Memories from the Youngest

By Maybelle Senft


It will always be a mystery to me why I cannot remember anything from my life prior to my mother's death, but her funeral is a vivid memory.  The incidents that I write about will be approximately after the year of 1924.

My father, Annie, and Clara were the ones who raised me as a child.  Ben had moved away and was living in the southern part of California.  Paul Tessen would come home for visits and lived around Sacramento area.

After Annie and Clara left home, I was alone with Pa.  This was approximately the year 1929.  They were lonely years, but happy ones.  Pa was a great father and a fine man.  Since the ranch was isolated from town, approximately 4 1/2 miles, I had very little social life nor any close friends.  However, the Spanish family living up the road had several children and I did occasionally play with them.  But it was certainly a frustrating kind of play, since they spoke Spanish and it made it hard on me – for instance, the game of "kick the can" – it is a hide and seek game, so when I was "it" and had to find them, they would call out to each other in Spanish and I was never able to catch them, so I was always "it", and more than once I went home crying.

Pa was a very friendly man and loved his parties, especially his Swedish ones where he would invite all of his relatives and friends and they would be held outside where everyone would eat their fill and enjoy the fruit tree blossoms.  There was always someone to play the piano and we would gather around and sing and dance.  How I used to love to hear Pa sing his Swedish songs and play a harmonica.  He always took me with him wherever he would go.  I learned to play cards games such as Pedro, Whist, and Casino.  He and I used to play Casino together quite often in the evenings.  He also taught me a game we called "Buttons" in which I got to be a good player.  Pa mad his own wine and always had his wine barrels full.  When the parties were held, everyone drank his wine and I can still see him show off with his raw egg (whole) in a glass of wine and actually swallow the "drink" in one gulp.  I always felt a little embarrassed during the month of September when the wine was fermenting and the odor was very strong and it wafted over quite a large area to advertise that the wine was being made in our basement.

I cannot miss telling of the grape vine decorated "two seater" small white building away from the house.  The family spent much time there – of course, it was necessary!  Sears Catalog and old newspapers were always on had for reading and for other "special" needs.

After Clara left home to make her living in San Francisco, it was a highlight in my young life for Pa and I to drive to Suisun and meet Clara at the train depot.  She was always dressed in highest fashion – hat, gloves, fur coat, etc.  She and I spent a lot of time together playing chop sticks and other simple duets on the piano.  I enjoyed her singing while she played the piano.

The holidays were pleasant, and always looked forward to having the family at home, cooking the turkey dinners and sitting at the large oak table and eating our fill.  The pies were baked in the wood stove oven and the meals were cooked on the wood range.  We did not have electricity until around 1930.  We had wax candles for the Christmas tree and these were lit for only short periods of time and watched over very carefully.  One time I was told that Santa Claus left something for me on the porch and I found a big doll there.   This was the only incident I remember of Santa Claus.

Prior to getting electricity, we had kerosene lamps and gasoline lights suspended from the ceiling.  How I hated to clean the glass chimneys on those kerosene lights!  Washing clothes was a chore.  We had hard water and I would have to haul hot water heated on the stove from the kitchen stove and place it in wash tubs outside on the back porch.  The clothes were rubbed by hand on wash board and rinsing was done in very cold water.  White clothes were placed in a wash boiler and boiled on top of the wood stove to keep them white.  Ironing was done by irons heated on the stove.  This same boiler was used by Pa to make head cheese.  When he would butcher a calf, he would place the whole head in the boiler and cook until everything fell apart.  I can still see the eyes staring at me, and the hairy ears floating around.  If you could forget them, the head cheese when finished was quite tasty.

OrchardWhile I stated they were lonely years for me, there was much to occupy me.  The summers were busy times since I worked packing plums and pears at the Buck Town Fruit Shed.  I also cut apricots, peaches, and pears.  I helped Pa with the prunes.  We had our own prune dip-a process of prunes going through hot lye dip, rinsed and placed on trays which were laid out on the grain field to dry.  Occasionally I helped by picking the prunes (which were knocked down to the ground with poles), loading the wagon (drawn by horses) with boxes of picked prunes (60 lbs.), handling the trays of dipped prunes and stacking the trays after the prunes were dried, and placing the prunes in sacks for shipping.  Many times in September while the prunes were drying in the field, I would have to help to stack them in a hurry because of a rain storm and then after the rain, we would have to place them flat again.

Spring was always my favorite time of the year for me.  The wild flowers were in bloom and I loved to take walks with my dog into the hills.  I knew every wild flower and where they grew.  I picked many a bouquet and placed them in a vase and set them on the oak table in the living room.  To this day, my love for growing things has stayed with me.  Several times I got a good scare by narrowly missing contact with a rattlesnake.  Once I climbed through a fence and immediately felt a sharp stinging sensation over my body.  I took a quick look and immediately ran down the hill to the house so I could was away the "ants" that were crawling all over me.  The flowers that grew around the house also have left me with a love of roses, china lilies, lilacs, and amaryllis.  Whenever I see these flowers, they always remind me of the ranch.

I was quite a tomboy and loved climbing trees especially the huge white fig tree in the yard.  I used to climb up there and pretended many things as suited to my fancy.  One time Clara got mad at me for something I did (of course, I forgot what that was) and she was going to spank me, so I ran from her and climbed the fig tree to the top branch.  She did not come after me and was she mad!

The depression years were hard on Pa.  Sometimes there was no food and through a kind friend who owned a grocery store (Akerley's), he was able to charge some food.  Sometimes, the only thing we had for dinner were Pa's biscuits with syrup and butter.  We had stew quite often.  Pa often backed a cake – no recipe – and it always turned out well and very tasty.  My brothers and sisters would often supply some of my clothing.

Saturday was always a time for a bath and a trip to the town in the evening.  Pa always loved to go to the Brooks and talk to his friends.  I would walk up and down the main street and occasionally go to the movies.  I dimly remember the Model T Ford we had.  Pa later got a Model A Ford.

After much soul searching, I left the ranch in 1936.  I did not want to leave Pa alone, but knew I had to make my own way in life.  After many tears I left for Sacramento.  Pa lost the ranch that year and all of us felt a great loss and it is missed to this day by many of us.

Memories, good and bad, are treasures that no one can take away.