Julia Gemmen Kraker Memoir, ca. 1989
Julia May Gemmen Kraker (1923–2013) was the granddaughter of emigrant Jan Albert Gemmen and Johanna Dyke, the great–granddaughter of Albert Dyke and Berendena Keddeman, and the daughter of John and Minnie (Rozema) Gemmen. She married Harold Kraker, the grandson of emigrants Albert Kraker and Hermina Knoper. During their retirement, Harold and Julia enjoyed traveling and volunteering with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee’s Disaster Response.
Table of Contents
Jan Hendrik “John” Gemmen, my father, was born in 1899 on the farm, which is now 11634 60th Avenue in Allendale, Michigan. When we were young, 60th was called the Cemetery Road. He was fifth in a family of ten children, two of whom died in infancy. His mother died when he was nine years old, leaving his father with eight children, aged 2–17 years old.
My father John attended the Tuttle School District #4 with his brothers and sisters. I don’t think he finished 8th grade; he probably had to work to help support the family. He worked as a hired man on the Antonides Farm, and also in a factory in Grand Rapids. In those days, when you worked in the city, you lived in a boarding house and maybe went home weekends.
My mother Minnie Rozema was born in Lucas, Stony Corners, Missaukee County, Michigan in 1901. When she was twelve, they moved to Allendale to live on my great–grandfather’s farm. She attended the Curry School through grade 8. As a young girl, she worked as a maid in Grand Rapids in one of the Heritage Hill homes. I remember Mom taking me to Mrs. McGenn when I was little. Later, she worked in a factory and lived in a boarding house near Grandville Avenue. To go home on weekends, she and my Aunt Jane would take the Interurban to Jenison, where Grandpa would meet them with a horse and buggy.
After my parents married in 1921, they moved into the Gemmen family farm, and his three younger brothers and sister must have been still living there. I was born on this farm, too, but we moved before I was old enough to remember. The year I was born, we had a big snow storm in May.
My father already had a truck when I was born (1923), while a lot of people still had horse and buggies for transportation. When I was small, I remember people coming to church with horses—there were horse barns out behind the church to keep the horses during church service.
Children of Jan Albert Gemmen and Johanna Dyke Gemmen, ca. 1915. Back row: Gerrit and Lena. Front row: Susie, Albert, Julia’s father John, Henry, Jerry. Missing: Berendena.
The Tuttle School in 1910.
The Curry School.
Returning home after church. The Allendale Christian Reformed Church is in the background.
Julia Gemmen Kraker’s Early Years in Pearline (1924–1930)
When I was a year old, my father and his older brother Albert built a new grocery store in Pearline (corner of 56th Avenue and M–45). When it was finished, we lived in the apartment above the store. It’s Ron Rotman’s carpet store now—Town and Country). They built a carbide plant to make gas to light our house and store.
I remember my uncle Al and aunt Jane living in the little house next door and a fenced–in play yard between. Once, when Gypsies came through, Cousin Nels and I were out in the yard; our mothers ran to get us out. Gypsies were thought to kidnap little children and also steal anything they could. They say that my uncle chased them out of the store with a big butcher knife. Janet Knoper just told me lately that, when I was about two, they caught me running around on the back flat roof of the store. Sister Ruth was born while in the store.
Rev. Bliek was minister when we lived in the store, and I played with their son, Sonny. I also played with Althea Katts, whose father was principal at Allendale Christian School. They lived just west of the hardware.
Gemmen Relatives in Pearline
I remember going to visit Great–Grandma Dyke, my dad’s grandma. She only spoke German, so we couldn’t talk with her, but she made such good sugar cookies. I guess that is what we kids went over there for. She lived just a short way from the store when we lived upstairs there.
I would also go alone over to Uncle Stub and Aunt Marguerite’s (Gerrit and Marguerite Gemmen). They lived just across the road, M–45, from the store. They had a new house built soon after they married. Aunt Marguerite says I used to come with books for her to read to me.
I can only remember one vacation I went on with my folks, when I was about six. We went up north with Uncle Stub and Aunt Marguerite. I think we stayed in a tent; I can’t really remember much about it, though I have a few snapshots.
That’s when I got the “ball with snow” and lost it in the attic of Aunt Jane’s house. Nels and I tried to look for it with matches—we could have burned the house down. Uncle Jerry (Dad’s brother Gerhard) was staying with Uncle Al and Aunt Jane when we were gone and came down with polio. He didn’t live very long after that. He was 28 years old, I think. [Gerhard died in 1931.]
Julia Gemmen Kraker’s great-grandparents, Albert Dyke and Berendena Ketteman.
