A couple of Sundays ago a tour group from Northern Germany was in our area. The expressed purpose of the tour was to connect with long lost cousins who had immigrated to our area from about 1880 into the early 1920’s. My great grandfather and my grandmother, both on my dad’s side had done that very thing, ( immigrated from Ostfriesland) so I asked dad if he was interested in attending a meet and greet that Sunday.
Picture of my grandma on the deck of the Dresden immigrating to America in 1929. (She is 2nd from the right)
As we walked up to the pavilion, half a dozen older ladies that I didn’t know and a guy I did were sitting on a rock wall. The German tour group hadn’t arrived yet so we stopped to talk. Turned out the ladies were all 1st cousins to each other. The Barker clan.
I mentioned I’d worked with a John Barker back when I was 16. He was framing a house for my dad. Turned out John was their uncle, one of ten brothers.
(Can you imagine???? One of ten???!!!!)
The wheels in my head began to spin.
I wasn’t sure how much to say about old John B.
These were all ladies, and John was long gone.
I remembered his thick German accent, his bib overalls, his big belly…He had a short temper and an infatuation with a word that started with “f”. He lived on an acreage on the edge of town. I graduated with his daughter Kristi.
His wife had the sweetest disposition.
It was always a mystery to me why in the world she’d married him.
I ended up telling them the following two snippets of information:
First one had to do with the German word for sledge hammer that John had taught me. He called it the “uben-schlogger”.
Right away, one of the ladies (Barbara) got excited, grabbed her German/ English dictionary and tried to look up “Uben-schlogger.” I knelt down beside her. We found something close, but weren’t quite sure.
Another snippet I told them was about time John was roofing a big barn.
His helper was nervous. Didn’t know if he could do it. John, in his thick accent barked:
“Get up on the roof! I command you!”
You would have thought I was a rock star. Everybody sitting on that rock wall was soaking up every morsel of those details of good old uncle John. One of them (Denise) was writing everything down in a spiral notepad. She “couldn’t wait” to get back home to Texas and share these stories with her sisters.
The next Monday @ work, I was telling Jason about my encounter with John’s nieces. He looked at me and said, “John was not the one who told you about the Uben – schlogger…and besides, it’s not pronounced Uben -schlogger…it’s Uben schweiger” (the persuader). We learned it from Thomas.” (Another young German who worked with Jason and I back in the early 1990’s)
I told him I liked my word better. 🙂
We had a good laugh.
There I was, a lover of local history, blending stories. Something funny and not quite right about all of it at the same time.
In the end, I was able to track down Denise on Facebook. Sent her a message, told her the story. Just in the nick of time she said. She hadn’t had a chance to talk to her sisters yet.
Early picture of me showing off with an uben schweiger:
The goal is to touch your nose with the sledge while keeping your forearm straight.