My mother sent me this story recently — what a treasure it is! My great-grandmother’s sister Gertrude wrote it for her daughter Nancy at some point. Nancy typed it up from her mother’s handwritten manuscript and shared it with the family. It’s a quite lengthy account of the “old days” growing up on a farm in Minnesota.
We ran the typewritten pages through OCR software and I went through and cleaned up the resulting file. I have purposely left in a few typos, spelling, or grammar errors to preserve the author’s voice. Nancy included a “prologue” and a “preface” before the main story.
My great-grandmother Clara was the oldest of nine children; Gertrude was right in the middle of them, eight years younger than Clara. I never met Gertrude but I feel like I know her a little bit having read this. And I now know more about where my musical aptitude and my love of learning come from.
— Rothko Hauschildt
I remember many visits to my Grandma Quast’s farm house when I was a child. At Christmas or Thanksgiving the same big solid oak kitchen table was pulled out with her children, their spouses and children sitting where once sat her growing family, threshing crews, etc. Even though there was an electric range added to the kitchen, there still was the wood and coal range there, a fancy one with a beautiful blue enamel finish. An oak clock with a pendulum ticked and would strike on the hour on a shelf on the wall. One time Grandma took down a box from a little drawer under the clock shelf which contained about a dozen Indian arrow heads that had been found years ago while plowing with a walking plow. She gave one to me and to a cousin who was there that day.
Grandma only walked with her artificial leg when she went somewhere, such as to church. Around home she did everything from a chair that had 4 swivel wheels about 4 inches in diameter that she could maneuver around very easily propelling herself with her one leg. When she wanted to reach something high out of a cupboard she’d stand on her one leg and get it, then sit down again. Some years for her birthday some of her daughters would reupholster her chair. Her birthday was the 4th of July, so there always was a big family gathering at her house that day. Sometimes in the evening Aunt Irene would take us children to see the fire works in Zumbrota. Later Grandma and Aunt Irene built a new house in Zumbrota.
Even though my grandfather died before I was born, I remember looking into the shop with all the tools as he had left it. There was a big round forge which he used to make shoes for his horses. I think the shop was in the “old house” where my great grandparents had lived. My grandfather also did some leather work making and repairing shoes for his children and harnesses for the horses. My cousins and I played around the barn and walked out in the pasture. A few stones remained in the pasture that had been the foundation of the cheese factory.
[My husband and daughter] were with me the last time I was at the Quast farm. It was shortly before Uncle John and his family moved to Zumbrota. [My daughter] was just a year or two old and doesn’t remember.
In the 1970’s with many people going from living in town to getting a few acres out in the country and reading Countryside and The Mother Earth News and raising a garden, milking a goat, etc. they were in a way going back to some of the ways of rural self sufficiency that people lived several generations ago, yet they can make their choice and use whatever modern technology with it that they wish.
Besides the big Quast family, others who stayed and worked there became like part of the family. Mother wrote about Jim Ludford tearing plaster off the house when Johnny was a baby. Jim was an orphan with a difficult childhood. For the rest of his life he remained close to the Quasts and was at family gatherings. I remember my parents visiting back and forth with Jim and his wife, Matilda, when they lived at Owatonna. He was a mortician and had funeral parlors in Owatonna and Ellendale. He was always in poor health and toward the end his robust and usually healthy wife who had been taking care of him suddenly died of a heart attack. When Elsa was small I remember once stopping to see Jim when he was in a rest home in New Richland. He was blind and bed ridden and listening to tapes of hymns and sermons his pastor had brought htm. He was waiting to be done with this life and said in tears he wished he could have gone instead of Matilda. As a funeral director, he never became hard hearted or calloused. Matilda had told of the night mares he had after being called to accident scenes. He had done his best to comfort countless families in their grief. Blind and helpless in a rest home he probably was doing his greatest work as he gave testimony of his faith as he himself was looking forward to going home to heaven.
Because [my daughter] and I enjoyed my mother’s writings so much, we’d like to share them with friends and relatives. By way of explanation for those who don’t know the family, my mother had a sister Martha and also an aunt across the road named Martha. Mother’s oldest sister and also the cousin across the road were named Clara, and also they had an Aunt Clara Pirius. Her sister Clara married Roy Schultz down the road and as of this writing she is still there on the Schultz farm and is in her 80’s. [Clara Quast Schultz died March 1, 1996.]
White Willow was sort of between Goodhue and Zumbrota but off the high way a few miles. I’ve seen the name of White Willow on old maps. Driving through now, no one would ever know there was a place called White Willow there. Nothing remains of the elevator, store, depot, etc. The foundation of the small house might still be there. Even the railroad tracks are gone. The Quast and Perry farms are under different ownership, the Quast farm going down hill.
My mother was in the middle of a family of 9 children. Their parents were John Quast (1869-1939) and Alvina Pirius (1880-1975). They were married about the turn of the century. The children are as follows: Clara (1903[-1996]), Leila (1905-1918), Irene (1907), Martha (1910), Gertrude (1911), Ramona (1914), John (1918), Ruth (1920-1943), and Walter (1924-1984).
Alvina (Pirius) Quast with daughters (from left): Ruth, Ramona, Gertrude, Martha, Irene, Clara — maybe 1940-ish?
My mother gave this book to [my daughter] and me on Christmas Day, 1985. It is about the most special Christmas present ever. During Christmas vacation I started reading “Tell Me” to [her] one evening and finished the next morning. I had heard most of these things so many times when I was small that I could picture it all in my mind as if it was almost like my own memories I was sharing with [her], and for days I was going around with my mind about 60 years in the past. She wrote in an old unused diary about 136 hand written pages.
Besides her sisters and brothers there are a few other frequently mentioned names such as Herb, a cousin who stayed and worked there for awhile. He later married Verona Schultz. Howard Johnson worked there awhile and after he came back from World War II, he and Martha were married.
My great grandfather, Cord Quast, had come from Germany in 1868. It was 100 years later in 1968 that I was in Germany and visited relatives in brick houses that had been there for over 300 years. Julius Quast, a cousin of my grandfather’s and his daughter Elizabeth showed me around. They live in Buxtehude near Hamburg. Jacob Quast born in 1653 was a charter member of a church at Neuenfelde, and I saw his name carved there. Aunt Clara says that her grandparents Mr. & Mrs. Cord Quast went back to Germany to visit in 1906, and she has some jewelry they brought back for her. [I have this necklace now; it’s a lovely little art nouveau piece.]
by Gertrude [Quast] Nodland
This is entitled “Tell Me” because how often when you were small, Nancy, you would say, “Tell me about when you were little” or “Tell me when you were in school. Tell me what you did when you were small. Tell me about when you were teaching.” “Tell me,” you would say, and then I would think of something to tell you. I knew you were lonesome and I had so many things that needed to be done that I would “tell you” things while I kept at the job I was doing.
Some of the things you may have forgotten, some things probably I forgot to tell you, so I’ll just “Tell You” all over again:
I created this map from Gertrude’s hand-drawn sketch she included in her story.
