In My Grandfather’s House… final
By: Amie Johnson 1976
On the other long wall opposite the fireplace you could see the loom and Grandfather’s carpenter bench. Both always seemed to be busy for Grandmother wove all the cloth and blankets needed for the family; and Grandfather, working with wood and leather, repaired, mended, and made all the farm and home equipment.
I spent many happy hours at grandfather’s workbench. At first I watched; then I learned to use the tools by carving pegs, wooden bowls and spoons. Using the last, I learned to make shoes. By the time I was fourteen, I was making shoes, wooden bowls, and spoon for myself and others in the family who wanted them.
Above the bench hung the tools; the metal part for these were forged in the blacksmith shop near the stables. Under the bench was stacked the raw materials for making things. I recall seeing dried lumber, tanned leather, wagon wheels and furniture to be finished or repaired. I learned to make benches, skis, and water pails that didn’t leak; and here I made my own chest or trunk.
At the other end of the house beyond the carpenter bench was the parents’ bedroom—usually open to the living room. A woven curtain hanging from a pole could be drawn across the entrance when privacy was desired. A straw mattress lay on hewed planks that were held together with cross pieces and wooden pegs. This rested on saw-horse legs. Concealed underneath was a smaller bed which could be pulled out at night for the two youngest children. There were wooden pegs on one wall where garments were hung. A small table holding a copper bowl with tallow and wick completed the furnishings.
The low ceiling above the bedroom and “gung” was also the floor for the storage loft above. This alcove had a small window and was open to the living room for better circulation of air. One could look up and see the woven materials suspended from poles—ready for the tailor who came around in spring. Grandmother Engel once told me that a visitor judged a family’s wealth by the number of woven pieces displayed in the loft, as well as the amount of smoked meat hanging from the rafters!
Also visible from the living room below were the cedar chests, decorated with rosemaling, where each member of the family stored his personal possessions. The name of the owner and the date of birth were painted on the front, embellished with fancy scrolls in bright colors.
Upon climbing the ladder and passing the stacks of dried flatbread, you would see a cot directly under the small window. This was reserved for the schoolmaster who traveled from one home to another while teaching the children in each district. The midsummer nights were as light as day until 10 o’clock and that is when I found time to sit up here and read from the schoolmaster’s library. Books that dealt with biography and history whetted my appetite for more learning.
When you realize the fact that my grandfather was five years older that Abraham Lincoln and then compare the homes they lived in, then you can see that Grandfathers house had many treasures. I’m glad that I was there to enjoy them.”
As told by Andreas Fluge Johnson in the year 1955
I have two more stories like-one is more about Grandmother Engel, and the second is a recounting of another relatives crossing to America and eventually establishing a homestead in Tigerton WI.
Thanks for reading--I find these recollections really moving-but I guess that is because they are part of my heritage. I'm also trying to glean some insight about their lives and find a way to incorporate some old traditions into my new life. Kris