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Growing Up

Farm Life & Basketball

In the 1940s and ‘50s

Harold L. Schoen

Copyright 2017 by Harold L. Schoen

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

ISBN: 9781370228843

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First print edition published in 2015.


To my sister Ginny

Ginny’s diligence and amazing success in school helped me to recognize my own potential. Moreover, by resisting some of the limiting attitudes of the older generations, she showed me I could choose to do that too in my own way. Tragically, she died of a brain tumor in 1970, leaving behind her husband and three small children.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 Family

Chapter 2 Work

Chapter 3 Play

Chapter 4 Grade School

Chapter 5 Into High School

Chapter 6 Senior Year

Chapter 7 College

Chapter 8 A Season to Remember

Chapter 9 Student Life





To a large extent, my good friend since high school, Ed Kemper, inspired me to write this memoir. In 2008, Ed was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. One doctor told him he may not live more than six months. When Ed passed away on November 16, 2015, he had seen three more grandchildren and a great grandchild. He was an outstanding role model for how to live a full life while fighting a life-threatening disease. He remained active with his family, friends, and church and found time for his volunteer work at a cancer treatment center and his woodworking avocation.

Shortly after his cancer diagnosis, Ed decided to write stories from his childhood so his descendants have a record. He wrote over 400 pages. How he did all this, I have no idea, but through it all he was his usual very funny self. Seeing Ed writing so productively and with such satisfaction, I was moved to write my own memoirs.

Another motivation came from my siblings after Mom’s death in 2012 at age 100. As a group, we began to reminisce more than ever about Mom and Dad and our childhoods, and everyone kept saying someone should write this down. My sister Pat made a great start by putting together a detailed family tree and compiling information from three first-hand sources of memories of our mother, Rose Schoen. It is wonderful for our family to have this record directly from Mom. It gives me hope my descendants will in turn find my memoirs to be of interest.

I think of this memoir as an extended letter to my grandchildren and their descendants to let them know about the long gone world in which I grew to adulthood. More than I expected, reflecting over my life during the writing process has been like therapy for me. As I reflected and wrote, I felt again the idealism, simplicity, enthusiasm, and occasional scares and disappointments of my youth.

My siblings have identified most with the first four chapters because they contain experiences many of us shared. When I got to the high school and college chapters, most of the experiences were uniquely my own so of less interest to them. A reader outside my family with a memory of or interest in college basketball in the 1950s or 1960s may find the last five, especially the last three, chapters more engaging than the first four. I considered separating these stories but ultimately decided to keep the whole story of my growing up intact as I lived it.

I spent my childhood in the 1940s and 1950s in a 15-member west central Ohio farm family of limited economic means. During those years I saw farming in transition from workhorses and threshing rings to the use of more modern equipment. The farm also served as a huge playground for young children, and I have many fond memories of play on the farm including sports my siblings and I enjoyed – baseball, softball and basketball. The source for another set of memories are my elementary and high school experiences, including in sports.

No one in my generation or any previous generations of our family had attended college, but as I grew older and taller circumstances fell into place allowing me to attend the University of Dayton on a provisional basketball scholarship. I was successful in my class work at Dayton, and my basketball memories are of a journey from struggling to make the team, to benchwarmer, to starting forward on the Flyers 1962 National Invitation Tournament (NIT) championship team and senior captain of the team in 1962-63.

My childhood home was a farm located on the Mercer-Darke County Line Road about five miles east of the Indiana state line and six miles from Fort Recovery, Ohio. Darke County, Ohio, is located along the Ohio-Indiana state line. Its county seat, Greenville, is 40 miles northwest of Dayton and 80 miles north of Cincinnati. Mercer County, also along the state line, is adjacent to Darke County to its north. Fort Recovery, where my siblings and I attended high school, is in the southwest corner of Mercer County whose county seat is Celina.

Our farm was 0.5 miles east of A in Darke County. Sharpsburg is 0.7 miles north of A.

The present town of Fort Recovery is located at the site of two important Indian battles in the 1790s, the first a devastating defeat for the American soldiers under the command of General Arthur St. Clair. Several years later after building a sturdy fort on the site of St. Clair’s defeat, a few hundred soldiers in the fort led by General Anthony Wayne prevailed against an attack by at least 2,000 Indians. The fort was named Fort Recovery, and a replica of the original fort is a tourist attraction in the town.

To write this memoir I referred to the internet for historical information and to Pat’s compilation of Mom’s memories, but the first six chapters are based mainly on my memories of events. I have tried to be as factually accurate as possible, but I am aware my memory sometimes plays tricks. Something I seem to remember may be gleaned from or distorted by later conversations. My siblings have helped by correcting some of the details I remembered incorrectly, by reminding me of some important events that should be included, and by allowing me to insert some of their memories when they fit well with the narrative. In one or two cases I note one of my siblings disagrees with me about the facts of a childhood incident, and I provide both versions.

I mention many sources of entertainment from the past with little explanation. Rather than to try to provide further explanation myself, I invite any interested reader to do an internet search on any of the radio shows, comic books, movies, sports figure, or historical events I refer to. At present, there is far more information on the internet than anyone will care about concerning these people, products, and events. For example, recordings of many of the radio shows I listened to 65 or 70 years ago can currently be found at http://www.myoldradio.com/old-radio-shows among other similar websites.

The chapters that recall my years as a Dayton Flyer are a combination of my impressions and memories and historical information about schedules, scores and individual performances. For the latter, I referred to the internet, newspaper stories from the era, and Ritter Collet’s 1989 The Flyers; A History of University of Dayton Basketball.