From small on we had to help where ever we could, but we had some time to play. We had a small shed along the outdoor toilet in which split wood was stored for winter, but in the summer, we used it as a play house, Martha, Ramona, and me. We planted morning glories or climbing beans on the east side. It was made of rough unpainted boards. The floor, or rough boards were scrubbed and on the wall we hung pictures we had made in school or cut from calendars. Our furniture probably was a stump or block of wood to sit on, but we used our imaginations to have pleasant times. I think there are camera pictures of us near “our house.”
We had rope swings that we enjoyed. In the winter we loved to slide and would carry water to make a smooth place to slide from the house to the road or down to the barn. There was only one sled, so we had to take turns. There were no toys for individuals, only things we could share or use together.
We had a ball and playing “Anti-anti-over” was a big game. When we were smaller it was throwing it over the wash house and when we were much bigger, probably grown up, we played over the barn–probably the hired man or cheese maker or friends played with us. I remember when Howard was playing when the ball fell in a cow pie in the cow yard and he threw it and Ramona caught that dirty ball. What a laugh!
We had the pony “Teddy” as long as I can remember, but he was bought when Clara had to go to catechism so Dad wouldn’t have to take her–that was 4 miles to go and Teddy was pokey. The first summer that Ramona and I went to catechism in Goodhue (3 l/2 miles) we took Teddy and the buggy as there was a barn near the church that he could stay in while we were in church. We had to be there at 8:00 a.m. and got out at 12:00, ten weeks of the summer, 5 days a week. After that first summer with slow “Teddy”, we walked and sometimes could catch rides. One summer I remember Bernard Zemke was going to catechism and we could walk up north to the first cross road to meet him and ride in the Model T. We went to summer school 3 summers and were confirmed the spring when Ramona and I were freshmen in High School. When Clara went it was in German, but by the time we went it was in English. Besides going to summer school 3 summers, the freshman year we had to get out of school Wednesday afternoons to go to catechism and also Saturday mornings. In those days we never had Sunday school. We went to Saturday school before that freshman year, too. The minister would teach one summer in Minneola and the next summer at St. Peter’s in Goodhue. Every other year one congregation would have to hire some one to teach summer school. In Goodhue they usually got a parochial school teacher from Grace or St. John’s and at that time always was a man teacher–some we were scared to death of but one was Theodore Schultz who was so easy going that some of the kids had fun. If he couldn’t keep order, then we would all have to sing while he played the organ. When one got up to recite the many memorizations we had to do, when one sat down, one could probably sit on a thumb tack or a stack of books or something some one had piled up while we were reciting. One time some one held up a sharpened pencil when Ramona sat down. It broke off in her and gave her some trouble–think she had to go to the doctor.
At home we were kept busy–there was a lot of work with a big family and some times hired man and boarding the cheese maker. The cheese maker was too busy to come for dinner, so the hot dinner was packed in a basket and carried to him. He would bring the basket and dishes back when he came for supper.
We had to wipe dishes from as long as I can remember and what a pile of dishes there were from all of them! What a large kettle full of potatoes were peeled and cooked each noon. One pie would never do for all those. It seemed that wiping dishes took so very very long and how we hated that job! It was much more fun to help in the barn as we seldom got scolded for what we did there and we never knew what a compliment was as we never heard praise no matter how hard we tried or how much we did.
In the barn we went in the hay mow to throw down hay for the horses. I think there were 3 trap doors for the horses, or was it 4–each one for 2 horses to fill their mangers. Sometimes Mart, Ramona, and I would play Hide and Seek up there in the dark hay mow–just opened up one small door for light near the trap door going down the steps. Depending on the time of year, when the cattle weren’t out in the pasture we would have to throw down hay or shredded corn for them, down the steps. To get the hay loose in the hay mow was a job! Corn straw was also packed so tight that it took awhile to get it all loose. Then the 3 of us always cleaned the horse barn, filling it in a box which hung on a track and pushed out in the yard where it tripped, turned over and fell on a pile. The cow barn was cleaned out in the morning after the cows were let out, but we had to carry straw on a fork from the straw pile out in the yard to bed the cows and the horses. Of course in the summer there wasn’t as much work with the cows in the pasture. Getting straw loose from the straw pile was just as much work as loosening the hay in the hay mow. It was a learned art to stack the straw right as to carry a big fork full into the barn. If one stacked it right and carried it carefully, one could hardly see the one carrying it, just like a moving pile of straw going into the barn.
Planting potatoes for such a large family was quite a job– stooping over for so long that the back got very tired and we had to help with that from small on. There were several at it so we could chatter as we worked, but our poor backs!
In the fall when the potato digging was done, that was just as much back trouble, stopping and stooping to put them in pails, to be put in sacks and then loaded in a wagon to take home–not just one wagon load, but wagon loads to be stored in the basement. That big kettle of potatoes cooked each noon. A bushel wouldn’t last long. We usually had fried potatoes for summer. In those days there usually was fried potatoes for breakfast, either with fried meat or fried eggs. Sometimes instead of fried eggs we had eggs fixed in a kind of custard like way. I remember the German name but have no idea what it could be called in English. We ate this over fried potatoes, and it was delicious. First small cubes of bacon were fried crisp and most of the fat poured off. Eggs were whipped with milk, salt, and pepper and then cooked until kind of thick and custard like.
Getting back to picking up potatoes in the fall, I can remember once Howard was working for Dad and we were in the potato patch between the store and the rail road tracks –where the elevator used to be. Howard threw a potato at the depot door and a man came out and scolded.
In the depot was a round cast iron stove and a long oak bench for passengers to sit. In those days bums always traveled the rail road track and quite often slept in the depot. Sometimes after supper when the work was done, we would walk down to Rowena and Verona Schultz. Coming home when it was dark, we were afraid to go past the depot for fear a man could be in there. We would be as quiet as we could until we got past the depot, and then we would run for home!
Johnny was born December 10 of 1918. I’m sure my parents were delighted to have a boy after having 6 girls. That following May was when Leila came home from school not feeling at all well, called the doctor and he said she had appendicitis. Some of us kids had whooping cough I think. Some people at that time had cars but we didn’t, but I’m sure Mr. Schultz did. I can’t understand why someone didn’t take Leila to the hospital that very night–certainly the doctor then must have come in a car. Whether the roads could have been that bad- no gravel on country roads, or if the doctor didn’t think it was that urgent. He said to put on hot packs, and they did. How much better if cold had been applied. The train going to Red Wing came at 8:00 am. She was put on a narrow cot and taken by wagon to the train–put in the baggage car to Red Wing and Dad went along, probably Irene, too. What must have gone through Leila’s mind, doing
something that had to be done, not knowing what to expect, never before having been away from home. It was ruptured appendicitis, and from the start there was no hope. Leila was thirteen and Irene was eleven. I wasn’t in school yet. Irene I think stayed in the hospital and had a bed in the room with Leila. I think she lived about 2 weeks before she died. Dad would take the train about every day to Red Wing. A few times Mother went and Aunt Martha took care of baby Johnny. Mother nursed him and couldn’t be gone long. She could take the 8:00 train to Red Wing and come back at 12:00 or take the afternoon 4:00 train and come back at 8:00 p.m. That death was scar leaving for me. How very vividly I still can see the coffin in the parlor, and later Ruth’s coffin and my father’s in that same place. I remember Leila’s funeral: riding in the buggy behind the horse drawn hurse and then the ride from Minneola church behind the hurse to the cemetary in Zumbrota. It seemed like such a long ride, such a long time!
