A family Story

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The Oscar and Mary Braman Holmstedt Family Story
As Written by Elsie Holmstedt Windels


I am to write about the family and our life at Paxton and what Mother and I thought about the place.

I will start shortly before we moved to Paxton. We lived on a farm about two miles from Belgrade, Nebraska. I often climbed to the tower of our tall windmill and watched people going into town by car and horse drawn vehicles. Ours was a pretty farmstead. We had an attractive house surrounded by big maple trees and a lovely yard. The house was cool in summer and warm in winter. The farm buildings were all good. We were a short distance from a country school which I like. I was in the sixth grade.

Dad had bought a farm south of a place called Paxton. He visited Paxton a few times and each time he would rave on about what a nice place it was, and about the farm, the hills, and the rivers. When he came home the last time, he said he had sold his farm south of Paxton. Then bomb fell! He said a 640-acre farm was for sale north and west of Paxton and he had made a down payment on it and we would move as soon as he could have a farm sale and get all our belongings packed. Seemed like sale day came in no time at all. I had never seen a sale and didnīt want to see that one so I went to school. When I come home the yard was still full of people and all the neighbor women were in the house, visiting, talking and laughing. But Mother wasnīt. She looked most unhappy.

(From other notes: In packing I had to leave my lovely my dolls; there wasnīt room for them. I always hoped that some little doll lover found them and really enjoyed playing with them, especially the twin baby dolls.)

We were finally all packed. Uncle Frank had invited Mother and seven of us kids to stay at his house while Dad, Raleigh and John went to Paxton and arranged for us to move there. They drove our car. Iīm sure Aunt Vendela wasnīt too happy about this. They had a big house. Every room was scrubbed, waxed, polished, dusted, no soiled windows or curtains. They had several children. They were quiet, mannerly, and always clean. We werenīt. Mother always thought that as long as there was soap and water in our world it didnīt hurt if we got dirty, and if the house got messy, as long as we were doing and learning. There were two girl cousins, very prissy girls, always starched, ironed, and (with) perfect hair. Why not! They never did do anything to mess themselves up. They were boring. One day I was scrubbing the kitchen and resenting the fact that I was doing it. Edna made some snooty remark about the way I was scrubbing. My temper snapped and I answered her some thing like this: "If you don't like the way Iīm scrubbing, do it yourself. Here is the mop!" I swished that dirty mop right across her face. Edna had hysterics, Aunt Vendela was petrified, and Mother, poor Mother! She told me I shouldn't have done that, although Edna had it coming and couldn't I just hold my temper a while longer and be nice and then she laughed and laughed.

Thank Goodness Dad called. Would have called sooner only there had been a blizzard. All of our dirty clothing was washed, ironed, and packed. Aunt Vendela prepared a delicious box of food for us to take along and Uncle Frank took us to our train. We were a quite bunch, even the two babies behaved. So we said goodbye to the home and farmstead which we loved and all our friends

Another family was seated not far from us. They too had a basket food. They had onions which they ate as we ate our apples. They smelled so good and I said Aunt Vendela should have given us some onions. Mother said she had enough without smelling secondhand onions all the way to that awful place called Paxton. If we hadn't been so unhappy, we would have noticed how interesting the trip was. I do remember the river, which I hated, and the snow.

Finally we arrived. There were snowdrifts all around. Dad met us with a wagon and horses. The road hadnīt been opened so he couldn't use the car. There was a thick layer of straw in the wagon and we were covered and tucked in with horsehide blankets. First time I had ever known that a horseīs hide could be used for a blanket. After the train pulled out, we crossed over the tracks by the water tank and pump to a street. This was called Front Street. As I remember, there was a store, a pool hall, a globe hotel, a couple of other buildings and post office on the corner. Here we turned north and went down Main Street. It was a wide street with buildings on either side, stores, cafes, hotel, etc. We went on north past churches. To the east, next to the hills, was a big two-story building. This was the schoolhouse.

