Interview with Helen Biegler (HB)
Conducted by Brother Placid Gross (PG)
6 May 2000, Richardton, North Dakota
Transcription by Lena Paris
Editing and Proofreading by Jay Gage
PG: Today is May 6, 2000 at Richardton, North Dakota. This is Brother Placid Gross your interviewer for the German-Russians. We will be interviewing Helen Biegler.
HB: My name is Helen Biegler.
PG: When were you born?
HB: I was born March 12, 1920 at 223 4th Ave NW, Aberdeen, South Dakota.
PG: What is your father’s name?
HB: Bernard Joseph Biegler. But his father was deaf,
so he always went by Joe. Very few people knew him as Bernard.
Only when he went into World War I was he was called
Bernard. Other times he was always Joe.
PG: Do you know when your father was born?
HB: March 8, 1893.
PG: Was he born in Russia?
HB: I can't remember the name of the little village.
In this village there were thirteen
Biegler families and my grandpa was Joseph Dean Biegler.
PG: What was your grandma’s name?
HB: My grandma's name was Odelia, but I can't remember her maiden name.
PG: Was your father's mother's name Odelia?
HB: They always called her Tillie.
PG: How old was your father when he came to America?
HB: He was 8 years old.
PG: So he came with his parents?
HB: He came with his father and mother, also a sister
who was 3 years younger than he
was, a brother who was 9 months old. His sister Mary and his brother Frank came to
America: There were 3 children.
PG: Then they had more children over here in America.
HB: They had Katherine, Leo, Jake, Dave and Francis.
PG: Where is your father buried?
HB: Sunset Memorial in Aberdeen, SD.
PG: Do you know your mother's maiden name?
HB: My mother's maiden name was Usselmann. Her father's
name was Sylvester
Usselmann. And her mother's maiden name was Regina Dosch.
PG: And your mothers first name?
HB: Anna Marie who was born may 20, 1896.
PG: Where was she born?
HB: She was born in America.
PG: In the Aberdeen area?
HB: No, it's in Edmonds County, near Ipswich, South Dakota area.
PG: And where is she buried?
HB: In the Ipswich cemetery. Ipswich had a Catholic cemetery to the south, while the other half of the cemetery was for the Protestants.
PG: Now, that was your mother.
HB: Dad's folks are buried in Sacred Heart cemetery, Aberdeen, South Dakota. Mother's family comes from around Ipswich.
PG: So where are your mothers parents buried?
HB: There is a rural church called "New Strasburg". I need to ask Paul about some people who lived in the Ipswich area during the late 1800s.
PG: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
HB: I was the oldest of four children: A sister named Eleanor Regina, a sister Rosella (590) and a younger brother who is Arthur Joseph.
PG: So there were only four children.
HB: Yes, we were four.
PG: You were never married, so you use your maiden name or your dad's family name.
HB: I went to parochial school for ten years. I had to repeat a class when I first started because I didn't speak English. Then I had yellow jaundice, lying on the davenport for an entire winter. My sickness is called hepatitis now.
PG: Did your dad remember anything about Russia?
HB: The only thing he remembered was his mother saying, "Joe take care of Mary." He was eight years and his little sister was six years. That was the only thing he remembered from the trip.
PG: Did your grandparents talk about Russia? Do you remember anything about your dad's or your mother's parents?
HB: No, not Mother's parents: the Doschs lived out there. My grandmother Usselmann had six sisters and three brothers. The entire settlement was practically relatives.
PG: Are those people still living in that area?
HB: No, they have all scattered.
PG: Are you related to the Doschs from Strasburg?
HB: I don't know, maybe. Grandma Usselmann's sister, whose name was Shock, married in North Dakota; but I don't remember anything more.
PG: Do you remember anything when your mother's parents talked about Russia?
HB: They did not talk about Russia. Grandma Biegler told us, after we were older; that they came to America because the Russians were against the Catholics. The German people were too ambitious. Out of thirteen families: Six families came to America and the other seven families were sent to Siberia.
PG: Were the Bieglers all relatives?
HB: They were or either intermarried. Dad's third
cousin and dad's fourth cousin lived
around Aberdeen. But I do not know now who the dad's names were.
PG: So what kind of work did your mother's parents do?
HB: They farmed.
PG: They were farmers, but your dad was not a farmer.
HB: No, he left our home daily at 11:00 am and worked for a Minneapolis Moline tractor factory. He left his parent's home from farming. Because with all his brothers, there wasn't enough work as they had just one homestead; so he delivered tractors and showed the people how to operate them.
PG: So your dad's parents originally were on the farm too?
PB: But when your dad grew up, he was not on the farm anymore.
HB: He was an engine mechanic all his life: Until the last few years when he worked for the State Highway Department on a road crew.
PG: So he worked for the Minneapolis Moline Tractor Company?
HB: I think that is what it was.
PG: When you were small, did you have a milk cow in town?
HB: No, we had an outdoor "biffy." We had to go outside, when needed to use the bathroom. We didn't have running water until we had a furnace in our house. We had just cold water. In the summer, we never had hot water.
