, pies and cream puffs topped off the already rich meal. Often she could not enjoy the meal because she was too tired, and would speak later of having a headache.
But she was happy enough to record those occasions with her box camera. These pictures speak of a way of life when the family, brothers, sisters and cousins found their pleasure in just being together. They also speak of customs when people, even children were "fully clothed". Short sleeves for men or women were unknown, let alone short skirts or shorts. Even children wore full length stockings. When I see the undress in today's advertising of products or entertainments, I am reminded that the man of the country of Gadarenes who had demons "wore no clothes." After Jesus removed the demons the man was described as "sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind." Sometimes I wonder if we are "in our right minds."
Mabel also liked having people drop in unexpectedly. It was a rare instance when she didn't persuade them to stay for a meal. In those days meals had to be prepared each day even when there were no guests, because we had a hired man and Mabel made sure he would not go away from the table hungry. It would be a disgrace. No matter what work she was doing or how disgruntled she may have been feeling when unexpected guests drove on the yard she greeted them joyfully. This trait gave people the impression that she was a happy go-lucky person. They didn't see the worrying side.
Surprise visits from Ed's parents made her uncomfortable, especially if they came just after noon when she might be taking a brief nap. Usually she drove herself through the endless tasks of housekeeping all day long, but occasionally she was compelled to take a break. If Grandma Henrietta ever took a nap she never admitted to such weakness. If she and Grandpa caught my mother scrambling up from a nap, Mabel felt she wasn't quite the worker they expected for their oldest son's wife. Most of that feeling may have been in Mabel but it was true that Grandma seldom, if ever, spoke words of praise even though her sense of humor often showed. Mabel as the first daughter-in-law felt that she must be the best housekeeper and cook in the group in order to measure up.
When I have a satisfying day I like to tell someone about it. My mother did too. On a Monday afternoon she felt good about having done all the washing, hanging clothes on the line outdoors and having brought them in and sorted and folded them ready for ironing. Sometimes even part of the ironing was completed. (Her standards for ironing were high. Sheets, bath towels, kitchen towels and even cleaning rags were carefully folded and ironed so that they would stack neatly in the drawers.) Preparing three meals for the family wasn't really considered work, but that was done as well. Late in the afternoon or early evening Mother often telephoned any one of Dad's sisters just to chat about the good day.
One question would be, "Did you get your washing done?"
That would open the conversation and give her the opportunity to list all that she had accomplished. It was a big boost to her ego to add that she had done part of the ironing as well.
The old musical rhyme that we sang as children, "This is the way we wash our clothes so early Monday morning", had real meaning in her life. Each housewife expected to do certain kinds of work on a designated day of the week. Life had an order that gave security. In today's world I have to decide for each day what I hope to accomplish. Sometimes making the decision is more tiring than the work.
After ten years of marriage Mabel and Ed had a son, Sheldon, who weighed only a little more than five pounds. My mother described the especially terrible birth experience many times. Even so, her mother-in-law questioned the need for having the doctor come. She had never needed one. Just a year later I was born weighing under four pounds. Evidently mother gave considerable thought to the names she chose for us. Both are uncommon. Grandpa Schwandt was outspoken in his disapproval of her choices. He had chosen names. Mine was to be Lucy. The name Zona comes from a Wisconsin novelist. In 1916 Zona Gale's stories were appearing in the lady's magazine, %quot;Pictorial Review.%quot; Mother liked the name Zona.
That year, 1916, in April, Dad's sister Edna married Bill Abendroth. Aunt Edna told me that I cried all through the celebration and my mother cried too. I can sympathize with the young mother with an underweight month old baby and a thirteen month old who was not yet walking. It would be like having two babies. Children don't fit very well into household schedules where meals had to be on time and everything must be kept scrubbed and tidy. In later years my mother said, "I liked it when you were both in bed asleep and all the toys were picked up" (I believe many mothers share her viewpoint.) How difficult those days must have been with child-care added to gardening, preserving foods, dish washing, cooking and baking, especially for a woman who expected perfection of herself.
