Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Extinct American chestnut

I'm dismantling tongue and grove panelling and floors from a 100 year old house on our property.

The obviously wormy chestnut, to my surprise, was not the choice cut in those days. It had been relegated to cover the walls on the upstairs bedrooms.

The chestnut, clear of worm holes, was proudly displayed in the front foyer as well in the sitting room.

All the windows are gone in the house and the roof leaks. Deterioration of the old structure is rapidly increasing. I will reuse the random width white oak and the wide board pine flooring on another project.

Other than building kitchen cabinets for our new venture with the chestnut, I hardly have use for the hundreds of square-feet of the rest. My dilemma is whether to spend time on removing the chestnut or let it slowly decay.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Time and Place, last chapter

The sea could not shake us, neither could the challenges of the New World.
This portion of the book sets in motion the energies that epitomize the American spirit. The small, colorful tiles of life keep emerging as they continue to put together the mosaic that is called the immigrant. Though this segment of the book only spans a little more than two years, the pieces shall continue to reveal themselves until the Lord requires the soul.

The book ends with this story:
Given the opportunity, there is hardly a person in the world today who would not come to America. Why is that so? It may be that, world-wide, there is a deep down feeling that in America no one will squelch the drive and determination of its people. America is known to elevate not the lazy, but the honest man, a man striving toward a goal with a dogged zeal. People coming to America do not look for handouts. Most are on a mission to prove to themselves, and their new countrymen, that a goal set was not a goal set in vain.
A lot of good things had come to fruition during the first two years in our new homeland. About a year and one-half earlier, we were shown some disrespect for only having three hundred and sixty-two dollars toward the purchase of a new house. The sting from that experience was the impetus to keep us pushing. Mom consistently found ways to put a few dollars away. She always had been very aware that pennies make dollars. Ever since the war, she’d sewn and mended. In many other ways, she figured out not to waste. She saved the grease from roasts and gravies to use again in frying potatoes and baking cakes and cookies. I remember casually mentioning once that a cake she had baked tasted a bit too much like bacon. Every piece of soap that had gotten too small to use was saved. When a cup full of small chunks were collected, they were shredded on the hand-held vegetable grater, and then used to do a load of wash in Mom’s wringer washer.
All Dad did was work, then work some more. For many months, he worked two full time jobs. For eight hours, he loaded trucks, then jumped into his car to go to work at a bakery, making doughnuts for another eight hours. Mom cleaned houses six days a week. I worked full time and all the extra hours I could get at Van Vechten Press, including all day Saturdays. During the various harvest times, Mom and Dad went to a local farm to pick vegetables with the migrant workers, during the few hours they had left in the week.
This had nothing to do with being cheap or greedy. It had all to do with goals. You have heard me talk about whining and complaining. Well, you do not do that when something is achievable. Complaining is not part of getting there.
While taking a shortcut through a residential community, Dad spotted a new house under construction. The style of the house was called a front to back split level. It was constructed on a fifty-foot wide lot, between two larger homes. As it turned out, the owner of the new home was also the builder. We set a date to meet with him and talk about the possibility of buying the house. The finances, we knew, had to be worked out. After looking over the house, we all fell in love with it. It had three bedrooms and a bath upstairs. The elevated front of the house provided the living room, with cathedral ceiling, and a full kitchen with an eat-in area. The ground level in the rear had a recreation room, a sewing room, and a washroom with toilet. A cellar was under half of the house, with more usable space. The lot extended in the back for one hundred feet or more, enough for a good garden, flowers, and fruit trees. It was a dream home in a convenient location. We were ready to buy; but could we borrow enough money, that was the worry. With no credit and not much established work history, Mom and Dad found out that they could not borrow enough. All the pooling of our monies did not add up to enough to make the difference between the purchase price and what the bank would loan us. We needed almost four thousand dollars.
We took the sad news to the builder and his brother, who kept on working daily on the house to bring it to completion. Dad negotiated with the contractor for a two thousand dollar discount. For this we would have to paint the house, inside and out, as well as do the backfill of the excavated soil around the foundation. This was normally done by a bulldozer, but we had a shovel and were ready. It took a little longer, but it got done.
My parents also approached a German friend for a loan. The friend, who came to this country about the same time we did, offered to lend us one thousand dollars at ten percent interest. We took him up on it. I took the responsibility of paying back that loan with interest. In addition, the builder was kind enough to prolong the closing date until we had saved, or rounded up, enough to meet the bank’s required down payment.
We were so convinced that this house was going to be ours that we started to clean up and do other things to help the builder.
One day Dad and I were shoveling dirt to fill the gaping hole around the house, when a man, in his thirties, stopped his car in the front of the house. He climbed up on the dirt pile and introduced himself. He inquired if we were the owners. Mr. Davis said he was a storm-window salesman and asked if we would like him to measure for combination storm and screen windows for our new house. Dad explained that we were working toward becoming the owners. In his ever present naivete, he told Mr. Davis that we still lacked three hundred dollars before we could buy the house. Graciously acknowledging that we were probably not ready for storm windows, Mr. Davis got back in his car and drove off.
Within the hour, Mr. Davis reappeared at the construction site, walked up to Dad and me, and handed us three hundred dollars. He simply said, “My address is on that slip of paper, pay me back when you can.” With that he turned and got back in his car.
I saw an angel when I was six years old. I believe I also saw an angel that day in flesh and blood. –– He was an American. PRAISE GOD!