PG: Did you have chickens in town?
HB: We would always go to one of our uncles, who would save a pig. Mom would buy ten or twenty old hens and would freeze them. Before that time, we canned them [in glass jars]. In the fall of the year when they [her uncle] cleaned out their hens, mom bought chickens and canned them. No, we always lived in town. One year she raised a few chickens.
PG: Did your mother work out of the home?
HB: Not until her sister lost her husband in 1942, then all three of the sisters went baby-sitting.
PG: She went to other people's homes.
HB: Yes, and stayed with their children.
PG: Your parents never said they wished they were back in Russia?
HB: I don't think so; they were so happy to come to America.
PG: Did you ever receive letters from Russia?
HB: I don't know. Grandma Biegler wrote and read. Grandpa Usselmann read, but grandma Usselmann I think was illiterate. I never saw Grandma Usselmann write a thing.
PG: Where did you go to school?
HB: Saint Mary's. We had Benedictine Sisters from Yankton, South Dakota.
PG: Did you then go to high school?
HB: I went to Central High School [in Aberdeen].
PG: What did you do after high school and where did you go?
HB: It was at the beginning of the World War II,
and I was working at a candy counter at
Woolworths. My former classmate at Saint Mary's came home to Aberdeen for the summer. She had a job in a shipyard in Richmond, California. She asked, "What are you getting for pay now?" I told her what I was paid. She said, "Oh you could come out to California and make $2.30 an hour."
PG: You were working in Aberdeen for $14.00 for two weeks. That would be almost $1.50 a day.
HB: I worked for twenty-five cents. I went to work house-cleaning at a private music conservatory for a little old lady. Her son lived there also. They had a cow and a horse. I would start cleaning on third floor, make up the bed for their hired man, and dust down the floor and stair steps. I would make up two beds for the son and the mother, vacuum the front hall, dust down the back hall, and dust eleven chairs in this one music room. I would wipe around all the rugs on my hands and knees, going into the dining room where they ate. Then the kitchen floors, I would scrub every week on my hands and knees. I earned twenty-five cents for the entire day. I started at 7:30 in the morning and sometimes didn't get home until 9:30 at night. I was making money! After a while, she gave me fifty cents; I did that for three years.
PG: Were you still in school then?
HB: I was in high school. Every Saturday morning, I would spend my day at the music conservatory making this terribly "big" money. Can you imagine the children today!
PG: I can't imagine.
HB: Dad worked for a week for a dollar on the farm.
PG: What could you buy for a dollar?
HB: We were a family of six persons. Mom would give me a nickel and a dime and I'd go to the North Side Grocery to buy pork steak for fifteen cents. We had enough for our dinner. In those days we didn't have an ice box, so we went up there for every meal. A nice slice of meat off the shoulder costs fifteen cents. Mother always baked bread. She always bought flour in one hundred pound sacks, plus get two cents worth of yeast from the (737) bakery. In the winter, she would lay the yeast out on the windowsill. For this amount of yeast, she would bake twice.
PG: How old were you when you went out West?
HB: About twenty-one years old. I was twenty years before I left high school because I spent ten years in grade school. I worked two and a half years in Richmond in a pre-fab shipyard. I welded steel-plate bottoms. First I started out as a tacker. We put on "dogs" [clamps] to pull plates together before welded.
PG: Were you building ships?
HB: Yes, little liberty ships.
PG: How many people worked there?
HB: Oh, hundreds, hundreds.
PG: So then you made how much money there?
HB: We were getting $2.30 an hour. I worked swing shift [at night]. I started at 3:30 pm and worked until midnight.
PG: What did you do with all your money?
HB: I bought bonds and sent them home to Mom. Afterwards, we started going to the movies three and four times per week: two different movies a night. There were no bonds bought anymore. We always got a double feature and a comedy in those days.
PG: Did you have movies in Aberdeen?
HB: No, this was out in Richmond [California]. We had three or four theaters in Aberdeen, where we went to movies for a nickel plus a bag of popcorn for a nickel.
PG: So they had popcorn then already?
HB: Oh yes.
PG: When you were going to high school, which was in the 1930’s?
HB: I graduated in 1940.
PG: That was during the "dirty thirties" when you were in school.
HB: That's when my mother went to her brothers and got some meat, so we had meat. Then she salted meat in the winter. Then we went to Uncle Paul Williams's house. Usually there were two big hams left. When spring came, we ate off pork shoulders, just salty meat. When spring come, the meat was in salt brine would be dried, take it to the farm for smoking. Then we hung the hams up in our house attic. When Mom wanted meat, she would go to the attic and cut off a slice of smoked ham until completely eaten.
PG: After the salt ham was smoked, you could keep it from spoiling.
HB: Yes, we'd go out to the farm after noon lunch and smoked the hams all day. They seemed to know when smoking meat was done.
PG: Did they have a smokehouse?
HB: No, the smoke fire was in a barrel. The smoke went through the barrel of hung meat.
PG: The fire was in one barrel, and the smoke was in the other barrel.