Following is a quick reference to important characters in this memoir, my grandparents, parents and siblings.

Paternal Grandparents

Jacob Schoen (1874-1965)

Elizabeth Knapke Schoen (1877-1965)

Maternal Grandparents

Bernard Heitkamp (1871-1949)

Catherine Gehle Heitkamp (1880-1968)


Arnold Schoen (1904-1986)

Rose Heitkamp Schoen (1911-2012)

married November 8, 1933

Children of Arnold and Rose Schoen in birth order

1. Mary Catherine (Kate) (1934-..)

2. Virginia (Ginny) (1936-1970)

3. Eileen (1937-..)

4. Janice (1939-..)

5. Harold (Hal) (1941-..)

6. Patricia (Pat) (1943-..)

7. James (Jim) (1945-..)

8. Doris (1947-..)

9. Linda (1949-..)

10. Richard (Rick) (1950-..)

11. Marilyn (1952-..)

12. Daniel (Dan) (1954-..)

13. David (Dave) (1955-..)

Back to Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Family

My parents, Arnold and Rose Schoen (pronounced Shane) were both descendants of German Catholic immigrants who spent their lives in or near Mercer County, Ohio. They were in the fourth generation since their ancestors arrived in Mercer County from Germany by way of Baltimore and then Cincinnati in the 1830s and 1840s. The first American generation faced the challenge of establishing a new society in the largely undeveloped western Ohio countryside. They also managed to clear much of the land of its dense native forest and gain access to the rich farmland beneath. The nineteenth-century settlers in the southern half of this isolated rural county were predominantly German Catholic immigrants, and the society they developed was based on German customs and language.

In fact, German was the first language of both my parents. For a time their families lived on neighboring farms, and they sometimes socialized and danced together when Mom and Dad were teenagers or younger. In spite of being close neighbors, Mom’s family spoke low German, but Dad’s spoke high German. Mom said low German was the spoken language of the common people and not really a formal written language; in that sense, it had “lower” status than the official high German language. It is more accurate to say there are many dialects of the German language spoken in different parts of Germany. The terms “high” and “low” are geographical references. High German was spoken mainly in the upland and mountain areas of central and southern Germany, and low German was more commonly spoken in the lowlands and flat seacoast of northern Germany. My parents’ ancestors migrated to America from different parts of Germany, so the dialects they spoke were not identical.

The German language was used in the local schools in the county until public sentiment against Germany in World War I led to a federal law that forced a change to English. My maternal grandfather, Bernard Heitkamp, could speak little English up to the time of his death in 1949. Into the 21st century, Mom and her siblings spoke German to each other when they visited. Dad’s family members all spoke some German but they had moved more toward the use of English than the Heitkamps. I had a marvelous opportunity to learn German as a child, but neither my parents nor I valued having me learn a second language at the time.

The most common reaction to the German language for my siblings and me was to mimic some German pronunciations that sounded funny to us, such as, pronouncing “w” as “v” and “in” as “een”. In spite of our making fun, the German language had a significant influence on our English speech patterns. For example, we had a recent family party at a restaurant in St. Wendelin, which we all still pronounced “Wenleen” or “Venaleen.” German also includes frequent use of the sound “ack” or “ach,” as when Mom often cautioned, “Ach! If you kids don’t stop that, somebody is going to end up crying.” Although we sometimes ignored Mom’s usually on-target warning, my brother Jim and I were so impressed with that sound we often begin our written communications with one another with “Ach! Ach! Ach!”

As was typical in the farm culture of their childhoods, both Arnold and Rose attended one-room country elementary schools and, although both were good students, neither completed high school. From about age ten, Arnold stopped attending school each year in March so he could help on his father’s farm. After eighth grade, with his parents’ approval, he dropped out of school entirely.

Rose quit school at 16 years of age. She said she had only completed grade nine though her teachers urged her parents to allow her to finish high school. She then began to work as a “hired girl” for families in the area who needed and could afford extra live-in help with housework and childcare. Until Arnold and Rose were over sixty and they went to visit some of their children who had left the area, neither had been much more than a hundred miles from home.

Arnold and Rose, November 8, 1933

Married in the midst of the great depression, Rose Mary Heitkamp and Arnold Peter Schoen, who were never accustomed to luxury, had a difficult start financially. This tough beginning set the tone for their future. They never earned more than $4,000 in a year as they were raising their thirteen children. Immediately following their wedding, Arnold and Rose moved onto a farm owned by Jacob (Jake) Schoen, Arnold’s father where they were to reside for the next 33 years. Fortunately, working the farm provided a steady source of food for the family.

The farm originally consisted of 137 acres. It was located along the Mercer-Darke County Line Road on the Darke County or south side. Although the farm was inside the border of Darke County, the children went to school and the adults did most of their business in Mercer County. The farm was six miles from Fort Recovery (1950 population – 828) and one and one-half miles from Sharpsburg. Sharpsburg did not have the 50 residents required by the state of Ohio for incorporation as a town so it was officially referred to as a “crossroad population center”.

Within a year of their marriage, Rose gave birth to her first child, Mary Catherine. Twelve others followed at a regular rate of about one every two years for the next 25 years. Almost miraculously, all were born healthy and free of physical or mental disabilities. At least one son or daughter and as many as thirteen lived in my parents’ home for more than forty years of their married lives.

