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Mary Jo

Grandpa & Grandma's Farm


Grandma Grandpa Osterhage  by Jim Gerdeman  2/14/00


My grandparents, Molly and Lou Osterhage, had some laying hens on the farm.  These were special chickens that put farm fresh eggs on their table.  They would periodically go into the hen house and select an “older” chicken to make into soup. This would keep the flock at an egg bearing age and rotate the chickens through the production of the best soup known to mankind.  There was a process used in this ritual.


When it was time, Molly and Lou would walk into the hen house.  Grandpa Lou would have the chicken hook.  A chicken hook is a long wire with a hook on one end and a handle on the other.  They both would look around to find the best chicken to be selected. 


This procedure was not that much different from the daily routine to feed the chickens or to pick the eggs.  The chickens were, in fact, fed each day and the eggs were gathered each day.  It seemed, however, that the chicken hook made a difference.  The hook came into play every once in a while.


One day, as they entered the chicken coup, hook in hand, they pointed to a particular chicken.  The chicken looked up, cackled loudly, shook its head and died.  That is right.  Right on the spot, it died. 


This is one of the memorable stories, the folklore of the family.  I thought that as the years go by such stories might not be told anymore.  In fact as the oldest grandchild of Molly and Louis Osterhage, I thought that I would make an attempt to tell about my early impressions these two wonderful people.  The idea is to share with my cousins and their children and maybe even jar the memory of other relatives and friends.  I know many of our extended family did not have the privilege as I did to spend time in the fifties and sixties.  If you find your memory has something we should share then maybe you could share it with us too.  In fact, if you send me your thoughts, I will add it to these notes for later distribution.




My earliest memories are that of the farm, three miles or so just outside of Kalida.  This farm was a wonderful place for a four or five year old.  There was a steep ditch along the roadway, approaching the farm.  I had fun trying to explore the many wonders that a ditch can offer.  Cars that pulled into the driveway had to negotiate a very narrow driveway.  There are many stories about those who failed to negotiate the turn in the driven snow of winter.  There really were two problems the snow was slippery and the ditch was full of snow so you could not see the drop.  Grandpa or one of the boys would get the tractor to help pull the car out of the ditch.  Everyone would gather around to watch the episode.  Later very few watched for it was too common place and lost its appeal as a major event.



The wonder of the ditch was the bridge that crossed over from the front lawn to reach the mailbox against the road.  The version of the bridge changed over time but the one I liked was the one made from tree limbs.  This structure held the bark of the tree and to me was a Grandma’s version of a Davie Crockett log cabin.  During the summer we could play under and around the bridge.  On top hanging on the railing, we could be a captain of a ship, or crawling under the bridge we absolutely could hide from the Indians coming down the lane.  It was a major place to play.




As you drove into the property there was a garage on the left, with two walnut trees, and a barn and yard on the right.  The garage was one car size and had a door that was held in place by a very special rock.  The rock was in the middle of the entranceway.  It was longer than wide and stood several inches into the air.  On one end of the rock was a very special hole.  It was actually more like an indentation.  It was the size of a walnut.  This was a place to spend precious time with my Aunts.  The trees supplied the black walnuts; the rock supplied the tool, a hammer and a bobby pin and let the eating begin.  Grandpa would use his Ford tractor to run over the walnuts to knock off the hulls.  We would search the gravel driveway for the nuts dried in the fall sun.


The garage was a one car building which brings up a very interesting thing.  How did 15 or more people travel to town in one car?  There was a puzzle to solve if I ever saw one, and I admit I never saw the car full of everyone in the family.  I have been told that there were designated positions for everyone.  A layered approach was deployed so to speak.  There was even use of running boards and a stool or two placed strategically behind the front seats.   A film of that episode would have been worth a fortune today.   I also understand that starch the dress and blouse as much as you want and this car stuffing routine would undo it before you hit the end of the lane going to town.  What a site to see!  




Grandpa’s barn was another one of those special places to explore.  In the late 40’s and early 50’s having horses was a fading thing.  But Tom and Jerry were two of the biggest horses I had ever seen.  I vaguely remember, seeing the horses hitched to a wagon.  I do remember seeing one of my beautiful Aunts riding one of the horses but by the time I realized that this was a good thing to do for myself, the horses left the farm. 