When we were little children my mother sometimes read to Sheldon and me, but it is my Dad reading to me when I was sick that I remember well. After the evening meal he came to sit beside my bed to read. He may have read my favorite story but I remember his reading the comics to me. Sometimes he just sat there keeping me company while he read the newspaper. His presence was always comforting. He tried hard to think of some remedy for my ailment. Aspirin and antibiotics were unknown. I remember his bringing a cup of hot water. I drank it slowly in an effort to please him but it really didn't taste good.
One of my memories is of Dad brushing my hair as we got ready to go to church on Sunday mornings. Mother would be busy getting ready herself. Dad put his hand under my chin very gently while he made sure the center part was straight. Then he used the brush to softly straighten my short locks. I also remember sitting on his lap at church. I must have been about three years old to remember the exact seat in the building in which we sat. I also remember his carrying me into the house when I fell asleep on the way home - too drowsy to want to wake up.
In the early years of her marriage Mother made her own clothes and made clothes for me too when I was little. When Dad's sister Ella was to be married, Mabel made the ruffled petticoats to wear with the wedding dress. They were made by hand. Then there was always mending to be done. Mabel was instantly conscious of a button missing from a shirt or blouse even if it wasn't her responsibility. Her comment would be, "I wonder why they didn't sew on that button." Now I patch jeans just as I saw her do it all those years when she was a farmer's wife and overalls were worn every day and frequently got torn.
In the three houses in which we lived on farms the sewing room was the place Dad and Mother spent the evening together. She sat near the sewing machine where a goose neck lamp threw light on her sewing or mending. Dad sat in a rocker to read the paper, occasionally reading an article aloud to her. Sometimes he rested on the couch. That couch was a perfectly hard bed with the head slanted up so that a pillow might not be needed. A pillow did make it more comfortable. A slumber robe was always ready to use. It was of crazy-quilt design of dark colored pieces feather-stitched together. If there was time for a short nap after the noon meal Dad slept on the couch. In later years when invalidism began we helped him lie on it. Then, we decided a softer modern davenport should replace the old couch. We missed the hard couch with the slanted head-end. Several pillows were necessary with the new one to give Dad's head a comfortable position. Recently among my possessions I discovered the casual type blanket of brown and black that we kept on the couch to cover Dad. I remembered how many times we had touched it those long years ago.
When big snow storms made roads impassable our home seemed especially warm and happy. Mother could relax from the continual dusting and sweeping and keeping the house tidy. She was sure no one would drop in. Dad could come to the house in between caring for the livestock and shoveling snow. Often on such days he sat on the straight chair beside the kitchen stove where he could absorb the warmth. He would say, "I'm going to move to Texas" I guess he thought Texas would not have cold and snow. He and Mabel enjoyed those winter days and evenings more than usual. They played checkers. They even played till hours when they would customarily be in bed. The furnace needed refueling late in order to keep the house warm until morning. They had an excuse besides their wanting to play. They were evenly matched competitors. One might win a few games in succession. If it happened to be Dad who lost too many successive games he tipped the board to spill the checkers on the floor. He did it with a smile but he didn't help pick them up. Mother reproached his behavior, but she laughingly picked up the checkers and set them ready to play the next day.
Dad's full height was five feet six, but his broad shoulders were muscular from the continuous work that he had done from boyhood. He could get angry but he controlled his temper. I remember a time when the threshing machine needed repairs one of the crew members became angry over the delay. Dad maintained the separator so he was blamed. The man threatened him with bodily harm, but Dad paid no attention and continued to do the repair work.
In the 1930's shredded wheat was a new cereal. Ordinarily we had cooked oats for breakfast at least 340 days a year. When Mother introduced shredded wheat Dad's comments were unfavorable. He jokingly said it was like eating straw.
It was in 1936 that we bought our first Chevrolet car that needed a key to turn on the ignition and lock the doors. We didn't even have a key to our house. Dad did a lot of wondering what the world was coming to when a key was needed to start the car. He usually forgot to take it with him out of the house and had to go back to get it. Finally he tired of the trips back to the house and simply left the key in the ignition during the years he was able to drive.
