Thursday, November 8, 2018

Latest Chapter


Uncle Heinrich’s

Since formal schools were expensive and located in far-off cities, most of the Stalnaker families in Alsenborn had their children study under “Uncle Heinrich” Stalnaker, as did a few other families, when there were openings. Heinrich was actually a distant cousin, and had studied for the Catholic priesthood when young, as his branch of the family was the last to convert. When he quietly gave up his priesthood plans, he worked for a surveyor under the employ of that church. The church held many properties and wanted to be certain that no-one infringed on their lands, thus, they had the boundaries of their properties well marked. Unfortunately, he was no longer welcome at that job when they learned that he’d quit going to mass and joined his family in the Reformed Church. A job as brick mason also ended when a piece of an old wall that he was repairing fell on him, crippling his left hand. That’s when he became a tutor to the children of some of his family and friends. It was a poor living but, being single, it was enough.

Heinrich’s home wasn’t a small place, as you might expect for a relatively poor man. In fact, it was a little larger than normal for the area. It had originally belonged to his mother’s parents but had come down to him due to various circumstances over the years (mostly wars). It was built of field stone, so there were no neat courses in the wall like would be seen with brick or cut stone. The look was more rustic and the only chisel marks to be seen were on stones that would have been unusable otherwise, due to having too odd of a shape. Where good corner stones were lacking, bricks were used instead. In fact, bricks were found many places in the wall where they fit well and no proper sized stone could be found. It meant that they didn’t have to cut any stone at that spot, plus, it gave the building an unusual mottled look in a town where most buildings were either all brick, all stone or timber-framed wattle and daub.

There were five rooms downstairs altogether, each about 20 feet square. Four rooms were in front in a four-square pattern, while the fifth was on the back of the right hand side. The fifth room was only one story, but there was an upstairs over the front four rooms, comprised of six small and one large bedroom, plus a hallway. The hip roof on the front had just enough slope that the red tiles would run the water off well; likewise with the gable roof over the back room. The red tiles matched the bricks in the stonework walls and made the overall look of the house quite attractive. Heinrich’s grandparents had built the back room first and lived in it a few years while they built the rest of the house. There was a low-ceilinged cellar under the back room which was entered from the back porch of the house. It was almost a crawl space, since the floor was solid rock and couldn’t have been deepened without much hard labor. The entry had to be kept locked, for not only was food stored there, but Heinrich also brewed and stored wine, beer and hard cider there, as well.

While studying with the Catholics, Heinrich learned much about the Bible and a fair amount of Latin. He’d learned basic Greek, but little more. He also learned much of history, mathematics and what passed for science, according to then-current Catholic thinking. He strove to pass this on to his students.

Unlike many teachers, he didn’t present knowledge as dry, boring facts and figures. Instead, he tried to show his students that much of what they learned could be used in everyday life, and that the how and the why of history were just as important as the what. To help illustrate math and geometry, for instance, he taught them basic surveying, showing them (among other things) how the lay of the land would affect its measurement, if not allowed for. He also took them to buildings that his former mason and carpenter friends were building and showed them how math (and science) could help keep buildings level, plumb and pleasing to the eye. He helped them understand how geometry helped in laying out roof beams and gables on a housetop. And since he was once a mason, he taught them how bricks and stone were laid and the various methods used to do so. He even showed them how much simpler it was to adjust the building style and construction methods to the size of the available materials rather than forcing the issue with an unrealistic design.

Those field trips were only done on days of reasonable weather, of course. In inclement weather, they stayed in his home doing the ”book work” part of schooling and studying the classic literature of the Greeks and Romans. Not surprisingly, Much time was spent in studying the Bible. Since his students were of various ages and abilities, the recitation of one would be a lesson for others and the older would often be asked to help the younger, as it was a learning experience for both.

The latter thought brings up a rule that he went by in choosing who he accepted as a student. He would only accept one boy from any home, for he expected that student to then teach his siblings, both male and female, and he made it plain that he expected them to follow through. He chose not to teach girls due to problems that might arise in keeping older students concentrating on their school work, rather than each other. To keep the class size manageable, he never accepted over eight “walk-in” nor six boarding students.

