` Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; Exodus 20:5
The death of my son was the day that shattered my world and changed my life forever. The pieces are etched on my soul. I have always had a belief that things happen for a reason, that there is a design and structure to our lives, by which we are given by signs and clues along the way as to what path we should take. However, this numbed my very being, and I remained in a literal state of shock for at least six months. There is no way to prepare for something like this.
I was in the kitchen of my basement apartment baking a pizza. I was just about to take it from the oven, when my friend, Lori, came down the back stairs and told me I had a phone call. We lived in the same house which had been made into two apartments. I rented the basement apartment. Lori was good enough to share her phone with me. I sensed that something was wrong. I took the pizza out of the oven. I knew I didn’t really want to answer the phone. Lori told me it was my ex-husband. I slowly went upstairs. Lori had the phone on the couch in the living room. Something in her voice wasn’t right. I answered the phone. It was Fred. His first words were, "Damon is dead." I do not remember much of the conversation after that. I remember asking how this happened.
Fred said, "Damon was playing his guitar about midnight. That’s the last time I saw him. I went to bed. The next morning, I headed out to work, not knowing that Damon wasn’t home. The next thing I know, Jason called me, and told me that Damon was dead. When Damon didn’t come home, after Jason got up, he went out looking for him in the Lincoln. He found his brother down by the river at the car wash, his body under some kind of farm disc. About this time the police came and said they wanted to question me. Jason screamed at them that the killer was the babysitter’s son. Jason said Doug had a hunting knife that he had been flashing around. Finally the police followed Jason’s advice. They found the killer in bed sleeping, the knife nearby, so they arrested him." Fred could not go on, and we hung up. I asked Lori if she knew. She said yes. I think we talked, but I don’t remember it. My mind was like I was watching a very bad movie and somehow I was in it, that this wasn’t real, that it couldn’t be real.
I know that Lori talked to me for awhile, kind person that she is, but I don't remember the conversation. Finally I went downstairs and laid down on the bed. My first thoughts were that I had been robbed, that the world had been robbed, only they didn't know it. I had to go on functioning in a world that didn’t know or care. Fred had absolutely insisted that he have custody of the boys. I realized way too late what a mistake this was. Actually, the divorce was a mistake. But there is no way to put humpty-dumpty back together again. Why, oh why, was I thinking such stupid things? I was moving in an unreal world, at least unreal for me. Why wasn't I crying? Was I going to go insane? Why was I a puppet, just going through motions? What was I supposed to do? I knew I had to get back home. Why hadn't anyone in my family called? I really wanted my mother. I could hardly wait to hear her voice.
I made some phone calls. I knew I had to call the school and tell them. I had just registered. I called the head of the art department and told him about the death, who told me to take my time and do whatever I felt needed to be done. I wrote a one line letter to Ron Williams, telling him that Damon was dead. My biggest worry was how I was going to get home. I called brothers and sisters, who couldn’t help. I called Ardyce and asked for $200 so I could drive back. They all were noncommittal, like they didn’t want to help. Several days passed. Each morning when I woke up, and for a few seconds, it was like nothing had happed. Then, with a sullen thud, reality set in.
Finally Mother called and told me they had arranged for an airplane ticket for me to come home. She said the only thing available was a first class seat which cost over $600. I packed a black dress with a white jacket for the funeral. I don’t remember the flight, except that I landed at night. Fred met me at the airport. I told him I wanted to call Mother. That’s all I could think to do, to hear Mother’s comforting voice. I called from the airport. Mother answered the phone.
I just had this one word, so full of emotion, "Mother!" and I sighed to deep for words.
Mother said, "Don’t worry—you’ll get over it." I don’t recall the rest of the phone call. I realized how utterly alone I was, and that I was an embarrassment to Mother and Father, as was Damon. America is the worst place for a death to occur because people do not know how to react to it.
Fred then took me to the mortuary, when I was asked to choose what coffin Damon should lie in. I didn’t care, whatever Fred wanted. I asked to see Damon, but the undertaker told me he wasn’t ready to be seen. I believe that Fred wanted to spare me, in his heart of hearts. But there is no sparing, there is only going through it, one inch at a time, days at a time.
My family did not call me or reach out to me, even though they knew I was at Fred’s place. I slept, if one could call it that, in our wedding bed. Fred slept in Damon’s bed. The next morning, I awoke to a muffled sound. I went into the bedroom. Fred was sitting on the edge of Damon’s bed, sobbing. I sat down beside him, and put my arms around him. There was nothing, nothing to say, absolutely nothing to say. So many mistakes led to this spot. There was absolutely nothing I could say. Besides, my heart was broken beyond repair.
I called my sister Gail, who said she was coming to Minot. She asked if I had been to the mortuary. I said only to pick out the coffin.
Gail called and said she had just come from viewing and asked if I wanted to go. Of course I did. Funny, I don’t remember much. The mortician said that Damon had a lot of repair work, there was a pink gauze over him, and I was not to touch him. Gail said she had some things to do and would return later.