In those days of funerals no one wore anything except white or black. I can remember the black veil worn over Mother‘s black hat and all her black clothes. Even Dad’s hat had a black crepe band put around. I had a white Sunday straw hat with a bunch of blue forget-me-nots on the band which had to be removed. I hated to see them taken off, but taken off they were, and I didn’t say anything, although my pretty hat was spoiled.
Dad made in his shop narrow spades for us children to dig thistles–not a one ever dared blossom. Then we carried those plants home and put them in the smoke house to die so no more thistles would start from those plants. During the summer that always was our responsibility to dig thistles.
A job I always hated was carry lunch to those out in the field, morning and afternoon lunch. We kids took turns, but I certainly didn’t like the job.
I told about planting and picking potatoes, but I forgot about the hoeing. We had quite a number of hoes, two were pointed hoes but they were large ones. The first two to get the hoes first always took the pointed ones as it was so much easier to hoe with them than those square hoes. Those potato rows were long and seemed ages to get to the end and even if there were a number of us hoeing, the patch was big and it seemed to take a long time. When we got to be older, 12, 13, 14 or so we also had to mix paris green with water to poison the potato bugs. One time Martha, Ramona and I went to do it, going barefoot walking in the hot dry dirt between the rows, our feet got sore underneath that we tied long grass around our feet.
When the chicken coup had to be shingled, Ramona and I were supposed to lay the shingles for Pete Rheder to nail. The chicken coup was not very high, but there was a rude scaffold for us to walk along. It must have not been made strong enough for 3 of us because it broke and Pete and I fell down but Ramona hung on to the roof. Pete did carpenter work and painting in the neighborhood.
From small on we had little jobs in the house like cleaning the wash basin, every Saturday scrub the inside of the outdoor toilet, floor and seat. We had to take the broom and water and scrub the front porch floor except it wasn’t done when the water would freeze.
The old house of 3 rooms was on the east side of the present house when I was a child so if one went out of the east door of home, a porch ran from there across the front of the old house. In summer the cook stove was moved out of the kitchen into the old house and all cooking, canning, and all meals were out there so that the big house was cool and looked like a dining room. If we had company on Sunday night for supper, the table was set in the kitchen of the big house, and food carried in from the old house. In the fall the cook stove was taken down and moved back into the kitchen of the big house.
When I was a small child I remember plaster in the house being crummy and sometimes patches falling out even if that house wasn’t very old. I think it was built in the early 1900’s–suppose it was just a poor plaster job. I think Johnny was small when he had just had a nap in the bed room and then taken out in the kitchen when a patch fell out of the bedroom ceiling. Something had to be done, so all the furniture was taken out of the down stairs and that summer the old house was used entirely except for the up stairs in the big house. James Ludford was hired as a helper to the cheese maker and boarded at our house. After his hours in the cheese factory, he tore off old plaster. There wasn’t basement under the whole house, so Dad made a 2 wheel dump cart to which horses were hitched and by hand the dirt was dug out beneath the west end of the house under the part which was living room and parlor–all dug by hand, then cemented and a furnace put in. A new chimney was also put in the house before the new plaster was put in. All that work was interesting to childish eyes.
The living room and parlor were done by painters from town–they really must have been professionals because those rooms stayed that way for many years. They were beautiful. I can’t describe how they looked, but it was designed with a yellowish tan background with pale green and rust design, and how it blended with the wood work! Anyone can do a plain paint job on a wall, but it really must have taken some skill to make the walls look like that.
I could have been about ten or so when Dad bought the piano. Seems many people bought player pianos, so Dad did too, John Borass had the music store in Zumbrota and often stopped at our house wanting to sell a piano. And a player piano so we could have music immediately was the most happy occasion!! Ruth was a baby and I suppose that first day we really kept that piano going until baby Ruth couldn’t settle down to sleep, but would just fall asleep and then wake up crying. I suppose after that first day she got used to it. A real piano–well, that was a dream come true. As a child I can remember making believe I was playing a piano, the piano was a chair and I used my fingers on the chair seat and sang to make believe it was a piano.
Clara Weeks had her player piano a short time before we got ours, so when we were at her house we heard her rolls. At home it wasn’t just the player being used, I fingered that piano first with the right hand to play a tune and soon found keys with the left hand that harmonized. When cousins or friends were at our house, they would ask me to play which pleased me.
I suppose I was about 12 years old when Anetta Peterson, who lives in Zumbrota wanted to have a piano class to teach. Anetta Peterson and folks at one time lived in that small house in White Willow. Verona was going to take lessons, too, there probably were 7 or 8. One week Annette would cone to the Schultz’s by train and next week to our house and all the pupils would come to either our house or Schultzs. Annette would come on the 8:00 a.m. train and go back to Zumbrota on the 8:00 p.m. train. When she was at our house to give lessons, the lesson was free, other times we paid 50¢ for an hour’s lesson. Then she had meals free, too, at the house where she gave lessons. When ever she was at our house, I got more than an hours lesson, and I could have sat there all day. I’m sure she enjoyed teaching me, as I always knew my lesson. No one ever had to tell me to practice–that was pure pleasure! I’m sure I was way ahead of the rest, as the piano meant so much to me. I took lessons during the summer for about 2 summers.
Playing school was a great interest when we were small, although there wasn’t much material to play with. Paper and pencils were the most important and we used the backs of old calendars and wrapping paper from the store– few bags, as most things were wrapped and often seemed to be wrapped in white paper. We always brought books home from school. I think I always wanted to be a teacher, and my dream came true.
Because of playing school long before I ever went to school, I suppose it was Martha that taught me how to read, write, and do some arithmetic before I went to school. I didn’t start school early because I always seemed to have colds and being so tired all the time suppose was anemic, and I remember people remarking how white I was in my face. I always would have liked to have a blue dress, but Mother said a sky blue dress wouldn’t do anything for me, it would make me look too sick, while pink would give me color.
I was seven in December when I started school the following spring. I went 30 days my first year in school, but I could read and do all the work that the other first graders could do.
The rural school had double desks, for two to sit. When ever I was missing school, the girl I sat with used my things, like pencils, crayons, paper, etc. In those days the few possessions one had, it was a great disappointment to come back to school to have some one else use them.
I was scared to death of the teacher although she never said one cross word to me, but I saw her slap some of the kids which I suppose deserved it. The teacher had around 30 pupils in all grades and didn’t have time for interrupting pupils. She was an excellent teacher and everyone learned. As I grew older, I wasn’t so afraid of the teacher and would hurry to do my work so I could enjoy story books and there were 2 book cases full of books. Books like the “Pepper” books, “Dandelion Cottage”, “Sunny Brook Farm,” “Heidi”, all of Louisa Alcott’s books like “Little Women”, “Little Men”, and many, many others.
