To my sons: Shaun Alois, Shane Eduardo and Aaron Matthew:
The 19th of January will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of your grandmother and my mother. Mom was born a century ago and was named Flotilla Elizabeth Frisbie. I don't know of any forbear or ancestor with her first name -- perhaps it was from a person that my Grandma Frisbie had read about and admired -- but it would seem reasonable that her middle name, came, at least partly, from my grandmother herself, Anna Elizabeth Frisbie, who married Algie Harper Frisbie (the middle name was taken from the town of Harper, Kansas, where he was born).
Mom grew up in western Iowa, on a farm in Sac County. The farm is where her maternal grandfather Jeff P. Kruser, an immigrant from Denmark, settled and made a dugout home on a hillside. Jeff married Emma Goodenow, whose mother was named Elizabeth (maybe another person Mom was named after). The closest town in the vicinity of the farm is Lake View which is located on Blackhawk Lake, called the southernmost glacial lake in the country. The farm itself may have been on the margin of a glacier.
Mom attended school at Lake View, was on the staff of the 1922 Scarlet and Black yearbook and wrote a Freshman piece for it. Intelligent, she was valedictorian of her class in 1925 as was her mother some years before her(The picture of her here may be her high school graduation picture. It's somewhat damaged with spots but it doesn't diminish her looks as a pretty young woman). After being graduated from Lake View High School, she went to commercial college in Mankato, Minnesota, where she met your grandfather, my Dad Joseph Riedell. Dad lived on Main Street hill. One morning she saw him vacuuming out a car and thought, "What a henpecked husband." She felt sorry for him. The next morning, as she was going by on her way to commercial college, Dad said hello to a girl across the street. Mom thought he'd spoken to her, and said hello back. They met by mistake.
And the rest is history.
Dad took an immediate interest in Mom. That same day he inquired about her from the man in whose home she was staying (elevator man at Saulpaugh Hotel) and also on that same day, he gave her a ride in that same vacuumed car to Lake Washington. After that he came to see her every day.
Mom was a Congregationalist and Dad's family were Catholic immigrants from the Moravian part of Austria Hungary which would later become [part of ]Czechoslovakia. The subject of religion naturally came up. Dad told her something he understood about hell and salvation which bothered Mom. Instead of emotionally rejecting his belief and closing her mind to it, she wanted to know the why behind what he believed but couldn't explain. This is what led her to Catholicism.
In what may've been an act of courage for her, considering her background, she went to talk to a priest. She saw a Father Hageman, a gentle old priest, who explained the religion. Father Hageman1 was Dad's old principal in school, and he told Mom about the time Dad was being sent to the principal's office to be punished and how he put a geography book in the seat of his pants. I suppose it turned out to be a book of discovery for the principal.
The strength of the faith in Dad's family may've been best reflected
by his mother Amalia, whom we knew as Grossmutter in German. My Aunt
Harriet, who described Grossmutter as "very devout," told me in a letter,
"You remember how steep Main Street hill is - you can imagine how icey that
sidewalk gets in the winter. Your grandmother didn't miss church. She would
take a pan of ashes - actually a small dipper type pan (picture drawn of pan
in her letter) carry that and scatter ashes on the ice in front of her as
she walked. She had an old fashioned cook stove in the kitchen where they
burned wood so she had ashes." Aunt Harriet also wrote, "People used to tell
me about seeing her out early with her little pan of ashes." One of my
memories of Grossmutter is coming out of the house to sprinkle the
sacramental of holy water before we departed. It brings tears to my eyes as
I write it.
I would think that Mom easily sensed Grossmutter's faith. It's simple reasoning that you cannot give what you do not have. What you live is what you reflect. Grossmutter's example probably influenced her.
After attending commercial college, she went back to Iowa, still in 1925. Dad's niece and my cousin Dolly wrote a piece for her Emeritus writing class about her Uncle Joe, which told in part about a trip with Dad from Mankato to Lake View to see Mom, then his fiancee. She wrote that they left for Iowa on a beautiful September morning in Dad's Model T roadster after Grossmutter sprinkled them and the car with holy water to assure them a safe trip. She wrote that Mom lived in a white house in Lake View with her mother and younger sister, Ramona, who we would know as Aunt Bo.(Pictured to the right are my great grandparents Jeff and Emma Kruser, who flank Grandma Frisbie and her daughters, Ramona [with ribbons] and Flotilla Frisbie, Mom.)
She said on Sunday morning Dad and her aunt-to-be took her to Mass and gave her a shiny dime to put in the collection basket. She related that Mom "was taking instructions to become a Catholic before their marriage in February."
