Althuus family

An ordinary family 150 years ago

Meet the farming family and those who worked for them: visit them in their living quarters and farm buildings and let them tell you their stories. Plunge into the world as it was 150 years ago and drink in the atmosphere exuded by this historic farmhouse. There is plenty to discover. For one thing, it could be a real challenge to get on with other people!

Auntie Kläri
Elsi, the farmer‘s wife
Jakob, the farmer
Hänsu, the groom
Stini, the oldest daughter
Änni, the parlour maid
Peter, the grandfather
Rösi, a servant girl
Fridu, the ploughman
Meieli, a child
Auntie Kläri

«God‘s greetings to you and a warm welcome to this time-honoured house!»

«I am Jakob‘s unmarried sister – they call me ‘Tante Kläri‘. Marriage wasn‘t on the cards for me. Ueli from the farm next door really fancied me, but my father wanted all our property to stay together. I still hold that against him. People used to say that I was simple. It‘s not my fault that my mum nearly died when I was born and that‘s why I was all blue when I entered this world.

Yeah – dear old mum! They were all pleased that I nursed her until the Dear Lord took her to Him. Almost to the very end she tried to make herself useful: she prepared the vegetables in the kitchen, peeled the spuds and listened to the sorrows of the servant girls when they were feeling low. She brought up seven of us children. She had to work hard all her life and never complained. I‘m different: I don‘t always hold my tongue. Things aren‘t what they used to be, now that Elsi, my sister- in-law, has arrived at the farm! She tries to boss us all around. However, I‘m the one who deals with the hemp and flax. I watch over the servant girls while they roast and crush the fibres. We spin everything ourselves and weave cloth for our garments and bedlinen. I wonder what would become of us if Elsi had to do all that. She never has time for anything!

I also know lots more than the master‘s wife does about the Harvest Festival. Everyone is allowed to take part: the farm hands, the servant girls, the day labourers and their families, but also the poor of the village. We have to take care not to skimp on anything, otherwise people would be quick to blacken our name. We couldn‘t have that happen. Since mum left us I often also have to watch over the children.

I‘m gradually getting fed up… but come and look for yourself!»

Elsi, the farmer‘s wife

«God‘s greetings to you in the storehouse! I‘m Elsi, the farmer‘s wife.»

«Here you can see how well we run the farm. I‘m proud to be the master‘s wife, and thus the keeper of the key to such a richly-stocked storehouse. Actually, I wouldn‘t normally show anyone our supplies, not even my dearest neighbour.

I moved in to my beloved husband‘s home together with my entire trousseau. It wasn‘t easy to begin with, having my mother-in-law in the same kitchen. My mother did so many things differently! But finally granny was pleased when I took over the reins. Last year she died of tuberculosis.

Luckily I don‘t have to do everything myself. Änni is usually a splendid parlour maid. She has to give orders to the younger servant girls. She‘s sometimes a bit grumpy and contradicts me. But by and large we work well together. There‘s so much to be done! In spring we have our hands full in the garden and in the vegetable patch. In summer and autumn there‘s the hay to be got in and the harvesting too.

I‘m also in charge of the pig sty. I do my very best to make sure that our pigs are nice and plump when winter comes. Woe betide anyone who dares to say that I don‘t feed our pigs properly!

Every three weeks, a whole day is given over to baking. Ten to fifteen mouths eat a lot of bread! We need the very strongest to do the kneading. I used to like doing that myself. However, nowadays I always have a baby to feed, or am with child again, so I no longer have the strength.

Now I must rush into the house to check on things! Otherwise Kläri, my sister- in-law, will start acting as if she were the boss. She just never stops talking.»

Jakob, the farmer

«My name is Jakob and I‘m the master here.»

«I‘m the youngest of four brothers. That‘s why I was able to inherit the farm from my father. That‘s our tradition. My brothers had to move out, or else to become farm hands here, under me, all their lives.