HB: Well, he had a chimney from the firebox over to the smoke barrel of hung meat, with the smoke going upwards. My uncle always used wet wood after the fire was hot, so was really smoky.
PG: How long were you in Richmond doing welding?
HB: I was out there two and a half years.
PG: Then what did you do?
HB: I come home to Aberdeen to work for S & L stores for two years. I quit S & L and went to work for Singer's for six years.
PG: What is Singers?
HB: It was a sewing machine place, selling sewing machines and vacuum cleaners. I was there eleven years. I couldn't stand the new manager so I quit. I worked for Doctor Kelley for about one and a half years and quit. I went to work at the hospital as a nurse's aide for six months. Then I was baby-sitting for Dr. Barber, while he had some surgery done. He said, "Do you want to be a dental assistant?" I said, "No." "I never did anything right all the while I worked for him, I'll never make it as a dental assistant: I'm to slow." He said, "Why don't you try it." I talked to a sister at St. Luke's Presentation Sisters, who advised, "You try it if you want." Well, Dr. Barber offered me $150.00 as I was making $125.00 at the hospital per month. The sister said, "If you don't like the dental job, you come back and I'll meet his price." But I went back and worked for Dr. Barber for eleven years, before he moved to Arizona. Then I started to work for Dr. Bauer. I worked for him fourteen years. When I was sixty-two years old I retired.
PG: Dr. Bauer and the other doctor?
HB: Dr. Bauer was the third dentist I worked for, and then I worked for Dr. Kelley, an older man. I worked for Dr. Barber who was four years older than I was.
PG: What kind of work did you do then?
HB: I was a chair-side aide for the dentists. I did all the housekeeping by sterilizing instruments.
PG: So you know all about teeth? You know what to do to keep your teeth healthy?
HB: I had lost many teeth before I ever went to Dr. Barber. He [Dr. Kelley?] never talked about a filling. When there's a cavity, we'll take the tooth out.
PG: So they pulled them out instead of filling them. You didn't have any special training?
HB: I took and passed the certification. In 1960, I was certified.
PG: Did you need schooling for that?
HB: The dentists had a training program. We met
once a week and reviewed procedures.
Then we went to Sioux Falls and took their certification. I took another certification later, so I was a certified dental assistant.
PG: Can you still talk German?
HB: Very little. All I know in German is the "Hail Mary."
PG: Do you want to say it for us?
HB: I can (870)
PG: Very good. When you lived in Aberdeen, did you have an area where just German-Russians lived?
HB: We lived with the (881 naming of neighbors)
PG: Was there an area in Aberdeen where there was only Germans?
HB: We lived on the northwest. On the east side were the Germans from Russia, because we had a parish of Sacred Heart in Aberdeen, where grandma and grandpa belonged. They were Irish and did not particularly like all the German-Russians. So the parish bought some property and built a wooden Catholic church. When we had Father Horner, we built a nice brick church.
PG: What's the name of that church?
HB: Saint Mary's is German; and Sacred Heart is the Irish church.
PG: So Saint Mary's was mostly the Germans.
HB: There are very few Germans left now, but originally it was all German.
PG: Was that parish called "Little Odessa?"
HB: No, I don't think so. They were just "Russians" on the other side of the tracks on 1st Avenue.
PG: Did they say anything like, "the dirty Russians?"
HB: I think the Germans were a lot cleaner than the Irish, because the German-Russians washed off their front porches all the time, and swept their walks all the way out to the street.
PG: Did they have concrete sidewalks?
HB: Oh yes, I have an aunt who always said, "Those Russians, all they do is keep their porches washed."
PG: When you went to school you had no problem learning the English?
HB: I think I was a lazy student.
PG: Then you started talking English.
HB: We had an Irish sister as English teacher. Sister Valentine had twenty-two of us students who had not spoken a word English. She had forty other students that spoke some English.
PG: How many students were there in one room?
HB: There were sixty-two in a class.
PG: Sixty-two in one class with one teacher.
HB: They were all first graders.
PG: Sister Valentine was the teacher.
HB: She was a dear little woman.
PG: You were suppose to talk English, but were not punished if you talked German?
HB: No, we were encouraged to talk. It's going to
be easier for you. If you don't learn
English, you would have a hard time for other people to understand you. This was encouraging to us to do better in English. Because she kept stressing that when we kept on talking German-Russian, many people wouldn't understand us.
PG: How about your Polish neighbors, when you played with the Polish children? What language did they speak?
HB: They all spoke English. The adults amongst themselves talked Polish. Everybody felt they were doing better when they talked English.
PG: So you had all "sister" teachers. Do you remember anything special about the nuns?
HB: They were strict. When we were learning during class session, should a student be leaning on the table, you might have a ruler tap you to attention.
PG: Tap the ruler on your wrist or were you to lay the wrist on the table?
HB: Oh yes, you held this pen very nicely and made
a graceful Palmer penmanship script.
Didn't you have Palmer penmanship in your school?
PG: Not very much.