I was born on May 7, 1941, exactly seven months before Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that provided the impetus for America’s entry into World War II. I was the fifth child and the first son. At my birth, Janice was two years old, Eileen was four, Ginny was five, and Kate was seven. Before I was two years old, another sister, Pat, was born, and when I was not yet four my first brother, Jim, came along. He would become my closest childhood companion. The next ten years brought six more siblings: Doris, Linda, Rick, Marilyn, Dan, and Dave, in that order.

Everyone in the family referred to our mother as “Mom” and our father as “Daddy”. In our presence, our parents referred to each other in this way as well, rarely using the other’s first name. In conversations about Daddy after his death in 1986 at age 82, that childish sounding name was natural for Mom and most of my adult siblings. As an adult I began to refer to him as “Dad,” although sometimes in the company of brothers and sisters I still revert to “Daddy.”

My Grandma Schoen, a midwife, assisted Mom in my delivery at home. On my sixtieth birthday, Mom told a story about my birth that gives a window into her life of duty, work and constancy. According to Mom, “It was a muddy day. I had to keep mopping, because Daddy and the kids kept tracking in. I knew I was in labor, so I worked on dinner, the noon meal, because Grandma needed to eat. It worked out well. Harold was born, and she had dinner afterwards. Later that week Daddy took the baby down to church in Sharpsburg to be baptized.” Grandma Heitkamp then came and stayed with the family for a week or two while Mom recuperated from the birth.

* * *

As for some of my earliest memories, I vaguely remember Jim’s birth and being excited about having another boy in the family. I also remember listening to Mom, Dad, and other adults talking during or right after World War II about rationing of groceries, Harry Truman becoming president when Franklin Roosevelt died, Truman’s decision to drop the horrific, newly invented atomic bomb on Japan, auto companies not manufacturing any new model cars during the war, and worries about Mom’s youngest brother Melvin who was serving in the army in Europe.

My sister Janice, two years older than me, remembers Mom taking the two of us with her in the car to the canning factory in St. Henry. While she went inside briefly, we were in the car when two German prisoners of war who were interred in Mercer County and working at the canning factory came by. Janice and I shyly hid down in the back seat, but they laughed and talked to us in German. They wanted to know my name and when we said “Harold” they pronounced it with a heavy German accent we later laughed about. I remember as a four-year-old the celebrations of the surrender of Germany (VE day) and of Japan (VJ day), or at least I remember the happy talk of the adults as they participated in or recalled those two glorious days.

When I was very young, the rare appearance of an airplane in the sky prompted a yell to others in the family not to miss the sight. Occasionally, a hobo came walking down our then gravel road and stopped for food. Mom and Dad always greeted these complete strangers warmly, talked to them with great interest about their plight, and fed them a meal. They did not blame the hobos for being destitute, but rather attributed their situation to bad luck and the devastating effects of the great depression.

By necessity, our family life was dominated by practicality and frugality. Dad was what was called a general farmer. At any particular time, he owned seven to twelve milk cows, about a hundred hogs, several hundred laying hens, and, until the late 1940s, two workhorses. Annually he raised 15 to 20 acres each of corn, oats, winter wheat, hay, and soybeans. In a truck garden and orchard, Dad and Mom had several types of vegetables, Concord grapes, sorghum, popcorn, and apples entirely for family use.

Each spring we went to the chicken hatchery in Sharpsburg and got about 100 baby chicks of mixed gender. We fed them for a few months in our brooder shed. When they were big enough, we put the hens in the hen house or “chicken coop” and began to butcher the roosters seven to ten at a time and eat them for Sunday dinners until the supply was gone.

These delicious “spring chicken” dinners with mashed potatoes, gravy, and two or three fresh vegetables from the garden hold a special place in my memory. We loved this food so much we sat impatiently through grace before the meal with our forks at the ready and, at “Amen,” raced our siblings to the mashed potatoes or chicken. Neil Diller, Pat’s husband, jokes that the reason seven of 13 of us are left-handed is we made the sign of the cross with our right hand and grabbed for food with our left.

* * *

Dad was mainly responsible for feeding and caring for the animals and planting and harvesting of crops, but at busy times this was too much work for one person. Mom and the kids helped Dad with the outside work as needed. Before I was old enough to be of much help, Mom and my older sisters often helped in the fields, and they each hand-milked a couple of cows every morning and evening. My brothers and I took over more of that work as we got older, but except for my youngest sister Marilyn all the girls learned to milk so they could be called into duty if needed.

Dad did not take an active part in raising the children. This is not a comment on him so much as on the rural culture of that generation. The women raised the kids; the men did the outside work in the barn and the fields. While the women were expected to help with outside work if needed, the men were never expected to help with work in the house. For example, I never washed a dish or a piece of clothing while living in my parents’ home. My sisters shined everyone’s Sunday shoes, including mine.

Mom with Pat, Jim, Doris, and Linda

Mom seemed well-adjusted to a life of hard work as a farm wife and mother. While she was shy and quiet in social groups, with children and weather being her main topics of conversation, as a mother she usually gave us support when we needed it. Her relatively undemanding personality allowed us freedom to develop our own interests within the limitations of our environment, and her dependability and steadiness gave us feelings of security.

Not all of my brothers and sisters felt as favorably toward Mom as I. She was stricter and more controlling of my older sisters than of the boys or the younger girls. For example, Mom insisted my older sisters wear slacks in high school gym class rather than shorts like most of the other girls, a source of embarrassment for them. As teenagers, they had stricter time deadlines for getting home when they went out at night than my younger sisters, and my brothers and I had no time limits other than our coach’s training rules when we were in a sports season. Perhaps the daily effort and stress involved in raising such a large number of children led Mom to gradually loosen her rules and restrictions.

