The Story of Al Becker, my Grandfather


While recovering data off old drives, I stumbled across this essay my grandfather wrote about his life. It was his attempt to document our family’s history going back as far as he can remember.

There was no other information included in the document. I don’t know if he wrote it or had someone else write it for him. I am am not sure when it was written. Either way, it is an interesting piece of history that was almost lost.

The Story

I will begin with my history as far back as I remember it told to me by my ancestors. I will begin with the birth of my grandfather John Ratz who told the story to me.

His mother was shocking barley in the field on their farm in Russia. They had received a lot of rain and the barley was standing in water and it had to be cut and picked up tied in bundles and then set up in a stack. on higher ground to dry and ripen to trash the barley grain from it. This is called shocking the grain in the field to prepare for trashing at a later date at least a week later until it was properly dry for trashing.

While working in the field John’s mother became ill with birth contractions or pain. So she got out of the wet field of water ankle deep and went to her house. She was home alone and now the baby was being born so she delivered him herself. After some time of a rest and taking care of the baby she went back into the field to work again. It was raining but she worked in the rain in her bare feet any way to save the crop from getting ruined.

This was my great grand mother who gave birth to my grand father John Ratz. Three days later she got sick with pneumonia and died.

There also was an older brother Julius Ratz by 2 years. Their father since he was unable to take care of these boys he took them to his sisters home where they were raised along with her son who was my grand fathers age. These boy all got a good education, which was not the norm in this country at that time. As my grand father tells it was a happy time here at his uncle and aunts home. They were well off and took good care of all the boys as they grew up.

The next part of his story takes place when he got married to a lady from the same area, who had no education, including her parents. So there is the other side of my grand parent’s education. She did learn the art of mid-wife service. She delivered many babes including me. She also administered other health services to people.

The grand parents after getting married decided to come to America to make a quick buck and then go back to Russia to buy a farm with this money. My great Uncle Julius Ratz came over about this same time and settled in at the Alpena, Mi. area and started to farm there. He bought a farm and raised his family and never left the area. He has a road named after him in the Hubbard lake area near his home.

My grand parents came to America to live and work about 1900 lived here for about 5 years and then went back to Russia. My mother Theresa was born on Oct. 3, 1902 and her sister Julia on Feb. 12, 1905 they were born here in Philadelphia, Pa. and the 3 boys, Frederic, William and Michael were born in Russia

They had bought a farm in Russia and worked there until the time the World War 1 broke out. My grand father was taken into the war and served as an officer due to his education and he also spoke 5 languages fluently. He worked mostly in the dept. of supplies for the armed services due to the languages he could communicate with the different languages through out Russia. mean while his family was on the farm and when the war came through this area they had to flee. They fled by train into the Siberia country until they were deep into it and away and safe from the war. Much of this story is not available, but my aunt Julia told me of this experience they had traveling on the train to this area. The train was made up of cattle cars and had deep bed of straw for the people to lay on while traveling and all the food they had is what they brought with them. The train made a stop after so many hours for a pit stop and time out to prepare food and eat. If some one died they were buried a long side of the rail road. There was a mother who’s baby had died and she kept it wrapped up in the blanket close to her and told no one until they reached the end of the line of their trip. She than reveled that her baby was dead and they buried it there in this area.

This Ratz family brought potatoes for the food that they ate while traveling on the train. My Uncle Mike begged his mother to cook an extra potato so they might have a snack between meals. As to what they did here I was not told. My grand mother did practice her mid-wife service among this community and this is how she kept her family in supplies.

There was one experience my mother told me while they lived here. Her mother had told her to go to a town to pick up some supplies, so she took her oldest brother with her and the distance to the foot bridge to cross the river where this town was, was a long walk so she took the short cut across the river over the train bridge. They did their shopping and came back by the rail bridge and when they got in the middle point of the bridge a train was coming and blowing it’s whistle. There was no time to run across the bridge ahead of the train. My mother got her brother and her self and the bag of supplies down under the rail road track and hung on the rail trestle until the train had passed. They got back up with out getting hurt or damage of any kind. She did not tell her mother about this but took the foot bridge the next time she had to go.