In the barnyard there were many things to see.  Generally there were a couple of cows.  There would also be a few pigs.  My favorites were the lambs.  We could actually feed the lambs.  I was given a bottle with a nipple (like a large baby bottle)  and the lambs would come and tug on the bottle till it tickled.  It was a lot of fun to feed them.  Grandpa would sell the wool and it was fun to watch him shear the wool from the sheep.


There was an interesting thing going on with the feedbags for the animals.  Most often the bags were made of burlap.  But on special occasions the feed mills would offer the feed in bags made of colored prints. The material could then be used to sow a blouse or a dress.  It really was a good thing for the times. You know this had to complicate Grandpa’s life.  “I’m going into town. What prints do we need for the feedbags.”  The practice of material used for dresses was in vogue even as I was a little boy.  I remember going to the farm to get another bag so that a dress could be completed.  So that is a little barnyard story.


As you traveled down the lane from the barnyard there were many more places to find fun.  The fields were not always abundant with crops.  In fact, it became obvious to this little boy that the land just did not want to release the nutrients to feed the crops like it did for the neighbors.  Grandpa would keep trying and the work was significant. He tried corn and beans and then over the years found that beans were about the only crop that would grow. 




One year as we headed down the lane past a field of corn we stopped and went inside the cornfield.  After a few rows there was an opening where there were vegetables, and watermelons.  Nice surprise for me, I like watermelons.  I believe this garden or truck patch as they called it brought a lot of nutrients for the family.  There was sweet corn, cabbage, lettuce, carrots and pumpkins.  




We continue down the lane to find woods.  The woods had many different kinds of trees and we hunted spring mushrooms and looked for spring flowers here.  The fall would bring us here to hunt hickory nuts.   Grandpa would have a sledge hammer from the garage or barn and jolt the tree while grandma and the rest of us would pick up the nuts.   We learned that there were many holes in some of the nuts, which meant worms, but after patiently weeding out the ones with holes we had a bag of mostly good ones.  It was fun to see the different kinds of hickory nut trees.  The nut sizes were large, medium and small.  I found that the large nuts were very tasty but the small thin-shelled ones were easier to crack and eat.


The woods also offered some hunting for the men.  Grandpa would go squirrel hunting in the fall.  I remember on one of our visits Grandpa came back from the woods with two squirrels.  I thought how nice it would be to go hunting.  The woods were a place to hunt rabbit and pheasants as well.  Grandpa kept the woods in a natural state so there was plenty of cover.  I remember Grandpa telling of a deer that was spotted using the woods for cover. 


While I remember these things I never really took part in the woods the way I could have.  I remember the walks down the lane to get to the hickory nuts or to look at the truck patch and these are good memories.




At the end of the lane away from the woods was an orchard.  It was filled with apple trees.  All kinds of apples could be found there.  Small ones, red ones, yellow ones.  What a place!  The apples would be picked and stored in the cellar.  I remember the apple pies made from the crab apples.  These were small and very tart but good none the less.  In the springtime the blossoms from the trees made the farm look like a scene from a movie. 


There also was a grape arbor in the back of the house.  There were two long rows of grapes.  There were blue, red and white grapes.  I know we ate some of these right off the vine.  I also know there was some grape jelly for us as well.  I wonder if there was any wine.


Not too far from the grapes was a red brick building.  This was not too big and made a great playhouse.  I remember thinking of how lucky my aunts and uncles were to have such a wonderful place. There were so many interesting things on the farm. This was a very nice building and I thought of it as substantial.  We called it a playhouse but I really did not know what use the building was intended.  I thought of it as a small schoolhouse but what do I know?


A short distance from the brick building was a five hole’r.  In the early fifties the plumbing was not like it is now.  So the outhouse was used instead of the toilets we use today.  There were rules about the outhouse.  The men used the right side if they were standing.  Women and men if sitting used the left.  In this way things could be cleaner.  I wondered if this was oriented from the view of entering or leaving.  




One day when I used the facility in the cold of winter, I dropped one of my new gloves into the bottom of the pit.  I really liked my new brown gloves and when one fell into the pit of shit I was very sad.  I looked deep into the bottom of the smelly pit and saw my new glove gently lying on top of the pile.  I cried. My aunts came running to my aid.   They looked over the problem and then with ingenuity found a coat hanger to use. They came to my rescue and fished the glove out of the smelly resting-place.  After retrieving the glove we threw it away.  I guess it was important to retrieve it since we would not want my new glove in that hole.  But then we threw it away.  We did things like that in those days.




