Part 3 of 6
I was confirmed by the Rev. H. N. Bakke and I truly loved and revered him as a pastor. He was a pastor of the old school, thoroughly Norwegian and Lutheran, stern but kind. We learned our catechism by heart. Confirmation Day was a long service. First we had a public questioning. We were lined up before the congregation and quizzed on the catechism. We were nervous. Donna Danielson even fainted from the ordeal. Then we kneeled at the altar and promised to be faithful to our Lord and Master and serve Him. I was sincere and dedicated my life in His service. We had our first communion when the Confirmation service was over and our parents joined us at the altar.
Alta Haugen became a missionary to Madagascar. I remember the evening she left for foreign shores. Many of us gathered at the Nevada railroad station to say good-bye and wish her God-speed. At last we heard the mournful whistle of the train in the distance. It came closer and closer and finally chugged to a stop at the station. As Alta boarded the train we all sang, God Be With You Until We Meet Again. There were tears in our eyes, but Alta was radiant. Ruthie was a baby. I was 8 years old but it made a great impression on me, and I remember it distinctly.
My parents were sincere Christians and lived their faith. Once when we were leaving on an extended trip, papa stopped the car by the gate and had devotion, asking the Lord to be with us. After his retirement in Roland we would often find him in the living room reading his Bible. Mama prayed beautiful prayers. Once at a family gathering, after a long and beautiful table prayer Stanley exclaimed, Boy, that was a long one.
I should tell you how papa raised his own seed corn. In the fall he chose some of his best corn ears, the largest and filled to the very tip with hard full kernels. These he numbered and hung on the seed corn rack that we had in the south bedroom up-stairs. In late winter he stripped off some kernels from each corn ear and placed them in the little squares in an egg-case like tin square box made especially for this purpose. Between each layer a wet cloth was placed. The squares of corn were marked so he could tell which ears of corn they had come from. The cloths were kept wet, and after a time the kernels would sprout and grow. If some did not sprout at all, those ears were not used for planting. Thus he could tell which ears would produce. When the rack was not covered with corn we used it for a clothes rack. It was rather unsightly but so handy.
Mama was prejudiced for Norwegian Lutherans. Norwegians could do no wrong. Well, almost. When it was rumored around Roland that a drunken native had gone wading one night in the kiddie pool in the park mama exclaimed, And to think he was a Norwegian, too. She had great respect for Lutheran pastors, missionaries and the president of the Norwegian Lutheran Church. We got the distinct impression that we should marry Norwegian Lutherans. Alas, none of us did. I came the closest with a Danish Lutheran, but mama opened her arms and welcomed all into the family with a generous hug.
Any discipline we got was from mama. It behooved us not to cross her and believe you me, we respected her. I cant remember papa ever correcting me, but I know once mama sent me out to the grove to find a switch. I found the weakest, most spindly one I could find. But just let someone else pick on us and mama flew to our side instinctively in defense. I know she loved us dearly and I also know she prayed earnestly for her children and grandchildren. I miss those prayers.
Ah, yes, dressing chickens. We did not buy them at a supermarket (there werent any) all cleaned and attractively packaged. Papa went to the chicken yard, cornered some poor hapless rooster, and chopped off his head. The poor thing flapped around on the ground, then he was put into a bucket and boiling water poured over him. We dunked him up and down to make sure all the feathers were scalded.
This is where we kids came in. We pulled off all the wet feathers, leaving a very naked chicken. Now mama was ready with her butcher knife to cut it into pieces. The roosters were tender and juicy all summer and fall, and were delicious fried. But when cold weather came mama thought they were too tough to be prepared that way. She boiled them until they were tender, put the pieces into her big black, bread baking pan, sprinkled flour on and poured good rich country cream overall, and baked until crispy brown.
We always had a dog on the farm. The two most firmly in my mind are Nippy and Nauvoras (they were contemporaries). Raymond concocted that impossible name and I have no idea even how to spell it, but no matter, they were his dogs and he could name them what he wanted to. Nippy was a little, short-haired black dog; he slept with Raymond. Nauvoras was a typical outdoor farm dog, but a loveable mutt. They came to a sad end. We believe they were poisoned. We had cats, too, by the dozen. But they stayed in the barn. They brushed up against papas legs when he was milking and he often rewarded them by aiming a stream of milt .into their open mouths, and he always had a pan of fresh milk for them from the separator. He welcomed the cats as they were good mousers in the corn crib.