I finally was alone with Damon. And now that he was dead, he could be mine. I realized that anyone could make Damon into anything they wanted to. But I was the only one who really knew Damon because he was so like me. I liked being there with Damon. All too soon it seemed, Gail returned and was eager to go. She wanted to take me shopping. I didn’t want to go, but, without a car, there was not much I could do about it. On the way to the mall, she told me she was out in the field when she heard that some boy had been stabbed in Burlington and that she just knew it was Damon. When it was confirmed, she went to Father and Mother and asked what they were going to do. They hemmed and hawed. Gail said I needed to get home, and she needed to know right now what they were going to do. Father said the only thing available was a first class ticket. Gail told them if they weren’t going to get it, then she would. And if they were going to get it, then they better be about it. This news did not surprise me at this point. And I felt nothing. They finally agreed to get the ticket.
We arrived at the mall, and Gail wanted to buy me something for the funeral. So we had to go up and down, in and out of stores, even though I had something to wear. I hated this, but endured it. Another layer between me and my grief. Finally Gail decided upon a beige skirt and some kind of blouse. I really don’t know where I went after that. No place to be.
I don’t remember how I got to my sister Carolyn’s place. I remember standing in her kitchen while she was telling me all the trouble Damon was getting into, running with the wrong crowd. She talked on and on about all the bad things Damon was doing. I left Carolyn’s as soon as I could after telling her, "You can be thankful to God that you will never know what it feels like to lose a child this way. You cannot relate to me, thank God." No place to be. Poor Carolyn! She had been so debased, humiliated and damaged, belittled and berated by Dale that she had to become like him just to survive.
The day of the funeral was warm and sunny. I don’t really remember the funeral. I don’t remember what was said. I know the church was packed. I just remember my cousin Bob standing at the end of the church. He hugged me, and told me that he loved me. After the funeral, I rode with Fred to the cemetery, a hundred miles away in Beulah. I was the last one to leave the cemetery because the secretary from Employment Security Bureau was there talking and talking. She had no one else to talk to. I don’t know what possessed her to keep up that continuous chatter. I wished she would just shut up and go away. I never had any last moments alone with Damon. Finally we went to the church where there was a reception. I don’t recall the reception, except that Fred’s brothers, sisters, and mother were very kind. I rode back to the farm with Father and Mother.
We were sitting around the table, Father, Mother, Marshall, myself, and Ginger. Father was talking, but for once he didn’t really know what to say. Ginger broke in and asked, "What are we going to do tonight? Let’s go to the dance at Mouse River Park."
Marshall, whose band was playing, was sitting on the stool. He said, "I don’t think that’s a good idea. I can’t get out of playing because I have a contract. I tried, but they can’t get a replacement, and they won’t let me out of my contract. It’s the very last thing I want to do, but I will get through it."
Ginger took over the conversation and gushed over Marshall in her little girl way, just like Father’s Queener. The thing that got me was that Father and Mother said nothing to her, just let her go on and on. I realized that I would be now robbed of my right to grieve. No place to be. I looked past Ginger, past Marshall, at a huge white bird sitting on the top of the white granary. I had never seen a bird like that before. It sat there for a long, long time. All I know is that Ginger dominated the conversation in a very distracting sort of way. I thought of how the nieces and nephews were so inferior to Damon, so mediocre, and yet these are the ones who will take charge, without any knowledge or vision of what they are doing, that whatever they did would be for their own selfish purposes, while Damon, the only hope for a sad, abused, and tired world, lay dead. After awhile a long while the bird raised its huge wings and flew south. I realized that people would go on with their lives as if nothing had happened. I realized that I needed to fly south, back to Denver as soon as possible. If people were going on with their lives, I might as well be with strangers. I had nowhere to be. For the first time, I saw my family for who they really were, and couldn’t wait to get away from them as fast as I could. They would not and could not be any comfort to me. I announced my plans. No one tried to persuade me to stay. I was an embarrassment to them. As soon as I could book a passage, I made plans to leave. Father stopped me in the kitchen, put his arms around me, and told me he loved me. He was crying. I felt it very strange and uncomfortable. It too late. But I had no doubt it was genuine. I just didn’t really know what to do with it. We got in the car and left for the airport. I don’t remember the ride or how I got back to Denver..
I was waiting to hear from Ron Williams, but the only ones I heard from was the police detective, who sounded very sorry and sympathetic. Then he started asking me questions like, "Was Damon in a gang?" "Was Damon taking drugs?" and, "Was Damon a homosexual?" I realized they were trying to come up with some reason behind the viciousness of Damon’s death. I screamed at them, "Damon was intelligent, and that was the cause of his death. Check his school records." I needed to talk with Ron Williams, the philosophy professor. Finally, I got a letter from him saying how sorry he was to hear of Damon’s death, that words failed him but that his heart went out to me. I called and arranged to see him. I drove to Ft. Collins and went to the philosophy department.
Ron suggested we go to the park. I told him what had happened and my family’s reaction. He told me that America, the biggest cause of unnecessary death around the world, was not prepared to deal with death, and so avoided dealing with it. "Your family’s reaction is a reaction to you. Damon was very intelligent, like yourself. Do you have any idea how unusual you are?" I could only shake my head. "I have had only five students in my 30 years of teaching with a mind like yours."
"Damon was better, quicker, and brighter than me, and more talented."
"When things like this happen, we can only believe there is a higher purpose, and that it will be revealed in time. Well, now you must live for two, so that Damon’s death will not have been in vain." I stayed and we talked for a long time. It was the only comfort I had. I wasn’t looking for anything. I went numbly forward because that’s all I could do.