I remember when we had to pull wild oats out of the corn field–hot! We had hats and long sleeves, but our legs got so sun burned that the next day each step seemed as though our legs could split open. There were a number of us at the job, and walking up the rows we could talk and have fun, but it certainly wasn’t good the next day.
Making hay in those days was a big, hot, job. The hay loader went behind the wagon, bring up the hay from rows that had been previously raked by machine pulled by horses, too. Our job as children was to drive the horses while Dad or a hired man or Clara packed the hay in place on the wagon so it could be piled high to make a big load. Usually worked with 2 hay racks so one could be unloaded in the barn while the other one would be filled in the field. Then one team of horses had to be used on the hay fork which took the hay from the load and picked it up to be dropped on a pile. Then it was the job of taking the hay by forks (pitch forks) to pack it and stomp on it or walk on it to get as much in the barn as possible and when that hot hay was high enough so one worked close to the barn roof–was it hot! And I wonder how many loads of hay filled the barn. Driving the horses in the field with the hot sun blazing down and standing on hot hay made the sweat come out and I suppose was much worse for the one taking it away from the hay loader and packing it in the wagon. Then that dry hay was so scratchy that even if we were covered with long sleeves, etc. it scratched through the clothing.
Going back to the piano, in summer when we could dance on the front porch, we did, learning at a young age to dance from our older sisters and girl friends and when the weather didn’t permit to dance on the front porch we sometimes danced in the living room around the center table, which didn’t do the rug any good even if we danced in stocking feet after doing so much of it. Mother and Dad understood how we loved to dance, because they loved to dance, too, as in their days dancing was the common means of entertainment. And how I loved to dance and still do, seems to give me a lift, seems to take the cares out of life and bring happiness. Clara being the oldest went to house parties in the neighborhood where they danced to some one either playing a fiddle or an accordian. I remember when some of the young folks came to our house and danced in the old house. Even when we were kids, probably 8, 10, or so we did some dancing, too, at the parties. Then lunch would be served before they went home around midnight. It would have meant so very much to me if occassionally after we were married if we could have gone to a dance now and then so life wouldn’t have had to be just all work and no play.
Going back to making hay: The long grass aside of the road was cut and made into hay and when it was dry we children had to put it on piles or hay cocks so as to make it quicker for the men to load onto a wagon. I remember one day Ramona and I were supposed to put it on piles and don’t remember how old we were, probably from 8 to 11, but when we were forking hay a car came along with a man in it, not many cars in those days on the road. He drove slow and turned the car toward us as if he were going to run over us, no deep ditches in those days so he could drive right up to the fence. I don’t suppose he would have run over us, but he must have gotten a kick out of scaring us. We went closer and closer until we were up to the barbed wire pasture fence. When he kept coming Ramona and I went under the fence, through the pasture, screaming and running as fast as we could home. This wasn’t a product of our childish imagination because Dad saw him do it and Dad didn’t have a car to chase him and didn’t know who it was. Ramona and I got so scared that the next day we were sick in bed, and seemed so tired, we slept a good share of the day and when we slept we had night mares of the man trying to run over us. He mostly had fun scaring us, but he never realized what he had done to us.
The train going past was always a big attraction for us. The passenger train went to Red Wing at 8:00, came back at 12:00. Then went to Red Wing at 4:00 and came back at 8:00 in the evening. I don’t remember how often a freight train came, but probably going and coming once a day. As kids no matter what we were doing, we stopped to count the cars on the freight train. And about once every summer a circus train came through as all circus equipment was moved from one place to another by train. That was really something when the circus train went through–at least a hundred cars and all highly colored and some decorated with pictures of animals or something. One time I remember a circus train was de-railed some where near Zumbrota–suppose we were in high school. I suppose by phone we heard about it. Howard was working at our place and had a model T one seated car which we piled in to see the circus train wreck. Seems to me a horse was killed. I don’t think many circus animals were hurt and only a few of the cars of the train were derailed, but they did have some of the circus animals tied to trees and I remember a very tall man walking around with a midget (members of the circus).
One time a passenger train was detailed a short distance from our place–the rail road track ran through a cut and one passenger car left the track and leaned against the bank. No one got hurt. It was winter time and Dad was going to take us to rural school by sled and horses, but first he took us to see the derailed train. I suppose it either must have been a very cold day or snow or one of us had a cold–some reason why he took us to school.
We always watched when the passenger train stopped to see who got off or which way the passenger walked, up north in our direction or walked south the other way and we could see if the person walked into Schultz’s or to Prigge’s or where ever. If the passenger would walk up to our direction it could be Uncle Pete or some one to visit us.
If we were over to Perry’s when the train came in and stopped, we could see who the passenger was by looking through cousin Clara’s field glasses. Sometimes a car or wagon was meeting the passenger. In the days before me when the store was operating, on Sunday evening people gathered at the store waiting for the 8:00 train to come in and have a chance to talk to someone who had been to Red Wing or Goodhue.
In depression days many people took a free ride on top of the freight train in the summer. I don’t think the freight trains ever went past without a number riding on top. They would go from one place to another and beg for food along the way. I don’t think that a week ever went past that a stranger didn’t come to our house asking for food and mother always gave them some. Usually didn’t ask them to eat in the house because didn’t know who they were or where they were from or what they might do–so they sat on the porch or steps of the old house and ate. Some people said those bums had a mark or some place on a post to let others know where they could get something to eat and this must have been true because those bums always came to our house and not across the road to Aunt Martha. Then those bums often stayed over night in the depot or suppose some places slept in a straw stack or even in barns where it would be warm with the cattle, and probably leave before the farmer got up. I remember Mother telling of once a man came with his right hand missing and they tied a fork to his wrist so he could eat. I remember hearing once when Mother and Dad were first married that a man came and asked for money and they gave him their last 10¢ because they figured he needed it. I don’t remember if he was a man with only one leg or what. Money was scarce in those days.
Playing school was a great thing for us to do when there was no work to do like after supper, etc. We took turns being teacher which was the best part. We didn’t have a great deal of material to play with, but there always was a pencil and wrapping paper from the stores or back of old calendars–the calendars were larger in those days. Then we had our readers home from school. Playing school was an endless game–never tired of it and seems we all liked to go to school, one place where we had individual attention from a teacher–at home we were just one of a bunch of kids. In school we also got praise for good work which we never got at home. No matter what we did at home, it just what was expected of us, but we heard it if we didn’t do it right no matter how hard we tried doing it. Guess there just wasn’t time for parents when they had a bunch of kids and all tasks had to be done the hard way. Each member was just expected to do their best, but often that wasn’t enough. We were expected to do what a grown up was expected to do, and we weren’t grown up. So as a child seems how often I felt like crying and did cry a lot. Probably part of it was crying for love– felt no one really cared, as no affection was ever shown to us, although I know how deeply the parents were hurt when Leila died–how many tears were shed– but affection just wasn’t shown. Then too I had lots of colds and such large tonsils that they cut off my breathing through the nose when I lay down so I always slept with my mouth open and on a couple of pillows–until I started to teach and paid Dr. Claydon to take out my tonsils–had to stay in the hospital overnight and hard to eat anything but soft foods for a few days because the throat was so sore. I often think because I slept with my mouth open to breath for such a long time is why I must have a drink of water at night even now. That probably dries the membranes of my mouth or did something to it so I need a swallow of water each time I wake up and that is many times an evening. I suppose also that did something to my sleep habits–certainly never sleeping well with the mouth open.
