The Kline Farm

This first story is in the form of an essay that Donald H. Knapp (my husband’s Uncle Don) wrote a few years ago about his experiences when visiting his grandparents, Henry and Florence Kline, on their family farm, just south of Kent. Maybe some of Don’s reminisces will trigger some of your own memories. Please feel free to include some comments of your own about this essay.

This is a long piece, but it is well worth reading. For a genealogist, it is pure gold, providing a lot of information about Don’s grandparents and what their lives were like before the age of automobiles and flush toilets. Many of the younger Knapps have never experienced some of the things that Don talks about in this essay. This might be a good conversation starter to read with your children – or grandchildren – and discuss it.

THE FARM

The year was 1854. Our great-grandparents, Johannus Klein and Elisabellia Klein, came to America. (the spelling of the name Klein on the ship’s record is spelled in the German form.) The name of the sailing ship is not given, but the voyage was brokered by Baring Bros., Phillips, Shaw, and Lowther, a British company in cooperation with one in Germany headed by Carl Ahlborn.

They came in steerage, which is the lowest deck [on the ship]. They had to bring their own food for the journey. A certain amount of flour and the things necessary to make their own bread, dried meat, and whatever vegetables might last the journey (which could take two to three weeks, at best) were brought.

A new twist [to the Klein family saga] was added by my brother, Tom, who also has a ship’s paper given to him by our mother [Florence Cora Kline Knapp]. This concerns a Johannus Klein Von Schlernbach. I don’t know whether this is a different J. Klein or that he is the same ancestor that came over to check out the possibilities and then went back two years later and brought his wife over to America.

The ship was the Lorngrinnel at 1000 tons. Captain Fletcher was in command. The voyage was contracted on March 27, 1852, and sailed April 1, 1852 from England. The cost was 130 florins.

My guess is that it is the same person.

The men and women who left their familiar homes and country to travel across the sea in a sailing ship were very courageous. They came to New York or Baltimore, and went through customs, not an easy thing to survive. Then, likely, by train to Ohio, where they had to cut out a farm and build a home and barns. They had to very strong and hardy people.

In those days, it was still very much a man’s world, and I am sure that they were very authoritarian. I have it on certain authority that Grandfather H.C. Kline was a tyrant. I would also believe that he had lots of company with other heads of households [from that time period in Germany]. There was still a good deal of Old Testament harshness in their beliefs about raising children and we can be thankful that we do not live in those times. Spare the rod and spoil the child, children should be seen and not heard, etc. This was the practice [of that time]. When Grandpa kiddingly threatened to use his razor strap if we did not behave, it was a probable conclusion that he did use it in the past.

These are my remembrances and reflections of my childhood concerning my experiences at the farm of Henry C. and Elizabeth Kline, and their children: Vernon, Ervin, Gus and Joe, Grace, Martha, Florence (my Mom), Mary, and there was Barbara who died in infancy.

I will begin with our family.

Florence married John [Lewis] Knapp in 1924, and in 1927, bought a home at [981] West Main Street in Kent, Ohio, which was nine miles north of the [Kline] farm, so we went there often.

[My brother] John and I were city kids, as [were] most of my cousins, except Harold (the daredevil). He was the son of our Uncle Gus Kline and Mary Erhart. Aunt Mary was one of the kindest persons I have ever known. She was a very direct and down-to-earth lady.

The only thing close to farming around our house [in Kent] was when Dad raised rabbits in chicken wire cages in the back of the garage. We had a grape arbor on the side of the garage built by Grandpa Lewis Knapp. He may even have built the garage, but I am not sure of that. Anyway, we harvested green grapes every year and some of them even made it to the house. We did have an extensive vegetable garden during WWII and we all worked on it, but Mom did most of the work. Dad did the plowing, with a shovel, and we helped in the raking and weeding.

We usually went to the [Kline] farm every Sunday and for two weeks in the summer; John and I had a wonderful time in the country (more about this later).

