Today would have been the 100th birthday of my maternal grandfather, Harry F. Buerer. Born in California, he attended Wheaton College where he played football and met my grandmother, Victoria Prinzing. You can read about their adventures in the Belgian Congo and get a small glimpse of what a magnificent man he was.
Over the last few months, I've transcribed my grandmother's diaries from her time in the Belgian Congo in the late 1940s. After their time in Africa, they spent several years as missionaries in the Philippines. I hope to find a few things from that era, but for now, I'm going to jump forward to 1976 when she and my grandfather, Harry, lived in California. By this point, most of their children have left home, and my grandfather became the pastor of several Baptist churches in California.
One of the ways my grandmother, Vickie, spent her time was compiling recipes from other ministers' wives into cookbooks. My grandparents published the first one in 1976, and not only does it contain information about the food trends in the 1970s, it also tells me even more about my grandmother and her character. Never was she at a loss for words, and if she had something to say, she said it without a filter. Quirky, proud, and at times self righteous, my grandmother had a wealth of opinions about everything--even recipes. Some of her comments in this book are absolutely priceless. And I'm overjoyed to share them with you.
The series of cookbooks are called Parsonage Favorites: Choice Recipes of the Wives of the Pastors of the California Association of Regular Baptist Churches. In the introduction, she remarks:
"Last year at the Regular Baptist State Pastors' Wives Retreat as Asilomar some of us were talking in the dining room and exchanging recipes as women do. We were sharing recipes that were quick and easy to make, inexpensive, and delicious to eat. For women who do a lot of entertaining, these ideas were just what we needed. Someone suggested that we ought to make a cookbook so we could all have them.
I said that I would ask my husband to print the book. My offer was accepted, and thus I became the editor. I am sorry that many of our pastors' wives were not included, and some of them didn't even know about the project. I just didn't have the time to write to everyone, but I made a couple attempts to get the word out. If you didn't know about it, it is because you weren't at Asilomar last year, you weren't at the state conference at Santa Maria, and you didn't read the Regular Baptist Messenger last March.
I have also included some helpful hints. May this book be used to help us be better wives and hostesses and to help in the great work that our husbands are doing for their Lord and ours. What a privilege it is to be permitted to serve Him!
Vickie Buerer, February 1976"
As I was opening the cookbook to take a look, a letter fell out. The letter, dated May 1976, contains some additions and corrections as well as recommendations. My favorite part is the first paragraph:
"A few things have come to my attention that I thought you should know about. On page 44 in the recipe for Wacky Chocolate Cake, Mrs. Mann meant to put down baking soda instead of baking powder. You will want to change it. I made it with baking powder and it didn't rise."
In addition to the recipes, the cookbook has Bible verses and comments from my grandmother typed in red. My favorites:
- When you buy a bottle of grape juice for the communion service, do you wish you could keep the rest of it for the next month? You can. Pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze it. When frozen, put the cubes into a plastic bag and save them in the freezer. Take out just as many as you need and they thaw out fast. I got this idea from Janet Jarvis in Rohnert Park.
- Before molding a gelatin salad, rub the mold with mayonnaise. When you are ready to unmold it, it will come out right.
- I know from experience that this (a recipe for pumpkin bread) is really good. Mrs. Jarvis serves it at Christmas time and we have been invited to her home to sample the Christmas goodies when my husband was pastor in Rohnert Park. Now her husband is pastor and she can't invite the pastor and his family over.
- Several times I have heard people say, "I didn't know Baptists ate devils' food cake." Maybe we shouldn't.
- You will be tempted to pour some of the fruit juice in this batter to moisten it. Don't. (a comment regarding a fruit cocktail dessert.)
What I've decided to do is choose a recipe and post it every Friday for Family Recipe Friday. I will give my critique of the recipe, and I'm right now inclined to post only things that taste good and I think will be enjoyable by others. I believe the cookbooks go all the way to 1990, and once again, I have a wealth of information from the Buerers. Let's get cooking!
All my grandmother's life, she fully believed there was no higher calling than being a missionary to Africa. I wouldn't be surprised if she started planning even as a young girl how she would eschew the comforts of her sheltered Midwestern upbringing and venture to the harsh climate of the Belgian Congo. But upon arriving in Africa as an adult, she quickly realized the whole experience was more than what she bargained for.
From the time the Buerers left Chicago to begin their journey as missionaries in 1946, my grandmother kept diaries to remember their experiences. And, oh, what adventures they had. From sickness to burglary to giving birth to my aunt in the back of a car, their entire lives turned upside down. I sense frustration and a tremendous amount of homesickness by her words. I also found some lovely things, mainly what a wonderful man my grandfather was. From giving my grandmother perms to delivering their fourth child, he showed an incredible amount of love and responsibility for his family. I cherish him.
And now we've arrived at my grandmother's final entries, mostly dealing with the family's preparations for their return to America. It's much shorter than the other years, and I find the very last bit telling and somewhat heartbreaking. Throughout her diaries, she shows lack of propriety, and her account comes from another time and place. I'm grateful to her for her candor and memories and for sharing this story.
