Amanuensis Monday: Part 2: Vickie and Harry Buerer Wait for the River Boat

Below is the second part of the first letter my grandmother, Vickie Prinzing Buerer, sent home to her parents. The first letter about my grandparent's journey from Chicago to the Belgian Condo in 1945 talks about the initial steps in their journey.

A Little Golden Book from 1945, probably similar to the ones my grandmother bought my mother and aunt at the bookstore in Leopoldville.

A Little Golden Book from 1945, probably similar to the ones my grandmother bought my mother and aunt at the bookstore in Leopoldville.

Part 2

I can’t seem to get this letter finished. We haven’t done much but it’s so hot and there are always so many people around talking. There are two English missionaries here and one especially is always razzing us about America. He’s always asking about the strikes and about the gangsters in Chicago. He raves about Dillinger and says there are 3 kidnappings a day in Chicago and everyone has to carry a gun in his hip pocket to protect himself. He believes it too. I guess yesterday he said, “I heard that Life is the most widely read magazine. You can’t tell which is an advertisement and which is serious matter. In England we have our advertisements in the front and in the back of our magazines so they don’t interfere with the reading matter. America has a dreadful mania for advertising.” Someone asked him something about Paul Revere though and he never heard of him so we teased him so much he kept still.

We can’t get a river boat until Monday morning. It takes five days to get to Mangai and we wired Angus to meet us. When we got here there were letters waiting for us from Charles and Pearl, Arthur & Evelyn, Lena, and Louis and Ruth Zelle who passed through here last week. Ruth is Mrs. Feleen’s niece. Then the day afterward, we got a letter from Angus saying he received Grandpa’s cable. We took some pictures of our family for Grandpa and will send them if they turn out all right. We are buying lots of canned goods and supplements to take to the station with us.

The bookstore here has the Little Golden Books for 12 fr. each. I bought one for each of the kids and one for Nancy’s birthday.

The children are getting along fine here although Nancy has prickly heat. There is a swing in the back yard and they have lots of fun on that.

We have bananas for breakfast every day and the girls really love them. We have lots of canned fruit, too. The peaches, apricots, and pears are really delicious. We have found some very good friends in Nolan and Ruth Balman going out under the Scandinavian Alliance Mission who are staying here. They are Baptists, too, and have two small children. They went to Moody and Northern Baptist and know Art Brower, Bob Shermer and Bob Prinzing.

We are going to town now so I will close and mail this.


Please let Grandpa read this and the rest of the family, Aunt Viola and anyone else that might be interested.


Matrilineal Monday--Montana, WWII and a Schlitz Sign: the young married life of Vickie and Harry Buerer

Harry, Vickie, and Peggy Buerer

Harry, Vickie, and Peggy Buerer

My maternal grandparents yearned for the mission field in Africa. This longing led them to Wheaton College, and I firmly believe this desire brought them together in marriage. They married on September 7, 1940, at College Church in Wheaton, and I think they would have left for the Belgian Congo on September 8 if they could have. But the mission board counseled them to wait.

World War II raged on in Europe during this time, and my grandparents needed a visa from Belgium to enter the Belgian Congo. Unfortunately, the Belgian government was in exile, and my grandparents didn't know where to apply. Harry and Vickie decided to live in California to wait. But then Harry lost his job as a carpenter. Pastor Paul Jackson, the minister of Harry's boyhood church, recommended Harry take a job as a minister at a small church in Polson, Montana. So Harry and Vickie packed their belongings into a trailer they built and drove to Montana with their newborn daughter, Peggy (born on June 20, 1941 in Modesto.)

First Baptist Church, Polson, MT

First Baptist Church, Polson, MT

The First Baptist Church of Polson, MT, had one room with a parsonage of four small rooms that had no bathroom and one faucet of cold water in the kitchen. They received $10 a week from the Sunday offering, but if less came in, they had to accept what had been tithed. One week during the winter brought a little over $3. Because the salary was so small, Harry and Vickie decided to leave the church in Montana because it wouldn't cover the birth of their next baby (my mother.) They packed up and headed back to Illinois, stopping at least once a day to fix a flat tire. Harry got a job in Chicago in a defense plant and enrolled in the Moody Bible Institute for evening classes. They found an apartment in Villa Park over a tavern. My grandmother writes "We didn't need a night light because there was a big red Schlitz sign outside our bedroom window. A jukebox in the tavern played constantly until the tavern closed each night at 2:00 am. The two songs we remember hearing over and over again were "I'm Dreaming Tonight of My Blue Eyes" and "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." My mother, Nancy, was born on April 15, 1943, and Harry and Vickie moved back in with Vickie's parents. 

Harry, Vickie, Peg & Nancy Buerer. June 13, 1943

Harry, Vickie, Peg & Nancy Buerer. June 13, 1943

The church in Polson couldn't find a pastor and asked Vickie and Harry to return. They made arrangements with the Montana Baptist Fellowship and became missionaries with them. This time, Vickie and Harry were well compensated, bringing in $125 a month. They stayed in Montana another year and left in May 1945.

Finally, five and a half years after they married, Harry and Vickie received their visa for the Belgian Congo and flew across the sea to Africa. Where more adventures awaited...

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....