Phylis Govaerts Haumont


This story of my mother, Phyllis Govaerts Haumont, is written in first person as she has related it to me during the years. - Daughter, Gladys Haumont Christensen, Sept 21, 1971


My childhood in Belgium:

          I was born in Vechmaal, Belgium, in 1883 on February the 24th and baptized Maria Catharina Felicia, the year that my mother's sister, Elizabeth Francois Haumont, her husband, Isadore Haumont, and my mother, Agnes Francois Govaerts' brothers, John and Walter Francois came to America. My parents were Jan Pierre Govaerts and Maria Agnes Francois Govaerts.
          After harvest in Belgium Mother and we children went to the fields to glean wherever we could get permission to go. Enough wheat was gleaned for flour for the winter supply for our family of eight. Nothing was ever wasted; every stem was picked up and fastened into bundles (spears - Flemish). There was no string to tie. Mother used a few stems of wheat or rye to fashion the tie for small sheaves. Father also helped if he was not busy with his trade as a butcher and who could dress a hog fit for any of the luau feasts of today. We carried the small sheaves to a large building with a hard clay floor where a flail was used to beat and pound the bundle after the band was removed; we got about a half gallon of wheat from each bundle. I can still see mother tying the small bundles together into one big bundle to carry home on her shoulder. Later, there was a small machine into which the small bundles of wheat were laid, one at a time. Aunt Trina (Kathrine) fed the little machine; the feeding part was just wide enough so that one small sheaf could go in. The handle then was turned by hand. Again, nothing was ever wasted. When Uncle Isadore's two sisters, who had no teeth, couldn't eat a crust of bread, they wanted their brother to eat it. If he wouldn't do it, they slapped his face.
          I first remember a goat for milk; finally we had a nice cow and a couple of pigs. If we ever had "Mik," white bread, it tasted like a piece of cake to us. Neighbors across the street had a team of working horses; a thick slice of bread would be cut and the horses would get a slice of bread for lunch, too. A small bundle of clover perhaps would be their food at other times.
          Mother went across the street to the Pieteas who had an outdoor oven made of brick. After Mrs. Pietea' s baked, Mother took her bread to bake it there as she had no oven and thus there was oven heat conservation. Bundles of twigs and sticks were gathered from the trimmed hedges for fire for the oven. About two bundles of sticks were required to finish the baking.
          Mother walked from Vechmaal to Tongren with a wicker basket of eggs on the top of her head and came back with a few groceries. This was about an hours walk each way. The weather was never cold there, we needed no winter clothes; I just had a shawl. Our house had a hard dirt floor, it was my job to sweep; I took lime and put it in an old straw hat, hit the hat and made pretty designs around the edge of the room. Lime helped to freshen the air and absorb dampness.
          For washing clothes Mother put wood ashes in a wicker basket, poured water over these to get water softened for the wash water. There was no wash board; all was done by hand - the scrubbing and wringing out. The clothes were then laid on the meadow or grass to bleach. Our white blouses and shirts were beautifully white.


School in Belgium:

          I went to a Catholic school in Vechmaal. The boys went to a separate wing of the school and the girls to a separate wing. Then, once a week the school master's wife came for a half day to teach knitting, cross-stitching, and fancywork, but mainly knitting. The old schoolmaster was a wonderful guy; he picked me up, I was a tiny girl1, even though I had just my tenth birthday, and took me in front of the class to have me tell that I was coming to America. He carried me to the hall to say good-bye. I remember his beautiful shining beard and mustache. I could never forget him.