HB: I earned a pin as reward. You could never tell it when you look at my writing now.
PG: You were always able to walk to school? You lived close enough?
HB: Only fifteen blocks. We had an aunt who lived two blocks away. We never directly went from home to school. We always went to Aunt Katherine's house and picked up my other cousins. Then we went to school. We did that until we were in the fifth grade. We never got to school by ourselves.
PG: That's quite a walk of more than a mile.
HB: We went home for noon lunch unless, it was winter. I didn't like to carry a packed lunch. Mom made my sandwich and placed it in a bag by the door when we left for school. Because my dad would fill hoppers when he worked for the grain elevator with some screenings. He would get up at 4 am and go to different houses and fill those hoppers in the morning and at night. These little screenings would be blown into the furnace. As we had to walk to school, we were to take our lunch when weather was cold. I would leave mine under the kitchen sink.
PG: You forgot it?
HB: Purposely. When dad came home for lunch, he would come to school with my lunch; and I would have to eat it too. I still walked that distance, when I needed to move my mother closer to church, so dad moved us a whole block over into another house.
PG: One block closer.
HB: And I don't drive a car, so I am still walking to Saint Mary's Church. We always went to 8 am Mass. After we started to take Communion, we took a piece of bread along and ate it going from church to school and took a drink of water. When it was time for lunch, we went home and came back to school. But, today's children don't attend Mass anymore everyday. You walk that direction anyway, to go to Mass.
PG: Did you have German sermons in church?
HB: No, Father (019) didn't talk German at all. We had Father (020) when I was at Saint Mary's church.
PG: He preached in English.
HB: Yes, he never talked German at all.
PG: How did you celebrate Christmas when you were a child?
HB: Mom always baked raisin bread; we were poor. Dad didn't make any big money.
PG: On Christmas Eve did you have a Belzenickel or Christkindel?
HB: Yes, but you never received gifts in the morning, until you returned home from church. We woke up and went to 6 am Mass every day. Any child too young for Communion stayed in bed with the angels. My mom always said, "The angel will care for them." The kids that were old enough went to Communion.
PG: When you returned home, there were gifts waiting for you.
HB: There were always nuts poured on the floor. We had Saint John's bread. You had a few of those in your...
PG: Did somebody come and bring those gifts?
HB: No, we never knew. Santa Claus just put them in the porch. We had shoeboxes.
PG: Did you decorate them?
HB: No, they were just little bitty shoeboxes from our shoes.
PG: You didn't decorate the boxes?
HB: No. Not every year we had a tree. In later years when we were older, we had a decorated tree. Our mom always made homemade bread that was sweet, rolled it out, and spread on egg yoke which was really delicious. Then she usually fixed a goose for Christmas.
PG: Did you have candles on the Christmas tree or did you have lights?
HB: we had electrical lights. They were bulbs of blue and red.
PG: How did you celebrate Easter? Did you have an Easter rabbit? Did the Easter rabbit bring the eggs?
HB: Oh yes, we always had baskets. But we never saw the Easter rabbit. We had a front porch, where we put our baskets. We weren't allowed to go out there until after Mass.
PG: Did the Easter rabbit fill the baskets? And the Easter rabbit brought the eggs too?
PG: Do you remember the old time weddings?
HB: I lived in a neighborhood that everybody tipped in a quarter until they had enough for a beer keg. I don't remember how big the keg was when they had a dance. Mother had a sister whose husband played an accordion, his brother-in-law played the violin and his younger brother played the accordion. Those three guys sometimes played for two dances a week. They always danced on Saturday night.
PG: Where did they dance?
HB: They danced in neighbors' houses. Our house was never big enough. I don't remember that we danced at our house. Mom would put us to bed, before my folks would go to a dance in our neighborhood. They danced until the beer run out, and then everybody went home.
PG: Do you think they danced in Russia?
HB: I think they were much more social. They were more sociable than they are in our lives. We had a Mr. (113) in the neighborhood who showed us how they sit on their hunches, kick their feet up [Kossack dance]. If the music record would please him, he would dance for us.
PG: Really, so he didn't want to do the Kossack dance. That would be interesting.
HB: You didn't appreciate the difficult dancing feats then.
PG: He was a German-Russian?
PG: Did you have music in your house? Was anybody in your family musical?
HB: No. We didn't have a radio until probably 1930-31.
PG: Then the radio was a big cabinet with a battery in it, and a big stand.
HB: The radio was electric. We had a gramophone
with many records. An English and a
German one and we had a stack of records.
PG: What did you call it, gramophone?
HB: It’s like a phonograph.
PG: Do you remember any old time weddings?
HB: Everybody had a wedding. When Aunt Barbara was married, we sat on a tipped-over rain barrel, as the house was too crowded. We sat on the rain barrel and watched them from there from outdoors.
PG: Did they all have white wedding dresses?
HB: Most of them. The wedding wasn't as elaborate, not fourteen bridesmaids as they do today. You were lucky if you had one attendant. The wedding dresses didn't have any trains on them. My mother had an 18 inch waist when she got married.
