The Letters (1926-1929)
It was a simple white clapboard house sitting on the highest hill overlooking the small German American community. To reach it, a visitor had to drive off the main road a quarter mile down a white chalk gravel road. The home was constructed facing east to west to avoid the harsh north winds that would blow in from Oklahoma filled with the bitter damp cold collected from the Red River. There was a green front door with a small, covered stoop that no one used. It was the back door with its covered and screened porch that was where family and friends entered. The windmill with its well and oak bucket was about twelve feet from the back black screen door. Beside the well was the heavy gray corrugated metal door to the cellar. Built into the ground to provide shelter to the family from the frequent north Texas tornados that had blown houses and the Catholic church away in the past. If they stood by the well to get a dipper of water, they could look out to the north to see the steeple of the Catholic church in the far distance.
If they looked to the south, they would see the metal roofed old wooden barn with its peeling rusty red paint. In front of the barn was the large family kitchen garden where Louisa and Joseph would plant the vegetables that would sustain the family of seven each year. Behind the barn were harrows, plows, buggies, and rakes, all waiting to be drawn by man or horses or mules. Chickens roamed freely in the yard during the day and nested in the barn with the milk cows at night and winter. There were pigs and a pigsty with its troughs of slop and water and littered with remnants of the day’s kitchen scraps. The land contained few trees but abounded with white shale rock just below the surface of the black soil. Every year in the spring before planting time the adults sent the children to the fields to pick up the rocks pushed upwards from the earth by the freezing winter storms. They would carry them in buckets to the mule or horse drawn wagon and be hauled away so the field could be plowed and planted. The fields and pastures reached as far as the eye could see from north to south.
This was Joseph’s land. This was Joseph’s world created for his children. So why did his beloved son Joseph John, his Sepp, want to leave? He sat at his desk pondering this question. His beloved daughter Gertrude had left when she became of high school age. Though it broke her mother and father’s heart to see her go, Gertrude knew that God called her to become a Benedictine nun. They were a strong German Catholic family and to have a child called to serve God was one of the highest gifts a family could be given. It had especially hurt Louisa because she had grown to love her only daughter. The girl had been a wonderful helpmate in the kitchen and on the farm, a good friend and confident. She was kind and gentle and was so much help with her four brothers. She was the family favorite. But now this. This was a blow that had been brewing for over a year, but he thought it would never come to pass. He thought Sepp would find a local girl to love. He would settle down on the farm and accept the legacy that his father had intended for him. But Sepp had gone. He had moved 90 miles away to Dallas and in Joseph’s world that might as well be the moon.
It was 1926 and the hard times were already being felt on the farm. Somehow Sepp was sensing that his father was worried about the family’s wellbeing. How was he to reassure him that the choice he made would not destroy the family, nor was it his burden to carry the financial weight of the family farm on his mind. How was he to teach him what all young men of the world must yet know? How was he to tell him that he loved him?
Muenster Texas November 15, 1926
Dear Son Joseph!
Have been worrying about you all day yesterday. Today both of your letters came, and we are thanking you for them. We are all well. Today is Livestock Show in Muenster. Now at 11:00 o’clock it is raining a little with a good prospect for more rain. Got literature from REVIGATOR CO. but our deposits in the bank are ebbing lower every month. It is this what holds me back, it is the money, which is called the Nerve of the World. Paid the boys $200 lately and like to pay them $200 more when we will sell the oats. This is what they get for their hard work all the year around. You say you are not steady on your job. This it is what had me worry because no work no salary. You write we should not worry because you will get there and stay there and this few words are consoling me. Dear Joseph! We never had said one word about money. Thanks be to God that we had it. And I say again do not push yourself; we will never push you. Do not make a note, do not go to any Notary Public for doing so. It is not at all necessary. Just wait and do the best you can for yourself. Save every dollar you can save because it is a bulldog fight as I had told you. Times will change for the better again, they always have done so in the past —of course all is perfectly excused now. All in All, dear son Joseph save the money first and then you may do what you want to do now. You have the respect and love of your Parents and Brothers write us again! It makes me worry if you wait too long and before you are settled in your steady job. With best Wishes
your Parents and Brothers.
The years of Joe’s absence would drift by. The letters would pass from Dallas to Muenster and Muenster to Dallas. The minutia of life would be shared.
Muenster Texas November 7th, 1928
Dear son Joseph your dear letter from November 5th is at hand. We are all well and are glad to hear that you are in good health too. Yes, Joe toothache is bad and very uncomfortable. You write that you are not in duty this week. We hope you will be alright in a few days, and we hope you like your job and we do hope and expect you will stick to it. Please write and let us know how things are standing now you are writing about some note without explaining what it means. Let us talk about this later it personally if you wish so. Do not push yourself. Everything is alright and you know that you have our respect and our Love.
With best wishes from
your parents and your Brothers.
Clem would visit his brother Joe in Dallas. Crops would be planted. Rain would fall. Friends would visit.
Muenster May 20th, 1929
Saturday May 11 Alex Wolf and wife Rosa and Lizzy and son Johnny came here and stayed with us until Wednesday May 15th because of too much rain and because we had to do so much Domino’s playing and because there was a dance in the hall Thursday night and as you know “Dancing” is a very important job for young people, we old folks of course are more content with less dangerous and less exhausting jobs for our old lungs. Friday May 17th Mr. Chastain and son Roy came in here from Waco at dinner time got rained in, had to stay until Sunday after dinner he had a violin with him which was made in Brescia Italy in the year of 1642 and that old violin had to stand a lot of hard work under his treatment for the old folks at Home. We all enjoyed it very much. He told me that I will get 100 years old for which I thanked him. Both of this parties, Wolf and Chastain have been very welcome to us we and they also had a fine time. Today we got a letter from Wolf’s telling us they had come home safely and that the creeks are all out of their banks so much rain they had had.