She spoke of how kind Mom and Ramona were to her. They took her to a "bright and cheery attic where all their doll furniture and toys were stored." They let her play there and pick out "a small crystal candlestick holder to put with my doll dishes when I got home." Home was Pipestone, Minnesota, where Dad took her after a noon dinner. I can almost see Mom standing in front of that white house, waving goodbye, as Dad with Dolly beside him, drove away heading back toward Minnesota. Before he left Dolly at Pipestone, he gave her an early present for her sixth birthday, her first pair of roller skates.
The following year, on the 3rd of February 1926, Grandma Frisbie
gave her notarized consent for her daughter to marry Dad and to the issuance
of a marriage license. Mom was just 17. About two weeks later, on the 16th
of February, they were married at the parish house at Wall Lake, Iowa, in
the presence of Grandma Frisbie, a Peter Lawler, and the Pastor Rev. James
Slattery who solemnized the marriage. I'm not sure of where they lived
between their marriage and going to California but in the Sac County
records, on the "Return of Marriage" part, Dad's residence is listed as
Mankato, Minn., and meter reader, his occupation. Mom's place of residence
is listed as Lake View. It's dated Febr. 16, 1926.
After my oldest sister Marie was born, Mom and Dad went out to
California because Dad's sister Ida and brother Art were out there. It seems
to Marie, from what she was told, that they stopped to earn money as fruit
pickers on their way there. She thinks it could've been in Colorado. She
remembers Mom saying that she was small enough to fit into a grape basket,
and it strikes me as possible that they could've put her in such a basket,
and carried her along with them as they moved about an orchard or vineyard.
Marie couldn't tolerate cow's milk and they had to give her goat's milk. During their time there, my older brothers, your uncles Francie and Bob, were born. When Dolly was about ten, they returned to Minnesota for a visit. Dolly remembered wheeling Bob in her doll buggy and taking Francie and Marie by the hand to show her friends. They lived in Frisco long enough for Marie to start school or preschool at St. Anne's. Francie remembers going through a steel gate and down some steps to a church, so I think what he's probably recollecting is Mom taking him and Bob along to pick Marie up from school or take her there.
I'd have to say I lived in California as well, since during Mom's
last months there, she was with child, her fourth. Mom returned to Iowa in
1932 (maybe in February) while Dad stayed for a time in California to earn
money. I was born on May 20th, the first of us children born on the farm and
weighed in at nine lbs. Dr. Speaker was the physician.
Dad was concerned about the safety of his family and sent a single shot Savage rifle from California to Mom for protection, but Francie says Mom was afraid to shoot it. But he says he wasn't.
She was busy. Among the things that she had to see to, was my Baptism. In the faith she chose, one shouldn't wait long to baptize, since through the Sacrament we receive sanctifying grace, which enables us to go to heaven. Mom gave me natural life but not the new life that God confers through the Sacrament.
Mom didn't know anyone at home to have for Baptismal sponsors for me, so she undertook to make a trip to Minnesota in a Model T, where an uncle and aunt were in Mankato. Once again I was taken in the aforementioned basket. It could've been a warm trip up to Minnesota and back, as the Christening took place in August. I was baptized by Father Winters at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, with my sponsors being Dad's brother Fritz and his sister Ida. I had been named John Alois -- Alois being a name in the family for generations going back to Europe -- but I was baptized John Aloysius. Alois is the German and Czech form of Aloysius.2
One time I was in the baby crib, wanted out and wouldn't wait. I slipped through the bars sideways and ended up hanging by my neck without my feet touching the floor. I screamed and one of the kids ran to Mom saying, "Johnnie's choked." She ran upstairs to the west room and got me out. I was kind of bluish and mad. I was"hanging in there" even when I was young.
In 1934 Dad came to Iowa to work the farm. Dolly wrote about seeing
my family again after they moved to Nebraska and my folks were back in Iowa.
She was about 14. She saw the cousins she met before plus several new ones.
She spoke of gathering at the table and Mom carrying in platters of "golden
fried chicken, mounds of mashed potatoes, bowls of gravy, fresh vegetables
from the garden" and cherry pies, from cherries picked on the farm. She
talked about cracking walnuts that Dad's brother Art sent from California,
of Dad cranking the ice cream maker, and of following him to the barn to
milk where he would squirt milk in their mouths. They also followed Mom to
the hen house to gather eggs and rode our plow horses bareback.
During Mom's first years on the farm, water had to be carried up from the basement to be heated in a copper boiler on the stove. The basement had a tank fed by spring water and the kitchen had a stove, fueled by cobs, coal and wood. It also had a reservoir to warm water. At first she washed clothes using a scrub board but later on had a washing machine.
Mom used to bake six loaves of bread a day and canned everything she could. She made jam, jelly and apple butter, and peeled potatoes by the kettleful. When we were young she made most of our clothes, and even shirts when we were older. She had a lot of mending that was never completely done. She had a large garden until her family was older.
