Who Am I to Judge?

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

-Proverbs 13:24

“Go get a switch from the Plum Orchard” my mother instructed me.

I moved slowly, trying to delay the inevitable pain of the spanking I had earned for my conduct at church that Sunday morning. At the plum grove, I selected a tender branch, (the smallest I believed my mother would accept) to be used to deliver my sentence. Leaving the decision of which switch I would choose added to the anticipation of the penance.

Life had a rhythm on the farm. As a child too young to really work in the field, I spent most of my days playing with my younger brother in the fields around our farm house. In the evening, we would join my older brothers and sister in family games of baseball or hide and seek. Saturday early mornings were special as we were allowed to watch cartoons on the old black and white television we had on the farm. Sundays were reserved for church and rest.

Each Sunday began with us dressing in our best clothing, being taken to church and then being marched as a group down the center aisle, pausing to genuflect before entering our pew in our rural church. The next hour (half during harvest) we would stand up, sit, and kneel in time to the chanted Latin of the Catholic Mass. It was a solemn time, punctuated by the choir singing, the priest delivering his sermon and the occasional child, being dragged out of church by a red faced parent under the watchful eye of the congregation. The child knowing his fate would be whimpering and pleading for mercy, while covering his behind with his hand. It would be to no avail, as we all knew the sound of the church door closing would soon be followed by a whack and the immediate return of the sniffing child to his mother.

I never really knew what impious mischief I did that would guarantee my secular punishment. Perhaps it was my dropping of a toy I had smuggled into church, or maybe it was the coloring of a songbook page. Whatever it was, the look delivered by my mother told me justice was coming.

After church we were loaded into our car and were driven home. If punishment were in order, we were expected to go to my parent’s bedroom to wait as mom and dad decided our fate. The punishment would be most likely an easy quick spanking with an open hand, but could be escalated with a hair brush or wooden spoon if the occasion demanded. The fetching of a switch was the ultimate punishment.

Whatever correction was administered, the pain was momentary and was followed by Sunday dinner and life would go on. As far as I knew, the same scene happened every Sunday in every home around our farm. Sunday morning – get up, get dressed, go to church and then come home and get beat! It was nothing to be excited about, simply part of our lives and the duty of a loving parent.

Stories of corporal punishment from my generation are told with the same reverence as walking uphill in a blizzard to (and from) school or having to wear hand me downs that my brothers (and sisters) all wore. The stories are remembered almost fondly as part of our colorful fabric of our lives.

It was with that history, that I read the story last week concerning Adrian Peterson and his alleged abusive punishment of his children. I hadn’t heard the word “switch” for many years, but knew exactly what it meant. I was a little startled to find out the practice had survived to this time, but I guess it didn’t surprise me that much. I was even less surprised that Adrian Peterson was totally shocked to learn that the behavior was now considered a form of torture and his career and reputation was ruined.

I understood his behavior. Isn’t discipline part of love? I had spent many years as a parent struggling with that issue. I however spent most of my adulthood around parents who believed in “sparing the rod” and considered corporal punishment horrible. But if I had lived in Peterson’s neighborhood, I could have easily gone the other direction and taken up the switch.

I truly believe that he loves his children as much as my parents loved me. Does love justify his actions?

In this case I don’t know- I just don’t know. What I do know is that it is not up to me to cast judgment on Adrian Peterson’s actions. It is my duty to live my life as best I can and leave the decision of his intention to his Lord.

Johann Friederick Eggert, My Great Great Grandparent

Born        April 10, 1833 Bernitt, Gustrow, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

Died        May 27, 1871 Winona, Winona, Minnesota, USA

Married to:              Dorothea Maria Friederike Krohn

June 26, 1863 Moisall, Gustrow, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

Johann Eggert, his wife Dorothea and their four children Maria, Johann, Wilhemina, and Carolina  arrived on the Steam Ship Thuringia in New York Harbor on November 11th, 1871 from Hamburg, Germany. After clearing immigration they traveled across country to Winona, Minnesota where there were jobs to be had for industrious workers.

1871 SS Thuringia Passenger List


While the family dreamed of prosperity, fate would deliver a hard blow, with the death of the father Johann Eggert after only a few months in his new country.

In May of 1871 the Winona & St. Peter Railroad had opened a railroad crossing across the Mississippi River. Unfortunately the bridge was faulty and collapsed as the first train attempted to cross. The bridge was in the process of being rebuilt in 1872 when Johann was hired and put to work as a laborer. As a railroad worker he would have been on the crew that moved large replacement girders into position. The boats would have been precariously loaded and very top heavy, a contributing factor that would undoubtedly lead to Johann’s accidental death in 1872.