Vacationing in northern Michigan.
The Gemmen Bros. Store in Pearline, Allendale Township, Michigan. John and Albert purchased the business in 1922 and replaced the building two years later.
Moving To “Allendale Center” (1930)
By the time I was seven, we moved again—this time to a house in Allendale, now 11095 68th Avenue (Crowes’). My father and uncle now sold the store and went into farming and butchering. The meat they sold to wholesale stores (Grand Rapids Packing) and some meat markets in Grand Rapids. They were the first farmers in the area to raise Herford cattle. They got a load from out west, also had a horse (Silver), and we kids used to play cowboy, watching these cattle on horseback.
The house where we lived in Allendale was big—six bedrooms, living room, dining room, big kitchen, pantry, but no bathroom. We took baths in a laundry tub in the pantry. After Norma was born, when I was 12, I got to have a bedroom upstairs all by myself. We had a lot of kids to play with, and a lot of the time it was at our house. We played enie-inie over and our house was best for that.
We had a cook stove to use in winter, which also heated the house. In summer, Mom cooked on a three–burner gas stove, a lot like a camp stove. It had an oven to set on top of the burners. She also heated her laundry water in a boiler on this stove and had to carry it downstairs. We first had a pump in the kitchen, but later on, Dad got an electric pump and we had a faucet by the sink—but only cold water.
We also had a few cows. Mom made our butter and also used to milk the cow sometimes. When I once tried to milk the cow, without much success, I didn’t know that Dad was watching. When he started to laugh, I quit and never would try again.
Norma was born at home in 1935, while we lived in Allendale. She was delivered by Dr. Silas (“Pee Wee”) Wiersma. I rode with Norma in an old buggy to the doctor’s office for shots when she was a baby. I wasn’t home when she was born, but Ruth was. I was at Aunt Jane’s—not that they sent me there, but we kids just went over there a lot. I used to do mending, darning, etc., for her.
The pets we had—one dog, named Douglas McArthur, was given to Dad by John Seiger during the war. I remember a cat that Norma used to hang around her neck like a fur piece. When Ruth and I slept together, that cat would sleep between us on top of the quilts. Quilts weren’t real big, and they pulled up on the outsides with a cat on them. Ruth and I used to fight in bed, if one got on the other’s side just a tiny bit. Dad threatened to put a big slivery board down the middle of the bed. He never did it, though.
The old Allendale Creamery on 68th Avenue north of Lake Michigan Drive. Today this is the location of A. Gemmen & Sons, Inc. and their retail operations, The Meat Market.
A portion of the 1920 plat map of Allendale Township, Michigan. From left to right: location of the house on 68th Avenue in Allendale Center; the Christian School on Lake Michigan Drive and 64th Avenue; Gemmen’s Grove on the Gemmen Brothers’ 80–acre farm; the Christian Reformed Church to the west of 56th Avenue, and the Gemmen Bros. Store on the east; on 48th Avenue, the Kingsbury farm.
Memorable Social Events During The 1930s
Dad loved to have parties. We had a lot of hamburg fries in Gemmen’s Grove (that’s where most picnics were held years ago). All the kids would go, too. We’d all play games and would have a great time. In the fall, we’d have hayrides, and sleigh rides in the winter. Dad also had stag parties in our basement for the firemen. They were usually liver fries. And he would fix the meat himself. If I’m not mistaken, the firemen still have liver fries.
We had corn–husking bees when I was a teenager (Dad was great at having parties). In the fall, they would haul corn stalks into the barn and husk inside. Whoever found a red ear could kiss whoever they wanted to—it was supposed to be the prettiest girl. So some of these “old” guys would try to kiss me. I don’t think I really appreciated it.
Dad and Uncle Al would cut their own wood, once in Robinson Township. We kids would go along to help load the trucks, and then, when we got home, we would throw it down the cellar. After that, we’d stack it up. Sometimes they would burn coal, but it was usually wood.
A school picnic held in Gemmen’s Grove in 1930.
Cutting wood in Allendale.
Neighborhood Life In Allendale Center
Our neighbors in Allendale were “Uncle” John and “Aunt” Fannie Thayer. We kids spent a lot of time with them—especially Norma, they really made a lot of her. I don’t remember how old they were, but they seemed really old to us. Aunt Fannie would get down on the floor to play games with us and would have a hard time trying to get up again. Now I know what that is like.
Uncle John read a lot of Zane Grey books (westerns). He would let me read some of them, but some were no–nos. Now I wonder how bad they were—maybe a few swear words. The Thayers would take us kids to Coopersville in the summer to see free movies shown outside in a park. Theaters were just not the place to go.
