AN INTERVIEW WITH LUCILLE MILLER
An Interview with Lucille Miller
Father: Theodore Miller Mother: Lydia
Husband: Robert Miller
Children: Sally Miller Natchek and Susan Miller Mayer
I was raised on Ballard Road, the town line road, one half mile south of Highway 54. We were in the town of Black Creek and across the road was the town of Osborn. I was an only child. My mother had three baby boys, but they all died. The first was stillborn and the others died as infants. With today’s medical advances they may have lived. Some of the neighbors who lived up the hill went to the North Osborn School. I started at Blue Star School when I was five. This is a picture of the class when I was going into the third grade. All the students are identified.
My grandparents, Albert and Adolphine Miller, had a farm on Highway 54. My father and his brothers and sisters also attended the same Blue Star School. I do not believe any of them completed all eight grades. They usually quit school about the sixth or seventh grade and were required to work on the farm. The Blue Star School was closed in 1940 and then all the students were bused to Seymour.
I have good memories of attending country school. The picture has 17 students. The most I ever remember is 19 and that includes all eight grades. One teacher taught all the classes. We had one big room and two cloakrooms, one for boys and another for girls. Since there was no electricity, there was just one big heater and the teacher kept it going. The teacher didn’t have it easy. There was a woodshed in the back part of the school and the teacher, with the help of older boys, had to carry the wood. During recess we played many different games. I started first grade at age five. They didn’t have kindergarten. The teacher could not be married when I went to school. Later I found that one of my teachers was married, but she kept it a secret and only went to Green Bay on weekends. They weren’t allowed to go in saloons either. However, WII changed all of that.
Snakes and the Playhouse
In the summer, I always went barefoot and learned to walk carefully on the crushed gravel driveway. I also watched to not step on a snake. I recall stepping over a green grass snake while barefoot. My parent’s farm was located between a rock ledge to the east and a swamp to the west. We believed the snakes hibernated in the rock ledge and went to the swamp during the summer. One time when we were walking home from school, James Sutliff caught a grass snake and chased us girls with it. Once, while playing with the kittens, I saw a large grass snake with a frog in its mouth for a long time before it was devoured. We had large pine snakes. One day my father killed three of them that were about five feet long. After the farmers started using herbicides, we didn’t see many snakes. My favorite playhouse during the summer was an empty corncrib. A friend tells me she and her sisters really decorated their corncrib into a play house. Mine was very primitive. When my father couldn’t find some of his tools, he probably could locate them in my playhouse.
My folks raised geese for the down that mother used to make wonderful pillows. Prior to that, cornhusks were used. We also enjoyed roast goose for Thanksgiving and Christmas. During mating season, the gander would chase children, so I always carried a large stick when I walked to the barn. I loved playing with the cats and kittens. I had a pet cat that would ride on my shoulders and would result in some scratches from it trying to hang on.
Christmas was special
Our Christmas was simple but very special. We would go to church on Christmas Eve then come home to trim our fresh evergreen tree. We would use candy cherries and strawberries on a wire, candy canes, and cookies. Some folks strung popcorn or made paper loops of garland. My mother did not have time for that or enough children to do it. She would send for green and red garland from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Most of my toys also came from the catalog. Being an only child, I may have fared better than most.
We did not have electric lights, so we used candles on the tree. The candles were beautiful, but what a fire hazard. I had to be very careful when I lit them. Christmas bags from Santa were special. I received one from school, one from church, and one from Santa sponsored by the American Legion. The Legion had a poultry fair every year where they raffled dressed poultry to raise money for the Christmas bags. Later it became a joint venture with the firemen. The bags from Santa would contain an apple, orange, popcorn ball, nuts, and candy. The best bag was at school after our school Christmas program. It was actually paid for by the teacher. My uncle, who had no children, would give each of his family a five-pound box of chocolates. He made a special child’s table for me and later my daughters used the table for many tea parties. Susan still has the table. My granddaughter, Shannon Meyer, also used the table.