There was another building down from the outhouse called the wood shed.  This did have piles of wood in it.  Not to far from this shed was a corncrib.  One day while on “vacation” my brother Dave and I discovered a skunk.  The skunk would walk between the corncrib and the wood shed.  Dave and I would follow it.  There was actually very little in terms of smell and the skunk seemed friendly enough. We told Grandma what we had found and she insisted we stay away from it.  There was a fear of rabies.  Grandma told Grandpa when he returned from the fields and the skunk was allowed one more spray before the rabies worry was over.  




There was a mulberry tree just outside the back door of the house.  This mulberry tree was huge.  They say it was one of the largest ever grown.  Who is to argue with  “they” anyway.  Most of the time we could sit on a bench that was built completely around this tree.  The bench had been there for a long time and the wood was old and worn.  This bench was not painted.   I remember many little chitchats that took place in this area.  When the fruit ripened, the bench, sidewalk and grass would be covered with the blue berries.  They were sweet tasting.  The branches were too tall so after the lower fruit was picked that was all I could eat.  The thing was that I went barefoot and I had the bluest feet in the state.  My tennis shoes were blue as well.




Grandma and Grandpa had a dog that lived outside.  It was a short black and white spotted dog, named Spot.  Spot would do tricks.  He would roll over and shake hands.  You just had to say shake hands and the dog would lift his paw. He usually would greet us a the front yard.


In the front lawn there was a large area of grass.  In the early days the grass was mostly made up of weeds.  Chickweeds and dandelions were prominent. This was a time well before Chem Lawn and those fancy lawn fertilizers.  I think that if there were fertilizer to be put down it would go on the fields.  Grandpa needed all the help he could get with the crops.  He did use this front lawn for some very special occasions. 




He held wedding parties in this lawn.  He placed a big tent with big iron stakes and large rope to hold the canvas.  This was the kind of thing that you would see only at major events like the county fair or Pioneer Days.  To see the tent at Grandpa’s own yard made me feel he was a very important man. The celebration was very special.  In the middle of the tent he had a railing for people to lean on as the night went on and on in celebration.  A keg of beer was often placed in the middle and Grandpa had the neighbors and friends maintain the bar tender duties.  My memory fades on the details of the events but I know there was a lot of fun happening under that tent.  I remember the laughter and shouts of joy. Fun was a part of life for both Grandpa and Grandma.




We visited the farm regularly.  Sometimes the visit was a short one.  I remember Grandma would say as we were leaving for home,  “Come some more back.”  This is the one thing that I think needs changed in our new society.  People should see their relations often.  Our times and lives have taken us away from the closeness of the family unit.  I think the internet is becoming a way for us to reconnect.  Anyway, we visited often.  Some of the time when we came to visit it was an event. 


Bread was the theme of the day and bread was made.  I love homemade bread.  Grandma would use every pan in the house no matter what the size or shape.  Often there would be kidney shaped bread, round bread, small round, large round bread.  The bread was white with a nice crust around it.  It was a party dedicated to bread.  Lots of bread was needed because it smelled so good that everyone within a sniff ate some.  My mouth waters just thinking about it.


The bread in and of itself would have been a feast for any connoisseur but when you added butter and apple butter or home made jam (cherry or strawberry sometimes currant) wow what a treat.  Everybody seemed to pitch in and help.  The pans were cleaned with the most exciting conversations going on.  I remember the clanking of the pans and the discussions on what else could be used to make bread




One of the stories that keeps getting repeated is the story of feeding all of those wonderful kids and keeping Grandpa nourished for farm work.  There were a lot of mouths to feed.  In those days you did not hop down to the local McDonald’s and get a bag of burgers.  In fact often there really was a struggle to find enough food for everyone.  That is why the invention of hamburger gravy was such a good thing.  As a schoolboy we often had hamburger gravy at my home.  It was good.  There was a lot of meat and it went very well with mashed potatoes.  My Mother had to feed four or five of us.  Can you imagine feeding 15 people and maybe more with two pounds of hamburger.  The word was that if you found any meat you considered yourself very lucky.




