While I was a bit young to remember all the things that happened around the time that my mother Mary Krause died, I’ve had several sources tell me the basics of that traumatic time.
My mother Mary had chosen her sister Elizabeth to be my godmother, which in those days meant taking on a lot of responsibility. I was baptized only 2 days before my mother died and it must have given Mary great calm to know that her sister, Elsie, would act as a proxy mother if she passed. But once Mary died there had to have been a great deal of confusion over all the things that needed doing. By June most of the farm crops would have been planted already which probably helped the family as they gathered to figure out how to handle a disabled baby of less than two weeks old.
That’s when the large extended family comes in. According to Uncle Paul, my grandfather Krause called the entire family together the including the in-laws, like Paul’s wife Elsie. The meeting at the Krause homestead was held around the huge dining room table. In those days of large families, the dining room was only used for special occasions. I have been in that room several times as a child and it always seemed ‘old’. It was a darkened room, rarely used. Old furniture and a slightly musty smell mingled with that of the cooked food from the kitchen made that room more welcoming than the parlor. The parlor would be what we call the living room. About the only time anyone ever went into the parlor was for wakes and very special company. It was, as Uncle Paul said, a special occasion to figure out what to do with me. My mother had died and everyone, especially his own father, was pretty sure that Al, although he was my father and loved me, couldn’t care for me.
The majority of the Krause and Pfeiffer couples already had young children. Al already had 2 healthy motherless children; the odds were that he’d have a hard time just taking care of them. Nor was Al going to be able to feed me with the device they had to use. My disability would, in fact, pretty much exclude anyone from the farm community from caring for me. Even the women who would now have to enfold Al’s older children into their families were needed to prepare the meals for the farmers and hired help they had for harvesting. Farming is very difficult if you make it your living. Al may have been a drinker but
he was a hard worker so Grandpa needed his help on the farm.
Uncle Paul and Aunt Elsie were the only members of those two very large families that had no children and really wanted to take care of me after Mary died. Just as significantly, Uncle Paul had been in touch with doctors in Chicago who said that although they hadn’t yet seen me, they thought that they could help with my cleft palate. In fact, by that time, everyone knew I’d have to go to Chicago for medical treatment. So, Grandpa Krause decided I had to go with my Uncle Paul and Aunt Elsie because they could care for me the best.
And that’s when the family negotiations hit a snag. Uncle Paul and Aunt Elsie were more than willing to take care of me and make sure I received the best medical care available. Uncle Paul, though, had one major request – he wanted to formally adopt me. Al, my biological father, vehemently objected. Al refused to give up his parental rights even if he couldn’t provide the medical care I needed. I was his daughter and he’d be damned if anyone was going to take me away.
My Uncle Paul stood up to leave. He said he didn’t want to go through all the trouble and expense of making me well and then when I was almost grown Al would decide he wanted his daughter back. Uncle Paul said he wasn’t trying to take me away from Al but he didn’t want me or his wife, Aunt Elsie, hurt many years down the road. Uncle Paul would make sure I would stay in touch with the Krauses but unless he had full parental rights he felt he’d be on shaky ground with me and my care. This argument between Al and Paul went on for quite awhile.
Finally the Krause patriarch spoke: Paul and Elsie could adopt me and they would bring me out to see the Krauses on a regular basis.
That was a year and a half before the "date which will live in infamy" that changed all of our lives as Americans.
Filed under: Autobiographical