One sad memory, when I was going in the seventh grade, Fredrick Blohm, an eighth grader, was killed in a farm accident. I was one of the flower girls at the funeral. How hard it was for his family and all who knew them. When there was a death in the family, a black wreath was hung on the front of the house.
Going to Town
When my father would go to town or to the cheese factory, I would tag along. He was a good Evangelical and he wouldn’t go into taverns, but we got into the hotel because Bob Kuehne, Sr. had his office in the back. Women didn’t go into taverns until after WWII. In fact, teachers were told if they went into taverns, they would lose their jobs. Later they had back rooms and the women could go in those. The hotel was the place to go in Seymour along with Marnocha’s across the street, and the Kroner Brothers. They were all popular places. The hotel used to have a tearoom in the back where the women would go for lunch.
Marnocha’s and Kroner Brothers both had back rooms with booths. During the war years my friends and I would sit in the booths. Kroner Brothers was known for great fish fries on Friday nights. Mrs. Marnocha made the best hot beef sandwiches with a garlic dill pickle. Everything was homemade.
The Feed Mill
Father took feed to be ground at the mill on Main Street located next to what is Kary’s restaurant today. Henry Recknagel was the manager. I believe that was the beginning of the Seymour Cooperative that later moved to Morrow Street. Mr. and Mrs. Recknagel had a son, Russell who was a large young man with special needs. The boys teased him, which was cruel. He died when he was just a young man. The Recknagels left their estate to the city of Seymour to be used to benefit children. Sometime later, the city established Recknagel Park in their honor.
When I was a youngster, most houses had a horse barn in the back yard. The Zion Evangelical Church on High and Ivory Street had a three-sided shelter for horses behind the church. Most of the horse barns have been torn down, or were remodeled into garages for automobiles.
Market Day or as we called it, “Pig Fair Day” was a big event for Seymour. It took place once a month and we called it that because during the Depression feeder pigs were sold cheap. In fact, my father could only get $1.00 a piece for them, so he would bring them home and fatten them up or my mother would roast them. We had spanferkel and it was delicious.
We had 120 acres and always had a hired man. Other farmers who had only 40 or 60 acres also worked other jobs so they could support the family. One day when I was a youngster, I went with my father to the pig fair day and he purchased a puppy for me. We brought it home and my mother said I was the happiest kid in the area. I later taught the dog to jump through my arms, and I would throw the ball and he would fetch it back to me until one day it ended under the porch and there was a bee’s nest and one stung his nose and he would no longer fetch the ball.
Life on the Farm
My father had 80 acres right where the buildings were and about quarter mile south, he owned another 40 acres. In the morning, the men would take the cows down there to pasture. In the evening, I would take my dog and go get the cows for milking. We had about 19 or 20 cows. We milked them by hand. We didn’t have any electricity or indoor plumbing. On the highway they did have electricity, but it didn’t come to the back roads until FDR started the rural electrification program in the late 1930s.
As a child, I liked winter much more than summer. During the summer it was so hot and very little rain. In the west, they had sand storms and it seemed like there was always dust in the air. You could see it in the sky. It always looked sandy. In the winter you could go sledding down the barn bank. I had a couple sleds and skating was fun. We played fox and goose. I think as a whole we had more fun than children today. We played simple games like drop the handkerchief, softball, batter up, cops and robbers and ante, ante over the schoolhouse, hide and seek, and pop goes the weasel. The girls played jacks and the boys and girls played marbles and jump rope.
Threshing time was a lot of work and I helped too. They would cut the grain and shuck it. I always ended up doing the housework. I didn’t like working outside because it was too hot. During threshing time, they hauled all those shucks of grain in and they would thresh it. We would have as many as 12 men at the table. I helped my mother make pies and cakes and prepare the meals. Most often, the neighbors would all pitch in and help each other. I helped my mother and my two aunts who lived on the highway. When the men would get together, they would talk about how tough times were. It was hard making enough money to make the mortgage payments. Nevertheless, in most ways the country people were much better off than people in the city where they had breadlines and soup kitchens. The farmers always had enough to eat. We had our chickens and our animals and plenty of vegetables. My mother would can 50 quarts of peaches, pears, raspberries and just about everything. With a hired man, we needed plenty of food in the house.