In the winter of 1921 and 1922 electricity and plumbing were installed in the house and barn on the Menke Farm where we had recently moved. J. P. Richards Co. of Markesan did the work. Ray Richards, son of the owner and George Westover were the workmen. Westover liked to torment my mother with constant teasing. The twenties were prohibition years, yet those who wished to drink seemed to have no trouble getting liquor. Everyone knew which folks indulged, but I never heard anyone speak of the source of it. Late one Sunday night there was a knock on our door. Dad opened it to find the local drunk, Diamond Joe, standing in the cold. While Dad tried to find out what Joe needed, Mother hovered nervously in the background. Even though at that time we lived ten miles from town, Joe had somehow managed to be driving on our country road and was unable to drive farther. Over my mother's protest that Joe might set the barn on fire, Dad gave him blankets and made him a place to sleep off his drunkenness on the straw in an empty stall. The next morning the long-faced Diamond Joe dressed in his rusty black suit and vest was at our breakfast table when Richards and Westover came to continue their work. George said, "Are you having prayer meeting this morning? I see you have the preacher here." My mother never forgot that taunt, especially since she knew Westover might often have frequented the same speakeasy as Diamond Joe.
Dad was not afraid of any animal either. They could sense that he cared about them. He spoke to the horses softly and touched them gently as he groomed them. Cows were spoken to in the same way. The one time he should not have trusted was when we had a ugly Holstein bull. The bull sometimes raged around in his pen when one walked into the barn. Even though he had begun to be less mobile from Parkinson's disease Dad still liked to try to feed the livestock. One day as he walked into the bullpen to put ground feed in the trough, the bull attacked, knocking him down in such a way that he fell partly under the feed trough. As the bull continued to try to bump him the hired man heard the commotion. He stood on the wood partition and struck the bull with a fork to drive him away from Dad. He drove the bull out of the barn and then picked up Dad and carried him to the house.
In the 1930's on an autumn day, Ed's brother Erve' came with a white fox terrier, his family pet. Erve' asked if Snooks could live with Mabel and Ed because she challenged too heartily everyone who came to their door in the village. Ed could accept the dog without question, but Mabel said, "She is not going to come in the house. She will have to stay in the back room or sleep in the basement." Snooks could do tricks - sit up, speak, roll over and others. She didn't need tricks to win even Mabel's heart. When colder weather came and Ed came in from outdoors he allowed Snooks to come into the kitchen. He whispered to her, "Get behind the stove before the old lady sees you." Our wood-burning cook stove stood away from the wall a foot or more. Snooks learned rapidly. Behind the stove became her place except at night when she slept in a special box lined with a washable rug that Mabel had fixed for her at the foot of the basement steps. Occasionally she was allowed a bit of freedom in the kitchen where she would instantly hop onto Ed's lap for him to gently stroke her back. If Snooks were in the kitchen when the folks sat in the other rooms she understood that she was not to cross that line at the kitchen door. The only exception was when Erve' came. She didn't hesitate. She followed him to romp with him in any room. Mabel permitted the performance. Every Monday when the washing was finished with the wringer-type washer Mabel gave Snooks a bath in one of the washtubs. The rag rug from the dog's bed was washed regularly too. It didn't occur to Mabel that a dog's skin might need milder soap for bathing but Snooks never had skin problems.
In late winter of 1929 Mabel was very ill. She had struggled to keep up with her regular work but was down in bed for a couple of weeks before the doctor told her that he wasn't sure what was causing the terrible pain in her abdomen. It might be an abscess. By telephone he advised going to the hospital. The snow was deep on our road. No snowplow had been through since the last big storms. There was no way Ed could use the car. He decided he could take Mabel with a team and sled to the county highway which had been plowed. He made arrangements with his brother-in-law, Charles Schraeder, to come from Markesan and meet them on the highway and go on with Mabel to Fond du Lac to the hospital. It was a thirty mile ride in an unheated car. She didn't know what the doctor in the hospital would decide about her illness. She was so very sick that she did not spend any time thinking of what was ahead. She knew she had to have whatever help she could get and that she had to face the situation alone. At the hospital they rushed her into gall bladder surgery just before the infection spread into her system. Uncle Charles stayed until the surgery was over and then came back to telephone Ed. Today this surgery is common but then it was a major operation. Mabel was very sick and did not return home until after three weeks. Even then she could not do the work that she was used to doing. It was necessary to hire a young woman to help for a few weeks. Even having help was a strain because it was difficult for Mabel to watch anyone work inefficiently.