Pa and Ma and Brothers
The devastating illness of smallpox would strike Muenster. Joseph and Louisa’s third son, John has left home and moved to the oil fields of west Texas in pursuit of the already married woman he loves. He would spend a lifetime away from his family feeling alienated and misunderstood. This is Joseph’s first mention of the sadness that this would bring to his heart.
June 19th, 1929
Smallpox are in Muenster and several families are under quarantine. Mr. Charles Nause was buried here on June the 7th. He was in Saint Paul Sanitarium in Dallas for several weeks had been operated on for some disease in the kidneys, but it was too late and could not get up and get well anymore. Mrs. Nause and children had been with him when he died and also Sister Loretta came down from Little Rock and has been waiting on him for about two weeks. R.I.P. Doctor Payne of here was busy man last Sunday. A long row people had to be vaccinated and he worked until his serum was to an end. There is so much talk about this smallpox and I cannot tell you how things will come out or how long it will last. Mrs Dankesreiter had all of her teeth pulled some time ago for bettering her health we have been out there on a visit last Sunday and found her pretty sick Dr. Payne had examined her some days last week and said it was some sort of trouble in the stomach and also in the heart. did Johnny ever write you? I wrote him a very kind letter about April 20th, but we got no answer up to this day. Sister Frances (Gertrude) is in Jonesboro now as we suppose, and we are waiting for a letter from her. Emma Duloc will graduate as a nurse June the 26th in Waco at the Providence sanitarium Chapel well I guess this is all for this time so please write us a few lines do not postpone writing.
Dad & Ma & Brothers
We are introduced to the family’s pet name for Joe, “Sepp.” Even after the death of their father, when all the children would be gathered at the table, they would call their oldest brother Sepp or Seppi. This term of family endearment would remain with him until the day he died. Joseph’s youngest son Andrew’s clarinet playing provides the musical backdrop for this letter. Clem and his new bride, Helen, are on their Honeymoon.
September 5. 1929
Dear son Sepp! Your letter from the 5th of September came in today. We are glad to hear that you and your hand are both alright so are we. That little baby boy is playing his B clarinet whilst I am scribbling this letter. We had a good rain last night which means cooler days and cooler nights. No sunshine today in Cook County and the sky is heavily loaded with clouds. Mrs Dankeschreiter has been called to her reward in heaven at 7:00 o’clock this morning and Ma went along with Joe and Lawrence in their car. Clem came to Jonesboro on Saturday morning got three postcards from him and we expect to get cards or letters tomorrow bye, bye
with love from us all.
From Helen and Clemens postcard September 3rd
We are here in Arkadelphia AR for tonight. We left Jonesboro yesterday about noon. We really should be farther but missed our road and we’re delayed. We are going to start for Houston tomorrow. We are just fine and are enjoying the trip very much. Have had a wonderful time in Jonesboro.
H and CL
We had another good shower last night—Dad
Muenster Texas December 31, 1929
Dearest son Joseph!
We are all wishing you a Very Happy New Year! I need not make many words as you know that we all love you and you know that the word “Love” means everything good between parents and their children. May the good God bless you!
Your very nice Christmas gift sent to us by you was received and we thank you for same. It is highly appreciated. We are all well so far, but Clemens has a wisdom tooth that is giving him some trouble. The doctor had to cut it because the swelling was very hurtful. We hope that Clem will be alright again in a few days. They are milking 8 cows now and Andrew is helping out in the morning and evening and in daytime he is working in the mill. We are having very fine and beautiful days up here. The Muenster Band had given a very successful comic play and Concert at the parish hall for the benefit of the Band, and they had a full house and made $115 clear for the Band as the Hall was given to them free except $10 for the electric light. This was on December the 29th. You know that mother had a sore tongue and sore gums this is all healing up now. Doctor Clark and we all are very glad of it, and we hope it will continue this way. Mother also has a new set of teeth she is well pleased with them good fit and she is looking much better and also younger again.
Your loving Parents
The ebb and flow of life on the farm would continue with Joseph sharing the news with his son in Dallas until Joseph’s death in December of 1932. When the letters were rediscovered in Louisa’s Magical Dome Lid Trunk, the blue silk ribbon that Joe had tied around this unique memory of his father was loosened and his long-stored words of encouragement and love came spilling from the ecru pages of time. Joseph’s elegant calligraphy used in the almost extinct art of letter writing brought to life the people of the family that inhabited and visited this Texas farm in the mid 1920’s. When his namesake great grandson, Joel, heard the words from his great grandfather, he was stunned by the closeness Joseph’s words had been to words of encouragement he had heard from his own father. He came to realize that the emotions he was feeling for his own children mirrored those of a generation long reclaimed by the universe. In future installments Joseph will come to the realization that all the reasons he had for creating a wedge between himself and his oldest son, Joe, will be of the least consequence in the passing of time. It is time to say it: There is an unknown Serendipity that fills the minds and hearts of individuals with the shared wisdom of their family ancestors that transcends generational norms and connects each individual with the true meaning of universal love.