Heinrich was guardian for an older sister, Hildegard (called Hilda), who lived in the room at the back of the house. It still had a kachelofen (tile covered masonry stove), which was original to the house, with a small cooking area and an oven, and the sister used it for both heat and cooking in the winter. Like all such stoves, it used the high heat of a quick firing to heat the brick mass, and then radiated that heat for hours without ever getting hot enough that you couldn’t lay your hand on it. The stove was built near the door of the outside wall on the left that faced the porch in back of the house and, in fact, connected with that wall. Hilda kept the foot of her bed shoved against the back side of the kachelofen in winter, so her feet would stay toasty.

The stove was fired by going outside and into a small “wood closet” by the side of the door and under the back porch. It was built to protect the person building the fire from winter winds and as a place to store some firewood in the dry. Extra wood was stored in the corner of the porch where the main house and the ell met. Down near the stone floor of the wood closet was a small iron door the size of a medium to large book. The door was opened, the wood put inside the firebox, lit and let burn down to coals with the door half open. Then the chamber was refilled, the door closed, and the fire allowed to continue burning until it burned out. It then got air from the closet by way of two small air passages built into the wall and connected to the stove.

Up nearly at waist height on the two side walls of the closet were very heavy oak shelves. There, above any sparks the fire might throw, were stacked the small pieces of wood, kindling really, used to fill the firebox. Much of the wood was in the form of faggots, small bundles of wood the students often gathered while on field trips or in their spare time. Putting a fair-sized faggot in the firebox went much quicker than handling each stick separately to fill it. Most of the sticks were small enough that they could either be broken on the knee or under the foot. However, a hand axe was kept in the wood closet and a piece of tree trunk for a chopping block, for when a piece was too heavy to break to length for the firebox. A worn-out pony shoe was nailed to opposite sides to the chopping block to keep the sticks from flying through the air when cut.

Just inside the wall of the old kitchen, above the firebox and slightly beyond, was an enclosed knee-high passageway for the flame and heat to enter the lowest level of the kachelofen. On this low area were two holes, where pots, kettles or pans could be heated for cooking. When not in use, iron lids were laid over the holes. There, Hilda fixed many of the the simple meals that she, her brother and the students ate for breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was often gruel for dunking yesterday’s left over bread, plus any piece of fruit that they could lay their hands on, an egg and a cup of goat’s milk. It was eaten only by the students who boarded with Heinrich and before the other students arrived. Dinner would be for all students and was usually a soup or stew, based on beef, pork, rabbit, chicken, or sausage, plus any vegetables in season. Sometimes, they included wild greens and mushrooms Heinrich gathered on the field trips. On special occasions, someone would give them some venison or wild boar, which they would happily put to good use. Bread, freshly baked by Hilda, usually with butter, goat cheese and jam, was also part of the menu.

Once the flue of the stove entered the kachelofen, it wove back and forth inside the heater to get every degree of heat from the smoke and gases that was possible. The huge brick stove measured about three feet deep, six feet wide and seven feet tall. The entire stove was covered with Delftware tiles from the Netherlands, and Hilda kept them immaculately clean. About half-way up the side near the porch door was an iron door about 16 inches square, set into the center of the stove, where the flues passed around a built-in oven. Baking was Hilda’s forte and she used the oven as long as it held enough heat each day.

From the top center of the kachelofen, the tile-covered flue ran to the ceiling of the one-story section of the building. An iron damper was laid into the flue just above the stove body, which was closed after the second fire burned down, to keep heat from going up the chimney unused. Once the flue cleared the ceiling, it was red brick to the top of the chimney and had a brick cap with open sides to let out any smoke and keep out most of the rain and snow. With the weight of the brick stove and chimney, a deep and wide foundation was required for the kachelofen, so it wouldn’t settle or tilt. As luck would have it, the layer of natural solid stone lay only five feet below ground level, so the foundation of the kachelofen, like the foundation of the home itself lay directly on that layer of stone. There was no need to ever worry about foundation problems with either.