Winona Daily Republican May 27, 1872


“A skiff containing seven railroad laborers, among whom were August Hagadorn, Hans Nielson, and a German, named Egert, was capsized while crossing the slough at the extreme lower end of the city, this Monday, morning. The boat struck the bushes and, being pretty heavily freighted, and in a strong current, at once turned over. All managed to cling to the boat save Egert, who was drowned, he came over from the old country only last Summer, and leaves a wife and family near the Third ward park, to who the blow will be most severe. The deceased was an industrious man and had every prospect of doing well in the new home which he sought. A party of men went down this forenoon to recover the body if possible.”

Winona Daily Republican May 28, 1872


“The body of the unfortunate German, Egert, who was drowned in the river below this city, on Monday, has not yet been recovered. His poor wife was overwhelmed with grief when the news was brought to her, and it was feared for a time that her reason would be impaired, but to-day her grief is more subdued, though none the less deep and poignant. She is left in poor circumstances with a family of four children, the oldest nine years old and the youngest a year and a half. Rev. Phillip Von Rohr has kindly interested himself in her behalf and has already succeeded in raising a liberal contribution for her relief. It is a case which appeals strongly to the sympathies of our citizens, and it is hoped the response will be characterized by that noble generosity which the touching circumstances suggest. Donations left with Mr. Von Rohr will be gratefully received by the afflicted woman, who is left with her little ones without relatives in a strange land.”

Winona Daily Republican June 3, 1872

“The body of John Egert, the German man that was drowned last week, at the lower end of the city, was found, on Saturday night, about a hundred yards from where he was drowned. Mr. Turnqinst, of Homer, who discovered the body, made it fast to the bushes, and, on Sunday morning, notified the officers in this city. Marshall Chappoll and Coroner McGaughey went down, and an inquest was held, the jury returning a verdict of death by accidental drowning. The body was then brought to the city and interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in the afternoon. Rev. Philip Von Rohr performed the funeral services. The wife of the unfortunate man was agitated with uncontrollable grief, and her distress at the grave was heartrending to behold. Even after the ceremonies were concluded the poor woman could hardly be persuaded to leave the spot, but at last she was gently led away by two of her friends and returned to her desolate home.”

Johann Eggert was buried in the Potter’s field section of the Winona cemetery…  One month later

Winona Daily Republican July 22, 1872

“ A juvenile imposter, in the shape of a little German girl, about twelve years of age, has been duping our citizens by representing herself to be the daughter of Mrs. Eggert, whose husband was drowned in the river below this city, a few weeks ago. The girl has obtained considerable money, clothing, etc., thought the sympathy excited by her pitiful tale, but none of the things have ever found their way to the place intended by the givers. Mrs. Eggert has never sent her child out to ask alms; more than that, her little girl cannot speak English. If the little imposter continues her business she should be at once reported to the police, as she is unquestionably sent out by unprincipled person, who deserve punishment for thus obtaining aid under false pretenses.”

The next trace of the family was found on a marriage license for Dorothea stating that she had married Karl Frederick Lange (a widower with two daughters) on July 10, 1873, a little more than a year after Johann’s death. The combined family of 6 was soon joined by 5 more children. In 1879, the Lange family moved to Barnes County, North Dakota where they homesteaded. In a tragic turn on December 4, 1894 Charles Lange succumbed to a final crop failure and took his own life. Dorothea Maria Friederika Krohn passed away on October 17, 1903 near Valley City, North Dakota.

The eldest of the Johann’s children married Julius Nicoli (A widower, whose first wife had recently died in child birth of his 5th child). And bore him an additional 11 children. The second child Johann married Augusta Billet and had three children. The third sibling Wihelmena, married Frederick Neustel and had 9 children. The youngest child, Carolina married Frederick’s brother Johann Neustel and had 8 children. These 4 children of Johann along with their step and half siblings spread his descendants, numbering in the thousands, across the USA and Canada.

Chicken Soup For My Soul

More years ago than I like to admit, I was raised on a small grain farm in North Dakota. It was about 500 acres of sandy loam soil that needed more water then it got and required all 6 of the children to work hard with my parents to scratch out a sharecropper’s living. If I learned anything from the experience, it was the value of good food to fuel my body for a hard day of chores.

The only things we had in abundance on that farm were vegetables from our huge garden and mean old clucking hens. As one of the younger children in the family, it was my daily job to gather the eggs from the coop. Everyday I had to confront those same old clucks who were intent on guarding the eggs in their care. With most chickens, a simple waive of the hand would send them running, but these evil creatures fought me hard with their beaks and claws.

It’s no wonder my favorite soup was chicken!

