THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR, Bulletin of The Sebewa
Association; Volume 18, December 1982, Number 3. Submitted with written
permission of Grayden D. Slowins, Editor:
WORLD WAR I BLUES – From the SUNFIELD SENTINEL OF January 10, 1918:
My Tuesdays are meatless, My Wednesdays are wheatless, I’m getting more eatless
each day. My home is heatless, My bed is sheetless, They’re all sent to the Y.
M. C. A. The barrooms are treatless, My coffee is sweetless, Each day I grow
thinner and wiser. My stockings are feetless, My trousers are seatless, By Heck!
But I do hate the Kaiser.
ONLY A FEW YEARS AGO: Nobody had a silo. Operations were rare. Nobody swatted
the fly. Nobody had appendicitis. Nobody sprayed orchards. Nobody wore white
shoes. Cream was 5 cents a pint. Cantaloupes were muskmelons. Advertisers did
not tell the truth. Milk shake was the favorite drink. You never heard of a Tin
Lizzie. Doctors wanted to see your tongue. The hired girl drew one fifty a week.
Nobody listened in on a telephone. Farmers came to town for their mail. Nobody
cared for the price of gasoline. Folks said pneumatic tires were a joke. The
butcher threw in a chunk of liver. Strawstacks were burned instead of baled.
People thought English Sparrows were birds. There were no sane 4ths nor electric
meters. Jules Verne was the only convert to submarines. Publishing a country
newspaper was not a business. You stuck tubes in your ears to hear a phonograph
and it cost a dime.
AT CHRISTMAS WE CAN “GO HOME AGAIN” by Zack York
There is often something sad and melancholy about remembering the old days.
Nostalgia can be self-indulgent, even maudlin. Whatever therapy or purgation
might accrue in looking backward is lost in the wave of homesickness, which I
frankly admit, springs from our failing to draw with sensitivity and perception,
the line between sentiment and sentimentality.
As I remember it, after Thanksgiving, most of December was highlighted by the
outdoor winter games we played at noon and recess, and practicing for the
Christmas Program. Following any fresh snowfall Fox and Geese and Cut the
Pie---both a variation of the game involving the chase, the hunter and the
hunted, someone who was IT and the lucky ones who weren’t. Sliding down hill was
fun and although the hill in the schoolyard was really only a gentle slope, a
great deal of excitement and sustained competition could be generated in
establishing long distance records or the belly-floppers and a particular sled.
My sled was called FIREFLY and others bore such names as FLY AWAY, CHAMPION and
SNOW FLAKE. Some were old and the names were no longer legible. Helen, my
sister’s sled was one of these which she had inherited from our brother, John.
Often the big kids were the belly-floppers and championed us young ones by using
our sleds and vying for the distinction of establishing records by coasting the
greatest distance. I can remember how proud I was when Allen Cross belly-flopped
my FIRE FLY to become the school champion.
Another favorite activity at recess and noon hour was building snow forts. I
think we had more fun constructing them than we ever did in waging battle and
capturing the enemy stronghold. Victory, of course, included reducing the
fortification to a pile of snow, the last evidence of winter’s fun remaining
when the January thaw bared the rest of the schoolyard or the spring rains came.
Recalling childhood memories can come uncomfortably close to sentimentality, but
those of you who enjoy a nostalgic journey back to your childhood, if that
childhood was spent on a farm, in the twenties, would find pleasure in reading A
NOSTALGIC ALMANAC by Edna Hong. Her childhood in rural Wisconsin was much like
that of us who were brought up on a farm in Sebewa, Ionia County, Michigan. This
author says, in her chapter December “The whole month of December seems to have
been spent getting ready for the Christmas Program….for rural school teachers
were judged, not by good teaching, but on good Christmas Programs……and the
verdict was “good program, good teacher” or “poor program, poor teacher”.