All of their bedrooms were furnished with antiques. They had bowls and pitchers in every room. Aunt Fannie had two china cabinets full of old dishes; that must have sparked my love for old dishes.
Herm and Bertha Lemmen did a lot for kids in the area. Their daughter Louise and I were best friends when we were kids, so I was over there a lot. When we first moved from Pearline to Allendale, the Lemmens lived in the cement block house just west of 68th on M–45. Later, they built the big house across from Tanis’s, where Dad lived as a kid.
The Lemmen house on the hill was quite a showplace. No one else had a bathroom in those days. The upstairs wasn’t finished, just a floor; we used to dress up in old clothes of Louise’s grandma, about like Meg and Annie do at our house, and play house up there.
In the wintertime, the Lemmens had a nice hill for coasting. There was a creek at the bottom, and they had built a bridge over it so we would slide across. But sometimes we’d miss the bridge and go in the creek. We used sleds sometimes, but mostly slid on old white enamel refrigerator doors. Sure kept a lot of neighbor kids entertained.
I can also remember sleeping out in the yard there. That was before sleeping bag days—we just had a pillow and blankets. It was really pretty, the sky and all, but the mosquitos spoiled it.
Herm made a swimming pool. The walls were made of stones with a cement bottom. It was spring–fed, so it took a long time to fill. They didn’t have any chemicals in those days, so it got quite green and slimy; sometimes then they’d pull the plug and drain it in the ditch, then we’d help scrub it and have to wait for it to fill again.
Dad and Mom would sometimes go there at night. I don’t think Mom wanted anyone to see her in a bathing suit! We’d walk through the cow pasture (our land joined Lemmen’s in back) and every once in a while, we would step barefoot on a fresh cow pie. Good thing there was a creek close by.
We probably didn’t have electricity on the farm where I was born, but for all the time I can remember, we did. We had a telephone—the old crank kind. The telephone office was in the old house west of the bank. Helene (Vonk) Schermer’s family were the operators, and she was a good friend of mine, so I spent a lot of time in their house. All calls went through the operator, and everyone was on a party line. All the rings came through on all the phones, and some people would listen in. At nine o’clock p.m., a long ring came—and that meant no more calls tonight. Sundays you weren’t supposed to make any calls either, unless it was an emergency.
I just found out that the old telephone office was the old parsonage of the First Christian Reformed Church. I remember Dad’s cousins telling about a neighbor, Henrietta. She was listening in. They said “Henrietta!” and she said, “What?” They asked if she would please hang up.
Moving Back To Pearline (ca. 1940)
We moved quite often, but the time I remember most was when we moved from Allendale Center to Pearline (the house where Grandma Dyke lived last). Mom had sweet pickles in a crock, and Cousin Nels got into them when he helped move. That could have been a sticky mess, digging in with your hands.
This time we moved, Dad had bought his uncle Harry Dyke’s hardware store in Pearline. That soon became too small, so he built a bigger new store. Since Uncle Harry came with the business, Dad built a little house for him to live in.
Mom got a refrigerator after we moved to Pearline at that time; Dad was selling Crosley appliances. Did you know that Crosley made the first fridge with shelves in the door?
Dad was really sold on Lowe Bros. Paint. I remember Dad painting our worst kitchen Linoleum gray and stippling it different colors with a sponge. He also painted the oak woodwork white—Lowe Bros. Paint.
Dad was a quiet man but could get things done. While he was a township supervisor, the new town hall was built. He also was fire chief and organized a volunteer fire department.
It seems as though we had worse storms when I was small. Every time we had a thunderstorm at night, our folks would get us out of bed. After the storm, Dad would go out to see if there were any fires around. A lot of buildings were struck by lightning. Dad and his brother Uncle Al lost a barn, but that was by combustion—neighbors saw the back of the barn blow out before it started burning. The hay got overheated.
We had three girls in my family, so Dad had us do many things usually considered boys’ work. He had me drive horses, a doodle bug tractor, and even the big cattle truck. He had us change tires on the car, help change the oil, etc. My sister Ruth and I both were driving at 13.
Julia Gemmen Kraker’s father John Gemmen in front of his newly–completed hardware building.
Gemmen’s Hardware, 1956 (the left building).
Allendale Christian Reformed Church, located in the section of Allendale Township known as Pearline. The building in the background was the Gemmen Bros. Store (in the 1920s), and the parsonage is in the foreground on the right. None of these buildings stand today.
