When growing up there wasn’t very much money to spend or even to purchase what we thought were necessities. We had plenty to eat because of being on the farm. We had plenty of milk, eggs, meat and a garden that gave us lots of vegetables. Canning was a way of preserving our food. No food lockers in town or a deep freeze, so canning was how we preserved food for winter use. However, when we were in our late teens food lockers came into existence. We also would get fruit to can. A treat was peaches topped with real whipped cream. We always had homemade bread.
When we needed flour for baking, wheat was taken to the grain elevator and exchanged for flour. We had an ice box in place of a refrigerator. The men cut ice on the lakes and stored it in a building packed with sawdust around the blocks of ice. That would keep for a long time in the winter and then sometimes in the summer we had to buy some.
Cutting wood was a necessity, since we had a heating stove in the living room and a cook stove in the kitchen. Sometimes if
there was enough money a little coal was bought to burn at night so the fire would last until morning. It was not easy to get up in the morning when the house was so cold. On the side of the kitchen stove was a reservoir that we kept water in so it would be hot for washing dishes or to take a bath in the wash tub. Yes, a wash tub.
The weekly wash water was heated in a boiler on top of the wood stove. Then put in the washing machine that had a gasoline motor. Clothes were hung outside on a line to dry (a solar dryer). Before we had electricity we had what we called flat irons. We sat them on top of the stove to get hot and then we ironed the clothes. The iron needed to be reheated several times until all of the ironing was done. There was no such thing as polyester or any other fabric that needed “no” or “very little” ironing.
Our dishes were washed in a dish pan and not sinks, using the water from the reservoir. Sometimes we even had homemade soap. That was not very good dish soap and not very sudsy. Hard on the hands too. Never helped to make the soap, nor know what it was made of.
We didn’t have a lot of social life. What we did have was built around church, school and family activities. Mostly we visited with family and friends. We were entertained by radio and not television, as it wasn’t in existance then. The radio was operated by a battery until we had electricity. Believe it or not there was some good programs. Sitcoms are what they call them today. There was Amos N Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly, as well as the daytime “sob stories”. Never listened to them. Jack Armstrong the All American Boy was probably for the athletic kids. The music was good, too (at least we thought so). It was mostly ballads. We lived with what we had, including outdoor toilets. That was probably the worst thing of growing up. It was cold in the winter and smelly in the summer.
Keith’s Story: Since I was always the bread winner and master of the household (with lots of your mothers help) I will take
the lead and tell you all about my family and the first few years of my life. On June 28, 1927, probably a warm day, I was
born in the farmhouse at what is now (1997) known as 7352 100th Street near Caledonia, Michigan, to Eugene and Audra (Farnharn) Bergy. In 1986 the farm house was replaced with a new home built by my oldest brother, Howard, and wife Marie . Prior to my arrival a sister and two brothers had arrived: Bernice, Howard and Clifford. So I had plenty of care from everyone. Bernice must have sort of liked me as I remember her telling me things and she always wanted me to be ever so clean. She was always after me to wash my ears with a wash cloth. So I was obedient and did as I was told, if I didn’t she did. We had some good times together, but when she got married I felt as though she had deserted me. I was nine years old then. I wanted her to be very happy, but I sure missed her, especially on Sunday evenings as that was a lonely time for me. I guess I never got over this lonely Sunday night thing, as I sometimes
still feel this way if we are not doing something.
But I must tell you about my parents and family. My parents were Eugene Levi and Audra ( no middle name or initial ) ( Farnham) Bergy. They were very good parents to me and all of the family, even though they had some struggles in their married life. The “Great Depression”, a house fire and dad’s farm accident. The house fire happened two or three years before I was born. The depression, or crash of the stock market, happened two years after I was born. The hardships it created lasted for many years. Dad’s accident happened when I was about eleven. My parents married on March 18, 1913. I don’t know where they lived when they were first married, but it was in the Fenville area. Soon they moved to the Caledonia area where they spent the rest of their lives. My sister Bernice was the first to arrive in the family on December 7, 1915. I’ve told how she looked after me in my early years and that she got married, when I was quite young, to Harry Botruff. They were married in Caledonia on August 22, 1936. They had a family of four: Geraldine, Lucille, David and Gloria. I’m sure you remember going to their home in Ionia and having good times with Dave and Gloria since they were near your age. My brother Howard was born on August 15, 1920. He married Marie Graham from Alto on August 15, 1942. Soon after that Howard was drafted into the army. I really missed him when he went away. After he returned from the service they lived in Grand Rapids until they built their home on the farm in 1986. They have a son Dean and a daughter Gail. Cliff was born on August 29, 1923. He married Shirley Bytwork from Grand Rapids, on August 29, 1950. They lived in Caledonia a short time and then in Dutton. Their family was Nancy, Roger, Marcia and Linda. Roger died on August 16, 1975 and Cliff died on June 20, 1986.