I mentioned before that mama was blessed with lovely thick auburn hair which she twisted around attractively and piled on top of her head. But then bobbed hair came into vogue. Always with an eye for style mama had her hair cut and permed much to the dismay and disapproval of Aunt Malinda. She, too, had nice hair, long, thick and dark. But she never had it cut.
When James and Curtis learned to drive the car they kept track of the miles each one drove down to the mile. The first time we went any distance without papa was to Badger, and the boys drove. It took all day. The trip now takes about 2 hours. We had a picnic lunch along that we ate in the country in the shade of a big tree. For years afterwards, when we drove by that spot mama would say, That is where we had our picnic when we went to Badger without papa. We read the Burma Shave ads and sang in a singsong voice, 27 miles to the Boston store. The next mile, 26 miles to the Boston store, and every mile into Ft. Dodge, the site of The Boston Store. I dont know how mama stood us all 6 of us.
The boys and papa always sat in the front seat; mama and the kids and I in back. This provided her with a good view of their necks, and behind their ears. Woe to any dirt that had escaped the wash rag. She descended like a vulture with her dampened handkerchief and not too gently. It hurt!
When James and Curtis were in their, early teens they drove into town one summer evening. On their way home in the dark they ran into a parked car that didnt have any lights on. Our Model A Ford tipped over pinning Curtis underneath. James, with superhuman strength lifted that car! Old Doc Mills came out to examine Curtis, who was only bruised, but he dug out bits of gravel that had ground into his face. We were thankful that it turned out as well as it did. It was that stupid Norwegian, Gust Myrland, who had left his stalled car without any warning lights.
When we get together now as adults we laugh about the funny things that happened when we were growing up until the tears roll down our cheeks- like the time Raymond was going to make-all-bran muffins (I believe). He measured out the amount of all-bran the recipe called for which emptied the box. Without thinking he tossed the empty box into the fire- and there went his recipe! He stood there dumfounded when he realized what he had done.
Or like the time Ruthie found a very small pullet egg. She proudly held it up for all to see and declared she was going to fry it and eat it. Just as she was breaking the tiny egg into the frying pan, I pulled the pan away to put a few more cobs into the fire, and horrors! The egg dropped into the hot fire, where is sizzled briefly and turned into a black cinder. Ruthie was so surprised (so was I) and disappointed that she cried. This is a case of too much help.
Or the crazy tag game we called, You stink and I dont. We got to play this once a year in the wintertime. Our kitchen, front room, and bedroom opened into each other so we could run in a circle around, the rooms. And run we did! Its a wonder we didnt make mama crazy. The one who was IT tried to catch the others yelling, You stink and I dont. We screamed, dodged and ran until the sweat ran down our faces and mama finally called a halt. Ive never seen that game listed in any Suggestions For Your Party.
Or the way Raymond teased Ruthie and Dorothy. That was what he lived for and he was an expert at it. It was more fun to tease Ruthie because she was high spirited and he got the desired response. One thing he did that just had her climbing the walls. During a fight he would make a conciliatory statement, much to her relief, but a long time later- hours or even days later, in a bare whisper he said, NT. This nullified all he had said- and the fight was on again. Ruthie cried and mama would say, Raymond, its just a sin the way you tease those girls.
Or the time Ruthie gave Dorothy a box of candy for her birthday and proceed to puncture the chocolates on the bottom to find the fillings she liked the best. These she plopped into her mouth. Dorothy protested. But Ruthie had it all neatly figured out. Its mine. I gave it to you.
Or the time mama chided Curtis for goofing off and not tending to business picking cherries. Look at James, he is like his dad, he works hard and will amount to something. To which Curtis replied, Im like my ma. The tables were turned and even mama had to laugh.
Winter was the time the family drew closer together. And besides, winter time meant Christmas. What a precious time that was. Mama was busy baking- I remember lefse day and the good scorched flour smell in the kitchen. First she scrubbed the top of the kitchen range until it was squeaky clean, then the large round lefse was spread on top to bake just right. Cream colored with brown spots- so good with home churned butter sprinkled with sugar. As it cooled, the lefse got hard and brittle and mama had to store it with a heavy weight on it to keep it from cracking. Before we served it for Christmas dinner we soaked it between tea towels until it became soft and pliable. Mamas Christmas baking also included fruit cake and Christmas bread, filled with citron, raisins, and currents. We did not make Christmas cookies that are so popular now.
