A Life Story

I spent 8 hours in the car with my Mom, Dad and computer.  Mom drove, Dad talked and I typed.  It was the perfect opportunity to hear some of the stories of my Dad’s life and get them on paper.  I am a historian at heart, and getting the down the stories is my job.  Following is a few highlights of Dad’s story.  Enjoy the read!

A Short Life Story by Ben During Jr.

Coming to America

Mom and Dad came over from Germany in November 1922. It took 3 weeks, and dad was sick all the way over. Jean was 2 and Lena was only 2 months old. They were sponsored by Tinis Johnson in Alexander ( a distance cousin). I don’t know how much it cost. Deb, my daughter, remembers Dad saying they were burning money in Germany to stay warm – it wasn’t worth anything. They came in through Ellis Island. They took the train to Hampton Iowa. Tinus must have met them there. On the train was a black man, who was a porter. He would come and get the two girls fresh milk. Dad said if he’d had the money, he would have gone right back. Dad was in the German army for four years. He fought in the first world war. He was gassed there, and he always had headaches his whole life. He was told this was the land of opportunity and they would be better off here.

I was born in 1931 – certainly a last minute thought! I’m also the only son. I had a lot to live up to.

In The Fields

We rode the haywagon during thrashing time. We went from farm to farm with 8,9 or 10 guys. My Dad was the straw stacker. The straw after it came out of the oats went into a big pile and he had to make sure it did not flop all over. We did this east of Geneva – I was in middle school.

We used to go in the haymow and slide on the bare floor. One time as I took a slide I ran a sliver clear up my foot. That sure hurt!

I once got under the tractor when my Dad was plowing and he ran over me – and it broke my pelvic bone. I didn’t walk for a long time and was lucky to be alive. My friend Pat said she went to see me and I was all blue and my eyes were bulged out. That happened in 7th or 8th grade.


The cow had 4 teats and you pulled on two at a time. When you are done you go to the next one. You would take the bucket out from between the cows back legs. It was my job to milk the cows.

Dad didn’t care if I went out at night – just as long as I was there to milk in the morning. We had 32 cows. Dad fed the hogs, Mom feed the calves.

It took me a little more than an hour to milk the cows. I started about 4 a.m. They all had to have feed too – ground corn. I milked again at night.

Chickens and Pigs

My Mom was a good chicken lady. She had around 1000 little chicks that were raised and brought into production – they were good egg layers. She would gather eggs two or three times a day.. they had several roosters with the hens and the roosters would mate with the female and then the egg the female laid would be fertile. The fertile eggs would be hatched. A hen would lay one egg a day, and rarely after 4 p.m. If the hen clucked, it was fertile! My brother in law Leonard picked up the eggs and they were taken to Austinville. My folks bought groceries with her egg money. He would come every Wed and they would have 30 cases (144 eggs in a case) for him. They would get paid 20 cents, maybe a little more for each case. Her check each week might be $30.

When the hogs farrowed (went into labor), nobody got in the barns but her. She would sit up nights with them when they farrowed. She would sit on a bale of hay or stray and just wait til they started. If they had trouble she could help. She might have to pull the babies out. Dad was in the house, probably sleeping!


Mom’s main meal was: meat, potatoes, gravy, green beans and applesauce. She never made salads – maybe coleslaw or cooked cabbage once in a while. You eat cabbage and poop kale – that was one of Mom’s sayings. She made kale, turnips too. She brought the seed from Germany to plant German beans. Every year she would put back enough seed to plant the next year. It was the size of a lima bean and tasted like that too – they were a big round brown bean. They grow in a row. The plant grew straight up like a green bean, except they were taller. Mom and Dad loved German beans and kale!

Dad would eat the fat off of meat – it was really good to him. Mom would make navy beans and cook them with fat. Bean soup was kidney beans, onion, potatoes and meat. You ate it on a plate. Mmmm. Mom made rutabagas and would smash them like potatoes. She also smashed carrots and potatoes together.

After Shirley and I were married, Mom had fruit for dessert. Jean would come over in the summer and help her can peaches and pears. They bought the peaches at the store- Colorado peaches. Mom would make lemon meringue pie – that was the only dessert she made. It was made from real lemons, not pudding.

Mom would have capons (castrated rooster). That was one of my jobs, castrating the roosters – you don’t want to know any more than that! They would grow up to be 9 or 10 pounds. They were really good.

Groceries they had to buy were: meat, bread, sugar, butter, flour. We used to make butter in a churn.

Dad never got out of bed until Mom brought him tea. He would drink it in bed and then get up. In the winter he wore a night hat. They would then go out and do chores and then come back in and have breakfast.


Mom had a habit of hiding money. She would hide it in dresser drawers, in her purse, in a container on a shelf. She would shop from the catalog every fall and spring. She bought all clothes from mostly Montgomery Ward. Sears later on. We never bought our clothes in town – only from the catalog.