Those tonsils were taken out sitting in a chair, not being put to sleep, but pain deadened with shots, and to this day I hate to have a shot put in by the dentist–I’d rather feel a little pain. Sitting in that chair seems could hear the cutting and seemed like ages, but suppose it wasn’t long at all and then being quiet in bed so as not to hemmorhage, but bloody saliva for a long time.
I must have been anemic as a child, as people said how pale I was. I always was so tired, and when one is tired one feels more depressed. As a child we went to church by buggy and horses and as soon as the organ started I cried to myself– the tears ran down but I didn’t make a sound. The church music and singing sounded so very, very sad to me. Peppy music like songs in school made me feel so happy–music could give me a lift.
How happy we were when we heard the first orchestra or band music on radio. The first radio I can remember was a cheese maker selling some of the first ones out on a side line besides making cheese for a living. He put a radio in at home and neighbors came to hear it– just put it in for advertizing thinking people would buy. Dad didn’t buy it because he thought we lost too much sleep listening to it, but oh, how we loved that music–suppose it was the first band or orchestra music we heard. So that radio stayed in our house only a few days or weeks, but it was wonderful while it lasted. Another thing money was scarce in those days and those first radios were expensive. So we didn’t have a radio until I started teaching and Irene & Ramona working–don’t remember if any other in the family chipped in or not, but we bought a radio and could hear all that wonderful music. Those radios ran by storage batteries like a car and every now and then had to be charged–so one didn’t have the radio on all the time, but probably after supper a short time. Listening to good music while probably doing some fancy work like embroidering was sheer pleasure–like the closest thing to heaven. Creating something with ones hands to make something beautiful and in presence of orchestras from far away like Chicago, N.Y., etc. was really something. Relaxing.
In the summer time when we were kids–suppose it was when the dry season like August and pastures were short, we had to watch cattle–probably where grain had been taken off, I just don’t remember–but we had to watch that the cattle wouldn’t get into the corn field–Mart, Ramona, and I. To be out in the field for hours at a time just to watch the cattle so they didn’t get in the corn field was very monotonous. If they got near or in it, there was excitement or if they got near a fence where the neighbor cattle were and a bull from each side of the fence making awful noises, we were scared to death and the heart really did some pounding. And we were scared to death of those bulls as how often we had heard of someone being killed by one. We had pitch forks but what could 3 kids do against an angry bull?
Before school started and the grain was off the field we would take turns out in the field plowing – one furrow at a time with 2 or 3 horses. We usually did half a day at a time and some one else did it the other half day. How long that half day seemed going up and down the field. Probably that is why I never liked horses and disliked machinery and anything mechanical. Martha often says she couldn’t understand why Mother and Dad could let us around horses without worrying we would get hurt. She said she never could have felt safe to have Shirley go out with animals to do what we had to do when we were children.
I remember once when I could really have been hurt and after that I really was afraid of horses. I suppose I could have been 5 or 6 years old when I was going down to the barn. I didn’t know that Dad was going to let the horses out of the barn. They were always so glad to get out of the barn, that when they were untied, they ran out of the barn. Just as I was going past the barn door, old big Dan came running out and my head hit his stomach. I didn’t get hurt and he did not step on me, but I never never went past that barn door before peeking in to see if a horse was coming out before I went past.
Clothes meant a great deal to us children as how often that we got a new piece? One just had one Sunday dress or going away dress and had that until we out grew it–then probably our good dress was an older sister’s dress or even a cousin’s dress, because there were no big families like ours in any cousins–so we got all the hand-me-downs. But when Mother did make us a dress it was fit to perfection and she knew what to choose in color and pattern–She was really a gifted seamstress and must have learned to sew at an early age as I remember her saying she made a confirmation dress for the sister next to her as in those days a confirmation dress was a fancy dress! Mother never bought patterns. She would take a newspaper and scissors and cut and in no time had her pattern made and the material cut out. How often she made things over–an old coat fixed over or a dress and it was a piece of art! Even when I was teaching she made over clothes for me, sometimes just something to wear to school and sometimes good clothes. When we went to high school, too, most of our clothes were clothes from our cousins or made over from clothes our older sister had which had gone out of fashion. We had very few new clothes in high school and yet had more clothes than some in high school. The girl who was salutatorian had two dresses for winter, one she wore one week and another she wore the next. In early spring or fall she had two lightweight to exchange. It was when I was in high school that I got my first very own coat sent for from Montgomery Ward or Sears Roebuck. People didn’t go shopping in stores as they do today–the catalog was the main place.
So from an early age, coloring and fit of clothes was important so you can imagine what a thrill it was when I earned money to buy my clothes in a store with my very own money. I have some very pleasant memories of going shopping to the Cities with my sisters or my friends, spending the whole day just looking and trying on until toward the end of the day we decided just which one we liked best for our money. We probably all came home with a new dress or new coat or whatever. We didn’t do that very often and sometimes when I was teaching and wouldn’t dream of taking the day off for shopping, Mart or Irene would choose a dress for me. Mother used to go up to the Cities for her artificial leg and that is how we started going shopping up there. Of the many, many dress shops to go into and see everything and then make a choice was really such a great thrill and ones very own money to spend was the best part. The thrill was out of shopping when it was some one else’s money for spending. Then in those days the thrill was wearing that new clothes to some special place and knowing you were well dressed.
In the winter time when we were grown up there still were no car roads after the snow got deep, no snow plow so it meant staying out unless you could take a train. Sometimes when there was a dance in Zumbrota we would take the 8:00 train and friends would take us as far as we could go on the highway and then we would walk the township road home–remember walking at night after a dance and we would have to face the north wind doing it and no slacks worn either. I remember one night a number of us were at Clara and Roy’s–suppose Herb & Howard, Verona, and us from up home and then on the spur of the moment we decided to take the train to Zumbrota to the dance. Some of us hadn’t dressed up to go and didn’t have time before the train came to go back home to change clothes so some put on some of Clara’s clothes and we all went on the train to Zumbrota. he all had such a good time dancing. Got a ride on the highway but then had to walk almost the 3 miles. Verona’s legs peeled off in places after that so she claims she froze her legs.
I remember one time Ramona and I were going to take the train home from Goodhue when we were in summer school catechism. I suppose it was raining or some reason why we did. The train came around 12 and we got out just a few minutes before and we had to walk those 3 or 4 blocks. When we got to the depot, the train was there, but a freight train was on the track and it would take too long to go way around the freight train–the passenger train would have left before we got around it–so Ramona and I crawled under the freight train. Just suppose the freight train would have decided to move as we started crawling under it to the other side! We did get on the passenger train to go home.