January 9, 1949
Driver ants got into our house a few nights ago. We had to get out of bed to get away from therm. They were in every room in the house.
Three little boys came here who were infected from being circumcised. They look awful. We've been putting medicine on them every day.
Art and Harry went antelope hunting but didn't catch anything.
The crazy man has been a nuisance. Harry wrote to the Secretary and he was here to see us.
Harry and I have been taking care of six little boys who were circumcised and got infected.
Our passport came Friday.
Ira Cross came here Friday morning and we all went with him to Kimpata to see about putting a new teacher there. Then we went to Luembe and spent the day. We learned how to play Mah Jong. They brought us home after supper and we played again here.
Harry preached the service there (Luembe). We played Mah Jong in the afternoon and they brought us back this evening.
We've been getting things ready to go to Tshene and Kikwit, taking inventory of our food, etc.
I've been sewing as much as possible to make dresses for the girls and me to wear home.
I had a women's class Friday afternoon. 8 women came and seemed very interested especially in the flannel graph story.
Minte made a native dress for me to wear home.
We received a telegram giving us reservations on the Del Rio arriving in Matadi about April 6.
Monday morning we left Tshene for Kikwit arriving there about 2:30. Tuesday morning we shopped, then went to the hospital for yellow fever shots.
After dinner we got our teeth fixed as Dr. Smith was in Kikwit. Then some more shopping and we started home at 3:30. After dark the lights suddenly went out and we almost landed in the ditch. We waited for the moon but it was too cloudy to do much good. We rode home the rest of the way (about 40 miles) without lights and Harry's eyes were quite sore for days later.
Friday afternoon was my women's class. There were 12 out, all 8 from before and 4 new ones. Ejum was sick so the teacher Josefi interpreted for me.
I am sewing dresses for the girls to wear on the way home.
Thursday morning Peggy Ann fell off the bed. We thought she broke her arm and called the doctor. He said it wasn't broken but he thought it was cracked.
We've been selling lots of our things.
(Lots of packing and getting boxes ready to ship.)
We celebrated Lois' 2nd birthday at Eyeme Friday. Clara Belle baked a cake for her.
Marilyn was sick all week. Last Sunday she got fever and was hot all day Monday. Diarrhea started Tuesday and Thursday she started passing blood. Clara Belle had some dysentery pills and we tried them on her. She is a little better now.
Saturday morning we packed up and about 3 o'clock the suitcases and some of the folks went to Mangai. We went the next load and waited for the river boat. It was about 6:30 when the Luxemburg(sic) came in and we went aboard. We have three cabins. This morning I had to wash our dirty clothes. A cobra came onto Ronk's porch yesterday and the men killed it.
The river boat got to Leopoldville Wednesday morning about 8:30. Before we got off the boat a lady came and told us we would have to fly to Matadi the next morning to meet the ship.
(A lot of this diary entry is illegible. I'll try and decipher as best I can.)
The bank and ...were closed because it was Wednesday afternoon and we couldn't get any traveler's checks or American money.
Harry was quite sick but he helped pack and I finished it after 11 o'clock. We got up at 5 as we had to be at the airport at 6. We flew to Matadi in 1 1/2 hours. Our cases will have to go on the next boat.
In Matadi we came by taxi and went through customs and then onto the boat. Harry was pretty sick but had to go back to turn in the matriculation cars. It was awfully hot.
The boat left Matadi about 1:30. We have 2 nice cabins and the meals are really swell. We stopped at Lagos, Nigeria this morning.
We left Lagos Monday morning. Sunday evening we got off the ship and took a little walk. Then we left again and arrived at Takoradi on the Gold Coast...Next to us was the Fernglen, a Norwegian ship. The Leland Andersons, missionaries from Congo came over to see us. We had met them in Leo 3 years ago. Mr. & Mrs. Kennedy from Nigeria also came over to see us the first night. The next morning we all got into a row boat and rowed over to visit them. There were two single women missionaries there, too.
Saturday morning we arrived here at Port Bouet, French Ivory Coast. We have been unloading drums of asphalt.
Two Catholic priests got on at Takoradi along with a native they are taking to America. One of them is certainly a talker.
We have been spending every morning washing and ironing clothes.
The natives on the Gold Coast are on the point of rebellion, trying to get self-government in '49. They are all wearing S.G. signs.
It is so very hot here. We are anxious to get going.
Monday afternoon a barge sank with 32 drums of asphalt and it took a long time salvaging them. The boat sank again after they almost got it out. That delayed us some more.
Friday afternoon was Nancy's 6th birthday. We managed to find a few presents for her but will celebrate her birthday again when we get home.
...It is much cooler since we left Africa and a great relief.
Today is Easter Sunday. One of the priests had an Easter egg hunt for Peggy Ann and Nancy and hid candy for them.
We have had a very calm trip and enjoyed fellowship with Gordon Mellish. The weather has been nice, just cool enough. We've kept busy every morning washing and ironing clothes and usually wash them afternoon and evening, too.
