Glad to Have a Home Again
"Glad to Have a Home Again." Prairies 9, no. 1: June/July 1985, 20-22.
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In my childhood days, my folks would often tell us why they came to America. In Russia, my father was drafted into the military for two years after he was married. He said the Russian officers were hateful men, and he had been miserable while serving in Russia’s army. They had to march over plowed-up fields, and had to do many other unpleasant things which made my father angry.
Then, after my parents had three boys and two girls, Father said to Mother, “We will move to America so that my boys won’t have to go through what I went through when I was a soldier.”
So they packed up. One of Mother’s sisters, Carolina, and her husband, Karl, came with them.
Mother said the first couple of days of sailing were beautiful. But soon they screwed tight the windows shut. They got deeper in the water, and they had to burn lights day and night. They did not like that.
Next, the children got seasick. Then Carolina got sick. Mother and Father prayed that no one would die because they knew the sailors would throw the bodies of the dead people overboard into the ocean. They were so happy that everyone got well, and they made it safely to Kulm, North Dakota.
In Kulm, they hired a man and a team of horses and wagons to take them to my mother’s brother, Emanuel Hildenbrand. Uncle Emanuel and his wife and three children lived in a house with two small rooms. Mother was shocked when she saw it for the first time. Where would they all sleep? she wondered. The men went out and brought sacks full of straw and spread it on the floor, put blankets over it, and everyone slept real well.
When spring came, Father bought himself a horse, and one ox. He plowed the sod up and raised flax. They had a neighbor who had a bigger house. He took them in, and Father was his hired man.
Then, finally, my parents drove up north about 12 miles because they had heard there was good land there. Father found some land he liked which also had a lake which never went dry. He bought it, built a house and barn there, and moved his family up.
“It was like living in a wilderness,” Mother would tell us.
But they made progress.
Winter brought many snow storms. However, they survived and raised a large family. My parents even had to build a bigger house. They had 10 boys and five girls. By the time I could realize who was in the family, some of the older ones had already married and left. My father farmed until my brother Henry got married. There were five children still at home, and so Dad started to buy cream and sell flour at nearby Lehr, North Dakota.
I certainly did not like to leave the farm. I hated town life. But I got myself a job in the Bismarck hospital, working there for two years.
Then, one of my sisters lost her husband, and a couple of years later, she married Fred Bauer of Heil, North Dakota. She wanted me to go along. I eventually agreed, but I did not like the idea of living in a community where most everyone was a stranger to me. I stayed until my sister’s child was born, and after she was well, I hired out to the Adam Vihausers as a housekeeper.
Next, I met one of Fred’s neighbors, a young man by the name of Paul Ketterling. We fell in love, got married, and lived for a couple of months at a home in Lehr. Then we went back to Heil. It was a nice little town at that time. We stayed with Paul’s folks. There were nine in the family, but we got a room to ourselves until Paul and others built a barn on the farm he had bought.
It was so nice to be alone on our own farm until our family came. We raised six children: Arnold, Lloyd, Laurence, and David, and two girls, Marlyn Ann and Mavis. The farm was four miles south of Heil and one-half mile from a country school.
We were a happy family. We went to the Lutheran church at Heil every Sunday and in the winter, too, if possible. Often, we were snowed in real bad, and that caused problems. One bad winter, when Paul wanted to take the cream and eggs to Heil, the horses played out, breaking through that deep snow, and so Paul and the horses had to struggle back home. Before making another trip to Heil, we had to wait a long time for the warmer weather to take the snow down. I remember we had to wait a couple of weeks until the mail man could come.
Of course, during that time, we could not go to church. But we managed. On Sundays, I gathered the children around me and I played the organ, and we sang lots of songs. Paul did not care to sing, but he was a good listener, and he would compliment us on our singing. So the time did not go too slowly. I also read them some stories out of the Bible, about Jonah in the whale, and about Daniel who was put in a fire’s burning-room but did not get burned because the Lord was with him.
That story about Daniel helped us by giving us confidence because we later had a fire in our house, too. It was so bad that our house burned down, but, fortunately, no one was killed. Somehow, the fire had gotten started upstairs. We were so thankful that we were all awake.
We managed to save everything downstairs. But I was in shock. I could not help much to carry things out, and so Paul and the boys saved our important belongings.
The two girls held on to me and cried. They did not want to stay alone outside.
The neighbor called the firetruck. It was late, but they saved the floor so that they things in our cellar were not destroyed.
Paul’s parents had a big house and we stayed there until a house was moved onto our farm.
Everyone was nice to us during that difficult time.
When the house which had been moved onto the farm was finally ready to be lived in, we were all excited to return to the farm. When we had our first meal together in that house, our eight-year-old daughter, Marlyn, sighed with relief: “Home is home.”
We were all glad to have a home again.