Part 2 of 6
We were 6 children in our family but we also had a baby brother who died when he was 3 days old. James was the eldest in our family. We all stayed home and helped with the work until we graduated from high school. James graduated in 1928 and enrolled at Waldorf College in the fall. After graduating from Waldorf two years later, the depression had hit so he stayed home the next 3 years helping papa on the farm. He then went to the state of Washington to seek his fortune and he was very successful. He graduated from Cheney Normal School and taught school several years before taking a position as supervisor at the Spokane Post Office. He married a lovely bride, Catherine Burley and they have 2 beautiful daughters, Christine and Pat. They have 3 grandsons. We were privileged to attend their 50th wedding anniversary in the summer of 1987. He was born Sept 5, 1910.
Brother Curtis was a handsome, personality-plus guy. He was always the popular one. He was the president of the student body at Waldorf, and also captain of the basketball team. After graduating from Waldorf he taught school for a year in the country near Leland, and then became a salesman. World War II interrupted his life for 3 1/2 years. Upon returning he and his wife Louise moved to Kansas City. He was an excellent salesman . We were crushed and saddened when we lost him to a heart attack in May of 1974, only 61 years of age. They had 2 very handsome children, Cathie and John. Cathie lives with her husband and 2 boys in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area, and John, who is a commercial artist, lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife, Greta. Curtis was born February 18,1913.
Raymond was born May 3, 1919. He is now enjoying a wonderful retirement in his lovely home in Auburn, Alabama, with his host of friends. After graduating from high school he also attended Waldorf. It was becoming a family tradition. He then got his B.S. degree from the University of Iowa. The war was ever coming closer to us so he enlisted in the army, went to officers school and became a lieutenant. He rose to the rank of captain before his term of service was over. He served in the Pacific theater of the war. After the war was over he got his M.A. and PH D degrees from the University of Iowa. He taught some years at Tulane University in New Orleans and then went to Auburn University, where he taught until his retirement. He had the gift of music and also the gift of teaching. Students clamored to be in his classes. He was a popular teacher. He is now a world traveler and a horticulturist of sorts, tending to his lovely yard and flowers.
Ruthie was born July 8, 1922. I remember the day she was born. Mama had baked green apple pies for dinner and the men were busy haying. She is now retired and lives in Seattle with her husband, Don Rafferty. They spend the winter months in their condominium in Green Valley, Arizona. She got her B.A. degree from Morningside College in Sioux City. She stayed with us those years and was a tremendous help to me. Our children were small at that time and how she loved them. She loved to doll them up, comb their hair and show them off. She used to take Karen to the college with her. Ruthie was fun-loving and a joy to have around and still is. Never a dull moment with Ruthie around. She taught in Iowa for a few years, and then like James, went out west to seek her fortune, got a teaching position in the Seattle schools and was a successful teacher. She always came home during the summer and we all looked forward to that time. Our kids would say, When Ruthie comes----. She brought much joy and comfort and fun into the lives of our parents, and for that she is blessed.
Dorothy, our baby sister, was born February 9, 1926. She is our nurse and is still practicing her profession in the Denison, Iowa Hospital. She married Phillip Rabe and they have 5 fine children. Dorothy took the Cadet Nurses Training during the War at the Lutheran Hospital in Sioux City. She and Phillip lived on the Rabe farm for a few years before moving to Denison. During the summers we would exchange kids. My children loved going to the farm and her children thought it was fun to come to the city. Steven is teaching in an elementary school in Germany. Tricia is a working nurse and lives near Iron River, Michigan, with her family. Stanley works for IBM in the state of New York. Beverly and her husband and their twins live in Omaha, as does Janet and her husband, Jeff. They are all a credit to their parents and we are proud of them.