A Bentheimers International Society member helping her father fix the family car. “We had three girls in my family, so Dad had us do many things usually considered boys’ work. He had me drive horses, a doodle bug tractor, and even the big cattle truck. He had us change tires on the car, help change the oil, etc. My sister Ruth and I both were driving at 13.”
Allendale’s first red fire truck was this 1929 Chevrolet dump truck, purchased in 1932 by Francis Wolbrink and Herman Lemmen. It had a 500–gallon open top tank, 200–gallon/minute pump and fire hose. A bell up front could be rung by a rope through the windshield. Once, when Julia was a young girl attending the hardware alone, the fire alarm rang. She secured the building, revved up the old fire truck, and raced off to the fire while ringing the bell to alert anyone on the way. We assume all were happy to see their fire truck arrive at the scene in record time.” (From Allendale Township Celebrates 150 Years: 1848–1998.)
My dad, John Gemmen, was elder and deacon of his church many times. He also served on the Allendale Christian School board and was on a planning committee when Unity Christian High School was started.
Reverend Henry Keegstra.
When we were older and had Rev. Henry Keegstra (1928–1941), the boys and girls couldn’t even sit together. Boys on one side and girls on the other. We didn’t have Young People’s Society, either. We had Girls’ Society and Boys’ Society. I don’t know if all CRC churches were like that, or if it was just our minister. He was a dominie, really: he wore a swallow tail coat and, when he sat down, he would flip those tails up first. He was so stern, I was afraid of him.
Rev. Martin Bolt (1942–1947) was my favorite pastor. We lived across the road from the parsonage and got to know the family quite well. Sister Norma used to play with the Bolt’s Norma. I once remember when a bunch of us kids were playing cards in the hardware at night, and Rev. Bolt knocked on the door. Boy, did those cards fly! I found out later that he didn’t condemn card playing. It gave us a scare, though.
Reverend Martin Bolt.
Allendale Christian School in 1928.
Housecleaning was always a big job. We didn’t have vacuum cleaners—just carpet sweepers, so the rugs (no carpet either) were rolled up, carried out, and hung over the line and beat and swept and beat some more. The same with our beds: we laid the mattresses out over some chairs on a nice sunny day; they, too, we beat with a rug beater. Our springs were coil springs, and we cleaned them with a soapy brush and rinsed and dried them in the sun.
Wash days, too, were hard work. Mom did have an electric washer, but water was heated in a wash boiler, and a bar of either American Family or Fels Naptha was shaved up to melt in the boiler. Water was heated upstairs and had to be carried to the basement. You had to pour this hot water into the washer.
Dirty clothes were rubbed on a scrub board first, then into the washer. Wash tubs were on a stand, and a hand–cranked wringer to wring them out. Needless to say, they were still quite damp. Grandma Rozema had an old washer with a gasoline engine, and in the summertime, she washed outside.
We washed windows a lot, that I know. Also, every week, we scrubbed out the outhouse with hot soapy Lysol water. The porches also were scrubbed every week in the summertime. I remember ironing Norma’s dresses when she was a baby (I was 13). I also made clothes for her when she was little. Mom made most of our clothes when we were small. She also made us coats out of old coats. And mittens out of old coats.
My parents (Dad) always had a big garden. I used to help Mom can, and I can remember making vegetable soup and mixing the vegetables in a big wash tub. Mom baked her own bread, cookies, cakes, and pies, and everything from scratch. We had an old cook stove that she used in the winter, and the gas stove with portable oven in the summer. Uncle Matt and Aunt Jessie Rozema still had a cook stove about five years ago, when they were on the farm. We had an ice box that had a drip pan underneath. If you didn’t remember to empty it on time, you mopped the floor. The ice man came around selling big blocks of ice.
“It’s cheaper to buy good soap than new clothes”: A bar of American Family soap from 1930–1940. These soap products were made and sold in the Midwest because its soap content worked well with the hard water in the Midwest. Each wrapper had a coupon that could be redeemed at any American Family outlet store for useful household items.
Harvesting ice on the Grand River in Allendale. This ice was used in the residents’ ice boxes.
Recreation and Pastimes
Playing by and in the creek was one of the things I loved to do. At one time, I had a whole cigar box of crab pinchers that I found along the creek banks. They were so pretty, some blue, green, and tan. Mom didn’t like them and would hardly touch the box. We would dam up the creek and swim in it; I also used to catch tadpoles and minnows.
