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Otelia recalls pantaloons, sheared wool

Otelia Schmieg

Today it is Otelia Schmieg who will tell us her story. She is one of my neighbors at Fair Oaks Apartments. Otelia was born in 1915 in the Verndale area to Bert and Emma Hartung, one of the middle children in a family of 12. Now she is the only surviving child.

The Hartung children graduated from the Bertha High School. Otelia found a job at the telephone office, then one in Minneapolis working as a nanny for three little girls. She wore a white uniform and was paid $14 a week, considered good wages. She liked the children and sometimes still hears from them.

Bert's father was from Germany and his mother from Poland. Emma's parents were both from Poland. They liked music and often sung for funerals. They were hard workers, with her mother working out with the men, even when they were cutting railroad ties.

Hartungs made what they needed, like when Emma needed shelter for her small flock of chickens. She dug a trench piling boards and brush on top. They managed to winter there. Otelia did well in school and would have liked to be a teacher, but in the middle of the Depression going to college wasn't even discussed.

For the next hour we talked about life and times when we were children. Otelia remembers her dad bringing home soda crackers in big cartons, enough to last all winter. We talked about 100 pound sacks of sugar and flour. She will never forget one pair of pantaloons declaring Gold Metal across her behind. The other kids never let her forget it, proving kids have always been kids and will likely always be kids. Otelia and Charles were married and starting farming.

We talked over old recipes and ways to preserve food that would make today's cooks swoon. We agreed that holding a foot that a rusty nail had gone thru in a pail of fresh cow manure to prevent infection was a bit much.

Both Otelia and I had carded wool from resident sheep into fluffy perfect rolls after it came sheered, washed and dried, which took several days. These rolls were laid in a single layer covering what was to be the back sheet of a quilt.

After being tied, with yarn likely spun from the same sheep, this super quilt was ready to cover some happy sleeper. Otelia had on her bed that very minute an exquisite old quilt, warm and light as a feather, tied with rosebud knots. I had never seen or even heard of them, not being a quilter. They do look like rosebuds. Does anyone else have a quilt with rosebud knots? We'd like to know.

Otelia likes to see interesting things and places she has read about. She visited Hawaii twice. On a trip to New York City she enjoyed the Rockettes.

A grandfather by the name of Charles Hartung has always interested Otelia. He served in both the Spanish American and Civil wars. Research revealed that records of enlisted men in the Civil War were not kept. He lived to be 94.

Grandpa Hartung was a storyteller, and Otelia loved to listen. One story remained as sharp in his memory as the day it happened. He told how the soldiers were in rags in bitterly cold winter weather. His worst need was for shoes. His were almost too ragged to stay on his feet.

Then, among the dead on the battlefield he saw a fallen young soldier with fair shoes. A closer look showed they were his size.

Gritting his teeth, breathing a prayer of forgiveness and gratitude to the poor unfortunate fellow, Charles swiftly laced the shoes onto his own battered, bleeding feet. Looking back, Charles tried, but he couldn't do it. He couldn't leave that brave soldier who had lost all, even his shoes.

Grabbing the derelict ones that had been his, Charles forced rigid feet into them, then hustled to catch up with his company.

It was a memory that stayed with Grandpa Hartung to his dying day.