In the fall of 1929 we moved from the Menke farm to the Folsom farm only five miles from Markesan. The place had been rented for many years and at last the well-to-do Folsoms lost it to their creditors. As a result the buildings were all in need of paint. That summer the four of us, Dad, Mother, Sheldon and I painted the barns. Even though she had had surgery so recently, Mother helped do that work. We didn't paint the house. Barns are more important to a farmer.
Again Mother showed her acceptance of Dad's decisions. Even though the Menke farmhouse was a newer, large house that she had worked very hard to improve she willingly left it to move into the Folsom farm house which was over one hundred years old. The kitchen had been painted with red barn paint. In the middle of the bare hardwood floor a sagging trap door opened into the cistern. A pump in one corner drew water from it for washing dishes and laundry. The deeply soiled hardwood floor presented a challenge to my mother. She scrubbed and scrubbed. When she had done the best she could she continued to mop it with strong soap and water each day for many years until it was almost white. Years later we installed a water softener and discontinued use of the cistern and bought floor covering.
None of us was homesick in this strange old house. It easily seemed like home. It was unbelievable that we could like it so well since rats had made it their home too. They thumped and bumped all night as they ran between the walls. Seed corn had been stored in one of the attics and rats had enjoyed it for years, judging by their boldness. They were so sure of themselves that we caught many of them in traps, but then had to resort to poison before the nights were quiet. It was months before the noises between the walls stopped.
Dad had often jokingly made the remark, "When I am fifty, I am going to make or break." Now at fifty years old he had his opportunity. He and Mabel faced a big challenge. Not only did they have a $24,000 debt but there were big remodeling jobs ahead. The carpenters came to rearrange a couple of walls and frame a bathroom and closets and cupboards. J. P. Richards Co. came again to install plumbing and an electric light plant. Again George Westover worked with Ray Richards on the job. To do some of the work they had to open the trap door in the center of the kitchen over the cistern. Mother was very conscious of that open door as she worked in the kitchen. Each time George came into the room to reach under the kitchen floor, with groans and scuffling he pretended that he was stumbling into the cistern. His acting startled my mother each time. She was constantly feeling that her worst fears had been realized.
The painters and paper hangers worked for weeks redecorating every room in the house. In those days such workmen were given their meals at our table. Mabel cooked for them besides feeding the extra help for corn shredding and silo filling. In all their days Ed and Mabel were both working toward the same goals. Owning a farm was at the top of the list. The work each one did was essential to keeping food on the table and paying off the debt. Even when we were very small Sheldon and I were part of the team. My parents and we expected that our lives would repeat the pattern of theirs.
Grandpa Ferdinand Schwandt died in 1939. As the oldest son, Ed had been named executor of the estate. In Grandpa's bank box was a promissory note signed by one of his sons some years before. There was no evidence that it had been paid. A few of the sisters and their husbands were upset. They came to Ed and angrily demanded that they go to the Judge and insist that the note be paid now. The signer of the note said he had paid it. None of it seems important now but for a while the sisters and their husbands were angry with Ed and at the brother as well. I only heard about all of this because both my parents suffered as they were attacked. Yet, Ed was not going to force the brother to pay what he said he had already paid and he was not going to the Judge to ask him to bring pressure. As the years went by the feelings smoothed out again and the brothers and sisters grew even closer in their very old years. Maybe it is easier to be friends when you live into your ninth decade together as most of them did.
