Dirks Family

History and Genealogy

Yester Years

by Gretchen (Ahrens) Dirks 1970's

I came to this country with my brother and sister at the age of 17. I was born in Reepsholt, Ostfriesland (West Germany), one of a family of 7 children. I recall many of the things of my life in the old days.

Born September 7, 1894 in Reepsholt, West Germany. Baptized on the 9th day in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. When I was one year old I moved with my parents, one sister, and a brother to Abickhafe, that was in 1895. In 1899 another brother arrived and in 1897 a sister. In 1899 I started to school at the age of five and that same year another brother arrived. In 1902 my half brother John came from America for a visit, at that time my youngest sister Johanne Magarete was born. I was eight then and will never forget it, he washed and combed my hair, as I had to go to school and my mother was in bed with the baby.

My parents were very poor, us kids didn't have much of anything, one dress had to do all week, as my mother had to wash all the clothes by hand. We wore aprons and wooden shoes. My father was a baker, he was busy most of the time baking and delivering bread, buns, cookies, and what not. He wore a yoke over his shoulders to carry the baskets. Sometimes us kids had to deliver cakes before we went to school.

We had school from 8 a.m. to 4p.m. every day, never had a vacation. When I started, we used slates and slate pencils which made lots of noise, later on we had to use paper also pen and ink. We also had religion, and we had a lot of our work to do at home as arithmetic and what not.It kept us busy studying. We just had one teacher for about 100 pupil's, and he had to teach all eight grades. He was very strict when the children misbehaved they would us a paddle.

The house where I spent my childhood had two rooms, a kitchen and a living room. The beds were built into the wall like a box. It had planks on the bottom, no mattress, just a pile of straw and maybe a feather tick. Also had one to cover up with, no quilts or blankets. The sheep had to keep us in milk and the hogs in meat. When they butchered a hog all we had was pork, the hams were sold, maybe blood bologna and blood pancakes. There wasn't a thing going to waste. The guts were cleaned for casing to make bologna, lung wurst, and what not. The manure went into the garden. That is all I know.

I had to go to school until the 8th grade and then I had to get a job, as my parents couldn't afford to send me to high school. I got a job where I worked on a farm taking care of children and doing chores. At that time every family had one sheep. They sheared it, washed and combed the wool, and then wound it on a reel and spun it into yarn. This was woven into underwear, sweaters, socks and other articles of clothing. I had to learn a lot of things, as to milk cows, and help in the fields with everything. That farmer had a team of oxen at first and later got a team of horses. I worked at that place for two years. I got twenty dollars a year, that was eighty marks in German. I had to buy some clothes, lucky my parents didn't take anything.

Bread was baked in a summer kitchen in an oven made of brick. We had mostly rye bread. One loaf weighed 10 pounds and it had to be in the oven for 8 hours. All we ever had was dark bread except on holidays like Christmas and Easter or some other special day when we got white bread.

When I was in the teens, grain was cut with a scythe and the girls and women tied it into bundles and shocked it to dry and then stored it in the barn. In the winter we threshed it with a flail on the clay floor. The flail resembled a baseball bat with a swivel and hammer like claw at the end. Four to six me would work at a pile of bundles at a time. They used a rhythm beat and if the beat was not kept in time it caused trouble.

This was in 1909 when Germany was divided into many states, but Kaiser Wilhelm was ruler at that time, and he united them under on government. Different dialect were spoken in the various parts of the country and still are.

One of my sisters and a brother made the trip to America on a steamer in 1910. The trip across the Atlantic Ocean took 10 days and they didn't enjoy it very much since they were seasick most of the time. I also came in 1912. It took 10 days also with the steamer, George Washington. I wasn't seasick but blind for 3 days, couldn't see a thing. A person had to have 10 dollars to enter this country. We came to New York and from there on a train to Pomeroy , Iowa. That took 4 days to get there and my brother was waiting to greet me, also my sister and her husband.

This was about March 27, we stopped at some friends to visit and my sister and her husband stayed in Pomery. I went home with my brother to a farm he had rented a farm 6 miles west of Pocahontas and about 18 miles northwest of Pomery. He came down to Pomeroy a day before with a team of horses and buggy, but then a big snow blizzard came and he had to borrow a bob sled to get back. I hadn't been through anything like that before, we went through fences and around snow drifts, lots of fun. My sister and brother were waiting for someone to come. I hadn't seen them for two years and my brother had grown so much I couldn't believe it was him.

My sister Marie and brother Gerhard were working for my brother John. John wanted my sister Anna and her husband Hans to keep house for him but that didn't work out, as he was a city dude. He went out to the field and got so dirty and filthy that he couldn't stand it and that was it. They went to Chicago to live, got a job and liked it better than on the farm.

