Chapter 2, Part 2: Meta Goering and her Family

Some activities were seasonal, such as the preserving of huge amounts of garden produce. There were twenty to thirty bushels of potatoes stored in a corner of the basement. They canned dozens of quarts of string beans, and preserved some string beans by drying them. When Meta was very young they got apricots from the Grandma Zerger's orchard and made jam by the gallon. Once she ate so many apricots that they said, "Be careful or you'll get stomach ache." Meta said, "I am being careful." Then she ate some more.

One summer when Meta was about nine or ten years old her mother taught her to use the treadle sewing machine. It took some skill to get it to start and stop at the right time. Meta's first project was to sew together the patches for a quilt. Her mother handed her the pieces one by one, and it was hard to get them straight. Meta did not help with the actual quilting until high school. Her mother had five sisters. Working together they could almost finish a quilt in one day, even when annoyed by the little ones who like to play under the quilts when the aunts were quilting. After the adults returned home for evening chores, Meta and her older sisters sometimes put the finishing touches on the quilts.

Everyone went to church on Sunday morning, where the people sat in sections arranged by age and gender. Only the younger and more innovative families dared to sit together in family groups. Meta sat with her father when her mother had infants to care for. One wintry Sunday morning when the service lasted long Meta (about age two) got thirsty and so restless that her father, Jonas, took her outside and gave her a scolding. The church pump was frozen, and she should not demand water when she couldn't have it. When they came back into the church, Meta managed to say between sobs, "Das Pump iss gefrorr," ("The pump is frozen.").

The preachers in church delivered their sermons in high German--not the Swiss-Volhynian dialect. Church sermons and teaching at Hoffnungsfeld-Eden were oriented to telling the stories and the doctrines of the Bible. The teachings reflected the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, which wrestled with the differences between the Old Testament and New Testament. In her earliest Sunday school class the children received small three by five pictures which illustrated the Bible stories. At Christmas time there was a special program and a tree with real candles on it. Two men stood by with water buckets in case of a fire. In 1924 the congregation built a new meetinghouse with gothic-arched windows just a half mile west of the Jonas Goering home. Meta, almost age nine, was an angel in the Christmas pageant that year. Ed Stucky ("Krussel") was King Herod--a role which must have fit well, because Meta always mentioned it when reminiscing about the early days.

In 1922, at age six, Meta began attending Pioneer public school, a half-mile east and one mile north of her home. It was a foreign world, because she did not know how to speak English. Her first-grade classmates all had older brothers and sisters in school and had learned some English. But Meta learned fast. Soon she celebrated her emerging mastery of the language--as instructed by her friend in the seat behind her. She raised her hand and got the attention of Mr. Dixon, the teacher, and carefully pronounced, "May - I - Speak?" Mr. Dixon said yes. Then Meta went to her friend's seat and talked with her quietly for a while. Meta did so well that first year that she was promoted to third grade the second year.

Pioneer grade school, like schools across the country, was a place for children of immigrant communities to be Americanized. At the start of every school day, and often after lunch, the students--nearly fifty of them in a one-room school--lined up outside and marched inside in military-style, saying "left, right, left, right . . ." Once inside they said the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag and affirmed that it was "one nation indivisible . . . ." They sang American songs, including patriotic songs from the recent World War, such as "Keep the Home Fires Burning." They learned the names of all the American presidents, as well as other information deemed important for young citizens in a free and democratic society. The very name of their teacher bespoke Americanization. He had grown up a "Duerksen" but had changed his name to make it sound more acceptable in a country that had been so anti-German in the war against Germany in 1917-18. No doubt his pupils were less interested in Mr. Dixon's name change than in his habit of taking a nap on the recitation bench after lunch. Everyone tried to be as quiet as possible so he would sleep a long time.

Meta loved grade school. There were so many happy memories. By the time she was in the upper grades, there were two teachers in separate classrooms. Edith Goering, Meta's first cousin, taught the lower grades. Once Edith brought her boyfriend, John Miller to school. At the combined morning exercises when the pupils could choose the song to sing, they asked for "Oh, No John"--in which a suitor named John was rejected. Edith and John were married that summer.

