In the summer of 1933, the Kaskaskia River was in flood. When that happened our farm would be surrounded by water, and the carp, buffalo and catfish would come out into the slough that ran through our pasture. My brother, Harold, and I were going down the road from our house with pitchforks to gig some fish in the slough. The road had been freshly graded with a grader pulled by horses. Harold stepped next to a deep hoofprint and a big rattlesnake bit him in the heel. We dropped our pitchforks and ran back almost a quarter mile to the house and told our Mother what had happened. She immediately sent my sister, Hazel, running to the field to get my Dad, and she put Harold's foot in a bucket of kerosene. I know there was also a discussion about cutting a chicken in half and applying it to draw out the poison. Dad came home running shortly with his four horse team. We were surrounded by flood waters, so someone called Uncle Otto, who lived on the hill, on the telephone. He lived on the other side of the flooding. Dad carried Harold on his back maybe a half mile to where my Uncle Otto had brought a boat across and had his car waiting on the other side. Putting him in the car they drove to Mascoutah, 9 miles away, to a doctor. Harold was unconscious by the time they arrived. He said the doctor stood him on his head and he came to. I recall that he was very sick and in bed for about three weeks and we thought for a time that he would die. He had large brown blotches all over his body.
We lived on a low hill and often the Okaw River would flood in the spring, covering the bottomland all around us. We would have to keep the car on the other side and go out in a cypress rowboat to the other side. The carp and buffalo fish from the river would be everywhere, and we'd take the boat and pitchforks and go out and gig them in shallow water. One day Dad gigged a 17 lb. carp. It was 3 ft. long.
Some men came from town and with a 10 gauge shotgun would fire into the water where they saw the waves made by a fish, stunning the fish. When they came to the top they'd pick them up.
The fish could sense the first drop in the water level and most would make it back to the river about 2 miles away through the timber.
When we were surrounded by flood waters the snakes were also driven out of the swampy land and timbered areas and were everywhere -- around us and in the flooded scrub trees and bushes, and curled around branches in trees. In May of 1943 I remember rowing the boat one day while Harold and our Brother in law Ben sat in each end with a shotgun, shooting the snakes out of the trees. In some tree crouches there would be two or three snakes. There were a lot of rattlesnakes.
We Lose Our Mother
We had retired the 1915 Ford Touring car and bought a 1927 Ford 4 door sedan. In 1934 my Mother found that she didn't have long to live, she had wanted a new car. Dad bought her a 1933 Chevrolet.
Mother had a heart defect that they told us had been caused by being chased by a bull while coming home from school one day in Arkansas. They had run so hard up the mountain that it had strained her heart too much and it began to enlarge. On October the 11th, 1935, after a long illness, my Mother died. She was not quite 31 years old, being born in Watula, Arkansas on March 10th, 1904.
My Father took on the task of raising the four of us alone. He was 56 years old. My sister, Hazel, was 13, Harold was 11, I was 9, and Alfred was 5. Each of our Godparents offered to take one of us, but Dad wanted to keep us together.
The Barn Fire
Six months after my Mother died the lightning struck our barn during a storm. The strike was so direct that the lightning rods didn't carry it off. It was at night and we saw the flames reflected from a window. My dad ran to the barn which was about 300 ft. from the house, and although it was already almost fully engulfed he ran into the stable side, and with his pocketknife cut the halter ropes of the 10 horses and came out behind them as firey timbers were falling around him. The fire department came from New Baden seven miles away. It was such an intense fire because of all the hay stored in the barn that they had to keep pouring water on the house to save it.
Love thy Neighbor
The next day my Uncle Gus and a group of men came, and while the ruins were still smoldering they laid out a plan for a new barn. Gus was a carpenter and drew up the plans. Dad had insurance and the insurance man came and they figured the loss of the building, farm machinery and hay stored in it, and the total came to $675.00.
The materials were ordered for the new barn, and when they arrived neighbors and the members of our threshing run came to work on it. As many as 70 men came in a day to work on it with Uncle Gus telling everyone what to do.
Mr. Shumacher, who owned the tavern in New Memphis, brought a half barrel of beer each afternoon, and when they quit for the day they drank the beer. Dad bought food, and my sister, Hazel, who was still in school in the eighth grade, had to miss school and stay home during that time. With Our Aunt Rosina directing them, some who helped were Tena and Erna Johnson, our cousin, Edna Friederich, Aunt Rose Klingelhoefer, Cousin Margaret Kuhn and many others. They cooked and served food three times a day. Lunch was at 9 AM., again at Noon and at 3 PM. Hazel recalls that she missed school during the period when final exams were given for graduation, but that she was allowed to take them later and in time to graduate with her class.
One of my cousins, Raymond Friederich, recalls that one evening he and a neighbor, George Freeze, took a long time getting home. "We took two steps forward and one back", he said.
On April 16, 1936 the new barn was completed, and Uncle Gus, using a heavy carpenter pencil, drew a design on one of the white pine boards inside the front door with the date and the number of days it took to complete inscribed on it.
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