I went on with my classes at Boulder, although my mind could not engage in the studies. I couldn’t just drop my classes because I would have no means to support myself. I did not receive any cards or letters from back home. No phone calls. No show of support. Finally, a couple of weeks later, I got a letter from Ardyce. Ardie had forthrightly pointed out how this was all my fault. I was already numb with shock. There was nothing left to shock me, yet I was shocked. In her letter, Ardyce told me that my living in Denver was a bad influence on Damon, that my lifestyle was all wrong, and that I had only myself to blame for his death, that I selfishly pursued an art career at the expense of raising my children, that I should have never divorced Fred, that if I had been there to discipline the boys, none of this would have happened. It was difficult for me to belief that Ardyce could send such an exceptionally callous and cruel letter only a couple weeks after Damon’s death. I corrected the letter in red pencil and sent it back to her. I never heard anything back from her or from any of my family.
I was in shock, suffering, going through it alone. Not only going through it alone, but being blamed for Damon’s death as well. There was no avoiding the dark valley that lay ahead. There was only going through it. Most people have family support. Not me. Not only did they blame me, they robbed me of my right to grieve. But the very worst of all, they robbed the world of who Damon was and replaced him with a version they could understand, one that made it acceptable for him to be dead and forgotten.
Beginning with this chapter is good because it leaves a lot of questions in the reader’s mind that need to be answered, but then go back and go forward. It is starting with a traumatic event that brings everyone together and a lot of issues are raised that need to be ferreted out.
The flashes of reality through which we maneuver provide no clue to the truth. So much is missed in the percipient perception. Growth, however, is memory of the flashing perceptions and the ability to reassemble them in a manner from which we learn and become willing to accept. Most, if not all of what we call reality, is our poorly constructed memories, a persistent reality based more on beliefs and emotions than actual facts. But even that will evaporate, and disappear forever, unless preserved by writing it down.
No one wanted to go with me to the hills. My younger sister was afraid of snakes, and my younger brother liked staying in the house. Whereas, I loved being outside. My older sisters liked to stay in their room and play dress up. They always closed the door and locked it by shoving a chair under the door handle. They never let anyone in. Sometimes, I would peek through the key hole to see what they were doing and find them dressed up in mother’s old dresses and putting on her makeup.
I used to walk down to the three hills beyond the pasture, hills that we called the Three Sisters for me and my two older sisters. I followed the cow trail around the lake, then cut to the south end of the pasture, over the fence and to the hills. From these hills, one can see for miles in all directions.
One day, I decided to go in another direction around the lake. I had walked down to the lake, and instead of going around to the east, I went west. The western end of the lake was outside our pasture, where no one lived. Nothing but hills. Climbing up a hill, from the top, I could still see the trees around our farm. I went down the hill and kept looking back in the direction I came from so as to recognize it on the way back. I could no longer see home, but I wanted to see what was over the next hill. And then I came across a patch of soft, soft grass at the bottom of a hill. I just lay down in it and rolled around. I couldn’t get enough of it. The grass was wonderfully soft, and I loved the feel of it. I just lay there looking up at the clouds. It felt so good being there, like I was a part of it. I didn’t want to leave. I saw only hills all around me. I got a little panicky feeling like I wouldn’t find my way back home. I knew what direction to go, by the sun. I kept turning around to look at the grassy spot, so I would remember where it was. Finally the farm popped into view. I knew I would come back, but though I tried many times, I never found the soft grass again.
Pleasant warm breezes swirl through the memory, rearranging, and dislodging until all is a rosy picture of settlement, stories of hard work by honest people who created this country. The hard work is forgotten, but the myth stretches out forever, reaching forward from generation to generation. The childhood of a nation, no matter how bizarre, atrocious, or violent, is all normal behavior to those who experienced it. We learn the truth from our parents. Children cling to the parents’ version of history, a loving, caring parent because knowing the truth would be too devastating to accept.
My grandparents homesteaded this land. We learned in school that immigrants came to America seeking freedom and opportunity to own their own house and land. They found something very different from what they had been told. America was in the middle of a civil war, Indians were riding up and down the Plains states, forcing the settlers off their land. The immigrants who stayed in the cities were conscripted into the Union army, while their women and children went to factories to work for serf wages. Settlers who went west were found angry Indians protecting their homes and defending their land. This wasn’t exactly the rosy picture presented by the railroads and the U.S. government to the Irish, Norwegians, and Germans about the free land in America.
The settling of the West has become a myth, just as my grandparents have become relics of history which no one remembers correctly, nor do they want to. One of the biggest social/economic changes since the birth of Christ was taking place, the birth of capitalism. One of the biggest, gut-wrenching changes in the history of mankind, occurred when the Industrial Revolution, hijacked democracy, to install predator capitalism. Going from feudalism to market was all decided by corporate industrialists. It wasn't done right and we suffer the consequences today. The homesteaders who made it happen had no idea they were creating a concentration camp for their children, where they would become the new serfs, slaves to the creation of a new money society, driven by the whims of an industrially created stock market, where a person would be measured not by human dignity but by profit he could make for the newly hatched corporations. My grandparents had no idea. That isn’t what they were told.