In 1954 my parents took the younger children out of school at Lake View, and undertook the expense of sending them to St. Bernard's School in Breda, which meant money for tuition and providing transportation there. This was at least partly because they were being ridiculed at Lake View.
Breda is a small town about 15 miles away from the farm and was located in Carroll County, to the south. At first Mom drove them there and picked them up. Afterwards my brother Joe James (Joey) drove. Joey thought they squeezed eight of them in an old '41 Chevy which didn't have a heater that worked well in the winter, so they bundled up. After that he said he drove a '47 Chevy, called the "Blue Bomber." Joey has a happy memory of going to Breda where he had friends and there were other big families. After Joey was graduated in 1956, my sister Katie drove. Katie had started St. Bernard's as a Freshman and was graduated in 1958. Following her, other members of the family drove.
In all Mom had 20 of us children, 18 of whom were born between 1927 and 1952. Two were lost before birth, one a twin.3 The following are the born: your uncles and aunts Marie, Francie, Bob, Margaret, Pete, Joe James, Katie, Dolores, Paul, Jerry, Tom, Mike, Yvonne, Philip, and Richard. George and Dennis died in infancy: George in 1939 and Dennis in1946. George died three days after my seventh birthday and was buried in the cemetery near Wall Lake. As I looked back in memory across the years, there was some recollection about it, and Marie confirmed part of what came to mind. Distraught and sorrowful, Mom walked south on the country road to go to the cemetery, miles away from the farm. From what Marie remembers she may've blamed herself because she had chased cattle while carrying George. The cows may've gotten out through a fence and onto the road. I don't know if she reached the cemetery, but it seems to me more likely that she turned around or Dad went after her.
But Mom weathered the storms of life, helped I would think by her faith and her philosophy. She prayed, and said with God, nothing's impossible. She thought that if you can't change a situation, you learn to accept it. She saw two sides to every situation, even the right side. She thought we should praise God more, and not be so demanding. The fact you're alive was something wonderful to her. She loved to walk in the rain. She believed there was something soothing about it. She said, "It seems like God is blessing you."
But not all weather is gentle. The farm has been hit by flooding, and by storms that have brought down trees, and it seems to me, one bent a steel post like a piece of licorice. One storm in particular hit in mid-June, when crops were looking good after three years of drought. Corn was flourishing, already more than knee high, and oats was headed out. Out of the west came a thunderstorm hurling hail and rain. Hailstones up to the size of baseballs or larger, bombarded buildings and fields. The wind blew fiercely. At the Sac City airport, the wind gauge pegged and they estimated the windspeed at 100 mph. The rain flew in torrents. It was over in about 20 minutes.
Mom slept in the west room downstairs. Behind her bed, on the west side of the house, was a big bay window which didn't open and had a sill inside. Mom arose from her bed to close another window. Moments later, glass from the bay window was blasted out as the storm crashed into the room. It shredded the shades and her bed was strewn with glass, hail and leaves. Outside the cottonwood tree lost most of its foliage, cars were dented and roofs were damaged. Much of the oats was cut down to stubble and the corn was pummeled to the ground, most of it gone.
Yet even in the fury of the storm, there was a blessing. She
survived and I don't remember her even being hurt. The storm also
illustrates the uncertainty of farming and the farmer's dependence upon the
kindness of the weather.
Neither she nor the doctor thought she'd last as long as she did. She asked God to let her live till her children could take care of themselves.
A mother is one who gives life and she certainly lived that. And she continued to give to us in care, care to the lives she'd given, her family. But finally, on the evening of February 5th, 1980, her life gave out. On that evening, a fire broke out in the repair shed on the farm, and flames leaped into the sky. She'd come out the front door, and there on the steps, she collapsed, never to revive. Just days before, the last of her flock had moved out of the house. God had granted her request.
Flotilla doesn't appear to be a common personal name. You do find the name applied to a small fleet or a fleet of small craft. In a way, it fits her life. From her, a small fleet of us have set forth on the sea of life, all destined for a farther shore, a New World beyond the horizon. Sometimes the sea is peaceful and sometimes rough. Sometimes a tempest tosses one or another of us about. Yet we stay afloat and journey on. Mom followed the light of faith. It's our course as well.
Remember your Grandma on her anniversary,
Your old navy Dad
2 Grossvater, my Grandfather in Mankato, was
named Josef Alois Riedel. His son and my father was Joseph Alois as
well, and both of Dad's grandparents
were named Alois, Alois Riedel and Alois Schwab. Grossmutter was Amalia
Schwab, the youngest daughter of Alois and Josefa Schwab.
Copyright © 2006 - John Riedell - All