Amanuensis Monday: The Thieves Come in the Night: The Buerers in Africa 1947

When you read a person's diaries, the results can be ambiguous. One one hand, the words you see belong to that person alone, and you can catch glimpses into their hearts and minds. But the words and thoughts are also very one-sided. And I'm finding as I read my grandmother's words, I'm conflicted and confused about what she says. Sometimes I get offended. But I think I gain some clues into what their lives were like in the mid to late 1940s in the Belgian Congo.

Nancy, Vickie, and Peggy

Nancy, Vickie, and Peggy

All of her life, my grandmother longed to be a missionary. No calling could rise above sending yourself off into the mission field to win souls to Christ. But I think once she got there, she was stunned and dismayed. They suffered from a lot of sickness. And loneliness. And from what I read, I believe she settled into a depression she never quite got out of. 

I haven't read further in her diaries to see what lies ahead. And I'm just going to let her words stand on their own for now. I do not transcribe everything, as some of the accounts are very mundane. So I'm going to give you the "meat" of everything in the later half of 1947.

In April and May, my grandmother writes a lot about things they received in the mail, visits from other missionaries, and schooling the other missionary children (“I’ve been helping Marjorie with Latin and Algebra every morning.”) She also says: "Harry started work on printing tracts on a multigraph Angus had...We sent the push push to Tshene for our furniture. It came back Thursday with our stove, icy ball, and baby bed. We received eight boxes Monday and Tuesday. Among other things were lots of dried fruit and puddings...I fired our wash boy, Salankango, and hired Mkumbu in his place. He is a lot quieter and seems to do just as well..."

June 1947

The dry season has come. We can even feel our skin getting dryer.

An icy ball

An icy ball

We have been making ice cubes in the icy-ball. Friday we gave one to each of a group of natives. It was comical to watch them dance and yell as they felt the cold in their hands and mouths.

We’ve been having trouble getting enough water. Our water boy was called to Idiofa by the official the end of May and we can’t get anyone to take his place. I’ll be glad when he comes back.

Tuesday night a thief cut the strings around the palm poles of our storeroom and broke in and stole a suitcase full of things I was saving for the girls for Christmas. Harry offered 50 francs to the person who found it and we got it back before Wednesday morning was over. The thief was Montobo, a mason’s helper. He didn’t know how to open the suitcase so he cut the whole bottom out, ruining our best suitcase. For quite a while he said he found it in the grass. Then he admitted stealing it but said the devil entered into him and made him do it.

Friday was Peggy Ann’s sixth birthday. We had fried chicken, birthday cake and jello. We made ice cream but it didn’t get hard until the next day. She got lots of nice presents and Nancy got a few things, too.

July 6, 1947

About 8 o’clock this morning Mr. and Mrs. Kliewer of Kafumba came with their truck to take us to Matende. Mrs. Haller and the Hutchisons from Mangringu went, too. We arrived there about 10 o’clock in time for the morning meeting. The theme for the day was “The Body of Christ.” We enjoyed the meetings very much. We had a big dinner of mashed potatoes and gravy, meatballs, carrots and peas, and apple pie, also applesauce. There were 16 adults and 10 children. In the afternoon Harry was one of the speakers and also spoke at a native meeting following.

We had a good supper of wieners and buns, pickles and baked beans with chocolate cake for dessert.

July 27, 1947

Monday we ate supper at Ronks and Tuesday noon and night we ate with Barbara. Monday evening we played Make-a-Million and Tuesday afternoon we went to the lake again. Nancy threw our camera in the water. In the evening we all went to Ronk’s house and ate popcorn, fudge, divinity, and taffy.

Wednesday morning I visited Aunt Viola’s old people’s class and Clarabelle’s children’s class. We left for Kifwanzondo right after dinner. We brought  home with us our chicken, a bunch of bananas, a basket of manioc, some limes, 8 baskets, four pineapples, a basket of pai pai, some raspberry bushes and bougainvillea plants, and some tapioca. We stopped at Idiofa to buy some food…

August 3, 1947

Peggy Ann lost her first tooth yesterday and I took out Lois’ first chigger today.