There also is the story that goes around about the roast beef as the main course.  With all the work on the farm everyone thought that Grandma was just too busy to pay close attention to cooking the roast beef.  It usually turned out to be dry and tough.  But with Grandma out in the fields working, everyone just knew that was the reason for the shoe leather style.  It wasn’t until retirement, when Grandma and Grandpa moved into town that the real story came out.  Grandma liked tough roast beef.   At least that was the way she made it.





As long as we are on the subject of food it would not be right to forget the notion of home made ice cream.  This was no joke; ice cream was a real treat.  Here was a time for more parties.  The adults had beer first of course, with lots of conversation to go along.  Then ice cream.  Now even when I was a little boy there were a lot of people around to share the ice cream made from one lonely ice cream maker.  I remember it takes way too long to make ice cream and the possibility of being in line for the second or third batch was almost more than a kid should take.  Several batches were in order.  The special treat of licking the blades clean could not be savored on the first couple of batches because the wonderful fragrance of vanilla ice cream made everyone of us anxious to be served. 


The ice cream maker was a hand-cranked machine. The ice cream was poured into a silver container and set in the middle of a wooden bucket.  The crank fit on top and was latched into place.  Ice was then packed around the metal container and rock salt was spread over the top of the ice.  A hole at the top of the wooden bucket was to stop the salt water from reaching the top of the lid to the silver container, which held the mix of cream, vanilla, and something called junket.  I remember all the ice cream specialists, “Watch out the hole is plugged up, don’t let the salt get into the mix.” 


The conversations would continue and while the cranking duties fell way to the strong all of us wanted to keep trying to turn the crank.   As I grew older the turning of the crank became something of a right of passage.  I would turn the crank and when I could no longer turn it in my early days the cranking responsibilities would be turned over to an adult.  But I knew I had arrived when I turned the crank and the job was complete.


Bread and ice cream were not the only reason to visit the farm.  There always seemed to be a crowd when we did visit.  After all it was built in.  The atmosphere was very, very warm.  Even when the trials and tribulations of one family member or another were playing out the roll of life you got a sense that this place and more certainly these people were very special.  Every one of the individuals in this family suffered when one of them was hurt.  They would all come to the aid of the other lending moral support, if nothing else were in the offering.  A positive outlook just seemed right and God would help too.  The kids as grandma would say would come to visit and even when they were married they wanted to come back regularly to visit and just be together.


I remember of one crisis major or minor I do not know.  One of the girls was undergoing some problem with life.  We had gone to Grandmas to visit, not really to partake in the crisis management.  It must have been a visit during the week but to my surprise many of my uncles and aunts were assembled.  For some reason there was no party going on and in fact those present were not trying for the seemingly weekly weekend bash.  There was an undertone of someone having to handle the crisis that even a very young but observant child that I was could surmise.  There was tension in the air.  Suddenly out from his bedroom came Grandpa. He gently stepped into the center of the room.  He tapped something on his leg and blew into his hand and a few squeaky sounds came out.  Then another tap on his leg and then to my surprise he began to play his harmonica like you had never heard. 


I did not even know he played this wonderful instrument.  He could blow out and suck in and move his tongue across the mouth harp with such brilliance.  Before long everyone in the place was a buzzing with the fun of the night.  Everyone got happy.  Everyone forgot if even for a couple of hours the crisis of the day.  I thought long after that he really knew what to do to turn the situation around.  I later tried the mouth harp but really found my talents must lie in other areas.  There always was something going on around this place.     


One summer I remember going to Grandma’s as we called it.  The snowballs were in full bloom guarding the front door.  The snowballs were big round flowers which grew rather large plants so the full bloom was quite startling.  If you put rusty nails in the ground surrounding them they would turn blue.  Grandma did this some years and not on other years.  As we entered the front door the front parlor was in disarray.  Glass shelves were going up all around the room.  Grandma needed room for her African Violets. 


This turned out to be a very good place for the violets.  Grandma had so many different types of violets and she liked to talk to you about them.  They were pink, and violet. Some with double edges and some brilliant single faced dark purple beauties. I remember watching Grandma as she provided just the right amount of water to each plant careful of course not to apply the water directly to the leaves or blossoms.


The front parlor offered us a number of opportunities.  It was the place where the record player was kept.  As I grew older, I would come out to the parlor to find  Elvis Presley  singing  “Love Me Tender” or   “Hound Dog.”   The records were just the neatest invention and music was the thing.  My wonderful Aunts forced me to learn how to jitterbug in this parlor, something I am very happy they did.


