2008 Essays — Honorable Mention Meant to Be: The Life Story of Betty (Haas) Welp by Kyle Gutgsell

I guess you could say that we got off on the right foot from the beginning. On May 21, 1990, my grandma, received her best present ever – me. From that day on, we have always been very close. Instead of having a babysitter, I had two grandmas. I rotated back and forth between the two of them to spend the day. These days included feeding the calves, slopping the hogs, and doing other chores around the farm. She also taught me how to thread needles. My grandmas quilted every day. Making it easier on her eyes, I threaded her needles for her, and she paid me a penny apiece in return. One day, I made a whopping 62 cents. Another one of my favorite memories was the ice cream. One time on my birthday, we ate it for every meal. It was the best birthday dinner I have ever eaten. I cherished time spent with my grandma and always dreaded when the time came to leave.

When asked about her childhood memories, my grandmother was not short of words. She grew up on a small farm on the northeast side of St. Anthony, about 2 miles out of town. I asked her to paint a picture of an ordinary day from years ago, and she began, “Being born and raised on a farm, there was always work. Whenever dad worked in the field, I had to take him lunch. This was a long journey through the woods for a four-year-old. Mom fixed lunch for dad and sent me off around 3:00 in the afternoon. Dad watched for me about 3:15. We ate lunch under the shade tree and let the horses rest. Then dad sent me back home at 3:45 and mom was there waiting.

“When I was in first grade, dad worked at the factory during the winter months. We had to milk every morning before he went to work. I milked one cow in the time that dad could milk five cows. Then in the evening, I milked my cow again.

“I also helped dad shuck corn. We would load up everything and take the horse and wagon out to the field. I did one row and dad took the second and third. By dinner, we had a big wagon load and another in the afternoon. When evening came, mom had a delicious hot molasses cake with fresh cream from the milk to satisfy our hunger.

“One spring we built a new barn. Since I was about 12 years old, I could help with many of the chores. I had to carry all the concrete blocks for the men to lay.

“In the summer months, we threshed wheat. Since it was so hot outside, we carried water out in the field for men loading wheat bundles. We rode back home on top of the load. On one occasion, the wagon turned over and lost the wheat. Thankfully, no one received any injuries.”

As you can see, events were a little different back then. Could you imagine sending a four-year-old through the woods for several miles on their own? How many 12-year-old girls do you know now that can help lay concrete blocks? She has many memories of her younger years, but one of her fondest memories was getting to visit her grandparents. Grandma recalled, “When we went to my Grandma and Grandpa Drach’s on a sunny afternoon, grandpa would go out and kill some chickens, pluck off the feathers, and in the skillet they went. My cousins also came, and we played all day long until we left to go do the feeding.”

Her aunt’s wedding was another special occasion for my grandma. It was her first experience with orange soda. “When my Aunt Mary got married, we held the reception at my Grandma and Grandpa Drach’s home. We made food and had orange drinks. I had never had an orange drink before, and I drank so much that I got sick. That was the end of the orange soda for awhile.”

My grandma has always been an extremely religious person. As far as I can remember, she has never missed a Sunday mass. She takes great pride in her church and is a strong believer in the faith. She thought back on one special occasion from her childhood. “I always liked it when us girls could march in church and have baskets of flower pedals. We wore our white dresses for rogation days. This was a special feast day, following the ascension, which was a big deal those days.”

Growing up in a large family has always been a luxury for me. I have been blessed with an abundance of aunts, uncles, cousins, and wonderful grandparents. We all tend to get closer to certain family members, more so than others, although this was not quite the case with my grandma. “I was five years old,” Grandma started, “by the time my sister arrived. By that time, I was already out with dad. I had a cousin whom I became close to and played with on several occasions. One time we were out in the garden working, barefoot and I stuck my hoe in his toe. I cried and ran into the house for mom. He did not even cry. I guess it hurt me more than him.”

Nowadays, weekends are full of parties, dances, dinners, and other gatherings of people. This is just another example of how times have changed over the years. Grandma went on to describe a typical weekend from her youth. “When we were 14-15 years old, we walked to the neighbor’s house. There we walked around with each other and played on sunny days, but I always had to be home early to help with the feeding.”

Anymore, it is a habit to receive your driver’s license when you are 16 years of age. It would be astonishing for someone to go through his or her life without one, but not back then. Grandma discussed why she chose not to drive, “I was always afraid of driving. Back then, it was common not to receive one. I also found it hard to take all the children out at one time. Years ago, we all had different jobs. Grandpa’s was to drive. When he hauled livestock, he stopped at the store and picked up all the groceries we needed. My job was to sew. If we had material, we sewed for all the family members. I made dresses for the girls and shirts for the boys. I never wanted to drive and now that I had seven children and 17 grandchildren, I hope that if Grandpa is unable, I can call someone and get a ride.”

We all have childhood accomplishments that made us proud, whether that would be winning the little league championship, or receiving first place in a kiddy tractor pull. For my grandmother, it was a slightly different achievement. She recalled one of her attainments. “I went to school eight years without missing a day. One time on the last day, I went to school not feeling the best. Other kids had already come down with measles. My teacher said that tomorrow I would be sick. Sure enough, the next day I was broke out.”

To get a job now, you must be at least 15 years old. Back then, people were getting married at that age. Grandma looked back on her first job. “When I was very young — about eight or nine — I walked up the hill to Buechler’s. They had a strawberry patch. We met at 6:00 in the morning to pick strawberries. They paid me five cents a quart to pick. We crawled around on the ground and were wet up to our waists from the dew. The days were long and the sun in the afternoon was hot. Sometimes we even worked all day long, and still did not get them all picked. The next morning we started again, where we left off. Mr. Buechler took the berries to St. Marks to meet the train and shipped them off.”

It is always enjoyable to listen to stories of how couples have met. I had to laugh when grandma told me her story. “When I was 16, I was hired at the St. Anthony tomato factory. Located where the post office is now, we peeled tomatoes all day long. Grandpa and the other boys were carrying the tomatoes to the hot water in the scalding pan. The girls were at the other end peeling tomatoes. Then, one girl threw a tomato and started a fight. Grandpa threw one that hit me on accident, which he apologized for later. Everyone was trying to hit the other girl, but her quick movements made her hard to hit. Soon the boss came and that was the end of the tomato throwing.”

I am sure we have all heard of how life was so tough years ago. When asked how much truth this statement holds, grandma was not short of words. “Yes, the 30s were rough. We had food stamps to get sugar, and you only received so many per person. We had no electricity, no lights, and no way to keep food except for canning. We had to get water in from the well. Since there was no bathroom, in the morning we had to go outside where it was cold. When it was time to take a bath, we carried water in wash boilers and put it on the stove. We then had to carry in wood to heat the water. Next, we put the water in the washtubs and took a bath. Grandpa and the neighbors had to go down to the creek every Sunday to wash their cars because there was not enough water in the well.

“You had to kill your chicken in the morning in order to have something to cook for dinner. You raised your own beef or pork to can or smoke — enabling it to keep. You also had to tend to your garden. When the corn was ready, you would eat what you could and can the rest. The same went for the green beans. You could not be fussy. You ate what was in the garden and then in the winter you ate the food that you canned. It all depended on the crop. The apple tree only produced every other year, and some years there were more than other.”

Although a large number of differences have occurred over the years, one aspect remains that I hope will never change. That is the simple life. I hope that one day I sit down with my grandchildren and tell them about my younger years. I hope to be able to share with them about how events used to be years ago. I hope that they can have the same learning experiences that I will have had over the years, but most of all, I hope that I am half the influence to them that my grandma has been to me.