I first remembered my grandfather, John Schmidt, when he lived in St. Clair, MI and worked in the salt mines for Diamond Crystal Salt. He lived behind a Sinclair gas station in a 4-wheel trailer that resembled the French style Gypsy wagon and was much larger than our “sheep herder's wagon”. St. Clair was about 80 miles from Snover where we lived.
He rode a bicycle and never drove a car. He rode his bike to work and when we went to visit I rode his bike on the sidewalks in St. Clair. I remember that I was too small to put my leg over the cross bar so rode it with my leg sticking through under the crossbar. I don’t know how I managed to ride it that way but somehow did. In those days they only made one size bike. A story connected with the bike is that one night he stayed too long at the bar and got tight. The police picked him up and took him home but put his bike in jail.
After a couple years in the salt mine he got laid off and moved the trailer up to our place in Snover and parked it in our back yard on the farm next to the tool shed ½ mile south of Snover, MI. He used to come up to our house about breakfast time and my brother and I used to stand in front of the window so he could see us and put our thumbs in our mouth to tease him. He always used to say, “Get that thumb out”!
About this time he wanted to buy us a pony. My dad found out about a guy who had a pony for sale near Deckerville and we went one Saturday to look at it. It was a black and white Shetland pony named “Georgie”. When we went to the pasture to look at him the guy called him and he came running. Grandpa bought him and at that time we had a 1937 Chevy 4 door. They took the back seat cushion out, put it in the trunk and led Georgie into the back seat of the car. We brought him home, about 40 miles, in the back seat of the car. We sure had a lot of fun with Georgie over the years.
For our birthdays he would give us a silver dollar. That was really special to us then. I don’t know how he knew when our birthdays were but probably my mother reminded him.
He then moved to Sandusky, MI and bought a house in the southwest part of town in the area they referred to as the “sand hill”.
Grandpa used to like to tease kids and had a devilish streak in him. He spoke broken English so some people had trouble understanding him.
Grandpa was the gardener for Eldon Henderson, the president of Yale Rubber Co., the largest employer in Sandusky. A friend of mine, Dave Henderson, lived near him, used to visit with him and could understand him. His dad was the VP of Yale Rubber. He also did some work and planted 5 acres of pine trees for Tony Rizzardi, the General Manager of Yale Rubber.
The Schmidt family lived in the Sandusky area for many years while my dad was in school and farmed and did field work for other farmers. They also worked beets as beets were a good cash crop and grew well in the area. The Schmidt family is well respected in the area as being very hard workers and honest.
While living in Sandusky my
grandfather came home drunk one night and he smoked a pipe. He evidently was
smoking his pipe and lay down on his bed and fell asleep. He caught the house on
fire and my friend said he saw him carry the burning mattress out the front
door. They called my dad and he went in and picked him up. I was with him as I can remember my dad giving grandpa one large dose of hell on the way
He then built a small cement block house on the farm next to my dad. He had a garden and they could keep a watch on him. My mother was in his house one day and was looking at what was in the cupboard and saw a can of lye. She asked him what he wanted that for and he thought it was soup! He couldn’t read English but subscribed to a German newspaper. He always had a very nice garden and there were never any weeds.
He continued being the gardener for Eldon Henderson and one night he and Eldon had been out on a “toot” and Eldon brought him home in his Cadillac. They were both very loud and Eldon brought my dad over some “snake bite medicine”, a jug of whiskey. Eldon always called him “Johnnie”.
He spent a lot of time working in his garden and made sauerkraut and dill pickles. Tony Rizzardi always used to tell about stopping at my grandfather’s house and he was using the pickle crock to wash his socks so he always used to say that my grandfather’s dill pickles tasted good because he used the same crock to wash his socks.
During my last year of high school I worked for the Kroger store in Sandusky and occasionally on Saturdays grandpa would want to go to town to get groceries. He would then come in to the store and get his groceries before heading to the bar. He used a canvas grocery bag, hand sewn, about the size of a paper grocery bag, with handles to get his groceries. He didn’t use a grocery cart. The first time he did it the head clerk was concerned that “someone” was putting things in a bag. She thought he was maybe shoplifting. When I explained it was my grandfather it was then OK. They used to tease him and he would tease back. I would then pick him up after work. He would put his groceries in the corner at the front of the bar and I would carry him and his groceries to the car. He liked to go on a “toot” occasionally.
He always wanted to know how much things cost. “How much cost”? We would tell him and then he would say “too much money”.
He never wanted to talk about "the old country" as I guess he still thought they could come and get him. He would hear things on the news as he had a TV and if things were sort of messy he would say, "Some day there comes a revolution in this country".
When my boys were little grandpa used to keep some of those orange circus peanuts candy and my brother Dave, and sons Rod and Bob used to go over to grandpa's house and get some candy.
He had a stroke and went to live with my aunt Louise in Saginaw where he died after a few years.
In my genealogy search I learned that he had 2 sisters who came here and my grandmother had 2 sisters who came here. I have found all 4 branches and have met many of my cousins. That was very rewarding and exciting because I did not know of the of my grandparents siblings coming here. By him not wanting to talk about the "old country" I guess I can understand as I have heard the same story from other researchers about their ancestors not wanting to talk about the past.
One night I found the ships passenger list for him, my grandmother and my aunt who was 4 years old at the time. They came in through Portland, ME. A cousin said her grandmother, who was 4 at the time, remembers the first time she saw an orange. She remembers the smell as they didn't have oranges in Russia.
By Dick Schmidt