PG: Pretty small, huh!
HB: She was a big woman in later life. None of us girls could wear her wedding dress, but none of us wore corsets either.
PG: Do you have a nice wedding picture of your parents?
HB: Yes, I have a whole bunch of them.
PG: Did they have a studio portrait?
HB: Oh, yes.
PG: So they had photographic studios already.
PG: Do you remember Brauche?
HB: My grandmother did Brauche.
PG: Grandmother Biegler? Do you remember any sickness she healed?
HB: No, I don't; but I know she prayed. She went to somebody's house and prayed. The first child of every family got the honor to be the...
PG: Your mother didn't take you to somebody for healing?
HB: None of us were really sick. I had an abscessed ear when I was three years old, and I went to Dr. Wilson. It happened on Christmas Day, but that's the only time I even went near a doctor.
PG: He tapped it. Did he open it up?
HB: Yes, so my ear drained.
PG: What kind of children's games did you play? Do you remember any special games?
HB: We all had "ball and jacks" and jumping ropes. We jumped, jumped and jumped! I never was able to get a collection of marbles; the boys would beat me. I lost my first batch of marbles in the first week.
PG: Do you know any ghost stories?
HB: No, we never told ghost stories.
PG: Do you remember any "foretelling" when they knew something would happen? Such as a crucifix would fall off the wall or when somebody died.
HB: We used to say the house we were living in was Arby Easton’s. They used to say it was haunted because he used to come and the shades would be up, and the next time he went by the shades would be down. Then when Dad bought it, the first things people would say were, “How can you live in a haunted house? Have you seen any ghosts?” Well, I had a wall done after my father died in ’81. It was early in the morning and I was still working, and I would hear this thumping. I went in the basement and I couldn’t figure out what was down there. Then I thought to myself, “Do you suppose I disturbed a ghost?” I only heard it in the morning and then when I got home, until it got dark. Then Saturday, I rounded up all the clothes that I was going to wash in the basement. Here I had a bird down there. That’s what I heard bouncing off the windows. I went upstairs and got my dad’s apron and chased it out the back door.
PG: Why did your dad have a denim apron?
HB: Because Mom babysat a lot after his sister lost her husband. All three sisters went babysitting, and Dad would do dishes and complain about getting his shirts wet, so Mom made him a denim apron. I still have the apron today.
PG: Did you have any home remedies if you got sick?
HB: Our mom always feed us warm peppermint. She had a little oil of peppermint that she would put on two teaspoons of sugar and a drop of green peppermint oil. Then she would put hot water in it and stir until it was warm. She made this or Kamillentee for stomach aches.
PG: Did you grow your own Kamillen?
HB: No, Grandma had it out on the farm. Mom always thought the dogs and cats would mess it up, and on the farm it had a better chance to grow nice.
PG: So you went out to the farm and picked it?
HB: Picked it at Grandma’s.
PG: Then you dried it?
HB: Yes, and kept it in a little can or jar.
PG: Did you get any German newspapers?
HB: No, Mom and Dad never read German. The only people who read German were Grandpa Uzelmann and Grandma Biegler. They both had German prayer books.
PG: Did you always have electricity?
HB: Yes, in Aberdeen we always had electricity.
PG: What kind or programs did you listen to?
HB: Amos & Andy.
PG: Did you always watch Lawrence Welk when he came along?
HB: Not really, because they always went to the dances. I can remember Lawrence Welk before he was great. Ma and Pa and whoever tried danced all evening. We would leave Sally with Aunt Catherine, and Eleanor and I would get to watch. We’d sit on stage until we got tired, and then Dad would take us out to the car and cover us up until it was time to go home.
PG: Did you say Skadwood?
HB: Yes, it’s the name of a building that Laurence Welk used to play at quite often.
PG: What kind of German foods did your mother make?
HB: She made Käseknepfla, Dampfnoodla, Borsch, Halupsie, and a cornmeal mush.
PG: Did you eat the cornmeal for noon or breakfast?
HB: No, Mom made cornmeal more in muffins.
PG: She let it get hard?
HB: No, she made Johnnycake with dark syrup.
PG: Then you had it for noon or evening?
HB: When we were fasting and you didn’t have meat, Mom would just make Johnnycake and we kids would eat it. Pop would have cheese, while we would have a muffin with dark syrup on it with a glass of milk. That was a meal.
PG: Was the muffin round?
HB: Yes, she’d make it just like a cupcake.
PG: Did your mother do a lot of sewing?
HB: Yes, She had two younger sisters. My first clothes, I think all of my clothes through 8th grade were hand-me-downs from one of those aunts.
PG: Did your mother have to remake the clothes?
HB: Yes, she would make them over because they were older then I was. She made some really fancy clothes.
PG: So she had a sewing machine?
HB: She had a Freech sewing machine, a peddle machine. Freech is the name of the company. It had a little peddle; she filled the bobbin with thread.
PG: Is anybody working on your family history?
HB: Yes, Paul has it all on a computer. I think we have about seven generations.