I stayed with my brother the first year as it was hard to get a job when you can't understand their language, so I helped with the chores, field work, and so forth. One day my brother and I went plowing and met a car, there weren't to many that could afford them, just bankers, doctors, and lawyers. My horses got scared and threw me off the plow and the horses ran off. Lucky that I or either of the horses didn't get hurt. I helped with the harvest, shocked oats and in the fall picked corn. One day it got so cold I almost froze going home from the field. It was no fun and didn't get paid either but was glad to have a place to stay. My sister and I went to Pocahontas once that year with the horse and buggy to get some clothes. We didn't go no place. One Christmas my brother and I went to Pomeroy to visit some friends. In April I finally got a job for a neighbor who was expecting a baby. I think they paid me one dollar a week. She could talk High German but her husband couldn't. I had to learn a little. Of course I didn't know much about cooking since I didn't have to do anything like that in the old country. I had to learn to bake bread and make pies and also help in the fields. Then one day I went along with my sister and her sweetheart to that big fair in Fonda. From there I went to Pomeroy and got a job getting a dollar fifty a week. In the winter I didn't get anything, glad to have a place to stay. I couldn't go home so there I was. Got a letter from my sister, she thought that her boy friend came to see me so she gave him up. Then one day I went and wrote a letter to him. I t wasn't so easy as I didn't know much English he could neither read or write so his boss's wife had to explain it. I told him to stop and see me if he wanted to. He could talk German as his parents came from the old country also.

That was in 1915, got married on the 5th of January 1916. Had a nice wedding but it was bitter cold. Got married on a farm in Bellville Township at 5 in the evening, had a nice supper with about fifty relatives. Later the Shivareers showed up and I had to go to the door, they had some puppies and they got a hold of my veil and tore it. We didn't take a honeymoon and no photographs as we couldn't afford it.

Started a farm that year, had to buy horses, machinery, and every thing. A team of horses cost 400 dollars, and had to have some to live our self. We didn't have much of anything picked some iron beds out of the junk pile, found a small table and had to put a board on it to make it bigger. My brother gave us an old cook stove, and got six kitchen chairs from an uncle and aunt. We didn't have a mattress, just straw-ticks on our beds, but we made it. We had some chickens that kept us in groceries. A sack of flower cost about two dollars, it took about twelve dozen of eggs to pay for it. We also had two cows that kept us in milk and butter. Churned one a week and then we had butter milk soup. We bought a hog to butcher, most of the meat was put in a brine, and some was fried and lard was put over it to keep, as we didn't have an icebox or anything in those days. No electricity. Didn't do much canning except for apple sauce and tomatoes.

Lots of work all the time, fill the lanterns with kerosene, milk the cows, and keep the fires going to keep warm. No one had electricity then.

Sometimes had frost on our quilts, it got so cold, it wasn't so good , had to put a brick in the oven to get hot and ten put it in the bed to get our feet warm.

On September 5th a baby boy (Harold) arrived, couldn't get a doctor as it was storming, but everything went all right. Called an old lady and she came over and seen that everything was fine.

Dad's and my wedding took place on January 5th, 1916 at Henry Collman's, a sister and brother-in-law of Dad's. Their farm was three miles east and one north of Pomery. Rev. W. Shukman tied the knot, he was the pastor of the Evangelical Church of Pomery.He had hired a horse and buggy team to get there. It was really cold and those roads were bumpy. We all got a good shaking up cause the was no pave or gravel roads at the time

My Dress was a white lace and I had a long veil and it only cost me $5.00. Dad wore a navy blue suit which he wore for many years afterward.

After the wedding we had a real nice supper. I baked all the bread and cakes, and wrote all the invitations as we couldn't afford to spend to much money. After supper we played some games and did some dancing. We had plenty to drink even if Iowa was dry at that time. We all had a good time. There were over fifty relatives present, a good houseful, on an evening that cold. There wasn't any furnace, just a cook stove and a heater, no electricity.

We didn't have any money to take our pictures. We went over to my sister and brother a couple of weeks for our honeymoon. We couldn't get to far with a horse and buggy or sled. It depended on the weather a whole lot.

We rented the old Barney Fisher farm three miles east of Palmer, and started farming the hard way. Bought some horses, one team cost $400.00. Got two cows and they were't cheap either but of course we had a years time to pay for them. It took a lot of grain though to feed them. Oats were thirty-two cents and corn forty cents a bushel. We bought some old hens for $1.00 each. They didn't lay all year around like they do now days. We didn't have tractors, or even a car in those days.

