POSTED: November 11, 2012 (Happy Veteran's Day to my Uncles, Billy Hilton, Peter Dunker, Russell Hilton, Roger Hilton and Jerry Hilton (who passed on), my Uncle Ron Gartner, a wounded Vietnam Vet, my brother, Larry Jo Lange, and to my son-in-law, Jeff Petersen, who as a Army National Guard served a year in Iraq and a year in Afganistan - all South Dakotans born and bred!)
The Head of Six Generations of South Dakotan's Born and Bred
When my grandson, Baine was born, June 24, 1997, he became the six generation to be alive with the head of these six generations being Anna Agnes Thaler Mach, his great, great, great grandmother, who at the time had just turned a hundred years old. She was born near Wagner, South Dakota, in the nineteenth century on February 7, 1897, seven years after the horrific Indian massacre at Wounded Knee. She lived most of her life during the twentieth century and made it until two months before the twenty-first century, the millennium, before passing on.
Anna Mach was known to many as Grandma Baka, or Baka, which comes from word Babicka, the Bohemian word for Grandmother. She was the mother of six, grandmother of twenty nine, great grandmother of sixty nine, great, great grandmother of seventy six, and great, great, great grandmother of one, my grandson, Baine Towers.
That alone is pretty amazing stuff, that this woman of Czech descent, who's parents came to the United States of America seeking the "land of golden opportunity," ended up being the head of future generations that she got to watch come into the world, a young country that through hard work, afforded her and her husband John, the ability to raise healthy children into adults who created their own lives and families after them. That this woman lived to be 102 years old is pretty awesome, but that she did all she did from very humble beginnings, and that she was deaf on top of it all.
As a child, I only got to see her several times. I just remember her smiling a lot. She always seemed old to me. I do remember that every year at Christmas, no matter where we lived (and we moved around a lot), Grandma Baka sent us a Christmas card. It was hard to read – her writing shakey and her grammar and English not very good, but I don’t think she ever missed a Christmas when I was growing up. That to me meant that family was very important to her. Now that I’m over half way to the age she was when she passed away, I think about her more and I am intrigued to learn more about her.
Her deafness plagued her most of her life and it wasn't until adulthood that she got her first hearing aid. She must have been able to hear some, as she could speak two languages. She was only able to go to school up until the 3rd grade, from what I've been told. I imagine that her hearing impairment made it impossible to learn in a public school environment.
At the age of fourteen, she had to go out and help her family, who were farmers themselves, but very poor, by working on other people's farms. She and her siblings weren't allowed to wear shoes most of the time, except to school and outside the farm, because the family couldn't afford to buy new shoes or have the shoes worn out.
One story Grandma Baka told my mother, JoAnn Hilton Sell, is that as a child, she remembered many times her feet getting so cold that after the cows got milked and they would urinate on the ground, she would go stand in that spot, because it was so warm on her feet. When I think about that, I know that no hardship that her children or grandchildren or any greats endured could have come close to comparing to that kind of hardship. And it is true, while the rest of us five generations that followed had it's issues and problems and financial pressures, none of us had to go barefoot most of the time, because our parents couldn't afford to buy us at least one pair of shoes or because we didn't get handed down a pair or two. It's not that there weren't lean years at times for all of us, but when you put it into perspective, it wasn't so bad.
Baka got married at the age of 17. I have a picture of her wedding day. She wore a modest white gown, with a long veil trailing behind her, her tiny waist enhanced by a tight sash. As seemed to be the custom of the day, neither she nor Grandpa John were smiling, which always made me wonder if it was love or necessity that caused a deaf girl of seventeen to give herself in marriage. Whatever it was, she and her husband remained married for over half a century and raised six children.
They started their married life living in a sod house on a small acreage of land to farm. I think about her and all the history that she lived through. During her lifetime, the United States was involved in World War I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam and Desert Storm. One of her sons, Art, fought in World War II and came back disabled. I imagine she and her husband were very patriotic, considering their families trek to get to the United States for a better life.
I wonder what her families conditions were like in Czechoslovakia in the late 1800's. It must have been unbearable to risk the trip across wild and wide open seas to get here.
Grandma Baka witnessed her share of personal hardships. After some prosperity, she and her husband were able to build a two story home and get out of the sod home. They also built a barn. Both burned to the ground in a fire. It must have been disappointing, but they didn't give up. They rebuilt and eventually were successful enough that they were able to build a second home in town, so the children could attend school there.
During her lifetime, in 1920 in a constitutional amendment women were given the right to vote. I wonder if she ever exercised that right. I wonder if, because of her disability, if she was able to understand much about politics.
During her lifetime, the model T was invented around 1909 and soon replaced the horse and buggy. The model T paved the way for the modern cars of the later decades of her life. I assumed she never drove a car, but in my Uncle Billy’s notes below, she may have a time or two...
