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An Old-Timer’s memories of his Grandpa, who’s family arrived from Germany in 1854 | By Dave Bohn

Washington County, WI – For over 15 years, Dave Bohn wrote down memories of his childhood, growing up on the family farm just south of West Bend on Hwy P.  He hopes his writings will preserve the often-overlooked stories of ordinary farmers and everyday farm life in rural Washington County during the Great Depression through the eyes of a local farm boy.
I don’t remember much about my grandfather. I wish I knew a little more about Grandpa, but this is all that I remember, as I was only seven years old when he died.

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Grandpa George “Ben” Bohn was born in Washington County, Wisconsin in 1869, but four of his siblings were born in Germany.  My great grandparents emigrated from Germany in 1854.  They stopped in Detroit, Michigan for a while and then they settled down in Washington County, WI.

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I don’t know why they chose this area, but maybe there were a lot of Germans here and word got back to Germany that this was good farmland.  I think there were people here in Wisconsin who wanted their families in Germany to immigrate here too.  During that time, there was a widespread influx of German people into this area of Wisconsin.  In any case, they settled in the Cedar Creek area of Washington County because of a similar, but better life here than what they had in Germany.

Cedar Creek is where Dad, John Bohn, was raised as a young boy.  In 1914, my Grandparents, Ben and Veronica Bohn, bought a farm on Hwy P, just south of West Bend.  That is the farm that I grew up on.  They built a two-story house that had a separate living quarters on the second floor.

Dad and his two brothers lived in that little apartment on the second floor as teenagers, while the rest of the family lived on the main level.  When Dad married Mom, they lived on the main level of the house and Grandpa and Grandma moved to the second story.  After 1937, when Grandpa died, Grandma lived upstairs alone and we continued to live on the main level of the house.

Since Grandpa didn’t know how to drive, Dad would take him into town at times, to see his nephews, Theodore and Roman Bohn, who ran Bohn Oil Company in West Bend.  It was located on the northeast corner of Hwy 33 and Main Street.  It was a station that fronted both Hwy 33 and Main Street.

Lithia Brewery was its neighbor to the north.  They sold gasoline and did small repairs on cars.  The station was a gathering place for old-timers to get together and talk about anything on their minds.

It was a time for Grandpa to get the latest news on whatever it was that they talked about.  My brother Tom recalled that whenever Grandpa heard that Mom was going into town, he would always ask her if she would drop him off for a bit, so he could catch up on the latest news.   And of course, she did.

 

Dad or Mom would also take Grandpa once a week into West Bend to play the German card game of Skat (pronounced scot) with some of his friends.  This took place in Sam Moser’s Tavern on Main Street in West Bend (currently the Pint and Chaser Pub).

One of my memories is that I went with Dad quite often to bring Grandpa home after the card game.  One time when Dad took me along to pick up Grandpa after the card game, I went inside with Dad.

 

As a young boy, coming from a non-smoking family, I was shocked when Dad opened the door and I could see nothing but smoke, as everyone smoked a cigar or pipe.  To add to this, some men were with a tobacco chew in their mouths.  Each table (I think there were three or four tables), had a couple spittoons on the floor around the table, where the men would spit the tobacco juice into.

Needless to say, their aim wasn’t the best as the day went on, especially after a few beers or brandies.  It was not a good place for a kid to play on the floor, as we waited for Grandpa to finish a card game.   My brother Tom remembered when Mom went to pick up Grandpa at Sam Moser’s, she would send Tom in by himself to retrieve Grandpa.  At that time, women would not enter a saloon and as Tom was the oldest, the job was his.

Another memory I have of Grandpa was when Grandma was shaving him.  At that time, there were no safety razors, just a sharp straight-edge with no guard, so it was easy to get cut when shaving.  Grandma “got careless” and nicked Grandpa a little on the face.  This didn’t go over with Grandpa very well.  There was a slight outburst and as I remember, Grandma just stood there smiling.

I don’t know why, but if you had a barber shave you at that time, they would cut you a little if you wanted it.  I guess there was some crazy superstition at that time that you should bleed a little.  I was a little kid so I don’t really know what that was all about.