I think Mom and Dad were proud of their family. We havent set the world on fire but we have all made our way and are decent, law-abiding citizens. It is ironic that they both died in Sioux City at the Lutheran Hospital. The first part of December, 1964, Mom called me saying that Dad was not well and that she was deeply concerned. We drove to Roland and took them back with us. We admitted Dad to the hospital on Sunday and he died within a few days on December 5, 1964, from cancer of the peritoneum. The strain had been so great on Mama that she, too, had to be admitted to the hospital, and was there when Dad died. She was determined to go back to Roland for the funeral and she did. Again the strain was too much for her and had a severe set-back after the funeral. She was very ill for some time and we thought we might lose her. But God spared her for a time for us to enjoy her a while longer. The two winters she spent with us and the summers in her beloved home in Roland where her many friends and relatives called on her and loved her. One summer Tricia spent some time with her and Ruthie came too. In much the same way as with Dad, we brought her to Sioux City, after the dear old home in Roland had been sold and we admitted her in the Lutheran Hospital for tests. The trauma of selling the home, and the selling of her household treasures was too much for her tired heart and she passed away on August 18, 1966. Kari was about 3 weeks old. Mama knew about her but never saw her. Thus ended the lives of two great people. The longer I live, the more I love, admire, respect and adore my parents. They have made a lasting impression on the lives of their children. I am so thankful that all of our children knew and loved them. They were highly respected in the community, thoughtful and kind to all. Dad was appointed or elected to many local boards such as the school board, elevator board, bank board, board of deacons at Bethany Lutheran and served as township clerk for many years. This indicates the degree of trust the people had in him.
Mama was an excellent homemaker, kept our little home clean and neat- no easy task with 6 kids and a farmer husband. We had a small frame house, 3 bedrooms up stairs with the kitchen, living room (we called it the front room) pantry and one bedroom downstairs. It was cozy in the wintertime with the heater in the living room and range in the kitchen, with warm glowing in each. We had an old country schoolhouse that had been moved to just west of our house, the two were connected with a cement platform. Every spring we moved out there and what fun that was. Mama had scrubbed away the winters dirt and grime and it was nice and clean. Freshly ironed curtains were hung on the shining windows, the floor as clean and fresh as a spring rain. The kitchen range, the kitchen cupboard, the every day dishes and silver, pots and pans all found their way to the schoolhouse. The crowning point was putting a new flowered oilcloth on the big square table. Here we cooked and ate, washed and ironed, baked and washed dishes all summer. This left the house cool and clean, and anyway, it was almost like camping out. But when the first chilly days of autumn came it was good to get back in the house,warm and cozy again.
Mama was a good cook and often had company for huge Sunday dinners, with papa peeling the potatoes. Every Saturday was baking day. It was not unusual for her to bake bread, doughnuts, pies and a cake, with cookies thrown in for good measure, all in one day and perhaps set a salad and dress chickens after supper. And when all that was done, wash the kitchen floor when the rest of us were asleep. At least we helped by being out of the way.
Mama always had a certain amount of class, and had an eye for style. She was a striking looking woman with her deep brown eyes and abundant auburn hair and regal carriage. She played the piano well and we had music in our home; we gathered around the piano and sang hymns. I can still hear her play Robins Return and Humoresque. I am afraid she was disappointed in me. She tried to make a pianist out of me. Goodness knows, I tried too, but to no avail, and I cost the folks some money. I took lessons from both Ted and Harry Christensen, but a pianist I am not. Mama was happier with Raymond- he showed real talent. I just guess some people have it and some do not. Speaking of Raymond and his music, he sang a solo at a Farm Bureau meeting at our place one summer evening, When I Am Big Like Papa. He was just a little lad and it was a big hit.
Papas cousin, Simon Ritland, from Huxley, used to visit us, in fact he stayed and worked for Uncle Bennie. He played the fiddle and we had some lively music with mama at the piano and Simon on the fiddle, and Clarence Ritland joined in with his solo voice. They prayed and sang old favorites such as The Irish Washerwoman, Red Wing, and When Irish Eyes are Smiling. Mama was also good on the mouth organ. Sometimes papa stood behind her to hold the mouth organ while she played it and the piano at the same time. That was something to see. Papa put on a little performance of his own- and danced a jig. He was quick and nimble on his feet. He said he jigged as a young man to keep his feet warm in the barn while doing chores on his fathers farm.
Saturday night was bath night. In the wintertime that meant bringing in the wash tub, heating water on the kitchen range, and taking baths by the heater in the front room. There was a very noticeable crack in the door and when it was Ruthies turn to bathe Raymond would stand on the other side of that door and say in a sing-song, taunting voice, I am looking, I am looking. Ruthie wailed, Mama, make Raymond get away from that door. Poor Ruthie, Raymond made her life miserable at times. In the summertime we used the same bath procedure, but in the schoolhouse.