I‘m responsible for the farm, the fields and the stables. I dish out the jobs. We have six horses, two foals and four oxen in the stable. We also have two milking cows with their two calves. The sheep graze in the orchard. Yes indeed: our farm is big and well-known far and wide. It‘s a good thing I found a hard-working wife! Elsi and I are of one mind and she‘s frugal with all that we have. What‘s more, she brought a good dowry into the marriage.

There‘s more than enough to do! Our fields are planted with rapeseed, rye, barley, spelt, wheat and other cereals as well as oats for the horses. All the animals need fodder for the winter. In a good summer we‘re able to load up many bundles of hay and other feed. The Guggisbergers help with this: they‘re day labourers who come here from the Schwarzenburg region for three to five weeks.

I also need a great deal of time for my duties as a regional administrator. I act as a go-between when there are disputes and I draft agreements. Recently Moosrüedu went bust. That suited me a treat! His bit of land down by the stream was just what I still needed, even though it made people to the right and left of me jealous.

I have to nip into the stables now. Hänsu is rather too generous with the oats he feeds to the horses. I really have to tell him off. One has to watch him like a hawk!»

Hänsu, the groom

«My name is Hänsu. I‘m in charge of the horses.»

It‘s my tenth year now working on this farm, in fact I also worked for the master‘s father. Our horses are my pride and joy. I brush them every day and then give them a generous feed. Horses need to be well fed if they‘re to work properly. That‘s why I make sure they get enough oats. That‘s something the master sometimes holds against me…. What‘s more, Lise is in foal again. I hope she‘ll give us as pretty a foal as she did last spring. We bred both Lise and our chestnut ourselves – when you breed your own horses, then you know what you‘ve got!

We sold dear old Fanni at the horse fair. She brought in a decent price. Don‘t breathe a word: I sprinkled a little pepper under her tail, to make her walk a bit faster. She really was a slowcoach! Whenever I have time, I grease all the harnesses and polish up the metal. The collars need looking after too. I don‘t let anyone interfere. And the carts have to be kept in good working order as well. The master also trusts me to do some ploughing.

In fact, I‘d make a good master myself. Between you, me and the gatepost: I really fancy Stini… but I don‘t have my own farm. I‘m the oldest of us children, so I drew the short straw. Mind you: my parents‘ house burnt down last year when it was struck by lightning. Luckily they were able to rescue the livestock. The animals are now stabled with the neighbours. No one knows what‘s going to happen… Mother‘s living with her brother. Father‘s on the neighbours‘ farm and my youngest brothers and sisters have been passed around.

I just love it here when the farm is really busy: when a storm‘s in the offing and we still have to bring in as many cartloads as possible; or when we can have a bit of a hop around in the evening, after we‘ve been cracking nuts together.»

Stini, the oldest daughter

«Grüss Gott, I‘m Stini, the oldest.»

«Today we‘re busy with our needles again. With this sort of weather, I really enjoy sitting together with the others in our snug parlour. Sometimes we sing songs, or else someone tells a story. It‘s always fun when the travelling seamstress comes round and tells us all the latest news from around here.

In the evenings we often sit together and peel apples, string beans or shell nuts. That‘s when Auntie Kläri picks up her zither and plays. Of course the farm hands would prefer to have proper dance music rather than what they call our ‘prim and pious‘ singing. They‘d like a knees-up every evening!

Look! This is all going to be my trousseau: sheets, table cloths, kitchen towels: and all from our own linen! We‘ve been working on it for three years now. The carpenter has also fashioned me a bed. Everything‘s ready now for my suitor to come. Mind you, I won‘t take just anyone! Our groom‘s been making eyes at me, but he‘s too old and doesn‘t have a farm of his own.

I‘ll only marry when I get in the family way, but – hush! One shouldn‘t talk of such things! Our parish priest is very strict with us young people and lectures us on how we should behave. He‘s also told us that it‘s just an old wives‘ tale that one can avoid getting pregnant by drinking sheep‘s urine. Despite him, I still look forward to going to church on Sundays: I see my girl friends there and, of course, the lads too.