Not all meals were cooked in Hilda’s quarters. The rear right room of the front part of the house had a huge fireplace at the “inside corner” of the four-square designed home, and had once been the kitchen of the home, but was currently used as the dining room. The fireplace was large enough that Hilda could have a small fire in the center and pull coals from it onto the huge hearth on which she could set pots and pans to heat and cook food. A couple huge cast iron Dutch ovens could cook soups, stews, casseroles and even bread and pastries with proper management. The flat, rimmed lids of the Dutch ovens allowed extra coals to be laid above the food as well as having heat under the ovens and Hilda was an expert at their manipulation.

The students who boarded there ate their supper there most of the year. In hot weather, though, Hilda used a raised cooking hearth under the outside corner of the back porch to do her cooking, so the house wouldn’t become overly warm. The porch roof was high enough that there was no danger of fire. There were also a couple work tables tables on the 20 foot square porch and they would often eat out there in the summer.

If they needed water, the well was right beside the back of the porch under a small well shed with a surround and a windlass for the bucket. A short piece of chain was fastened to one side of the wooden bucket so it would tip and fill when it hit the water thirty feet below. The men who dug the well had to dig thirty feet through solid rock until they found a crack between rock layers that contained a small stream of water. They then dug down another four feet to form a reservoir. Left alone, the reservoir would fill from one side and the overflow would exit the other side. Used heavily, there would be no outflow for a few minutes. As they were digging the reservoir, it kept one man busy pulling up buckets of water so the digger could keep chiseling on the stone at the bottom. They were blessed with a good vein, as the well had never run dry since it was dug, even during the driest of summers.

A large cistern behind the the house’s ell (Hilda’s room) held all the water that could be caught from the copper gutters and downspouts of the house. Heinrich’s grandfather had many acres of land that he farmed outside the village, and he must have done well, as he had a fine house and the only gutters and downspouts in the village. The cistern water was used for bathing, watering the livestock and watering the garden. Bathing, incidentally, was done with a wash rag, a bowl with a pitcher of warm water. The well water was used solely for drinking and brewing.

The rear left room of the house, once the dining room, was Heinrich’s class room. There were tables and benches there and sea charts and land maps on the walls. Heinrich had even managed to get a large globe of the world with all known lands and seas printed on it. Not everyone yet believed that the earth was spherical, some still believed that it was flat, but Heinrich wasn’t one of them.

Heinrich lectured about an hour a day, not because he wanted to, but because he knew that some children learned best by hearing, some by reading and others by doing. He encouraged the boys to ask absolutely ANY relevant question for there was nothing wrong with not understanding something, but there WAS something wrong with choosing to live in fear and ignorance. He taught his students to never laugh at any other student’s seemingly foolish question for their turn would invariably come. Still, He encouraged a small amount of humor in his classroom, as he felt it kept the boys in better spirits and more open to learning.

The front of the house was nearly on the street, with a very small roofed porch just big enough to get out of the rain, while entering the centered front door. There was a large window to each side of the door, and only a couple feet behind each front house corner, a six-foot high mortared stone wall (also with an occasional red brick) ran along the street about 100 feet on each side, turned back to the rear with a corner, and ran about 200 feet to the alley in back. There, the wall paralleled an alley until it met in the center at a large, solid, full-height wooden gate that could be barred securely on the inside. Beside the big gate was also a small walk-through gate for convenience. That gate contained a small latchable door at the bottom where the ducks and the chickens could go out through the day. It was latched at night. There was also a full-height, solid walk-through gate at each edge of the house in front and half-way back each side wall of the lot. Each had a latch and could be securely barred on the inside.

The enclosure was far larger than most town lots and contained roughly an acre of land. It had various varieties of fruit trees espaliered along the left wall, grapes growing on the right wall and a row of chestnut trees near the back wall. Under the shade of the chestnut trees were three rabbit hutches, a small goat barn, a duck coop and a chicken house. In the center of the lot was a huge garden.