Although we didn’t do much for recreation, but sometimes play ball, we did do some other fun things. On Wednesday and Saturday nights in the summer there were free outdoor movies in Caledonia that dad took us to when we got the work done. The movies were shown on the side of the building that is now occupied by the barbershop. There was a vacant lot at that time where the Post Office building and restaurant was. The Post Office building is vacant now and the restaurant changed to a dollar store. Well in this vacant lot we sat on benches and watched the movies – a real treat. Another thing the family did was go to Alto to the Bergy Brothers Elevator on Saturday nights in the winter. We had a model T Ford car and I always rode in the back seat and it seemed to me that I was always squeezed in between two others of the family. Oh well, I made it.
Work was a necessity for us since dad was hurt in a farm accident, as I said, I was eleven when this happened. As he was buzzing wood (cutting logs into short pieces to be used for firewood) the belt came off the pulley of the tractor and it wrapped around his left leg. It broke his leg and really mangled other things like the muscle and cartilage in the knee. He spent a lot of time in the Grand Rapids hospital and then in Ann Arbor at the University Hospital. They set his broken leg, but didn’t do anything for the rest of the things that were torn and out of place. As the result of these things not being taken care of he had a stiff knee the rest of his life. I don’t remember how long a time this was, but maybe about a year and a half. Part of this time he did spend at home and used a wheel chair, but was never able to do any work. Mother was gone a lot of the time to the hospital, so to help out I sometimes would bake chocolate cakes. When one was gone I’d bake another one. Now I wonder what kind of a recipe I used. Us boys had to do all of the farming so you can understand why there was not much time for recreation. I had to milk six cows every night and morning. We didn’t have a milking machine until some years later. Milking was never a favorite thing of mine. A lot of the time I had to take care of the chickens, feed them and see that they had plenty of water. Also clean the chicken coop. There were chores to do that were a necessity but not always pleasant to do. There were also pigs to feed and the horses to care for after they had done their work for the day. Horses were used to do all the fieldwork until, I think, about 1942 when we got a 10-20 McCormick Deering tractor. It wasn’t a new tractor, but I thought that was really a great thing to have even though Cliff was the one who got to use it. We still had to use the horses to do a lot of the work. Then in 1946 after I was in the army, dad and Cliff bought a Farmall H tractor which was a new one. I never got to use that when it was new because of the time I spent in service. However, before I went to service I had worked for our neighbor, Ed Herman and he had a Farmall H, I thought that was really something to be able to use it. Lots of times I’d cultivate the corn in the morning when the dew was on and then after it dried off I’d take off the cultivator and then worked in the hay, raking and getting ready to put the hay in the barn. Next morning I’d put the cultivator on again and do the same thing that day and several more days until the cultivating and hay making w-as all done .
Before the days of combines we had to cut wheat and oats with a grain binder. The binder cut and tied the grain in bundles.
Then we had to put the bundles in shocks so the grain heads would dry and then could be thrashed. Bill Schroder had a grain separator (thrashing machine) and powered by a steam engine. He went from farm to farm and thrashed for the farmers. Neighbors would come with team and wagon to haul the grain from the field to the machine, which was always near the barn so the straw could be blown in a stack and then the straw was used to bed the cows in the winter. For us we always put the grain in the barn and then waited until September to do the thrashing after everyone else was done. Ours was dry because we always had it in the barn and the neighbors was in the field. I always looked forward to going to the neighbors with the team and wagon to help. The steam engine always fascinated me.
One of the big events of the year was making maple syrup each spring. We had our sugar shanty in the woods then instead of near the house as we had in the later years. We always used the horses to do the gathering as we didn’t have a tractor. It was always so muddy, as it always is at that time of the year. We didn’t boil it down enough to can, but we brought it to the
house in milk cans and then mother would boil it to the right weight for selling and then can it in quart jars for our use or
put in tin cans for selling. Every year we had a sugar party and invited Uncle Floyd, Uncle Walt and Aunt Rene their spouses and families. We’d have taffy and put it on snow if there was snow and we would stir some into sugar. It was always a fun time. When you are a kid there are some things that you don’t want to do.
When dad was in the hospital Howard seemed to have a lot of responsibility and was telling Cliff and I what we should do.
Well this one time we had burnt some brush at the back of the farm and at chore time Howard was going to send me back to check to see that everything was all right. Well I didn’t want to go and so I didn’t and went to the house where mother told me I didn’t have to do that. Well, maybe I should have.