We used to play Tarzan in the barn. We would climb up on the covered stairway, had a rope up there, and would swing out into the hay mow. Used to play in the barn at Uncle Al’s, too. I climbed around like a monkey. Can you imagine a little girl climbing trees and all over the barn in a dress? Nels and I played together a lot. Once, I fell down between hay mows and gouged a big piece of skin off my knee. I went to Aunt Jane to doctor it for me. What did she do? Poured iodine on it. Now days, we would have gone to a doctor and had it sewn up.
I guess I always liked flowers and plants. When I was quite young and living in Allendale (Center), my folks would let me raise flowers by the house, morning glories by the back porch and on a wire by the pantry window. Aunt Dena Dyke lived in “Grandma” Gemmen’s house when I was young. We used to go visit her on Saturday mornings when we went to catechism and get slips of plants. Her windowsills were full of plants. Grandma Rozema also had a lot of flowers.
Springtime, Louise Lemmen and I would go flower picking together, usually in Scott’s Woods (the Camp Meeting Grounds). We knew where the first hepaticas bloomed, also where the lilies and jack in the pulpits were (where Ken and Ann Wolbrink live now). Hepaticas were in Meyer’s Woods across the road. Sometimes on Saturday afternoon, we even walked to the gully behind Whispering Creek Condos to look for flowers. Lots of marsh marigolds here.
Wintertime, we played in the snow. When we were quite young, we walked to Kingsbury Hill (48th Avenue North) to go sledding. It was a nice long hill then, before it was filled in for Leprinos.
When I got skates (for Christmas one year, Dad and Mom gave me half the money for skates. I must have been working some and paid for the rest), we used to skate on Eastmanville Bayou. Later, Ray Kraker dammed up the creek and flooded some land by their house for skating. That was nice and close to home. They even put up lights for skating at night. Remember walking on the snow over the creek and going down through and getting wet feet. Also walking on rubbery ice and going through. We used to dig tunnels and make snow houses in the big drifts by the snow fences.
We used to roller skate, too. There was a sidewalk from the old town hall to Allendale Center. After M–50 was paved, we would skate to catechism on Saturday morning and sometimes to school.
For about six or seven years I went camping, either in Holland or Grand Haven, with a gang of gals. I guess I was 15 the first time we went and had Janet Kraker as a chaperone; once Fan (Dyke) Flokstra’s mom went with us. When we got to be 18, we could go alone. We were camping in Grand Haven when the war ended, and lots of people were boozing it up to celebrate.
Julia Gemmen Kraker’s School Days
We didn’t have Kindergarten, like they do now. We were “beginners” for about six weeks—April to the end of the school year—and then started first grade in the fall. My first teacher was Angeline Sietsema, who was my teacher all through little room. At Christmas time, we would give a program for our parents, and I also remember having a Spring Cantata.
When I started school, we were living upstairs above the store. We were a mile from school, and we walked. Just found out lately that Wilma (Post) Van Dyke used to walk with me to school. Mom didn’t want me to walk alone. When we lived in Allendale, we were just over a half mile from school. My sister Ruth was always slow getting ready in the morning, and Mom would make me wait for her; sometimes, we’d be late. Oh! How I hated that. I think school started at 9:00 a.m. and got out at 3:30. We didn’t miss school very often.
Recess we spent playing games. A lot of times, I played with the boys because some of the girls wouldn’t run and play. We’d play long ball, red rover, pump pump pull away. The boys also had a ball team and would play the area public schools. There were ten districts in Allendale Township, and each had a little one–room school. They would play after school and I would usually go along to keep score and, if there weren’t enough boys, they would let me play on the team.
We had 4H sewing class in the public school, taught by Janet Bosker, one of their teachers. The second year, we had a boy in our class; Ezra Gerhard was a son of the Methodist minister and later a professor at GVSU. We girls made a dress, and he made pajamas. I took four years of sewing and one summer canning. Our clothing, etc., would be displayed at the Berlin Fair in the summer. We were judged in Holland in the spring and had a big style show. When I was in the canning class, a jar of my peaches got special awards and was sent to the state fair in Lansing.
I took piano lessons from John Schestag and later from Bertha Lemmen. Dad bought a xylophone when I was 13. Took lessons from J&J School of Music; they were on South Division (Grand Rapids) at that time. They came out to our school with a trailer and gave lessons every week. Later, I used to drive to their music store for lessons and played with an accordion band. One year, we played at the Lowell Showboat. That was a big deal! One time, Dad tried making bells. He had different lengths of metal bars or rods hung in the barn, and you’d hit them with a hammer. This was probably before he bought the xylophone.