Granddad thinks I should pick Heiri because his ‘ob den Holz‘ farm is really good. But Urseli, the barmaid from the «Sternen» tells me that, when he‘s there, he boasts how rich he is. She says he chases the girls and sometimes drinks one over the eight. That puts me off. I won‘t have him! In any case, I‘d like a good-looking husband: one whose farm is on the main road, and not in the back of beyond.»

Änni, the parlour maid

«My name‘s Änni and I‘ve been on this farm for ages. As the parlour maid, I have lots of responsibility and would make a perfect farmer’s wife. Sometimes I dream of a husband with a good farm.»

«I like working, especially when I can boss the other servant girls around. Best of all, I like working in the garden in the summertime. That‘s when we prepare for the coming winter. I wonder if we‘ll be able to bring in enough supplies this year, so that we don‘t have to starve in June, when the fields lie fallow?

I like it best when the men are far away and in the fields. The ploughman is always after me, but I don‘t fancy him at all. He looks such a mess and never washes. I sometimes even smell him coming! I‘d be happier if the groom were a bit friendlier to me. But he‘s got his eye on the daughter of the house. She‘s sure to find someone better, though. When will he get the message?

By and large, I have a pretty good life here and at the end of the year I‘m sure to get a little extra in my wages.

Now I have to go down to the cellar, to fetch some fruit juice and bread for our tea. It‘s cool down below so vegetables and fruit, pickled cabbage and potatoes keep there for a long time. When visitors drop by unexpectedly, we can always dish up something good.

In November we have a ‘Metzgete‘ cele- bration, when a plump pig will be slaughtered. If we‘re lucky, we‘ll have enough sausages to last us into next spring. We‘ll put the ham aside until Bänzli‘s christening. I hope the flies don‘t get at it. Last year the ham was full of maggots… Ugh! I didn‘t take a single bite!»

Peter, the grandfather

«Yes indeed: the times are changing! Nowadays I just sit here.»

«I‘m grandfather Peter. People don‘t listen to us oldies any more. Those youngsters think they know everything better! For example, this modern way of manuring. I‘m sure that nothing good will come of it. I‘ve warned Jakob. I can do no more. After all, I‘ve handed the farm over to him. That gives me time for my lovely grandchildren. Take Meieli, for example, she‘s a very hard-working little girl. She‘ll make some proud farmer a great daughter-in-law some day.

During the winter, my favourite place is here on the warm sandstone bench of the heating stove, telling the kiddies about the old days. Not long ago, I told them how our house burnt down in 1702. People said that one of the servant girls had set it alight, because she‘d been sent packing after she went too far with the ploughman. Best of all, I like to tell ghost stories and make the womenfolk squeal. I also know fairy tales that my grandfather told me.

Last winter, I slipped when I was outside and hurt my shoulder. It‘s been troubling me ever since. The herb woman gave me a warming ointment. The doctor doesn‘t think much of it. He‘s fed up with quacks who interfere with his work… But then, he can‘t help me either.

Kläri thinks I‘m being punished because I wouldn‘t let her get married. But she can neither run a home, nor do her sums, so she‘d just have been exploited or would‘ve gone to rack and ruin, together with the farm… Zither playing alone wouldn‘t keep a person‘s head above water!»

Rösi, a servant girl

«My name is Rösi. In winter, we servant girls often sit downstairs in the warm parlour and spin the flax that we roasted and split in the autumn together with Auntie Kläri.»

Then we wind the thread. Each hank has 350 turns. In Lucerne they use fewer turns. They try to sell their hanks on the market in Bern at the same price as our larger ones. Luckily our customers don‘t allow themselves to be cheated! It was the parlour maid who taught me to spin. Now I‘m almost as good at it as she is. I don‘t often lose the thread. I like spinning in winter. While I do that, I can keep an eye on the little ones. If I didn‘t, they can make an awful mess!