One approached the Kline farm on gravel roads and we sighted it first as we drove down a mild grade past Rice’s farmhouse. The Kline farmhouse and the outbuildings were on a slight rise to the right with St. Peter’s Church on the left. The road that passed in front of the church led to Rt. 44 (Old Forge Road). The road to the right leading past the farmhouse, which led to St. Joseph’s Church in Suffield, is called Johnnycake Road. The [whole] area was called Johnnycake Hollow.

Many a Sunday we came early and attended Mass with our grandparents. I barely remember Father Battes and Father Hile (Heil?). Mostly I remember Father Dalmage and his sermons. He was very sincere and earnest, but as a kid, I did not understand his sermons, so I spent that time gazing at the stars in the ceiling and the statues of Mary and Joseph, and wondering what heaven would be like. I daydreamed of flying around in a wonderful brilliantly clouded sky with angels and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but I wondered about whether there were dirigibles and ice cream cones in heaven?

There were other weighty matters that I considered, but these were important to a dumb kid. There were chicken dinners and suppers at St. Pete’s, with tons of delicious food. And I remember that there were members of the parish who put on plays. One play that stands out in my memory was a murder mystery that scared the daylights out of me. A closet door was opened and a woman, with what appeared to be blood all over her, screamed at the top of her lungs. I don’t remember any plays after that.

Now, on to describe the farm.

When we drove over the little bridge and turned to the right, we passed the apple orchard with the potato patch to the east. I remember walking beside Grandpa as he killed potato bugs with a paddle and a saucepan [filled] with kerosene in the bottom. He would smack the leaves [of the potato plants] with the paddle and knock the bugs into the pan. He let me do it for a little bit and then took over because he was a bit quicker than I was.

I wonder if he did this with any of my cousins.

Yes, Betty Hentz tells me she had the same experience. I thought it was fun to watch the little critters scrambling to get out of the pan and never made it because Grandpa kept swirling the pan.

On to the apple orchard, where the trees were old and the apples were the biggest I have ever seen. They were delicious, but one ate these juicy giants with great attention to each bite, because most of the time, you were sharing it with a great big juicy worm, an angry worm squirming out his hole. I usually let the worm have it and lost my appetite.

Then I remember Grandpa and a group of men in the cellar way pouring these apples into a crusher of some kind in the process of making apple cider. I asked Grandpa, “but what about all those worms?” He just laughed and said that they wouldn’t change the taste. They were pretty busy and had no time to explain anything. I’m glad I forgot about that when it was time to have some cider. There were at least four 100-gallon barrels of cider in the basement: one was vinegar, one sweet cider, and two [were] barrels of hard cider. This was cider with a kick and could be called St. Peter’s champagne.

As we drove up the driveway, there was a huge walnut tree in the front yard. It shaded the front yard and my aunts, uncles, and older cousins reclined on the grass in friendly conversation many a summer Sunday afternoon. These conversations could be pretty unfriendly if they got to talking politics or religion. Sunday afternoons we also gathered around the little radio in the parlor or in the kitchen to listen to the Rev. Bill Denton rant and rave about demon rum and smoking. We laughed and were entertained by his passionate oratory with a certain belief that we Catholics would get to heaven in spite of our drinking and smoking. After Bill Denton, we listened to Father Coughlin. He was a Nazi sympathizer and was so radical in his teaching about the corporate Hitler style that the Bishop of Detroit had to silence him. At the time, however, we were a little impressed and were gullible enough to accept his oratory as the truth.

We children would then down to the barn and climb up the ladder of the granary and run and jump off into the hay. It was like diving into a pool and we did it until we were exhausted. What fun it was! We would hike down to the creek or through the cornfields and the oat field to the creek as it ran underneath Johnnycake Road. It was beautiful there with tall trees and lush grass to lie on. It was so quiet and peaceful that even to this day, remembering the few times we went there was such a pleasant experience. It was a tiny Shangri La.