We went eight miles to Pomeroy where we went to church. It took one hour to get there with the horse and buggy, in the winter when there was plenty of snow. The roads weren't gravel or paved and the ones that had cars wouldn't even go on the roads with them when it was muddy. In the winter they put them up on blocks so the tires wouldn't rot. They didn't have any electricity or anything of that kind like we got now days. We cream and churn the butter. I also did all the washing by hand. For cook stove fuel we used cobs and wood. Those old houses were so cold, I remember when one boy sat on top of a stove and his mother was firing it with cobs and a few sticks of wood then the old dog crawled into the oven to keep warm. We had a homemade table, a few chairs, bare floors, no rugs or linoleum except for a few rag rugs. This was in 1916-1917.

Eggs were fifteen cents a dozen in exchange for groceries. Fifty pounds of flour was $1.50, and I used a sack a month. We usually baked once a week about six loaves at a time. Potatoes were $5.00 a bushel, so all we lived on was bread and butter, and meat and potatoes. The two of us could eat a big skillet of french fried potatoes for a meal when we were working in the field. Didn't have too much time to do any cooking. The first thing in the morning we had our cup of tea and then I went out and helped with the milking. Then I went up to the house and baked flapjacks while dad went to harness the horses. We then had our breakfast and went to work plowing, planting, cultivation, picking corn and so forth.

We picked corn by hand, I used a peg and dad used a hook. When the children were small we had a box on the side of our wagon where they were put. When they got a little bigger they walked along and picked an ear of corn now and then. When we had a big load for home we went, and while dad unloaded the corn, I had to get something ready to eat quickly. Used cobs and wood to burn in the stove as we didn't have any electricity or gas stoves in those days. For lights we used oil lamps and lanterns, they had to be filled and cleaned every morning. There was always plenty of work cleaning house, baking, cooking, and washing. I was lucky if I got my washing done in one day, as I scrubbed clothes on a washboard. We didn't have any rugs on the floors, they were just wood and I mopped them once a week. This was in 1916-1918.

We got us a car in 1918 and moved to a farm nine miles south-west of Fonda. At that time we had a little boy and a girl (Harold and Leona). We lived on that farm for a year and I always helped with the chores, but one time they didn't get done. I took the two little children and went to get the cattle out of the pasture, we had a black bull with them, he was bellowing and kicking up dirt and everything, so I turned around and put the kids through the fence in the hog lot and left the chores go. I told dad about it when he came home, of course he didn't think much of it, but he found out when he went to get the cows in. It was getting dark and that bull got after him. At least no one got hurt. I never was afraid of those gentlemen (Bulls) till they told me about dad's uncle who was killed by one in the 1900's and left his aunt with six little tots.

In 1919 we moved closer to Fonda. We lived about two miles Southwest of the fairgrounds, and there five of our children were born and we lost one. Violet (1919), Fred (1921), Leroy (1922), Eva (1924), Verneeda (1926).

The Cedar River ran through our pasture near the barn. In the month of June we used to get those heavy rains and the Cedar River would overflow and the whole pasture would be under water. At times it was just one lake from our place to Fonda. The roads were under water and the bridges weren't safe to go over, so we just had to stay put until the water went down. One time dad and his brother Otto got them an old door, or some kind of a raft and they went out in the river when it was flooded, dad was in the front and Otto in the back, and all at once Otto plunged off into the water. Dad went on without knowing he fell off, what a time they had. Otto went swimming in the pasture and when he came out he looked like a coon, all covered with mud. Otto didn't have a car, just a riding horse, and klippity klop on to town he went.

Once Otto went to town and got him a nice dress pants and went to the fair, when the fair was over he took it back and got his money back. He was a dude then and still is.

In 1927 we moved on the Marshal farm still closer to Fonda. There the children went to the Fonda School. We still had those horses to work with except for one tractor that had log wheels. We had to cut oats with a binder and then it had to be shocked and thrashed. I would have to cook for a bunch of men for a couple of days. It wasn't bad if the weather stayed fit but sometimes it rained and rained and didn't want to quit.

While on that farm seven more children were born. Edward (1922), Marcella (1929), Margie (1931), Johnny (1933), Eileen (1935), Richard (1937). In 1938 we moved back to the Mullen farm, and in 1939 another son, Roland, was born. Our oldest daughter, Leona, was married and we lost a girl, Verneeda, at the age of 14.

In 1941 we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary. Three of our children are married. Leroy married Donna Just, on January 30, Violet married Norvan Just, on March 26, and Harold married Florence Nitch, on August 2nd. In 1942 Fred married Alice Swanson on January 14th.

That fall we moved to the Joe Miller farm and there the children had to go to the Varina School. Had five of them going to school at one time. (Marcella, Margie, Johnny, Eileen, and Richard)

In 1942 we bought a corn-picker and a combine so we didn't have to work quit so hard anymore.