The externals of life for me as a child were plain and uncomfortable by most standards. We lived in a big drafty old farmhouse that was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The first floor consisted of a kitchen, dining room, living room which for a number of years was used as a bedroom in the winter, and my parents’ bedroomall large rooms with high ceilings. Also on the first floor were two big pantries, one for laundry and the other for storing wood and coal in the winter. We referred to the latter as “the slop bucket pantry” because it harbored a five-gallon bucket for garbage. The garbage was fed to the hogs each day.

The second floor of the farmhouse contained three bedrooms. In my high school years when all thirteen children were living at home, four of us slept in each upstairs bedroom in the summer. During the winter, some of the younger kids moved downstairs and slept in the somewhat warmer living room or “front room”. The baby in the family at the time slept in a baby bed in Mom and Dad’s bedroom.

Until near the end of World War II, we had no electricity on the farm; there were no power lines available on our rural road. Before electricity, we used kerosene lamps for lighting in the house. For entertainment in addition to board games and cards, we had a big, battery-powered radio we all sat around as closely as needed to hear the crackly transmission of radio dramas and comedies. As Mom carried a lamp to help us to our beds at night, the deep, dark, flickering shadows were like those I imagined as I listened to scary radio shows like Inner Sanctum and its ominous creaking door. Another, The Shadow, began each episode with an eerie-voiced, “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man? The Shadow knows,” followed by maniacal laughter.

I remember the exciting day the electric company men installed our transformer, and Dad’s older brother Roman (Bones), who was handy with electrical wiring, helped to wire the house. After we had electricity, Mom and Dad bought a used “Frigidaire,” as they called any refrigerator, to replace the icebox we kept in the cellar. The radio, now electrically powered, continued to be an important source of entertainment for us. We had no telephone while I lived at home, and I was in high school when we got our first black-and-white television set in 1957.

With no telephone to communicate about visiting, Mom or my sisters baked a cake or some cookies every Saturday or Sunday so they had a special treat available in case the families of neighbors or uncles and aunts dropped in for a visit on Saturday or Sunday. At the end of these visits, the guests usually said, “Now it’s your turn to come to our house,” so for each family in our social network we had an approximate idea of when to expect a visit from them and when to plan a visit to their house.

In the winter, our house was heated by a wood- and coal-burning stove located in the dining room. The stove was sufficiently powerful to heat the dining room and kitchen, although it could not keep out all the cold drafts. Some heat was left for the downstairs bedroom and front room after my parents opened the doors to those rooms when they went to bed. The fire was allowed to go out during the night, and Dad re-started it around 5:30 each morning. Some heat reached the upstairs east bedroom through a vent located directly above the stove and, by keeping upstairs doors open, a little heat got to the north bedroom. The barely insulated upstairs west bedroom, furthest from the stove and battered by the westerly winter wind, was so cold we didn’t use it in the winter keeping its door closed.

The thermometer in the boys’ room, the north bedroom upstairs, sometimes read less than 25 degrees Fahrenheit on cold winter mornings. When it snowed during the night, we routinely wiped a thin layer of snow off our bed covers where it settled as it sifted in around the windowpanes. On mornings like those I jumped hurriedly out of bed, usually around 6:30, grabbed my clothes, and with the support of the stair rail vaulted down several steps at a time in my hurry to get downstairs where I stood near the stove for warmth.

Indoor running water was a luxury we lacked until the mid-fifties, and then it was only cold drinking water from an outdoor-style faucet Dad installed near the kitchen sink. For drinking water in the house before that, Dad, with the help of us kids as we became old enough, carried buckets of water to the house we hand-pumped from the deep well in the barnyard. The porcelain water bucket was placed on the counter in the kitchen, and we drank from it using a long-handled dipper.

Rainwater from the house roof and downspouts was caught in the cistern located in the yard near a corner of the house formed by the kitchen and pantry. Using a hand pump mounted at the end of the kitchen sink, we pumped this soft water from the cistern to use for laundry and cleaning. Jim has an unpleasant memory of Dad lowering him into the cistern to clean it; he was little enough to fit easily through the opening at the top

Indoor bathrooms in the 1940s were a rarity on Mercer County farms. While much more common in the 1960s, they never made an appearance in the Arnold Schoen farmhouse. It was in 1966 when my parents moved off the farm that they first lived in a house with a bathroom. On the farm, we had a smelly “two-holer” outhouse or toilet in the barnyard. At night, we shared two chamber pots, one downstairs in Mom and Dad’s bedroom and one upstairs. These were lidded metal buckets holding about two gallons for use if we felt the urination urge during the night. Mom or one or my older sisters emptied the pots into the outdoor toilet each morning. As we got old enough, we kids were expected to help with nearly every task on the farm, but I will forever be grateful to Dad that we never had to shovel out the outhouse. He always did that extremely unpleasant job himself.

Outhouse juts off tractor shed and chicken coop is to the left. Hog house is in background. It must be a Monday, since the laundry is hanging out to dry.

For our weekly baths on Saturday nights, we heated kettles of rainwater on the kitchen stove, poured them into a washtub, moderated the temperature with cold water, added soap, and took our bath in the kitchen. The washtub was large enough for littler kids to sit in, but as we got older we stood beside the tub and washed our bodies with a washcloth dipped into the soapy liquid in the tub. It was not practical to change the water in the tub for each of us, so we were often washing with water already used by one or two others. The only privacy was gained by shutting the doors to the kitchen.