When I was a very little girl mama had a seamstress come and sew lovely dresses for herself and me. There were not so many ready-made dresses on the racks in the stores and most people made their own, but with an eye for style mama had a dressmaker come. I am wearing, one of her creations in the picture of me when I was about 3 years old. It is a white dress with a wide blue ribbon drawn across the front and back and tied loosely at the sides. It is a beautiful dress. Mama took great pride in dressing me nicely.
Years and years ago a Jewish itinerant peddler, named Moses, came to our house to sell his merchandise. I can still visualize him turning into our driveway with his horse pulling his black, box-like wagon. He had a veritable treasure stowed away and as he opened the back doors and pulled out his wares our curiosity grew. He had pins and needles, snap fasteners and hooks and eyes, ribbons and bows, thimbles and lace, colorful braids and trimmings, safety pins and scissors, thread and buttons, notions of all kinds, even tablecloths and yard goods. This was before the days of frequent trips to town and it was a service to the farmers wives. Mama always bought something. I was too small to know Moses was Jewish. Had I been told I am sure I would not have known what it meant. We were sad to see him drive away, knowing it would be a long time before he would come again. We also had the Watkins and Raleigh salesmen come, and our kitchen cupboard was full of their products, spices,vanilla, lemon and maple extracts and fruit flavored nectar which we made into cold drinks. Watkins Mentholatum was an old stand-by for colds. Then a broom man used to come selling his hand-made brooms. He also sharpened scissors. Papa sharpened his own tools on the grindstone. He sat on the seat and worked the lever with his foot that turned the wheel. A can of water was suspended above the turning grind-stone that dripped water on the metal to be sharpened that kept it cool. The blade to be sharpened was pressed against the grindstone wheel and the friction honed it to a fine edge. In those days we also had beggars come to our door begging for a meal. I cant remember that they ever asked for work but they asked for a handout. Mama never turned them away. She always prepared a plate of food with thick slices of homemade bread spread with her good butter and steaming cups of coffee. We kids were wary but curious too, peeking around the corner at them, being careful not to get too close. Papa always shaved with a straight edge razor as long as we were on the farm. I dont think safety razors had come into being yet. He sharpened the straight edge on the razor strop, which was a strip of leather about 3 inches wide and 18 inches long. Back and forth, over and under he moved the razor until it was very sharp. He always used bay rum as an after shave and I loved the smell of it. He smelled good when we went to church.
Our kitchen was a cozy place. The big black kitchen stove reigned supreme. Mama blackened the top and polished the nickel trim. A reservoir on its right side was filled with soft water from the pump by the sink. That pump delivered soft-to-soap rain water from the cistern for our many uses. but not without priming. It stubbornly refused to bring up the water until we first poured a gallon or two down its throat, pumping furiously all the while until it at last gurgled and coughed and a stream of soft water gushed forth. The roaring fire in the fire box heated the water in the reservoir for dishes and shampoos. Coming in from the cold what comfort to open the oven door, thrust our feet into its dark interior and toast our toes. Pure comfort. Wet mittens steamed on the back of the stove as they dried. In the corner of the kitchen mamas cupboard held all our good dishes and silver, with the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward Catalogues placed on top. We kids over them and wished a lot. These eventually ended up in the outhouse which accounted for our longer than necessary time spent there. A shelf above the sink held the old fashioned clock that ticked so loudly and proclaimed each hour on the hour. The big round table was prominent with the hanging coleman mantle lamp above it. Here the family gathered 3 times a day for meals. A new oilcloth on the table always made the kitchen bright and cheerful. By the sink we had a water pail with a dipper where we quenched our thirst. On the east wall was the telephone. For years our telephone number was 3F, meaning 3 short rings. Many farm families were on our party line and the women often rubbered (listened) in on other conversations. A long continuous ring was a general ring. Everyone ran to the telephone to hear the important news, perhaps there had been an accident or a fire or some other calamity that needed willing hands to help. On stormy winter mornings we kids hoped the general ring meant no school. We had a bracket lamp with a mirror reflector attached to the wall by the pantry. With this reflector we could direct a beam of light. Mamas sewing machine was by the east window and it was a convenient place to dump school books, papers and odds and ends. A paper rack was on the south wall where the daily papers were kept. Ray made a wooden medicine cabinet with a towel roller in manual training and that was hung on the south wall also. We hung our wraps on the hooks behind the door. In the pantry the kitchen cabinet was full of baking supplies including 2 bins, one for sugar and one for flour. It also had a tin-covered working space where mama kneaded her bread rolled out cookies and pie crusts. On the opposite side of the pantry were the built-in shelves for our everyday dishes. Pots and pans were hung on the wall above a long shelf. The kitchen table was the center of activity in the long winter evenings. Mama was busy with mending, papa smoked his pipe and read the Wallaces Farmer, The Homestead or Successful Farming. Mamas extravagance was the Ladies Home Journal but she also read the Nevada Evening Journal and the Lutheran Herald. Of course, we had The Des Moines Register (the newspaper Iowa depends on) where papa would read the latest news. We kids had our favorites too. The folks thought we should read The Friend (by N.N. Ronning) to shore up our ideals, but I loved The Bobbsey Twins, The Five Little Peppers, Zane Greys books, and PollyAnna, and Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm. Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott was a special favorite. Then we had our school work, Sunday School lessons and when we went to read for the preacher we had our confirmation lessons to study. This was all accomplished around the big, round table in the kitchen. Yes, it was a cozy place.