Picnics in Gemmen’s Grove
The highlight of the year was our School Picnic. It was usually held in Gemmen’s Grove. We played games and had a picnic dinner. One year I came down with chicken pox the day of the picnic. What a disappointment. So many of our picnics were held in Gemmen’s Grove. Dad and Uncle Al owned it then, now cousin Gary Gemmen has a home there. They had a rough platform built for programs, seats were planks laid across cement blocks. Also had a his and hers outhouse back in the woods away.
Program from the 1917 Mission Fest held in Benton’s Woods (this would later be called Gemmen’s Grove).
Mission Fests were held every summer. People from all the area Christian Reformed churches met for a day. Missionaries on leave would speak, and some would take the younger children out a ways and sit under a tree to tell them stories. A canteen was set up to sell food; some people probably took their own. I can remember them frying hamburgs on a kerosene stove, also making coffee (boiled) in big pots. They cooled pop and watermelon in a big stock tank with water and big chunks of ice. When we got a little older, it was a place to meet guys from other churches. Seeing it was our woods, we got to clean up the next day. We would usually find a lot of hankies (before Kleenex times) and money. But sometimes a neighbor kid (Don Broene) would beat us out there.
A lot of kids my age never got to Grand Rapids, but we had uncles and aunts living in the city. Once when I stayed to Uncle Jack and Aunt Bobby (before Don was born), Aunt Bobby took Marian Ver Maire and me out to Reeds Lake in the street car. At that time, there was a “big” amusement park there.
Also used to visit my cousins Alyce and Eleanor Rozema. They lived on Alger Street. There were only a few houses
on that street between Eastern and Kalamazoo at that time. Their house was built on land that was once an asparagus field. So we kids would have to get up early in the morning to go out and look for a few spears. Seems like everyone in the area could pick there. Uncle Sid would make breakfast (oatmeal); my cousins didn’t like it, so when he left for work, they would flush the oatmeal down the toilet.
Going to Grandma Rozema’s house was always fun time. Being the first grandchild kind of made me spoiled a bit. Grandma had little bread and cake tins, and we would bake our own little bread when we went there. Also remember Grandpa telling us kids stories, we would all sit around his big chair, which had a horse hair robe covering it. He didn’t read stories but made up his own, usually about animals living in the woods. I remember lying on a fainting couch and listening to the wind in the big maple trees. He went up north at age 19 as a logger to work in a logging camp when he met Grandma.
Another thing I remember at Grandma’s is going to help when they had threshers. Mom and Aunt Jane would help Grandma feed the gang. And did they eat!! Washtubs of water were set out in the sun in the morning to warm up. That’s where the men had to wash up before meals. I remember taking lunch out to my uncles—tea in a syrup pail—have one of them. Remember bobwhites calling and Grandma telling us they were saying, “More wheat, more wheat.” Not, “Bob white.”
Julia Gemmen Kraker’s Work Experience
When I was young, I thought of being a nurse but didn’t finish high school. My folks didn’t want me to go to public school. Some of the kids I knew went to Coopersville High and had to drive their own cars—“Long before buses.” Grand Rapids Christian was the closest Christian high school. My favorite teacher was Melvin Berghuis, who was my tenth grade teacher. I liked reading and math, but not algebra.
The first job I remember was picking raspberries for Uncle Gerrit Kraker, also for Maude Tanis. Louise Lemmen and I worked together. Later I worked for Henry Koster, cutting asparagus and picking beans. We also bunched the asparagus and it went to Kroger in Grand Rapids. I was paid $1.25 a day.
When Dad bought Uncle Harry Dyke’s hardware, I worked for him. Wholesale houses didn’t make deliveries in those days, so Dad would send me to town with our car and a trailer, to pick up for him. I got so I could back into those loading docks like a pro. That helped for later on, when I drove a Hi Lo and had to push transfer trucks into box cars off a dock. I started driving at 13 and got my license at 14.
When I was 18, I started working at Keeler Brass in the “Handle Room,” assembling car and truck handles. There were four parts to put together; we worked on a bench, put the handles in a rack, and then on a line, where they went to a press operator. From there, they went to the buffing line, inspection, and then packing. Got to work in the packing department some, too. This was cleaner work and easier on the fingers—I had a lot of cut knuckles doing assembly. All of it was piecework. We probably made 50 cents an hour. I know day rate was 35 cents when I started, later on got a raise 37 and 1/2 cents.
We wore dresses to work. I’ll never forget one dirty old man who set up machines. He used to put an air hose under skirts and turn it on. Worked at Keelers until May 1944, when I went to see Harold in Taunton, Massachusetts. When I called to ask for some time off to go out there, they said, “No.” I went anyway. Then, when I came back, they wouldn’t give me my job back—nor would they give me a release (because it was wartime); so I had to wait 30 days before I could get another job. They also kept my vacation pay.