When that old big steam passenger came, it fairly shook the ground standing close to the tracks to get on and how many many times in these past years I dreamed something about that big train–taking the train or missing it–just not getting there on time. We took that train quite often when we went to high school. We could get on the 8:00 train in the a.m. and walk home from Goodhue after school- 3 1/2 miles on the road–was more if we walked the rail road track home as we sometimes did in the spring when the other roads were so muddy as they weren’t graveled in those days. Yes, the first two years of high school we could take the train in the a.m. but then the train schedule changed–probably 2 trains a day instead of the 4–so then Dad bought an old Model T pick-up. It was always so hard to get started as we had to crank it so we parked it on the hill by the water tower so we could let it run down the hill by itself to get started. But we could never use it if it rained cuz no roads were graveled and we couldn’t use it in the winter cuz no roads were plowed–so it meant walking a good share of the time and the worst winter months we stayed in town during the week cuz the Schultz’s lived in Goodhue (Verona and Roy’s folks, Roy and Clara were married then) and Verona went to High School too.
It wasn’t just walking home from high school, but after school a quick snack and then do chores down the barn and milk cows. After supper there usually was a couple hours of home work for lessons the next day. There was nothing like school activities–one studied every night. There were a few basket ball games when we stayed in Goodhue at Schultz’s–but it was only a very few that we went to, and I think all those we attended, Goodhue lost–it was a small school those days. I think the year we were freshmen there were 40 some pupils or students in the whole high school. We started out as 22 freshmen but 11 graduated–drop outs. That year Goodhue had 4 Seniors. Not every kid went to high school in those days. Out in the country, not many went as it was too much money to spend on board and room and many had to help at home and couldn’t be spared to go to high school. How many kids would go to high school today if they had to walk 3, 4, or 5 miles?
I can remember one Saturday a.m. Ramona and I walked home from Goodhue after spending the week at the Schultz’s. There had been a big snow storm during the week so the snow was deep. It took us all morning to get home as each step we took we stepped in deep. When we got home, I just felt like I was trembling all over; I was so tired.
In the am. when we waited for the train in White Willow, the first thing we could carefully open the door and look behind the door to see if a bum was there–but we never came upon one.
Seems Dad often hired bums that came through the country looking for work. I don’t know why Dad did it–I think probably he felt so sorry for them who didn’t have a home, or knew they were alcoholics that needed help. There were large families around that had sons who it seems would have been glad to work out to earn money and yet be close to their families. These bums often caused my mother extra work because they were so dirty and mother had enough work with her own large family. It was before my day, but I remember hearing that my older sisters, Clara, Leila, & Irene had head lice and it was from some bum working for them. In those days I remember the comb box was under a small mirror in the kitchen and all the combs were in that box–I suppose the comb the hired man used, too. Seems to me in those days the head was washed in a kerosene solution to kill lice and combed with a very fine comb and all this had to be repeated a number of times as to get the young lice or eggs. Seems to me another time she had bed bugs in the room where the hired man slept and then I think it was going over the bed with kerosene and the small cracks in the floor boards and every place where bed bugs could hide. I also remember her telling that one time a fellow came along that said he wanted to work. He ate a terrific big supper as suppose he probably hadn’t eaten for some time. He probably hadn’t slept in a bed for some time either and slept extremely sound. At least the next morning when they got up, the man wasn’t there any more and had left and no wonder because he had left the bed in terrible shape and the room stinking — he filled the bed with his bowel movements.
There were some men that worked for Dad short periods of time off and on and would work here and there through the neighborhood. They were older men who never saved any money to have a home of their own or no posessions because they drank up their money–in other words spent it on beer and whiskey. Neither were they very neat–but then bath rooms were not in homes. One old fellow’s name was Dave Bradley. He was quite a large man who usually helped Dad haul the winters manure from the barn yard out in the field. All this was handled by fork on to the manure spreader which was a great deal of work. This was done in the spring usually and put on the fields before crops were planted–at least that’s the way it seemed to my memory. This Dave always seemed to have a runny nose and no handkerchief and eating at the table could hear he had a nose full. The nose ran onto his mustasch which hung over his mouth. Then working with that manure and suppose wearing clothes that seldom got washed, he smelled terrible! It spoiled our appetite to eat with him at the table. He didn’t sleep in our house, though. He always slept in one of the rooms in the old house where a thick pile of straw was on the floor with a canvas or something over the hay or straw and blankets for covering. Sometimes when he had been drinking he would talk to himself or should I say preach and it often was on a religious order. How many times we would hear him say “Don’t do as I do, but do as I say.”
Another character who worked here and there through the neighborhood a few days here and a few days there. I suppose a few days just enough to buy drinks for awhile and then move on to another small job, was Hank Burfeindt. He was smelly too as when he got drunk he sometimes wet his pants or filled them. I suppose all these characters were harmless, but as children we were scared of them, probably because they were untidy and smelled. I remember once before Ramona and I started school and I think we were the smallest in the family at that time, mother had gone outside for something–probably to the chickens, and we were in the kitchen alone, the older ones in school. When we saw Hank coming to the house, Ramona and I hid behind the bedroom door and didn’t make a sound, but our hearts thumping loud.
Then there was Pete Rheder–he usually did carpenter work or outside painting jobs. He was neater and cleaner looking, but he was an alcoholic, too. One time our family went away on a Monday afternoon and when we came home Pete was drunk. He had looked in the house for something to drink and found wine. Mother used to have a little wine to serve company, a small glass with a piece of fruit cake.
Albert Prigge used to tell about Pete Rheder when he worked there: One time he and Josephine heard a hard thump upstairs where Pete was sleeping. Pete had had something to drink. He said the bed was moving around so fast that he couldn’t get into it, so all of a sudden he dove for it to catch it, but he missed and landed on the floor. Another time up there he said “Albert, Albert, I can’t find the bed–Oh, shut up, I found it already.” Later on when I tell about my Aunt Martha and Uncle Blll and cousin Clara who lived across the road from us, I’ll tell about some of the characters who worked for them. These characters and others I saw through life made me so very much against the use of liquor.
Maybe I should tell what finally happened to Pete Rheder. He was going to take the train from White Willow, I suppose to Goodhue. He walked to White Willow from some place and stopped off to Heins’ as there was plenty of time to visit there before the afternoon train would come. Pete had had something to drink before he came to Hein’s. The Heins lived in the small house close to the rail road tracks. Before the train came, Pete went to the depot and the Heins watched him from the window and he waved the train to stop and right before it stopped it seemed he jumped right in front of it. Everyone thought that he wasn’t seeing right and he thought he was in front of it and was going to jump out of the way of the train. He was in a jolly mood at Heins’ and not in any mood to commit suicide. He was loaded on to the train and I suppose they sent a telegram to Goodhue for the doctor to come to the train when it arrived, but Pete was dead before the train got there. The engineer felt so terrible about it all, but it was none of his fault. Seems to me this happened in White Willow when I was teaching.