When I was little we never had a Christmas tree but once papa cut a branch off a pine tree and we decorated it with popcorn and cranberry strings and real candles. When we lit the candles on Christmas Eve papa had a pail of water handy. Mama decorated the house with red paper bells and red and green ropes stretched criss-cross from corner to corner in the front room. We thought it looked very festive. On Christmas Eve- that most magical of all nights- we dressed in our best . We always had pork roast, roasted to a crackling brown with rice pudding for dessert. This was the custom from Norway. After the dishes were washed and put away we had Mamas program. Papa read the Christmas Gospel, telling of the birth of the Savior in faraway Bethlehem, and stumbling over the name Quirinus, much to mamas chagrin. Uffta! We were expected to say our pieces which made us slightly embarrassed, and we joined in singing (except papa who could not carry a tune) the dear, familiar Christmas carols, secretly hoping we would sing only one verse of each so we could get to the part we had all been waiting for- the opening of gifts. I cant seem to remember much about what we got for Christmas, but I am sure it was underwear, long stockings, caps and mittens, besides a book or a toy. I do remember a doll I got one year and mama stayed up late at night making clothes for it after I was in bed so it would be a surprise.
When I was a very little girl we had our program at church on Christmas Eve. After the recitations, songs and acrostics (that were always upside down or crooked) had been dutifully performed, the mountains of gifts under the huge tree were distributed. How thrilling to have my name called and a gift brought to me! During the depths of the depression poor little Raymond was afraid no one would give him a gift and. He could not bear the humiliation of going home empty handed. He wrapped an empty box, wrote his own name on it and put it under the huge tree in church. At least he heard his name called. The exciting climax was an apple and a striped pink and green sack of hard candy for each little eager child. Oh yes, the sack of candy always had one brown chocolate drop which we hoarded and ate last. Woe to anyone who got into our sack and devoured our chocolate.
The menu on Christmas Day included lefse and lutefisk, lots of hot buttered vegetables, potatoes, pickles, jam (all from our summer bounty and stored in the cellar) and mince pie (papas favorite) for dessert. Often we had Bennies and Lewiss as guests and they greeted one another with firm handshakes and Gladelig Yule. The grownups and teenagers ate at the first table. When they were so stuffed they could not eat another morsel, the table was cleared, the dishes washed and the table reset, and the cooks and we kids ate. The older one became, the chances improved for a chance to the first table. Papa sometimes helped me by buttering a round of lefse for me, piled on hot mashed potatoes and added the steaming lutefisk, poured on melted butter, rolled it up and gave to me to eat. Ah, that was food for the gods. The women discussed recipes, children and the local gossip while the men talked about hard times, farming, prices and politics. Papa was a good Republican but during the depression regressed to voting for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
After our Christmas program in school we had our exchange name gifts, although by this time there was little or no surprise left. We all knew who had whose name, and sometimes even what they were getting. We were not above name-trading until we got someone we liked. Harold Sampson took a liking to me and had traded names until he got mine. He gave me a green glass bead bracelet which was strung on elastic string so I could easily pull over my hand. Teacher had her own little pile of gifts- cheap perfume, handkerchiefs, homemade fudge, stationery, and potholders that some mother had made. One year teacher had my name. I cant remember what she gave me but I remember the honor I felt it carried. My family used to tease me for Jesse Helland, too. He was a nice boy from our church, but there were no heart throbs, either on his part or mine.
When I got to be a teenager we had some fun cousins Christmas parties- usually at Bennies because they had the biggest house and electric lights. One such party that stands out among the rest is the Christmas Christian and Luther came. They were such fun, jolly and clever. We played hilarious parlor games, such as, Whistle, whistle, whos got the Whistle, Black Magic, Three Kingdoms, and Winkcome. Of course, we had a scrumptious lunch. Jonas K. Johnsons came- also Lewiss, Olauss, Bennies and of course all of us. It was great!
