Woodcraft 22: The Poker Game

24 10 2014

“There’s no point driving to the house,” Grandfather announced. “That’s been sold.”

“Do you know who bought it?” I asked.

“One of my brother Heinrich’s men, an employee at the mill.”

“But you kept your forest.”

“Yes.  Almost all of it.  Ten acres went with the house to provide a decently shaped parcel with access to the road.”

“How much is left?”

“Not quite three sections.”

“Sections?” I asked.  “Sections of what?”

“Your mother’s father hasn’t explained that to you yet?”

“Not that I recall.”

“A section is a portion of a township.  A township is a portion of U.S. government land measure.  A township is 36 square miles in size, and it contains 36 sections.  Each section is a mile square.  Each section contains 640 acres.”

It took me a while to do the arithmetic in my head, but I was able to calculate the total.  “You have one thousand, nine hundred and twenty acres?”

“Not quite. Subtract the ten acres we sold.”

“Wow!  One thousand, nine hundred and ten acres!”  I looked out the window of the truck with a new interest.  “All forest?”

“For the most part, yes.  There is some marsh, a few ponds, and a number of meadows and glades.”

“How did you get so much?” I asked.  “Grandpa Smith’s farm is only two hundred and forty acres.”  At the time in Wisconsin, that was a pretty good size.

“A quarter section and an eighth,” Grandfather said.

“Yes,” I said, though I didn’t do the math for that one.

“My father won the land in a poker game.  That would be your great-grandfather Maynard.”

“A poker game?  Really?”  That sounded more like a scene from one of the many westerns I was still watching on television.  I didn’t know how to play poker.  No one in the family did, either.  We played canasta.

Ja, a poker game.  In 1878.  In Waupaca.  My father was in town with his father, Leupold, on business.  Leupold’s business was selling printing supplies and equipment, even printing presses, which was a good business for a German.  After all, we invented the printed word.”

Grandfather referred to the work of Johann Gutenberg in the 15th century, who developed a system of printing from moveable metal type.  The Chinese, of course, had long been using wooden blocks for printing.  And, nowadays, there is some doubt as to whether Gutenberg’s system originated with him or with the Dutch printer Laurens Janszoon Coster.  Gutenberg, however, had certainly revolutionized printing by proving that books — the Bible had been the first, of course — by proving that books could be machined.  It therefore can at least be said that Germans had developed and commercialized the machined word.

Leupold had been a writer back in the Fatherland.  He was also an Achtundvierziger, someone who had supported ideas of democracy and national unity back in 1848.  The revolutions in parts of German-speaking Europe failed, and he had to emigrate to avoid imprisonment.  To start his life over, he came to America and settled in Milwaukee.  He couldn’t support himself as a writer anymore, at least not fast enough to be able to meet his immediate cost of living, but he did find a job in the printing business.

Germans were settling throughout much of the state, as well as the Midwest, and they wanted to have their own newspapers, journals, and books for churches and schools, shops and farms.   Business went well.  Certainly Leupold’s part in it did.  Eventually, he attracted not only German customers, but also Dutch, Polish, Scandinavian, and even “American”.  As European-American settlements in Wisconsin grew, each developed business enterprises that needed advertising.  As these settlements grew, each developed communities needing access to news and views.  That fostered a demand for printing presses, which put Leupold’s services in demand.

So, as Grandfather said, Leupold and his son, Maynard, visited Waupaca on business.  The business of the day eventually had to end, though.  Evening came, and businesses closed.  Maynard and Leupold stayed at a hotel in town that also housed one of the many saloons in the community.  Leupold didn’t like American beer, and he didn’t like drinking beer the way Americans so often drank it: standing up.  He decided to go on a reconnaissance to explore more of Waupaca and search for more business prospects.

Maynard stayed in the saloon to have a beer.  He hadn’t experienced German beer brewed in Germany, only the brews made by German immigrants in America.  He would drink almost any brand.  So there he stood, drinking whatever was available, bored.

Now, back then, Germans liked to sit at tables big enough to accommodate as many as twelve people where they would sit and talk and argue.  It was said that Germans could not agree on anything, except that the American temperance movement was despicable.

My parents taught me that temperance denotes exercising self-control for the purpose of being moderate.  It means not being given to emotional extremes, and it means not being subject to gross ethical, moral lapses.  A temperate person restrains evil impulses.  A temperate person is even-minded and well-disciplined.  My parents taught me that temperance is a fruit of the Holy Spirit living within, and thus a spiritual person exhibits both strength and grace.

However, the temperance movement gave the word a connotation of abstinence.  Instead of meaning, “Exercise moderation,” it meant, “Don’t do it at all.”  Never ever to take another swallow of beer was a precept too hard for Germans, even many of the most religious, to swallow.

Germans were considered to be most intemperate when it came to the consumption of alcohol.  Making matters worse, they — both men and women — drank much of their alcohol on Sundays.  True: it was a German tradition for families to gather on the Christian day of rest.  On Sunday mornings, they gathered with other German families in church.  On Sunday afternoons, they gathered with other German families in such places as Turner Halls to visit, listen to music, and drink.

Maynard stood there in that Waupaca saloon, with his drink, without his family, on a Tuesday evening in June of 1878.

He saw a table with a number of men seated, drinking and engaged in a social activity.  He walked over.  If he couldn’t join them, perhaps he could just be near enough to watch and listen.

They played poker, a card game of American origin.  Maynard, though German, was also of American origin, having been born in Milwaukee.  As a child, he had many German friends.  As a young man, he had come to make many American friends.  It was, in part, part of doing business.  A few of these friends had taught him the game.

Maynard stood near the table, watching the men play several hands.  Eventually, one of the men asked, “You want to play, stranger?”

Maynard said, “Sure.”

“There’s room. Grab that chair over there.”

Maynard took a seat, and he played for an hour or so.  The men chatted.  They asked Maynard the usual questions: “What’s your name?  Where’re you from?  What d’ya do?”  Maynard answered.  Each of the others provided similar information.  One was a lawyer.  Two were merchants.  One was a land surveyor.  And one was a land speculator.

They played for coins.  That is, they played for coins that, back then, ranged in value from copper through silver to gold.  At first, they played mainly for pennies, nickels, and dimes.  As alcohol consumption waxed and as sense waned, the cents on the table turned to dollars.  And more dollars.

Maynard played well enough to keep in the game, despite having started with little.  Though they prospered, neither he nor his father had yet become prosperous.  But the game, it had so much potential.  These men all seemed to have money, and plenty of it — enough to keep playing hand after hand, win or lose.  If a person could play well enough, he could win far more than a week’s pay, maybe more than a month’s pay, perhaps even several months’ pay, once the contributions of all players were added together.

And then the cards came.  That hand.  That last hand held in both hands that Maynard struggled to keep from trembling with excitement.

Cards went to others that must have excited them, as well.  Table stakes shot up.  No one folded.  Men started betting more than they had in their pockets in the way of cash.  Rings and watches and fobs went onto the table.  The five men could refer to money they had in safes or in the local bank.  They could refer to valuables known to one another stored at home or in offices and shops.  They could write IOUs on slips of paper.

Maynard had nothing other than what had been in his pockets.  But he had the hand!

Leupold walked into the saloon.  Within seconds, he saw his son seated at the table with the five other men.  He walked over.  He looked.  He said, straining to control his voice, “Maynard!”

Maynard turned to look at his father.  “Hello! You’re just in time.”

Leupold leaned toward his son. “Maynard.  What are you doing?”  He spoke softly and in German.

“I am going to win this money,” he answered in German.  “That is, I will win if you will give me more to wager.”

“Gambling, Maynard.  It is not good business.  And these are Yankees.”