PG: That would be on the Uzelmann side, which would be you mother’s side.
HB: We have our family history, and Dad and his sister Catherine, they have their families. That’s the only two that we have of the Bieglers. My sister had five children, eleven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
PG: Do you remember any relatives from Russia?
HB: No, they were all already here.
PG: You don’t remember anybody that may have stayed back?
PG: Tell us about your mother’s sister.
HB: My mother’s sister was married to a Kistler. Her baby’s name was Tony Kistler and he had what they call an abscess at that time. He had surgery and had this abscess removed. The baby was staying with us. I don’t know where mom went but Eleanor and I were supposed to watch the baby. We both wandered outside, while this baby went into the kitchen and went into Mother’s cupboard. She always kept her grease in a little crock; and would pour her drippings into it. The baby ended up getting into the crock and got a greasy. When Mom and Dad came home they had to take him to Dr. King’s and have him redress the head because he was so greasy. Then Eleanor and I got licking’s.
PG: Could you just wipe the grease off when you washed him?
HB: Yes, but it was August and the drippings were really thin. They were just like oil. He was sopping. Mother gave him a bath, but all his dressing on his head had to be changed. The mastoid was behind his ear, so his head was all wrapped up.
PG: What did he have behind his ear?
HB: A mastoid that he had removed.
PG: How big was your mother’s garden?
HB: My mother never had a big garden because we just had a 25-foot lot, since there was a garage in the back. Grandmas had both. Grandma Biegler always had a big garden. She grew her own potatoes, cabbage, and beets.
PG: Do they have turnips that they saved and fed to the cattle?
HB: Yes, probably. I know there were a lot of roots that she would harvest and keep in her root cellar.
PG: Do you have any antiques that came from Russia?
PG: A shawl?
HB: No. She gave the wedding folks a cross that had a circular base, and was about 13 inches tall. We always kept it in the north room and the northwest corner of the house.
PG: Being the oldest, did you do a lot of babysitting?
HB: Yes. I started babysitting when I was 11 years old.
PG: Did you baby sit at home or for somebody else?
HB: I babysat for everybody. At home, our mom blessed our children. As babies, we always stayed by ourselves. Our mom left us with our guardian angel.
PG: What would you like to be remembered for?
HB: I don’t think I’ll make a very big splash. I don’t have a family, and I never had a husband, so I never could complain about a husband or how terrible my kids were.
PG: Did you have any special talents? Did you do any sewing?
HB: I taught sewing at Singer’s for four or five years.
PG: You taught sewing to people who would come in the buy a sewing machine?
HB: Yes. They were given lessons. I worked for Singer’s for 11 years.
PG: Did you show them how to use the sewing machine?
HB: Yes. They got a ruffler, a small hemmer, a tucker, and three other attachments. They had to be demonstrated, and we did that.
PG: Did you parents read German newspapers?
HB: No. Neither one of them could read German at all. They both grew up in America, so they both went to the farm school. Pa went to 5th grade and Ma went to 3rd grade.
PG: So they couldn’t read at all?
HB: No, they read. They usually read the Aberdeen paper.
PG: Could they read English?
HB: Yes. They read English.
PG: The Dakota Farmer was printed in Aberdeen.
HB: Yes. The only person that could read German out of all our families was Dad’s sister Catherine. She took Grandma’s prayer book.
PG: Did any of your close relatives become nuns?
HB: No. We had no nuns or brothers.
PG: Where did your grandparents go when they got old?
HB: The Bieglers lived in Wetonka on a farm. When Lee bought it they moved to North Jay, Aberdeen. Then he bought the house and moved it on the lot and made a duplex. Now the homestead at Wetonka is just a barn. Then the Uzelmann grandparents moved to Ipswich.
PG: Did they die a home or in a nursing home?
HB: At home. Grandpa died in ’37, and Grandma died on June 16th 1940.
PG: Was there a drought in the ‘30s?
HB: Yes. I can remember the dust blowing on the corners so high that the cattle could walk right over the top of the fence.
PG: Out in the country?
HB: Yes. My mother dusted every windowsill in the house every morning because the dirt was so bad.
PG: Did you get relief?
HB: No, Dad always worked in the garage, so he always had a job. He worked for Boyd’s for many years.
PG: Were there people who got relief?
PG: But you didn’t get any. You weren’t that poor.
HB: I think my mother would have been far too proud. She had all these brothers, two of which had three children each. They brought them every Wednesday and Saturday, and stayed from when the boys went to the sale barn at 8:00 in the morning, until 9:00 at night when the sale barn ended and the boys came home the girls went to two or three movies, or went shopping, but never came home empty handed. They always would always bring milk or eggs, so we were always supplemented. And they always butchered.
PG: The people who got relief, did they get food?
HB: I don’t remember anybody getting any food until later years when they would get milk, cereal, and butter. In the WPA, a lot of kids went and worked on the lakes. But my brother wasn’t born until ’29, so he was too young.
PG: In your family was your father the boss?
PG: Was your mother allowed to make any decisions?
