Jens Peter Christensen Winter

In the morning when the milking and other chores were done and all were gathered for breakfast, we would have family prayer, always. We would place our chairs in a circle and all kneel for family prayer. Grandpa always said the prayer. It was said in Danish, of which I never understood a word, but I knew what it was all about.

Because one of Grandpa’s children was named Anne, the name I was called was changed to my middle name, Eliza, shortened to Liza or Lize. Grandma Petersen wanted to take two of us, but Dad would not separate the family. The adjustment must have been hard. Although they were not strangers to us, all was different.

Some weeks later, I had a strange dream which I remember very well. I saw the Devil standing in the bedroom door. He was dressed in black and red. He had two horns and a two-tined pitchfork. I must have seen his picture somewhere. I must have cried out in my sleep. Anne said I had had a bad dream, to go back to sleep. So I went to sleep, I guess, and then I saw Mother very plainly standing in the door. She was holding a baby in her arms. I saw these things just as plain as if I had been awake. Seeing Mother was very comforting. I guess a little girl was a bit lonesome.

Things were different, but gradually we got used to things. Mary would not give up her place by Grandma at the table. She would have been eleven years old. She could have been sort of spoiled and jealous of our intrusion. Gradually we all got used to the change. Dad, when he came to see us in the evening, would sometimes bring his violin with him and play for us. Grandma loved to hear him play her Danish songs. He played by ear. As time went on and we grew older, his visits came less often. We became sort of separated, and our relationship to him was never as it should have been.

Grandpa made all of his furniture. His table was a bit small with his son’s family there. He sat at the head of the table, Grandma at his right, Dora at his left on a bench next to Elmer, then Peter, Anne and I set at the end. Margaret was next to Mary. I sat far enough away from Grandpa that I could get away with putting my crust of bread under my plate. I had always had trouble with bad teeth. I remember sitting by the stove with hot packs on my face. Grandma set a good table, but there was one thing Dora could not eat, the fat part of the meat. Grandpa thought she was just being fussy, I guess, wasting all that meat, and made her eat it. It didn’t stay down long. She didn’t even get away from the table. Margaret did not like kenmilk velling (soup made of rice cooked in buttermilk) that would be our noon lunch. Margaret would eat her bread and butter, but that was all.

Sometimes in winter, after supper, with table cleared and dishes put away, Grandpa would let us all play hide-and-seek or blindman’s bluff for awhile, then it was down to school lessons. He would read his paper. When doughnuts were made we would play even or uneven with the cooked middles. We young ones always lost, then they were divided up and eaten. Other times we would play cards. I think Grandpa thought we needed a bit of fun.

Always we had bread and milk for breakfast, skim milk, cold in summer, hot on winter mornings. On Sunday, we had what was supposed to be a treat, bread and milk, fresh and warm from the cow. I did not like it, but of course, I ate it. When they got a separator, and Grandpa was not in, we would take our bowl and catch a bit of cream. Peter did not care; I think he did it first.

In winter, we would sleigh ride on a hill just out from the gate. In summer, we would play the games outside. Blindman’s bluff would be played in the shadows of the barn on moonlit nights, also kick-the-can, duck-off, and-hide-and-seek. I was afraid to go hunting the others in the dark, so I kept well hidden until the first one was caught, so as not to be it.

During the grazing season, it was my job to go with Mary to the hills after the cows. If they were not at the gate, or if one was missing, we hiked over the hills until they were found. Sometimes, but not often, we came home without one. Usually it was one with a new calf. I remember coming from school, changing my dress, peeling potatoes for supper, and down the road we would go, with a big raw potato to eat on the way, or a big hunk of bread and butter. Sometimes we took turns churning butter instead of peeling potatoes. We all had work to do after school. There was wood and water to be carried, milking to be done, supper and dishes. We each had our own job to do. We would also pick chokecherries and service berries which Grandma dried in the attic. She would use them for a drink by boiling them, draining, and using the juice. Grandpa had a large pea patch by the river. We would pick peas, eat peas, and swim in the river. Grandpa had a few sheep and I liked to watch Grandma card the wool into little white fluffs. These fluffs she would stretch and twist into yarn and wind around a spindle on a spinning wheel, after which it would be dyed black, and she would make stockings for all of us. I also liked to watch her needles fly. These warm black stockings would itch for two weeks.