Nancy took her second worm treatment which is supposed to clear them up.

August 31, 1947

Friday morning the men started to put a new grass roof on our house.

Tango Andre came Tuesday to work for me. It’s nice to have a full time boy again.

Nancy and Peggy

Nancy and Peggy

September 7, 1947

This is our seventh wedding anniversary. We bought some antelope in the native market yesterday so we were able to celebrate. I made raisin pie for dessert.

September 21, 1947

I made a new rule in school that all time wasted had to be made up by attending school on Saturday. Attendance and attention has been much better since I started it.

September 28, 1947

Just after midnight Monday night Emmie called me and I went with her to Simone’s house. His wife gave birth to a baby boy. I didn’t get home until 4 o’clock. It was my first experience of seeing a baby born. Simone is so proud and excited about it. He made a mattress for the baby and is making a bed for him.

The natives all went to Kifwanzondo Monday to be examined by the doctor. Several of them had shots or lumbar punctures and were limping around for a couple of days.

October 5, 1947

Saturday morning we discovered that someone had broken into the print shop during the night. They had pushed the whole window frame out. They didn’t take much—a little paper and a few pencils. They were probably looking for money as Harry had paid the men from there the afternoon before.

Our movie camera came along with four other boxes from Mamma. We took 100 ft of colored pictures of the children this afternoon. Most of them were of the baby.

October 26, 1947

Peggy Ann is doing well in her embroidery lessons. She finished a bib for Lois on Friday and is going to start an apron for Nancy. They will make nice Christmas presents.

Peggy Ann finished First Grade Tuesday and started Second Grade the next day.

November 2, 1947

Tomorrow we will go to the lake for a week. We looked over the grounds today and watched the monkeys in the trees. It is very hot here.

One morning we woke up and found our clock was missing. It had been on a cupboard by the bed next to an open window. Late we noticed that Lois’ soap was missing, too. We had heard a noise during the night and Harry had gone out with a flashlight but had seen nothing. Our boys found the clock on the porch just outside the kitchen. The thief had evidently returned it earlier in the morning.

I found this picture in my grandmother's things. On the back it states "Anonymous Congo Missionaries (not related)." I found the picture so compelling I had to include it.

I found this picture in my grandmother's things. On the back it states "Anonymous Congo Missionaries (not related)." I found the picture so compelling I had to include it.

November 16, 1947

…our stove and mattresses had arrived. The spring and cots should be here soon. Harry put the stove up Thursday. It certainly is a beauty.

While we were at the lake a lot of Angus’ new house fell down. There was so much rain that week and this week, too.

November 23, 1947

I have had an ulcer in my mouth all week. It is so bad that I haven’t been able to open my mouth to eat the last few days. It even hurts to talk. I sent a note to Dr. Benoit but he was away.

Yesterday Miss Forel came here from Kintshua. She is a nurse. She said I must stop nursing the baby and drink milk for ten days. She thought it would heal in 3 days. She will stay until tomorrow. I had school all but Friday and it was too hard to talk then.

November 30, 1947

I was in bed all week except in the evenings when I sat in the living room by the light. The sore in my mouth improved gradually but is not completely healed yet. I am so weak from not eating that I can’t do much.

We didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday but will celebrate it after I am able to eat again.

We got a box from mamma that had been on the way for six months.

Lois is gaining again now that we started feeding her every three hours. She weighed 14lbs. 14oz at 8 months.

December 7, 1947

Last Sunday evening Nancy started to throw up and was very sick for several days. She just lay in bed and wouldn’t talk or eat and got so thin. Her eyes were sunk way in and her stomach hurt. She got up yesterday.

Tuesday night Peggy Ann started to throw up and has been very sick although not quite as bad as Nancy was. She feels a little better this evening and ate a piece of toast. It’s the first she has eaten since Wednesday.

On Monday Dr. Benoit came to examine the natives. He said I could start eating and I got up a little the next day. He said he would send medicine for Nancy but must have forgot.

