Reading 90-100 year old diaries is a journey into a world most of us have never experienced. While readers may not want to know all the details, a few explanations will help to set the stage. Entering each day begins at the time my aunt and her work for the day get up which includes lighting the stove in the kitchen, a trip to the barn to help with lactation, returning home to make breakfast, and a list of activities for the day which often include washing clothes, ironing (if the weather has worked together and the clothes are dry), baking bread, pie (named by filling contents), baking angel cake if they have the required eggs, and cookie recipes listed by names. She favors Sally Ann’s, Aunt Mary’s white cookies, oatmeal, or drop cookies. Until the end of his life, he used overly large pans from the kitchen to cook a single recipe in one pan. Adeline always seemed to be in charge of the baking, but back in the day when Grandma and the various sisters were still part of the household, everyone had their unique jobs.
Anyone who comes down to see them gets a list in his diary, often with a misspelling of the name so you have to study this moment to find out who he means. To many people with the same first names, he has his own code to keep them separate. Family members don’t have an initial letter behind their name, but if you’re familiar with the neighborhood – you know that “S” means Schrader, “B means Balsdon or Bowles, and“ K ”is represents Kaercher.The aunts and uncles have that title in front of their names, and the elderly neighbors are not known by first names if they are the age of his parents and many are.These people are formally identified as Mr. or Mrs. Apparently, they have a different phone line than the neighbors because many entries list a neighbor coming to use the phone before the family wakes up in the morning.The line is possibly just in town and not, at that time, going to Osnabrock.Another early line in that area was called the Norwegian line, and as a child I remember reaching for the high chair (stored sa bottom of the phone) and calling anyone nearby the phone funny spoke.
In Adeline’s abbreviated list form where men work every day, who come to town with a load of grain (including town), who haul rocks or plow, and details of frequent days of murder. Butchering kettles, jigsaws, and other items were often shared with neighbors and first Grandma and then Adeline were on hand to help make the sausage and the casings.
Guests are listed, usually with a name, but sometimes “male and two male” indicating that they are strangers. If they arrive during the storm and stay a few days, their names may later appear in the diary. As I wrote before, there is company every day mostly staying for a meal or a night or two. Girls who are not at home working or attending school are expected to come home for the holidays and be with their families after marriage. Since we lived in Minnesota we had only one Christmas with Grandma even though she took the time to visit us more often.
Any activities in the Church of Zion are mentioned. Many of the neighbors attended an earlier Zion Church in Ontario, and others belonged to an earlier Zion Church east of Cavalier so the first pastors were circuit riders from Pembina County and remained in this house, which could easily be placed next to the road that would eventually become Highway 5. When a full-time pastor was assigned, he and his family lived with the Wenzel family until a small parsonage was built to the west of their home in 1895. The early pastors relied on their neighbors for milk, meat, and help in times of need. Grandma was not only a longtime Sunday School teacher but also cleaned the church every week and decorated it with flowers from her garden. The early church was not heated except on Sundays and had gas lamps before being arranged for electricity in the 1940s. The heavy wooden seats were replaced by benches around the same time lights available from the highline boundary of the highway. Her youngest daughter -in -law inherited her upkeep and decorating activities in more modern times.
What I really want to write about this week is the things they did for fun, and there are picnics wherever they have trees, church programs and nearby schools (Hay # 3) as well as all the holidays celebrated year after year One of the oldest sons, Milton Wenzel, worked in Langdon and Sheboygan, WI, as a young man and was actually helping a Kaercher cousin with the harvest in Montana when his draft notice for World War I. Uncle Milt reported for duty and was sent to France where he worked on a new type of equipment – airplanes. As it happened, he was sent to Alsace-Lorraine where his own grandparents lived before moving to Canada in 1831. No, he did not meet unknown relatives. Homecoming brought or made a radio. The pictures of the early ham radio sets had parts similar to what Milt’s radio told us although it was replaced a few years later and possibly again in 1931 by a newer “floor model”. Milt’s radio must have had some phonographic elements because when the farm house was no longer used by all the Dan Wenzel family, some early “records” were given to me to pass on to the Museum in Dresden. These “records” are like tin cans, and I have no idea how they were used to provide music or programming. If anyone knows, the Museum may welcome your expertise.
It would be 1922 before the more popular stations in North Dakota were acquired, but the shortwave had existed in Langdon since 1917 or earlier. The owners of those sets are the Opie family (the parents and their son Ross, who is happy to try to reach other countries with his radio), the lawyer Tom Devaney who lives on the other street from the Opie family, and GG Arnold who came to Langdon to install the city water system. The radios of that time ran on batteries, and readers may remember a Delco plant that was usually downstairs and had to be started before the radio could work. The diaries tell us that neighbors and relatives often came to Wenzel’s house to listen to the radio on evening visits or on Sundays to listen to special programs. There is frequent mention of low batteries (operation may be extensive or nonexistent) and how much fun they are when new batteries (obtained from catalogs) arrive in the mail. There were records about the acquisition of WDAY in the early 1920s, and it was a long -time favorite station.
About this same time politics is heating up – maybe it’s always been around. Some in Hay Township liked Taft. My grandfather was a Teddy Roosevelt man. The Bull Moose party later joined the Non-Partisan League which was sometimes Republican and later Democrat. A diary entry tells about listening to KFYR when prominent politicians speak. The Farmers Union was also active during this time and invited former and future governors, senators, and representatives to speak at their conventions. There are a number of diary references to Alex Haaven (there is still a family in Cavalier County), who at various times led Republican, Non-Partisan, and Farmers Union groups.
When church was not held, the family got up early on Sunday to listen to services from Fargo. It was especially handy in the 1930s when they had a city -born pastor who pushed an Essex and made unusual requests. He didn’t mind having Zion Church but he felt the parsonage should be located in town! This will not happen for many years. People who come to listen to radio are not all interested in church services or politics. One program featured Clara, Lou, and Em heading to Washington, DC, and gave a jigsaw puzzle of them on the steps to the Capitol to everyone with the right coupons and possibly 50 cents. Another night they listened to Seven Nights in a Bar Room that could have been a musical. Everyone enjoys it. There were also Amos and Andy fans who came to listen to them, and as a little kid I remember Sunday nights as special ever since One Man’s Family. At that time, they had a new radio that was a floor model. My memory here may be that it was a Philco. It sat on the west wall of the living room and had an aerial exit. The radio was taller than me at the time and could have been purchased from Ross Opie or a Mr. Harwood as both talk on the radios in Langdon – probably not in sync. Somehow there is a memory of Earl Brown from Cavalier, who also sold radios and later televisions in addition to helping build air chargers on farms. Pre-REA towers have brought radio to many homes over the years. At school, students on the farm mention listening to the Lux Radio Theater every Monday night and running the soundtrack from movies that may or may not reach Roxy.
If you didn’t grow up announcing your name on the Birthday Party from Devils Lake or spending part of a Saturday morning listening to Art Tweet (“We all sing like birdies singing, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet ….. “), it’s possible that you’ll spend noon time eating lunch at home and listening to Ma Perkins and her friends or maybe in Whoopee John polka dots. The radio was open from morning to night in our house, so I associated many of the voices at meal times. The news with HV Kaltenbourn was often like broadcasts from London during the war. Lone Ranger and Tonto ride to our dinners at night, and if you’re home at night, you’ll hear Bob Hope, Red Skeleton, and sometimes a scary show like “Only the Shadow Knows”.
My aunt, Pearl, is crippled and has spent the last thirty years of her life on the couch listening to the radio and interacting more with the world we live in than anyone else. To him radio is a life line anywhere and everywhere.