Marilyn pulls herself up by the side of her bed and playpen now to watch us. She fell off a big bed one day and hit her forehead on the corner of a drawer. It is healing nicely.
Nancy got her first "second tooth" way in back of the others which aren't even loose.
We are so anxious to see America and to get home.
In our research, genealogists continually run into brink walls. Information is missing, records can't be found, trails end abruptly. Not so with my maternal grandparents. My grandmother left so much information (all of which delights me), but sometimes I don't know where to begin. Or end. She began a diary when she arrived in Africa and religiously updated it every single Sunday. Sometimes the news is mundane, such as the weather or what they had to eat. So I've decided (for the most part) to leave that out and focus on the more interesting information.
In her first diary entry dated January 19, 1947, she begins: "We decided to try to keep a record of the most interesting events of our life here in Congo. Every Sunday we will try to summarize the week's happenings. (She then repeats the information from their journey from the US to Africa that I posted before.) ...The only other white people on the station are Angus and Emma Brower and their three children, Johnnie, David, and Ruthie. Every morning I teach Johnnie who has almost completed the first grade."
In February, she mentions my grandfather, Harry, became sick with malaria and fought that for most of the month. She also states "a leopard was seen in the woods by the water and one night came up to the station. Angus set a trap for him." Later that month, she mentions their Christmas presents finally arrived, in addition to hinting that she is almost done with her third pregnancy: "The doctor thinks I'm getting along all right but will have to wait four or five more weeks. He is treating Harry for malaria for a week first." On February 23, she says "Harry has been up the last half of the week. The doctor found that he has round worms, but hasn't started treating him for that yet...Harry has lost weight and looks quite peaked. His eyes have been sore lately, too."
On April 21, 1947, she pens another letter describing their first year in the Congo. I've interspersed this letter with comments from her diary.
Our first year in Congo is ended. It hardly seems possible that we have been here that long. The time has passed quickly. We have just returned from two months spent at Mukedi, a Congo Inland Mission station. They have a doctor and nurse there and they were certainly a big help to us. On March 25 the Lord gave us our third daughter, Lois Jean. She weighed seven pounds and five ounces. She has been such a good baby, sleeping most of the time. (In her diary, my grandmother describes her as "quite fat and her face is round as a ball (also her whole head.) Everyone says she has a beautiful color.") When she was two days old I came down with malaria and was quite sick for several days before we could break the fever. I was recovering nicely when I had a relapse on the ninth day and was even sicker than before. We kept the doctor pretty busy but we praise the Lord that He was watching over us and I am well again. In the weeks before Lois was born we were able to get a good rest...
One of the natives here asked Harry if his baby was a boy or a girl. When he heard that it was a girl he said, "That's good. If you have a boy you have to pay lots of money to get a wife for him but when you have a girl you get lots of money."
The need for gospel literature for the natives is very great. We have been wanting to begin some printing but all the parts to our press haven't arrived yet. However, Harry is beginning to print some tracts on a multigraph that was here. Soon he expects to start work on a song book to use in the church services. We have one but it has been revised and standardized so that we will use the same words as other fundamental missions around us who are using the same language.
Some of the packages were on the way a long time. We divided some cookies that we received and after I finished mine, Harry noticed worms crawling out of his. We looked at the girls' cookies and they were full of worms, too. We threw them out but I had already eaten mine. I felt funny the rest of the day.
While we were at Mukedi the rats were multiplying here in our house. When we got back we found evidences of them everywhere. Yesterday morning when we picked up the baby we found rat dirt all over her blanket. One or more rats must have gotten into her bed during the night. I must have neglected to tuck the netting in good all around. We are so thankful that she wasn't hurt.
We caught three of them last night and hope we can get them cleared out soon. The house is also overrun with cockroaches. They seem to be in everything...
It has been a long time since Christmas, but most of you haven't heard from us since before that. We had a fine service here on Christmas Day. The church was packed and people were standing in the aisles. The school children had decorated the church with palm leaves and bunches of wild flowers. It looked very nice even though quite different from American Christmas decorations. The natives from the mission had new clothes and came to church to show them off just as Americans do at Easter. The heathen came in their grass skirts as usual. About an hour before the service the natives from the mission formed into three groups and paraded around the station waving a flag and signing hymns and carols. One group didn't have a flag so they carried a red handkerchief tied to a pole.
We were still at Mukedi on Easter but they had a good service here. There were thirteen natives baptized. That is the first baptismal service we have had. Many of the natives came to the service with talcum powder all over their faces. Many times they paint their faces in connection with witchcraft but this time they were just imitating the white man--or should I say the white woman? They thought they looked beautiful.
Soon after Easter a church was organized here. Officers were elected and we expect to see the work to grow as the natives take over some of the responsibilities.
Are you remembering us in prayer? We know the language well enough now to speak in the services even though we aren't as fluent as we would like to be. We appreciate your encouraging letters and hope it won't be too long before we have them all answered. Your friends in Christ, Harry, Vickie, Penny Ann & Lois Buerer