The Trades as Practiced in the Homeland: Part III
By Alfred Opp, Vancouver, British Columbia
Edited by Connie Dahlke, Walla Walla, Washington
From the beginning, weavers were well-represented - imported yard-good fabric was non-existent. It was the weavers who provided cloth and blankets for the pioneer settlers. Fibers such as wool and flax were used by these early weavers. The weaving trade served the colonists until commercial yard goods became available. Teplitz had a commercial weaving plant called “Jesse & Co.” that started operations in 1895. It produced fine woolen cloth for private and commercial use. After that, our town had very few weavers, but one did live next door to my parents. These weavers made floor runners, Plachta (blankets), spreads and horse blankets, among other things. Our neighbor kept busy, Mom said, and did well. These same types of items made by the Bulgarians were available at the market, but the colors were not to our taste. We have a Plachta in our possession, given to us by my aunt as a souvenir from back home.
To grind grain into flour is a very ancient practice. Our ancestors made do with a hand-operated mill device that later was upgraded to using horse power. But this was still slow and produced poor quality flour. Then someone thought of using wind power. My ancestor Erhard Müller has been named as one of the first to build and use a windmill. But using wind power to run a mill didn’t work out either due to an unsteady supply of wind. In the mid- to late-1800’s, things changed when steam-power became available. That was a big improvement that worked well for us until we left in 1940. Our grandmothers were always looking for high quality flour. My ancestor J. Zacher helped to set up the steam-powered mill in Teplitz. The steam generators were fired with straw. Wood and coal were expensive, but straw we had in abundance.
The masonry trade was in demand in Teplitz from day one. These masons did their work with limited resources and their work was not fancy in design. The first houses built in Teplitz were little more than one-room huts that had a hearth in the middle of the room with no flue – only a hole in the roof. The masons were kept busy building the hearths and bake ovens. In addition to these jobs, the masons also lined the wells. In later years, the Russians and Bulgarians took up the trade, and they were masters at their craft. Our local masons were kept busy building hearth ovens, retaining walls and cellars. The jobs of building stone houses and other large projects went to the outsiders.
To kill an animal is not a new idea, and we had butchers among us from the first settler in Teplitz. The books about Teplitz give names of butchers who at one time worked their trade under a license set up by the community. This means that these butchers either worked or sold meat from an outlet under supervision. This could indicate that these butchers needed guidance to be honest and fair to the settlers. A butcher named K. H. learned his craft in Germany and set the standard for meat cutting.
Smoking and salting of meat was not new either. What changed in meat preparation was the method of preparing sausage meat for casing. Today we have meat grinders – back then meat was chopped by hand. That had to be done just right, and not everybody had the talent. People who lacked this skill hired those who were good at it. Word of mouth has it that these “expert” choppers did their chopping to a rhythm.
In my time, we had many butchers who were available for hire. Unemployment forced men to seek more than one trade to feed their families. The good ones stood out from the rest. My parents chose Friedrich Keller, a big man, to do this chore. His wife, Justine, was the midwife who introduced me to this world. My Zacher grandparents used a man named A. Dreher, who had the reputation of being the best in the business. That came with a price. Friedrich Keller was so precise and fast that he was capable of butchering two pigs in one day.
When the day set for butchering work arrived, everything had to be ready down to the smallest details. Mom got help from Dad’s mother and sister who showed up at daybreak to do the preparation work. Plenty of hot water was needed along with a clean place to work, clean towels, and containers on hand. The pigs we raised were heavy, and fattened up to produce meat and lard. When the pig was killed, it was not an easy thing to watch. Then work started, with everybody running according to their assigned orders. The intestines had to be cleaned, the meat was ground up, and then everything was ready for sausage making. Meat cuts for salting and smoking were set aside for preparation on a later day. For us kids, butchering day was a feast – for our parents it was a hard day’s work. We children got the first taste of “pot meat” – usually the pig’s tail, or a slice from the liver.
We learned to get by on what we had, and to make the best of it. With no time to spare in our struggle to survive, all creative ideas for improvements that came along got a try. One person helping another created a community bond. To survive, we all needed each other. From the time we were removed to Germany in 1940, and then on to Poland for settlement, the lives of the Bessarabians has been a school of new things to get used to. After 1948 our men and women adjusted to jobs in the modern industrial world. It was amazing how well our people were able to adapt to a modern system. This can be explained solely by the fact that our people had developed a great deal of common sense over the years. I’m proud of them and can speak on a personal note. Our people left nothing undone, and they did not quit a task without finishing it. They had many challenges to overcome and faced one obstacle after another. People have energy and strength, but it takes a will to put that to work. I’m battling a serious illness for which there is no cure. What I do have going for me is my will to live. According to the doctor I have already passed the dateline.
If you stand up for what you believe, you are already half-way to succeeding.
Alfred Opp is the author of "Pawns on the World Stage" - the memoirs of his childhood in Teplitz, Bessarabia and the experiences of his family in war-torn Europe (Poland during 1941-1945 before they fled to East Germany in 1945, then the reconstruction of West Germany 1945-1955) - available from the NDSU website.