The north of Paxton there was a range of hills. I had never seen so many hills and didnīt like them. We had to go up over a big hill, as Dad said "Windy Gap" was still full of snow, so we couldnīt follow the road. "Windy Gap". That was an interesting name. We traveled north to a lovely big house and here we turned west. Seemed it took us forever to get to where we were going. We could see the other river and more hills. Ugh! Finally we turned south and Dad said "There is our house." It was the biggest house I had ever seen. My first thoughts were "How are we ever going to keep it clean?" We never did! Dad took us to the back door where we got out. We entered a big screened porch which seemed to be full of fuel. We entered a hall. Right by the outside door was a stairway going up. We had never had a hall. A door opened and we were in a large cheery kitchen, and were greeted by Mrs. Kroutilek, a roly-poly little woman with rosy cheeks and lovely smile, and her niece Helen. We later met Frank Kroutilek. They were going to stay with us until their house was ready and furniture came. When our furniture came, they moved in to the two west downstairs rooms and stored their furniture in the big front hall. I had to sleep in an upstairs room. It was soooo cold, colder than out of doors, Iīm sure. I was already home sick and that awful room made me homesicker. I wondered where the rest of the family was sleeping, and if mother was in such an awful cold room with the babies.

The next day I explored the house. On the first floor there were five big rooms, a big front hall with an open stairs, two smaller halls, a pantry and butlerīs pantry. On the second floor there were four big rooms, a small room for a bathroom, and a big hallway. The bedrooms all had good clothes. On the third floor, there were five bedrooms and a big hallway. The only heated rooms were the kitchen and dining room and that is where we lived. Water was piped into the kitchen and out. That was a blessing. This was the only plumbing in the house. We had the usual privy or outhouse tucked away up behind the chicken house. Donīt ask me why, but that building was always tucked away too far from the house.

Since school transportation for us hadnīt been arranged, we missed that semester of school. Maybe if I had gone to school I wouldnīt have been so depressed and homesick. One day Dad said he was going to town and I should go along. He parked by the office, then told me to walk around and get to know the town. He heard a noise up the street. A group of girls were walking my way, talking, laughing and chewing gum. They went around the corner, then in awhile came back, making just as much noise. I should have gotten out, introduced myself and walked along. I had never walked the street or chewed gum so I didnīt. I just sat there and cried and thought "What a perfectly horrible place." So I continued to mope and be depressed. One night I awakened and my room was so light. I crawled out of bed and went to the window. There was a gorgeous full moon sending many moonbeams down, and the snow-capped hills sparkled with diamonds, and over the hill I could hear the shrill yipping song of a coyote. I thought, "How absolutely beautiful!" Then it dawned on me that there were many other beautiful things to see around that awful place if I quit feeling sorry for myself. I felt at peace.

On Sunday, Raleigh, Helen and I went to church. Helen asked "What church?" Raleigh answered "The one on the corner. It has the best looking building …." I had never been in a church and was very curious. The people were very quiet. There was soft music. Everything seemed beautiful. Then the choir marched in. They were singing "We praise Thee oh God." I decided that someday I would sing in that choir. Later, I did that for many years. I didnīt care much for the sermon. It was too loud and overmphasized. Course that was my first sermon. A few days later Pastor Greenawalt called. Guess he looked the family over, saw all the prospects and acted at once. He said John and I were old enough to be confirmed. He would leave a catechism for us to study and if we could pass a test we would be confirmed with that class. We passed the test with flying colors and were confirmed. I do not remember anything about it or who the others were. It was all Greek to me. That is how I became a member of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paxton. As time went on all the other children studied as they should and became members of the church. Some changed later. We now have Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Christians, Mo. Lutheran, and some not any thing.

Helen and Ferne McDowell were our first callers. They were to become two of my dearest friends. We had so many wonderful times together. They gave a party and introduced me to the eighth grade girls and all the girls we went to high school. I had decided that I was going to enter the eighth grade.

It was probably a good thing I didnīt go to school at that time. There was so much to be done and I had to help. Mother had always had a hired girl, but I guess none were available at Paxton. There was so much washing that was some task. First a boiler of water was heated on the range. Lye was added to break the water. The water was skimmed off and soap was added. We had to cut the soap up fine so it would melt. We had a washing machine. John and I took turns running the thing. The clothes were boiled so were snowy white and cleaned. Then everything was rinsed and hung outside on the clothesline. It wasnīt bad in summer, but was plain murder in winter. Then there was the ironing. It was done with flat irons heated on the range. Took hours. Mother baked delicious bread. It was started the night before, then mixed the first thing in the morning and allowed to rise. The big pan of dough sat on the range reservoir where it was warm. All that kneading and mixing took time and energy. The finished product was so delicious. Many times we had a big bowl of cornmeal mush with a big blob of butter for supper. If any was left over it was fried for breakfast. We had to churn the cream into butter. We ground the coffee beans in the coffee mill. The milk was run through a cream separator. 

