Snowed in with history

When you’re snowed in and looking for something not too strenuous to occupy your time, it can be a great opportunity to look through some of those items on the shelf waiting for the “someday” you’ve promised yourself.

So during our recent winter weather event, out came my grandma’s notebooks once again. They contain the story of her early life, written in her own hand when she was in her 90s, and offer up a quite fascinating look at what it was like to live in that era with no electricity, when vehicles were powered by real horsepower, when household chores and cooking were much more labor intensive than what we enjoy today.

My great-grandparents, who were of German descent, bought a general store when they moved to Kamrar in 1909 from Gilbert, where they also had a store before selling it to move to Hamilton county. My grandma was 12 at that time, old enough to remember how it was living and running a business in a small rural community that was a busy place, with three other general stores plus other businesses and services.

“When we moved to Kamrar the M.E. (Methodist) church was the only one there, but soon a group of Christian Church members got together and opened up the closed Christian Church. My sister Edith was the organist on an old tread organ, then I was when she left. We also had a small orchestra-just four men. There’s a big German Presbyterian Church a couple of miles from town and also a small schoolhouse into a church in town for the Germans who had no way to drive out-they were in the afternoon. I had to attend that.

“Since this was a German community, Papa was asked to send me to German summer school. I didn’t want to learn German, but I learned to count, the ABC’s, and to read, even though I didn’t know the meaning. I also went to the German Sunday School on Sunday afternoons.”

Even in the early 1900s, small towns had celebrations, as Grandma recounted. “Every fall they always had a Harvest Festival, a big day, and lots of people came. A merry-go-round was set up on the street next to our store. One fall Edith (sister) and I had a pop and candy stand. Edith used her money for music lessons of Carrie Snow. I used my money to have some extra dental work done and for a dresser for my room. Miss Snow came from Webster City on an 8:00 train Thursday a.m. and back on 8:00 on Friday evening. So both of us had lessons.”

It’s intriguing to get a glimpse of small-town life here in Hamilton county a century back and to learn about the changes since. In one way, everything has changed, but small-town values, faith, and families remain unchanged.