We eventually came back to the yard by the house. As I related above, there could be many family members there, including us kids. The adults would be in small groups, sitting on the grass or the porch out front [engaged] in conversation. There was a good deal of kidding around and laughter. There could be some pretty hot arguments: political, religious, and often an argument about who was related to whom and whether it was a cousin once removed or was it twice removed? They made fun of themselves with dumb Dutch stories that mixed their German and English in a nonsensical way. They would recall stories of some particular families noted for their ignorance. (We shall not name there here as a belated act of kindness).

Many times we would receive a brief visit from Mr. Heisler. He was very handsome and distinguished looking, dressed in a gray suit and a red tie. His hair was silver gray, wavy, and perfectly groomed. He spoke gently and pleasantly for a short time and politely took his leave. I thought that he must be a very important person. Other neighbors visited, but I only remember Paul Redinger by name. As late afternoon crept in, people said their goodbyes and drifted to their cars and returned to cities like Kent, Ravenna, and Akron.

There was also a very tall sugar pear tree by the garage. In season, they were plentiful and delicious. I never figured out how they picked the ones that were high in the tree. Harvey Craig, the present owner of the farm, told me that it was still there when he bought the farm and said that they were delicious. The garage building was long and full of farm equipment and old buggies, with a chicken coop at the end.

We usually pulled up in front of the garden fence that ran from the drive to the summer kitchen with a tiled walk between it and the kitchen of the main house. Grandma cultivated this garden with all the plants in perfect rows. She spent lots of time caring for it, because there was hardly a weed to be seen.

Does anyone remember that there were two rows of popcorn at the end, it was sooooo good!

When you entered this large kitchen, you saw the queen of all wood stoves, black iron with nickel trim. Grandma and her daughters would hover over the dinner, peeking in here and there with chickens in one oven and bread in another and another shielded some other goodies and maybe even a pie and a cake. There were pans on top of the stove with mashed potatoes and vegetables and the warming oven above for food already cooked. The fragrance of the cook stove is still in the memory banks of my nose.

To the left of the stove was the entrance to the doorway to the cellar and to the right a doorway to the pantry where all the flour, sugar and everything needed for a great stove and a hungry farm family [was kept].

Before the entrance was a niche and the place for Henry C.’s rocking chair. He presided over the kitchen from here unless he was playing Euchre. Many a Sunday afternoon or evening we would be entertained by a very lively conversation on that rocker between Grampa and Bernard, my little brother. We all called him Bunny because he was so cute and bright. He was about three years old at the time. Bunny would sit on his lap and tell whopping stories, and Grandpa would lead him on with questions and responses that would lead to further stories and explanations. Bernard told everyone about his garage in Akron where he had all kinds of cars: Austins and Studebakers and you name it, he had it, but that wasn’t all, for he had lions and tigers on the second floor. It was great entertainment.

Henry C. Kline, to me, was a big man of considerable strength. (I was very short at the time). He had a ruddy complexion, a shock of white hair, and only one eye, for when he was a young boy in school, another child snapped a bobby pin toward him and hit him in the eye. He was also a bit hard of hearing and if he did not understand you the second time he asked, he would never ask again. This is one reason he loved to play Euchre. He was a whiz at this game and when he had the final trump, the card would come thundering down to the table. He had a great laugh. He could be tender and gentle and he could be fierce. He was the sexton of St. Peter’s for many years. He would rise at 4:30 a.m. on a Sunday to go to the church and fire up the furnace. Some complained that the church was not warm enough in spite of his efforts. My mother thought that he was hurt by these remarks. Mom said that the collection plate would often have only 17 cents in it and H.C. would put in three cents to make it an even 20 cents. One member of the parish thought that maybe two people should count that collection! When the church burned down, he gave the lumber from a large oak tree and $100.00 which at that time was quite a bit. He was a generous man. He had a hard time when he was young when his pecuniary father cheated him on the price of the farm he sold him. (Mom told me this sad story).