The Civil War was not going the way Lincoln had thought it would, that the South could be forced back into the Union in a month or two if he just used military force. Two years later and with the Union losing the war, Lincoln was desperate. Soldiers were deserting left and right. They just wouldn’t shoot and kill their relatives. And there was the big Louisiana Purchase to think about. All that land could be lost if the South were allowed to secede. Soon everyone would think they should be free and independent to form their own nations. Couple that with the one problem so uniquely American: the Indian problem. Standing in the way of connecting the East with the West were the Plains Indians. The U.S. Calvary had been twice defeated by these pesky Indians. Lakota Chief Red Cloud burnt down the forts and ordered the military off his land. Hunkpapa Chief Sitting Bull and Lakota warrior Crazy Horse soundly defeated the U.S. Army’s attempt to annihilate all the Indians. The land was all here for the taking, but no American in their right mind wanted to come out to the Great Plains, where there were no trees, no rain, but plenty of Sioux Indians, who very mistakenly thought they possessed the land. Since the Indians couldn’t be dislodged by force or stealth, immigrants were needed to clear the land of its Indian problem and to help the Union win the Civil War, not to mention that immigrants were needed to work in the new manufacturing factories and plants. There were fortunes to be made in America, but only by the select few who wanted to establish the economic capitalist system. The law did not represent the ethics or ideals of advanced humanity; it exactly reflected the demands and self-interest of the growing propertied classes.
The industrialists were hell-bent on staking an exclusive claim to cross the Plains, and connect the East to West, right through Indian land. So the railroads and lords of industry distributed hand bills throughout Europe, advertising land, free for the taking, and 25 million ignorant immigrants came to the United States between 1865 and 1910. The Homestead Act gave 160 acres to settlers if they lived on the land for 5 years, built a home, ripped up sod and planted crops. The federal government gave hundreds of thousands of acres to the railroads.to encourage them to build tracks from East to West, much of it Indian reservation land. Hundreds of thousands of European immigrants poured into America, including my great grandparents. They mistakenly thought they had come to the land of opportunity, freedom and democracy. Out West, one could live up to the promise of freedom, inspired by a new nation in a new world, especially with the Homestead Act passed in 1862. Or at least it felt that way. Except that right in the middle of this path to riches were the Sioux Indians, who needed to be subdued, but no one was willing to do that. In actuality, homesteads were designed to fail. Most immigrants didn’t realize they came to America to became landless tenants for the railroads, oil, steel, coal mines, silver and gold, and manufacturing. Immigrants were brought here to fight the industrialists’ Civil War.
By the time my grandparents came along, the Civil War had been fought, a war that is still misunderstood, a terrible unnecessary war, a war no one wanted, a war that did not save the Union but actually destroyed the Union, a war that freed the slaves only to make them homeless and felons, a war fought to enrich the industrialists and set an example of the Great American Empire. The Industrial Revolution was exploding across America, equally misunderstood. After the Civil War, soldiers and immigrants that fought were given land out west. In 1862, Congress passed the Homestead Act, which wasn’t designed for immigrants to succeed. It charged people $1.25 an acre, which most people couldn’t afford to pay $200, so land speculators gobbled up the homestead land. In 1862, the Union was losing the war. The Union won only because one third of its soldiers were immigrants. The Civil War was a means for the banks and barons of industry to gain ownership of the land in order to establish the new capital system of economics through private ownership. Once the Indians were dislodged, America became a blank slate upon which the barons of industry could carve out their corporations from all the natural resources, just free for the taking, since the Indians weren’t using the land anyway. The South was colonized. The new terrible giant, capitalism, replaced the government of the people. The Homestead Act was not a home maker, but a home breaker. However, my grandparents were lucky enough to have family to back them so they got a homestead.
The rugged individualism it took to homestead this land was real and is what created America. The barons of industry did not make this country, they broke it. They saw America as a vast candy store of endless land and resources just here for the taking. American development advanced with the frontier of so called free land, having first stolen it from the Indians, for the benefit of the banks and the captains of industry.
Back in my grandfather’s day, America was rural. Instead of competing, the homesteaders learned quickly that they had to cooperate if they wanted to survive. Usually the oldest boy would move close by and apply for another homestead as Leo had done. Life on a farm was never-ending work, and work still done with horses. There was no electricity. Oh, towns had electricity, but rural America was dark. People made do with mantle lanterns. People were truly self-sufficient back then: They built their own homes, planted large gardens and canned and stored the produce, raised cows for milk and meat, and chickens for eggs. They made their own soap, candles, and could repair anything. They hand washed their clothes, made out of material from flour sacks, patched until thread bare. Preserving, making do, conservation, all were the order of the day. Wastefulness was simply not tolerated because it meant failure to survive. It was a hard life, but it was also a good life. To those who survived it, it made them strong. For a short lived time, there were a group of people, the pioneers, who lived together, worked together, in the spirit of caring and sharing with each other. These were the true giants.
