Writing Your Family History, Part 3 of 3: Singing to the Cows

St. Thomas the Apostle
Catholic Church, Saint Thomas,
Missouri, circa 1900. It was
destroyed by a tornado in 1948
Guest article by Gene A. Groner

On our drive to Saint Thomas, Missouri Dad talked about growing up as one of six boys and two girls, the one-room Catholic school he and his siblings attended, and the jobs they had on the farm.

“We took care of the farm animals and we made our own sausage. My job was to clean the sausage machine.”

Dad’s family spoke only German at home while the children were required to speak English in school. This was shortly after WWI when Americans still had strong anti-German sentiments. Dad spoke a few phrases of German to me on our way to Saint Thomas, accompanied by I-know-something-you-don’t grins. Sometimes he told me what a phrase meant and sometimes he didn’t. He may not have remembered.

Searching for relatives
The church today.
At the Saint Thomas post office we looked for names and addresses of people named Groner and there were only a few. The postmaster’s name was Clem Groner. His father, Sam Groner, was postmaster two postmasters before Clem. An automobile repair business, Groner’s Garage, was owned and operated by Clem’s brother, Raymond. Today the garage is operated by Raymond’s sons, Jerry and Mike.

Daniel S. Schmidt, in his The Heritage of St. Thomas: Community – City – Parish, writes that Ben Groner (probably a cousin of Dad’s) was an entrepreneur who started two businesses. The first was the Cedar Grove Hatchery in 1925, which at one point raised 10,000 chicks per week. The second was a school-bus operation in 1926. He bought a ten-seat, open-sided van to transport school children. He sold the van in 1927. Ben ran the hatchery until his death in 1934 at age thirty-two. The hatchery closed when no one stepped forward to take over. I’m related to all of these Groners in some way, since my great-grandfather Benedikt was the original Groner in Saint Thomas.

Dad found the name and address of a cousin and we drove to her house. She invited us in and served apple pie and fresh-brewed coffee. She and Dad reminisced for a couple of hours. I didn’t try to remember her name or their conversation. These were Dad’s memories, not mine, and this trip was for him.

The church where Dad was baptized
Our next stop was St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, rebuilt after a 1948 tornado. The original one-room church was built in 1848 of rough-hewn logs. Larger structures replaced it over the years as membership grew, with construction mostly by local labor using local materials. The church in which Dad and his siblings were baptized and where their family worshipped was built in 1884 at a cost of eight thousand dollars. Distinguishing features included a bell tower above the entrance and stained-glass windows. The 1948 tornado destroyed the parish complex which included the church, school, convent, and rectory, all of which were rebuilt.

We walked around inside and admired the stained-glass windows, which depicted ministries of Jesus Christ. Dad didn’t speak. When we came to the podium he slowly and tenderly ran his hands over the edges and top. His eyes filled with tears.

“Are you okay?” I was surprised, because I had never seen him cry.

“Yeah. Just memories.”

Singing to the cows
We stayed a short while and left for the area where the family farm had been. The farm likely was forty or fifty acres when Dad lived there.

“We raised crops, cattle, hogs, and dairy cows,” Dad said, as we stood in front of the two-story house where his father was born. The house was filled with hay. “I remember we had a steam-powered thrasher to put up hay and wheat. We sometimes had to back the thrasher up a hill when it didn’t have enough power to go forward.”

Years after our trip I learned from Dad’s brother, Cletus—he preferred “Bud”—their mother would set the two of them on a fence where she could keep an eye on them while she milked the cows.

“We sang to the cows while we were on the fence,” Bud said.

The family continued dairying when they moved to Marshall, Missouri where Dad’s parents managed a dairy farm. Dad’s job was to deliver milk to residents. Among his customers were Ada and Henry Spohrer. He fell in love with and married their daughter, Dixie, and she became my mother.

Dad and I spent the night in Saint Thomas and the next day drove to nearby Meta to see another cousin. He collected pieces of iron and iron equipment. When he got a truckload he sold it. I don’t remember what he and Dad talked about; things I couldn’t relate to and I wasn’t trying to remember.

I wish I had paid more attention
We headed for Topeka about midday. Dad didn’t say much on the ride back. At his house he thanked me and hugged me; another surprise.

“This meant a lot to me, Gene. I’ll never forget it.”

As I worked on my ancestry research in the following years, I regret I hadn’t listened more closely and taken notes. I continued to visit Dad several times a year, but we didn’t talk about his family enough to enable me to fill in the blanks. Whatever his memories and feelings, he kept to himself. Most of what I learned, I learned from others.

Gene A. Groner is a stockbroker in Kansas City, Missouri.

Photos: Church circa 1900 courtesy Daniel A. Schmidt. Church today courtesy St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church.

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1 comment:

  1. Interesting stories. I especially wish I knew what was going through your father's mind and heart when tears came to his eyes in the church.

    My mother tells stories of singing hymns while she and her sister milked cows. Good memories, I'm sure!

    Thanks for the important reminder to talk to and listen to our loved ones while they're still with us, before it's too late.