Germans used the word to identify and describe certain Americans.  More precisely, the word refers to people who live in or who have had homes in New England: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.  Germans used the word for American émigrés from anywhere back East, and that meant the part of the United States east of the Appalachian Mountains and north of the Potomac River.  Many such people had moved and were moving to Wisconsin to establish new homes and enterprises.

That term enterprise particularly applied to Yankees.  Germans saw many of them as people wanting too much to get rich too quickly. They saw too many of them as impious villains, thieves, and scoundrels.  Of those who professed piety, Germans saw too many of them as frauds and hypocrites.

Yankees saw Germans as being stubborn and stuck-up: arrogant to the point of being imperious.

Germans saw themselves as being steady, meticulous, prudent, and hard-working.  Over time, they persuaded many Americans to believe the same.

Leupold saw that poker game, not as steady work, but as a get-rich-quick scheme.  It was not meticulous work, it was haphazard.  It was not prudent work, it was reckless.  It wasn’t work at all, it was gambling.

Then he saw Maynard’s cards.  Maynard explained, softly and in German, their significance.  Next, in English, he said, “Father, give me your ring, please.”

Leupold looked at his son.  He looked at all the men and at the cards they kept face down on the table.  He looked back at his son.  “Are you sure?” he asked in German.

“Most confident,” came the German answer.

Leupold removed the ring and handed it to his son.  Maynard held it for the others to see.

“What’s that?” the surveyor asked.

“Alexandrite,” Maynard said.

“What?”

“Alexandrite,” repeated one of the merchants, who worked as a jeweler.  “It’s a gem that comes from Russia.”

“I’ve read about those, I think,” said the lawyer.

The jeweler said, “If that’s what he says it is, it’s worth a lot.”  He held his hand out.

Maynard gave it to him for inspection.

The man studied it carefully.  It put it to his mug of beer and used it to put a tiny scratch in the glass.  He got up from his seat and went to the door of the saloon.  Leupold, of course, followed him.  They went outside into what was left of the summer day where the man held the ring up toward the sky.  Then he removed a small packet of paper from a pocket and held the ring next to it to compare the gem’s color against a white background.  He looked at Leupold.  He returned to the table inside the saloon.

“It sure seems real,” he announced.  He looked at Leupold.  “It sure seems strange, though, for a common salesman to have such a ring as this.  How’d you get it?”

“My mother got it as a young woman from a French officer during the Napoleonic Wars.  He had stolen it in Moscow.  A spoil of war.  That was in 1812.  The French army was in retreat from their disastrous campaign in Russia.  The officer had been wounded during the retreat, was sick, cold, and even malnourished.  There were so many casualties, the French army couldn’t take care of them all.  Somehow, the officer made contact with my mother, and she tried caring for him as best she could.  He died.  Dying, he gave her the ring.  Later, she gave it to me.”

“What’s it worth,” the surveyor asked.

“I don’t know,” the jeweler said.  “We’d have to take it all the way to New York City or Boston to have it assessed properly.”

“Really?” the other merchant said.

The lawyer nodded.  “I wouldn’t be surprised.  I doubt that any jeweler in Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, or Buffalo has seen anything like it.  Maybe Montreal; maybe somebody there would know what to make of it.”

“What do you think?” the speculator asked the jeweler.

“Hundreds.  Thousands of dollars.  Assuming it’s authentic, of course.”

“It is,” Leupold said.

“Then it’s worth more than I have.  An alexandrite that size is worth more than everything I’ve got in my shop.  Nobody around here can afford to even dream about a ring like that.  Most people around here can barely buy gold wedding rings.  Otherwise, it’s a little silver, a little copper, a little bronze, a little brass, some pewter.  Wealthier people buy silver tableware and gold jewelry.  But gem stones?  Mostly garnets and amethysts.”

“And you’re willing to bet that ring?” the speculator asked Maynard.

“What do you have to put up against it?” Maynard asked.

“Nothing,” said the jeweler.  “Not if it means my entire business. I fold.”

“Fold,” said the other merchant.

“Fold,” said the lawyer.

“I’ll see your bet,” said the speculator.

“What have you got to bet?” Maynard asked.

“How about three sections of land outside town?  Nearly two thousand acres.”

“Farmland?”

“Not that good.  It hasn’t been cleared yet.  But there’s timber.  Lots of timber.  And there’s a lumbering boom on, as you know.”

“Two thousand acres,” Maynard said.

“Not quite,” said the surveyor.  “Three sections.  Eighty acres shy of two thousand.”

“And you’ve seen it?  You’ve been out there?” Maynard asked the surveyor.

“Oh, yes.  I’ve been through there.  It’s timber all right.”

Maynard hesitated.  He had the ring right there on the table.  That land, though, lay elsewhere.  And there were many Yankees who would cheat a “Dutchman” and anyone else fool enough out of land or money or both.

The men at the table were really into the game, however.  They wanted to see the outcome.  And that speculator wanted the ring.  “I’m not afraid to go to New York or Boston with that thing.  Say, I’ll go to London to get my money out of it.  I wouldn’t mind traveling like a gentleman for a while.”

The lawyer said to the speculator, “This young man is from out of town.  He doesn’t know what’s here.  So, why don’t you write down your offer, to include the exact location?  Frank here will add to the description what’s necessary so that anyone in town will know what we all mean, to include the judge.  Right, Frank?”

Frank the surveyor nodded.  “Sure.”

“The other three men here will sign as witnesses.”  The lawyer looked at Maynard.  “And I’ll see to it that you get the land, all right.  All legal and proper.”  He reached into a pocket and pulled out a business card and handed it to Maynard.

Maynard looked at it.  He handed it to his father.

“Ah.  I saw this name on a window here in town,” Leupold said.  “When I was on my walk.”

The jeweler handed the speculator some paper.  The speculator made some notes, then passed the paper to the lawyer.  He looked at it, then handed it to the surveyor.  He looked at it, made a few more notes, then signed it.  He handed it to the jeweler, who read it, signed it, and handed it to the other merchant.  He read it, signed it, and handed it to Maynard.

Maynard read it.  He gave it to his father to read.

“In the Fatherland, this is an estate only those of the so-called nobility would have,” Leupold told his son, again in German.  “A baron at the least.”  He handed the paper back.

Maynard put it on the table underneath the ring.  He looked at the speculator.

The other men smiled and rubbed their hands in anticipation.  “Let’s see those cards now,” said the lawyer.

The speculator laid out one by one an ace, a two, a three, a four, and a five.  All spades.

The surveyor whistled.

Maynard laid out a seven, an eight, a nine, a ten, and a jack.  All hearts.

“I don’t believe it,” the surveyor said.

The speculator leaned back in his chair, put his hands to his face, took them away, and stared at the ceiling.

“Congratulations there, stranger,” the lawyer said.  “Now, I’ll be pleased to earn a little of my money back if you’ll come by my office tomorrow so we can draw up some real papers.”

“And I’ll be glad to earn some money back by surveying your new property,” said the surveyor.

Maynard took the ring and returned it to his father.

The other merchant said to Leupold, “You might come by my hardware store tomorrow, sir.  I could earn a little money back, and you can buy a gun to protect that ring of yours.”

Leupold’s eyebrows went up.

Maynard returned the rings and watches and fobs that were on the table.  He also gave back the IOU slips.  The paper from the speculator and all the cash, Maynard put into his pockets.

 

woodcraft 7

Advertisements




Woodcraft 20: Live Wood Friday

9 10 2014

The purple ash tree looked really bad the next morning.

Grandfather had taken his seat on the patio, as usual.  I didn’t.  I stood staring at the tree from that distance for a minute or two, and then I walked over to inspect it more closely.  The color of the leaves could barely be called green.  They were horribly wilted, and I could see brown spots here and there.  The entire tree smelled dry, like the leaf litter of late October.

I walked back to Grandfather, asking, “What’s wrong with that tree?”

“It’s dying.”