Not surprisingly, none of us liked these bathing conditions, and we took advantage of alternatives whenever we could. As Jim joked a few years ago when he was inducted into the Fort Recovery High School Athletic Hall of Fame, “The main reason we played sports in high school was so we could take showers in the locker room.”

When summer temperatures reached the 90s and lower 100s, our house was sweltering until 11:00 pm or later. To escape the indoor heat, on many of those hot summer evenings Mom and Dad sat on the kitchen porch; Mom in the swing usually with at least one of the littler kids beside her or on her lap and Dad in his wooden rocking chair with the radio tuned to a Cincinnati Reds baseball game. Meanwhile, the older kids played games like hide and seek, andy-over, and a version of tag we called Old Gray Wolf, running all around the house yard and at times into the barnyard. The security and joy I felt on those summer evenings, laughing and playing with my brothers and sisters while Mom and Dad relaxed nearby, are among my fondest childhood memories.

* * *

Our house in the mid-sixties with Jim and two younger siblings; wooden porch is to the right.

Our house had two porches; a cement one off the kitchen that my parents often used on summer evenings and a wooden one on the northwest side of the house off the front room. Mom and Dad did not use the wooden front porch, but we kids often played there. A neat activity I remember on that porch was an idea of my older sisters. I was ten or eleven when they decided to plan and put on plays on the front porch using all of the kids who were old enough in the cast. Janice was usually the author of these plays. We practiced the play a few times, then in the evenings after milking or on the weekend Mom and Dad brought chairs around to watch the play from the yard in front of the porch. In one, an actor, Linda or Marilyn, had a death scene. In the process of dying the actor accidentally fell off the stage into a flowerbed next to the porch to hearty laughter from the audience and her fellow actors.

* * *

In his retirement, Grandpa Schoen helped Dad on the farm most summer days until aches and pains of old age caused him to discontinue the practice in the early 1950s. Dad and Mom were buying the farm from Grandpa, and he had strong opinions about how it should be operated. Grandpa was an assertive, forceful person compared to Dad, who, while he had a quick but controlled temper when we kids annoyed him, was a pleasant, quiet man who was well-liked in the community. Mom felt Dad allowed Grandpa, who had old-fashioned ideas about farming, to push him into unwise farming practices.

For example, one year Grandpa decided he and Dad could save money by building their own corn picker using parts from junkyards in the area. Over Mom’s objections, they pursued the idea with limited success. After struggling for over a year to find parts compatible enough to mesh in one machine, Dad and Grandpa assembled a picker that worked briefly at the start of the corn harvest before breaking down. After a delay of a day or two to fix the problem, the picker again worked only briefly before another breakdown. After two or three such frustrating breakdowns, they began to worry the yield would be hurt if the corn were left in the field any longer. With some embarrassment, they borrowed my Uncle Lee’s picker to pick the remainder of our corn.

My Grandma (Elizabeth) and Grandpa (Jacob) Schoen in 1951.

Being the oldest boy, I was a favorite of my Grandpa Schoen who called me “Big Un.” One of my early vivid memories is of a day when Dad and Grandpa were planning to drive to Winchester, Indiana about thirty miles away to get a part from a junkyard for the corn picker. I was about five years old and wanted to go along. Going along to “town” was a great treat in my childhood, even if “town” was only Sharpsburg, which it usually was. So, at age five, Winchester (1950 population – 5,467) sounded better to me than a trip to Paris may sound to a middle-class child today.

As a punishment for some misbehavior earlier that day, Mom decided I couldn’t go. In retaliation, I threw a major kicking and screaming tantrum during which Mom’s anger grew to the boiling point. Eventually, I regained my composure and went out to the barnyard where Dad and Grandpa were preparing to leave. Grandpa waved and said, “Want to come along, Big Un?” I was in the car before Mom knew what was happening. I don’t recall anything about the trip or what happened afterward, but the incident probably aggravated the sore point between Mom and Dad concerning Grandpa’s role on the farm.

I was a tall, skinny, child with light blond hair. In my pre-school years I was more interested in helping Mom sew and iron than in typical boys’ activities, an interest Grandpa Schoen did his best to discourage. He had me tag along with him in the summertime. I remember being glad for his attention, but I also was sensitive to the tension between Grandpa and Mom. Against Mom’s better judgment one day, Grandpa let Jim and me ride on the back of the old Farmall tractor while he cultivated a field. In a particularly rough spot of ground one of us was thrown off and cut slightly by the disk before Grandpa could stop. Jim remembers he fell off the tractor, and he may be right but I am not sure. At any rate, this incident ended our riding on the back of the tractor in the field.

Another area of disagreement between Grandpa and Mom was the condition in which the men kept the barnyard. Most of it was a mess; long unkempt grass and piles of useless wood and metal parts from machinery strewn irregularly in it. Mom complained occasionally to Dad but he didn’t care about the issue enough to get involved. Grandpa was the stumbling block to cleaning up the barnyard. When my sister Ginny was in high school, she decided to take charge. Ginny liked order and neatness, so she had little patience with Grandpa’s argument that keeping the barnyard cleaned up was a waste of time and energy that could be better spent on more productive work.

