I had a phone call one day from my old friend Sharon Schnitte, who taught German and French at the same high school as I for several years. In those days I loved hearing her stories about her family who had emigrated to the Hill Country of Texas from Germany in the 19th century. She spoke fondly of her grandparents, who still owned her great-grandparents' Sunday House.
In the late 19th century, German farmers built these little dwellings in town as second residences near a church. They drove in from their farms on Saturday morning and sold their produce and conducted their business, and then sometimes attended a dance or party in the evenings. The family spent the night and attended church on Sunday, perhaps socializing some more afterwards, then leaving for the farm later that day, or in some circumstances returning home on Monday morning. Occasionally the house was used for longer periods when someone was ill or an older child was in school, etc.
Sharon always said that she wanted to return to the Hill Country and open a Bed and Breakfast in the tiny little cottage that her great-grandparents used on weekends when they came to town from their farm.
"Well, I have finally done just that," she informed me. "I was afraid I had bitten off more than I could chew but fortunately the stone work, except for the fireplace, was still solid and the interiors just needed a thorough cleaning. I have furnished it as closely as possible to the way it was in those days using old family pieces, as well.
"My guests know before they arrive what to expect - wood stove and water pump and all, and so far they take it in stride, excited with their trip back in time. Our primary concession to modern life is a tiny bathroom with hot and cold running water out back - even though it looks like an old-fashioned outdoor toilet from the outside. And I want you two to come and be my guests as soon as you can."
So, on our way home from a family visit in East Texas, we stopped for a visit with Sharon and spent the night in The Scherenschnitte Sunday House B & B.
The rays of the late afternoon sun were slanting across The Sunday House as we brought our bags from the car. Sharon was waiting for us.
She makes sure there is some water in the tub so that, if necessary, her guests can "prime the pump" and fill their buckets.
"I have already filled the pitchers, and there are buckets and pails just inside the door," she said. "I'll demonstrate the pump for you as soon as we've gotten your luggage in and I've taken you on a quick tour."
"I love the flowers," I told her. "My grandmother and my mother both grew hollyhocks and poppies, too."
"Next time you'll have to come in the spring when all the bluebonnets are in bloom. Actually, I keep the gardening very simple, as befits a place where the original owners only lived here on weekends, primarily."
We passed a rustic chair and bench sitting on the front porch, and then stepped through the doorway into the past.
We surveyed the tiny room. To the right of the doorway was the washstand, with fragrant homemade soap on the washbasin rim.
"At this time of the year you won't be worrying about the cold, but in winter, the cookstove is also the source of warmth," Sharon informed us. "I had to remove the fireplace because the chimney wasn't structurally safe any more and I was concerned about fire."
I noticed a ham and a loaf of home-made bread on the work table, and a basket of eggs on the table. "Looks like we have the makings for breakfast right there."
She nodded. "You can take any leftover eggs home with you, if you wish. And there's fresh berries in the basket, along with a coffeecake in the pie safe that just needs heating up. If you want fresh milk and butter, set the blue jug outside the front door tonight with one of those huck towels over it."
She gestured to the shelves above the work table. "Since these little houses were only used for weekends, most of the time ready-cooked food would be brought from home and there would probably be only very basic staples like coffee, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper. That white jar would have held lard or perhaps bacon drippings. I searched the internet to find labels so I could duplicate the original containers," she confided.
"Feel free to use any of the staples while you are here. That's coffee on the top shelf and if you want a cup first thing, be sure you get up in time to get a good fire going. Everything takes longer than you think; it was a real art cooking on these old woodstoves. Also, if you are going to want hot water, you will also need to heat it, as well. You can cheat by bringing some in from the outdoor bathroom, of course."
"Most of this furniture is original to the house," she said, "although a few smaller items have come from someone in the family. My grandmother made that rug when she was a young woman."
"Looks like somebody's been playing checkers," I said. "Somebody's apparently crowned all of them!"
Sharon laughed. "I hadn't noticed that!"
"This was always called Papa's desk, although occasionally someone else used it. Each head of the family kept his Accounts book on that desk. This is a reproduction, with some of the original pages photocopied, but it actually serves as a Guest Book. Don't forget to sign and write a comment before you go. Oh, and help yourself to the fruit, if you like. It's from local orchards. "
She pointed to the framed piece standing at the back. "This is why I call this Scherenschnitte House, because all the women in my family have done that kind of decorative German paper cutting." She smiled, "And, of course, with a name like Sharon Schnitte, how could I not?"
(The paper cutting shows up blue above, but is actually black.)
"This piece is very old. I am not sure, but I think it dates back to my great-grandmother's day. You can see more examples of this art form throughout the cottage. Do you have any questions?"