I neglected to take a seat next to him.  Instead, I stood staring.  “Dying?  What?  Still not enough water?”  I thought a little.  “Do you have a hose and a sprinkler?  Maybe I should hook that all up and really give it a shower.”

“A shower from a sprinkler won’t do it any good. A shower of rain won’t do it any good.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Grandfather said simply, “You’ve killed the tree, my grandson.”

I stood still, petrified.  I looked at him, at his face, at his eyes.  I looked at the tree.  Then I looked back at him.  All I could say was, “What do you mean?”

“The work you performed on the tree.  You cut away all the vascular tissue.  You girdled the trunk from bottom to top. The roots can no longer send water and minerals up to the leaves. The leaves can no longer send sugar and starch down to the roots.”

I shook my head, not in disagreement, but in disbelief.  I didn’t understand.  There was a lot of tree left standing there.  I asked again, “What do you mean?”

“Konrad, trees are not pipes.  Fluid doesn’t flow up and down throughout the entire trunk.  Most of the trunk is, well, timber.  Lumber.  It’s wood.  The part that is living and critical to the tree is between the wood and the bark.”

He pointed to my chair.  “Take a seat.”

I did, though I found it hard to relax.

“You see — or you could have seen in the process of your work if you had gone slowly and carefully, and if you had one of my magnifying glasses with you — a tree trunk has layers.”

“Rings,” I said.  I had seen those often enough in my father’s shop.

“Yes, though there is more to it.  We can easily see the bark of a tree.  It comes in a variety of colors and configurations.  Bark can come in brown, orange, cinnamon, white, gray, greenish.  Bark can look smooth and it can look rough; it can look like scales, plates, strips, sheets, furrows and fissures, even warts.    There is so much variation, in fact, that we can use the bark of a tree to help identify its species.

“Bark, however, comes in layers.  The outermost layer is called the cork.  It is waterproof, and sometimes all but fireproof.  It protects the tree from the weather, from insects, from fungi, and from other damaging agents.  Beneath the cork is the cortex, and beneath that is the cork cambium.  That third layer is the place where cork cells are manufactured.

“Beneath the cork cambium is the innermost bark layer called the phloem.  This is the conduit, the pipeline that carries the sugars and starches from the leaves into the branches, trunk, and roots.

“Next is the vascular cambium.  It’s a very thin layer, only one cell in thickness, yet it is the layer responsible for most of the tree’s growth.  It manufactures phloem cells for the inner bark and xylem cells for the sapwood.

“The sapwood is the next layer in.  It’s the xylem, the conduit, the pipeline for carrying water and chemical nutrients collected by the roots from the soil up into the tree.  Scientists still don’t know how a tree is able to lift so many gallons up dozens, even hundreds of feet against the force of gravity.

“Eventually, the xylem cells become clogged with waste products.  They die by the end of summer and are contributed to the heartwood of the tree.  That’s the part we use for lumber.  While yet in the tree, these cells of cellulose work to support the crown of limbs, branches, twigs in the sky where the leaves can get as much sunlight as possible.

“It is these xylem cells that make the rings of a tree.  The lighter colored wood was produced in the spring of the ring’s year; the darker wood was produced during the summer.

“Finally, at the very center of the tree trunk is the pith, a narrow cylinder of cells that stores food.

“Now, Konrad.  Notice what I said.  The heartwood of a tree is dead cellulose.  It has a function, but not that of transporting food and water throughout the tree.  The living xylem and phloem do that, as perpetually manufactured by the living cambium.  Cut away those layers, and you cut the tree’s throat.  Tie a cable or a rope around the trunk of a tree and leave it there long enough, and you strangle a tree.

“Trees are tough; they’re built to live in tough conditions.  But living trees are not fence posts and telephone poles.  They can’t be whacked and chopped and beaten and mauled and stay healthy.  Trees may live indefinitely, but they can be killed.”

“But Grandfather,” I said with tears coming to my eyes.  “I didn’t mean to hurt your tree.  I was trying to make it better.  I wanted it to grow straight and tall.  I wanted it to be strong and look good.  I was trying to do something good for you.”

Grandfather nodded.  “I have a hard saying for you, my grandson, one that most people refuse to accept because it hits as hard as a hickory cane.”  He quoted a proverb recorded twice in the Bible, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

I felt both shock and shame, so much so that I began crying openly.

After several minutes, I said through my sobbing, “Is there nothing that can be done?”

“Are you are praying man, Konrad?” Grandfather asked.

“Yes.”

“Speak with the Creator, then, the God of Life.  He is the One who knows the ways of all living things, how they live and how they ought to live.  He is the One who tells us how to avoid the ways of death.  He is the One who quickens, who resurrects from death to life.”

I did just that.  And not for a minute or two, either.  I spent the entire day — morning, afternoon, and evening —  in all but unceasing prayer.  I felt so badly about what had happened that I could hardly take any interest in anything else.

I struggled with what to say and how to say it.  As I had said to my grandfather, I was already one who made it a practice to pray.  We as a family prayed before meals, even in public, my father leading.  We usually had a time of family prayer immediately following breakfast.  Mother always tried to have breakfast early enough so that there would be time for all us to have a say before we commenced the day’s activities.  There were individual prayers before going to bed at night.  There were the prayers in church and the prayers in school.

Yet, in all that, I only tended to redundantly repeat myself over and over again. I prayed for my parents, for my father’s work and for his safety, for my sister, for my grandparents, for the church and for the school, for fellow classmates, for the President of the United States … the usual drill, and all in a matter of seconds.  I had not really had occasion, I had not yet felt the need or the desire really to wrestle with God, to commune and converse with God, about anything.  Not the way Moses did.  Or Joshua.  Hannah.  Samuel.  David.  Elijah.  Jeremiah.  Daniel.  Jesus Christ Himself.  Peter and John and Paul and James.  I was young, just a kid.  I lived in a stable family with devoted parents who had a decent income.  I lived in the great state of Wisconsin, the dairy state, the state with the reputation at the time for good, clean, and progressive government.  I lived in the great United States of America, the land of liberty, the land of opportunity, the land of prosperity.

Ah, but now, now there arose a passion, an intense desire to tug at God and implore Him to listen to me, to little me.  I wanted help.  I needed help.  But not just for me.  For my grandfather.  I needed help doing what I couldn’t do, what couldn’t be done.

I wanted God to listen.  In that effort, I went so far as to borrow my grandmother’s Bible: Die Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments.  Her Bible was printed in German employing a translation based on the work of Martin Luther himself.  Both my grandmother and grandfather read their Bibles in German as well as in English. They still spoke in German, though rarely in the presence of their grandchildren and only occasionally in the presence of their children.

Such discretion had been forced upon them by the American jingoism of World War 1.  That word jingo refers to patriotism taken way too far.  Not only naïve to the point of foolishness, it’s also belligerent to the point of violence.  The late 19th century and the early 20th century was a time characterized, in part, by intense nationalism, even imperialism.  That intensity exploded in World War 1.

We still have places in these Untied States called New England, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, even New Mexico.  There was a time when much of the Midwest was considered New Germany, with Milwaukee its unofficial capital.  Milwaukee was considered Der Deutsche Athen: the German Athens.  The Grunderzeit, or good times, lasted about forty years.

Then, when the United States sided with France and Great Britain and declared war on Germany and its Axis allies, the good times ended.  War was declared on Germans in America.  German farmers reluctant to endorse violence against family members and friends still in the Fatherland got their barns painted yellow.  German books were burned.  The singing of Silent Night was banned.

Names were changed.  Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage.  The Deutsche Club became the Wisconsin Club.  Germania, the largest German-language publishing company in the nation and headquarters for the Germania-Herald newspaper, became Milwaukee America.

