Family Decisions

By ColumbusGuy


The house is real, the situation is conjectural based on family history. People, relative ages, names and places are real—my father would have been born three years after this in 1918.

* * * * * * * * * *     

With the westering sun, the large porch was finally being shaded by the huge oaks closer to the dirt road.  The shrieks of children playing around the side yard had grown louder as the heat the annoyance of their parents and other assorted relatives; today was a special one: all the cousins and aunts and uncles were gathered at the family home to discuss a very important issue.  The older generation was represented by Uncle Lewis-Frederick and my mother, Sarah—my father having passed away twenty-three years ago when I was twelve—leaving my father's youngest brother as the family head.

"Henry, ruhet die Kinder...wir müßen zusammensprechen." 1 This from my oldest brother Johann-Daniel, with his handle-bar moustache just getting a few gray hairs.  I nodded, and went around the corner to stand by the kitchen door where I could see my kids and those of my siblings tossing a ball around and chasing one of the barn cats.  They ranged in age from my youngest Earl at 6 years, to J-D's oldest Franz who was nearly 13.  The girls were mostly sitting in the shade of the house playing with jacks or dolls.

Failing to get attention by waving my arm, I called out: "Franz!  Wilbur!  Still!  Spiel beim Bach a bisse!  Später gibt's Eis wenn ihr alle ruhig seid!" 2  Just to make sure, I added, "Kümmern sie sich um die Jüngeren!" 3  About ten heads turned to me, mostly topped in varying shades of sandy blond, a few with darker brown.  I knew Franz and my oldest were fairly responsible, but it never hurt to repeat the obvious.  The sounds of the kids faded as I mounted the porch again, taking a seat next to my wife Bertha.

Johann-Daniel spoke for a while about the rising tensions directed against the German-American community and anything relating to Germany, despite the fact that our pastor and most other Lutheran organizations were against the War, and the Kaiser's aggression especially.  Our area of central Ohio was heavily German, but even so, we had noticed disapproving looks when in town to shop if we happened to speak our first language—Grandfather Johann had come from Germany seventy years ago and settled in Columbus before moving to our farm around 1855. Our family was proud of its traditions and German was still our language at home, with English being taught so we could get along in school.  Windfall Church still had services in German every Sunday, with English ones afterward.

Valentin, Bertha's father—and my father-in-law, muttered in his heavily accented English: "I'm thinking of dropping out of the Deutschamerikanischer National-Bund4..."  He had emigrated from Germany thirty years earlier and had been in many groups promoting German music and literature, the DNB being only the most recent; into the silence which ensued my younger brother Hartman added: "My copy of the Tägliches Cincinnatier Volksblatt5 almost always arrives torn, when it arrives at all!"

Nods of agreement came from all around—we had all experienced minor irritations of this sort, and a few which were more serious such as verbal assault.  I myself was careful to speak only English in public, but it was more difficult when my mother Sarah or Uncle Lewis were with me—their English was accented and not as fluent as that of my siblings.

The honking of an electric horn sounded from the road as my brother Edwin's Ford touring car pulled up into the yard—he jumped out, letting the car stutter to a stop as he rushed up to the porch, waving a newspaper with one hand.  His twin brother Edward grabbed him, and after only a moment, Edwin gathered himself enough to display the paper to us all.


Gasps came from all around, but the only words which could be made out were Edwin's: "Des Kaisers U-Boot hat's getan! 6" Mother and Lewis-Frederick just stared without saying anything, but my brothers showed varying degrees of disbelief and anger.  My wife and her sisters were looking pale, her sister Clara had a handkerchief pressed to her face, wiping away quiet tears.  John-Daniel looked at his brothers and sisters, then to our mother and Valentin...receiving nods from each of them in turn.

"That settles it, then—if this doesn't lead us into war, then I don't know what will.  From this day on, we stop teaching German to our children, and we don't speak it in public at all.  As to church...I don't is easier for Lewis and Mother to attend the German services.  I will take them there, the rest of you can decide for yourselves on those or the English services..."

Uncle Lewis' gravelly voice spoke up then: "I go to de English alzo—Gott hears me anyvay."  Mother nodded in agreement with her brother-in-law, and so it was decided, no more German to be spoken to the children, or in public.  

———————————————————————————————1. `Henry, quiet the children down...we have to talk amongst ourselves.'
2. `Franz, Wilbur, quiet! Go play by the creek for a while. There'll be ice cream later if you're all quiet.'
3. `Look after the little ones!'

4. German-American National Alliance: a cultural organization disbanded in 1919.
5. Cincinnati's People's Daily News: the largest German paper in the Ohio Valley.
6. `The Kaiser's submarines did it!'

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