Considering the hullabaloo often raised today regarding the relationship of
prayer in the schools to Church and State, I’m sure that if the one-room school
at Sebewa Center were still operating today and were to put on a Christmas
Program like the ones I remember, somebody would get up on his soap-box and
either the teacher or the school board would be called to time for allowing
religion to be a part of the daily program of the school---especially during the
At the Center, the Methodist Church is just across the road from the school, and
for as long as I can remember, the children of the church and the school
collaborated on the program. The teacher and the “scholars” prepared the major
part of the program, which was always presented in the church some evening prior
to Christmas. The preacher always gave an invocation at the opening of the
program. (The Center church was one of his three charges---Sebewa Corners and
Sunfield being the other two.)
His reward was usually a generous assortment of presents from his flock;
recently butchered meat, a live rooster and an assortment of fresh baked goods
and cans of preserved fruits and vegetables.
The Christmas story from Luke appeared early in the program and was read by
either the preacher, the Sunday School Superintendent or one of the “big” kids.
A song by the “Young People’ Sunday School Class” concluded the part of the
program not prepared by the teacher. The school’s part of the program usually
began with a song by the entire school. Interspersed throughout the remainder of
the program were songs by the “big kids”, sons by the “little kids”, and maybe a
solo or duet if there were voices strong enough to be heard or that could stay
on pitch. They were all accompanied by piano, while I was in school, by Minnie
Gunn, who always had problems seeing the music through her bifocals. There were
recitations, plays and playlets and the usual Christmas acrostic with each child
speaking his piece at the conclusion of which he held up a large cardboard
letter covered with red paper. Sometimes the letters spelled MERRY CHRISTMAS,
especially if there were fourteen kids in grades one to three. They were
considered the “little kids”. Fourth graders were automatically “big kids”
because they didn’t go home at the last recess, but stayed until four o’clock.
We were fortunate at the Center to have a raised platform at the front of the
church. Although the altar rail separated it from the audience, the rostrum was
a definite improvement over the temporary platforms most country schools had to
construct from boards and planks laid across sawhorses. A temporary platform was
not only noisy but was sure to prove precarious and tip at an inappropriate time
during the program. A heavy wire was strung across the front of the church and
sheets pinned together were suspended by big safety pins, and pulled noisily
open and shut by some child, who was especially privileged to be the curtain
We always drew names to exchange gifts and thus each child was assured of
getting at least three gifts when Santa Claus came at the end of the exercises.
He received one present from one of his peers who had drawn his name (the
present was not to exceed ten cents), one from the teacher; and a small box of
candy, peanuts in their shucks and pop corn from the Sunday School. There was
always eager anticipation of drawing the name of some one we liked and the
bitter disappointment when we drew, instead, the name of one of the children who
was not popular, or who was always one of the last picked when we chose up sides
for games, or who fell into the category of being a victim of the many cruelties
of which children can be guilty.
Getting the Christmas tree was the responsibility of the Sunday School
Superintendent and the decorating was usually left up to the Young Peoples’
Sunday School Class. The tree had to be a reasonably tall one in order to show
up properly in the front of the church. There was often difference of opinion on
how much should be spent from the church treasury for the tree. The best
solution, of course, was to get somebody to donate the tree with the privilege
of taking it home after the program. This was all very well if the date of the
program fell a day or so before the 25th. For many of the families in our
community, the Christmas tree at the church was the only Christmas they had.
There wasn’t another decorated tree at home.
Once, before my time, there was a well shaped Christmas tree in our front yard.
(It was an arbor vitae tree, but because it was an evergreen we always called it
the Christmas tree). One Christmas my father was on the Sunday School Christmas
tree committee. He grew impatient with others in the group who were reluctant to
spend any money and when nobody volunteered to buy one, he said, “For Heaven’s
sake, you can cut the top out of the Arbor Vitae in my front yard”. Thinking he
would shame the chairman into buying a tree, he made the offer not quite
sincerely. Instead, the stingy old codger took him at his work and appeared in
our front yard later that day when my father was not at home, and to my mother’s
horror cut out the top of the tree before she was aware of what he was up to.
Of course the high point of the evening was the coming of Santa Claus and there
was always a good deal of conjecture as to who was the person behind the Santa
Claus mask, wearing the red suit, heavily padded with pillows. The more
successfully Santa’s identity was hidden, the greater was the pleasure of old
and young alike. The big kids especially prided themselves if they guessed who
was Santa Claus, bragging that they had “kept their eyes peeled” and seen so and
so slip out before the program was over to get dressed up. Everybody enjoyed the
guessing game and once in a while the Santa Claus committee buffaloed everybody.
