The Persuader

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.

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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.

 

My Book Manuscript

My grandpa  used to tell me stories from his days when he was a kid growing up on a farm a mile from where I grew up.  One of the stories he told was about a train wreck just south of town.  If I heard that story once, I heard it fifty times.    When my son John was 10 years old, I took him over to interview Grandpa and record him.

 

train wreck

Picture of the train wreck south of my grandpa

That was in 1999.

In the interview, I asked grandpa about the train wreck, farming with horses, the story about his brother and him making moonshine…was it really true?

It was.  In fact, Grandpa and the boys had an actual route where they delivered the stuff, and on this occasion, Grandpa told me something I’d never heard before.

He gave me the family recipe for making moonshine.

The interview lasted about 40 minutes.

It is priceless to me now that he is gone.

In 2007 I came across that tape and listened to it again.  You can hear the coffee pot percolating in the background the first several minutes.   After the interview was over, I decided to do an Internet search on  local history.

I found a gold mine.

I came across an account of two men retracing a hundred mile long, early pioneer trail on foot in the early 1920’s, that passed right through our area…this was 75 years after the fact. It stirred something in me.  The desire to retrace that same route myself on foot…but before doing so, I decided to immerse myself in local history.   I purchased old maps, out of print county history books, anything I could get my hands on which might give me clues into life in Eastern Iowa from 1839 to 1900.

Through a chance conversation with a woman who owned a local antique store one day, as I was looking for old books, she told me me  her dad,  had also spent considerable time researching that same route.  She asked me if I would be interested in looking through the many newspaper clippings and personal correspondence he’d had with various people he’d interacted with.

I have included several of those things in this book.

I came across enough material to make  several movies. (Think Little House On The Prairie.)

Last Winter, I finally finished the rough draft of a book.  A compilation of many of the stories I read, plus some of my personal reflections.  A friend of mine lined up two different people to edit the rough draft, and just last week I finally finished making all the corrections.

All I have left to do is find someone to help create the cover, tidy up a few loose ends then send it to the printer.  I plan to create a small Kickstart or Gofundme page in a few weeks.  Print on demand publishing prices have dropped considerably since my last book. With any luck it should be in print by this May.

It is an act of love, 9 years in the making.