For My Children: Chapter 8 - Father
Feb 12, 2014 10:13AM ● Published by Erik Dittmann
Chapter 8 – Father
And so Sunday went by and Monday came. Dad watched Josef and me go to school for the very first time. He took a great deal of interest in us children. Mom was so happy after he had come home that she sang even more than before and that must have been all the time except when she ate or slept.
Thus the days went by very happily and winter set in. There was not enough to do for a man during the long winter months except to weave a few baskets and make some brooms. Dad became very restless and started to drink. He never went to a tavern because there was none. But every house had its own supply of wine and brandy. We children were too little to understand why Mom would not sing so much anymore and why she cried at times now since Dad had come home. She hadn’t cried the whole time that he had been gone.
Spring finally came and work in the fields started. Dad was not always in shape to work and we children would get on his nerves. Just as we had once been the happiest children around, we were now hushed up and would sit in a corner and wonder what had happened. Dad didn’t exactly beat us. I only received a slap in the face once, so hard that my head had hit the wall, because I had not come home on a Sunday afternoon to take the cows to pasture. This was when I was only seven years old. He must have been drunk because there were Jacob and Josef, both older than I, and I was expected to take the cows to graze. I had to go to bed without food that night and even Grandma couldn’t talk to him because he was so irrational.
He started to drink more and more. He would sit at different people’s homes and drink himself into insanity. Then he would come home and upset the whole family. On several occasions he beat my mother. I remember one day he was hitting Mom and I was standing between them, my little hands folded, and I was begging him to stop hitting her. I don’t remember him ever expressing any concern over us anymore. Maybe he did. Maybe I was just too young to remember the good that he did do.
There was one time when he did show that he cared. Jacob had been kicked by a horse and both bones in his left leg had been broken. It was so bad that both the bones were exposed. Father had just returned after taking care of some business in Garesnica where all our public officials were. He came home and found an old Hungarian man, who had never even seen the inside of a hospital, trying to set Jacob’s leg and had made him faint twice already because of the excruciating pain. Dad became so angry that he took hold of the old man and threw him out the door. He asked Mom to hitch the horses to the wagon and then he took him to the depot. He took Jacob to Bjelovar on the train and took him to the hospital there.
It was quite far to Bjelovar and we couldn’t visit Jacob more than once a week. Since the leg was broken and since it had an open wound, it could not be placed in a cast and so he had to remain in the hospital for a whole month. That first Sunday Mom went to visit him. The next Sunday Grandma and I went to see him. We took the train early in the morning and arrived in Bjelovar at 8 a.m., but visiting hours were not until 2 p.m. In the interim, we stayed with friends of the family.
After we had arrived at their house, Grandma told me to go to the bathroom and wash up. I went in and looked around for water. Finally I saw the container with water and I also saw some fancy soap that I had never seen before and started to wash. I really did a good job too. After I was finished, my Grandma went to wash up also. Almost immediately she asked me to come in and pointed to the container in which I had washed and asked me what that was. Very innocently I told her that those were soapsuds. She looked at me so strangely that I couldn’t have figured out what it was anyway. But you must have guessed it by now. Yes, I had washed myself in the toilet bowl. I was so embarrassed that I was beside myself, but Grandma promised that she would not tell anyone about my blunder.
For a long time this gave her special power over me, almost like a form of blackmail. But I earnestly think that she never would have told on me because she loved me too much. But then I honestly did not know that that beautiful clean white porcelain container was a toilet bowl. After all, I had never seen anything fancier than our outhouses.
Jacob came home from the hospital and we were all so happy. Our happiness did not last long though as the old trouble became apparent again. Father drank more and more and when he reached his peak in drinking, something strange happened.
Josef and I went back to school that fall. I started second grade and Josef the fourth. Jacob was 15 years old and that made him more a man to take over the hard work of which Dad did less and less. But he seemed more calm than before and as time went by, Dad would sit in his easy chair and let Andrew and me comb his hair again just as he had done before. He smoked his pipe while he sat on the edge of his bed before he retired and would be occupied with his thoughts.
He drank less than before, but Mom was just as quiet as ever. When winter arrived and the visiting started among friends once again, he would rather stay at home than go and see anyone. By December, he started to cough and the coughing increased by January.