My great grandparents came to Minnesota with the first wave of immigrants. Conditions they found here forced them to change in order to survive. So they lived in sod huts or dug outs, and tar papered shacks. They learned to plant corn and eat the Indian turnips. They survived as self sufficient family units. It was hard for the government to keep track of these rugged individuals who might come to the conclusion that they didn’t need a government. Hence, the homestead process. The new capitalistic government needed to settle the Indian territory as quickly as possible before the Indians united and wiped them out. Before the settlers wandered off on their own, the territories needed to be admitted as states so the settlers would owe their allegiance to the United States and the new capitalist government. If the territories went off on their own, they could become like the South. The United States would never be able to stop them. Hence the reason that the Homestead Act was enacted right during the worst part of the Civil War, when the Union was losing, so that immigrants could fight for their land. Capitalists and industrialists could not afford to win the war and lose the West to settlers who might form their own nations. Industrialists replaced slaves with immigrant wage labor, which was much cheaper than owning slaves.
I do not know if my grandparents were aware that they were responsible for stamping out the Indian way of life, the belief and practice that the land and earth were things to be valued and cared for, because the land represented all things that produced and sustained life, it embodied their existence, identity and created an environment of belonging. Everyone had a place in the Indian world and everyone had something to do. To my grandparents, land was ownership, a place to make a living and pass it on to the children. I don’t think they thought about the government’s attempts to destroy tribal way of life and to open Indian lands to settlement by non-Indians for development by railroads. If they did know about it, they swept it from their consciences. The thought of the day was that Indians were dirty, drunken, thieving savages who were subhuman.
My great grandfather Johnston was British, and he came from somewhere in the East and settled in Nebraska. He had 4 or 5 sons. Just why he turned my grandfather and brother out when they were 13 and 14 years old, I’ll never know. Two of them, my grandfather Vernie and great uncle Earl, headed to North Dakota around the turn of the century to file for a homestead. They changed their name from Johnston to Johnson. Like the country, they were violent, dark and mysterious. Earl was violent and profane. He had two boys, and a girl from a wizened little woman, Aunt Stell. He periodically beat the hell out of Stell and the kids. No one said anything or interfered. It was just accepted that it was a man’s right to do so. The kids turned out to be respectful. Gib, the oldest, had fought in the Army in World War II. He returned with severe shell shock. He never married and died young, from the horror he had been forced to witness, from which he could never recover. His other son, inherited the homestead, married, and had two children, a girl and a boy, Linda and Lyle. He was one of the few who hung onto the homestead by also working at the gas station as a mechanic. The homestead ended up with his sister, Gladys Mae, who married a German by the name of Schwede. She also had two kids, boy and girl. Herb never married and ended up with the homestead. Herb was very inventive and scientifically gifted, which is how he survived. He never amassed material wealth. Grandfather Vernie was the original homesteader.
Grandpa Johnson met Louise Koeller in North Dakota. The Koellers had come over from Germany in the late 1800s with their little girl, Louise. in response to the railroads handbill offering free land in America. Koller was involved in making pharmaceutical health potions in Germany. They first settled in Minnesota. When the government opened the Indian reservations in North Dakota through the Dawes Act, they moved to the new state of North Dakota. Koller filed a claim next to the Johnsons, which is how my grandparents met and eventually married. Grandpa didn’t have to look too far. Louise was tall and willowy with long red hair which she braided in two braids and wrapped around her head German style. She was an organizer and a leader. Together she and Grandpa Johnson farmed the Johnson homestead.
They headed full steam into the 20th century. Work was still done with horses, but machines had been invented to make the work easier. Horses now pulled plows, planters, cultivators, mowers, binders and threshers. The work one man could do in a day increased to new levels. Little did my immigrant grandparents realize that this was just the beginning of a whole century of change in American agricultural practices which would totally emasculate American farmers. But my grandparents were still a community of neighbors who helped each other.
My mother’s parents came from Minnesota in the late 1800s. Grandfather Scheltons came from Denmark, married Wilhelmina Vick, a Norwegian woman, and settled in Mankato, Minnesota, in the mid 1800’s. No one ever talked about the mass hanging of the Dakota Indians in Mankato in 1862, the year Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, which brought a flood of immigrants to America. But they must have known about it. It was one of those things that was just shoved under the rug. Newspapers didn’t dwell on it; it would be bad for business. The government, railroads, and speculators had a hard enough time luring people to the Plains, so they certainly didn’t want to talk about any Indian massacres or mass hangings. They moved to North Dakota. Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities.
Grandpa Scheltons was an educated Dutchman and his wife was a refined Norwegian. Gerhardes and Wilhelmina had come by train to Donnybrook, North Dakota, at the turn of the century, and settled on newly opened reservation land, where a job with the US Post Office as a rural delivery mail carrier was waiting for Grandpa, because of his education and ability to read and write. They bought a log cabin in Donnybrook, along with several acres of land, where Grandpa could keep his horses. Grandma Scheltons was a real lady and not equipped to deal with pioneer life. Grandma had brought her fine chinaware and silverware with her. Her refinement and educated ways did not fit in with the homesteading wives. She looked forward to Grandpa coming home from the route. He is the only person she carried on a conversation with.
Grandpa discussed the making of America with her. "It’s not at all like the railroads and government said it would be. We have to make the most of a bad situation because there is no going back. Besides, it is no better where we came from."
"That might be true of Holland, but how I wish I could be back in Norway." Grandma never let go of the dream of returning to civilized Norway, and escaping barbaric America.