We had none, so then we went outside...
... to walk over to the staircase leading up to the bedroom loft.
We took a minute to say hello to a neighbor dog, who enjoys taking long naps in the cool shade under the stair landing. And then we climbed the stairs to see where we would be sleeping that night.
Normally, the parents had their bed in the main room on the bottom floor, Sharon told us. That way, the stair climbing was left to the younger ones, and the boys especially liked being able to come in later without disturing the old folks.
"That is another concession I made to modern comfort," she acknowledged. "I wanted to have more room for the hutch in the kitchen and for seating with that little bench under the front window. So, to maximize the very small downstairs room as much as possible, both beds are upstairs."
In many of the Sunday Houses, the children slept on pallets on the floor, which were kept rolled up out of the way when not in use. The second floor ceiling in this Sunday House was a bit taller, so there was room for two beds and a cradle.
There were no closets, so trunks were used for storage, and clothes were hung on pegs.
The cradle holds an antique doll, and watching over it is a large stuffed dog. That's a true Sunday-Go-To-Meeting hat hanging on the bed post, as well as the one on the trunk at the foot of Papa and Mama's bed.
Papa and Mama's bed spread is handwoven, as are the throw and pillow cover.
Next to it is a rocker that would have been used for lullabyes. The quilt was made by Sharon's mother when she was a young woman.
Hanging on the wall is The Lord's Prayer in German embroidery.
A small chest in front of the window serves as a nightstand between the two beds. A small vase of fresh roses and a plate of ginger cookies awaited us.
On the other side of the room is Grandma's featherbed with all handmade linens and quilts.
Beside the door is a washstand, with a family needlework table scarf, huck towels, a pitcher and bowl, more homemade soap and a jar of fragrant face cream. In addition, there is another small oil lamp and a Bible. A waste water pot sits beneath the table.
Hanging over the head of the bed is a wedding photo, and on the wall by the door is another piece of old intricate scherenschnitte.
Der hochste Gott
Disz haus bewahr
Vor wasser feurer
Und aller gefahr
I mumbled to myself,
"The supreme god
This house shall preserve
And of all dangerous ...?"
I meant to ask Sharon for a precise translation, but forgot as we walked back downstairs to say good evening. I learned later from my friend Elly in Amsterdam that this is the translation:
"May the Highest God
Protect this house
From fire, water
And all danger"
We brought our buckets and basins and figured out the pump as the sun went down in one blazing spectacle.
It had cooled off considerably so we decided it might be wise to also figure out the stove before we were desperate for coffee the next morning. We managed to get a fire going and made coffee in the old-fashioned pot.
We settled in the bench and the chair on the front porch and enjoyed our coffee with tasty slices of homemade bread and ham and watched the night fall. It was amazing how tired and sleepy we felt all of a sudden, so we made a trip to the tiny bathroom out back for our showers, and then climbed the stairs for bed.
My gosh, that feather bed was awesome; it felt like sinking into marshmallows. We had a wonderfully relaxing night, especially after we decided not to bother about climbing down those stairs and heading out back to the bathroom. We just used the thunder mugs under the bed. After all, we had said we wanted the entire Experience of the Past - although by the time we left we were really appreciating indoor plumbing!
The next morning we used the pitcher and bowl to freshen up, and we each had the experience of trekking out back to the bathroom/toilet with our thunder mugs before we went into the main house to prepare our breakfast.
And sure enough a full pitcher of chilled fresh milk and a dish of butter impressed with a design were waiting under the towel on the front porch.
I admired the straw wreath with fresh flowers hanging on the door. That Sharon thinks of everything!
We were hungry, and I began cracking eggs into a bowl while my husband started the fire in the stove.
Fortunately, the kindling caught easily and before too long we had coffee, and then ham slices, scrambled fresh eggs, berries, German coffee cake, fresh milk and butter. Oh my goodness! It sure took a lot longer to prepare than breakfast at home but it was a meal worth experiencing.
While my huband cleaned up the dishes after breakfast, I went back upstairs to tidy up. Sharon had told us she would change the linens later so I made the beds up smoothly.
We spent the morning strolling around town and enjoying the shops. We needed to get home to El Paso, however, so returned to our little cottage to get our bags.
It would have been fun to stay another day or two, but we felt happy to have crammed so much fun into such a short period of time. We called Sharon to tell her we were leaving, and to wish her the best in her new career as innkeeper.
As we drove away from The Scherenschnitte Sunday House B&B, Bruno was there again to tell us goodbye.
Give Sharon a call if you are interested in a fun weekend!
NOTE: Click here to see How I Made It All ....