One day she just decided to clean up the messy barnyard. She got the help of several of her siblings including me. We loaded our trailer with the scrap iron and other junk and took it to the junkyard near Fort Recovery. We cut the longer grass first with the tractor and hay mower and then with a lawn mower. After the first cutting the grass was stubbly and brown, but when it grew and was mowed again its appearance improved a lot. Grandpa said we were wasting our time, but he gave up when the barnyard looked much better than it had before. We were also able to play softball and other games on parts of it that had been covered with junk-strewn long weeds and grass.

Ginny worked at keeping the yard neat.

* * *

In our rural culture, we were treated differently from the children of affluent professional parents today. Two popular adages for parents at the time were, “Children are to be seen and not heard” and “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” In social gatherings of adults and children, the children were expected to be quiet and not interfere with the adults’ conversation unless they were addressed specifically. The adults, who wanted to socialize without interruption, soon told the children to “go out and play,” knowing the farms we lived on provided marvelous outdoor playgrounds. Even on rainy days, the barn was an inviting environment for imaginative play, so we did not feel offended to be sent outside; on the contrary, we were happy when it happened.

Up to about ten years of age, if we misbehaved beyond a certain point, our parents spanked us, sometimes with a belt or switch. Mom and Dad did not spank us often and usually not with much anger or severity, but they believed it was their duty to do so in some instances and we would be better people as a result. Their belief about spanking was reinforced by their contemporary society and by the Catholic Church.

Our family was usually in survival mode economically. We never ate at restaurants or took vacation trips, and we didn’t expect or receive many material things. A few toys at Christmas, some candy at Christmas, Easter, and St. Nicholas Day (December 6), a dollar on our birthdays, and one or two changes of clothes for school were standard fare. Praise from our parents was also in short supply. When one of their children did well in school or in a sport, Mom and Dad were obviously proud, but they tempered their reaction advising not to forget “you are no better than anyone else” and “don’t go getting a big head.”

I was painfully shy around adults. Living in the semi-isolation of the farm, the vast majority of my social contacts were members of my immediate family. When other adults, usually aunts, uncles, or neighbors, made infrequent visits I hid behind Mom or Dad. If an adult spoke to me I felt embarrassed and rarely had the nerve to answer. For a few years, I hid from the milkman in the morning if I wasn’t finished with morning milking when he came to pick up our milk. As I got older, I was able to control this behavior, but the natural tendency toward shyness was always part of my introverted adult personality. My first reaction to a social invitation is usually negative, sometimes even dread, but if I decide to participate I often have a pleasant time.

As a child in such a huge family, I drew emotional strength from being part of a large and stable group but I rarely felt important as an individual. Mom’s attention had human limits and was directed mainly toward the two youngest children at any given time. By about age four I had to compete for parental love and attention with my sisters, a competition in which winning was little consolation. It only subjected me to more teasing from them, which led me to deny their accusations of favoritism even though they were sometimes right. As an adult, I came to appreciate that the feeling of security I gained from being in a family with steady and dependable parents outweighed a few painful moments brought on by sibling rivalry. I also realized regretfully late in life that, as the oldest boy, I dished out plenty of teasing that was sometimes hurtful to my siblings.

Overt signs of affection in our family were rare, but the constancy of our parents and their obvious commitment to our care even when life was difficult for them assured us we were safe and secure. My siblings and I do not often express affection to one another even now, although some of us have recently begun to hug each other when saying hello and goodbye. In any case, the life experiences we have shared and continue to share with the common joys and sorrows have cemented bonds of familial love.

* * *

The farm provided our family with much of our food but for some groceries and supplies we needed an outside source. When I was young, traveling salesmen and “hucksters” came by our farm to sell items we may need. Jim reminded me that we continued until the mid-fifties to have visits from Edmund Bertke, who sold a wide variety of McNess products including coconut oil shampoo that Mom usually bought. Fuller Brushes were also a popular item for home salesmen, made more popular by the 1948 movie The Fuller Brush Man, a comedy starring Red Skelton.

Another merchant who came regularly to our farm was the Buck’s Corner huckster. Buck’s Corner was a rural crossroad with a small grocery store located about nine or ten miles southwest of our farm. The storeowner renovated a school bus, removing the seats and installing shelves on either side of the aisle. He stocked the bus with a selection of his groceries and cleaning products he thought local farm families would be interested in buying. He then made the rounds of the nearby farms, pulling into barnyards and displaying his wares. I think he came by our farm once or twice a month, and my parents bought an item from him if they had an immediate need for it. But his prices were higher than at stores in Sharpsburg and other nearby towns, probably the main reason he went out of business about the time I entered elementary school.

In my pre-school years, it was a big deal to make the trip to Sharpsburg. Formerly called Zenz City, Sharpsburg consisted of an elementary school, St. Paul’s Catholic Church and rectory, Forthofer’s Grocery, the Farm Bureau Feed Mill, Klingshirn’s chicken hatchery, and perhaps six or eight private homes. Dad made bi-monthly trips to the Sharpsburg Feed Mill with a trailer filled with sacks of oats and corn to be ground for cattle, chicken, and hog feed. Forthofer’s grocery store/saloon provided Mom with groceries and Dad with an occasional opportunity for a beer and a talk with his neighbors. Mom and Dad and all the kids over seven years old attended one of the two masses each Sunday morning at St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

Grandpa and Grandma Schoen lived in one of the Sharpsburg houses, their retirement home. In 1967, Mom and Dad retired to the same house. Grandpa also had a blacksmith shop across the driveway from their house where he spent a great deal of time when he was not helping on our farm. Directly across the road from our grandparents’ house was the late 19th century Victorian-style Zenz house. It wasn’t fancy or large, perhaps 2,500 square feet on two floors with an unfinished basement, but its interesting architectural style distinguished it from the area’s mid-western farmhouses that were mainly shaped like rectangular boxes partitioned into smaller rectangular rooms. To the younger Schoen kids, the Zenz house was a castle.