I worked for a while at McInerny; there, we assembled hose nozzles for gas cans. “Army orders.” My last job during the war was working at Extruded Metals. This was my best job. Started out as a Hi–Lo driver and later was crane operator. First Lowboy and ended up running Highboy crane. We wore slacks now. I was buying war bonds when working here, every three weeks would get a bond. A $37.50 bond matured at $50.00. When the war ended, the factory closed—everything they made was for defense. Gladie Hinken and I worked here together until she and Pete Mulder got married and she moved to California. We worked three swing shifts—two weeks on each one. Started out here $1.00 per hour. Got more money for crane operator, and women got same pay as men. After we got married, we both worked at Winters and Crampton. I quit soon after, was pregnant.
The next work, outside of home, was when Ethel and I started planting celery for Bob Buist. Ended up working over 25 years for him. Loved working in the greenhouse. Especially in February and March, when it’s winter outside and springtime in the greenhouses.
Sickness, Accidents, and Funeral Customs
We didn’t have much sickness in our family; I only remember having measles and chickenpox as a child. Mom had mumps and was very sick, and Dad had smallpox; but the rest of us were vaccinated, so we didn’t get either of them.
Now, I remember that Dad had a ruptured appendix. At that time, the undertakers’ hearse was also used as an ambulance. They came and took Dad to St. Mary’s Hospital. I can still see them putting him in it and Ruth and I kissing him good–bye—we were so scared, didn’t know if he’d ever come back.
Aunt Jane and Uncle Al had a seven–year–old boy (“Buddy”) who died when I was 14. He and two other boys were playing in the garage and were trying to push a pick–up truck out (not running). He must have been behind it, and the truck ran over his chest. He got to the house and died in Aunt Jane’s arms. She was five months pregnant for Rosie at the time. His name was Russell, and I think that’s why they named the baby Rosella.
That same year (1937), Nettie Lemmen died when she tried to crawl into a bedroom through the window. Her mother was gone, and the house was locked. The window came down on her neck. Her sister Helene found her and asked me to help get her out. When I saw her, I was scared and ran next door to the grocery store to get help. Then Butch Brouwer went back with me, and we both went back to the store and got Russ Wolbrink to take her down. Things like this you never forget.
My Grandpa Rozema also died in 1937. He was 62 years old and was sick a long time. They had a hospital bed in the living room, and Aunt Gertie helped Grandma take care of him there. I don’t know if they (Rene and Gertie) moved in when they were married or later.
In those days, they brought the body back to the home, and people would come to the home to view the body. No certain visiting hours. Relatives and friends would bring food in and also come and stay with the family.
Another custom back then was ringing the church bell when someone died. First, they would just ring the bell—then they would toll the number of the person’s age. Also tolled the bell again when the hearse left the church for the cemetery.
Julia Gemmen And Harold Kraker (1940–1945)
I must have been 17 and Harold 19 when we started going together. There wasn’t much for kids to do. We couldn’t go to theaters, although there were movies shown in South High that we did go to—Shirley Temple movies, that kind. Harold didn’t like to roller skate, so I did that when he was in the Army. He did go ice skating and tobogganing; we went to Richmond Park for tobogganing, also Johnson Park (in Grand Rapids). We used to double date with Pete and Gladie Mulder a lot, and also Russ and Eleanor Kuite.
Got my engagement ring when I was 19. The Christmas before, Eleanor and I got cedar chests (alike).
Harold left for the Army on August 25, 1943. A lot of guys from this area left the same day. They went to Fort Custer for a few days, and a whole carload of gals went to see them down there. In the fall, Avis Rosema, Evy Lotterman, a gal named June Vander Werf, and I went to Camp Wheeler, Georgia to see the guys. We went by train; when we would go through tunnels in the mountains, the smoke from the locomotives would seep into the cars.
Hank and Evie Geurink were married in the chapel there. Jake and Avis (Rozema) Vruggink were their attendants, and Harold and I the guests. The chaplain took us out to eat afterward. Avis got her diamond while we were there. June married Gene Reminga, but none of us went to the wedding. I didn’t know her before this. Maynard Mast was also on the same train, going down to see his son Case.
From Camp Wheeler (basic training), Harold was sent to Camp Miles Standish near Taunton, Massachusetts. That was a port of debarkation. He called and wanted me to come out before he was shipped out. That was in May. Ruth took me to the depot in Grand Rapids, then I went to Boston by train and took a bus to Taunton. Harold found a room in a private home for me to stay. Was only there a couple of days, and he was confined to the barracks with orders to ship out. I did stay a couple of extra days, hoping he would call, but he wasn’t allowed to.