The Barter System
When we went to the store mother would take a case of eggs and trade it for groceries. It was the barter system. Things weren’t packaged the way they are today. They would have a big box of cookies and you could pick out what you wanted and put them in a paper bag and carry them in a market basket. Flour, sugar and other bulk items came in 100-pound sacks. When I was working in the bank, one of my older customers told me about Charlie Freund who was in charge of the First National Bank. When the farmers needed seeds and supplies for planting in the spring he would loan them money and they would pay the loan when the crops were harvested in the fall, Often the only contract was a handshake. Everyone knew everyone else and trust was a valued commodity.
As far back as I can remember my father always had a car. The first one was a Model-T Ford and then he had a Dodge sedan. During the 1930s, most people in the area owned a car. The rural roads weren’t paved and in the spring, when the frost was coming out of the ground, travel was difficult. In fact, I remember one time when I was out on a date we got stuck on a country road north of Seymour and the battery fell out of the car. I didn’t get home until 5:00 in the morning. We were with two other couples. Since most young people didn’t have a car, we usually car-pooled. My parents weren’t worried. Times were different.
When times were tough dad would get seed bags that were made out of printed material and my mother would make pillowcases, sheets, and clothing out of them. The nicest material was from sugar sacks. My mother used those for making handkerchiefs.
We had a radio and that was the main form of entertainment. I remember Bob Hope, Inner Sanctum, Fibber McGee and Molly, and Amos and Andy. Originally, we had a battery-powered radio because electricity was not available. We had a large telephone hanging on the wall before we had electricity. We lived on a town line road and everyone had a telephone. Bill Kropp lived down the road from us and he collected the money for the town line telephone. We were on a party line and about 12 families shared the line. Our ring was one long and two shorts. Party lines were noted for people listing to the conversations of others. In town we had two party lines. Kuehne’s number was 13, the hotel was 51, and I remember the depot since I used to call that a lot. If you wanted to call someone who wasn’t on your line you had to call the operator. The picture shows my father and my dog Shep. I would often take him along when doing farm chores. However, when it was “Dog Days” and was very hot he didn’t want to go along and would hide under the porch. Yes, there was such a thing as “Dog Days.”
During the milk strike of 1933, my folks had a milk separator to separate the cream from the milk, and we made lots and lots of butter, put it in crocks and put it in cold storage. Many farmers wanted to take their milk to the cheese factory, but others would confront them and dump their milk. My father never did that; we had whipped cream at every meal. I recall having whipped cream on my toast for breakfast. It was actually delicious.
Whey was a byproduct of making cheese and we would bring it back home and feed it to the pigs. It is much different today. If you read the labels for cake mixes and things, you will see that many contain whey. We always had our own milk, eggs, chickens, pigs and other meat. My mother would can beef and it was delicious. She made sausage from the pigs and beef, too. Ham was smoked and it would keep quite awhile. We made side pork and salt pork. You would put it in a sizable crock and add salt and water. In order to preserve the meat, you had to have enough salt so an egg would float. That way the meat would keep quite a while. I had many crocks, but sold them all at rummage sales.
We had a little pickup truck that we used to haul our milk to the cheese factory. Prior to that, we used a horse and wagon. I often went along and when I was older, my father would let me drive. Those old trucks didn’t have power steering and were difficult to drive. My father took his milk to the North Osborn Cheese factory. The Wimmers originally owned it and then Anna Puls bought it and the boys Ralph and Roy ran it. Before they bought the factory from Wimmer, they had a smaller cheese factory that was east of town on “G.”
We didn’t have any electricity or indoor plumbing and we didn’t have any at school either. If you had to use the outhouse in the winter, you didn’t stay out there very long.
----To be continued in a future issue-----