Of course I’m not talking about the soup that comes out of a red & white can! I’m talking about a soup that’s thick with chicken and vegetables and had battleship sized dumplings floating on the top. A soup that started on Monday, simmered on Tuesday, and only by Wednesday was ready for the table. It was the type of soup that didn’t need crackers and was served as a meal to give you the energy to work hard all day long.

Years later I’m finding, the values I learned on the farm are still valid today. Number one is, nobody likes an old cluck and two, that there is a huge difference between quick and easy and real homemade quality. People understand and appreciate the time and effort it takes to expertly combine high quality ingredients to make a product that satisfies.

Christmas – 2007

Dear Santa, North Pole – Top of the World

It’s been many years since I last wrote to you and it occurred to me it would be a good to restart the tradition this year.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank you for the wishes you’ve provided me with over the years. The best of which are my children and family; Mary, my loving wife, who has put up with more of her share of my cantankerous behavior. The children; Kate, already on her own in Chicago, Kristine, preparing for her teaching career at Valley City State University and the two youngest still at home, Kelsey in high school and Emily in junior high school.

I should mention that the three cats you helped place in our home are doing well and have taken over the entire house. Each one has established a territory and defends it to the death when the others stray into their area. The supply of Allerest you included with them was a nice touch and I appreciated the thought. I might suggest that the next time you give three cats to a family; you also include a lifetime supply of lint rollers.

I’d also like to thank you for the things you did not bring me over the years, although I begged for them over and over again! For example, the slingshot was on a number of my lists but, I am sure my neighbors appreciated not having to replace all those windows. Thank you too, for ignoring all my requests to get rid of my little brother, Eugene. Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to him and now with the distance between our homes, I now find myself actually missing him.

Well on to my 2007 Christmas Wish List—

1)      It seems strange that the first thing on my list after all of these years, is peace on earth again! The last time I wrote, I was referring to a small East Asian Country. Now, we have friends and family patrolling in the Middle East. The most important thing I ask for is, please look after all of our loved ones and bring them home quickly and safely.

2)      Now back to my other items: Power Tools – Over the years, you have provided me with a number of gas driven power tools and at the same time my ability to get them started has dropped markedly. It seems only fair that if you do bring me new power tools, please include electric start.

3)      Heating & massage cushions (I still have those old tools.)

4)      Grandchildren — I do not want to put undue pressure on my own older children to get married and produce an heir but, I have to point out, I am not getting any younger.

5)      Finally, I am asking you for help in either putting up the Christmas lights next year or have someone convince our new neighbor that it is way too much work for him to decorate his own house and give up like the rest of us. Either way would be fine with me.


Clarence Holm, Delano, MN

P.S.  Of course we will have treats waiting for you by the tree again this year, Santa. I’m sorry about the low fat milk and sugar free cookies, but my doctor has put his foot down. If you are interested, we do have fresh carrots and vegetables in the refrigerator. By the way, I have switched a lot of my light bulbs to “Low-E”. I hope that helps the ice up there!

Privy Memories

Every farm had one, but not all were equal. There were “one holers” and “two holers”. There were wooden ones and tin ones. There were permanent ones and temporary ones. There were simple ones and fancy ones. About the only things they had in common was that outhouses were cold in the winter, stunk in the summer and were darn nice to have when you needed one.

The common outhouse, if there were such a thing, were two hole affairs. The seats were built into the structure with the opening cut with a hand saw and shaped expertly with a rasp to eliminate the sharp edges. A frequent upgrade was a store bought seat that could be lowered into place for the comfort of the ladies.

As a point of pride, the structures were built to last. The floorboards were made from good quality lumber and were attached to strong 2×6 joists that could take the yearly move. White pine was used for the walls and roof. A good sized one was 6 feet wide, 5 feet deep and about 8 feet high. The roof was a simple affair that tilted from front to back to shed the rain. Shingles were optional. Windows were rarely installed and the only source of light was the obligatory crescent moon which was cut high into the door to identify its true purpose. Outhouses, if painted at all, were normally white.

The structure itself was placed over a hole that was dug just for that purpose. The building was moved as needed and the old hole was covered with soil. The new holes were dug down to about a six foot depth, or to the point where the second or third oldest child refused to dig any further. The key to a successful outhouse hole was to locate it on a crown of the higher ground with soil that had good absorption. Nobody wanted to have the run off from a thunderstorm come roaring down a slope and flooding the hole, allowing the water to lift the contents out of the pit.

Another key consideration for location was privacy. A lot of farms placed the outhouse on the edge of tree line. This gave shade in the summer and cut down on the wind in the winter. However, distance from the house to the privy always had to be respected. When nature called, no one wanted it too far from the house.