One of my chores was to keep the wood box full of wood for the living room stove and the cook stove. The folks never had a furnace until after I left home. It was my duty to be the “go fer” kid! Anytime something was needed when we were working I was sent to get it, a wrench, a part or whatever. Sometimes we were a long way from the barn and if I didn’t get the right thing I had to make another trip. Seemed like an awful chore at that time. All of this took place when I was working with dad before his accident and then with
Howard. I always went to school in Caledonia. First in the old building that no longer is there. In 1940 we moved into the new building, which is now the building nearest to Johnson Street, and in 1941 another building was built north of this one, which was anew high school. It was nice to have new buildings, but I never had much love for school. Maybe part of that was because we never got much encouragement as we were needed to work on the farm. We were needed especially after dad’s farm accident. It is interesting that when I was in elementary school some of those who taught were still teaching when you were in school. They were Miss Miller, Mrs. Doornbos and Mrs. Therrien. And in high school Mr. Therrien.
I guess people aren’t supposed to be successful without a high school diploma, but I consider I have been. I always enjoyed
delivering feed when I worked at Bergy Brothers. I enjoyed delivering fuel and considered the people not just a customer, but a friend. We were always able to pay our bills, even though at times it was a struggle. We always had a good place to live. We have a great family to enjoy. What more do we need to be successful? At times through my life I guess I have wished I had finished school, but it isn’t something I lay awake nights and think about. Irma Snavely (one of our former pastors wife) once said that 20 years of life is equal to a college education. Most people might not agree, but she was a college graduate. Many prominent successful people haven’t, for one reason or another, finished their education. If this sounds like an apology for not having finished school, it isn’t meant to be. I’m for education and I’m sure you know that. It just didn’t work out that way for me.
As I grew up we did not have electricity. This meant that in the wintertime we took a lantern to the barn. However, we tried to do some of the chores before dark if we could. We would get the hay out of the mow for the cows and horses, as well as the silage out of the silo. But we needed the lantern when i t was time to milk because by then it was dark. In the house we had to carry a lamp from room to room. Even up stairs when we went to bed. I don I t remember exactly when we did get electricity, but I think it was in 1940 or 1941 when I was 13 or 14. Without electricity, our facilities were of course out back. The folks probably got a bathroom in the early ’50’s. I recall another incident. Cliff was in his bed and my bed was by the light switch and I decided one night that I’d turn the light switch off and then try to get into bed before the light was out. Of course this was a foolish idea. I turned the switch and then jumped into bed. Well, I lit hard and the slats of the bed broke and I landed on the floor with a bang. Dad called up to us and wanted to know what was going on. I had to confess what I did. The folks weren’t very happy about this.
I must tell you about what I got one year for Christmas. There never was much money to buy any gifts or any thing. Money was scarce. Well I wanted a wagon so I ask the folks if they could send in the catalog and get the wheels and axle. I had been looking at that catalog and had them picked out. I’d make the box if I could just get those wheels. Well, Christmas morning arrived and my gift was those wheels I had ask for. I was really happy. I did make the box and really enjoyed my wagon. As a kid my mind seemed to turn to some mode of transportation. After the wagon I wanted something bigger to ride around in our driveway and yard. Well, there was an old buggy that was no longer used. It was in good running order, however I never remember it being used. I took the box off of it and used the frame. Put a board across on the springs to use for a seat. Then used a rope that I fastened to the front axle to steer this thing. What kind of a vehicle it could be called was beyond me. Maybe it was a “contraption”, I don’t know, but riding around our place sure was fun. Would you believe this “contraption” thing is now down in the gully where other things have been disposed of. This was used until I could get a bicycle. There wasn’t any money for a bike. But, one day the neighbor lady gave me a lamb to raise. I don’t know why she gave it to us but I enjoyed raising that lamb. It was bottle fed for a long time. When it was big enough we sold it and I got to buy a bicycle. A dream come true, even if it wasn’t a new one, but a good used one. I got it from a lad I went to school with. It cost $12.00. How proud I was to have a bike. First the wagon, a contraption, a bicycle and then a car. Probably I got it in the summer of 1944, not two long before your mother and I started dating. A used car, of course, a black 1933 Plymouth. I thought that was really great to have a car of my own. There wasn’t a car anywhere that got washed any more than that did. I worked on the farm at home all of my younger years. Then I worked some with Ed Herman on his farm, ( it is now Finkbeiners farm) and also at the grain elevator in Alto. I worked in the mill some, but mostly delivered feed to farmers and brought back eggs that farmers sold to the elevator. It was when I was doing this that I met your mother and we started dating.