During her lifetime, beginning in the sixties and seventies, women began burning their bras and fighting for equality at home and in the workplace. I don’t think she ever worked outside the home as a married woman.
She and her family suffered through the Dirty Thirties. The biggest hardships they endured were the grasshoppers eating all their crops and severe drought. Grandpa John had to work for the WPA to help continue to feed the family, but it wasn't enough to keep everyone comfortable. They survived and things got much better for them. They continued farming until John's death in the 1980's, at which time the family farm was taken over by Art, one of the sons. Baka remained in her home in town almost until her 100th birthday, when she was put into a nursing home, where she lived for several years.
I don't know much about her, but her daughter, my grandmother, Helen, was frugal and a master of creating things out of nothing, a talent I assume came from years of hardship on the family farm. She could sew, cook, crochet, knit and numerous other things. One thing I experienced firsthand was my Grandmother Helen’s colaches, which she learned how to make from her mother, Anna Mach, ie Baka. Colaches were deep friend strips of dough that were either rolled in sugar or frosted with white frosting. The dough often had raisins in it. Between that and the homemade egg noodles Grandma Helen made, a trip to her house was a huge treat.
Grandma Helen taught my mother, JoAnn Hilton Sell, all these great things too, although she never made colaches much, she is a master crafter and quilter. That's where it stops...I tried but I could never learn these things, in fact, never really wanted to learn them, as due to being a rebellious teenager during the women's liberation of the seventies, I felt these things to be old-fashioned and unimportant. Therefore, these abilities were not transferred down to my daughters, although they each have their own artistic abilities. Now I would give anything to have those talents, but even if I had tried harder I would never have gotten it. As I've stated before I have two left hands.
However, what was transferred down to my daughters that I credit to my mother, my grandmother and my great grandmother, is work ethic and the importance of family. While each generation had its lessons to learn, we women, and Baine and the rest of my grandchildren, are all of strong character. We are South Dakotans born and bred and survivors. That's my heritage. That's the heritage I believe is being passed down to my daughters and my grandchildren and I pray continues on down the line.
When I think of my Grandma Baka living in a sod home, I am also reminded of my great, great grandmother on my dad's side, who was Native American, Lakota Sioux, who I have been told was called No Name. She more than likely lived in a teepee in her early years, until found wondering alone on the prairie, she was taken into my great, great grandfather's cabin, who raised her up from a young girl until she was an older teenager when they bore children together. One of those children married my great grandfather, whose family came here from Germany. I can’t verify all of this side of my family history, and much of it is just what I have been told by my father and his family...which is sadly true for many people with some Native American heritage.
So in my background, I have strong women on both sides of the family. And I'm proud of all of them. I try to empathize with each of them. I think about how my great, great grandmother and her people were forced onto reservations and how their culture was stripped from them, first by the killing of their life's blood, the bison, and then by making them learn and live the white man's ways and I am saddened for them. Thus explains, why much of my life I have felt torn...I have two sides of families that have very different beginnings, difficult circumstances and I guess, the conclusion I can come up with is that I thank them all. For they are a part of who I am today and who my daughters and grandchildren will be tomorrow. They represent to me strength, endurance, faith and family. I am proud to be who I am because of them.
I want to give a big thank you to my Uncle Billy, who graciously supplied the following notes of memories for me to use. He said that I could rewrite, edit, omit or do whatever I wanted with them. I found them to be fascinating. He talks a little about my grandfather, Clifford Hilton, who died before I was born. I never heard much about him before, so I appreciate learning what I can. It seems he had a way with horses, which fascinates me, as I wonder if I got my love from him or from the other side of my family...my father’s side, but that’s another story for later.
I left Uncle Billy’s notes just as he gave them to me. How do you rewrite or edit someone else’s memories? You can’t and do it justice. They are his to share. It would be wonderful if everyone would take some time and write down their own memories of their grandparents and great grandparents so that it can be passed down and preserved. It’s a wonderful gift. It’s the stuff that can never be found in history books or in family tree charts.
Please enjoy Uncle Billy’s notes below:
MEMORIES OF THE MACH’S
By Billy Hilton
In the summer of 1944, Russ and I went from Hecla, SD, where we lived at the time, to Wagner on the train. The train only went as far as Tripp, so Uncle Orville came there and picked us up. We spent a big share of that summer at Grampa and Gramma's farm. We helped Gramma with chores, but spent most of time playing. In Bohemian tradition, the men do not usually milk the cows, so that was Gramma's job. She fed the pigs, gathered eggs, milked the cows and separated the milk and cream. Russ and I would turn the crank on the cream separator for her.