The courage and compatibility of my parents continued to be tested when in 1938 Ed was diagnosed as having Parkinson's Disease. He had noticed and we too, could see that his fingers could no longer manage buttons or handle a knife and fork easily. Walking was also beginning to be difficult. When they consulted the family doctor he told them the dreadful news. He said, "You may wish to consult specialists but there will be no help." For a while nothing further was done but when disability increased they made the desperate trips to Madison to the University Hospital and to Rochester, Minnesota to the Mayo Clinic. The diagnosis was the same. (Interesting to us was that before any examination was done those doctors asked Ed to walk across the room. They watched as he did that as well as he was able. They said, "You have Parkinson's Disease." The way he handled his feet told them all they needed to know even though they proceeded to do complete physical tests.)
Ed still tried to do some of the things he had always done during the next few years. He slowly walked through the barns to just look at the horses he had cherished so much. He continued to walk into their stalls to give them the extra bit of grain. Jane and Josie were crossbred Percheron and Belgian horses, each weighing about two thousand pounds. Ed especially liked their color, sorrel with silver manes and tails. They were daughters of gray Percheron mothers, Meg and Patsy, that had also grown up on our farm.
There were many memories of horses for Ed. The mothers of Meg and Patsy had been the light gray team, Catherine and Bell. Soon after Patsy was born she became ill with naval disease. It was a common disease for a newborn colt in the days before veterinary medicine had discovered a vaccination to be given at birth. Usually a colt died in a very few days. Patsy lingered on for a few weeks. Several times a day Ed went to lift her up to stand so that she could nurse. One day he decided he would have to kill her. She had been sick so long. When he went into the box-stall that morning her eyes looked so bright that he changed his mind. She was the only one of our colts to recover from naval disease. The day a new colt was born was like a holiday. The family stood around for hours admiring it and deciding on a name.
Ed could remember a special team of Morgan horses, Maj. and Beaut. They worked on the fields with the heavier horses but they were the ones he used when he needed a team for the road in winter. They were not only quick. They were smart. They were also attached to one another - staying near each other when they happened to be in the pasture. Gray Felix and black Millie were another team that pulled heavy loads of ensilage in winter or loads of bundled grain in summer. Early in his farming years Charmer and Chimes were a light weight black team that pleased him with their quickness. Often he and his brothers had recounted their good points. In earlier years there was a heavy black team - Molly had a white blaze while Jessie had a white star on her forehead. Many days he had driven them with three others pulling a three bottom plow across the fields. Then there was Toby a dark bay who got his foot caught in the wire fencing and developed blood poisoning. In those days a cut or scratch was almost always fatal to an animal. Toby lingered on for weeks - time enough to take pictures of him with Ed.
Now the days of showing off his driving skills were over. I well remember his comments about drivers who let the lines sag as they drove a team. Some folks did not know how to speak to a horse to make it step up into the harness to pull effectively. The driving horse that pulled his buggy swiftly in the by gone years was only a memory. When he was young he wanted a horse capable of racing those driven by his brothers or cousins on the dusty country roads. Even into my childhood I remember hearing my mother warn Dad, "Don't you get into any races," as he was driving off to go to town. She knew that if he met one of his brothers or friends they didn't even need to voice the challenge. Each would speak to his horse and the race was on. Since the roads were narrow one or the other of the racers could end up tipped over in a ditch with possible injuries. Now days we speak of having a "wreck" with our cars. In those days it was the "tip-over" that was my mother's concern.
Sheldon's death in a car wreck in 1947 was a stunning blow. Ed's immobile hands could not even wipe his own tears. He felt his dependence when he said, "And I can't even walk." How could they get along without Sheldon? Mabel's grief was intense. For years she had spoken of the wedding Sheldon might possibly have. What an occasion it would be when she was escorted down the church aisle as the groom's mother! On the other hand she dreamed of keeping house for Sheldon when he went back to farming. He had ordered equipment for a new cow barn.
