Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chapter Six: Old Age

My mother Beverly, with her grandmother Aloisia, about 1932, Kendrick, Idaho.

"My earliest memory of my grandmother,” writes my mother, “is being helped across the street by my mother, hugging her goodbye, and turning to wave to my grandmother, who stood on the sidewalk in front of her house one block away. I ran towards her, with my mother watching until I was safely there. They had arranged my visit by telephone beforehand. How old must I have been? Three or four?”

“Grandmother lived in a comfortable small house with one bedroom. The house backed up against the hill and there was a small back yard enclosed by shrubbery and a garage on one side.” Kendrick, then as now, has a population of around 500 people, and is situated at the bottom of a river valley, as is Juliaetta. The closest larger cities are Lewiston, about twenty miles away, and Moscow, which may be a bit farther.

“The house had a porch that spanned the entire front, with window boxes full of flowers, chiefly portulaca—moss rose. A hedge enclosed the small grassy plots in front the house.”

“She kept chickens in a coop in the back yard and I helped her feed them by squishing the chicken mash and water together with my hands until it was mixed. I don’t remember then being afraid of birds. I think she also had a cat that at one time had kittens.”

“In the back yard was her ‘refrigerator’, a hole dug into the earth in a shady spot, lined with boards and topped by a board lid. In this she kept butter, eggs and milk to keep cool. In the kitchen cupboard was always a jar of honey, usually sugared, and I was allowed to dig a spoon into it for a treat. She also had raspberry bushes at the edge of her yard and I still associate that fruit with visits to her.”

“Grandmother was a portly lady with steely gray hair braided and wrapped around her head. She generally wore a print cotton dress with long sleeves and a gathered full-length skirt covered by a full apron.”

“I don’t remember watching her do household chores when I visited and it seems to me that she just entertained me while I was with her. She had a library table full of stuff—photographs, letters, newspapers—that I was allowed to rummage through.” My mother Beverly with her grandmother Aloisia, about 1931. I believe this photo was taken in her front yard.

“Grandmother knit her own stockings and in my memory they are always red and white striped, like candy canes, but I know better that they were really black, gray or navy blue. While she sat clacking away with her needles she let me have a ball of yarn and knitting needles and allowed me to make a big messy knot with them, while pretending to knit. She must have gotten tired of unraveling the knot, because when I was about five she decided to teach me to knit. I caught on quickly and soon was working on a big pink cap knitted on circular needles. My mother helped me with it, too, and it was finished off with a big pompom on the top and was worn by members of the family until I was in high school.”

“Grandmother always spoke English with a heavy accent and her talk was interspersed with words in the Austrian dialect. She always told me when I left her ‘to be a goot geerl’. Of course, she had not many close neighbors when she lived on the farm and hadn’t the opportunity to speak much English. She had friends who stopped to visit her in her house in town, and they were mainly German speaking. She took a German newspaper published in the U.S.”
Aloisia also read her Bible regularly. I now own her Bible, with her name written in flowing, neat script in the front. The Bible was published in 1877 in New York and is in old German script. It is one of the things I would never part with under any circumstances.

Aloisia’s neat, flowing script in the front of her German Bible. She signed it on December 14, 1890.
Aloisia Schupfer's German Bible, with her occasional notations and signature in the front, was given to me by my Uncle Otto in the early seventies. It is a prized possession, and links me to her.

“Often the family gathered at Grandmother’s house on Sunday evenings—the four in our family, Uncle Otto and Aunt Josephine with sometimes their daughters Marian and Maribel and also Aunt Ida, who lived just two doors away,” remembers Beverly. “The talk was all Styrian dialect and I don’t remember being bored with these hours, though I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Rather, I was fascinated by the puzzle of it all.”

“In general, Grandmother had many of the qualities and traits my father had: she was good-natured, laughed a lot, and seemed to love being with people.”

My favorite picture of Herman Schupfer, taken in the forties or fifties, relaxing in his easy chair with his catt. Good-natured, loving, hard-working, and always fun, Herman took after his mother, who was all these things as well.

Aloisia Schupfer died on November 8, 1937. She is buried in the Schupfer family plot in the Juliaetta Cemetery, only a quarter-mile above the homestead where she lived for many years and where her three children were born. Her oldest son, Otto, and his wife Josephine lived in the homestead until they passed away in the seventies. Since then, the house has been empty. It belongs to Otto’s grandchildren.

This photo, sent to me by Otto and Josephine in the mid-seventies, shows the Schupfer homestead, much as it looked in 1880. Uncle Otto can be seen on the porch. Josephine is walking across the yard in the foreground. The house is still there, but dilapidated and empty. The spring supplying the house with water went dry. The original porch was, shown in the older photos, was turned into a sleeping porch and plant shelf.

Aloisia Knaus Schupfer has been gone for many years now. If she were alive, she would be one hundred and fifty-two years old in 2008. She is buried in the family plot in the Juliaetta town cemetery, not more than a few hundred yards above the homestead where she settled with her new husband over one hundred years ago.
She was an incredibly tough and resilient woman, a true American pioneer who forged the way for her children, grandchildren and onward in perpetuity. She took what life gave her and made the best of it. As my mom writes, “Life was hard for women back then. Men were impulsive. They would pack up and move west at the drop of a hat. But it was the women who had to make it work. When it was time to move, they had no vote or say in the matter.”
Aloisia Schupfer, despite the odds, made it work.

Chapter Five: Heartache

Beverly writes, “when Herman was 14 (in 1910) Mathias announced to the family that he was going to the World’s Fair in Portland.” According to my research, however, there was no World’s Fair in Portland in 1910. There was one in 1905, and perhaps this is the one Matthias attended. Train station on the way to Portland, Oregon, circa 1905.