Speaking and teaching in the German language had already become illegal in schools.  The Bennett Law of the 1890s, a result of nationalistic fervor, had seen to that.  But during the First World War, it became all but illegal to speak German anywhere in public.  Even children would be thrown off buses and expelled from playgrounds if they were heard speaking German.

So, both my father’s parents — who were not married at the time — learned to keep their ethnic language to themselves.

But I heard them speak it together from time to time when they were alone and thought no one was paying any attention.  And I thought that, if it was still important enough to them to speak it and read it, it may be important to God, too.  They read their Bibles in German.  That meant that God spoke to them in German.  Maybe they prayed to God in German, as well.

I thought I should try it.  Maybe God would hear me better if I did.  I knew no German, of course.  I was still trying to learn English.  Nevertheless, I borrowed Grandmother’s Bible.  I looked up Matthew, chapter 6.  I could recognize the Gospel because the German Matthäi  is so similar to the English Matthew.  German numerals match English numerals: they are both Arabic.  I found what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, starting in verse 9 and continuing through verse 13.  And then I prayed it as best I could.

Now, I had already been taught by my father and my mother that the prayer is not to be employed as a religious ritual, and certainly not as a magic incantation.  They taught me that the prayer is a model, a pattern.  As Jesus said, “After this manner therefore pray ye…”  Think of God as a Father and relate to Him as such.  Revere Him and all that His Name stands for.  Recognize His Kingdom and His Lordship authority.  Be obedient to His will.  Address daily needs.  Confess committed sins.  Forgive sins committed.  Be led away from temptation.  Be delivered from evil and the Evil One. And so on.

I wanted, however, to speak to my heavenly Father in German for the benefit of my earthly grandfather:

Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel, geheileget werde dein Name.  Dein Reich komme.  Dein Wille geschehe wie im Himmel, also auch auf Erden.  Unser täglich Brot gieb uns heute.  Und vergieb uns unsere Schuld, als wir vergeben unsern Schuldigern.  Und führe uns nicht in Bersuchung.  Sondern erlöse uns von dem Uebel.  Denn dein ist das Reich und die Kraft und die Herrlichkeit in Fwigkeit.  Amen.

woodcraft 7





Woodcraft 2: What’s In A Name?

21 06 2014

My name – Kurt – is a short form of the name Konrad.  That’s the form that’s official, the form to be seen on my birth certificate, school forms, military and government documents, and such.  The English version Conrad is more commonly seen, but the original Old German is Kuonraet.  That old version reveals how the nickname Kurt comes from Konrad.  Take another look: Kuonraet.

The name means bold counselor.  It refers to someone who is not afraid to advise others of the truth.  More on that later.

Many people in our nation name children after members of the family.  Sometimes, they name children after friends.  Occasionally, they name children after people they admire, after celebrities.  Many people in our nation choose a name simply because they like the sound of it.

As for my people – my parents – they not only listened to a name’s sound, but thought also of its sense.

My mother and the members of her family favored names found in the Bible.  That would be the English forms of those names as found in the Authorized Version of the Bible, also known as the King James Version.

The original texts of the Bible weren’t written in English, of course.  Almost all of the Old Testament was written in classical Hebrew many centuries before English evolved into existence.  There are a few portions written in Aramaic, which was a trade language spoken in common by the peoples of the Middle East for hundreds of years.  The New Testament has a few words in Aramaic, but its language is Hellenistic Greek.

My mother’s people didn’t use names in their Hebrew or Greek versions since they would often be hard to spell or pronounce.  For example, my sister received the middle name Joanna.  The original is more like Y-hohhanan.  Outside Israel and other Jewish communities, that’s a little strange.  Joanna is not as English as Jane, but in English-speaking communities, it’s better recognized.

My father and the members of his family favored German names.  Real German names, that is, with regard to how they were spelled and even how they were pronounced.

As I have said, my name is Konrad, not Conrad.  I went by the nickname of Kurt, not Curt.

My sister’s first name is Kristel, not Christine.

My father’s name was Georg, not George.  He was named after an ancestor who lived in the Fatherland, as my father’s people said it.  As my mother’s people said it, he lived in the old country.

My grandfather’s name was August.  A few of his old friends could get away with calling him Gus, but nobody in the family could.  Ever.  Within the family, it was August.  If not that, then it was Father or Grandfather.  Father – not Papa, not Pa, not Pops, and not Dad.  Grandfather – not Granpa or Grampa, and not Gramps.

Holzgerecht.  That’s the name behind my father and grandfather and their people.

King is the name that had been behind my grandmother.  King is English, but my grandmother was German.  Her maiden name would have remained Koenig if certain Americans at the time of the First World War had not pressed her people to make a change.  This because the United States was at war with Germany.

At the time, Germans composed perhaps the single largest ethnic group in the nation.  Milwaukee was one of the largest German cities in the world.  And yet, right here in the middle of America, in Wisconsin, one of the then-48 United States, too many people expressed enough fear and anger and vanity to force fellow Americans to become more American.

Smith is the name that had been behind my mother.  Smith is English, but my mother was German.  Pennsylvania Dutch is the term commonly used, but that last word is actually mispronounced.  Dutch should be Deutsch.  Many of Pennsylvania’s original European settlers were not Dutch, but German, and my mother’s original family name had been Schmidt.  It, too, over time became more American.

And yet, who hasn’t had such trouble?  As I think about it, I can’t think of one ethnic group in this great nation that has not, from some group either in the majority or minority, at some time in some form suffered discrimination, persecution, oppression, and misperception.

One cannot forget entire Aboriginal-American nations and their displacement, even in some cases virtual genocide.

One cannot forget ever so many African-Americans and their enslavement, followed by Jim Crow apartheid.

One must remember the Mexican-Americans of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

The Chinese-Americans of California.

The Irish-Americans of Boston and New York City and Buffalo and Chicago.

The Scots and Irish Americans of the Appalachians and the Ozarks.

The Polish-Americans, Norwegian-Americans, and Portuguese-Americans of so many jokes.

The list does not end.  Jews.  Hawaiians.  Italians.  Japanese.  Puerto Ricans.  Hmong.  Arabs.

The list may now include Christians of any ethnicity.

As I said, I cannot think of one ethnic group in this great nation that has not at some time in some form suffered discrimination, persecution, oppression, or misperception – except perhaps the English.  And yet perhaps also the English.  They would remind us of their problems back in the 1760s and 70s with the Crown and with Parliament.

My father continued the Holzgerecht custom.  He, too, preferred German names.  He wasn’t opposed to Bible names or to my mother’s preference for Bible names.  While she was Baptist, and he was Lutheran, they were both Christian.  Therefore, first names selected for my sister and me were German: Kristel and Konrad.  Middle names selected for my sister and me were English Bible names: Joanna and Bartholomew.

Moreover, even the German names selected had Biblical meaning.  In my case, my mother referred to a passage written by Paul the Apostle to the ancient church at Ephesus, which was located in the nation we now call Turkey.

Here it is, in the King James English my mother loved.  It sounds strange today, and it may be hard to understand.  At the time of its publication in 1611, it was supposed to be plain and simple English.  The vocabulary of the King James Bible had been limited to ten thousand words.  By contrast, the vocabulary of William Shakespeare, who may have helped with the book’s English, was thirty thousand words.  Every citizen of the British Isles was supposed to be able to read it, regardless of class.

Ye are called in one hope of your calling;

One Lord,

One faith,

One baptism,

One God and Father of all,

Who is above all,

And through all,

And in you all.

But unto every one of us is given grace

according to the measure

of the gift of Christ…

till we all come in the unity of the faith,

and of the knowledge of the Son of God,

unto a perfect man,

unto the measure of the stature

of the fullness of Christ:

that we henceforth be no more children,

tossed to and fro, and

carried about with every wind of doctrine,

by the sleight of men,

and cunning craftiness,

whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

but speaking the truth in love,

may grow up into him in all things…

Image





22: The Poker Game

26 01 2013

“There’s no point driving to the house,” Grandfather announced. “That’s been sold.”

