Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Tenth Birthday

I was born on November 24, 1854 in Klein Tuchen in Pommern, Germany and was the third son of my parents.  In our family a boy's 10th birthday was a special occasion and the year I was turning 10 my birthday in November was on my mind constantly.

November 24, 1864 began bright and early.  I awoke even before it was light outside and could hear Mama and Papa working in the house.  Today would be my special birthday and many aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors would be coming by.  Papa and Mama had a strict law in our family that each child must attend school for 4 years; that was very important to them as they were not able to have any schooling.  So far my 2 older brothers, Albert and Fritz, had studied for 4 years in school and then when they were 10 they were allowed to begin working on the farm with Papa.  I was looking forward to this as well.  I must admit school was not my favorite thing to do; I would have rather been outside in the fields or playing with my brothers but Papa and Mama were very strict about the school rule.  Today I would be allowed to stop school and begin to work on the farm as well.

Papa called to us boys to get up while it was still dark.  Albert, Fritz and I got up immediately but our younger brothers, Heinrich and Johann, were lazier and had to be prompted to get up.  They were only 7 and 5 at the time.  Baby Hermann would be 2 tomorrow and he was still sleeping as well.  Mama also had the new baby, Gustav, who was only 5 weeks old at the time.  There had also been another brother, Franz, but he had died last year when he was only 2.  Mama had been so hoping that this latest baby would be a little girl but now we were a family of Mama, Papa and 7 sons.

That morning Mama had our breakfast ready for us and told us to hurry and eat because aunts would be arriving soon to help with the birthday celebrations.  Because Mama had baby Gustav to tend to some of the aunts would be helping with the food for the birthday so that Mama could rest.  Mama would do this for the aunts in return as well.  Having a large family was important Mama would say because everyone would help everyone else.

We had barely finished our breakfast and the light was just beginning on the day when we could hear a wagon outside.  It was Oma Kautz coming to help with the birthday.  Oma was Mama's mother and all us boys loved Oma Kautz because she always brought us special breads and cakes that she had made.  Oma was the only grandparent I had any more.  I had not known Opa Kautz because he had died long before I was born.  When he died, Oma married a Mr. Krause so that she would have help on the farm.  Mr. Krause was very stern and never smiled so we boys stayed away from him.  

Oma came in the house and told me "Happy Birthday, August" and showed me the basket she was bringing that held some special cakes with sugar on top.  She went over to Mama and inquired how baby Gustav was doing.  Mama said he was sleeping fine but not eating well and she was worried.  We did not know it then but in a few months baby Gustav would die.  

After breakfast all us boys were sent outside to give Mama and Oma room to work on the birthday.  Soon the aunts arrived carrying baskets of food as well.  Mama was going to make my favorite Pommern potatoes and the aunts had been helping her the last few days by boiling and cooling pounds of potatoes.  Now they were bringing them to the house so Mama could prepare them for me. The potatoes took a long time to make but it helped Mama that the aunts had boiled them ahead of time.  Mama then sliced them and put them in the pan on the fire with lots of lard.  The potatoes sizzled and fried for quite some time while Mama kept slicing more potatoes.  We would need a lot for all the family that was coming.  What made these potatoes special was after they were almost done frying Mama would crack eggs into the potatoes and fry them together; the eggs would work into the potatoes and Mama would get them very crispy.  I always wanted the potatoes around the edge of the frying pan because they were the best.  Many times we had these Pommern potatoes for dinner only because they were so good.  Mama had promised me she would make them herself for my birthday because her potatoes were much better than those made by the aunts though we could not tell them that.

Aunt Carolina and Uncle Johann vonJutrzenka arrived soon with some of the cousins.  Aunt Carolina was one of Papa's sisters.  They brought more food and chicken as well for the meal.  Mama was happy to see them because Aunt Carolina was a hard worker.  Soon Uncle August and Aunt Friederike Colberg arrived.  Uncle August was Papa's brother and he was my godfather which was something he reminded me of all the time.  I liked Uncle August because he would take my older brothers out behind the barn and let them smoke some tobacco and he had been promising this to me all year.  Aunt Friederike came bearing her usual gift for all the cousins which were hand knit socks.  She took great pride in using heavy yarn so that the socks would be warm and would always say the same thing "if your feet are warm you won't get sick".  We boys thought her socks were picky and uncomfortable but Mama always frowned at us and we quickly thanked Aunt Friederike.  Later Mama would tell us that we needed to be grateful because we had many feet in the house to put socks on and it helped Mama when an aunt would give new socks.

By mid day we had many guests - aunts, uncles and cousins and even neighbors all coming for my 10th birthday.  Uncle Gottlieb and Aunt Karolina brought a smoked ham from the hogs on their farm and Papa praised the ham.  Uncle Gottlieb was Papa's brother as well.  They had children the same ages as us boys and even had an August born the same year as me.  Sometimes it became very confusing when all the cousins were together.

The day went by quickly but it was grand fun.  Uncle August tried to take me out behind the barn to show me his tobacco but Papa saw us and quickly stopped this.  Uncle August and Papa talked loudly about this for a while but in the end Uncle August shrugged and walked away.  Papa told me that there would be plenty of time for tobacco but he didn't want me to be sick today on my birthday. I wasn't very happy but we boys knew we had to obey Papa.  That was the way it was.

By the end of the day the families were all leaving but Aunt Carolina and Oma Kautz stayed longer to help with cleaning up the house.  Mama was looking very tired and Oma was worried about her.  But she said to me "I think August Gottlieb that you had a grand 10th birthday and now you are a man".  Oma Kautz reminded me that Mama had worked hard on my Pommern potatoes while tending baby Gustav and I should never forget the grand birthday I had.

And I never did!!!

The above are recollections contained in notes written by Ella Kolberg Kijak from verbal discussions with her father, August Gottlieb Kolberg, on Ella's 19th birthday on August 8, 1914.  

Copyright (c) 2012, Cheryl J. Schulte  


Jasia said...

What a special birthday celebration indeed! You told this story beautifully, Cheryl. We should all be so lucky as to have such memories from days of old to pass on. Thank you for sharing this lovely birthday tale in the COG!

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Jasia. I enjoyed writing up this post. Too bad I don't have a photo from that party but somehow I don't think there were cameras back in 1864.

Joan said...

Cherly, thanks for sharing this 10th birthday story with us. So wonderful to have a such a beautifully written
memory. A treasure to be sure.

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Joan. I did enjoy writing up this post.

Cynthia Shenette said...

What a lovely story! I particularly liked the paragraph about cooking the potatoes. It was so detailed and real!

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Cynthia, for your comments. I actually still make those Pommern potatoes today but not with lard, of course!

Nancy said...

I certainly enjoyed all the detail in this post, Cheryl. It was interesting to learn the traditions in August's family.

Perhaps you could make your Pommern Potatoes, take a photo, and post the recipe for a Family Recipe Friday some time? They sound delicious.

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Nancy, for the comments. They are delicious potatoes, think I should make some soon!

TK said...

Cheryl, everything about this post was delicious, not just the potatoes!

Cheryl said...

Thanks, TK. Those potatoes are delicious for sure.

Kristin said...

This is such a wonderful memory to have. I have no idea how or if my ancestors celebrated their 10th birthdays, beyond my parents.

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Kristin. I am lucky that my grandmother kept notes over the years and shared them with me. I've been very fortunate on her ancestral lines.