It‘s cold here in the attic bedroom and the wind blows right through. What‘s more, you‘re never safe from lads on the prowl. I‘d just let my secret sweetheart come in. Where else could we meet? People are always watching you. Don‘t tell anyone – it‘s a secret! But I have to be really careful. One hears dreadful tales of unmarried mothers who then kill their baby in desperation because the father‘s done a runner.

Yesterday Trine from next door told us that Liseli in the village died giving birth to her 6th child. Let‘s hope things go better with our mistress. She‘s with child again. I hope it‘ll be a girl, so she‘ll soon be able to give us a hand. Boys are no use inside the house.

Actually, why do the farm hands get paid twice as much as we womenfolk? They‘re already sitting outside the house in the evenings, smoking their pipes, while we‘re still hard at it in the kitchen. When would we girls ever have time to sit in the pub? We even have to take turns in going to church. At least they do help us on the two wash days we have each year. They bring us the large tubs and string up the washing lines. But then we women work our fingers to the bone from early morning to late at night.

Come and have a look! I’m breaking flax next door.»

Fridu, the ploughman

«My name is Fridu and I come from the Emmental.»

«I‘m sometimes homesick for our hills. Here, everything is so flat. I was still a child when I left my family. There just wasn‘t enough to eat at home. There were twelve of us boys and girls. Most of us had to leave home. I‘ve worked in various places and I‘ve had good masters and bad. I‘ve learned what one has to watch out for when looking for a new job. We farm hands know all the farms and the people who live in them! We pass the word around: how we‘ve managed; whether the mistress is stingy or the master lazy. One also hears such things at the job markets. One knows who puts on a good spread at New Year and at Harvest Festival time. That‘s when we want to eat till we almost burst, much to the fury of the master and his family!

Mind you, it‘s not always easy for them. Servants come in all kinds! Some like to nick things, others are always thirsty, some are slowcoaches but full of smooth talk, others are grumpy or too keen on the girls!

Once you‘ve got a bad reputation, it‘s almost impossible to get rid of it again. There‘s no choice but to go away – a long way off! Some lads boast that they want to get rich in America. Resu went away. It‘s said he almost died on the sea voyage. Now he‘s serving a rich man, it seems, and has it really tough… I prefer to stay where I am, and where I know what‘s coming.

I outdo them all in the fields – no one knows better than me when it‘s time to sow the seeds. In winter we have to chop down trees. I swing my axe better than anyone. I‘m a hard-working chap – look at me and you can tell. Otherwise, just ask Änni – soon I‘ll make her my bride!»

Meieli, a child

«I‘m sad that grandmum had to go off to Heaven…»

«She used to say that our faces were like flowers, and something about our being a source of joy and hope. I wonder what she meant? Grandmum loved me a lot: she always had time for us, not like dad.

Granddad knows lots about the old days. He told us that our house is really new. The old one burnt down. Since then, I feel frightened when I go to sleep. Luckily I‘m able to sleep in dad‘s big bed. Mum lies here in the parlour with little Bänz so she can feed him when he‘s hungry at night.

I have three brothers and one sister. Stini, the oldest, is already grown up. She‘s always talking about getting married. Mum says it‘s really important for her to get a good mother-in-law. Granddad says that‘s just women‘s chatter. What‘s important, he says, is that the farms fit together.

Recently he‘s been poorly and is always grumpy. The doctor came round not long ago. I do hope granddad doesn‘t die too. However, grandmum would certainly be pleased not to be so lonely in Heaven…

I help mum to feed the chickens and am even allowed to collect a few eggs. In spring my little basket is full every day, but there are no eggs at all in winter. Now the chickens are only allowed to run around outside. That‘s because we recently got a summer door so that they can no longer waddle into the kitchen and shit on everything. My goodness, you should have heard Änni grumble – and seen how the chickens scurried along the corridor and rushed out.

I like helping Änni. Mum says that she‘s often obstinate and argumentative. But she always speaks to me as if I were already a young lady. That makes me feel really proud! She‘d love to get married, but she‘s very picky. I think that‘s good.»