Every summer a group of Indians would camp for a month or so across the road from our gate. They would go begging around town asking for bread and sugar. They would catch squirrels to eat and would dry the hides. They made bead things to sell. When they had gone, we would always go out and see if we could find any of the little blue beads. We would find only one or two. One day Grandmother, with Elmer who was only two, and an Indian mother with her little girl about the same age, were talking out in the yard. Of course I was there. Elmer always played with a sawed-off broomstick which he was holding onto that day. All at once, wham! He struck that little Indian girl over the head. I was afraid of what that Indian woman would do, but she seemed to take it all right.

I remember Christmas. I must have been nine years old, the doubtful age. “Was there or was there not a Santa Claus?” I guess I wanted to believe there was, so Dora, Elmer, and I hung our stockings. Next morning at daylight, Dora and I were up. We slept together. We got one of Grandma’s freckadels, a ten-page story book, and a few pieces of candy. We ate the freckadels and candy, looked at our book, and crawled back down under the covers. Goodbye Santa.

Life moves on. In the winter of 1902-03 Grandma slipped on the ice and cracked her shin on the edge of the rock step, leaving an open sore. I remember watching her rub mutton tallow on it and wrapping it up. It did not heal. We think it was blood poisoning. Grandpa had phoned to an Ogden doctor who sent some medicine. It was so nasty tasting that Grandpa would not give it to her. She passed away June 2, 1903 at the age of sixty-nine. She had been born August 31, 1833 in Tilst, Aarhus, Denmark. Again I stood by the casket looking at Grandma until I was pulled away to make room for others. I was nine at that time.

Fast day came, and as usual we fasted. Grandpa said, “Why are you fasting today? Why didn’t you fast last Sunday?” Poor Grandpa, he and Grandma had been through so much together. Grandpa was crippled in one leg. He had fallen off a roof into a cellar they were digging, and had to use a cane.

Anne, age nineteen, took over. As we grew older, we all had our work to do. Margaret and I scrubbed the kitchen floor’s bare boards with soap and water every Saturday, also the chairs. These we would clean outside in summer. Anne and Mary did the big front room. The whole house was scrubbed every spring. In the fall, the bed ticks were taken out, emptied, washed and filled with new straw. It was so soft and smelled so fresh.

Each night, winter and summer, we filled the wood boxes. Up the little hill we carried the wood that Grandpa had sawed by hand during the day. It took many trips as we burned only wood. We had two stoves in winter, as Grandpa liked a warm house. He would open the oven of the one in the front room and put in his feet, still wearing his clogs, to warm them on winter nights. We also helped to carry water up the hill which was drawn out of a well, and learned how to milk cows. Dora and I, in summer when we were out of school, and with our work all done, would have to sew carpet rags one half hour each afternoon, then we could go play.

Anne sewed our clothes from the skin out. We each had two sets of underwear, one Sunday dress, and two school dresses. We wore one to school all week, then after school the next week. Then on Friday, the dirty one would be washed and made ready for the next week. When our Sunday dress got soiled a bit, we sometimes wore it to school for a few days. Bath was on Saturday night in a round tub, with water heated in a wash boiler on the stove. There were many things to be done. We all worked, although sometimes it took a box on the ear to get me started.

One morning we were out enjoying the early sun. Anne was talking to someone, and Dora was on the porch just above the rock step. I was on the other side of it holding my china doll, the only one I ever remember. It had a china head with blue eyes, and hair and eyebrows painted black. Dora begged to hold it. I gave it to her. She dropped it on the rock and splattered its head. I remember shouting to her, “Now you broke it.” I think she did it on purpose. Recently I asked her if she had one also. She said she had left hers on the platform by the attic door, and one of the neighbor boys had shot at it and shattered the head. We had a neighbor like that, just a bit older than I. So what kind of dolls did we play with? We got long, stitched, tied strips of cloth, with tied strips around the top for hair. This could be braided before playing that we sent them to school.

One summer, Dora and I were allowed to go with Anne to Ogden to pick out cloth for our Fourth of July dresses, material that had tiny pink flowers and green leaves on it. Dad must have taken us as that was the only way we could get there. It was a big day for Dora and me. It was the first time we had been to Ogden.

Life was good, but changes came. Dad, after four years alone, married again. Jens Niels Christensen Winter and Mamie Emma Tribe were married November 18, 1904, when I was eleven years old. We had seen her but once when Dad brought her to look us over. They came for us one Saturday morning, lock, stock, and organ. I wouldn’t go and leave Anne and Mary with all that work. I scrubbed the kitchen floor and the chairs, filled the wood box to the limit, carried water, and bawled all day. When all was done, about four o’clock in the afternoon, I walked down the road and took up a new life. Elmer recently told me that he kept going out to the gate to see if I was coming. He was afraid I wouldn’t. He was then almost five years old.