Archive for Thursday, November 2, 2006

Leaving their past behind

November 2, 2006

Compared to Eva Belle Gerstenberger's former five-bedroom home off Winchester Road, the new townhome felt like an apartment, she said.

While still moving in, she wanted to pound in a nail to hang a picture, but hesitated fearing she'd damage the wall.

A bright orange tree highlights the yard of the Gerstenberger
house. The two-story, five-room home was originally a wedding
present.

A bright orange tree highlights the yard of the Gerstenberger house. The two-story, five-room home was originally a wedding present.

"A friend of mine said, 'You're not renting, it's your house," Gerstenberger said.

It's still sinking in.

To Eva Belle and her husband, Carrol, their "house" is less than a mile away. It's next to a pond and surrounded by fields. The leaves on their trees are turning. Elsewhere on the property, the Eudora United Methodist Church is building a new worship center.

To the Gerstenbergers, the white house on East 2100 Road is hard to let go. The surrounding area ---- once filled with a close-knit net of neighbors ---- represented their way of life.

Now, with the neighbors gone and themselves too old to maintain the farm, the couple adjusts to a new way of life while Eudora continues to grow.

"We're the last one's to leave (the old neighborhood)," Carrol said.

Wedding gift
The house ---- more than 90-years ---- was built as a wedding gift for Carrol's parents, Carl and Viola, by his grandfather Fred Gerstenberger.

"I was born in that house out there on the farm," Carrol said.

Carrol grew up working the fields and enjoying what he saw as part of the natural wealth of the land.

Carrol and Eva Belle Gerstenberger stand outside their former
property on Winchester Road. The Gerstenbergers recently downsized
to a duplex near the nursing home.

Carrol and Eva Belle Gerstenberger stand outside their former property on Winchester Road. The Gerstenbergers recently downsized to a duplex near the nursing home.

"I was just a farm boy and had to work hard all my life," Gerstenberger said.

He milked cows and performed the chores necessary to keep the farm running. Despite his labor, Carrol found comfort in amenities.

"The thing I liked about the house is that we had hot water and hard and soft water," he said.

In addition to hard and soft water, Carrol remembered a near limitless freshwater well on the property.

"It had the best water in the county and it never dried up ---- everlasting water" Carrol said.

Carrol remembered an instance in the early 1930s when workers came to dig oil wells south of town. The company used steam-powered equipment to do the digging, which needed a constant water source.

The company relied on the Gerstenbergers' well for the water.

"They pumped it all the way from our house," Carrol said. People would come from as far as Kansas City to try water from the house, Carrol said.

Eventually, Carrol grew up and moved on. On Valentines Day 1939 he married Eva Belle. Less than a decade later, he was back in his boyhood home.

Changes

The couple lived in the two-story house for 60 years ---- moving in after Carrol's parents could no longer maintain it. After arriving, it became obvious changes had to be made, Carrol said.

"We had a lot of work to do; a lot of redecorating," he said.

Bit by bit they made the house their own. The couple tore out a country kitchen and made a pantry into a bedroom. Decades later, the couple installed a hot tub. The couple made the house a place to raise their two daughters and grandchildren.

"I don't know if there's any house I would have traded it in for," Carrol said.

When Carrol and Eva Belle took the farm over from Carrol's parents, they weren't alone. Old farming families shared the same neighborhood and often the same experiences.

To Carrol and Eva Belle they were the "old timers." The Gerstenbergers would spend time with the Otto "Rosie" Rosenau, Charles Durr, Curt Bagby and Allen Cochrun families, Carrol said.

Eva Belle Gerstenberger tidies up the kitchen of her old house. The
Gerstenbergers have spent the past three weeks moving.

Eva Belle Gerstenberger tidies up the kitchen of her old house. The Gerstenbergers have spent the past three weeks moving.

The old families relied on each other for support and for recreation.

Carrol recalled attending a fish fry in 1982 with the group when he injured his leg on a baler. The neighbors came to his aid.

"All of our friends helped one another," Carrol said.

Eva Belle recalled relatively happy times with the neighbors. When the weather chilled, everyone would gather for taffy pulls. After cooking up a batch of taffy, people would begin stretching out the confection, Eva Belle said.

"We would pull and pull and it was good," she said.

After adding ingredients like black walnuts, everyone would eat the candy.

As the year's passed, one by one, the old timers left, until the Gerstenbergers were the only ones left in the neighborhood.

Adjustment

Eventually, the strain of maintaining the house became too much for the couple. At the suggestion of a daughter, they decided to move.

For the last three weeks the couple has been in the process of packing and moving to a townhome near Eudora Nursing Center.

Their friends Eugene Westerhouse and Paul Oelschlaeger from Eudora United Methodist Church helped make the move happen, and their children came up for a weekend to add support.

As part of the move, the couple watched most of their possessions be Saturday at an auction at the old homestead.

"It went pretty fair," Carrol said of the auction.

The packing was particularly hard on Eva Belle. With so many rooms and so much storage space, memories were everywhere, she said.

Condensing her collections of crystal and Christmas plates were particularly tough, she said.

The sheer loss of usable space had an impact.

"We did a lot of entertaining. I'm going to miss that," Eva Belle said.

"We love that house; we hate to leave," Carrol said.

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