Their house on the farm had a furnace in the basement and a wood-burning cook stove in the kitchen. They burned corn cobs in both since they always had a lot of cobs after they shelled the corn each year. Gramma kept a box full of cobs alongside the cook stove, and would stuff enough cobs into the stove to boil water on top and bake bread in the oven. Russ and I would keep the box full of cobs, and used a two-wheel cart and a wheelbarrow to haul cobs from the pile out in the farm yard to a window in the basement where we would shovel the cobs into a bin by the furnace.
Once while there for the summer Gramma and us two boys walked out to the creek in the pasture to check for berries. We only found a few blueberries and chokecherries so Gramma baked a pie which turned out to be blueberry, chokecherry, and rhubarb, and it was delicious.
Gramma was a good cook, and always had bread baking in the oven along with prune colaches. She would roll out a sheet of dough for noodles on the kitchen table then hang it over the back of a chair on a dish towel to dry. She always had a garden so much of the food was fresh or things that she had canned and stored in the basement.
They did not have electricity on the farm until the late 1940's as far as I can remember. However Grampa did build a water tank on a tower above the well and had water piped to the house, barn and hoghouse. He had a little gasoline motor on the pump and would fill the tank as needed. With this system Gramma didn't have to carry water to the house or to the pigs and cows.
Our Dad gave Grandpa and Gramma a dog of Collie-Shepherd mix. They called him Shep. He was very intelligent, and it was said that he would sleep outside under Grandpa and Gramma's bedroom window. When he heard the alarm go off in the morning, he would head for the pasture and bring the milk cows in to the barn for Gramma. In the afternoon, Gramma would tell Shep to go get the cows and he would again go out to the pasture and bring the cows in for milking. When Grandpa sent Shep out he would bring in the horses. He would walk the cows in, but would always make the horses run.
Grandpa Mach's dad, who was about ninety years old, lived on the farm with Grandpa and Gramma. His room was right above the kitchen, and he spent most of his time there. At mealtime Gramma would use the broom handle and pound on the ceiling a few times to let Great-grandpa know that it was time to eat. Several times a year Grandpa and Great-grandpa would make a batch of beer in the basement. At mid-morning and mid-afternoon Great-grandpa would come down to the kitchen for a bottle of beer and a slice of homemade bread. Gramma did all of his laundry and did the cleaning in his room. I don't recall Great-grandpa ever leaving the farm or having visitors, though he did have other relatives in the area including his daughter Agnes who lived on a farm a few miles away.
Every Saturday evening all the farmers and families would go to town. That was when they took their cream to the cream station and their eggs to the grocery store where they would use the money for the groceries. Grandpa would go to the pool hall where he would drink beer and play cards. Gramma would visit with her friends or go the the movie. Usually she would have Russ and I meet her at a specified time and go to the Spot Cafe where we would all three have a banana split.
When Gramma was small, they only spoke Bohemian at home. Since she didn't attend school very long, she could not read or write English. Later, when her kids came home from the country school they attended, they would teach her what they had learned at school. That was how she learned to read and write. Her writing never improved much, though she did write letters frequently. However, she did a lot of reading, mostly romance type magazines like True Story. She also enjoyed listening to soap operas on the radio like Ma Perkins which came on every day.
I don't know when Gramma became hard of hearing. I know everyone got used to speaking loudly when around her. Sometime in the mid-1940's she got her first hearing aid. It was abox about the size of a pack of cigarettes and held the batteries. She had it hung around her neck under her dress where it had a cord leading to the plug in her ear. We always thought it was funny to watch her talk on the telephone, as she would place the hearing part of the phone on her chest and the talking part in front of her mouth.
After they moved to Wagner Russ and I stayed with them for our sophomore year of high school since the Interior School burned down. I then returned to Interior but Russ stayed with them until he graduated. Grandpa had an upholstered rocker that he sat in all the time and frequently took naps there. Grandma, Russ, and I discovered that change would fall out of his pocket and go down inside the chair. We would wait until after Grandpa left the house, then the three of us would tip the chair upside down and shake out the coins. Gramma would let us keep the coins.
Gramma didn't learn to drive, but I have heard that she might have driven home from town a time or two on Saturday night when Grandpa had too much to drink. She probably didn't know how to shift gears, so might have driven the eight miles in low gear. However, I have ridden in a horse drawn wagon where she was driving the team of horses.
Our Dad and Gramma were not far apart in age, and always got along real well. Dad originally got acquainted with Grandpa during the Prohibition years when they started making whiskey in Grandpa's hoghouse. Dad would then load the bottles of whiskey into the trunk of his car and sell them to regular customers in the area. At this time, Mom was still in High School, and after she graduated they got married.
