The House at 349 Neilsen Road

by Bob Bach

Today the last things have been moved out of the house at 349 Neilsen Road. The house is strangely silent somewhat eerie, The organ is gone, the piano is gone, the unique dining room table is gone, the beautiful china and sterling silver are gone. It's the end of an era and now all that's left are the memories — and there are lots of those. In Robert Heinlein's novel, Glory Road, there are some Latin words: "Dum vivimus, vivamus" — "While we live, let us live!" This house lived while it lived! It knew joy, pain, laughter, tears. It pulsated with the sounds of beautiful music. It was filled with the aroma of wonderful food. It played host to hundreds of important people many who were unknown. Everyone was welcome to come and live and experience God's love. Fred and Ann Bach lived here. Fred ran the household with an awkward and rough love. Ann tempered it with quiet wisdom, creativity, and patience. They were a good team and God allowed their paths to come together right here in this little hamlet of San Andreas.

Fred was born in the Ukraine on December 20, 1895. Two years later, his family made the long and hopeful journey to America, settling with a tight-knit German community in the coal mining region of Pennsylvania. Life there was not easy and not too many years later Fred's father decided to move his family west — to homestead in the promising land of Montana. Life was not easy there either, and Fred, being the oldest boy had to drop out of school during the 7th grade to go to work to help his Dad support the Bach family of 9. He learned how to cut meat and spent the next several years employed in that trade. He also learned about God and His love and became a believer — ironically just about the time he learned to become a carpenter. Some years later,t he Bach family moved from the isolated homestead of Montana to the state of Washington. Fred, yielding to God's leading, passed a high school equivalency test, enrolled, and subsequently graduated from Seattle Pacific University. Upon the advice of a couple of his Bible teachers, he journeyed to Chicago where he enrolled in Moody Bible Institute. For the next few years he studied the scriptures, supporting himself by cutting meat and selling books door to door.

Following his biblical training, he returned to the west where he preached, pounded nails, cut meat, and sold books. While on a book-selling trip to California in the late 1930s, he learned of a new church work starting in a little foothill town called San Andreas. He came — he stayed — he preached. He built a church and he met a quiet, Swedish lady named Ann Peterson.

Ann was a Home Economics teacher at Calaveras High School in San Andreas. She was also the piano player for the little struggling church uptown. She had grown up on a grape farm in Fresno. Her father, Carl Peterson, was a strapping, hard working, Swedish farmer who labored long hours to support his wife and five children. Annie, his quiet wife, was a patient, Godly woman who spent hours daily teaching her girls about cooking, sewing, and God. Ann, her fourth child, was born August 16, 1906. She grew up a quiet, obedient, hard-working girl. Her love for the home, God, and people led her to a career in teaching. She graduated from Fresno State in 1928 and accepted a teaching job in a little foothill community called San Andreas. She first lived in a little room at the Treat Hotel, now called the Black Bart Inn. She soon became friends with the Charles Schwoerer family.

Charlie was the County Superintendent of Schools. He and his wife, Myrtle, had three children, Doris, Geraldine, and Wendell. Ann became close friends with Doris and Geraldine and spent many hours and many days at the Schwoerer home.

While still in high school, Geraldine became very ill and died. Following her death, Ann went to live with the Schwoerer family. She lived with them for 10 years. She served as Maid of Honor in Doris Schwoerer's wedding. Doris and Ann were so close that Doris named her only daughter Ann.

It was while Ann Peterson was living with the Schwoerers that she met Fred, the new guy who came to preach at the little church uptown. This strong-willed German became interested in the quiet teacher and they soon had their first date. It was a ride in Ann's '39 Chevy — which, for some strange reason ran out of gas on a lonely stretch of road near Bear Mountain. And so. . . they were married on November 20, 1940 in the little church uptown. Ann asked her friend Doris Schwoerer Mitchell to sing at the wedding. Following a reception at Pete's Cafe in Valley Springs, the newlyweds took a quick trip to the coast in Ann's '39 Chevy. It didn't run out of gas on this trip!

Fred and Ann returned from their honeymoon to San Andreas to live for the next 40 plus years — teaching, preaching, pounding nails, singing, caring for people and worshiping the God they loved. They, incidentally, moved into a neat white house right across the street from Charlie and Myrtle Schwoerer.

In the mid 1940s, a Tennessee family named Ford moved into a little cabin down the street from Fred and Ann Bach. The cabin sat right about in the middle of the present day parking lot below the San Andreas Town Hall. In that Tennessee family of 9 was a young boy named Jonathan Moses Ford. He was a mischievous, restless one who usually found his way up the hill where he could get a freshly baked cookie from the preacher's wife. In return, however, he agreed to go with them to the little Sunday School uptown.