In our farm community we had never heard of trick or treat for Halloween but I do remember receiving a May basket or two in the spring.
While I was still very young papa had a lean-to built onto the garage. This was done when the new barn was built in 1919 (I was 4 years old) and the old haymow door was used as the floor. One half of the area was mine; James and Curtis had the other half for a shop. This was my playhouse. Mama made curtains for the windows and put up a little shelf. I brought down my dolls, dishes, and improvised furniture from big wooden boxes. James and Curtis made a darling little hayrack, complete with slings for bringing in the hay. They even had a rope and pulley and a trip rope that carried in the hay and dumped it. It was quite ingenious. I also remember a cute little steam engine that they ran on denatured alcohol. We also played Indian in the grove north of the house. We fashioned our wigwams with sticks and stones and boxes. I chose Laughing Waters as my Indian name. I thought it was so romantic.
We all took our turns with measles, chicken pox, and mumps and generously shared them with each other. A family in our community lost a daughter to the dreaded diphtheria and panic seized us all. This little girl was in Raymonds grade. When a malady of this magnitude struck a family an officer of health tacked an evil-looking placard on the door. Quarantine! No one left or entered that house until the disease had run its course and the house was fumigated. If there were several children in the house this could take weeks as it was passed from one to the other. Everyone in our school, even adults, had diphtheria vaccinations at school at this time. If it worked it left you with a bad scar on your arm.
One winter we school kids brought home the itch. It was no disgrace as everyone caught it. It made a tremendous amount of work for mama. Every night we all had to take baths, and that took a bit of doing and the old wash tub was pressed into service. Then our bodies were smeared with a black tar-like salve before we put on our clean underwear. Of course, all our underwear became stained in spite of all the rubbing, boiling and hot soapy water on almost daily washings. At last the scourge was conquered. I believe it was Ruthie who brought home head lice once. Luckily, no one else got it. Mama attacked them just as vigorously as she did the itch. Their days were numbered.
In my minds eye I can picture the old McCallsburg Main Street On the North side was Dillin Store, Andrew Haugens General Store, and Shearers Drug Store. Dillin Store was quite large, one side had groceries and dry goods, and the other side was farm supplies. During the Christmas season they had large tables covered with wonderful toys for sale. After the Sunday School practices on Saturdays we trooped to the store and played with them all. We wound them up and watched them go. These toys would be collectors items now- little iron horses pulling darling carriages, organ grinders with little dancing monkeys, jack-in-the-box, small iron farm implements, lovely china dolls. As I look back I am amazed the store owners put up with us. Sometimes on a summer evening Dillin store offered outdoor movies at 10 cents a head. Ward Shearer was in my grade in school and his father owned the drug store. It had a soda fountain but I dont remember of ever having the luxury of sitting up to the counter and ordering a chocolate soda. And how we envied those who could afford to sit at the little round marble-topped tables and sit on the cute little round chairs with the wire backs and feast on a strawberry sundae. Amos Hansons garage was on the corner across from the drug store. On the south side of the street was Rassie Thompsons filling station (we didnt call them gas stations then), the post office with its rows of individual mail boxes, the McCallsburg State Bank (Heglands), and Reids Hardware Store, where we charged our new books and school supplies to papa. Across the street next came Nehemiah Nelsons bank (Papa never did business there. They did not see eye-to-eye.) Then it was Dr. Nordgrens office and apartment, Sam Hollands Meat Market and grocery, Bethany Lutheran Parish House and the old hotel where Dr. Mills had his office. Later it became a variety store. Across the street was the town park, and the blacksmiths shop. That was our home town as I remember it as a child. This was where papa and mama did most of their trading. Eggs were brought to the grocery stores in exchange for groceries, and tall cans of rich cream were sold at the creamery on a side street off main street. Mama charged groceries at Hollands store and papa paid the bill at the end of every month which prompted Sam to send a green and pink striped sack of candy home to us kids. As long as we were still home with the folks we called them papa and mama, but when we went to college and became worldly-wise, we said, Mom and Dad. We were now sophisticated!