Mwembe our cook has VD so we are without a cook. I’m trying to get another one from Ishene.

We moved the baby’s bed into the living room so she wouldn’t disturb the sick girls. We borrowed Brower’s phonograph to play music to entertain them.

December 14, 1947

Peggy Ann got up last Monday and seems to be all right now. I have been having school all week.

Tuesday was Harry’s birthday. I made a cake which fell but we ate it anyhow.

I got another new cook. He has never worked in the house before and is rather slow. I don’t know whether he will do or not.

When Peggy Ann was sick she wanted a weiner roast so last night we had a picnic outside.

December 21, 1947

Yesterday harry made a Christmas tree from a cardboard box. Then we covered it with green paper. This afternoon we decorated it. I wrapped some of the presents and put them under the tree.

December 28, 1947

We had a nice Christmas. We didn’t get to open our gifts until after church…Harry had three teeth filled and I had one.

Matrilineal Monday: my grandparents, Victoria Emma Prinzing and Harry Forrest Buerer

Vickie Prinzing and Harry Buerer

When I discuss family history with others, I find most people, whether it be distance, family relationships, or other factors, know about one side more than the other. I probably saw my maternal grandparents less than 10 times in my life. They lived in California, and we lived in Pennsylvania. We didn't talk much on the phone, as long distance was expensive during my childhood. But I did maintain a kind of "pen pal" relationship with my grandmother, and I got to know her better that way.

I already talked a little about my maternal grandfather, Harry Buerer. But I haven't touched much on my grandmother, Victoria Prinzing.

With all due grandmother was kind of a pain in the butt.

She definitely had an opinion on the "right" way to do things and the "wrong" way to do things. When she and I corresponded during my girlhood, she wrote me back at one point and told me my letters to her needed to be at least 10 sentences long. No hair hanging in your face, and no saying "Geez" (because it sounded too much like Jesus.) And god help you...GOD HELP YOU...if you you picked up your dessert fork and began before she did. She'd call you out at a holiday dinner in such a way that made you want to shrink under the table.

My grandmother, Victoria Prinzing, when she graduated from York Community High School in Elmhurst, IL.

And while I struggle to find information on Hannah and my paternal side, I'm not at a loss for research on the maternal. My grandmother documented every single sneeze. She kept diaries, letters, and family trees that would make any family historian jump up and down with glee. And through these I can  begin to understand (or at least attempt to know) the human being my grandmother was. 

My cousin asked my grandparents for their family histories when he was in high school. My grandfather promptly wrote him back a one page story of his life as a farm boy in Modesto, California, picking and drying apricots and peaches most of his young life (except for a year when he battled typhoid fever.) My grandmother wrote three typed pages single-spaced about her upbringing and adulthood.

Born in Chicago on January 11, 1918, my grandmother's birth kept my great grandfather from the draft into World War I. (People joked my great grandparents should have named her "weatherstrip" because it kept him out of the draft.) Her parents bought a house in Elmhurst, a suburb of Chicago, in 1922, before Elmhurst even had paved roads. She graduated fourth in a class of 250 from York Community High School and went on to study English Literature at Wheaton College, graduating in 1940.

Vickie came from a very devout Christian family. Her Aunt Viola Elsie Anderson and Uncle Anton Christianus Anderson, served as missionaries in the Belgian Congo. My great great grandfather, Fred Prinzing, acted as the secretary of the Congo Gospel Mission. Vickie grew up typing letters and stuffing envelopes for the Mission and soon found a desire for her own venture to Africa.

My grandparents met at Wheaton, and Harry also expressed a desire to go to Africa. (My grandmother describes my grandfather's relations as "a nominally Christian family.") My grandfather proposed, and the Congo Gospel Mission accepted them before they even graduated. But the mission board recommended they wait a year after being married to go overseas.

And wait they did. World War II, a trip to Montanta, children, and other factors halted their plans. But eventually, their quest for Africa happened. And all is told in my grandmother's diaries. 

To be continued....