It wasn't much later that the Ford family began to come apart at the seams. The mother, Elsie, was killed in a tragic car accident near Double Springs. The father, John fearing the responsibility of raising the children by himself, disappeared. The County of Calaveras stepped in and moved the frightened family to a little cottage located inside the walls of the old County Jail. It was there that the family was cared for while plans were made for its future.

At that time, Fred and Ann Bach were faithfully doing church services at the jail. Fred would pack in an old portable organ, Ann would play it, and Fred would preach. At the end of each service, the inmates were usually treated to Ann's freshly baked cookies. The little Ford children got cookies, too, as they quietly watched the jail services.

One clear, cold day in January, 1946, Fred and Ann took Jonathan Moses aside, sat him down on a bench in the old jail yard, and said to him, "Would you like to come and live with us?" And so it happened....

On January 23, 1946, in the upstairs room of the old County Courthouse, Jonathan Moses Ford was adopted. The proceedings were administered by Judge J. A. Smith and attorney, Joseph Huberty, Sr. The little Ford boy became Robert Fred Bach and was immediately thrust from a vagabond world to the wonder of linen table cloths, clean dishes, warm baths, and the love of the Lord!

And so, I became part of the story. In 1950, Fred moved us into the house on Neilsen Road — the house he built himself — and the story continued. . . through elementary school, music lessons, high school, through college, through marriage. Then came Fred and Ann's grandkids. The house on Neilsen Road lived.

The beginning of the end occurred early in 1980. Fred and Ann were now living quietly on Neilsen Road. They were enjoying their later years together, having spent so much time in the service of others. I had long since abandoned the restless roaming of the streets and was now Superintendent of Bret Harte High School District in Angels Camp, I received a frantic, early morning phone call from Ann. "Something is wrong with Fred!" she said. I rushed to San Andreas and found Fred immobile and confused, I called Carl Johnson, Pastor of Community Covenant Church. He arrived and assisted me in getting Fred to Mark Twain Hospital. He had suffered a stroke, For the next several weeks, Fred fought valiantly, recovered, and, following physical therapy in Stockton, he returned to his beloved home on Neilsen Road. Things weren't the same, however. The clock was beginning to wind down. But God allowed Fred and Ann to spend another two years together. Two years of what those of us close to them saw as quality time. Time that was filled with a fresh gentleness and tenderness. The last of the rough edges were sanded off.

In the Spring of 1982, it all changed. Once again, I received the early morning phone call from Ann. Once again, I rushed to the house on Neilsen Road. Fred was on the little couch in the study. His face was ashen, his eyes were glassy, and he valiantly was trying to speak, Ann stood nearby in her gown and robe. From the next room came music from Ann's radio — it was a Family Radio program and the song was haunting and hopeful. I'll never forget it: "Someday, no more heartache, someday, no more pain.. . .we'll leave it all behind someday." I hugged Ann, kissed Fred on his cheek, and called the ambulance. He was rushed to Mark Twain Hospital. This time he never returned to the house on Neilsen Road. He died, May 14, 1982.

Ann tried, she really tried, but a strange emptiness came over the house, and she never really could cope with it. Too big a chunk of her life was gone — but she tried. She lived with us for awhile, lived alone for awhile, had her brother and sister-in-law live with her for awhile, and still kept trying.

Emily Dickinson once wrote that there is a strange "bustle" in the house after the death of a loved one. The house on Neilsen Road had a bustle — much different from before, but a bustle. But it wasn't enough. Ann began to slide downhill. She became weaker and weaker as Parkinson's Disease grabbed a hold of her. She never lost the little twinkle in her eye, and she bravely hung on until October 13, 1986. She quietly died, taking with her the memories of a farm girl, a teacher, a preacher's wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a helper and friend to many.

To me, the vagabond, the greatest moment was the day shortly before Fred's death when I took them both into my arms and said, "I love you. Thank you for giving me this life." Ann quietly cried and Fred merely nodded — but isn't that enough? If it had not been for the rough German preacher and the quiet, patient Swedish teacher, where would I be? I had gone the circle — from being dependent to being depended upon... from being weak to being strong... from living in darkness to living in light.

The house at 349 Neilsen Road now fades into the distance, but if one listens carefully, the faint sounds of the flute and organ can be heard. Words from a song can also be heard wafting through the air of memories. "I will meet you in the morning by the bright riverside where no sorrow nor darkness will be."

Goodbye... .Goodbye,.. . and thanks for memories, for life.

Bob Bach, from Angels Camp, California, is Pietisten’s roving reporter

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