They would bring in some one from outside the neighborhood and Santa’ identity
remained a mystery until somebody “in the now’ let the cat out of the bag.
It was a good think that there was a week or so of vacation following the
Christmas Program and that we didn’t have to go back to school until the Monday
after New Year’s Day. The interim gave us a chance to simmer down from the
excitement of Christmas.
We filled the long winter days with sliding down hill and ice skating. At our
place we were blessed by having two ponds for skating and a good hill for
coasting. We never lacked for things to do on the farm. Our lives were filled
with school and chores and church on Sunday. After the Christmas season we
looked forward to the next big event on the calendar. These highlights between
Christmastides were the last day of school, the Sunday School picnic, the Fourth
of July and at the end of the summer, the Ionia Free Fair. Sprinkled in between
were lesser events such as birthdays, family reunions and neighborhood picnics.
With the start of school, it wasn’t long until Thanksgiving and Suddenly
Christmas would be upon us. It is still the big event of the year and as we have
grown older it has become a time when we enjoy the memories of Christmases past.
Perhaps it is the one time when we can prove Thomas Wolf wrong and we can “go
home again”. End
THE JOHN LICH SR. INTERVIEW CONTINUED:
(Editor’s note; Lucille Sindlinger Warren thinks that John “over-remembered the
incident of the well for her parents. She says that her husband, Ken Warren,
augered the well in 1946 and a short time later installed a pressure pump and
the bathroom in the immediate postwar years when plumbing supplies were scarce.)
Fred Sindlinger was giving me a break by charging only four per cent interest
when he could as well have had six at that time. That included 340 acres. Fred
and Nora continued to live at the farm.
We farmed the muck crops all those years. For help we had Jamaicans, we had
prisoners of war, we had Mexicans and we had that group of local ladies who did
a beautiful job in harvesting our crops. All this time I was buying onions with
Floyd. He would buy onions until wintertime when he went to Florida. Then he
would give me $5,000 and say, “I have bought so many cars of onions at Sheridan,
Clarksville and Sunfield and you can take care of the shipping.” I would ship
them all winter, first by rail out of Lake Odessa, Clarksville or even Edmore.
Over the years the shipping was all turned to trucks. We had a broker at St.
Johns who would send out semis to haul them. McGuffy was at Gun Lake and he was
the guy we bought the onions for---Michigan Land Co.
Floyd would come back from Florida in the spring and I’d give him the $5,000
back and we would split the profit. That kept his business going and I had
something to do in winter, buying a lot of onions and getting to know a lot of
While Floyd was in Florida, he was always looking around for an opportunity. He
found 120 acres available on Lake Como. He bought that 120 acres for $40 an
acre. Then he wanted McGuffy and me to have a part of that because we were in
business together. By that time we had the truck crops and a few potatoes. Also
I had started in the hog business and had some sheep on the Sindlinger farm to
browse some of the fields we wanted to clear. Floyd asked Nell and me to come to
Florida to look at the Lake Como land. We got Nell’s parents to come here and
stay with the kids while we went to Florida for two weeks. Floyd said that Carl
McGuffy wanted the west side and I could take my choice of the middle or east
side. Floyd had talked of a kind of a park there. I said I would take the east
Floyd was a fantastic man. He said, “I’ll set a price on it of $4,000 for that
40 acres and put it on a 10-year contract with payments of $160. That amounts to
4% interest and all you pay me is that $160 for ten years and you will own the
place.” Later he died and made me administrator of his estate. I handled his
estate here and in Clarksville but in Florida it is required that the
administrator be blood relative, so Loretta finished it up there. A couple of
years later my contract was up and Vera and I went to see Loretta to pay her the
$4,000. She said that Floyd always said that when the contract was up I would
have the place and she would give me a deed to it. When Floyd died he did not
have it in his will that I was to have the place. But she insisted it was to be
that way. So then I told her that as long as she lived I would pay her $160 each
December and that is the way it has been.