That machine had to be washed and scalded. Also the milk pails. Eggs had to be gathered. We had to sew a lot of our garments. The lamp chimneys had to be cleaned and made shiny. The lamps and lanterns were filled with kerosene and the wicks trimmed. When the weather warmed, an incubator was filled with chicken eggs. The eggs were turned twice a day until the baby chicks were hatched. It also had to be checked to see if the temperature was right. The incubator was in addition to the business of cooking, cleaning, bed-making and looking after the children. How in the world did Mother ever do it? She cooked delicious meals. She didnīt know a thing about calories or vitamins or proteins, but she must have fed us a balanced diet as we were a healthy bunch. We had to eat what was put on the table and no griping. Mother didnīt feel too good; another baby was coming. She managed to paint and paper the kitchen, dining room and living room; with my help, scrub and thoroughly clean the other rooms, hang up window shades and curtains. So the place looked a little more like a home, but I donīt think she ever liked it. She continued to do the necessary homemaking tasks and no griping. Five more babies were born at Paxton. I must say that when it came to taking care of babies I had a liberal education, as I was sort of a second mother to them. Mother did like the neighbors. They were friendly people.

That first winter passed and it was time to start farming. The fence lines and buildings were piled high with "tumbleweeds." First time we had ever seen those weeds. Dad and the boy pulled all the weeds away from the building and burned them in a field, also burned out the fence line. The feedlots were all cleaned and the big manure pile behind the barn. It was all hauled out in a manure spreader and put on the fields, the only fertilizer available at that time. Then the ground was made ready for seeding. All the farming was done with horses and the machinery was small.

Summer meant more work for Mother. She had to get up so early. Breakfast was a big meal. Then there was a mid-morning and afternoon lunch to fix. She sometimes watered the pigs and fed the calves. She always took care of the big garden. Flies were bad and came into the house. Every morning we would drive them out by waving towels. Then the dining room and living room were cleaned, the shades pulled down to darken the rooms and keep them cool. The baby chicks had to be fed and watered. Food had to be canned. So many things to do. Seemed like we always had a baby to look after, too.

The youngsters did grow up and in a way they looked after each other. They made so many of their toys. They played marbles, baseball; we had a tennis court, horseshoes, trees to climb. In the third story they had one big playhouse where they spent many hours. There were always good books and magazines to read. As they grew old enough each child was given work to do, and it must be done.

Sounds like the family was a perfect one. Indeed, not. There were arguments, when it seemed someone would be murdered. There were fights, fist fights, cob fights, mud fights, even rotten eggs when available. There was name-calling. Each one had an obnoxious name. Even I did could they ever swear! Dad had his methods of discipline and Mother had hers. Between the two, they molded us into a family where we respected our parents, had self-respect, love, loyalty and respect for each other. We were taught to work.

First September 1917 a school bus came to our door and four of us went to school. I entered the eighth grade. We were in high school. We had three teachers. There were three rooms, no indoor plumbing, a privy out north of the schoolhouse, one for the boys and one for the girls served us. Going to school gave Mother another task. She had to fix lunches and see that the youngsters were clean and dressed. My years of schooling went fast and I enjoyed them, and took part in everything that was offered. I played on the basketball team, took part in the plays and programs, went to all the parties, and made top grades.

Prof. McGraw trained a basketball team. It was a good one. Raleigh was one of the players. Everyone was very enthusiastic, and, since that time, Paxton has been a basketball town. During my freshman year we moved to the new schoolhouse. It seemed so big, a nice gym, restrooms, large sunny rooms. Finally it was time for graduation. Mother had made two lovely dresses for me, a ruffled white organdy for commencement and a pastel voile for baccalaureate. That is the way we girls dressed. Bob Henke was the only boy. (Minnie, Crook, Helen McDowell, Minna Windels, Josephine Snyder were the other girls.) I was valedictorian, an honor even if there were only six of us. Prof. had told me that I was hired to teach at Paxton. I had taken and passed all the necessary tests for a teachersī certificate. Helen was also hired. We both went to Kearney State Teachers College for the summer.