Mama and her 3 sisters were very close and they cherished their visits with one another, whether it was in our home, Badger or Red Wing. When Aunt Annie was so very ill and they knew she could not live long the 4 sisters had a few precious weeks together. They worked, laughed and prayed and reminisced about old times. They talked about their parents and their girlhoods. It was April and Aunt Annies wish was that she would spend Easter in heaven. Her wish was granted; she passed away on Good Friday. I was 14 years old- a freshman in high school. During mamas absence I was the homemaker. It was my job to keep everything on even keel in the house. I got us off to school with dinner pails under our arms, got the evening meal, washed dishes, cleaned the house, washed and ironed after school and on Saturdays. I even had a house guest. Uncle Westphal was raising money for some church project. Papa drove him around to solicit but I cooked for him. One Saturday Raymond and I decided to make frosted creams. We completely forgot them in the oven. When at last we rescued them they were burned and hard. It didnt occur to us to throw them out; times were hard and food was not to be wasted. We called them burned crisps and ate them. Papa, the kids and I drove to Badger for the sad funeral. I thought it was heartbreaking that now Charlotte, Oline, Buddy and Maurice did not have their mother. I felt very fortunate indeed that we did have ours.
Mama told me a little about sickness and death before the days of big hospitals and morticians. For the most part, the people died at home with their loved ones around them at their bedside, often praying and singing hymns. At the time of death it was their sad duty to close the eyes, wash and dress the body and tie the jaws shut before they became rigid. I marvel at the strength and stamina of those people. What a hard task it must have been, but done with loving hands. The undertaker did provide the coffin and place the body in it. It was not a full time profession as the morticians are today, but he was usually a furniture dealer in these small Iowa towns. At no time was the body left alone. All night long friends, and relatives kept a vigil. I remember my father going to sit up all night at the home of Ole Haugen, whose wife had died. The deceased did not leave the home until after the family service just prior to the church service. There were no vaults, the casket was lowered unprotected into the ground. Today we pretty up our funerals. No, I would not like to go back to the old way, but we must admit that the pioneers hit the realities head-on. They faced their grief with faith and fortitude. There was no other way.
Bethany Lutheran Church played an important part of our lives. We 4 older children were baptized in Roland Bergen Church by Rev. Smedal, as Bethany had not been established at that time. Ruthie was baptized by Uncle Rev. M. J. Westphal who was the Lutheran pastor at Williams, Iowa, about 35 miles from home. Aunt Isabelle was to carry her but she cried so hard mama had to take her. Dorothy was baptized by one of our deacons, Ole Haugen. We had received the sad news of Uncle Williams death and mama did not want to take the baby to North Dakota to the funeral unless she was baptized. Rev. Benson was out of town.
We first went to Sunday School at the McCallsburg Presbyterian Church and my first Christmas program was in that church. We called it the American Church. We were the Norwegians. Then a young dedicated Christian girl, Alta Haugen, started a Lutheran Sunday School. The result was that Bethany Lutheran Congregation was established and together with Zion Lutheran in Hardin County called Rev. Benson as our pastor. From day one our family was deeply involved and it made a great impact on our lives. Papa was Sunday School superintendent and adult Bible class teacher for many years. He took this assignment seriously and spent many hours in preparation. When he took mama to Marshalltown or Ames to shop he would sit in the car and study his Sunday School lesson. Mamas talents in music and leadership were put to good use. At various times she was organist (pumping the old reed organ) choir director, Sunday School teacher, soloist at many funerals, president of the Ladies Aid and president of the Circuit Womens Missionary Federation. The older women of the congregation belonged to the Ladies Aid. The younger, so-called more sophisticated ladies joined The Sunshine Mission. Mamas reaction to that was, They think they are so smart. Mama was capable and willing.
(continued on Part 3)