The last concern that needed to be addressed was ventilation. How much was a matter of much contention and usually came down to the owner’s preference. Obviously the more ventilation used, the cooler (and less smelly) the building was in the summer. However, in winter, a draft cause by the ventilation could be very uncomfortable and with temperatures hovering at minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, wind chill was a risk that had to be accounted for.

The most important accessory for the building was paper. Years before the environmentalists ever heard of it, farmers practiced recycling. The best source for outhouse paper was the pink wrappers from peaches. But, they were a seasonal item and were normally saved for guests.

In most cases it was the Sears Roebuck Catalog that made the best impression, as an educational reference used to clean up the farmer’s bottom line. For farmers, the time spent in the outhouse let them keep abreast of new implements for the farm. For the wife, her daytime constitutional gave her a window into the luxuries of the affluent people in town. For the children, their efforts were rewarded with their first introduction into the secrets of the opposite sex. Many a young male was driven to distraction by the lavish description of corsets and braziers displayed in the drawings on the black and white pages of that book.

All of this information was provided by an ingenious marketing idea; that was recycled page by page by page.

Many people thought the worst thing that could happen in an outhouse was to run out of paper. However, it was not paper which caused the near tragedy on a nearby farm. It all came down to ventilation.

The farm was located a half-mile down the road from ours and was only a quick walk across the field. During those last few years there, our family had taken to moving into the cities for the winter. Our mother was employed as a teacher and we had stopped milking, so there was no real need for us to remain on the farm year round. Our neighbor farmed year round, so winter preparation was much higher on their priority.

It was because of this that the two farms subscribed to different theories of outhouse ventilation. Ours was loosely built to eliminate the heat, while theirs was built near the trees and was tightly sealed to stop all but the most persistent drafts. In fact, to help stop cold air penetration, a much stronger foundation was used on theirs which almost sealed the lower chamber of the outhouse.

Now this design has performed flawlessly for years on my neighbor’s farm and when we came out to visit in the preceding winter, their outhouse seemed remarkably warm. But during the summer of 1964 things had changed. It was much hotter than normal and the wind did not seem to blow as much as usual. It made for an uncomfortable June and it appeared that July would be following the same weather pattern.

As bad as that year’s weather was, we youngsters still had one thing to look forward to. It was the holiday second only to Christmas for us. It was the 4th of July! The 4th was a time of county fairs, watermelons, cap guns, potato salad and fireworks.

Now this was the old time Forth of July, when the firecrackers had much more pop. When you set off a Baby Gorilla firecrackers, you knew you needed to get away. The older children played with Cherry Bombs and Silver Salutes. (The Silver Salute was spoken about almost reverently and it was always mentioned that they contained a quarter stick of dynamite.) When my older brother placed a Cherry Bomb under a can and set it off, the can was blown fifty or sixty feet in the air. Cherry Bombs and Baby Gorillas were way too powerful for the smaller children.

Little children were given Lady Fingers, while not as powerful as a Baby Gorilla; they still made a nice bang. If you placed them under a can, they could easily launch it about 5 feet into the air. It didn’t take the those same kids too long to find out that if you set Lady Fingers off in a more confined area, the noise produced was greatly enhanced. So it was common for children to blow up their fireworks between the out buildings, trying to get the loudest bang from the reverberation.

This particular Fourth of July seemed routine until nature called one of my neighbor’s younger daughters. Unlike her brothers, a little girl could not just stop and run to between the lilac bushes; she would have to use the outhouse. So off she went, carrying her lit punk and the package of Lady Fingers with her. It was hot in there, but being the proper lady she was, she closed and latched the door before dropping her trousers and plopping herself down on one of the two seats.

It didn’t take but a few seconds for her to put this spare time to use and imagine what a great sound it would make to drop a Lady Finger down the other hole. The noise would be sure to be deafening in this small of a place! She resolved to try it before telling the other children about her great idea.

Still seated with her pants down, she took her punk and lit a firecracker and threw it in the hole. Nothing! — It had been a dud. Something must have put it out as it descended into the pit. So, she lit another and waited to be sure it caught properly before dropping it down the shaft. Moments after the firecracker went into the outhouse pit, a tremendous explosion was heard across the farm.

It was a combination of the hot heavy air and the sealed foundation that trapped the methane gas down in that hole. When that little firecracker went off, it ignited that sour gas and blew that outhouse and the little girl right off that foundation, twisting it off to the side.

Luckily, she survived her physical injury but still shudders when attending our neighborly gatherings, knowing that someone will have to bring up the story of her launching the outhouse.