I wrote a letter almost every day for over three years. Army days were a lot different then. Harold was in the service for 38 months without getting a furlough to come home. Now, most guys get a furlough after basic training. Then he was discharged. When he got into Grand Rapids, I was working for Mrs. Burch, doing house work. After the war ended, the place where I worked closed down right away, so I was laid off. All they made was defense products.
When Harold called from the depot to Burch’s, I told the lady my boyfriend is home, and I left. Marie (Keyzer) Zylstra, who was working at Wolbrinks store, saw me go flying around the corner for home. I guess she figured out what had happened, and when I got home, she called and asked if I needed her to drive me to Grand Rapids. I refused her offer.
Harold got a Bronze Star and a French Croix de Guerre. He was a sergeant in the 5th Infantry Division and fought in Europe. Jake V. went over with him. Henry Heikkila was in same outfit all through the war. They were under General Patton. He had a 1940 Ford, and I drove it after he went overseas. Gas was rationed, so I couldn’t do much but drive to work.
Early Married Life On Warner Street (1945–1952)
We were married just a few weeks after Harold was discharged. I had already gotten my wedding dress and bride’s maid dresses. I think we did that as soon as the war was over, in August of 1945.
We went to the U.P. (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) on our honeymoon. It was cold and snowy. We stopped in to see Dick Corleson (he wasn’t married then yet) and had to stay for dinner—I remember they had mashed potatoes with a soft yolk fried egg over top of it. Also saw Henry Heikkila. Neither of them were married.
The first place we lived was upstairs by “Grandpa” and “Grandma” Wallinga (Jake and Nellie). They had made it into an apartment for Bert and Clara Overweg when they were married. Harold bought the 40 acres on Easy Street (now Warner), and we started building a place up there but had to move after seven or eight months because Ray and Ethel (Kraker) were getting married and wanted to live there. So we stored some of our furniture and lived with Dad and Mom Gemmen for awhile. Is this John and Minnie?
Nancy was born while we stayed with them. Mom and I did a lot of canning that summer. Dad had a garden on the edge of the muck and must have planted an abundant amount. Also canned oodles of peaches. We got our peaches from Don’s Grandpa Boelens in those days. After a wind storm, Dad and I, with two–week–old Nancy, went for peaches and must have filled the car with drops.
We moved into our own place later that fall—Barb and Lonna were born while we lived on “Easy Street.” I guess they called it that years ago because a lot of the people living there were on welfare and didn’t work. Don and Arthila See and Donny and Bobby lived across the road, also Elmer and Gladys (See) Rhoades with Ronnie, Patty, Greg—five kids in all—they lived with her folks, Ernie See. Elmer took off quite often, leaving her alone. The See and Rhoades kids used to play with Nancy and Barb.
Harold had rabbit cages behind our place. They were three tiers high; one time, I found a button from Nancy’s dress in the top one. She was probably two years old.
Two Brooks families lived near us, too. Charlie and family lived across the road in an old truck trailer body, and Bert and family lived in the old house just west of us. Jimmy was maybe seven or eight and used to hang around dad a lot. Once we gave him a bath or shower in our back room. These poor kids were filthy. Their mother didn’t cook; she’d just give them a can of beans and spoon.
We were the only ones with a telephone, so we’d have neighbors coming over quite often to use ours. Arthela See even gave people our number. People would call and want me to go over and get her.
These houses, plus a couple more that were up there, are gone now.
Building A New House On Pingree Street (1952–1990s)
In 1952 we started our house on Pingree. Dad and Uncle Stub built it, and we moved in the winter—December(?). Sure had a lot of room in our new house, and a bathroom and closets.
Nancy started kindergarten while we lived on Warner and had to walk to 68th Street to catch the bus. That was before Christian School kids could ride the public school buses. Quite often in the morning, she would walk with old Tom, a Black man who caught a ride there too. The old house where he lived is gone, too. That was on the corner of 72nd and Warner.
John and Anna Ham were on the old Ham farm, and we would walk over there to get our milk. When we moved to our new house, we got milk from Potgeters. Still have the two–gallon can we used for milk. We sure went through many gallons in a week, and almost every day one of the kids would spill milk at a meal.
Bill was born about a year after we moved into our new house. I went to the hospital before the kids left for school—had false labo—and came home again. In the meantime, Nancy told the kids at school that she had a baby brother. Good thing it was a boy! Joyce was born three years later. After Bill was born, Harold finished the upstairs of our house.
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