"We will have to make-do," Grandpa said. He was thinking that America was a Roman empire, worse that England. It had destroyed much of the natural resources, decimated the Indian tribes, and used the wonderful inventions to enslave its citizens. But he wasn’t going to tell Grandma; she would not be able to handle the truth. Grandpa, with his educated mind, could see they had been lied to, but he knew he couldn’t tell Grandma.
"It is so uncivilized, I just can’t stand it. I want to go home." That was Grandma’s wish. "At least, lets go back to Minnesota."
Grandpa put his arm around Grandma. "You might get your wish, but not right now." Because Grandpa got out and about on the mail route, he heard a lot of things. Emigrants who protested their ill treatment were being rounded up to be executed, sent off or imprisoned. The papers were full of Manifest Destiny, that God has made Americans the master organizers of the world, to administer among savages and senile peoples. Grandpa had to shield Grandma from the truth, the great deception. Because he worked for the government, he had to hide the truth from himself, and his children.
"I just don’t know if I can stand it."
"You always have me, and you have our children. We have to be careful, though, and speak only English. It’s dangerous to speak another language." Grandma lived in fear of Indians, and the cold, and the starkness of the harsh reality of pioneer life. In desperation, she took to religion in a seriously flawed way, and ended up just standing in the corner saying that God will provide, instead of caring for kids, making meals, or household duties. My grandfather had to eventually get mental help for her by institutionalizing her for awhile. But he missed her terribly and felt guilty. So he brought her back so he could care for her and help her get over the shock of uncivilized life.
Scheltons had books they had brought with them. Some of the books ended up with Mother at the farm, even though she rarely got to read them, but I did. There was a book of Norwegian stories and poetry that I read over and over, Briar Rose, an epic poem about who ran wild in the fiords of Norway, thought of as a neer-do-well, "Whatever will become of you, you naughty Briar Rose?" Yet when no man would go and lift the lock when the water was rising, Briar Rose did, and sacrificed her life. I used to read these stories over and over to Ardy at night when we were in bed. When she fell asleep, I would wake her so she could hear the rest of the story. After Mother’s death, Roger, who had inherited everything, got rid of the books before I had an opportunity to get the Scheltons books.
Very fortunately, the Sheltons children were born too young to be drafted into WW I. The war kind of snuck up on the homesteaders, who were too busy to really notice what the War was all about. Apparently, everyone else was, too. America was firmly driven by the industrialists who were responsible for WWI. They created propaganda to brainwash the fickle American public into believing in war and misconceived enemies such as communists, and thus created a "red scare." The industrialists didn’t want any unions increasing wages, so wage activists and unionists were labeled as communists or Reds.
Grandma and Grandpa Scheltons had seven children. The oldest, Melinda, came of age during the First World War. It certainly wasn’t her upbringing that sent her down the road of perdition. The Twenties were a dazzling time. Society leaped into the modern age with its automobiles, electricity, movies, phonographs, telephones, radios, and so much more. One of the biggest changes wasn’t material, although that was part of it, but advertising with propaganda. Every sort of loose morals was now permissible through propaganda. Short hair, short dresses, make-up, sex, now permeated society, except on family farms and small towns. The 1920s were an era of unprecedented technological progress. Thanks to mass production, radios became cheap and affordable, creating a mass culture that shared the same touchstones and references for the first time. What a boon for the industrialists! Films went from silent to talkies and movie theaters were a sensation, with box office draws that have never been equaled, per capita, since that time. Movies were used to tell the news industrialists wanted people to hear. Movies, more than anything, recreated history. But most of all, the automobile changed the face of America. Suddenly cheap and easy mobility was available to practically everyone. The migrations to the cities, to the promise of easy living and exciting urban life, were practically a stampede. And the cities, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Cleveland and most especially Chicago welcomed the influx with open arms.
Melinda, the oldest, married a farmer and had two boys. But she did not want the boys, the man, or the marriage. She up and left on a train bound for Chicago. The boys ended up with Grandpa and Grandma Scheltons to raise. Melinda sought out the glitz of the times. She didn’t want to be left out of it. She became a girlfriend to a bookie for one of the mobsters. She loved the clothes, the money, the jewelry and fur coats. She married and divorced three times. Melinda ended up poverty stricken, on welfare. When she came for the funeral of her youngest son, she stayed at the farm. She hinted that it would be nice just to stay. Father made sure she got on the bus back to Chicago. Melinda died alone in an apartment in Chicago and was not discovered until a week later. She had no funeral, and no one cared whether she lived or died.
All of the Scheltons ended up with an education and good jobs, except for my mother. Ronald, the second oldest, got a job with the Burlington Northern Railroad and moved to Minot. Ronald was the most affected by the new capitalism. He very soon became aware that one did not criticize the railroads and continue working. As a result, he grew apart from his family. The same could be said for Gerald, who went to work for Bell Telephone, and moved to Indiana. Two of mother’s sisters got jobs teaching school. Mother had one year at Minot State Teacher’s College, which she said was the best year of her life, even though the Great Depression has struck. The youngest, George, needed to go to college. The thinking was that a boy needed to be prepared for a job, whereas a girl needed to prepare for marriage. Mother’s sister, Irma, was supposed to send money to Mother once she got a teaching job. But she didn’t, something she felt very guilty about much later, and always sent us boxes of clothes. Once, she told Mother how sorry she was that Mother had ended up with the life she had. Mother later said, "Phew! I have a petty good life." As Grandpa Scheltons could not afford to send all his children to college during the Depression, Mother did not go a second year. Instead, Mother spent a year living in Chicago with her oldest sister, Melinda, who kept the books in a gambling operation. Melinda got mother a job as a housekeeper for a rich woman. Mother remembered Melinda as being very good to her.