A Time and Place, first chapter

A flash and a big bang, a cold cellar floor, and a fear of falling from a window– these are the only things I distinctly remember as a three-year-old.
The air raid sirens, the approach and roar of bomber planes, those memories came alive only, when after 30 years I visited the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. Upon entering a wing of the museum that was dedicated to World War II, sounds of bombers and sirens were being played as a background to the exhibit. Such dreadful emotions were aroused in me that I had to leave. I simply could not cope with it.
A picture of me playing in a sand box and one showing soldiers boarding a train completed the time and place that provided me the recall of the events recorded in the first pages of this book.

S├╝dbahnhof, one of several train stations of Munich, was always busy in 1943. The four-story row house we lived in was facing the railyard and also the south and western sun. The rhythmic sounds of the rail cars and steam locomotives became a soothing accompaniment to everyday life. It also evokes a blue and piercing memory, a feeling of sadness, to think my father shipped out to war from that same station.
The window sills were wide, extending outward, overhanging the building’s exterior wall. They were surrounded by a wrought iron basket like a cage that enveloped the lower half of the window from side to side. Mom used the sill to grow flowers as well as parsley and chives. You could close the window from the inside and have the miniature garden left to be exposed to rain and sun. I was given my first trembling memories of that time and that place when Mom decided that I needed some fresh air and sun and had me, three years old, sit out on that ledge looking three stories down to the sidewalk below. Seems like sister Dagmar, then just an infant, got to enjoy some sun as well.
The air raids of that time made a dreaded imprint in this little fellow’s mind. Often the peace of the moment was shaken by that ever more frequent piercing scream of the siren. It seemed to come through the windows, the walls, the curtains, the ears, the head–straight to the soul. This death blast would come, never respecting whether you were sleeping or just swallowing your first bite of hot cereal. Instantly, Mom, carrying baby sister, and I would, in a state of highest mental and physical agitation, holding on to each other, race down the long flights of stairs to the basement of the tenement. I do not know why, but once down there, I always was looking at that window...one small window up high, probably level with the sidewalk outside, that window that made me tremble so. Mom and us children would be sitting on the damp floor, leaning against a cold wall, looking at that window. There were many other people huddled around the outer walls of that cellar, all mesmerized by one source of light, that window. That light of the moment was not from the sun, since most bombing attacks were at night, nor was it from the street lights, since power was cut off, but from the fires burning. One burning so close it had singed the window curtains in the apartment.
The bursts of orange flashes, accompanied by earth trembling sounds, were a gauge in every one’s mind as to how close every bomb was. They were all close, because no railyard was spared. There were never any tears or screams, because fright is not accompanied by tears and cannot be consoled by one’s own emotions.
The last etching in my child’s soul of that time and place was when the expectation of the worst became reality. A tremendous burst of white light–an earth shattering shock from a hit–the little window exploded amid an enormously hellish flash and was no more. The disintegration of that window formed the final blanket that would put to rest the hell of a three-year old.
Soon after that, the government evacuated most women and children still living in the city. We were allowed to live in a small town in lower Bavaria called Griesbach.