HB: She wanted to go closer to the church all the time, so dad bought a house that was a whole block away, and that was closer to church. So you can see how much authority she had.
PG: Do they still live 12 blocks form the church?
PG: Even when they moved one block closer.
HB: Dad just couldn’t understand. I don’t know if he just liked the northwest side of town. He just couldn’t go over there with the rest of the Rooshins. We always would have a new car. But he always used a company car. He bought the brand new Buick in ’29. We went out on the farm and had a blowout. When Mom was learning to drive she would go up one side of the road and down the other. Dad said, “Keep your foot off...take your foot off the gas and off of the brake. Don’t sit on the brake.” We were going to Grandma Uzelmann’s, and Mom fainted, Dad had to drag her out. I can remember she was just limp. Mother never drove again. They patched their tires in those days. They took the inner tube out of the tire and they had a little box. He rubbed the hole and glued a patch on it. Then he would pump it up again, put it back on the rim, and away you went.
PG: Did they always have a lot of blowouts?
HB: Well, it was a brand new car. We hadn’t even had it out of town. This was out first day out of town.
PG: Was your mother allowed to drive?
HB: Yes. She was going to have the chance to drive.
PG: That’s surprising that your Dad allowed her to drive.
HB: I never got to drive. My Father said, “You’ve got a brother. If you want to go someplace, he’ll take you wherever you want to go.” Then years later, when his eyesight was going bad, I thought I would learn how to drive. So one Saturday, Shirley Biegler Kaplan said, “We’ll go out here, south of town, and I’ll teach you.” We spent two and a half hours and I was getting to the point of feeling pretty confident. We went home and Pa said, “How’d she do?” She said, “Oh, good. I think we’ll go out next Saturday.” He said, “No, next Saturday I’ll need the car. I’m going to confession.” Then she said. “Well, we could do it next Saturday.” And he said, “No.” See, he didn’t want me to have the car. The car was in my name, but I never got it. I said to Shirley, “Forget it.” Then Pa almost ran over somebody. He started across the street and a youngster ran in front of him. He was coming away from the Jew church on Klein, and he almost had an accident. He came home and said, “I’m going to sell the car.” I said, “Well, go right ahead.” So he sold it by Wednesday. I still don’t drive.
PG: I would be nice if you could.
HB: When my legs give out and I can’t walk anymore. I’ll probably wish I could drive.
PG: Did your folks have friends besides German-Russians?
HB: Pa worked crazy hours. He went back to work three or four times a week. They associated with a couple Biegler cousins, and all kinds of relatives. We never had to go to anybody else.
PG: You just went to your cousins’ houses?
HB: Yes. Mother had Aunt Catherine Schwan that lived about two blocks from home, and we had nice neighbors. There was a house next to us that had an apartment, there would be new neighbors every week, but it seems like we would become more acquainted with our neighbors then than we do now. You knew everybody from three blocks around. Now, someone can live next to me for two years and I never will see or talk to them.
PG: So your parents didn’t care if you associated with other people or spoke English?
HB: No. The only person who didn’t like when you didn’t speak German was Mother’s sister who lived in Strasburg. She kept thinking we should all keep our German. Now, Uncle Joe, after he came to America, never talked German again.
PG: He wanted to speak English?
HB: Yes. He always wanted to be American.
PG: During the war, do you remember when you were not supposed to talk German at all?
HB: No. We talked whatever we wanted in the house. Pa and Mom always talked German. Then I went to California and worked in the shipyard for two and a half years.
PG: Did they laugh at you when you couldn’t speak English?
HB: We were all in the same boat.
PG: Everybody had the German accent?
HB: Yes. Now, if I write something I can hear my German accent. But as long as I don’t write it I don’t notice it. I sound German after I read it. I know the verb is in the wrong place.
PG: When you write it, it’s like a German sentence. It’s backwards.
HB: The numbers are all backwards in German.
PU: What did they do for toys in those days?
HB: Pa had some of his cast iron toys. We had dolls with lovely porcelain heads, but we usually had them smashed before the first of the year, so then we got the kind they made out of sawdust. Those you could bounce around. My first doll had a tin-head, I named him Adam. Mom made him some little overalls. Uncle Adam was going out with Eva, so Eleanor named her doll Eva that we got that Christmas. Then I don’t know what happened with Uncle Adam and Eva because he started going out with Emma Webber, and Emma kept saying to Eleanor, “Don’t you want to change your dolls name to Emma?” “No sir!” That doll stayed to be Eva all her life.
PG: You had a boy and girl doll?
PG: They both had tin heads. I don’t remember tin heads.
HB: The doll was so smashed up when we moved out of the house, Mom put him in the garbage. I only realized she had thrown him away when we settled on the Avenue, or I’d have kept him. I chewed off the dolls little wooden hands. He originally had fingers, but I had eaten them off. He just had stumps.
PG: Did you have any homemade toys?
HB: Aunt Lena used to make kitties out of red work socks.
HB: Yes. Little cats. They were red with ears and nice long tails. Eleanor and I both got cats, I don’t remember if Sally was big enough to get one. Eleanor and I were only 2-1/2 years apart so we always fought. Whatever I had, she had to have.