Before we go any further I must tell you that while my grand father was farming in Germany he needed man power to help him with the work on the farm and he went to the war prison camp where they had men from Russia and Poland as war prisoners. My father Gustav was there and my grand father hired him to work for him. He stayed with them and became part of the family and finally married my mother in December 25, 1923. So he also traveled to Brazil. My brother Richard was born in 1925 and died 9 months later of a child disease. I was born in Jan. 2, 1927. After being there 4 years my mother ,her sister Julia and I traveled to America. I was 2 years old when we arrive on March 2, 1929 at my Great Uncle Julius Ratz’s farm 2 miles north of Hubbard Lake, Mi. and lived there about a year. My brother Edward was born about 1929 on this farm. When my father came here he then helped with the work on the fall harvest and then we moved to Detroit, Mi to live. My brother Ed died when he was about 2 years old of meningitis. My sister Freida was born in July 3, 1932 and my brother Irvin was born in June 22, 1934 while we lived in Detroit.

My mother said that . The family then worked in the lumber business to make a living and tried to save their money to get out of Brazil and back to United States.

My father was born March 23, 1895 to Michael and Katherine Becker in Russ-Poland as he called it this area was under control of Russia. His family was poor and had a large family. At the age of 12 years my father left home to live with an uncle as he worked for his room and board. My father had a hard life as a young man. He lived in over the horse barn in an area made up of straw for his bed. The warmth from the horse kept him some what warm while sleeping there. In the morning he had to get up early to go to the house to make the fire in the stoves so when the family got up they had a comfortable warm house to get up to. He did not get a chance for an education. He went 2 winters for a few weeks to learn the catechism and become confirmed in the Lutheran Faith. I believe he worked here until he was drafted into the army of World War One and then he worked for my grand father John Ratz. He never went home to see his family once he left as I under stand it was a long distance apart for these two homes. His father Michael Becker died when my father was about 14 years old. Some of the letters we have in possession from them indicates that his mother was living at the time World War Two broke out. From this point on we have lost contact of this family. They were living in Poland. I did make some contact with a Lady in Poland who thinks she is a distant cousin of mine. She thinks that our two Becker grand fathers were brothers. She also thinks that since this family was German they were taken to Germany during World War Two.

My father spoke very little of his family so this is the reason the history on them is short.

I loved my father and mother. They led simple lives with no great dreams other than finally owning their farm and earning them selves a living. They had no education and the only way they new how to make it is by working hard and saving their money to get ahead in the future. They did make their dream come through but mother died a year later and dad died 3 years later of loneliness. They loved their children but did rule with the strap to punish us when we did wrong. None of us ware scares because of this punishment but there are a number of painful memories. This is the way they were raised so they raised us the same. All is forgiven now and in the past. Once I grew up I was treated properly with respect and dignity. I knew my parents loved me as I loved them.

Back to Detroit, we moved from there in December 13, 1934 to the farm near Bad Axe, Mi. The depression was on and work in Detroit was almost nil. My dad worked from 1 -3 days a week at the end plus he was sick with a headache which I believe was worrying about the work and taking care of his family. His work also involved being around a lot of dust. He worked for the solve company making soda ash. A soda powder used for washing and cleaning I believe. Once in a while he got to work overtime loading a box car of this powder in bags which took him and a partner 6 hours to load. He would come home tired but happy that he made a little extra money.

On the farm it was all hard since they did not have much money after they made a down payment on the farm and bought 2 cows and 2 horses and a few tools and few chickens, they started to farm working the fields planting the seed of different crops. The land was run down and needed to be replenished with fertilizer which the farmers at this time did not have the money to buy it or the know how to use it. So the crops were meager. This land at that time just gave us a bare living after working hard all year. It took many years before the land started to produce good crops.

Through these years we kids grew up going to a one room country school 2 miles away. We had out door toilets the same as we had at home. The school had one teacher (Mrs. Russell Erb) who was there for all the years we all went to school. She taught 1st through 8th grades. She was also her own janitor, cleaning the floors and building the fire in the old furnace to heat the school. During the 7 and 8 Th. grades I was her helper with these chores. We had 15 to 20 students in the school and most of the grades had 1 to 2 students in each grade. We carried our lunches in a lunch pail with a small thermos jar for milk. During the heating season we all brought a potato to school and put them up on top of the furnace too bake during the morning session. We added butter to this and spooned it out of the potato and ate our sandwich along with it. I sure did enjoy this every day we had it. This was our version of a hot meal.