“Do you know who bought it?” I asked.

“One of my brother Heinrich’s men, an employee at the mill.”

“But you kept your forest.”

“Yes.  Almost all of it.  Ten acres went with the house to provide a decently shaped parcel with access to the road.”

“How much is left?”

“Not quite three sections.”

“Sections?” I asked.  “Sections of what?”

“Your mother’s father hasn’t explained that to you yet?”

“Not that I recall.”

“A section is a portion of a township.  A township is a portion of U.S. government land measure.  A township is 36 square miles in size, and it contains 36 sections.  Each section is a mile square.  Each section contains 640 acres.”

It took me a while to do the arithmetic in my head, but I was able to calculate the total.  “You have one thousand, nine hundred and twenty acres?”

“Not quite. Subtract the ten acres we sold.”

“Wow!  One thousand, nine hundred and ten acres!”  I looked out the window of the truck with a new interest.  “All forest?”

“For the most part, yes.  There is some marsh, a few ponds, and a number of meadows and glades.”

“How did you get so much?” I asked.  “Grandpa Smith’s farm is only two hundred and forty acres.”  At the time in Wisconsin, that was a pretty good size.

“A quarter section and an eighth,” Grandfather said.

“Yes,” I said, though I didn’t do the math for that one.

“My father won the land in a poker game.  That would be your great-grandfather Maynard.”

“A poker game?  Really?”  That sounded more like a scene from one of the many westerns I was still watching on television.  I didn’t know how to play poker.  No one in the family did, either.  We played canasta.

Ja, a poker game.  In 1878.  In Waupaca.  My father was in town with his father, Leupold, on business.  Leupold’s business was selling printing supplies and equipment, even printing presses, which was a good business for a German.  After all, we invented the printed word.”

Grandfather referred to the work of Johann Gutenberg in the 15th century, who developed a system of printing from moveable metal type.  The Chinese, of course, had long been using wooden blocks for printing.  And, nowadays, there is some doubt as to whether Gutenberg’s system originated with him or with the Dutch printer Laurens Janszoon Coster.  Gutenberg, however, had certainly revolutionized printing by proving that books — the Bible had been the first, of course — by proving that books could be machined.  It therefore can at least be said that Germans had developed and commercialized the machined word.

Leupold had been a writer back in the Fatherland.  He was also an Achtundvierziger, someone who had supported ideas of democracy and national unity back in 1848.  The revolutions in parts of German-speaking Europe failed, and he had to emigrate to avoid imprisonment.  To start his life over, he came to America and settled in Milwaukee.  He couldn’t support himself as a writer anymore, at least not fast enough to be able to meet his immediate cost of living, but he did find a job in the printing business.

Germans were settling throughout much of the state, as well as the Midwest, and they wanted to have their own newspapers, journals, and books for churches and schools, shops and farms.   Business went well.  Certainly Leupold’s part in it did.  Eventually, he attracted not only German customers, but also Dutch, Polish, Scandinavian, and even “American”.  As European-American settlements in Wisconsin grew, each developed business enterprises that needed advertising.  As these settlements grew, each developed communities needing access to news and views.  That fostered a demand for printing presses, which put Leupold’s services in demand.

So, as Grandfather said, Leupold and his son, Maynard, visited Waupaca on business.  The business of the day eventually had to end, though.  Evening came, and businesses closed.  Maynard and Leupold stayed at a hotel in town that also housed one of the many saloons in the community.  Leupold didn’t like American beer, and he didn’t like drinking beer the way Americans so often drank it: standing up.  He decided to go on a reconnaissance to explore more of Waupaca and search for more business prospects.

Maynard stayed in the saloon to have a beer.  He hadn’t experienced German beer brewed in Germany, only the brews made by German immigrants in America.  He would drink almost any brand.  So there he stood, drinking whatever was available, bored.

Now, back then, Germans liked to sit at tables big enough to accommodate as many as twelve people where they would sit and talk and argue.  It was said that Germans could not agree on anything, except that the American temperance movement was despicable.

My parents taught me that temperance denotes exercising self-control for the purpose of being moderate.  It means not being given to emotional extremes, and it means not being subject to gross ethical, moral lapses.  A temperate person restrains evil impulses.  A temperate person is even-minded and well-disciplined.  My parents taught me that temperance is a fruit of the Holy Spirit living within, and thus a spiritual person exhibits both strength and grace.

However, the temperance movement gave the word a connotation of abstinence.  Instead of meaning, “Exercise moderation,” it meant, “Don’t do it at all.”  Never ever to take another swallow of beer was a precept too hard for Germans, even many of the most religious, to swallow.

Germans were considered to be most intemperate when it came to the consumption of alcohol.  Making matters worse, they — both men and women — drank much of their alcohol on Sundays.  True: it was a German tradition for families to gather on the Christian day of rest.  On Sunday mornings, they gathered with other German families in church.  On Sunday afternoons, they gathered with other German families in such places as Turner Halls to visit, listen to music, and drink.

Maynard stood there in that Waupaca saloon, with his drink, without his family, on a Tuesday evening in June of 1878.

He saw a table with a number of men seated, drinking and engaged in a social activity.  He walked over.  If he couldn’t join them, perhaps he could just be near enough to watch and listen.

They played poker, a card game of American origin.  Maynard, though German, was also of American origin, having been born in Milwaukee.  As a child, he had many German friends.  As a young man, he had come to make many American friends.  It was, in part, part of doing business.  A few of these friends had taught him the game.

Maynard stood near the table, watching the men play several hands.  Eventually, one of the men asked, “You want to play, stranger?”

Maynard said, “Sure.”

“There’s room. Grab that chair over there.”

Maynard took a seat, and he played for an hour or so.  The men chatted.  They asked Maynard the usual questions: “What’s your name?  Where’re you from?  What d’ya do?”  Maynard answered.  Each of the others provided similar information.  One was a lawyer.  Two were merchants.  One was a land surveyor.  And one was a land speculator.

They played for coins.  That is, they played for coins that, back then, ranged in value from copper through silver to gold.  At first, they played mainly for pennies, nickels, and dimes.  As alcohol consumption waxed and as sense waned, the cents on the table turned to dollars.  And more dollars.

Maynard played well enough to keep in the game, despite having started with little.  Though they prospered, neither he nor his father had yet become prosperous.  But the game, it had so much potential.  These men all seemed to have money, and plenty of it — enough to keep playing hand after hand, win or lose.  If a person could play well enough, he could win far more than a week’s pay, maybe more than a month’s pay, perhaps even several months’ pay, once the contributions of all players were added together.

And then the cards came.  That hand.  That last hand held in both hands that Maynard struggled to keep from trembling with excitement.

Cards went to others that must have excited them, as well.  Table stakes shot up.  No one folded.  Men started betting more than they had in their pockets in the way of cash.  Rings and watches and fobs went onto the table.  The five men could refer to money they had in safes or in the local bank.  They could refer to valuables known to one another stored at home or in offices and shops.  They could write IOUs on slips of paper.

Maynard had nothing other than what had been in his pockets.  But he had the hand!

Leupold walked into the saloon.  Within seconds, he saw his son seated at the table with the five other men.  He walked over.  He looked.  He said, straining to control his voice, “Maynard!”

Maynard turned to look at his father.  “Hello! You’re just in time.”

Leupold leaned toward his son. “Maynard.  What are you doing?”  He spoke softly and in German.

“I am going to win this money,” he answered in German.  “That is, I will win if you will give me more to wager.”

“Gambling, Maynard.  It is not good business.  And these are Yankees.”