Grandma Scheltons always served coffee in real china cups with saucers. She invited Carolyn, my oldest sister to have afternoon tea with her with, of course, a China cup and saucer. On Sundays, she served the meal on chinaware with real silverware, and cloth napkins. The children always ate first, then the adults.
Grandma Johnson, on the other hand, was practical, capable and competent. She looked forward to the chores of daily life with zest. She knew a lot about home remedies and birthing. Woman from 20 to thirty miles around would call on Ma, (that’s what everyone called her), when it came time for their babies. Women would call for Ma instead of the doctor. Ma would tell one of the boys to hitch Barney, the big black with a white star on his forehead, to the carriage, and off she would go with her little medicine bag. She gathered her roots, leaves, and berries throughout the spring, summer, and fall. She also carried a forceps. In cases of a breach, her skillful hand would turn the baby, thus saving both the baby and mother from hours of agonizing pain. Ma had a way that was calming, assertive and reassuring. Everyone trusted, admired, and even loved Ma, everyone that is, except Mother.
At the turn of the century the horse barn was the focal point of the farm. The horse barn was barn shaped with an addition added on to the south end. There were four stalls in the addition and four in the main horse barn. Harnesses hung from spike nails. My grandparents had about eight working horses and two carriage horses. Four draft horses were stabled in the spring and fall, well fed on a ration of grain and hay. The first chores in the morning for the boys was to milk the cows and feed, water, and harness the horses in preparation for a day in the field. Then my grandfather and his oldest son Leo would spend all day cultivating behind a team of horses. My uncle Leo would work a second team of horses.
One of the first chores for the girls was to fetch water from the windmill. Grandma started a fire in the cook stove with wood the boys had gathered from the grove. Cooking and food provided full time jobs for everyone. The family centered around the kitchen table. People lived close to nature back then. They observed nature, the birds and animals, whose lives also centered around food and the nest or den.
Families worked together back then. Harvest time was a neighborhood affair. It took about eight horses to pull the threshing machine into the field, along with the feeder and cutter and a steam engine to turn the pulleys that knocked the grain out of the shells. A belt about 20 feet long was attached from the steam engine to the threshing machine. It wasn’t a good idea to have the fire it took to power the steam engine too close to the straw that blew out of the thresher. It took 3 men just to set up the thresher and run it. Seven or 8 men went with horses and wagons to haul in the bundles of grain that had been cut and stacked. Neighbors brought their own team and wagons. Then it took several men to pitch the bundles into the thrasher. The grain came out an auger which was loaded into sacks, sewen shut and taken to granaries on the farm. Time was precious. They wanted to get as much done as possible while it was still nice and dry. It could change to wet weather at most any time. Farmers had to move with the seasons.
Grandpa stood atop the thresher and proudly saw to it that everything ran smoothly, that the boys pitched the sheaths of grain onto the feeder at the right timing, too fast and the thresher would plug up and have to be shut down. If one wasn’t paying attention, the thresher could be plugged up for half a day. Neighbors drove teams of horses pulling their wagons out into the field where boys would load shocks of grain into the wagon. From morning til night, the thresher did not shut down. The men ate in shifts, coming to the house for dinner and supper, and a chance to feed and water the horses. Girls brought two lunches out to the field. In addition to keeping an eye on the threshing, Grandpa watched to sky. Harvest was an urgent, tense time of year. A whole year’s work lay in one week or two weeks of harvesting. "Look at those ominous thunderheads steadily mounting up in the west. No telling, it might well be a week or more before getting dry enough to get at threshing again. And it looks like there may be hail in those boiling, blue-black clouds too! Hurry, Hurry." My grandfather stood on top of the thresher spearheading the operation. It was the one time he could command the operation without instructions from Ma. He owned the threshing machine, and he took pride in overseeing the twenty-one or twenty-two men it took to harvest the crops. Harvest was a complex operation that required a threshing machine, bundler, shocking, and a work force of about twenty two men. Farmers rarely hired any help; they couldn’t afford to. They cooperated with their neighbors and shared the threshing machine. When it was time to move on to the next farm, Grandpa would harness six horses to pull the thresher and steam engine to the next farm. As an alcoholic, Grandpa loved a commanding position of importance during harvest, an honor which he otherwise would not receive.
Grandma Johnson was the one who really ran the farm. Grandpa Johnson didn’t dare sneak off during harvest to go on a toot, even if he wanted to. Grandma commandeered my grandfather when it was time to plant, and when it was time to harvest. When harvest arrived, everyone was pointed in the right direction, Grandma made sure everyone was where they were supposed to be, doing what they were supposed to, under her watchful eye. Then she became the queen of the kitchen, everyone needed to do what they had been trained to do. There were on their own, but they better not screw up. If any family member didn’t move quick enough in the right direction, the full wrath of Grandma would descend upon them. Once, during a rainy spell, Father and Chet decided to go to a house party. Grandpa said no, so they whined and wheedled Ma until she finally said, "You can go but be home by midnight. It looks like it will be dry enough to go by tomorrow. They didn’t come home until 4:00. They tiptoed upstairs, carefully undressed, and got into bed. Grandma got up, went downstairs, got ready, and called the boys, who didn’t respond. She called a second and third time, then said, "Let me hear those feet hitting the floor, or I’m coming up there."
