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contributed by Mike Polzin
"Mildred Zingler, daughter of Eric Erickson,
wrote most of her memoirs in the late 1970's. They were
my grandmother's sister who passed away a few years ago at the ripe old
age of 90 and are transcribed just as written. Her memoirs are a true
of how different life was back in the early 1900's."
History - Oconto County Childhood
I am writing
these things down just as they come to mind.
Nov. 9, 1977
Ours was a
happy family - there were 7 of us until Violet passed away at age 18.
One boy and 4 girls. The last three girls were just one year apart, me
being the youngest, but all 4 girls had their birthday the end of
September. Grandma Petersen used to say "Erick must have been very
happy at Christmas time." That was the only time in those days there
was liquor in the house, which usually was one bottle of wine, could
that account for it? I remember the wine sat on the pantry shelf and I
used to sneak in there and get a little sip once in a while. Maybe
that's why wine is still one of my favorite drinks.
Mom said Pa and Uncle Martin where the best sawyers in the area. That
was hand sawing with a cross cut saw - it took a team of two.
New Years Day - 1979
The folks bought their first 40 of land in about 1901. It was
completely forested, they had to clear a piece to put up their
buildings which father and Uncle Pete did themselves. The house was
frame but the other buildings were logs except the wood shed and privy
which was just vertical unfinished boards. The first winter Pa worked
in the woods (to make extra money) which of course left mother home
alone a great deal with Edwin, who was a baby at that time. In a couple
years they got a few cows and Dad told (?) alaus to go fetch them
always with a grin. One time a wild cow followed him all the way,
jumping from tree to tree. After the girls started cowing they decided
they had to have more land in order to support more cattle for a larger
income, so another forty was purchased. It also had to be cleared. I
remember helping to pick up branches and roots and making a huge pile
and then burning them. The fire part was fun - the other was hard work
but we all had to help. I also remember hearing the wolves howl on cold
winter nights which was scary.
All of us had to help with the farm work and each one had his own
special chore each day. Mine was wiping the dishes and after school
help carry in fire wood for the winter nights. All cooking and heating
was done with wood stoves and of course the lighting was kerosene
lamps. Us girls slept upstairs and (?) harr we rushed through the
hallway and stairway, it was not heated. All four of us girls slept in
one large bedroom and it was heated with a single floor register which
was above the dining room heater. Mother came up every night to tell us
goodnight and hear our prayers and then to blow out the lamp. She
carried another small lamp up and down with her.
We finally got and Aladdin lamp and that was really great. The corners
of the rooms got some light then, otherwise with the other lamps only
the immediate area was light.
In later years I remember Mother telling me she stood in the grocery
store wishing she could buy some of the bananas she saw, but could not
afford it. That really hurt me.
We had chickens and the egg money was Mother's to buy groceries with.
Occasionally there was a little left over and that was her "prim
money." All the groceries were bought at "Seriers" and Mr. Serier
always put in a bag of Jelly Beans for us kids. Pa always bought ginger
snaps or fig bars and I sure got tired of ginger snaps. After we got a
little more prosperous there was always a bag of chocolate drops for
us. We also each got a nickel to buy an ice cream cone when we went to
town. I remember the anticipation of that cone, the horses couldn't go
I guess it started with the arrival of the big catalogs in the fall
-Sears and Wards. How we paged through them and picked out the things
we'd like to have.
Pa always insisted the cows had to be milked about the same time each
morning and evening otherwise they wouldn't let the milk down. During
the winter months most of the cows dried up so Pa did the milking
alone. On Christmas eve we all coaxed him to go milk a little earlier
so we could get to open our gifts and how happy we were when he finally
lit the lantern and went to the barn. Pa always cut our tree in our own
woods and it was placed and trimmed in the "front room" and we children
did not see it until Christmas eve, then the candles were lit and the
gifts given out and how exciting it was. One year I was really hoping
for a little toy stove and I remember watching all the packages as the
folks came in from their Christmas shopping trip. I couldn't recognize
a stove there is was Christmas eve. It was made of tin and the lids on
the top were all painted on but the little oven door opened and how
happy I was.