Germans used the word to identify and describe certain Americans.  More precisely, the word refers to people who live in or who have had homes in New England: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.  Germans used the word for American émigrés from anywhere back East, and that meant the part of the United States east of the Appalachian Mountains and north of the Potomac River.  Many such people had moved and were moving to Wisconsin to establish new homes and enterprises.

That term enterprise particularly applied to Yankees.  Germans saw many of them as people wanting too much to get rich too quickly. They saw too many of them as impious villains, thieves, and scoundrels.  Of those who professed piety, Germans saw too many of them as frauds and hypocrites.

Yankees saw Germans as being stubborn and stuck-up: arrogant to the point of being imperious.

Germans saw themselves as being steady, meticulous, prudent, and hard-working.  Over time, they persuaded many Americans to believe the same.

Leupold saw that poker game, not as steady work, but as a get-rich-quick scheme.  It was not meticulous work, it was haphazard.  It was not prudent work, it was reckless.  It wasn’t work at all, it was gambling.

Then he saw Maynard’s cards.  Maynard explained, softly and in German, their significance.  Next, in English, he said, “Father, give me your ring, please.”

Leupold looked at his son.  He looked at all the men and at the cards they kept face down on the table.  He looked back at his son.  “Are you sure?” he asked in German.

“Most confident,” came the German answer.

Leupold removed the ring and handed it to his son.  Maynard held it for the others to see.

“What’s that?” the surveyor asked.

“Alexandrite,” Maynard said.

“What?”

“Alexandrite,” repeated one of the merchants, who worked as a jeweler.  “It’s a gem that comes from Russia.”

“I’ve read about those, I think,” said the lawyer.

The jeweler said, “If that’s what he says it is, it’s worth a lot.”  He held his hand out.

Maynard gave it to him for inspection.

The man studied it carefully.  It put it to his mug of beer and used it to put a tiny scratch in the glass.  He got up from his seat and went to the door of the saloon.  Leupold, of course, followed him.  They went outside into what was left of the summer day where the man held the ring up toward the sky.  Then he removed a small packet of paper from a pocket and held the ring next to it to compare the gem’s color against a white background.  He looked at Leupold.  He returned to the table inside the saloon.

“It sure seems real,” he announced.  He looked at Leupold.  “It sure seems strange, though, for a common salesman to have such a ring as this.  How’d you get it?”

“My mother got it as a young woman from a French officer during the Napoleonic Wars.  He had stolen it in Moscow.  A spoil of war.  That was in 1812.  The French army was in retreat from their disastrous campaign in Russia.  The officer had been wounded during the retreat, was sick, cold, and even malnourished.  There were so many casualties, the French army couldn’t take care of them all.  Somehow, the officer made contact with my mother, and she tried caring for him as best she could.  He died.  Dying, he gave her the ring.  Later, she gave it to me.”

“What’s it worth,” the surveyor asked.

“I don’t know,” the jeweler said.  “We’d have to take it all the way to New York City or Boston to have it assessed properly.”

“Really?” the other merchant said.

The lawyer nodded.  “I wouldn’t be surprised.  I doubt that any jeweler in Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, or Buffalo has seen anything like it.  Maybe Montreal; maybe somebody there would know what to make of it.”

“What do you think?” the speculator asked the jeweler.

“Hundreds.  Thousands of dollars.  Assuming it’s authentic, of course.”

“It is,” Leupold said.

“Then it’s worth more than I have.  An alexandrite that size is worth more than everything I’ve got in my shop.  Nobody around here can afford to even dream about a ring like that.  Most people around here can barely buy gold wedding rings.  Otherwise, it’s a little silver, a little copper, a little bronze, a little brass, some pewter.  Wealthier people buy silver tableware and gold jewelry.  But gem stones?  Mostly garnets and amethysts.”

“And you’re willing to bet that ring?” the speculator asked Maynard.

“What do you have to put up against it?” Maynard asked.

“Nothing,” said the jeweler.  “Not if it means my entire business. I fold.”

“Fold,” said the other merchant.

“Fold,” said the lawyer.

“I’ll see your bet,” said the speculator.

“What have you got to bet?” Maynard asked.

“How about three sections of land outside town?  Nearly two thousand acres.”

“Farmland?”

“Not that good.  It hasn’t been cleared yet.  But there’s timber.  Lots of timber.  And there’s a lumbering boom on, as you know.”

“Two thousand acres,” Maynard said.

“Not quite,” said the surveyor.  “Three sections.  Eighty acres shy of two thousand.”

“And you’ve seen it?  You’ve been out there?” Maynard asked the surveyor.

“Oh, yes.  I’ve been through there.  It’s timber all right.”

Maynard hesitated.  He had the ring right there on the table.  That land, though, lay elsewhere.  And there were many Yankees who would cheat a “Dutchman” and anyone else fool enough out of land or money or both.

The men at the table were really into the game, however.  They wanted to see the outcome.  And that speculator wanted the ring.  “I’m not afraid to go to New York or Boston with that thing.  Say, I’ll go to London to get my money out of it.  I wouldn’t mind traveling like a gentleman for a while.”

The lawyer said to the speculator, “This young man is from out of town.  He doesn’t know what’s here.  So, why don’t you write down your offer, to include the exact location?  Frank here will add to the description what’s necessary so that anyone in town will know what we all mean, to include the judge.  Right, Frank?”

Frank the surveyor nodded.  “Sure.”

“The other three men here will sign as witnesses.”  The lawyer looked at Maynard.  “And I’ll see to it that you get the land, all right.  All legal and proper.”  He reached into a pocket and pulled out a business card and handed it to Maynard.

Maynard looked at it.  He handed it to his father.

“Ah.  I saw this name on a window here in town,” Leupold said.  “When I was on my walk.”

The jeweler handed the speculator some paper.  The speculator made some notes, then passed the paper to the lawyer.  He looked at it, then handed it to the surveyor.  He looked at it, made a few more notes, then signed it.  He handed it to the jeweler, who read it, signed it, and handed it to the other merchant.  He read it, signed it, and handed it to Maynard.

Maynard read it.  He gave it to his father to read.

“In the Fatherland, this is an estate only those of the so-called nobility would have,” Leupold told his son, again in German.  “A baron at the least.”  He handed the paper back.

Maynard put it on the table underneath the ring.  He looked at the speculator.

The other men smiled and rubbed their hands in anticipation.  “Let’s see those cards now,” said the lawyer.

The speculator laid out one by one an ace, a two, a three, a four, and a five.  All spades.

The surveyor whistled.

Maynard laid out a seven, an eight, a nine, a ten, and a jack.  All hearts.

“I don’t believe it,” the surveyor said.

The speculator leaned back in his chair, put his hands to his face, took them away, and stared at the ceiling.

“Congratulations there, stranger,” the lawyer said.  “Now, I’ll be pleased to earn a little of my money back if you’ll come by my office tomorrow so we can draw up some real papers.”

“And I’ll be glad to earn some money back by surveying your new property,” said the surveyor.

Maynard took the ring and returned it to his father.

The other merchant said to Leupold, “You might come by my hardware store tomorrow, sir.  I could earn a little money back, and you can buy a gun to protect that ring of yours.”

Leupold’s eyebrows went up.

Maynard returned the rings and watches and fobs that were on the table.  He also gave back the IOU slips.  The paper from the speculator and all the cash, Maynard put into his pockets.

 

woodcraft 7





20: Live Wood Friday

18 01 2013

The purple ash tree looked really bad the next morning.

Grandfather had taken his seat on the patio, as usual.  I didn’t.  I stood staring at the tree from that distance for a minute or two, and then I walked over to inspect it more closely.  The color of the leaves could barely be called green.  They were horribly wilted, and I could see brown spots here and there.  The entire tree smelled dry, like the leaf litter of late October.

I walked back to Grandfather, asking, “What’s wrong with that tree?”

“It’s dying.”