Then came the time when Dad could not walk alone. We maneuvered him about the house. He didn't want to stay in bed so each morning Mabel bathed and dressed him. We chose books he would enjoy reading and propped them up so that he would not have to hold them. He could not turn the pages so we did that too. He could still chuckle over Big Family by Bellamy, Cheaper By the Dozen, Gene Rhodes, Cowboy, The Life of Will Rogers. Finally the muscles in his eyes did not work well enough to read but he liked listening to the radio. Each morning after the dressing and breakfast routine we helped him to his easy chair in time for the Don McNeil's Breakfast Club from Chicago and the Arthur Godfrey Show. He could enjoy the humor and music of such productions. In summer he listened to the Chicago Cubs baseball broadcasts and so became a fan of the National League when the World Series was played. I learned to enjoy the games with him. It was quiet companionship. A big smile spread across his face when Cookie Lavagetto came in to pinch hit and saved the sixth game of the series for the Dodgers in 1947. (They lost the series.)
Mabel continued to carry on her usual household duties even though there were the added duties of caring for Ed. Giving him daily baths and dressing him immaculately. She hit on the idea of folding an neatly ironed handkerchief in half to tuck into his collar to catch the drooling he was unable to control. We saw him dressed that way so long that he seemed well dressed to us. Mabel had never been known for her patience but she cared for him carefully and gently all the years. She was not about to turn over what she saw as her role to anyone else, even though we lived with them a few years to help. Occasionally she would go to Ladies Aid or visit in Markesan for a few hours but never failed to be with Ed day after day and night after night.
Unconsciously Mabel tried hard to make both Sheldon and me perfect. Now she remembered all the good things about Sheldon that she had never acknowledged to him. The moments when she was not needed by Ed she occupied by working harder than ever. Re-stacking the pile of fence-posts in the back yard took all her strength but she worked at it until they were neat enough to satisfy her. No matter what she did she spoke of how Sheldon would have liked things done and how hard he had worked. "Some people make the money but someone else gets it," was a statement Howard and I had to listen to over and over.
The folks needed help. They could not stay there in the farm house by themselves. We would have felt guilty going off to our own lives and leaving them to try to find help or make other living arrangements. Mother finally asked us if we would stay although it was evident she felt we were free-loaders if we did. The next months were bitter ones for her. She did not know how to cope with her grief except to attack us. There we were alive and healthy, while Sheldon was not. In a material way she took good care of us but sometimes it was hard to appreciate the gifts given with strings attached.
Our first child, Joel, was born two months after Sheldon's death. I was afraid! Mother was not happy with the idea of our having a baby. I determined she was not going to have to do a thing in the way of caring for him. After all, she had enough care-taking to do with Dad. But in the evenings as I did the dishes she held the baby and sang to him, "Poor little boy. Life is so hard." She was expressing her own feelings about life and the disappointments she imagined Sheldon had had. (If I had known as much about life then as I do now, I would have known that she was absolutely right.)
Until this period of my life it seems to me that I had usually complied with my parents' wishes. Now, it seemed that every thing I did was not up to Mother's expectations. Howard and I had married five years before but she was still telling people, anyone who would hear her, "I never thought Zona would get married!" When I was a young girl I kissed my parents good night each night. Often Mother would say to Dad, "Zona will always be with us." Now in the midst of all the grief she implied that I had been disobedient. Tiny details of housekeeping became issues. When I hung Joel's baby dress on the clothesline pinning it at the corners of the front hem Mother went out to hang it "correctly." She told me what she had done saying, "I'm trying to train you." I was thirty-one years old. Hanging the white ruffled curtains in my bedroom was a point of contention too. I didn't do a precise job of it after they were washed. When I sat rocking Joel in that room I looked at those curtains and hated them. (I've never had ruffled curtains in my own home.) Without being aware of it Mabel was wishing to be independent of us.
Relatives and friends were graciously attentive to Ed and Mabel following the tragedy of Sheldon's death. They came to call and on Sunday evenings the living room was nearly always full of relatives. We placed Dad in one of the big easy chairs and he smiled and enjoyed the conversation. Mabel was very restless and resentful if it happened that no one came. Being alone with her thoughts was unbearable.
Dad maintained a sense of humor in spite of his discomforts. Mother sometimes worried aloud as she helped him dress. He could still whisper something that would make her laugh. One day when Mother was away for the day, he was sitting as usual, in his chair by the radio in the dining room. Joel was big enough to ride his stroller around the dining table at a good speed. As he rode round and round, the corner of the lace table cloth got caught in the stroller wheel while Joel kept going. Dad laughed and laughed. He knew how upset Mother would have been if she had seen her lace table cloth caught in a stroller wheel. Even though he was helpless our little boys related to Dad. They freely played close to him and willingly sat on his lap and on the foot pieces of the wheelchair.