Coming to America:


          In the spring of 1893 Uncle John Francois came back from America to Belgium for his bride, Marie Dewitte. It was at this time that Uncle John went to bring me and my brother Bert, Bartholemew Govaerts, back with them to America. Uncle paid my way and bought my clothes, but brother Bert had to work herding cattle to pay for his trip back. The country north of Broken Bow, Nebraska was all open range then and Uncle Isadore and Tan Bet (Elizabeth) needed help for herding.
          We, Uncle John, Tan Marie (his new bride), Brother Bert and I walked from Vechmaal to Tongren. For luggage Tan Marie had only a small wicker basket; in it she had a few onions which sprouted on the boat. Our clothing was just what we had on. We must have taken the train from Tongren to Antwerpen to get on the boat, but there was nothing memorable to make me recall any incidence.
          For twelve days we were on the boat in which there seemed to be plenty of room. We slept in a room alright, with third class passage there was a bottom tier and upper tier. We had an upper tier and all four lay on the upper tier, however, I'm not sure that Uncle and Aunt had plenty of room! There was no privacy; third class accommodations were not as good as there was nothing to divide but boards, second class probably would have been better. Right outside the room was a long table. Nothing was memorable about the food except sea sickness and all of us fed the fish for three days, then everyone was ok. The water was quite a problem as we had to wash with the salty ocean water. Fresh water was delivered to each family but we each only got so much. I can't remember a drink of milk, just water.
          There was a death, a lady on the same deck as ours. She was not alone; however, either her sister or mother was with her. This sea burial left quite an impression - to see a casket slid into the ocean - at that time a body was not shipped home for burial. Uncle Isadore said, "if anyone is not well, he should never go on a sea voyage."
          The boat docked in New York on a lovely, calm Easter Sunday, 1893. The captain of the ship came to Brother Bert and me with one cookie and one egg which we all shared. It was here as we were docking that I stumbled on a rope and fell, losing my hat into the ocean. Uncle John tried to reach for it, but it was gone and I had no covering for my head for many months.
          From New York we took a train which was not crowded, I went way to the front to lie on the seat to go to sleep. When I awoke, I was on the floor, which was a good bed too! Now in Broken Bow, Nebraska, there we sat with no one to meet us, no way to communicate. Uncle Isadore and Tan Bet had been there but the train was late. However, we didn't tarry long; I don't remember any baggage, only the little wicker basket that still contained a few onions. The only way was to walk the ten or thirteen miles to the two story sod house which Uncle Isadore had built. Along the way was a pile of cobs. We had never seen a pile of corn. Uncle John stopped to tell us, Brother Bert and me, how com grew "Maias" on a cob. Aunt did have an umbrella. It rained on the way, but my hat was in the ocean! How my legs ached; I have often wondered how Uncle and Aunt's legs felt. We arrived early in the afternoon, it seemed, and happy greetings were in store.
          Here in America there was much love from my Aunts and Uncles. I was never homesick and only remember once to have my feelings hurt. Uncle Isadore and Aunt Bet's table was long and homemade, with benches on each side. I spilled my soup; Aunt scolded. I just got up and got out of there and went to the woodshed. Here I sat until Bert Francois, an older cousin, son of Tan Smets, came to get me, telling me I shouldn't do that. I just sobbed and said, "They can have my soup!" Though we were never hungry- always plenty to eat - but again nothing was ever wasted.
          The country was desolate, thick with jack rabbits and dry. The Jim Lovitt's lived just north of Tan Bet's in a soddy. Aunt took me there to start in first grade as Mrs. Lovitt (Ida) was a school teacher. I stayed with the Lovitts for the week and cousin Joe, son of
Tan Bet2 and Uncle Isadore, or some of them would come for me at the end of the week. Once, Cousin Joe came for me in a sled; this was quite a thrill to ride in a sleigh. So it was, Mrs. Lovitt who taught me to read and what an exciting time it was, to come home at the week's end to speak English to Tan Bet. She was as thrilled as I.
          The Lovitt soddy had bed bugs and to keep the bugs from me so that I wouldn't carry them home, Mrs. Lovitt put pillows on two chairs for my bed. Sometimes, I walked to the Lovitt's and Tan Bet would walk part way or sometimes all the way.
           This Aunt was really one of the great pioneer women. She used to go take care of new babies, walk to places to help deliver babies and walk back again later to see how the mother was getting along. Sometimes there was not even a doctor there. She was the mid- wife for my youngest sister, Stella, was the business head of the family, and did the buying for the family - all of which was to be needed, usable, and practical. Once we were in the store for a new cap for Uncle. The only one nearly suitable didn't fit, just sat on top of his head, but Uncle put it on anyway, walked out, and said, "Come, come, pay the man!" If the gypsies came for a chicken, Aunt would give one, but Uncle insisted on giving two.