I neglected to take a seat next to him.  Instead, I stood staring.  “Dying?  What?  Still not enough water?”  I thought a little.  “Do you have a hose and a sprinkler?  Maybe I should hook that all up and really give it a shower.”

“A shower from a sprinkler won’t do it any good. A shower of rain won’t do it any good.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Grandfather said simply, “You’ve killed the tree, my grandson.”

I stood still, petrified.  I looked at him, at his face, at his eyes.  I looked at the tree.  Then I looked back at him.  All I could say was, “What do you mean?”

“The work you performed on the tree.  You cut away all the vascular tissue.  You girdled the trunk from bottom to top. The roots can no longer send water and minerals up to the leaves. The leaves can no longer send sugar and starch down to the roots.”

I shook my head, not in disagreement, but in disbelief.  I didn’t understand.  There was a lot of tree left standing there.  I asked again, “What do you mean?”

“Konrad, trees are not pipes.  Fluid doesn’t flow up and down throughout the entire trunk.  Most of the trunk is, well, timber.  Lumber.  It’s wood.  The part that is living and critical to the tree is between the wood and the bark.”

He pointed to my chair.  “Take a seat.”

I did, though I found it hard to relax.

“You see — or you could have seen in the process of your work if you had gone slowly and carefully, and if you had one of my magnifying glasses with you — a tree trunk has layers.”

“Rings,” I said.  I had seen those often enough in my father’s shop.

“Yes, though there is more to it.  We can easily see the bark of a tree.  It comes in a variety of colors and configurations.  Bark can come in brown, orange, cinnamon, white, gray, greenish.  Bark can look smooth and it can look rough; it can look like scales, plates, strips, sheets, furrows and fissures, even warts.    There is so much variation, in fact, that we can use the bark of a tree to help identify its species.

“Bark, however, comes in layers.  The outermost layer is called the cork.  It is waterproof, and sometimes all but fireproof.  It protects the tree from the weather, from insects, from fungi, and from other damaging agents.  Beneath the cork is the cortex, and beneath that is the cork cambium.  That third layer is the place where cork cells are manufactured.

“Beneath the cork cambium is the innermost bark layer called the phloem.  This is the conduit, the pipeline that carries the sugars and starches from the leaves into the branches, trunk, and roots.

“Next is the vascular cambium.  It’s a very thin layer, only one cell in thickness, yet it is the layer responsible for most of the tree’s growth.  It manufactures phloem cells for the inner bark and xylem cells for the sapwood.

“The sapwood is the next layer in.  It’s the xylem, the conduit, the pipeline for carrying water and chemical nutrients collected by the roots from the soil up into the tree.  Scientists still don’t know how a tree is able to lift so many gallons up dozens, even hundreds of feet against the force of gravity.

“Eventually, the xylem cells become clogged with waste products.  They die by the end of summer and are contributed to the heartwood of the tree.  That’s the part we use for lumber.  While yet in the tree, these cells of cellulose work to support the crown of limbs, branches, twigs in the sky where the leaves can get as much sunlight as possible.

“It is these xylem cells that make the rings of a tree.  The lighter colored wood was produced in the spring of the ring’s year; the darker wood was produced during the summer.

“Finally, at the very center of the tree trunk is the pith, a narrow cylinder of cells that stores food.

“Now, Konrad.  Notice what I said.  The heartwood of a tree is dead cellulose.  It has a function, but not that of transporting food and water throughout the tree.  The living xylem and phloem do that, as perpetually manufactured by the living cambium.  Cut away those layers, and you cut the tree’s throat.  Tie a cable or a rope around the trunk of a tree and leave it there long enough, and you strangle a tree.

“Trees are tough; they’re built to live in tough conditions.  But living trees are not fence posts and telephone poles.  They can’t be whacked and chopped and beaten and mauled and stay healthy.  Trees may live indefinitely, but they can be killed.”

“But Grandfather,” I said with tears coming to my eyes.  “I didn’t mean to hurt your tree.  I was trying to make it better.  I wanted it to grow straight and tall.  I wanted it to be strong and look good.  I was trying to do something good for you.”

Grandfather nodded.  “I have a hard saying for you, my grandson, one that most people refuse to accept because it hits as hard as a hickory cane.”  He quoted a proverb recorded twice in the Bible, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

I felt both shock and shame, so much so that I began crying openly.

After several minutes, I said through my sobbing, “Is there nothing that can be done?”

“Are you are praying man, Konrad?” Grandfather asked.

“Yes.”

“Speak with the Creator, then, the God of Life.  He is the One who knows the ways of all living things, how they live and how they ought to live.  He is the One who tells us how to avoid the ways of death.  He is the One who quickens, who resurrects from death to life.”

I did just that.  And not for a minute or two, either.  I spent the entire day — morning, afternoon, and evening —  in all but unceasing prayer.  I felt so badly about what had happened that I could hardly take any interest in anything else.

I struggled with what to say and how to say it.  As I had said to my grandfather, I was already one who made it a practice to pray.  We as a family prayed before meals, even in public, my father leading.  We usually had a time of family prayer immediately following breakfast.  Mother always tried to have breakfast early enough so that there would be time for all us to have a say before we commenced the day’s activities.  There were individual prayers before going to bed at night.  There were the prayers in church and the prayers in school.

Yet, in all that, I only tended to redundantly repeat myself over and over again. I prayed for my parents, for my father’s work and for his safety, for my sister, for my grandparents, for the church and for the school, for fellow classmates, for the President of the United States … the usual drill, and all in a matter of seconds.  I had not really had occasion, I had not yet felt the need or the desire really to wrestle with God, to commune and converse with God, about anything.  Not the way Moses did.  Or Joshua.  Hannah.  Samuel.  David.  Elijah.  Jeremiah.  Daniel.  Jesus Christ Himself.  Peter and John and Paul and James.  I was young, just a kid.  I lived in a stable family with devoted parents who had a decent income.  I lived in the great state of Wisconsin, the dairy state, the state with the reputation at the time for good, clean, and progressive government.  I lived in the great United States of America, the land of liberty, the land of opportunity, the land of prosperity.

Ah, but now, now there arose a passion, an intense desire to tug at God and implore Him to listen to me, to little me.  I wanted help.  I needed help.  But not just for me.  For my grandfather.  I needed help doing what I couldn’t do, what couldn’t be done.

I wanted God to listen.  In that effort, I went so far as to borrow my grandmother’s Bible: Die Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments.  Her Bible was printed in German employing a translation based on the work of Martin Luther himself.  Both my grandmother and grandfather read their Bibles in German as well as in English. They still spoke in German, though rarely in the presence of their grandchildren and only occasionally in the presence of their children.

Such discretion had been forced upon them by the American jingoism of World War 1.  That word jingo refers to patriotism taken way too far.  Not only naïve to the point of foolishness, it’s also belligerent to the point of violence.  The late 19th century and the early 20th century was a time characterized, in part, by intense nationalism, even imperialism.  That intensity exploded in World War 1.

We still have places in these Untied States called New England, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, even New Mexico.  There was a time when much of the Midwest was considered New Germany, with Milwaukee its unofficial capital.  Milwaukee was considered Der Deutsche Athen: the German Athens.  The Grunderzeit, or good times, lasted about forty years.

Then, when the United States sided with France and Great Britain and declared war on Germany and its Axis allies, the good times ended.  War was declared on Germans in America.  German farmers reluctant to endorse violence against family members and friends still in the Fatherland got their barns painted yellow.  German books were burned.  The singing of Silent Night was banned.

Names were changed.  Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage.  The Deutsche Club became the Wisconsin Club.  Germania, the largest German-language publishing company in the nation and headquarters for the Germania-Herald newspaper, became Milwaukee America.