At the end of January, his godson Martin Drescher was married; and since tradition had it, the godfather was a witness at the wedding ceremony. Dad and Mom were asked to be there. At first he declined the invitation, but after Mom pleaded with him he said that the 18-mile trip by sleigh was too strenuous for him. She then suggested that they take the train, to which he finally agreed. Mom told us that he would lie down on a bench in the train and rest as they would not have much time for rest after they arrived in Velika Pisanica because the had to go to the church right after they arrived.
Dad was so weak during the wedding ceremony as they had to stand behind their godson holding their burning candles that he could barely stand up. Several times he had to reach for his handkerchief in order to wipe his forehead. After the ceremony, he could not attend the reception but had to lie down at a friend’s home.
When they arrived back home, Mom urged him to go and see a doctor, but he did not go for that suggestion at all. But Mom was relentless with her urging and he finally gave in. At the end of February they went to see a physician. As they were riding along in Garesnica in their horse wagon, they met a man carrying a crucifix. When Dad saw him he averted his head and turned all white. When Mother asked what was wrong, Dad answered, “All is over.” He knew that soon his troubles would be ended.
It was traditional for a man to carry a crucifix from the church to the house of the deceased. The church bells would toll the whole while that the crucifix was being carried. Mom tried to talk him out of it, but nothing changed his sadness.
The doctor gave him two different kinds of medicine, the smell of which I can still remember. Friends came to visit more and more, and Father was happiest after everyone had left again. He stayed in his bed almost all the time.
We needed some horses as Father had sold ours to some farmer, but he could not go to the auction to buy a new team. So at the age of 15, Jacob was assigned to the task of buying the new team of horses. He wanted to go alone, but since we had no checking system and all the money had to be taken in cash, Mother insisted that somebody had to go with him. So Father’s cousin went along. The two came back in the afternoon with a nice team of Belgians. Father looked out of the window and was very pleased. After a while he asked for his slippers and his jacket. Mom and Jacob helped him out to the barn. As he stood there, he put his hand on Jacob’s shoulder and said, “You will do fine, my boy. I will rest better now.” Then he went back to the house and his bed. That was the last time he left his bed except when Mom made it up fresh for him.
It just so happened that two days later a family needed a doctor. Mom asked us children to watch for the doctor to leave, so she could run out and ask him if he would look at Dad. The doctor examined Dad and when he was finished, Mom followed him out and when she asked about Dad, he told her not to waste any more money. Dad had only days left. This happened on Saturday. Sunday was a bad day. There must have been more than a dozen old women who had come to visit him. And my brother will say to this day, “What illness could not accomplish with a sick person, the old women could.” Dad was so happy when they left. His night was long and he asked repeatedly when morning would come.
In the morning, Mom and Jacob did the chores. When they came in to breakfast, Mom said that she had to take out the milk as the milk wagon was coming and we sent about five to seven liters of milk to the creamery per day. As she was waiting, my grandma told me to run and get my mother. I called only once. Never did I see my mother respond faster to a call. She let the milk can stand there and ran into the house, and I followed her. When we came into the bedroom, Father’s eyes were staring into nothingness. He took one deep breath, his head fell to the side and he was gone forever.
The funeral had to be arranged right away and consequently Mom and Grandma were busy all day long. My father died on March 10, 1930, at the age of 43 and was buried the next day. It was an early spring that year and the weather was too warm to keep a body for more that one night. After the funeral, a big dinner was served, and by noon, everything was over.
In the afternoon, Mom told Josef and me that we had to go to school. I had a swollen cheek from a toothache. When we got to school, all the children were treating us very special and gathered around us. I buried my face in my arms and cried, not because of my dad but because my tooth hurt so terribly much. When I felt a gentle stroke on my hair, I lifted my head and there stood my teacher. As she looked down at me and saw me crying, the tears started to roll down her cheeks. She took me by my hand and we went to her apartment. She sat me on her lap and told me not to cry.
She said, “I understand just how you feel about losing your dad. That does not mean that you can never be a happy girl again. You see, I also lost my father when I was just about your age and my sister was even younger. And even though it took quite a long time, I eventually got over my sadness.”
As I looked at her and listened, my toothache stopped and I felt a certain kind of pride because my teacher and I had something in common. She took her handkerchief and wiped my face and then we walked back to the classroom. When I was seated, she asked all the children not to talk to Josef and me about our father and to treat us and play with us the same as they would with the other children.