In September 1922 my teaching career in Paxton started. I had kindergarten and liked it. Later I taught first and second grades. I taught in District 6, both Paxton and Sarben, for eight years. Then I decided to get married. Fredrick (Fritz) Windels and I were married May 23, 1931 at Grand Island. We lived in Lexington, Nebraska for three years, on a farm. Then we came back to Paxton, where we have lived since.

Now to get back to Mother and the family. When we came home from the school, Mother always had a lunch for us, maybe a bowl of beans or some fresh bread and plenty of butter. She always took time to read the little ones, and often played games with them. Eventually we had two little sisters. Dorothy was a very pretty girl, but so ornery. Carol was a pretty little doll and had a wonderful disposition.

Dad was a good farmer and was able to pay off all indebtedness. Because of the drought and hot winds the crops were poor but they always had something. Then dad decided to take a chance and buy the Lute farm. (First corner north of Paxton). He sold his farm at Grant and put a heavy mortgage on the home place. He put the money in the Paxton Bank. Then the bank closed. How well I remember that. We teachers had just deposited our checks, and I had exactly one time. I laughed and then I didnīt. Of course the bank would pay off. It didnīt! Result, dad lost the place and became a renter.

The NPPD ditch went right south of the house. So the house was condemned, move it or tear it down. The owner asked Dad if he and the boys could tear it down and build a new house using that lumber. It should be west of the road. They tore the house down and built a nice house. The Herb Heideman family has lived there for years.

The folks lived there just a short time, then moved to the Schuff farm east of Paxton on Highway 30. That was a lovely house, but it was infested with bedbugs, every room. Mother fought a valiant but losing battle. Then they moved to the Myers ranch just west of there. For some reason Mother liked the place and she was happy there.

World War II came along. Jack was first to go, then Bill. Carol enlisted in the Air Force, Raleigh in the Army, and Richard in the Navy. Then one day Berkley graduated from school. It seemed like he was in the Army the next day and in the thick of things in Italy. Joe was left at home. That was a time of worry. Nearly every day Dad or Mother would ask "Did you hear from….? It was just a little note but we knew the sender was alive on that day. Finally the war was over. Bill was the first to come home. Then Dad died. It was some time before the others were home again. Then Jack and Carol went to Chicago. Mike bought the house in Paxton for Mother. So, for the first time in her life she had an all modern house. She loved it. Also she didnīt have to depend on someone to take her place. She could walk to town, to church, to various clubs that she had joined. Finally Bill moved in with her. Bill helped Mother in so many ways. They were happy. We had so many good times there. Then one day, Mother had a stroke. We couldnīt believe anything like that could happen to Mother. She always seemed to be so young, so full of life, healthy. The whole family came home. Mother did come out of the stroke, but she was never able to walk by herself. I took her home with me. She was a wonderful patient. Then another sickness struck and she didnīt recover. She had lived three years as an invalid and could not wish her back. We would miss her, but Iīm sure each of us could remember some of the many things she taught us.

Where is the family now? Joe and I live in Paxton. Mike and Jack are in Sutherland, Carol at Johnson Lake, Lexington, Berkley lives at Plainview, Nebraska, Raleigh is at Bloomington, Ind.. Dorothy at Denver, Colo-rado.

Did I ever grow to like that awful place called Paxton? I have no desire to live any place else. There are so many beautiful things here, the hills, the river, the great fields of wheat, rippling like green velvet in the summer breezes, the hay meadows, the town itself and the people who live here, the churches and the school.

(Have omitted some Windels history here…)

Fritz and I have been married fifty-two years. There have been many happy years and a few bad years. We wonder where they have all gone. We are just growing old together, and that is how it should be. And I still enjoy the beautiful summer breezes, the hay meadows, the moonlight with Fritz, and I love the shrill yapping song of the coyote.

This seems to be very long. Maybe you will want to cut some of it out. Hope you can read it, my penmanship is so awful. My hand is almost too stiff to write.


Elsie W. (1983 )

Received from Judy Willoughby 2002,
Lennart Ekström


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