In 1950 I went to Germany to visit my brother and sister. I took the plane across the ocean. One of dad's sisters came to stay with the family while I was away. That same year on October 1st, Don Piercy took Marcella for his wife. In 1954 we moved on the farm we own now, the old Fox farm located four miles northeast of Fonda. In 1955 Eileen married Harold Caauwe. On March 27th Johnny took Ruth Stephen for his wife. On September 18th, 1946 Margie married Ronald Nelson of Omaha. Richard took Edna VanEs for his wife on September 7th,1960. Roland married Mary Langford of Wichita, Kansas. Edward is still single, so they are all married but one, and no divorces. There are 39 grandchildren and about 20 great-grandchildren.

Poems and Stories that Gretchen Dirks saved
A Look at Yesterdays

My grandpa says the thermostat
furnace heat and all of that
are fine for folks who are lame,
but he likes his wood stove all the same.
A stove in stormy weather
draws a family close together.
I recollect we used to sit
around the stove facing it.
Flames behind the Isinglass door
threw flickering shadows cross the floor.
There Mary played with dolls and tricks
and Ted with dominoes and sticks.

We thought it fun to poke the fire
to make the flames and sparks shoot higher.
On the porch, stacked against the wall
the wood we gathered in the fall.
Waited for us to take its turn

we waited too, to see it burn.
Some from spicy apple trees
some from elm that housed wild bees.
The corn popped, the apples pared
were flavored by the fun we shared.
The lamps we had were not over bright
we never once forgot it was night.
Heads nodded early, sleep was wooed
by the light and shade, relaxing mood
behind the stove we kids undressed
the welcome heat our skins caressed
hoarding the warmth against our dread
of icy cold, and dashing upstairs to bed.
We are lucky, sure with furnace heat
to keep us snug against wind and sleet.
No wood to chop or coal to lug
No ashes in the old tin tub.
But stormy nights, sort of miss
a special warmth, a certain bliss,
the comfort of a wood stove glow
that folks with furnace heat can not know.

Years gone by when grandma and grandpa were young, many things have changed although a man's life may be well ordered, there are moments when realities are to stern. The business of life to demanding in those moments he looks or goes back in memory to a better day when man seemed more free. In years gone by when grandma had a sore throat she may have tied a strip of salt pork around her neck. You are more fortunate, you have modern medicine that brings quick relief, fast recovery, and most are pleasant too. Back in the old days, a thing called 'tonic cup was a favorite remedy for almost anything that ailed you, you took a cup made of bitter wood, you drank it. Simple, YES, too bad it didn't do any good, now days science gives more reliable medication even though some people still take home remedies.

Some things you'd like to Know

The only sure thing about luck is that it will change
An old timer is someone who remembers when someone who wore blue jeans worked.
The things most raised now days is taxes.
An unusual child is one who ask questions which his parents can answer.
When it comes to helping you, some people stop at nothing.
Making a fool out of yourself is not so bad, as long as you realize you did it.
A bargain is something you can't use at a price you can afford.
A budget is a method for worrying before you spend as well as afterwards.
In the old days the rich lost their shirts in the stock arket. Nowdays we all do it in the super market.
Most of us find it hard to take advice from someone who needs it more than we do.
Before criticizing your husbands faults, remember they may have prevented him from getting a better wife.
A little common sense, a littler tolerance, a little good humor,
and you don't know how comfortable you can make yourself on this planet.
What you don't know will not hurt you, but it will amuse a lot of people.
A deficit is what you have when you don'tt have as much as when you had nothing.
Some people speak when they think and some oftener.
The only fool bigger than the fool who knows it, is the fool who argues with him.
Money isn't everything, sometimes it isn't enough.
The man who says he is the boss in the house has a wife who never stays home.
Opportunities always look bigger going than coming.
You must speak up to be heard, but you have to shut up to be appreciated.
An acquaintance is a person we know well enough to borrow
from but not well enough to lend to.
A budget is a family's attempt to live beneath its yearnings.
Car sickness is a feeling you get when the monthly installment comes due.
Criticism is what we say about people who don't have the same faults we do.
One of these days is to often none of these days.
When your work speaks for itself don't interrupt.

My Grown Up Children

My hands were busy through the day
I didn't have much time to play.
The little games you asked me to,
I didn't have much time for you.
I'd wash your clothes, I'd sew and cook,
but when you'd bring your picture book
and asked me please to share your fun,
I'd say: "A little later on."
I'd tuck you in all safe at night
and hear your prayers, turn out the light,
then tiptoe softly to the door'85.
I wish I'd stayed for more.
For life is short, the years rush past.
No longer is he at your stove,
his precious secrets to confide.
The picture books are put away,
there are no longer games to play,
no good-night kiss, no prayers to hear'85
that all belongs to yesteryear.
My hands once busy, now are still.
The days are long and hard to fill.
I wish I could go back and do
all the things you asked me to.