One year Violet and Lil got new doll buggies with tops, "Get" and I got
the old one which had been shared by all of us. We each had 3 or 4
dolls and spent a lot of time sewing clothes (by hand) for them. In
those days each of us got one gift and I imagine the cost was about 50
cents, but we were just as happy with that (probably more so) than the
kids now days with their over abundance.
I remember the last year I hung up my stocking and I got a large orange
and a big red ball to hang on the tree.
Uncle Martins' and Uncle Willies' lived near us and each family had a
party one evening during the holidays. At each house all of the
children received a bag of candy and nuts. I remember Mother getting
the bags ready. She set our soup plates on the kitchen table (one for
each child) and divides the candy and nuts evenly. We received a bag of
candy at the school program and one at the church program also, which
was a real treat for us. The aim was to see how many candy bags we
could get. For several years the Winters' family (the cheesemaker)
joined our group so that meant another bag of goodies. Aunt Irene
always made a dish pan full of popcorn and sometimes popcorn balls
also. In the very early years when Grandma Petersen was alive she
always had a jar full of ebelskines for us.
I remember one year when there had been sickness in one of the families
Uncle Willies' had their Christmas party in March and the tree was
Mother sometimes managed to keep a little gift for us for New Years,
one year I remember getting a comb for my hair.
Uncle John and Uncle Pete (Pa's brothers) both bachelors always came
down from the woods for Christmas and of cousre they were invited to
the parties. One year Uncle Pete brought dolls for all of us, he liked
Lil best so she had first choice, but that didn't bother us, we were so
happy to get a new doll and one with hair which was really special.
One year they brought a friend along, he had over imbibed and would
spit on the floor occasionally. Then he would pay one of us kids a
quarter to wipe it up. Needless to say we were all willing and just
waiting for him to spit again. (tobacco juice)
There was always a program at Church during the Christmas season and of
course all of us were in it. That was another "Christmas Special", Pa
had to hitch up the horses and we all went in the big sleigh. There was
a shed built by the church with several stalls, if you got there early
enough the team had shelter, we usually got there too late and the
horses had to stand out in the cold, but there was a nice warm horse
blanket to put over each one.
There was always a large tree in church and lit with real candles. Two
men always stood watch at the tree and each had a long pole with some
kind of snuffer on the end of it. Just in case of a candle igniting the
tree. I think now how risky that really was, however there never was an
accident. After, the children got their bag of goodies, the high point
of the evening. We had to walk to church about 2 miles to practice for
the program. On one of these trips Violet got wet feet, caught a bad
cold which finally turned into pleurisy, and then eventually T.B. It
was a hard time for all of us, now it would never have happened. She
dies in August 1927. The folks did all they could for her. Built a sun
porch onto the house so she could sleep out there and get a lot of
fresh air and sunshine, the prescribed remedy in those days. Also
bought a hammock so she could lay out in the sunshine in the apple
Mom sort of favored her through the childhood years, she though she was
not as strong as the rest of is and she probably wasn't. She always got
to go home from the field and help mother cook dinner, also she didn't
have to milk cows and sometimes we resented that. How I hated to milk
cows, a dirty, smelly job in those days.
How great a sorrow that was when Violet died and for the folks it must
have been doubly hard to bear.
Our winter evening were all spent reading aloud and eating apples.
After chores Pa always went to the cellar and brought up a pan of
apples. They were set on the heater in the dining room where we all
gathered. We all took turns reading aloud, mostly Zane Gray novels,
they were read and re-read. We had one magazine we subscribed to, it
came once a month and how we waited for that - "The Illustrated
Companion." I still remember one story "His Yellow Rose of the South."
Summer evenings (many of them) were spent sitting on the front porch,
Pa played the accordion and the mouth organ (Edwin also) and we all
sang. Many time the neighbors would come and join us.
The grain harvesting season was very exciting. The thrash machine came
with its huge steam engine, water wagon and separators. Then they
turned in the yard they always blew the whistle and a blast it was.
When they finished at one farmers place the whistle was blown a certain
number of times, then the next farmer knew they would soon be coming to
The thrashers worked hard, so they had to be fed a veritable feast.