“He left and never returned and eventually settled in San Francisco,” remembers my mom. In 1906, the city of San Francisco was hit by a devastating earthquake that leveled most of the city. According to my mom, Mathias went to San Francisco to help rebuild it. “A carpenter and cabinet maker by trade before his immigration to the U.S., he may have thought there would be work to do in rebuilding San Francisco after the earthquake.”

Some of the thousands of itinerant carpenters who moved to San Francisco to help rebuild the devastated city after the quake.

“The family was never together again. Eventually Grandmother got a divorce but continued to send him financial support. For Otto and Herman this meant the end to their schooling so that they could work on the farm. I remember my father saying that he would never again walk behind a horse and plow! He had more than enough as a boy!”

My grandpa Herman also writes of the day his father abandoned the family. “In 1910 our father went to Portland to the fair and then went on to San Francisco and never returned. He and mother were later divorced. Rupert also left his family and joined father and they spent their time in California until father died in 1925. Rupert returned to Spokane where he died in 1941. Florian died at Juliaetta in 1940.”

Alone with three children, thousands of miles from her beloved Austrian Alps, and with no money to return, Aloisia settled down to raise her family and do the best she could to get on with her life. Her daughter Ida followed in her older brothers’ footsteps as a hard-working and determined girl. She did many chores and when she got a little older she got a job at the cannery in Juliaetta. After spending some time at Spokane Business College, she returned to help her brothers with their new telephone company. Ida became the first telephone operator for the new Potlatch Telephone Company and worked for the company until she died in 1951 of cancer.

In 1915, Otto worked at the Kendrick Auto Company in nearby Kendrick, Idaho. That same year, Otto and Herman bought the Potlatch Telephone Company and the Interstate Telephone Company and combined them into the Potlatch Telephone Company. They built this small company into a successful business that provided them both with a comfortable living for the rest of their lives. Both were natural tinkerers, very mechanical, and loved cars and motorcycles. Herman always drove a nice car, and he always paid for everything with cash, a vestige of his lean early years and his unwillingness to fall into debt.
An old photograph of the Potlatch Telephone Company, run by the Schupfer and Eichner families for over sixty years.
Kendrick, Idaho, circa 1910.

During the war, Otto and Herman received draft numbers but were not drafted. There was a lot of anti-German sentiment in the U.S. and this included Idaho. According to my great-uncle, Herman’s brother Otto, a German church in Juliaetta was vandalized and German-speaking Americans were suspect as spies. Nevertheless, Herman went to work at the Bremerton Navy Yard until the war was over, where he built ships. During his tenure at the Navy Yard, he sawed off his pinky in a work accident. Growing up, I never tired of looking at his stump, which he would wiggle accommodatingly for my entertainment.
Bremerton Navy Ship Yard, Bremerton, Washington, where Herman Schupfer worked building ships during World War One.

Herman worked as a mechanic, a driver, and with the telephone company. He trucked gasoline in oil barrels over the dangerous roads of north Idaho. At the time, gas sold for twenty cents a gallon. He was one of the first men in northern Idaho to own a motorcycle when he bought a 1908 single-cylinder Indian, which he later traded on a two-cylinder Indian. Otto also bought a motorcycle, a twin-cylinder Pope, and the brothers used the bikes to make the rounds and check the telephone lines between Kendrick and Spalding and Kendrick and Moscow.

A 1908 Indian motorcycle, above.

After 1922, Herman and Otto worked full-time on the telephone business. Herman went to Huntington Beach, California in 1922 and worked for the telephone company there, picking up as much as he could about running a phone company. In 1924 he returned and concentrated on building the Potlatch Telephone Company.

He also worked for Washington Water Power as a local manager in Kendrick. In 1920, Herman and Otto bought a movie theater in Kendrick. First, they showed weekend shows of silent movies. It became the main entertainment for farmers and people for miles around, and Saturday nights in Kendrick were lively, with many people spending the evening eating dinner at Bert’s CafĂ© and then seeing a movie and maybe having a milkshake afterwards. Shortly after, talkies were invented. The first talkies were large discs that had to be synchronized with the film. If the record skipped or malfunctioned, the sound did not match the action on the screen.

This is what the early sound projectors looked like. Before the theater was turned into a carpet store, but after it was closed down, I poked around in the projection room and saw this same set-up.

Eventually, the sound strip was put directly onto the film, eliminating this problem. The theater stayed open for fifty years. The last show that played there, according to my grandpa, was ‘Mary Poppins’ but I remember going to shows into the early seventies. When I got to go into the Kendrick Theater without paying, or got to go up to the projection room, I felt like as big a celebrity as the President of the United States! That’s right—my grandpa owns the theater.
What must Aloisia have thought as she watched her children grow up and become successful businessmen? All three of her children were so American! They moved in this strange world as easily as everyone else, while she had to watch and wonder much of the time. After Otto’s marriage, he and his wife Josephine moved onto the homestead, and Aloisia moved into a small home in Kendrick. The home is still there, and Otto continued to live on the homestead until he passed away in the late seventies.

This photo, sent to me back in the mid-seventies by Uncle Otto Schupfer (Aloisia's oldest son and my great-uncle) shows Otto on the porch and his wife Josephine in the yard.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

How to Read this Story

Since I wrote this from the beginning, that's how it was posted. You need to read it from the 'last' post at the end of the blog to the 'first' one--in other words, in reverse order. So scroll on down to the end and get started. Hope you like it.