When we got to be 6 or 7 we had to start to milk cows. We started on an old cow which seemed to be the tamest and she would stand still for long periods of time. Little hands with no strength would take a long time to milk a cow. I don’t think there ever was room for more than 19 cows and when we were younger, more of us were down there milking so it didn’t take so long, only seemed long to a small child. We called this tame cow “Tamie” cuz she was so gentle. One time when I was learning to milk her, I must have been at it too long for her. She either got tired or fell asleep and lay down, but I didn’t get under her, which was fortunate, but did I get scared! Seems after that I sat on the stool ready to jump up any time. I never was too fond of animals and probably experiences like that did it.
Milking in the hot summer time, sitting between two cows was very warm and the “sweat of the brow” often ran into the eyes.
The cows on green grass had loose manure and often was on their tails, and you either tied the tail to her leg even after the cows were sprayed for flies or you would get some of that green stuff in your face when she switched her tail. Even with the tails dry, often a switch of the tail in the face, got into the eyes and did they tear!
When electricity came into the country, we had a milk machine and by that time many of the family had left home, so sometimes only one or two did the milking with machine, but when I was teaching and stayed away there were times when Martha milked the 19 alone and when I taught in the Bredehoff district in the spring or fall when the boys were in the field, I milked those 19 cows, after walking 3 miles home–sometimes catching a ride part way. At that time there were two very “kicky” cows–usually tied their two back legs together with a rope before starting to milk them or they always kicked–just “ornery”. Irene didn’t get home from work until about 6:30 or so and often Mother worried about me, thinking I could get hurt along by myself and send Irene to find out if I was o.k. when she came home. She just hollered in the barn window asking if I was o.k. She didn’t want a job down there.
Mother couldn’t help with the milking after her accident which happened July 1, 1931–didn’t have milk machines then. She was always the fastest milker in the bunch. Dad was the slowest on the job.
July 1, 1931 Dad didn’t feel well so mother said she would take the two horses on the mower and mow hay. In another field Mart, Herb and the boys were making hay I think. Irene and I were on the porch picking ends off gooseberries which I suppose were to be canned. This must have been about 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning. Mother had just started mowing the hay in a field near the house and Dad didn’t get to the house before it happened. There was a small ditch Mother went through and flew off the seat with the leg in front of the mower. Think she got the other one slightly cut too–the leg was cut off about the ankle in a slant. Dad hearing her holler and Irene and I in the porch soon learned something terrible was wrong. Dad hollored to bring the car–Irene took it and Dad put mother in the back seat, took care of the horses. We immediately tried to call Dr. Claydon in Zumbrota but he was out on a call. Then phoned Dr. Liffreg in Goodhue who came immediately. Her leg never bled except for a few drops, but he put a tourniquet on above the knee anyway. Always I have read that a tourniquet if applied has to be removed for a short time every so often so as not to cut off the circulation, but he evidently didn’t do it so later on in the hospital the leg got black up to where the tourniquet had been. First when she got to the hospital she had to go through surgery to make the slant cut straight and skin put over the stump. It was only a few days when infection was very bad and the leg was black as soot. The poison affected many parts of her–one time her kidneys didn‘t function and didn’t think that could go on very long. Another time her throat was swollen inside and with her mouth open, each breath made a horrid sound. I think the poison affected other parts of the body, too, and one time the pulse was very bad. The doctors said what a slim chance she had. I don’t remember if it was one in a thousand. The doctors did get some medication from the Cities– don’t know if it was from a hospital or the U. It was something first used in World War I on soldiers wounded out on the battle field–they had gas bacillus poisoning that Mother had–could hear gas escaping from the leg at times. In those days there was no penicillin or antibiotics. Finally the doctors decided they would just have to take off that leg above the knee–into surgery again, but they put no flesh over the bottom of the stump so as not to keep her under any longer than necessary as she probably wouldn’t live anyway, but it was a chance they would try anyway. Yes, she did improve, but had to go in for surgery again to have the stump fixed up. I can’t remember if she was in the hospital 5 weeks or 6 weeks. Ramona had been in a hospital up in the Cities that same year around Easter with ruptured appendicitis–1931. One of the two was in 5 weeks and the other 6 weeks. No penicillin or antibiotics so Ramona was in very serious condition. Not many survived ruptured appendicitis. Ramona was going to Business College in Minneapolis and worked for her room and board in a private home when she got sick.
Now for something more pleasant. An agent came around to sell victrolas or record players. Anyone who sold anything musical always stopped at our house trying to sell as we were a big family and they knew we loved music. He insisted we keep it on trial–don’t know how long and if we didn’t want it, he would take it back. Did we enjoy that victrola while we had it–an Edison, but Dad said “No” thinking we would spend too much time with that when there was lots of work to do in a big family. This was probably when we were teenagers.
Another job we always had as children was to take a wood bushel basket and pick up the corn cobs after the pigs had chewed off the corn. These corn cobs were used in the cook stove–quick heat and burn out fast when the meal was cooked like in summer time. We often picked up plenty when they were dry in summer and put baskets of them in what we called the wash house–the building not far from the house–this house was where we washed clothes and many other jobs were done in there, too. There was a laundry stove in there on which the boilers were heated to wash the clothes. This stove also used corn cobs.
There was a gasoline motor in there to which a belt was connected to run a pulley on the wash machine–was a wood wash machine. That just washed the clothes and we had to turn the ringer by crank by hand. This was kids work, too, and not so easy to wring all that clothes from a large family. Mother was a neat house keeper and clothes were clean.
When we were children I mentioned before very few toys–only those we could share like sled, coaster wagon which probably was used more for work than play, a pair of home made skiis that I think Dad had made for himself when he was young. We probably each had a doll, a ball for us to use together, but we had a chance to play with lots of toys across the road where Uncle Bill and Aunt Martha Perry –she was Mother’s sister and their daughter Clara Perry Weeks. She was an only daughter. There were 2 born after her but I don’t know if they died shortly after birth or born dead. Clara was a very very frail child when small and doctors told them they didn’t think she would live to grow up, so Aunt Martha and Uncle Willie gave her everything they could think of to make her short life as happy as possible. She had toys! Doll carriages, doll bed and dresser with mirror, all kinds of dolls– two such large dolls with beautiful China head and real hair–expensive ones and Mother informed us that we never should touch those dolls, but there were plenty other dolls. A pretty table and chairs set for putting on dishes (chairs we could sit on) She had two balls that must have had weights in them. If you rolled them several feet from you they would come back to you. I can’t think of all the toys she had, but she had everything a child could wish for. Seems to me when we came over to play, she never played but just watched us. She mispronounced words as little children do, but she was never corrected, I suppose the parents were afraid of hurting her feelings, and Uncle Bill would say things just like she said them when he talked to her. The doctors told them to let her play with us–I suppose they thought she would learn from us. I suppose there was a little time spent there just about every day or she was at our house. We never corrected her as Mother and Dad would not want us to hurt her feelings either if she wasn’t going to live. Clara never learned to run even when she was older–just a few quick steps. Uncle Bill would say to her if she started to run “Du Boots”–German I think, telling her she would fall.[I speak excellent German but have no idea what this could mean. It could be Plattdeutsch; I tried alternate spellings in standard German and couldn’t come up with anything. — ed.]