The next year after Floyd bought the Florida land he got a bulldozer and cleared
the place. In 1956 after the November election here we took our whole family and
went to Florida for a month. We rented a house to stay in and we planted our
orange trees. Floyd had everything ready and he took care of the planting
afterward. When Floyd died, Carl took care of the grove for a while. When I quit
farming I took care of the oranges, including Carl’s, for now he is 87 although
he still helps at it.
We went to Florida the first time for a week, the next time for two weeks. I
would have to arrange my hog farming so that they were not pigging when we
wanted to go.
Charlie Colby, the Clarksville banker, got 40 acres adjoining us at Lake Como
and he put a little house on it. It was arranged so that one month we could have
it, another he would be there and one month his sister, Leona, who worked in his
bank, would be there. That took up January, February and March. Finally in 1967
we built our A frame house. All the kids came down and helped. Don and Elaine
Nash, Kendall Cross---our kids---we once had fifteen there helping with the
We stayed farming here until Nell got sick. The A frame was 24’ x 24’. The
timbers we got in Tampa where they had come by boat from Oregon. I spent the
summer collecting materials for building and finally loaded the big truck with
all those things for the building. The main timbers we had planed and then gave
them a varnish finish before we erected them. We had bought here a bent (100
sheets) of plywood from Sherm. We built that house from February 5 to April 5.
Neil Huizenga came and helped me. The next year we brought the furniture we had
collected and even had a tractor on that load. I still use that tractor in the
When Nell got sick I was still farming but the livestock were gone and the
farming was all corn, wheat and soy beans. By that time we were six months here
and six months in Florida. I had had the mix-mill business. Allen Cross had
helped me put the mills up all over the state. That was kind of petering out and
I didn’t want to be away from home that much anymore.
Nell passed away and I was here by myself. Then one of my nephews married one of
Vera’s daughters. They asked me to come to Chicago in the fall and asked me how
I was getting along. I had to admit I was pretty much by myself. The new bride
said, “I sure wish you could meet my mother. She is in California by herself.”
Nell’s sister said, “She’s a real nice lady.” She gave me her name and address
and telephone number and said, “Now it’s up to you”.
So finally I called her one time and I went out there and met Vera. I don’t know
how the Lord ever did that. She has been a wonderful wife. We tried to farm the
first year. I didn’t want to move in the house where Nell and I had lived, so I
sold that to Joyce and Rich Tuitman. Joyce was Nell’s favorite niece. John and
Shirley were living in Nora’s house since Nora died; Ken and Evelyn David were
living at Coats Grove; Linda was working in Grand Rapids so none of the children
wanted the place. We bought a motor home and parked between the pine trees on
the old Sindlinger farm. That summer we planted the crops and Vera enjoyed it
but she was never a farm girl. We had a wedding invitation from a nephew in
California. John offered to harvest the wheat, leaving the corn and soy beans
for me to handle when we came home.
While we were idling at Laguna Beach I said to Vera, “The bloom of farming is
all off now”. Everything on the farm was what Nell and I had done together. We
were reading THE BANNER, our church magazine. In it was an ad asking for an
agriculturist for a mission in Mexico. Before Vera went to California she had
worked for the BACK TO GOD HOUR as the Spanish secretary for the Spanish
speaking minister. Because she was born in Italy and knew Italian, they had sent
her to school to learn Spanish as a Secretary. She knew Spanish well.
We talked it over and I called the Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.
The Grand Rapids people knew me from my association with the Portland Christian
Reformed Church. They had sent a missionary to Mexico and he had started little
churches. The people there were hungry. If you asked a woman how many children
she had, she would list five dead and four living or three dead and two living,
on that order. The missionary had asked for the Church to send some
agriculturists. A young fellow from Michigan State University and one from Ohio
State University were there. They wanted them to teach the Mexicans to raise
crops. They got into the land that had once been home to the Mayas. It was
beautiful land but all grown up and they had to bulldoze it all down. They were
going to buy a big D 8 Caterpillar tractor for $150,000. I said I had had a
couple of Caterpillars when I was on the farm. They asked if I would go down
there and volunteer a couple of years to get the project on the road. We said,
John and Johnnie came running over to our motor home on the Sindlinger place on
the motorcycle for coffee one day. I said, “We have decided we are going to quit
farming, would you like to buy the place?”