Speaking and teaching in the German language had already become illegal in schools.  The Bennett Law of the 1890s, a result of nationalistic fervor, had seen to that.  But during the First World War, it became all but illegal to speak German anywhere in public.  Even children would be thrown off buses and expelled from playgrounds if they were heard speaking German.

So, both my father’s parents — who were not married at the time — learned to keep their ethnic language to themselves.

But I heard them speak it together from time to time when they were alone and thought no one was paying any attention.  And I thought that, if it was still important enough to them to speak it and read it, it may be important to God, too.  They read their Bibles in German.  That meant that God spoke to them in German.  Maybe they prayed to God in German, as well.

I thought I should try it.  Maybe God would hear me better if I did.  I knew no German, of course.  I was still trying to learn English.  Nevertheless, I borrowed Grandmother’s Bible.  I looked up Matthew, chapter 6.  I could recognize the Gospel because the German Matthäi  is so similar to the English Matthew.  German numerals match English numerals: they are both Arabic.  I found what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, starting in verse 9 and continuing through verse 13.  And then I prayed it as best I could.

Now, I had already been taught by my father and my mother that the prayer is not to be employed as a religious ritual, and certainly not as a magic incantation.  They taught me that the prayer is a model, a pattern.  As Jesus said, “After this manner therefore pray ye…”  Think of God as a Father and relate to Him as such.  Revere Him and all that His Name stands for.  Recognize His Kingdom and His Lordship authority.  Be obedient to His will.  Address daily needs.  Confess committed sins.  Forgive sins committed.  Be led away from temptation.  Be delivered from evil and the Evil One. And so on.

I wanted, however, to speak to my heavenly Father in German for the benefit of my earthly grandfather:

Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel, geheileget werde dein Name.  Dein Reich komme.  Dein Wille geschehe wie im Himmel, also auch auf Erden.  Unser täglich Brot gieb uns heute.  Und vergieb uns unsere Schuld, als wir vergeben unsern Schuldigern.  Und führe uns nicht in Bersuchung.  Sondern erlöse uns von dem Uebel.  Denn dein ist das Reich und die Kraft und die Herrlichkeit in Fwigkeit.  Amen.

woodcraft 7





2: What’s In A Name?

5 12 2012

My name – Kurt – is a short form of the name Konrad.  That’s the form that’s official, the form to be seen on my birth certificate, school forms, military and government documents, and such.  The English version Conrad is more commonly seen, but the original Old German is Kuonraet.  That old version reveals how the nickname Kurt comes from Konrad.  Take another look: Kuonraet.

The name means bold counselor.  It refers to someone who is not afraid to advise others of the truth.  More on that later.

Many people in our nation name children after members of the family.  Sometimes, they name children after friends.  Occasionally, they name children after people they admire, after celebrities.  Many people in our nation choose a name simply because they like the sound of it.

As for my people – my parents – they not only listened to a name’s sound, but thought also of its sense.

My mother and the members of her family favored names found in the Bible.  That would be the English forms of those names as found in the Authorized Version of the Bible, also known as the King James Version.

The original texts of the Bible weren’t written in English, of course.  Almost all of the Old Testament was written in classical Hebrew many centuries before English evolved into existence.  There are a few portions written in Aramaic, which was a trade language spoken in common by the peoples of the Middle East for hundreds of years.  The New Testament has a few words in Aramaic, but its language is Hellenistic Greek.

My mother’s people didn’t use names in their Hebrew or Greek versions since they would often be hard to spell or pronounce.  For example, my sister received the middle name Joanna.  The original is more like Y-hohhanan.  Outside Israel and other Jewish communities, that’s a little strange.  Joanna is not as English as Jane, but in English-speaking communities, it’s better recognized.

My father and the members of his family favored German names.  Real German names, that is, with regard to how they were spelled and even how they were pronounced.

As I have said, my name is Konrad, not Conrad.  I went by the nickname of Kurt, not Curt.

My sister’s first name is Kristel, not Christine.

My father’s name was Georg, not George.  He was named after an ancestor who lived in the Fatherland, as my father’s people said it.  As my mother’s people said it, he lived in the old country.

My grandfather’s name was August.  A few of his old friends could get away with calling him Gus, but nobody in the family could.  Ever.  Within the family, it was August.  If not that, then it was Father or Grandfather.  Father – not Papa, not Pa, not Pops, and not Dad.  Grandfather – not Granpa or Grampa, and not Gramps.

Holzgerecht.  That’s the name behind my father and grandfather and their people.

King is the name that had been behind my grandmother.  King is English, but my grandmother was German.  Her maiden name would have remained Koenig if certain Americans at the time of the First World War had not pressed her people to make a change.  This because the United States was at war with Germany.

At the time, Germans composed perhaps the single largest ethnic group in the nation.  Milwaukee was one of the largest German cities in the world.  And yet, right here in the middle of America, in Wisconsin, one of the then-48 United States, too many people expressed enough fear and anger and vanity to force fellow Americans to become more American.

Smith is the name that had been behind my mother.  Smith is English, but my mother was German.  Pennsylvania Dutch is the term commonly used, but that last word is actually mispronounced.  Dutch should be Deutsch.  Many of Pennsylvania’s original European settlers were not Dutch, but German, and my mother’s original family name had been Schmidt.  It, too, over time became more American.

And yet, who hasn’t had such trouble?  As I think about it, I can’t think of one ethnic group in this great nation that has not, from some group either in the majority or minority, at some time in some form suffered discrimination, persecution, oppression, and misperception.

One cannot forget entire Aboriginal-American nations and their displacement, even in some cases virtual genocide.

One cannot forget ever so many African-Americans and their enslavement, followed by Jim Crow apartheid.

One must remember the Mexican-Americans of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

The Chinese-Americans of California.

The Irish-Americans of Boston and New York City and Buffalo and Chicago.

The Scots and Irish Americans of the Appalachians and the Ozarks.

The Polish-Americans, Norwegian-Americans, and Portuguese-Americans of so many jokes.

The list does not end.  Jews.  Hawaiians.  Italians.  Japanese.  Puerto Ricans.  Hmong.  Arabs.

The list may now include Christians of any ethnicity.

As I said, I cannot think of one ethnic group in this great nation that has not at some time in some form suffered discrimination, persecution, oppression, or misperception – except perhaps the English.  And yet perhaps also the English.  They would remind us of their problems back in the 1760s and 70s with the Crown and with Parliament.

My father continued the Holzgerecht custom.  He, too, preferred German names.  He wasn’t opposed to Bible names or to my mother’s preference for Bible names.  While she was Baptist, and he was Lutheran, they were both Christian.  Therefore, first names selected for my sister and me were German: Kristel and Konrad.  Middle names selected for my sister and me were English Bible names: Joanna and Bartholomew.

Moreover, even the German names selected had Biblical meaning.  In my case, my mother referred to a passage written by Paul the Apostle to the ancient church at Ephesus, which was located in the nation we now call Turkey.

Here it is, in the King James English my mother loved.  It sounds strange today, and it may be hard to understand.  At the time of its publication in 1611, it was supposed to be plain and simple English.  The vocabulary of the King James Bible had been limited to ten thousand words.  By contrast, the vocabulary of William Shakespeare, who may have helped with the book’s English, was thirty thousand words.  Every citizen of the British Isles was supposed to be able to read it, regardless of class.

Ye are called in one hope of your calling;

One Lord,

One faith,

One baptism,

One God and Father of all,

Who is above all,

And through all,

And in you all.

But unto every one of us is given grace

according to the measure

of the gift of Christ…

till we all come in the unity of the faith,

and of the knowledge of the Son of God,

unto a perfect man,

unto the measure of the stature

of the fullness of Christ:

that we henceforth be no more children,

tossed to and fro, and

carried about with every wind of doctrine,

by the sleight of men,

and cunning craftiness,

whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

but speaking the truth in love,

may grow up into him in all things…

Image