PG: What do you remember about canning?
HB: We canned all our beef and sausage. It all set down on the floor. And we didn’t have a windmill that we could hang it down in a bucket.
PG: So you put it into jars?
HB: Yes. Mom cooked it in a boiler for three hours when we canned it. When Art went to war, he was sent to Japan, and he wrote and said, “Oh, I am so hungry for canned chicken or canned pheasant.” And Mom said, “Well, it’s once a year.” We made six pints, packed them good with popcorn and sent them to Japan. He would sit down and eat the whole pint in one sitting.
PG: The food made it over there.
HB: Yes. He said it even tasted better than when he ate it at home.
PG: It’s amazing that it got there. It must have taken months.
HB: No, that was in the Korean War, so it flew. We sent it airmail. He said he was going to take the jars home, and this little Japanese young man that was in the office with him said, “Mr. Biegler, I’ll wash these up.” And Art said he never saw them again.
PG: What kind of work did you like to do when you were growing up?
HB: Every Saturday I cleaned Mrs. Easton’s house, from the 3rd story down to the 1st floor. I would change the bed, dust everything off, dust the stairs down, get to the 2nd floor and I’d change Barbie’s bed and Mrs. Easton’s bed, and then run the vacuum around there and down the front stairs, into the front hall. I would also wipe the stairway down, sweep the bathroom, and dust the chairs.
PG: How much did you get paid?
HB: 25-cents a day.
PG: Did you work all day?
HB: I worked from 7:30 to 9:30.
PG: What did you do with the money?
HB: I saved it. But after a while, if you had a dollar, then you might have bought something.
PG: Did you enjoy doing the work?
HB: I didn’t know any better. At our house our Mom did everything. So I went to other people’s houses and did their work.
PG: What work didn’t you like doing?
HB: I didn’t like to wash dishes. I would rather dry.
PG: Do you remember the gypsies?
HB: Not very well.
PG: Did you ever see them?
HB: Yes. When they’d come in vans.
PG: They had cars then?
HB: No. They had horses or mules.
PG: Did they have covered wagons?
HB: I suppose that’s what they were, because families would be there. Grandma used to say they’d steal the place blind it they got a chance. But she usually gave them eggs and milk. They were like beggars, just wandering around doing nothing.
PG: What did they wear?
HB: The women mostly wore long clothes.
PG: Do you remember any bad accidents?
HB: No. I can just remember when we had a hotel.
It was supposed to be fireproof, but it burned down.
PG: Did anybody get burned or die?
HB: I don’t remember, but they did ask my dad if he’d come and be a fireman.
PG: Do you remember the Jewish stores?
PG: Did you get good bargains at the stores?
HB: There was a clothing store called Stannards where Mom bought Eleanor’s wedding dress at. She bought it for $12.
PG: Were the Jewish good business people?
HB: Yes. They were really nice. They spoke the same German and Russian-German that we did. Mrs. Stannard and Mom would converse in German. My Mom was a great person that bargained. If a ticket said $15, she’d say, “No, no. I’ll never pay that.” Mom was really close with her money, but it guess if you only had $10, you had to really stretch it.
PG: The Jews liked to dicker.
HB: Mr. Kriemack had a great big junk yard with cars and parts. Catherine had all these little boys, and Mr. Kriemack would say to one of the men, “Set a couple of those batteries out there. The little Schwan boys need money.” A Little later the kids would come in with the batteries and sell them to him for a nickel apiece. This is the kind of person he was.
PG: They belonged to Mr. Kriemack?
HB: Yes. He would have one of the men set the batteries out, then the kids, about five or six or seven years old, would drag them in and sell them to Mr. Kriemack. He’d say, “I’ll pay you a nickel apiece.” Then Aunt Catherine would say, “Where did you get the money to go over to the bakery?” “Mr. Kriemack gave it to us.” “How come he gave it to you?” And then Mr. Priemack said, “Now, Mrs. Schwan, it’s alright.” You said Jews are awfully tight, but he was generous to these kids. Catherine, I’m sure would say, “No, don’t take any money.” So if they sold something to him it was okay.
PG: So were you able to buy dried apples?
HB: Yes. When we came to Grandpa Uzelmann’s he’s always say, “Do you want some raisins?” Grandma would say, “No, no. They just had lunch.” And he would take us in to the wardrobe and throw up his lid. The boxes were made of wood. They had nails in them. He’d take a handful and put them in our little hands. We’d take them out to the table and play with them. I don’t think we ever ate them. We just got the table sticky.
PG: Did you eat bread with sugar on it?
HB: No. I know we had some Sanders, and their dad was an alcoholic, he never had a job. Their grandma would bring bread and a bag of sugar, those boys had nothing but sugar bread. We never had sugar bread because our mom always made grape jelly. She would buy concord grapes and make all that jam.
PG: We would have bread with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top.
HB: That would be too messy for my mother.
PU: My mother loved sugar bread with cinnamon on