           Uncle Isadore was a builder of distinction. The two story sod house is still standing and is believed to be the most outstanding sod dwelling and only one of its kind in America. It is located about thirteen miles northeast of Broken Bow, Nebraska. It stands 19 feet tall at the eaves and its walls are three feet thick. It was neatly constructed, plastered, papered and finished in pine lumber which was hauled by wagon and team from Grand Island, Nebraska. Today one can still see some of the walls, papered with old French papers dating 1891-1892 - paper covered the plaster in more than one room. The framework for the windows were done by hand, so were the doors and all of the wood was carved or inlaid, e.g., all little pieces of wood, whichever appeared to work the best. All of the hinges were hand made, as were the other pieces of metal used on the windows. The stairway leading to the second floor and to the basement is spiral. The steps rounded in a half moon at the rear of each step to make climbing and descending much easier. It is sad that some united effort hasn't been made to preserve this house which is certainly worthy of the respect of all America. Perhaps meager efforts were made in 1950 for its restoration but nothing was accomplished.
          When asked, "Do you remember when your mother and father came to America?" The answer was, "You bet I can!" They came in the fall of 
18933, my youngest sister, Stella, was born April 20, of the next spring, 1894. I slept in an upstairs room in the two story sod house. Bert Francois came up to wake me and carry me down on his shoulder. They were all sitting there in the dining room in the comer, Mother, Father, Brother Lex (Alexander), sisters Marie Louise and Elizabelle Coralie. My twin brother, Jan Joseph William, was taken by my grandmother Govaerts to raise, as he seemed to be the strongest twin. It was thought that we would do better, but Mother later said that this was wrong, as it was a very emotional thing for Brother Joseph to break away at the age of eighteen and come to America where his brothers, sisters, mother and father lived.
          All that I remember of Mother and Dad's luggage was two big trunks, a small salt jar and a half gallon jar of nice little choice pickles from Mother's garden in Vechmaal. Mother was very disappointed at fIrst, if she would have had the money she would have gone right back to Belgium, such a lush green country, but no opportunity to get ahead. However, after some time here, she wouldn't have been driven away. We had nothing but our family, our two hands and two feet. Father worked, made a living and saved a little, even at working at .50 a day. Our family first went to Uncle Walter and Bert Francois place, now the home Billie and Elsie Haumont Kleeb. For this place Uncle Walter made a deal with Uncle Isadore, Elsie's grandfather, for his place in Vechmaal, Belgium. Then, Uncle Walter returned to Belgium and died there. We then moved to the Severyns place. Albert Kleeb lives here today, but then there was a four room soddie with a wood floor. This place is located on what is known today as French Table, located a few miles west and north of Weissert, Nebraska.
          We used to pick corn and saved the shucks to make mattresses for our bed. I don't know if we had a bed spring or just slats on a board but we were just as happy as kids are today, maybe happier.
          Jules Haumont, a brother of my late husband's father, and a nephew of Uncle Isadore, loaned Dad a team which he used to plant corn and potatoes. Dad was finally able to buy this team. We children went to school when we could to the sod house school house, then called Elton School. This school was located about a mile north of our place. I started to school here in 1895, and continued in this sod school until the new frame building was ready in 1904.  After eighth grade I went to dressmaking school in Broken Bow, Nebraska
4.
          Father was a great hunter; jackrabbits, prairie chickens, grouse or whatever he got was sold for .50 each if he had more than the family needed. He and Hank Thompson liked to hunt - even in Belgium, a rich neighbor who lived in a castle and couldn't even hit the side of a barn with a banjo hired Dad to hunt for him. Once there was a jack rabbit in the garden; Dad took his gun and with one shot, he always hit his mark.
          The Smets' boys taught me some swear words in English. I didn't know what I was saying, but when I told Mother what they had taught me, Mother wouldn't let me go there anymore. By fall I could speak and read my first reader. I took great pride in writing, and once the teacher had me go to the blackboard to show my beautiful handwriting. Penmanship was then taught as a class.
          From the Severyns place, Mother and Dad bought the place just across the road to the east of the Elton School. Since the Severyns place was then owned by my mother's sister and her husband, Tan Marie Francois Severyns and Joseph Severyns, we could remain here in the soddy until the new frame house was built by carpenters, Drake and Papinaw. This farm, near the Elton school, was then owned by a Theodore Rysdorf and wife who had also come with Uncle Isadore and Tan Bets group to America in the early 80's. A nephew, Lester and wife Vivian Govaerts, own and live on this place today. The big barn was later built by Art Cooksley.
          Mother, Agnes, passed away in 1915 and was buried in the Govaerts plot in Broken Bow, Nebraska. Dad, Pierre, returned to Vechmaal, Belgium, the last of December 1922, remained there with his brother, Martinis and niece Jeanne Govaerts. He passed away in April 1930 and was buried in the Govaerts tomb in the cemetery surrounding the village Kerk (church).
          I spent a most enjoyable girlhood and later as a young woman - kept house for my brothers, Bert and twin Joseph; studied dressmaking in Broken Bow, made my sisters wedding dresses as well as my own, and in 1909 I married William Thomas Haumont, son of Louis Haumont who was a nephew of Uncle Isadore. We had almost 52 years of happy, married life, worked hard, played, and read to our children, survived the drought and dust of the early thirties, the blizzards, tornadoes, hog cholera epidemic, grasshoppers and flu during World War I. We, in later years, enjoyed many miles of travel throughout the United States and Canada, and in the fall of 1960 were ready for a tour to Australia when husband, Will, passed away.