I mentioned that Bennies had electric lights- they had their own Delco generating plant. As long as I was home we did not have electricity. We thought anyone having electric lights was living in heaven. Bennies and Lewiss both had them and I am afraid we were envious. Lewiss even had indoor plumbing and a bathroom. That was the ultimate luxury. Furthermore, they had a furnace so they didnt have to have that unsightly heater in their living room. One of my Saturday jobs was to clean the lamps. We washed and dried the chimneys until they shined, trimmed the wicks and filled with kerosene. Mantle lamps gave a clear white light. When we put a hanging mantle lamp over the kitchen table it was almost as good as an electric lamp, honest it was, at least we did not have to have a lamp on the table.
Oh, I remember those cold trips to the toilet on those dark winter nights. Dorothy was afraid of the dark, but Ruthie wasnt. She coaxed Ruthie to go with her, but poor Dorothy paid dearly for it. She had to do countless things for Ruthie for her favors. But more than that, Ruthie would stand outside and threaten, Im leaving. This made for rather abbreviated visits to the cold, dark outhouse. I can only hope mission was accomplished.
During the short winter days of January and February mama caught up on her mending, and for a family of 8 there was plenty of that. I can still see her by the sewing machine patching overalls. Dad repaired harnesses in the wintertime. As long as I was home we did not have a tractor but relied on horse power. On a cold winters evening, after chores, he would bring the harnesses into the house so they would warm up during the night so they would be supple enough to work on. He made his own strong thread that he used for sewing. He took several strands of a special cord, and meshed them together with black wax until it was smooth, strong and glossy. He used a sharp punch to poke holes in the leather so he could stitch it by hand. He worked 2 or 3 days during daylight hours. The harnesses were ready for spring work. Mama dreaded those days because he messed up her neat house. I thought it rather cozy to have him in the house all day. As I look back it seems to me we had more severe winters with lots of snow than now, but perhaps it was that we were not as protected against the elements. Papa used to come in for a teakettle of boiling water to thaw out the hog water and to break the ice on the tank in the barnyard so the horses could drink. We had a bobsled and it was really fun to skim over the snow. Sometimes the horses would break through the hard crust of snow and flounder in the soft, deep snow beneath. One very cold snowy day I had cabin fever (snow holiday from school) and I crossed the fields to Uncle Bennies just for fun. I stayed all night and walked home the next morning. Aunt Malinda always kept a few guinea chickens. They were speckled white and grey and had. small heads. It was thought they would squawk and raise a raucous when a chicken hawk was winging overhead, thus warning the other barnyard fowl to seek cover. At home, too, I can still see the chickens streaking toward the chicken house for refuge then the hawks were near.
In those days neighbors and relatives visited back and forth. The kids played, the older folks visited, and the babies were put on the bed to sleep. We always had lunch. Soon the coffee pot would be bubbling on the kitchen range and sandwiches, cookies or doughnuts, cakes, pie and usually jello with bananas and real whipped cream would appear. They didnt count calories and they were not cholesterol conscious. The ample figures of the farmers wives bore silent testimony to that fact. When we got together with Bennies, we always played somerset, a great game and our favorite for winter months. As a small child I used to walk around the players until I spotted who had the double S and a knowing gleam came into my eyes. I dont think I was appreciated. I remember once Raymond cried when he got set.
Mama always kept baked things on hand just in case someone comes. Before we went to Bennies we used to implore mama not to talk Norwegian. We were afraid we would miss out on some juicy bit of gossip as to who was going with whom and who was expecting.
My father got his first car- a Chandler- when I was a baby. So I dont recall horse and buggy days. Sometimes on a cold Sunday morning the car refused to start, and papa would pour boiling water from the teakettle over the carburetor, and, if that didnt help, would hitch up a team of horses to pull the car around the barnyard. By putting the car in gear, and slowly releasing the clutch, the engine coughed and chugged to a reluctant start. Meanwhile I was in the back seat praying that it would start. We did not look for excuses to stay home from church.