I remember walking beside Uncle Gus or Grandpa when he was plowing a field with Betsy and Nanny, his two horses. Nanny was older and slower and Grandpa had to continually berate Nanny to get going.

VIGNETTES

I remember Harold standing on the back of Betsy with his arms outstretched like a circus rider as he rode her into the barnyard. I remember that Harold tried to make an automobile by bolting and connecting a single engine to a wagon, but the only time it moved was when we pushed it. I remember Harold walking across the main beam near the roof of the barn. This was something I was never inclined to do. I remember jumping out of the upper barn door on to the haystack and sliding down to the barnyard. John and Harold did this a lot more than I did. I believe that I did it once.

I remember when John took his purple shirt off while playing in the haystack with Harold and a cow ate his shirt. John saw this and grabbed the part of the shirt that was hanging from the cow’s mouth. He pulled and the cow refused to let go, but John persisted until he got it out, but by that time, the shirt was bleached white with purple patches. John cried a bit, but soon bowed to the fact that he lost his shirt.

I remember the Sunday afternoon when both horses died. It was hot and the sun was beating down. The horses were lying down in their stables and I believe Uncle Gus, Paul Redinger, my Dad, and a few others were sitting on the stone step at the edge of the stable. It was quiet; they spoke sparingly, picking at straw and lamenting the passing of an age. The day of the horse was coming to an end, to be replaced by a mechanical beast that noisily belched fumes, and down deep they knew it would be easier, but they would lose something of a relationship that they could never have with a tractor. I felt the sadness of that day. This must have been after Grandpa died.

In 1935, Henry C. fell and broke his hip. As it turned out, he had bone cancer and his hip was honeycombed and so fragile that this was the reason for his fall. He died a few months after suffering terribly. Grandma nursed him and comforted him as best she could, but the medical profession did not have much help for this at the time. She would sit by his side and repeat, “Oh, Henry,” in a sorrowful and loving way. She suffered so much with him in those last months. We knew how dearly she loved him. He was 73 when he died and Grandma would live another 7 years. Uncle Gus and Aunt Mary took care of the farm until she died of hardening of the arteries in 1942.

Summer vacation was two weeks at the farm. John and I would come to the farm on Sunday and before bedtime we might get a bath in a galvanized tub in the kitchen or we would just wash up at the kitchen sink, then it was off to bed upstairs. I never saw a mattress that thick, very impressive, but it was of the homemade variety. It was stuffed with corn shucks and crinkled every time you moved and I remember how awfully cold it was. When we crawled into bed, it was knees and elbows only, and then we would slowly extend until we were lying down. In the morning, we would awaken to the sound of birds chirping and squirrels running across the branch of the walnut tree. It was a beautiful sight and sound. Oh, how I would love to wake up to that scene again. When we came downstairs, breakfast was already prepared. Everyone else had been up since 4:30 a.m. or 5:00 a.m. milking the cows, letting them out to pasture, and taking the milk to the milk house. Grandma would make breakfast while the men got some things ready to go out to the fields. We were privileged after breakfast to slop the hogs and try to get some eggs from under the hens. When we fed the pigs, we poured leftover food like potato skins, assorted discarded or stale vegetables, sour milk and some mash. When the pigs were going at this tasty breakfast, we would go over to the corn crib and get a couple of ears of corn and try to feed them to the pigs. The trouble was that the pig’s ears were over their eyes and they could not see this really good food. We had to rap them over the head with the corn so that they would look up and grab the corn. I used this incident to illustrate how God sometimes has to jolt us out of our preoccupation with trivial things to more important goals in life. Once in awhile, John and I would throw rocks at the pigpen to irritate the pigs so they would run out and chase us across the pen and we would run to the fence on the other side and climb out before they could catch us. This was not a very bright thing to do, but it was thrilling. We played a lot of cowboys and Indians with our cap guns, and did some odd chores. It was a great time.

