As a child I remember Uncle Adolph Hohle from Houston and his next door neighbor and half-brother Ernest Bamsch, coming to visit their respective half and step-brother, C. B. (Ben) Hohle (my father), the son of Maria nee Bamsch Hohle at The Grove, Texas. On numerous of these summer visits they would bring along their mother, Agnes nee Krause Bamsch Hohle, who was my father’s step-mother.
In my early childhood I was always over-awed by this tall woman with the wire eyeglasses. In later childhood and in my early teens, I grew to love Grosmutter Hohle. She was the only grandparent I ever knew from my father’s side of the family. In later years her height lessened because of the seeming effects of osteo-porosis, but no doubt also because of the difficult pioneer days in Serbin in the Johann Hohle household where my widowed grandfather brought in his second wife and former sister-in-law, Agnes Bamsch and all her Bamsch children. Then she conceived and bore two more sons.
In the year 1990 I was given a copy of a letter written by the Rev. H. T. Kilian, dated 13 March 1907 in which he made a Scriptural defense for having officiated at the marriage of my Grandfather Johann Hohle Jr and Grandmother Agnes. Some person wished to marry his aunt and Kilian forbade it. Then Kilian was accused by this person of having performed two invalid marriages, including Grandfather’s. In this somewhat bristling letter Pastor Kilian responds valiantly: “Now concerning the marriage of Johann Hohle: His marriage is thoroughly proper and is permitted by the Word of God. Johann Hohle’s first wife was a Maria Bamsch and her brother, Ernst Bamsch, was married to Johann Hohle’s present wife. Both Bamschs died and Johann Hohle thereupon took for his wife Agnes nee Krause who was the surviving widow of Ernst Bamsch and I performed the ceremony.” After presenting lengthy logic about how they were not “flesh of flesh,” but second degree in-laws, he concludes, “namely, the marriage of Johann Hohle and the Agnes constitutes a proper, God-allowed union.”
I always sensed in my father a loving closeness to his full-brother and sister, Alvin and Selma (who was married to Andrew Hobratschk). I remember the funeral of his oldest brother, Gerhardt, when I was four. They frequently conversed in the language I could not understand – Wendish – instead of the usual German. This closeness also manifested itself with his half-brother Emil, who lived in our community of The Grove, as well as with Uncle Adolph of Houston. This loving warmth was also evident towards my Bamsch uncles, but with an added twist of joviality that I feel came from having been playmate cousins prior to becoming step-brothers. Papa and Grandmother Agnes Hohle also had a good rapport. It was one not so much of step-mother and step-son, rather, it was that of a loving, doting aunt and a nephew who held her in high esteem.
Back in 1855 my Great Grandfather Johann Hohle Sr purchased 95 acres of land between Giddings and Serbin for which he paid $1 per acre. He built a log home on it. My father was born in this log house with the dirt floor on 8 September 1887. When he was a little boy, his mother died. Soon he had a new “mother” – Agnes. My father told me that in later years she had to sell the farm to pay for her doctor and medical expenses – unfortunately for her, the two oil wells discovered on the farm in the 1970’s came in too late. Hence she was homeless in her late years and spent much of her time in the homes of her sons Ernst and Adolph. However, she would also come spend time in her other children’s home including ours. On these almost annual visits, I found Grandmother Agnes to be friendly and smiling, quick to giggle and laugh. I remember her spending several days with us once when I was about 10 or 11. Whenever my mother might be busy in the kitchen, she and Papa sat on the back porch and conversed in Wendish. Sometimes they would sing Wendish hymns from memory. My father had a deep bass voice and she had a high pitched soprano voice. Her voice might on occasion be slightly raspy, but musically the notes were clear and pure as the tone from a crystal bell.
My last remembrance was when she was walking poorly, hunched over, with the aid of a cane. Her strong ankles and lower calves stuck out from her billowing, long skirt. They looked bluish to me. In thinking back I realize she suffered from poor circulation in her legs. She wore only house shoes on her feet. One ankle was lightly bandaged. It was a summer afternoon. She asked me to go down to the river and get her some mussel shells (we were living along the Leon River). I went down to a gravel shoal and felt among the smooth stones until I found a few mussel shells. I brought them to her. In the twilight of that summer evening, I watched in fascination as she practiced some strange folk-medicine. First she ground two of the shells together to make a fine powder. Her wire glasses were perched on the end of her nose, her thin, but long white hair was tied in a tight little bun on the back of her head. Looking over the glasses, she looked at me, smiled broadly with an almost toothless grin and said in German, “Now I’m going to ‘doctor’ my wound.” Whereupon she unwrapped the bandage from her ankle, exposing a deep hole in the front of her ankle bone. It was about the circumference of a thin pencil. It didn’t appear to be inflamed much, nor was it draining. Painstakingly she began to sift the shell powder into the hole until it was filled. She liked to tease me in good humor. I loved to hear her sing those Wendish hymns. She was my closest encounter with my Wendish/Sorbian roots. She was to me an example of Christian faith and love. Through faith in Christ she now resides with the saints in the eternal kingdom of God’s glory.
This vignette is printed with the written permission of Elmer Hohle.