During the cold winter months we got ready for bed by the cozy heater in the front room and then dash up stairs to our unheated bedroom and crawl into a cold bed. We snuggled deep in the covers, even covering our heads. We could see our breath, and the windows were covered with silvery leafy patterns, created by the brush of Jack Frost. The next morning we dashed downstairs and dressed by the warm fire that papa had going. To this day I like to sleep in a cool room. In spite of the cold I dont remember of being sick very often. During the coldest nights we closed the door to the kitchen and attempted to keep a low fire going in the heating stove. The kitchen got so cold the water in the water pail froze and the egg case had to be taken into the front room. Papa was the first one up to get the house warm for the rest of us. The evening before he put a few cobs to soak in kerosene, to get the fire going quickly in the kitchen range. He shook down the ashes, filled the fire box with cobs and wood the boys had brought in the night before, and strike a match to the kerosene soaked cobs. Instantly a flame leaped up and soon the warm fire chased away the icy cold. By the time the rest of us were up and dressed the kitchen was reasonably warm. The teakettle was singing merrily away and the tantalizing aroma of fragrant coffee and frying bacon filled the kitchen. Breakfast was papas best meal. Sometimes we had pancakes, or french toast, milk toast, oatmeal, eggs, bacon, bread and coffee, and even fried potatoes, and finished off with a cookie. While mama was making breakfast I was making the school lunches. When James was a senior in high school, Dorothy was in 1st grade, so all 6 of us were in school so that meant 6 lunches to make.
The first cold day in November mama dug out the winter underwear from the trunk and we were obliged to put it on. The first day it clung nicely to our bodies and our stockings were nice and smooth, but each succeeding day the underwear bagged and gapped more and more. fl tried to fold it neatly at the ankles but I t buckled and bulged.under my long black stockings. What-,1 got to school I sometimes rolled my underwear up over my knees and rolled them down again before going home. All the girls . Pants or slacks for girls were unheard of then We wore long sleeved wool dresses with smocks or aprons as they were easily washed. e had to change our clothes as soon as we got home to keep them clean for school. In place of slacks to keep our legs warm we had leggings that buttoned up to the knees. I had a pair of grey ones with black buttons that I wore, but they were a nuisance to put on. We all had 4-buckle overshoes.
Wash day for mama in the wintertime was a hard day but papa helped her. First he filled the boiler with soft water from the cistern and heated it over a raging fire on the kitchen range. Mama shaved a bar of her strong homemade soap into the boiler. The hot sudsy water had to be carried by pailful out to the washing machine in the cold schoolhouse. The gasoline engine that turned the dasher in the washing machine was started. The room reeked of gasoline fumes and was filled with the deafening noise from the engine and steam from the hot wet clothes. Extra soiled clothes got an extra rubbing on the wash board, socks and. pockets turned inside out. Meanwhile, another boiler full of soapy water had been heating in the kitchen and the white wash was dumped . Mama lifted, poked and turned the sheets, pillow. cases, towels and handkerchiefs in the boiling water until they were as white as driven snow. Two huge washtubs on wooden benches were filled with cold water for rinsing- she added blueing to the last rinse. Now they were ready to be taken to the clothes line and hung out to dry- or rather to freeze. They froze before they were securely fastened by the clothes pins and fingers became as stiff as the clothes. Four long lines were filled with the soggy clothes. Overalls and rugs were thrown over the fence that enclosed the yard. It was so cold mama wore heavy wraps with a woolen scarf on her head and 4-buckle overshoes on her feet. At nightfall we had to pry the rigid shapes loose from the clothes line and stagger indoors, draping them over a line we had stretched across the warm kitchen, over chairs, bedposts- anywhere that would accommodate them. Quickly they collapsed and gradually dried. Freezing dries out a lot of wet mama said, besides, they smell better. But that night we made supper dodging in and out and between the long legs of underwear and overalls. As a little boy Raymond was fascinated by the gasoline engine in the schoolhouse. In warmer weather he would lie down beside it and say, start it,
As I mentioned before, in the wintertime we played somerset. Both papa and mama were good players and we kids learned how to play and we loved it. Uncle Bennie was always in the thick of it and I can still hear him say, Ill bid you 16 times got so involved some winter evenings we forgot to go to bed. We popped corn, made fudge, froze homemade ice cream, and went to the cellar for some of our crisp homegrown apples. We had a wonderful time. We also put together jig-saw puzzles, played Chinese checkers and later- monopoly and scrabble. Mama was a good speller and a cracker jack at scrabble.
(continued on Part 4)