There were new ways to suffer as the disease progressed. One was a pricking in the muscles - usually centered in one spot for a few weeks and then moved to a different spot. When his hands trembled rapidly we knew he was in misery from the pricking. We rubbed the spot that he tried to indicate. When we asked if that was the right place he whispered, "I've learned to itch where I'm rubbed."
During the four years that Howard and I and our small sons lived with Dad and Mother Howard was able to get Dad into the car for rides or to go to family gatherings such as Charles and Ida Schraeder's golden wedding anniversary or to family dinners and to funerals. One day they drove to the tiny village of Alto to see a horse-pulling contest. Howard maneuvered the car into a space where they could see the track where the pulling would take place in order for Dad to see. But during the contests a big man stood leaning on the front of the car. Howard approached the man saying, "I have someone in the car who would like to see the pulling but he is unable to stand or walk. Could you move so that he can see?" The man refused to move. When Howard returned to the car Ed murmured, "It's all right."
At times we had to depend on Dad to help us do things for him. In 1946 he began to have seizures occasionally. One day as he sat in his wheelchair a strong seizure came over him. No matter how determined we were to keep him from sliding out of the chair it was impossible to stop the motion of his body. In a few seconds he was returning to consciousness lying on the floor. Picking up helpless weight is not easy. As Mother and I stood there wondering what to do Dad told us, "Get the little footstool." We put it close to his side and were able to lift him to that little height. From there we could lift a little more to a straight chair and from there back into his wheel chair. His quick mind worked better than ours.
Many times in my growing-up years I heard my mother voice her thought that someday they would retire from farming and move to town where they could sit on the front porch. In 1951 she bought a house in Markesan. It was a fine two-story, four bedroom house with lovely varnished woodwork, many windows and a big front porch. It set on a corner lot with fine trees. Sitting on the porch was not the way she had dreamed about it all the years gone by, but for a year or so she was able to push Ed's wheel-chair onto the porch where she might have time to sit with him for a while, and perhaps greet passers-by. There in the village they were able to find afternoon help. An old-time friend of the family, Mrs. Ida Kuehn needed just such a job. She could stay with Dad and give Mother a few hours off duty. Mother could walk to go grocery shopping or to call on one or the other of Ed's sisters who all had homes within a few blocks of her house.
After helping the folks move to Markesan, Howard and I and our three little boys went to live in Madison where it was necessary for him to go on with his education after spending four years in the Army.
On a Tuesday night Mother telephoned me to say that a change seemed to have come over Ed. He could not swallow at all. Over the years she had learned to give him foods that were neither solid nor liquid, such as soups, Jello or ice cream. Now all she could do was wipe his mouth with a cloth saturated in water to keep it from feeling too dry. December 20, 1952 at supper time Mother stepped into the next room to look at Dad again. She called, "Zona." I hurriedly picked our year old Alan out of the high-chair and went to stand beside Dad's bed with Alan on my arm. As Mother and I watched, one last, slight seizure passed over Dad's body and a faint gasp came from his lips. He had lain motionless for four days before his strong constitution gave up. One of us stayed near at all times during those days. When the doctor came we asked him if he thought Dad knew we were there. He said, "We don't know but it could be he is more aware than it appears."
We had him brought back to the living room in his casket. He had been with us in his own home all those helpless years, we didn't want him to be in a strange place. Our boys had played around his hospital bed many times when he lay so still that it was necessary to look closely to see if he still breathed. Now they played around his casket in the same way. As I went upstairs that night Mother stood beside him. I heard her say, "You'll have to stay here alone tonight," as if she wished there were something more she could do for him.
Copyright © 1991, 2004 by Zona S. Justiss. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, text and photos on this page are property of the author and may not be reproduced, posted, distributed, or used for any commercial purpose without prior permission.