When she was smaller she often didn’t want to wear clothes unless Martha had some just like it, so often Martha got a dress or a pair of shoes like Clara. One time I think our family and the Perry family were at Grandma Pirius house and Clara and Martha didn’t have on the same kind of shoes–Clara wanted Martha’s shoes, so even if Martha was younger, those shoes had to come off so Clara could have them on.
As we got older, probably Clara P. was 13 or 14 and I don’t know how old Martha was, but Clara P. got a fur neck piece and so Martha was given one, too.
As a child when Clara was in school, when she came home Aunt Martha always had baked potatoes in the wood and coal oven. Clara loved them and had her supper early, and then she came over to our house and stay probably to 8 or so when Uncle Bill came with a shawl to put around her and carry her home. That went on for quite a number of years, but when she must have been twelve, thirteen, or so she started to gain weight and became fat, according to us. Then Uncle Bill didn’t carry her home anymore. She lived to grow up and is still living.
Uncle Bill was an extremely good natured fellow, never heard a cross word, and Clara took after him in that way–never heard her say an angry word to any one. The only thing one heard from Uncle Bill when he got a little disgusted was “dog gone.”
I still picture Uncle Bill sitting on the wood box by their stove. He had a wad of tobacco in each cheek and a pipe smoking in the center of his wads. Mother used to say some people thought Clara was born weak and the two baby sisters dead because of his use of tobacco, I don’t know if that could have any effect or not.
Uncle Bill was so easy going, but not Aunt Martha sometimes. She sometimes said a few things that hurt. She said, “There are so many of you that you will have to work for other people” (Housework was about the only job to get–be someone’s hired girl.) “Bill is rich. Clara can take the train to Red Wing and home again each night and go to high school. Then later on she can go to the University.” As it turned out school wasn’t easy for Clara and it’s no wonder when she couldn’t pronounce words correctly which would make spelling and learning to read hard for any child. Clara didn’t graduate from 8th grade. In those days if you didn’t graduate from the 8th grade, one had to attend school until 16 years of age. Clara never did take any exams–Aunt Martha said she was too nervous for that, but I’m sure she knew Clara couldn’t make them.
In grade school the high light of the year was the school picnic for all pupils and parents and the annual school program at night when the large school was packed with people — some coming from other districts as there would be a basket social in which the young girls decorated a box or basket and had the inside filled with food. The young men who bought a basket ate the lunch with the girl whose basket they bought. Lunch was sold to others who didn’t buy baskets.
The money made that evening was used to buy something for the school. The school children put on a program of singing and little plays about an hour before the baskets were sold.
When writing about Uncle Bill and Aunt Martha, I forgot to write about some of the characters they had for hired men.
One fellow was called “Big George.” I don’t know his name, but he was a big man and when they were finished with chores, they sat in Aunt Martha’s kitchen, and he sang or whistled all the time, keeping time with his foot. Listening to him for probably hours must have been hard for Aunt Martha when she had work to do in her kitchen. Seemed so many of the hired men liked to drink and Big George did, too. One time he must have had so much to drink that at milking time, he milked a cow in the strainer instead of the milk pail and all that milk went on the floor.
They had Benny Ursland working for them a number of years, a good hearted person, his bad point was drinking, not steady but go on a drunk now and then which probably lasted several days to a week. He would never come over to our place unless he was drinking and then he would ask mother for wine. She never gave him any wine, but I think it was grape juice or cherry juice with a little pepper in it. He would say, “That’s good, but make me another stronger one.” One night when he was at our house in the summer when we used the old kitchen, he must have fallen asleep in a chair. Everyone else went to bed. When he woke up he decided to go home and instead of getting his own hat or cap on his head, he took one of our ladies hats which I suppose we used outside for every day. He felt so ashamed that he wanted Aunt Martha to give it back to us, but seems to me she didn’t and told him he had to bring it back. Seems to me he did the next time he was drunk. We often had a good time with him when he was drunk, kidding him as young people will, and getting him to sing for us. No way would he ever have sung for anyone when he was sober. Aunt Martha used to tell that he often would phone her younger single sister Aunt Clara, and he would say something in Norwegian which I suppose they had figured out together so she would know what he said, and then he would hike up the track to see her. He didn’t own a car.
One time he got a ride home from town with someone with a sled and team of horses but instead of going over to Perry’s he came to our house. I don’t know how many times he fell down and got up before he made it to our house, snow up his sleeves. He didn’t live to be very old, died of stomach cancer–too much drinking I suppose, and he usually just drank and didn’t eat.
In the winter time when he came to our house in his heavy coat, he never took it off in the house. Suppose he knew that when he was drunk he wouldn’t be able to put it on again. He sometimes fell asleep on a chair or the couch, and everyone went to bed leaving him in the kitchen. When we woke up, he would go home.
Aunt Martha had a beautiful home on the farm. She kept it that way, too. The large dining room had windows on the south side, built in cupboards with beautiful leaded glass windows. These cupboards connected on to the cupboards on the wall in the kitchen. On the north wall of the dining room was an open stair way with railing leading upstairs, but there was a door at the top of the stairs so all the heat wouldn’t go upstairs. All the wood work in the house and the floors of light maple all shining and kept like it was when they built the house. It often wasn’t easy for Aunt Martha with characters around like she had. When Benny was drinking, he would go up those beautiful stairs with his overshoes on and even go to bed with them on. When he wasn’t drinking he was a nice fellow and a good worker.
Another fellow the Perrys had was a fellow who said his name was Jack Perry, which I doubt. One day the train stopped in White Willow and he came to their house asking for a job and suppose Uncle Bill needed help and hired him. He was a small man–I couldn’t guess his age but to us kids we thought he was old- he probably only was in his late 30’s or 40’s. After we were older and thought about him, after we were old enough to see movies, made us think he was quite an actor. In the evenings after helping with chores at home–we were in grade school– we would run over to Perry’s and play cards with Clara for about an hour. Clara was good at playing cards, and when Jack came there, he showed us how to play new games of cards we had never known before, but now I have forgotten how they were played. A few that came to mind now were “Hearts,” “Seven up”, “High Low.”
Then Jack would sing for us, and we thought he really could sing! He sang songs that we never heard before, but in later years when radio and TV came, we heard the songs Jack sang, and how he could motion, pick up things and put himself into the songs he sang–actor like. We often wondered in later years where he came from. Was he a character that just hid out in an unknown place for awhile?
After sister Martha read this, she gave me a little more to add. The alley between the horse barn and feed alley was narrow. One day one young colt seemed caught in between. We pushed and coaxed him to try to back out, but couldn’t get him to move. We thought he was stuck. We started to get the boys for help. When half way down the yard, looked back, there he was looking out of the door at us. He wasn’t stuck at all.
Carrying corn bundles in from the stach outside which were frozen down to feed cattle inside, we often broke a tine from the fork or broke forks which Dad didn’t appreciate. Loosing corn shreddings in the barn was hard as it was packed down so tight. Sometimes we would dig down to where they were warm to warm our feet.
When we had to work in the barn Irene was baking doughnuts and dealing them out one a piece from the old kitchen in the old house, one of us would go in from the back door and one from the front door to get as many as we wanted, as she couldn’t take care of both doors at once.