Matilda Spilger


The Germans: Spilger Family (Grandfather is 2nd from right and Grandmother is 5th from left)
The German family is more current as my grandmother, Matilda Spilger, emigrated from Stuttgart, Germany sometime in the 1880’s. She was married but I never met my grandfather Spilger as he died before I was born. He was born in Hessen Darmstadt, Germany. I do not know why they came to the United States. They settled in the southwestern corner of the state of Michigan where they purchased land and established a farm on 40 acres approximately one mile from a very small town named Baroda.

My mother, also named Matilda, was born in 1910. She was the last of eight children. The stone walled farm house had no central heating only a fireplace with second floor transits that let the hot air rise from the fireplace. Besides the main house, there was a two story red barn, chicken coop and fenced in chicken run yard, and several out buildings where tools were stored. One of the one story out buildings, had no insulation, was once their family home when they first lived at this property. They had lots of chickens, cows and fields of corn, wheat and grape vines. My mother attended a one room school house, which I visited, about a mile away but she only attended school until the fourth grade. We spent many summer days on the farm and sometimes were able to help with the harvests. Grandfather Spilger was also the local Justice of the peace and I heard many stories about trials he conducted in their living room.

During World War I he was advised for his safety to buy US Bonds as a way to show his allegiance to the USA. From later stories it appears that my grandmother Spilger really ran the farm and my grandfather Spilger had other interests and activities. As kids vacationing with my cousins at bed time we often eavesdropped on the conversations going on between relatives on the first floor around the dining room table which evidently was a typical nightly event. We were able to hear their conversations by listening through the second floor transits. When the grownups around the dining room table discovered that we were eavesdropping they immediately began speaking in German.

My mother knew how to drive tractors and large trucks carrying the farm goods to market. I enjoyed swinging on a rope and jumping into hay in the hayloft. I learned how to milk a cow and was assigned the morning duty to pick up the eggs from the chicken coop. There was a small creek just across the road and a short field where we wadded and tried to catch fish. I wanted to experience harvesting the wheat so I was allowed to sit behind the driver of a harvesting machine that had no windshield. When the day was over every part of my face that was not covered by a piece of cloth that was over my nose and mouth was black in color.

Looking back I realize there were a number cousins living close by the farm. Their move to Michigan must have been a broad family decision that was made in Germany. One of my Uncles owned a gas station located at a cross roads approximately ½ mile from the farm. It was lots of fun to visit him as his gas station was also a snack shop and he was more than happy to invite us to nibble on many of the offerings. The family telephone was also a source of “pre-internet” machinery as every home owner telephone line had a certain ring such as three short beeps and one long ring. Everyone seemed to know everyone’s ring code. This then led to people listening to other neighbors’ telephone conversations or one of my aunts picking up the phone when it rang the family code and saying, “I know you are all listening so please get off the line”. Also, there was no indoor plumbing so early in my life I was introduced to the “out house” where instead of toilet paper one used newspapers. Also, this out house had two seats most likely because of the number of children.

Chuck's mother Matilda

Chuck’s mother Matilda

Shared by: Chuck Kinney of Menlo Park, CA (editor’s note: former Mayor)


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