       Three children were born to this union, Emile Loren Haumont of Buhl, Idaho; Gladys Irene Haumont Christnesen of Sargent, Nebraska; and Dorothy Mae Haumont Gangwish of Casper, Wyoming.  We celebrated our Golden Wedding Anniversary in our newly remodeled home on March 3, 1959; this was one of the most wonderful, happy days of our life.  Another memorable occasion occured during the month of August, 1966, when my daughter Gladys, and her husband Chris (P.L.) Christensen, accompanied me to Europe for a first visit back to the village of my birth in Vechmaal, Belgium, and to pay respects to my father and Uncles in the cemetery of the village Kerk, to walk around Granmother Govaerts old home, visit with the Lavigne's in Uncle Walters old home, through the subways of Paris, to the Hotel des Invalides, a home for war verterans where Napolean's tomb is located, the Latin quarter and Notre-Dame, a week in Leige, Belgium, with cousin Joseph Govaerts, Neuville-en-Condros, (the American Military Cemetery), the brick factory and to London, England to the Sahkespeare country, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminister Abbey, the Tower of London and home again.
        I am now nearly 89 years old, and on October 13 or 14 I plan to take my two daughters who are letting their homes be my home, to the Hawaiian Islands for Aloha Week.  My esight isn't good, but I knit and remain active and alert.  I may not learn to dance the Hula, but I can feel and smell the beautiful flowers, sun on Waikiki, listen to the Hawaiian guitars and perhaps feast at a luau.

    My favorite quotation of today
is on written by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
:

    "To keep the heart unwrinkled, 
    to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent - 
    that is to triumph over old age."


My favorite poem
"This is a statemtnt about what makes life worthwhile"

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not have lived in vain;
If I can ease one life, the aching, or cool on pain,
Or help one fainting Robin unto is nest again,
I shall not have lived in vain.
                                                 Emily Dickenson

1Phyllis was only 4 feet, 6 inches as an adult
2Tan Bet, short for Aunt Elizabeth
3Though this researcher, Amber Thomas, has found no ship records thus far on the actual date.
4Phyllis' made most of the dresses you see in old family pictures.

In the original document sent by Amber, she had included the obituries of Phylis, William T, and Emile Haumont. I have included them in the Obituary section of the Family History page.



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