The teacher had a lot of work to prepare for each day. She was a good teacher and we all got along very good, including all the students of all those various ages playing together at recess time. We most generally played soft ball in the nice warm weather. In the fall we played some type of soccer. Later when I was about 11 years old I received a bike ( which my Uncle Mike and Bill gave me) and 2 other boys got bikes we spent most of our time at recess riding these bikes around the school building. At this period of the school we did not have as many older children to organize game playing. It did come back before I graduated (the games) school. I gave my sister and brother a ride on the bike when we went to school also. This was so they did not have to walk or I would have to leave my bike home and walk with them. We walked in the winter. Our father was good to us too he drove us to and from school many times. Some times if the snow had drifted the roads shut he did take us with his horses and sled to school. He even met the teacher at the main road and gave her a ride to school. We started the day with a reading from the bible and then we sang a few songs from various song books. We celebrated all the national holidays and sang songs etc. to fit the day. We never went on a field trip. At the end of the school year we had a school picnic at one of the farmers woods. This was a day we looked forward to. It also was the end of the school year.

I started high school in 1941 and road the bus. My parents paid $1.25 each week for the ride which was a lot of money for them to pay. Times were still tough for them but improving. When I was 17 years old that summer my Uncle Mike gave me a 1932 Ford model B 4 door car. I drove this to high school and my sister Freida and 2 other passengers rode with me each day these 2 passengers helped pay the expenses going to school the last year. I graduated in 1945 and it was a sad day for me because I knew that my formal education days were over. I had taken courses that would help me with farming but by the time I graduated I did not have the desire to be a farmer.

Now since I had a car I had expenses to keep up and since my dad could not afford to pay out any thing for wages I went to town to find a job. I went to work at a auto garage and not knowing nothing about auto repair I was a gofer helping other mechanics and cleanup parts and the shop. This lasted about 3 months since he cut down my days of work I ended up getting a job with S.T.H.OIL CO were I worked for the next 3 plus years. This was a steady job(too steady). I worked 15 days and 1 day off. Every other Sunday we had off. We worked from 7:00 am - 6:00 PM each day and when I quit I was making $125.00 per month. No one else in town working as a blue collar worker was making as much as that. We were at the top of the pay scale in this town. The city fathers really had this town tied up so no industry would come in. Years later an industry making auto parts for the major company settled into Bad Axe but not with out a battle and a court case with the city. This is one of the reasons so many small towns do not grow. You still hear today that the small towns want to stay small but for various other reasons as well.

At the end of 1948 I decided to help my dad farm and possibly start farming for my self later on. So I quite my job in Bad Axe working for the S.T. & H Oil Co. During the winter months we did not have much to do as farming goes. The first thing we did was removed 4 acres of trees and cut them up for lumber. These trees belonged to a man from Bad Axe who owned the farm near us. We split the lumber 50- 50 and we took our lumber for our work and he took his share and sold it for his profit. We then built a barn and bought milk cows to put in it and we sold milk for one of our cash crops. We also built a silo were we stored the corn silage for the cows to eat as well as hay and other grains that were stored in the barn. We rented land on a share crop bases growing wheat, beans This gave us a good income.

We did well but I did not have an income from the farm, so I started to buy eggs from the farmers in the area and sell eggs in Detroit every week. We had to sort the eggs by grading and candling them as to size and quality of freshness( such as grade A, B, C, size, color, cracked ,checks and spoiled. We sold eggs to residential homes, restaurants, and small grocery stores. This went well until I went in partnership with a fellow high school class mate who fleeced me and I went broke.

In the mean time two years before this happened mom and I got married and Denise was born nine months later so I had to take a job again with the former company I had worked for. My brother took my place and helped my father with the farm work. We then lived in Bad Axe while I worked for the co. In 1953 I took a job with Standard Oil Co. as maintenance man and pipe fitter and we moved to Saginaw, Mi. Gloria was born 3 days after I started working my new job. Mom and Denise still lived in the house in Bad Axe so Gloria was born there and in 2 weeks we moved to Saginaw.