Grandpa liked to fish and there were several lakes nearby when they lived on their farm on Mayfield Road/18th Avenue, before moving to our homestead.  It was the first farm on the northwest side of the Village of Cedar Creek.  There was Silver Lake, Hackbarth Lake, Hasmer Lake in Jackson, Tillie Lake in Mayfield, Wallace Lake, Little Cedar Lake and Big Cedar Lake all within a mile or so of where they lived.

Ice harvesting on Big Cedar Lak

These lakes were close enough to get to with a horse and buggy, as there were no cars at this time for local people.  I guess they just tied the horse to a tree while they fished.  There were places at these lakes where you could rent a wooden boat for a day to fish.

Most boats would leak a little, so they had to bail the water out or they would get wet feet.  The fishing gear back then was just a hook, line, sinker, cork, and a cane pole.   I only have a few vague memories of fishing with Grandpa and Dad when I was a small child; maybe that’s where I got my love of fishing from.

Grandpa and Grandma would speak German to each other and mostly spoke German with Dad as well.  To us kids, though, they only spoke in English.  Mom’s heritage was Polish and Welsh and she did not speak German.  She really didn’t want to learn, as World War I was still in my parents’ generation’s memory.

Dad would take Grandma and Grandpa to church at Holy Angels each week and although the mass was in Latin, I do remember, Dad and my grandparents visiting with their friends in German after church.

I always remember Grandpa using a cane or a crutch.  I was quite young when he died, so I don’t know what was wrong with him, and my older brother Tom didn’t recall either.  But I do remember that Grandpa would only walk a little in the front yard of our house and always with a cane or a crutch.  He rarely went down to the barn, but he was able to get upstairs to their living quarters.

When Grandpa was a younger man though, he did act as an umpire for local baseball games.  Baseball was a little rough at that time and oftentimes, fights would break out.  My brother Tom recalled hearing that one time Grandpa was lying on the ground and got his throat stepped on during a fight between the teams.

Grandpa was also deputized for Washington County during his younger days, as was his son, my Uncle Albert.   I still have Grandpa’s “blackjack”.   A blackjack is a small leather sack filled with lead bb’s.  When things got out of hand, it was used to clobber the guys who were the perpetrators of a fight.   Back then, there were a lot of physical fights that would break out.  Deputies had to be posted at many social events, including weddings, in case a fight erupted.

Grandpa died in June 1937 at the age of 68 years.  I don’t recall Grandpa being really too sick long before he passed on. Perhaps he just declined slowly, and I didn’t know any better.  When Grandpa died though, they had the wake in the dining room of our house.  The body was laid in a coffin and brought into the house for two days.  The dining and the living room were joined for more room so that people could view the body.  My parent’s bedroom was right next to the living room where Grandpa was laid out.  So, they went to bed only several feet away, with only a wall dividing them.

I think the undertaker had all wakes in the person’s home at this time, but I don’t know for sure.  The wake was almost always for two days and nights.  People would come to see Grandpa at rest.  To us kids, it was a big deal to have all these people in our house when we were living there.  On the day of the funeral, I think there was a lunch in the house for immediate family after the burial, before they left for home.  I do recall vividly my grandma had me take my grandpa’s hand when he was lying there in the coffin.  I can feel it yet.  It felt cold and different, a feeling I will never forget.  It was kind of creepy.

On the anniversary of Grandpa Bohn’s death, my Aunt Meta (Wagner) and Aunt Clara (Hahn) would take Grandma to church in the morning.  After Mass, they would go to the cemetery, put flowers on Grandpa’s grave, and clean up the area of the grave.  They would then go shopping.  Grandma would get a new dress or a new hat, as all the women wore hats in church at this time, so it was the thing to do.

There is so much more I wish I could have asked my Grandpa Bohn.  But, since I couldn’t, I decided when I retired from building, that I would put my pen to paper and write the memories that I thought my grandkids would want to know about me and how it was when I grew up in the 1930s.  That’s how it all started; that is why I wrote these stories, for my grandkids – as I have always wished I knew more about my Grandpa Bohn and his life.

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