If you ever show up to the town of Waumandee recycling center during any of the four hours it is open every week, Charlie will be there to help you and he will most definitely have a smile and a story to share. Charlie was born on a farm in the township of Montana in 1933. He loves to tell stories. He has lived in the same few mile radius all 80 some years of his life. He knows the land and he knows the people even more. His great great grandparents on his father’s side settled in the town of Montanta in the 1850s after moving there from the town of Poppelau. “Many people that came from that town always believed they were from Poland, but we took ’em to this party at the town hall and there it showed them that they came from Germany and then the people would be disgusted because they came from the wrong country,” he tells me with a chuckle.
The stories from his ancestors and the stories from his life seem to weave together like one continuous history. Charlie was able to travel to Europe a handful of times in his adult life and learn a bit about his ancestral roots. “See, you’d go from these countries and the dialect would change. You’d go across the border into Germany and all of the sudden, you’d get to this town and start talking to people and the dialect would be a little different. That was pretty much normal that they had so many different dialects.” There were a few places he remembers visiting in Europe where they would speak about 5 languages in the house. “There was a nice lady that was trying to help us out, who we met at this one place we were going to put in fuel and she told us to get it, but she meant forget it. She felt bad, but thats what would happen sometimes with the languages, they would get twisted up.”
There was a family in Waumandee, he told me, that came from Switzerland and they spoke the Baden dialect. The dad never learned english and in recent years, Charlie’s brother, who has a P.h.D. in German Literature, talked to this guy in the Baden dialect for a couple hours. There was only one word that they snarled up on after conversing for that time: organic vs. biological. “That was pretty good,” he reflected, implying that the language had preserved that well over the years.
During three summers, as a kid, he stayed with his grandma and he told me that “once in awhile, she’d get to talking on a certain thing they’d do you know and how they didn’t do. They’d have to go out and cut grass for the cows and things like that.” He clearly remembers her telling him about how she ate corn for the first time when she came here on the boat. As he was talking about the land that people bought and who moved onto what property, he mentioned how the government recognized the fact that they needed food at that time so anyone who was involved in producing it was not eligible for the draft. So he told me that the guys would buy a farm, or haul milk, or work in a food processing plant and that way, they could stay home.
His parents bought the farm he grew up on the year after he was born. Charlie told me that a few years before moving to that farm, his father sold four horses for $200 a piece and bought a tractor for $1000 so he had to put $200 to it, but they had a tractor and “OOO, that was something to behold.” When his dad bought his farm, the land was only 200 acres total, 120 tillable. At that time, that was a lot.”You see, 40 acres was okay with a two row planter and then I went along and got a 4 row planter and my dad thought I was crazy: ‘Why would you need such a big planter?’ Nowadays, 12 row planters are normal and they even have 24 and 36 row planters.”
When he attended school in Arcadia as a child, he recalls getting off the bus around 4:30 or 5:00 in the evening and going straight to farm chores. Although they always raised a good amount of hogs, his primary responsibility was to feed and milk cows. He loved being independent as a farmer. In our time together, he talked a bit about how things have changed over the years with a certain amount of awe. When we started talking about how his son and daughter-in-law raise goats on the farm he grew up on, he quickly chimed in, “Holy nelly, I never dreamt you could get that much for a goat.”
When I asked him about how his wife and him met, he proudly told me that the following day was going be their 55th wedding anniversary. I am sure that I could have spent many more hours with him, but in the short time we chatted, I learned more than just some interesting facts about the people in his life and what has happened to him over the years. It seems as though the more you are interested in people, the more you get to know your community and unknowingly, become an interwoven part of history.
Charlie and his wife, Adeline celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary July 7th.
Photo courtesy of the Rippley family