There was always home made pie and there had to be enough so that
anyone who wanted it could have two pieces. The neighbors usually
helped one another so of course every one stayed to eat. The thrashers
always got 5 meals a day - breakfast, lunch, dinner at noon, afternoon
lunch, and their supper. Sometimes they stayed overnights but just
slept in the barn on the hay.
One of the team was a mare and Pa had her bred twice. One colt was
raised and became a work horse for us - the little King was born and
when he was a couple months, old Thiele it was, he was neutered, got an
infection and had to be put to sleep. This really hurt us because he
was so cute and we all loved him. We sure disliked that vet, they said
he didn't keep his instruments clean.
High School Days (What fun it was)
In those days there were no busses to pick up the county students so
our folks had to rent rooms in Suring so we could go to High
School-just Lil and I went.
We had one large room with curtains drawn across it to make our
bedroom. Our cupboards were orange crates with curtains on. We had one
oil stove to cook on and a wood burning heater for heat. Oh how cold it
was in the morning when our fire went out over night. Of course there
was no plumbing so we had our potties under the beds for nights, and a
big slop pail for dish water and etc. There were usually three or four
of us stayed together and all had to take turns emptying the pail. We
were on the second floor ao we had to carry water and wood upstairs
also. The privy was in the wood shed and on how cold this was in
winter, that's when I first became constipated.
The folks brought us to Suring on Sunday P.M.'s with a lot of food and
usually came on Wednesdays again with more food. We didn't have much
money - I remember we made vegetable soup without meat.
The boys around town liked to come visit us especially on Sunday night,
then we had a lot of good home made cake. They would eat some ot it,
that made us mad at them, we would be short. Len Z. liked to come up
and make fudge. He swiped sugar and coca from home so then we all had a
In winter we came down in to the big sleigh. Cars were put up on jacks
in winter as the roads were not plowed. Al ot of straw was put in the
bottom of the sleigh and mother used to hear bricks for our feet. Extra
boards were put up on the sleigh box and then a blanket thrown over the
top to keep the wind out. Poor Pa had to sit on the seat up front and
drive. I remember icicles hanging from his nose.
We used to go sleigh riding on the big hill west of Suring (Hayes Holl)
and oh what fun that was.
One night the High School Principal and three of us students went to
Brandon to a basketball game. On the way we ran in the ditch and had to
get a farmer to pull us out. It was a real foggy, rainy night and the
people in the area were all Kentuckians. When we went into the farmers
yard to ask for help he said, "What a good night for a murder."
Needless to say we were quite shook. Finally got going again and got to
Crandon just as the game was over, so after a hamburger we started home
again. Ran in the ditch again and landed directly across a tree stump,
so had to go for help again. We finally wound up with no lights, no
brakes, and no reverse. If we missed a corner we had to get out and
push the car back. Finally got back to Suring at 4 am with the sun
Incidentally the car we had was an old rattle trap ford which we had
borrowed from the father of one of the students who was with us. Guess
he didn't appreciate what we did to his car.
Bits and Pieces
We never chewed gum in the privy, the gum was always deposited on a
fence post and then picked up on the way out.
Lil and I went over to Jim's woods across the road from home and lost
ourselves among the trees to avoid work. When mother asked if we didn't
hear her call we always said no. This happened especially when we
thought Violet would want to go picking raspberries.
I remember one day I accidentally knocked three cups out of the
cupboard and all were broken. The folks had gone to town and I shivered
all afternoon in anticipation of the lickin' to come. I was surprised
and much relieved when mother said, "I know it was an accident." and
that was all there was to it.
When Edwin got "mad" at Hilda he always got us three younger ones not
to talk to her either.
Hilda had a nasty habit of wringing out the dish rag while washing
dishes, and flipping it at us.
Hilda was the oldest of the 4 girls, ( 5 years older than I ) and at 8
pm she'd always start, "Ma make those kids go to bed."
When Edwin was older (in his teens) he went up north to work in the
woods. When he came home Mother's first job was always to de-louse him.
One year, guess it was in March, he came home with the flu. He was
behind the heater in the dining room (had chills), so close his overall
jacket caught fire. That made from some excitement.
Mildred Erickson Zingler
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