After the parlor the house had a large room in the middle with a living room on the left.  The kitchen was on the right.  In the early days the kitchen had a wood burning stove.  I remember a new stove being installed and the heat was something to warm the cold of winter. 


Grandma and Grandpa’s bedroom was on the first floor.  There was an entrance to it from the middle room and from the kitchen area. The kitchen area door was also attached to the stairway to gain access to the bedrooms upstairs.  As the grandchildren came along this special maze of doors and circular pattern brought us much enjoyment.  We could really get rowdy running around and around.  As I look back I am certain that all of these individuals living and visiting here were forced to understand patience.  I sometimes think that Grandma and Grandpa liked to have the confusion to see what the new suitor or girlfriend thought of such antics.  Then again I guess it was just the way of life, something to be treasured.




The upstairs of the house is not as clear as I would like to see it in my memory.  Obviously there were beds in every available space.  I could not image thirteen living in this area and all of them still remaining sane.  I remember the girls talking about laying claims to one space or another as the older siblings began to marry and move away.  The things that come to mind when I was allowed to visit the inner sanctum of the up stairs was the smell of army boots or shoe polish.  There was a view at the top as well.


The bedroom that was really right over the top of the main entrance, the parlor, offered something special.  Two sets of windows were upstairs that were built out onto the roof.  This made a tunnel to the window that you could crawl into.  It was really neat.


There were many neat things to look at up here.  The neatest was Grandpa’s World War I helmet and other army stuff.  I would love to get that helmet and put it on my wall.  Grandpa never talked to me about the army but I really could imagine the hero he must have been.  He would march in the Memorial Day Parade and I liked that. 


There was another set of stairs beside the one that went to the bedroom.  This set was in the back of the house and it lead the way to the cellar.  The cellar was there.  It was functional.  It held canned food and apples from the orchard. Young kids were not really supposed to go into the cellar so I didn’t.


There was a room that was over the cellar that held treasures of memories.  It was an all-purpose room.  I think it was the precursor to the laundry room, storage room and general-purpose room.  It held the piano.  We all could go into the room and play the piano.  “Heart and Soul” was the most popular and was a prerequisite for any novice.  As the family grew the grand kids loved to get into this room and bang away at the keys.   This is where we joined together at Grandma’s special parties.


The piano stool was a wonderful attraction.  The stool was the kind that could be raised by spinning the top. This action would raise the seat to correct height.  The grandchildren had a blast playing with this.  I also know that the stool made for a great place for my uncles and aunts to get a hair cut. 


On special occasions when everyone was to get together Grandma would have extra special things.  She always made certain that everyone received a gift at Christmas time.  But she had something else to offer as well.  She was really fond of cards.  She liked playing cards and liked to have card parties.  Many card tables were set up around the house.  Aunts, Uncle and friends would sit at the tables play cards and after the game was over everyone moved to another table and started over.  It was fun to see the winners get their reward.  This might be a five-pound bag of sugar or a bag of English walnuts or something like that.


Sometimes there would be a count the beans in a jar contest.  Beans, candy, jelly beans something like that would be in a jar.  When more grand kids came along there was even a division of adults and grand kids.  This gave us all a chance to win. It was such a simple thing but we all had fun.  Grandma would scurry off to the front door to make certain no one was left out of the competition.  I can remember as she held the slip of paper in her hand with the names and the guesses along side.  It was a way to generate excitement and just good fun.


Grandma liked to have fun in many ways.  She loved to fish and just about everyone can tell the stories about fishing and having fun.  She fished all over the land seeking that trophy.  Blue gills, crappies, bass or bullheads were all in the game for her.  One of my favorite moments was when she joined Dave, Bill, Alan and me at Booker’s Pond just outside Kalida.  The pond was very small but had an assortment of fish.  My brothers and I had fished at this location on many occasions but on this particular day, Grandma pulled up in her car and joined us.  We thought that was wonderful. 


Grandma would fish just about anytime someone would say lets go.  We had a garden tractor and trailer that we used for many different things but there is an image that lingers where Al and Bill and the boys were driving down to Plum Creek with Grandma riding along with fishing poles in hand.


Both Grandma and Grandpa would come visit our house almost every day after their retirement.  The visit would be short but it was always nice to see them coming down the road.  After a brief update Grandma would say “we’ll come some more back.”   Good times were had by all. 

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