John replied, “Yes, Dad, I’d like to keep it in the units.” We had all the ASC
acreage allotments and to transfer it would not break up the arrangement. John
said, “I would like to have it.”
By that time Ken and Evelyn wanted to buy the original 80 acres. So they were
over there at Coats Grove and bought the Wallace eighty; John bought this here;
Larry got a piece on Bippley Road and Linda got some money; she lives in Grand
Rapids. With that taken care of, we took off.
In February we flew to Mexico to see what we had to do. After I saw the kind of
trees they had there I thought I could get by with a brand new D 4 Caterpillar
tractor. That would cost only $40,000. I was risking that my judgment might be
wrong. We bought the new Cat in Peoria, Illinois, had it shipped to Mexico City
and moved it on to Merida where we put it in a garage. We put it in a shop after
we arrived there in April and had a cab welded on the tractor and put rippers on
the blade like Phil Spitzley had, so that when he backed up it would rip the
roots out. We hired a truck and had the tractor hauled 150 miles into the bush
to a little town 25 miles inland from the Yucatan city of Campeche on the Gulf
of Mexico. We went there. They started a cooperative of 22 men. The idea was to
give each of them two hektares (5 acres) of cleared land and in turn they had
two haktares that they worked for the Church. Cal Lubbers was the agriculturist.
He told me the rains would come on May 15 though it was still dry in April.
We started bulldozing at 110 degrees in the heat of the day. I worked there
every day at that. I called for some help. They sent me a man from Grand Rapids,
a young fellow who was attending Reformed Bible College. He was from Iowa. His
father had an Oliver business and the boy had run a Caterpillar in Iowa. He came
to Mexico and he would take over the Cat when I would leave and do a little more
before I came to work in the morning. I had a big John Deere disc to chop up the
soil and we had a piece of railroad steel we dragged behind the disc to level
the ground. The rains did not come until June. We got sixty some acres of land
ready for the 22 men.
I trained two men, one 22 years old and one 34 years old to run that tractor.
They learned how to drain the oil, how to use the hour-meters and keep watch of
the filters. We have gone back there every year since we were there in 1973-74.
We bought the motor home and took it to the project rather than living in a
house where I would have to drive to reach the place. The Church paid our
expenses though we volunteered our time.
Vera was asked to teach the Maya people to speak Spanish so they could sell
their crops in the market. They knew some Spanish but they could not talk or
figure in the market place. Vera went with me three days a week to the village
to teach Spanish. Their animals were kept in the villa a mile away from the crop
land. There were seven Maya temples that the government was unaware of. The boys
had dug around in them a couple of years before we got there because they had
heard that the Gringos wanted stuff out of there. They said all they got was
some broken pottery because much earlier, the Spaniards had looted the
Today they have sold the Caterpillar and they have two big John Deere tractors.
They have five irrigation wells and 600 acres under cultivation. They are
raising corn, soy beans and peanuts. Their diet had been mostly corn, all
carbohydrates, and I was trying to teach them to grow some crops with protein.
Now they have a great big granary made of posts with a raised floor to protect
it from rats. All their corn is shelled and placed in big coffee bags. They are
a grain exporting community now. Instead of 22 families in the cooperative there
are now forty.
The next year we went into the mountains in Wahakah (spelling?). There were
coffee growers there. They wanted us to teach them to raise some variety of
crops. I had a garden plot there. A Mexican doctor loaned his tractor for
fitting it. We were there a year helping them raise hogs and chickens. We got a
hog setup going that has worked into a big deal for their supplementary income.
For all the good experience of farming in Sebewa and all our many friends there,
the mission work in Mexico has been the most rewarding thing the both of us have
every experienced. You can imagine the friends you make. We have had people from
there come to Florida to visit us and we go back there to visit and keep up our
contacts with the projects.
We had quite a decision to make a year ago. The Church wanted an agriculturist
to go to Bangaladesh. We struggled with that for three months. I would have
liked to have gone but they wanted a commitment of six years and at our age that
seemed overwhelming. They also have a project in Sierra Leone in Africa. Perhaps
some younger people can take on those jobs while we help support them as we can.
John Lich, Lake Como, Florida 32057