“A Riehl Family Sunday,” by Erwin A. Thompson–Of popcorn, peonies, and people. An old man remembers a boy’s world

A Riehl Family Sunday (at Evergreen Heights)
by Erwin A. Thompson

The Bible sets Sunday, the seventh day of the week, as a day of rest and worship. Through the years, we humans have tampered with this rule, adapting the day tour own uses and choice. Big machinery that costs money to shut down and start back up again has led to the almost universally accepted seven day work week.

In the Riehl home we worked on Sunday during the peony harvest, as the flowers that would have opened that day would have been wasted. Otherwise, Sunday was a day of rest or family visiting.

I was 95 last fall. When I came here at the age of nine months, the family consisted of Grandpa (E. A. Riehl) and his daughters Julia, Emma, and Amelia.

The Riehl family was not “church going people,” although my grandfather helped build the church with money and work. A fellow worker asked him: “Mister Riehl, why are you helping with this church? You are not a church going man?”

Grandpa replied: “Because every community needs a church.”

Before the mortuaries took over the responsibility of caring for the dead, funerals were for churches. Weddings were for churches. As Grandpa said, they were a needed part of the community. The only time that I know of his being in a church was for his own funeral.

This is not to say that he lacked religion. But it was his own belief. He said that he found his communion with God by working with the plants and trees and helping them to be more productive. Some of his findings are still valued basic knowledge in the horticultural world, although the original source is often not recognized.

I cannot recall ever hearing him sing. He never told a joke. But deep inside he has a very kind and thoughtful person. When my toys broke they were repaired by him. He let me watch him, although he never made a big thing about the two of us doing it. We have a picture of the tow of us walking up the road, hand in hand.

Aunt Judie was the cook. Aunt Em took care of the cows and the chickens. Aunt Mim divided her attention between trying to learn what Grandpa knew and taking care of me. I believe that we could properly conclude that she made a success of both. I survived a very hazardous childhood and have taken my part in the adult world. Aunt Mim piloted the Riehl Farm through the worst depression of the century. They got along well, sharing the work as it “came handy.”

Chicken was the most usual main dish for Sunday. Usually it was “just the family” for Sunday dinner, but occasionally Uncle Ed and his family would come, or Uncle Walter.

My aunts shared my care easily. I remember I had the room we now call Ruth’s office for my bed room. Aunt Em had the “Blue room.” She always had a cheerful fire going in the mornings, and I would go into her room and change from my night clothes.

When I was almost four she married George W. Gibbens, and they moved into the White Cottage next to the Big Brown House.

After the generous noon dinner we usually had a rather light evening meal. We ate popcorn and milk for Sunday supper–particularly in the winter when there was always a fireplace fire. We popped the corn over coals in fireplace. Sometimes we roasted chestnuts or roasted an apple.

We grew the popcorn. But we had to be careful to keep it far enough away from the field corn and the sweet corn so that it would not cross pollinate and spoil both crops. The milk was from our own cows.

In the winter Grandpa liked to keep a fire going in our fireplace, which was on the small side. His brother, Will, took issue with him over the fireplace. They were used to big ones that would take a stick of cordwood four feet long. Grandpa told him he wanted to: “Brighten the place up.”

Uncle Will asked him why he didn’t put a 2 cent postage stamp on the wall. At that time a 2 cent stamp was standard postage. It was red.


The Riehl place was well known for beautiful flowers. Before the days of Marquette Park it was not unusual to have several carloads of visitors. Sunday afternoon was for socializing. Often the Tuemmlers would come out and usually when they did they brought the Christoes. Katie was a cousin on the Roesch side of the family. If it was the right season, Uncle George always had a couple of big watermelons cooled out. He was a perfect host.

With the opening of Marquette Park, the Sunday traffic at Riehl’s tapered off, until today it is down to family and close friends. Times have changed. The visitors to “see the view” from the Riehl bluffs are no more.

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  1. I read your writing joyfully.
    Can I ask obituaries of your parents, James A. Thompson and Anna Thompson?

  2. I just left a request obituaries about James Arthur Thompson and Anna Riehl.
    I am writing an article about their missionary work in Korea.
    Do you have their pictures and pictures taken in Korea?
    Any letter about their work?

    Thank you in advance.

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