I have to mention the outhouse down past the plum trees. If it was ever painted, there wasn’t any left when we were alive. It was a two-holer and alive with flies, spiders, and other various insects. My only preoccupation was looking around for the nearest approaching bug and hoping to get out of there as soon as possible. In earliest times, there was Sears catalogue. This was wicked material and could be used only after much crinkling to soften it up. Later on, we welcomed the luxury of real toilet paper. One time, Aunt Eva, Uncle Ervie’s wife, was visiting in the winter. Her children were city-bred and only knew about flush toilets. When she told Jack to put his coat on to go the toilet, he was dumbfounded and said,” you have to put your coat on to go to the toilet?” Aunt Grace laughed at this until the tears came to her eyes.

I can’t conclude with this subject so I would like to tell you about the harvest time. Other farmers came to help one another and there was this huge steam engine powering a belt drive that threshed the wheat and other grains. It made a thunderous noise and belched a lot of smoke. We could watch, but had to stay out their way. The women from the farms prepared a huge and sumptuous meal for the harvesters and we children had to wait until they were all finished eating and only then could we approach the table. There was so much left over that we still had a feast. The pies were delicious. Oh, thank you God, for these few, but precious memories and all that families that made it so.

In conclusion, we must turn our attention to the heartbeat of the farm, our Grandmother, Elizabeth. She was thin from hard work. Her skin was wrinkled from years in the sun. Her hair was silver, combed back and tied in a bun. When it was not is a bun, it flowed down over her shoulders and was beautiful. She loved for me to comb it as hard as possible. She would say, “Harder, harder” and I wondered why I didn’t draw blood. Grandma stayed with us when our Dad was ill and Mom had to go to work at first cleaning other people’s homes for six dollars a week and later at the woolen mills in Ravenna. She and food from the farm helped us get through this very traumatic time, for Dad was laid up for a year and a half.

He almost died and Father Hartman gave him the last rites. Grandma tried to give him five dollars, but he refused to take it. He kept saying, “No, you need it.” We were all crying. We prayed the rosary every evening for him with tears in our eyes. Grandma was with us heart and soul for she loved my Dad and whenever there was a difference between Mom and Dad, Grandma always took his side and Mom kind of got a tiny bit irritated at this. Grandma had a way of looking at you with a steady, kindly look, with just a hint of a smile and you knew that she was thinking something that you would never find out. Somehow it would make you think about whatever it was you were thinking and whether you should think again. She was a wise and wonderful person, but tough as nails if she needed to be. When she died, the world of the Klines changed never to be the same again. The farm was sold and Uncle Gus and Aunt Mary moved back to their home in Rootstown. The children of Henry and Elizabeth Kline would continue to visit one another and stayed fairly close, but time is relentless in changing lives and livelihoods. We get together for reunions, but even here it is more difficult as the years go by for there are fewer and fewer of us who remember both those times and one another.

Peace,

DHK

Donald H. Knapp

I have written only my own recollection of the farm, but I would be happy if you would like to add anything which you remember or have experienced. Please write it up for me and send – or send an e-mail. Also, if you feel something is incorrect or whatever please feel free to send me a correction.

I have enjoyed writing this – but it would be great to hear your perspectives also. Thanks…

Love – Don

One Response to The Kline Farm

  1. Kelly Ann Knapp Mesman says:

    That was a great story Uncle Don. I am in tears right now because I miss my dad (Bunny) so much, but loved hearing about his childhood. What a beautiful story and its great I’m able to share it with my husband, Bill Mesman(married over 20years), and our son, William Bernard Mesman(date of birth 8/30/1992). We didn’t get to make it to the reunion because William had just graduated from HS and it was not good timing for us. Thanks for sharing a little family history, I hope all is well with you and your family. Love , Kelly Ann Knapp Mesman

    Like

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