The Zenz house

Sometime in the mid-1950s Bill and Olivia (Dad’s oldest sister “Leefa”) Miller and family bought the Zenz house and lived there for perhaps ten years. It was clear during family visits with the Millers the house had not been well maintained. It was cold and drafty in the winter and hot in the summer, not the comfortable castle we had fantasized. After hosting a few other resident families, the Zenz House was torn down in the 1980s and replaced by an office for the feed mill next door. This was an understandable decision by the owner, but to me it was the loss of Sharpsburg’s most unusual attraction.

On nearly every trip to Sharpsburg, we dropped in for a brief visit with Grandpa and Grandma Schoen. Grandma Schoen was a social person who enjoyed having us stop by. Jim reminded me she was an avid fan of professional wrestling on television. She despised the “villain” wrestlers, Magnificent Maurice and Handsome Johnny Baron. Another target of her contempt was a female heckler named Bouncing Beulah. Those visits and Grandpa Schoen’s regular presence on our farm in the summer meant we saw a great deal of our paternal grandparents until they died in 1965 within a few days of one another.

We saw much less of Grandma and Grandpa Heitkamp. Grandpa was bedridden in their home in St. Henry during the years I remember him, and he died of cancer on Christmas night, 1949.

My Grandma (Catherine) and Grandpa (Bernard) Heitkamp at Eileen’s first communion, May 1944. Our cement porch is behind them.

That Christmas day, Dad’s siblings and their families were invited to Grandma and Grandpa Schoen’s house for the afternoon and evening. Everyone knew Grandpa Heitkamp was near death, so Mom and Dad were at first unsure what our family should do. They decided Mom would go to her parents’ house where her brothers and sisters were assembled to be with Grandma and Grandpa Heitkamp, and I think one or two of my older sisters went with her. Dad and the rest of the kids went to his parents’ house to celebrate Christmas and play with our cousins on the Schoen side of the family.

That night, soon after supper, Mom’s brother Al came by to report their father had died. It was touching for me to see Dad’s family also grieved the loss of Grandpa Heitkamp. They reminisced about the fun they had as teenagers living on neighboring farms when Grandpa Heitkamp played the accordion and Grandma Heitkamp played the harmonica. They remembered moving the kitchen and dining room furniture aside and dancing to Grandpa and Grandma’s music. To add to their fun, Mom’s brother Bennie was a caller for square dances, a form of dancing that is popular in the area to this day.

Grandpa Heitkamp was the first family member whose death I remember. The hardest part for me was to see Mom’s deep grief. Although I don’t remember much about Grandpa Heitkamp, Mom said he was a kind and gentle man, honest and hardworking. Mom grew up on a farm near Maria Stein in southeastern Mercer County, but in 1931, early in the great depression, the bank foreclosed on her father’s farm, and her parents began to depend on their children’s jobs to help with the family’s living expenses. According to Mom, this turn of events was difficult for Grandpa Heitkamp whose health soon began a steady decline.

Another sorrow for Mom’s family was that two of her brothers had serious life-long problems with alcohol. Mom said they began to drink during the period when alcohol was prohibited by constitutional amendment. Were it not for prohibition, she thought they would not have had these problems.

Grandma Heitkamp, a quiet, shy person, outlived her husband by nearly 20 years. After Grandpa died, she lived alone for a while in St. Wendelin, a crossroad population center even smaller than Sharpsburg. Knowing Grandma was lonesome, Mom thought it would be nice if I rode my bike the three or four miles to visit her. I’m not sure why Mom wanted me rather than one of her other children to make the visit, but I resisted at first due mainly to shyness. In the end, Mom wore down my defenses, and I rode my bike to see Grandma Heitkamp one summer afternoon. It turned out to be a pleasant visit. We played cards and ate watermelon, two of my favorite activities then and now. I don’t remember other details of the visit, but I’m sure we didn’t talk much.

For supplies and services not available in Sharpsburg, my parents relied on other towns in the area. Our barber and auto mechanic were in Burkettsville, three miles east of our farm with a 1950 population of 211. Our dentist’s office was about eight miles away in St. Henry (1950 population – 715), but we depended mainly on Fort Recovery for our doctor, shoe shop, furniture store, clothiers, hardware, drug store, five-and-dime stores, and banks. When Dad or Mom needed these services or supplies, one of them drove the six miles northwest to Fort Recovery, usually taking some of their kids along. We eagerly anticipated those trips. It was most fun to go with Dad who usually stopped at Sauer’s Drug Store & Soda Fountain for a soda or malt.

A great entertainment for us kids when I was in elementary school was the Fort Recovery Harvest Jubilee. Each July, the town merchants sponsored this weeklong street carnival with exciting rides, great food, and tent stands that offered “swell” prizes if you succeeded at their games of skill. Professional acrobats and balloonists were hired to perform daily shows; in fact, each day during the Jubilee we could see the 4:00 pm balloon ascension from our farm.