On Friday afternoons after second recess they would have special events such as spelling contests or softball games, sometimes with other schools. Meta wasn't especially good at athletics, so she often was assigned to play in right field where few balls would be hit. One time a fly ball came to her in right field, and she caught it! But it was an embarrassment rather than a triumph, because the other students kept remarking with astonishment, "Meta caught a fly ball!" In spelling, on the other hand, Meta was at the top of the class. In the sixth grade she won the McPherson County spelling bee. Her prize was a trip to the state capital in Topeka--her first train ride. She won the contest again in the eighth grade. In May all the eighth-graders in the county went to the McPherson City Hall Auditorium for graduation ceremonies. Meta wore a new pretty dress as she marched to the front to get her three dollar spelling bee prize. The Pioneer school eighth graders all marched in the May Day parade in McPherson.

Pioneer School 8th Grade, 1929

One of Meta's fondest school memories was the "literaries"--programs planned and performed by a "Literary Organization" of students in the upper grades. The "Literary" gave students practice in group organization, parliamentary procedure, and public performance. In 1928-29 when Meta was in the eighth grade, the Pioneer "Literary" elected officers three times. A surviving sample of one of the monthly public programs shows that Meta was on the program committee and sang in a girl's quartet. The program listed sixteen events, including a "recitation" by Meta's brother, Harvey Goering; a speech by the upper grade teacher, Alvin Schrag; and closing comments by a "critic," Nola Schrag. Meta also served as vice-president of her eighth grade class. The class "prophecy" predicted that in 1939, ten years later, Meta would be a bookkeeper in Colorado.

On the evening of July 13, 1924 (when Meta was eight years old), a Kansas tornado hit the farms of Jonas, Jacob, and Henry Goering. It was a Sunday, and Jonas' family had hosted for lunch Dr. Abraham Warkentin of Bethel College. In the afternoon Jonas' older sisters, Anna (Mrs. Peter S. Krehbiel) and Maria (Mrs. Peter P.Kaufman) and their families had come to visit, but had left by seven o'clock when the tornado hit. The family had noticed an oppressive "greenish" atmosphere outside before they went in to eat. When the storm hit they left the table and rushed to the basement. As Meta was going down, she looked out the window as saw a farm shed collapse, "breaking jagged in the middle . . . completely wrecked." Meta sat on the basement bottom steps, while the adults held the little ones tight. Soon it was over and the family went outside. The house was relatively unscathed, except for some lost shingles and some bricks from the chimney. But the windmill was bent over, and some windmill parts were in the pasture. The big barn was off its foundation, the milkhouse roof was lodged against the house porch, and debris was scattered all about. The new Model T Ford had been parked in a shed and, in the strange way of tornadoes, the shed was gone but the car was standing there--battered but still drivable. Meta and Grandma gathered up pieces of wood to make into kindling to start fires in the wood-burning range in the kitchen and the wood-burning heating stove in the living-dining room.

Twelve years later, February 1936, the Goering farm house again narrowly averted disaster. By then the wood stove was gone, but Grandma had a kerosene heater in her room. She had difficulty lighting the heater. Fire broke out in the room and black smoke quickly filled the house. Fortunately, Jonas was on the school board and had a fire extinguisher available that he had bought but not yet taken to the school. Meta remembered standing with her mother outdoors. Katie hysterically called to Jonas to come out and save his life rather than the house. Mary Ann took the car to Uncle Jake Goerings to call the Moundridge fire department. The fire still did some damage, but perhaps not as much as did the firemen who came and chopped through a wall to make sure the fire had not spread. After the fire Jonas remodeled the house, excavating the basement and adding a north room onto the kitchen, and installing the first toilet upstairs. Meta had bought a new gray coat with gray fluffy "fur." She took the coat to the cleaners to fix the smoke damage.

Meta Goering and her family were integrated into a thriving Mennonite community of "well-to-do and respected people," as she wrote in her 1931 "Autobiography." But the family did not take pride in special achievement. Everything they had was a gift of God, as father Jonas acknowledged every morning in family devotions, after chores and before breakfast. The whole family knelt, facing the backs of their chairs. Jonas' prayer invariably included the quotation from the New Testament, "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." It was a family secure in its Mennonite religious identity, and adapting at a manageable pace to the ways of life in American democracy. The family was large and some of the children slept three in a bed, but there was ample nutritious food and educational opportunity for everyone. Improved technologies seemed to make life easier year after year--new automobiles, electric appliances, improved farm machinery, etc. By the time she graduated from Pioneer Grade School and was ready for the bigger world of Moundridge High School, Meta had every reason for confidence. This world was her oyster.

Forward to Chapter 3, Part 1

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By James C. Juhnke,

Web page by Joanne Juhnke,
Last updated 8 August 2009.