A fence of wattles lined the back of the lot a few feet from the livestock buildings, so the ducks and chickens wouldn’t get into the garden. If the grass in the area got a little ragged, the goats would be allowed into the area to graze it, but only under supervision, so they wouldn’t knock the wattles down and get into the garden themselves. Of evenings and on week ends, Heinrich and the boys would sometimes put the goats in halters and lead them out the back gate to graze along the alley and the small stream beyond. It was considered part of the commons system for the village, but almost no-one used it because it was sloping ground. The little stream wasn’t big enough to hold fish, but it was big enough for the ducks to paddle around in and they grazed on its banks for grass and bugs. Each evening, the ducks and chickens were brought inside the gate, fed and penned up for the night. The little door in the gate was latched then, so no neighboring animals wouldn’t wander in. Sometimes, Heinrich or one of the boys would take a scythe and cut weeds and grass by the stream and alley for the goats, chickens and rabbits. Otherwise, their grass came from the lawn of the lot, usually cut with a sickle. The animals also ate hay and grain Heinrich bought or traded for with the farmer who cleaned the outhouse.

Near the large gate, the ground sloped downward slightly, so that the ground near the gate was about four feet lower than the rest of the lot. To the right of the gate sat the outhouse. It was built up level with the rest of the lot, but it had a stone foundation and the “pit” was actually at the level of the gate. A wooden door comprised the whole left side of the above-ground pit to serve as a clean-out. The farmer who cleaned the outhouse raised maize to fatten his hogs would come when needed to and haul the contents off to be composted. The big gate allowed his “honey wagon,” as the boys jokingly called his muck wagon, to be backed in right beside the outhouse when it was cleaned out.

Heinrich and the boys urinated in a large tin bucket, located in a corner of the “parlor” at the front left of the save trips to the distant outhouse. A privacy screen blocked the view and the bucket sat on a low chair, so no-one would have any excuse for missing the mark. At night, a similar bucket resided in the large guest room upstairs, unless there was actually a guest. Then, the bucket was kept in the room of the oldest student and the guest got a chamber pot. Hilda locked her doors and used a chamber pot for such purposes, adding her contribution to the bucket with the least contents early in the morning. Just after breakfast each day, whoever had “bucket duty” carried the two buckets about three blocks to the edge of the village where a tanner lived and worked. Urine was used as part of the rather odiferous tanning process. A small allowance was made for the contents, a receipt updated and the receipt and buckets carried back to Heinrich’s. At the end of the month, Heinrich and the tanner squared up, sometimes for cash and sometimes for a little leather for shoe repairs and belts and such. The outhouse, then, was used mostly for “more solid contributions” to the local environment.

Heinrich tried to keep no more than six boarding students, since he had six small bedrooms upstairs. Heinrich slept in the front right room, which had once been the family sitting room. Once winter hit, though, Heinrich moved his bed into the classroom and had the boys bring theirs down as well. They were all shoved up against the walls and the tables moved close to them, so the boys actually sat on the beds when using the tables for their school work. The large, green-tiled kachelofen at the inside corner kept them warm all winter with only a firing morning and evening. Come spring, the beds were moved back upstairs, where large windows could be opened to let in fresh air. Gauze screens kept out insects and blowing leaves. The windows were closed in cool or inclement weather, of course.

Life was pretty good for the students at Heinrich’s. The “instructor” was firm, yet reasonable and likeable. There were no attendance requirements for the “walk-ins,” though a short note was sent home at the end of each month with their attendance and Heinrich’s opinion of the sincerity of their efforts. Some of his students came all year, but some went home through the summer to help with crops and gardens. There were no grades or constant pressure to perform, only a desire that they do their best. Nearly all their food was raised there at the home, and Hilda had enough extra eggs to trade for more. A couple of the students had their tuition paid by providing additional food for the little school. Hilda kept the school in fresh baked goods and had a little extra to sell to the neighbors. All-in-all, it was a place much like the boy’s own homes, and none of them minded being there.


Mamahen said...

Sounds like quite an interesting man.

Gorges Smythe said...

Thanks, Mh; ain't it amazin' what a whopper I can tell?

Mamahen said...

Me thinks you've had lots of practice 😉

Gorges Smythe said...

Hesh yo mout, Mh!

Lady Locust said...

This might be my favorite chapter of this book yet Gorges. It reads as though you are sitting on the porch telling of an old friend. It has great detail and expression without getting bogged down.

Gorges Smythe said...

You'll probably like the next one too then, LL.