Through the 1940s and early 1950s, Mom usually shopped for clothes and for Christmas toys in Fort Recovery or by mail from Sears & Roebuck, Spiegels and Aldens catalogues. In later years, she or one of my older sisters took us shopping once or twice a year, usually in August before school started and before Christmas, in one of the four nearby larger towns – Portland (Indiana), Coldwater, Celina or Greenville (1950 populations – 7,064, 2,217, 5,700 and 8,859, respectively). Those shopping trips were the only opportunity I had, as a kid, to see how “urban” living differed from my farm experience.

From a young age, my siblings and I were expected to help with various chores on the farm, and those chores were a big part of our lives.

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Chapter 2: Work

To me, the farm was a safe island designed just for our family. It provided our food and was the site of most of our daily activities. We left to go to school and church, run errands and so on, but we always returned to the safety of our island. The farm was a workplace and a playground for the expanding family of growing Schoen kids. There was always work for us to do, but with our large group of siblings we were never without companions to share in the tasks.

In the summers when we were in elementary school, we went with Mom or older siblings to pick raspberries, blackberries, and elder berries in nearby woods. Mom made jelly or jam from the berries that were left after we had our fill as we picked them. The house and garden required lots of work including childcare, cooking, laundry, ironing, housecleaning, gardening, canning, and sewing, but this was the realm of Mom and my sisters.

My older sisters had a lot of child care duties. Kate, the oldest, remembers her job when Jim was born. Jim was the first of Mom’s children born in the hospital so she was concerned about her absence from home and about getting to the hospital in time for the birth. She woke ten-year-old Kate at 4:00 a.m. on February 7, 1945, Jim’s birthday, to give her orders for the day. Kate was to stay home from school, but eight-year-old Ginny and seven-year-old Eileen were to go on the bus. Ginny wouldn’t do what Kate said, so Mom couldn’t have them work together. It was also Monday and therefore washday. Mom had been up all night doing the laundry. The clothes had been washed and were waiting in the rinse tubs. Kate was to put the clothes through the wringer and hang them on the clothesline while she also cared for six-year-old Janice, me at less than four years old, and two-year-old Pat until Daddy got home from the hospital.

* * *

Indoor work like Kate did was crucial to the smooth operation of the family, but my memories are of my role in the outside farm work. Most of that work differed by the seasons, but from the time we were seven or eight my siblings and I were responsible for daily morning and evening chores. The cows were driven in from the pasture to be milked twice daily, and in preparation we bedded their stables with straw or corn fodder. Eggs were gathered daily, and all the animals were fed and watered twice daily. With rare exceptions like illness, I helped with these same tasks on the same morning and evening schedule seven days a week, 52 weeks a year until I left home to attend college.

To milk the cows, we chased them into a large stable that had a manger with stanchions along the inside. We placed ground grain feed in the manger, and when a cow stuck her head through a stanchion opening to get the feed we closed the stanchion on her neck. After milking the cow and pouring the milk through a strainer into a milk can, we opened the stanchion so the cow could get out of the stable and go back to the pasture. Once or twice in my memory we altered this approach and milked the cows in the pasture field. On these occasions, our creek flooded from heavy rains, and the cows were stranded in a part of the pasture that was cut off from the house and barn by the creek. Since we couldn’t get the cows to the barn, we loaded our milking equipment on a wagon pulled by our tractor and drove along roads and across a bridge to get to the cows.

As for the seasonal work, winter was the least busy season. Dad took advantage of the slower winter pace to catch up on the maintenance of farm buildings and equipment for which he had little time during the other three seasons. Winter was also the time of year Jim and I spent many Saturdays helping Dad clean out the animal pens, using pitch forks to load the manure mixed with straw or corn fodder bedding into the manure spreader and then spreading it on fields that were to be planted in grain in the spring. This was one of our least favorite jobs, but it was important. As my farmer friend, Oscar Jutte, said years later, manure being spread on the fields “is the smell of money.”

Spring was the season for preparing the fields and planting the crops, with the exception of winter wheat. The wheat fields were plowed and tilled and the wheat planted in the fall early enough to allow the plants to emerge and grow several inches before the winter freeze. The wheat went dormant in the winter to re-emerge and continue growing in the spring. The weather in spring and throughout the growing season was an important variable in farm life.

If spring weather was too cold or too wet for too long, planting may have to be delayed to the point of hurting the eventual crop yields. Yields could be hurt if the weather was too dry or too hot during the planting and growing seasons. Heavy rains or severe windstorms at any time during the growing season may damage the crops. Too much rain at harvest time could delay the harvest past the point of maximum crop yield. Rain on a mowed field of hay might hurt the hay’s quality. With so much at stake, we listened carefully and often to weather reports and watched the sky for signs of what weather to expect in the coming hours and days. I still enjoy watching cloud formations and storm development, as I am reminded of my youth on the farm.

The work associated with growing and harvesting the crops was required with few breaks throughout the summer and into November. In June, corn was cultivated two or three times as it grew from a few inches to a foot or so in height. The first mowing of hay usually came in June with one or two more in the next two months. Wheat and oats were harvested in late June or early July. Soybeans were combined in September or early October. Corn was picked in October or early November, and then we were back full circle to preparing and planting the winter wheat fields. This cycle was repeated year after year on the Schoen farm.

I have fond memories of the sorghum harvest in the fall. Ripe sorghum, which we called sugar cane, looked like a shorter version of corn with no ears and a broom-like top of black seeds when it was ripe. The inside of the stalk was sweet and tasty. When it was ready, we stripped the leaves from the sorghum stalks by hitting down on them with wooden laths, then topped and cut the stalks with corn knives to be bundled and loaded on our farm wagon.

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