MORE ITEMS FROM BILLY:
Immigrants from Czechoslovakia settled in much of Iowa, Nebraska and southeast South Dakota, They picked up the nickname "Bohemians", from the old country of Bohemia, and the people were called Czechs or Bohemians, both used extensively. Both Grandpa and Gramma's ancestors were Czechoslovakian, Gramma Helen and her siblings were one-hundred percent of that nationality, and could speak the language fluently. Unfortunately, the language was lost within the next generations. In all the towns in that area of the state, they had Bohemian Lodges where they had regular meetings and social gatherings. The name of the organization was initialed "ZCBJ" which translated to English as "Western Bohemian Fraternal Association. Grandpa John held many offices in the Lodge. Uncle Bill later became president of the Lodge, and was followed in the position by his son, Tommy Mach. Both Grandpa and Gramma spent a lot of time at the Lodge where they held dances and other events. The main floor had a large auditorium with a stage, and that is where the dances were held. In the basement they had a kitchen and large dining room where Gramma frequently helped with the meals or refreshments. Incidentally, there was a ZCBJ hall in Belvidere when we lived there.
In the early 1930's while still on the farm, Grandpa John became an insurance agent, selling life insurance for the ZCBJ Insurance Company which was, and still is, located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This provided some additional income during the hard times of the 1930's. He started providing each of his grandchildren a life insurance policy when they were born on which he paid the premium up until a certain age. The face amount was not large, $600, which then was quite a bit. Most of the grandchildren let their policies lapse. I still have mine, and dividends each year are larger than the premiums so now the amount of they policy has increased to more than a thousand dollars.
While still on the farm, Grandpa had a large stallion that he kept fenced in with a small section of the barn and a small yard outside. The horse's name was Dan, and he was very mean. The only people who could approach him were Grandpa and our dad, Clifford. Grandpa would hitch Dan to a small two-wheeled cart and travel to various neighbor's farms where he would be paid a stud fee for Dan's service. As kids, we could observe Dan from a distance while in his enclosure, but were not allowed to go close.
Some organization in a nearby town sold raffle tickets on a new Farmall H tractor. They came to Wagner to sell tickets, and when Grandpa bought one, he said that if he won the tractor he would walk to the town where they had the raffle and drive the tractor home. He won the tractor so he started walking, but a short distance out of town he had someone pick him up in a car. That tractor was used up until Uncle Art quit farming. I have spent quite a few hours on it, working the fields.
About five miles west of the farm was a small town named Marty. There was a Catholic Mission and boarding school there, and it was a major trading area for Indians from the reservation that was located to the south. The church had a store there where they had huge bins of all kinds of clothes and shoes. These clothes were mostly used, and were donated by people and organizations in the eastern states, and would be delivered to Marty by the truckload. Gramma Mach, Gramma Helen, and other relatives bought a lot of clothes there at very cheap prices. When we were small and lived in Wagner, one of the events during our trips to the farm would be a trip to Marty Mission to check out the clothes. Sometimes while they were going through the bins, Gramma would buy us an ice cream cone which we would eat while sitting outside on a bench in front of the store.
Gramma did quite a bit of sewing on her pedal-operated sewing machine. When we were small we would play under the machine, pushing the pedal up and down, and Gramma would give us a large jar of buttons, then ask us to sort them into matching groups. That would keep us occupied for quite awhile.
Grandpa and Gramma both came from large families, eleven children in Grandpa's family and ten in Gramma's, some of which stayed in the area. Grandpa's sister Agnes Hron lived on a farm near Wagner. They got together frequently as both the men liked their beer, and the women liked to visit and cook. Their son Oscar was a good buddy of Uncle Art's and after high school, they drove to Casper, Wyoming where they worked in the mental ward of the hospital until Art joined the Marines. Grandpa had a brother, Louie, who had a farm near Tripp. Gramma's sister Tillie Nedved and her husband Levi, lived on a farm just east of Grandpa and Gramma's. They also got together quite often. Gramma's brother Frank lived on a farm east of Wagner. There were five kids in their family, two boys and three girls. The four older ones attended high school in Wagner while Russ and I did. Both of us spent a weekend with them on their farm. Their oldest, Leonard, or sometimes called Smiley, used to drive to Scenic to hunt with relatives.
Grandpa had two cousins that lived on farms near Petersburg, Virginia. One summer when I was attending school at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, I drove down there and looked them up. I was hugged, shown around the farm, and fed a huge dinner. They were really glad to welcome a relative from South Dakota, and to hear news about their cousins.
Gramma was pretty worried about "her boys" during World War II. Ted McDowell and Orville Ptak were in the Army Air Corps and served in Europe. Art was in the Marines and was involved in some of the bloodies battle sin the Pacific including Guam and Iwo Jima. All three returned safely, though Art did receive some wounds which bothered him in later years.
Grandpa and Gramma had six children; William, Helen, Esther, Art, Josephine, and Thelma. If you omit Josephine, the first initials, in order of birth, spell WHEAT. The rest of them used to tell Josephine that she was adopted since her initial didn't fit in with the rest of them.