Jun 22, 2006

A Recent Story of Grandma's Hired Man

In the first part of the 20th century, an older widow with a farm had to find a hired man to help with the more arduous and difficult chores formerly performed by her husband. This hired man would live in a small house on the farm. My grandmother lived in the hill country south of the Missouri River near Kansas City but her husband died when she was not yet 50. Joe Yershe was the second of two hired man who lived in a one-room dwelling with a wood stove, bed, chair, and table, but not much else. The outhouse was not far away and was also used by Grandma, my Mother and my Aunt.

Joe was the hired man that I knew when I was growing up across the road from Grandma’s farm. He had come to the U.S. from the same “old country” of my grandparents. Joe grew up in a strongly Catholic village, and my Grandma said everyone without exception went to Sunday Mass, even those who could not receive Communion because of living openly in sin.

Joe was an expert in pruning fruit trees and he also could cut weeds, grass, and hay with his scythe so that it looked like they had been evenly mowed. He used Grandma’s horse to weed and till the soil between the many rows of vegetables and berries. He was particularly attached to Shorty. When the little colt was born, Joe gave it all his attention and it became a very docile and hardworking horse on Grandma’s farm.

One time when I was quite little, I pleaded with Joe to let me ride Shorty as he held the halter and led Shorty to the field. However, Joe had been told by my Mother never to let me ride the horse because she did not trust me not to fall off. Joe warned me not to tell anybody if he let me ride the horse. However, not being very wise at the age of four, I immediately told my Mother that Joe had let me ride the horse. Bad decision for both of us!

Before becoming Grandma’s hired man, Joe had worked to save money to send for his sweetheart in the old country. He planned to marry her when she arrived. Unfortunately, Joe’s sweetheart met someone else on the boat to the U.S., and she wrote Joe that she was going to Omaha to marry the other man. Some months later, she wrote Joe a second letter and said that her new husband beat her frequently and that she planned to leave him and return to Joe. Joe responded that she was already married and that he could not marry a woman who already had a husband.

Joe began to drink frequently and heavily, and stopped going to the sacraments and to Mass—except for infrequent occasions. After being hired by Grandma, my Mother remembers that Joe returned from a night of drinking, either at a tavern or at a friend’s house. It was late at night when he fell in the driveway before reaching the small white house in which he lived. When found in the morning, his coat was encrusted with ice and was frozen to the ground. Somehow he survived without permanent injury.

My elderly cousin remembers Joe as very quiet and always polite to her as a little girl. She remembers being in his little white house a couple of times, really a little shed with only studs and outside boards. She observed that the little house was so empty, but Joe had a crucifix nailed on one wall. My cousin thought that he was very lonely because he would sit alone for hours in the evenings and on Sundays when he was not working.

Grandma’s farm was auctioned off and sold in the mid 40's, and Joe continued to drink. For a while, he lived in ‘Jacob’s House’, a 2-story old house that had been abandoned. The new owner of the property discovered Joe sleeping on the floor, and Joe had to find another place to stay. A local apple orchard hired him but he was quickly fired. He then did occasional work for others to earn money, especially using his scythe to cut weeds.

By about 1950, my Grandma was living with my Aunt and Uncle and Joe was living in the county ‘Old Folk’s Home.’ One day he left the Home, walked several miles to my Aunt and Uncle's house and asked to stay. My Aunt got a cot and my Uncle installed a very small bathroom in the basement. Joe stayed there while helping out on their five acres where the two women raised berries. Sometimes, Joe would put my Aunt and Uncle's only child, Ron, in a wagon and pull him to a nearby country store to buy him a drink and candy.

I would often see Joe when I visited Grandma. One time I asked him to stop drinking and say an act of contrition—which I didn’t think he remembered. Joe then said the complete confessional prayer in Latin he had learned as a young altar boy in the old country, “Confiteor Dei omnipoténti, beatæ Maríæ Vírgine, beáto Michaéli Archángelo, beáto Joánni. Baptíste… I concluded he must have said this prayer regularly because he recited it quickly and easily.

Shortly before his death, Grandma asked me to cut Joe’s hair because he didn’t have the money. Joe was still quite good looking in his early seventies and had a full head of white hair. He was not feeling well, and had had recent surgery that identified an untreatable cancer. After the operation, he returned to live in my Aunt's basement. Grandma said Joe's pain increased over the next couple of weeks, and my Mother remembers him groaning with the pain.

Grandma was the one who found Joe’s body lying on the floor in my Aunt's garage. He had set up a ladder to attach a rope to a rafter and it appeared that he was trying to commit suicide. The flimsy rope broke, or he was unsteady and fell off the ladder—we never knew for sure. When the police and ambulance came, the attendants determined Joe had died from the fall.

After the funeral Mass, Joe Yersche was buried in an unmarked grave in the southeast corner of the small parish cemetery. Our family prayed that he had repented of his planned act before his soul left his body. We hoped that he had at least reached purgatory, and that God would be merciful to this poor sinner. But as years do, they pass quickly and we no longer remembered to pray for Joe.

Recently [April 2006], my Aunt's 23-month old great-grandson was at her home “helping” with yard work. He was busy following his Aunt around the yard and started to follow her into the detached garage, but wouldn't go in. His Aunt asked her little nephew what was wrong, and he responded, “Man, Man.” His Aunt knew there was no one else in the garage and asked the child to show her where he saw a man. The little boy pointed to a corner of the garage and said “There!” The boy appeared reluctant to enter the garage and and continued to say he saw “that man”. His Aunt picked him up and went to find his mother and grandparents who were helping with the yardword for my elderly Aunt.

Everyone concluded that it must be Joe that the small child was seeing. Ron told his grandson that Joe was a good man who used to take him for rides in a wagon and buy him candy. Joe would never hurt little children and it was okay for him to go into the garage. Later that day the little boy did enter the garage with his Mom and continued to say “Man! There”. He no longer was scared but was still adamant about the presence of someone that others could not see.

My Aunt, my Mother, my elderly cousin, and I have wondered if God was merciful and Joe is now in purgatory. We have concluded that the toddler's apparition is a sign that we need to keep Joe’s soul in our prayers. And if he does not need our prayers, then the Virgin Mary will use the merits of our prayers for other souls.

If Joe, the hired man, is in purgatory, he has been there for forty years since his death in the mid 60's. Does anyone reading this post have an extra prayer for the respose of Joe's soul?

1 comment:

Jovan-Marya Weismiller, T.O.Carm. said...

A Pater, Ave and Requiem to the High Seat of Heaven for Joe's soul!