Two pair of feet hit the floor, and soon my father and Chet were downstairs, still half drunk. Ma grabbed a thick belt hanging on a hook by the door. "You come here and get your whipping, Mr. Man." She grabbed Chet by the wrist, who began to run in a circle as Ma attempted to whip him. "You think you can go out and drink all night and sleep all day? Not in this house you do. You stand still and take it like a man, Mr. Man, or I will call Pa down here."
Chet almost sobered up at the thought. He didn’t know which he hated worse: to get a beating from his father or be shamed in front of the threshing crew, because that’s what would happen. He didn’t have to think to long or hard on it to hold still and said, "Go ahead."
She whipped them both boys soundly, then asked, "Do you think you’ve learned your lesson now? What would happen if everyone ran off and got drunk during harvest time? We’d be lying in a drunken heap, while the Indians would be stealing our pigs, cattle, and horses. Then, they would load us up in our wagons and dump us off at the reservation while they came back a occupied our house! Now sit down and drink some hot coffee until you are sober enough to go to the barn and milk the cows. You are lucky that harvest is going to start a little later, when the dew has dried. You wanted to go out, and now you get on up to the barn and milk those cows." Her boys, teenagers, were never too old for Ma to whip if she felt they needed it. "And you better not spill a single drop of milk on the way back to the house."
When they returned, she sent them out to the garden to pick the green beans and about 100 ears of corn, a job usually reserved for the girls. Ma let the girls and Grandpa sleep an hour later. About this time, Chet and Vernie came to the house with four brimming pales of green beans and corns. Everyone sat down to a breakfast of pancakes, chokecherry syrup, sausages, bacon, eggs, thick slices of homemade bread, butter and jam, and of course, steaming hot coffee. Grandpa gave some sideways looks at his sons. He knew what they had been up to from lots of experience, but he said nothing in front of a couple neighbors who had joined them for breakfast.
Grandpa and the men headed to the field to get the fire going in the steam engine, while Chet and Vernie headed to the horse barn to harness up two teams. They gave them a good watering, hitched them to wagons, and headed to the field where the threshing crew was gathered.
Grandma went into high gear during harvest time and everyone had to toe the line. In addition to feeding 25 to 30 people, Grandma had a garden of vegetables to be brought in and processed or stored for the winder. Grandma loved it. She commandeered her girls and was social to neighbors’ wives. Grandma got up at around 4:00, conducted her personal hygiene, then got the girls up to help with breakfast, which began a 6:00. At about 5:00, she got up the boys so they could milk the cows, a job that fell to my Father and Chet. They brought pails of milk to the house, and took it down the outdoor cellar steps, leaving the milk in the cool cellar so the cream would rise to the top. Later, the girls would skim the cream into cream cans. When the cream was at least a week old, they would churn some of the cream into butter. Later, before or after harvest, Grandma would make cottage cheese. One of the pigs had been slaughtered, salted and hung up in a smoke house.
Ma said, "Gert you and Klest go get more water from the well, fill the reservoir in the stove, and wash the dishes right away. Then you can start snapping the beans, and husking the corn. Then look to see if we still have potatoes. If not, you will have to go dig some. Stella, you and Inez to get a dozen roosters from the henhouse and chop their heads off. I will put a large pot of water on the stove to boil."
Gert and Klest snapped the beans and pulled the sheaves off the corn, shaving all the scraps to a pail which they took that, along with some skimmed milk and poured it in the trough for the pigs. All four girls took the dead roosters to a spot in the grove where a rope was tied between two trees. Gert and Klest carried the pot of boiling water to the roostsers where Stella scalded the roosters one by one until their feathers loosened. Inez, Klest, and Gert hung the roosters up on the line by the feet and pulled off their feathers.
Meanwhile Ma mixed up a huge batch of bread and then made a cake. The dough rose fast in the heat, and was soon overflowing the pan. Ma mixed it down. Then she greased 8 bread pans and 2 large rectangular pans. On the second rising, she rolled two batches of dough, spread with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, rolled up, cut and put rolls in the rectangular pans. Then she shaped the rest of the dough into loaves. The cinnamon rolls would go into the oven first. Twenty minutes later, the cinnamon rolls came out of the oven, and in went 4 loaves of bread. Ma called Stella and Inez to come to the house. She told them to take the cinnamon rolls out to the threshing crew. "And fill the water can with fresh cold water from the well." Ma had a 20 gallon pot of hot coffee ready to send along, with cinnamon rolls, cornmeal muffins, and plenty of butter. "And don’t be flirting with any of the boys; come right home because I will need you here. You can leave everything there, because Pa will bring it back when he comes in for dinner."
They didn’t have far to go because the field was about 500 yards from the house. The thresher was located next to the hay lot where the straw was blown in a huge pile. Stella was tall and good looking like her mother, red hair. However, she did not inherit her mother’s decorum and good sense. All the girls were beauties. Taking a lunch to the field wasn’t a chore for Stella. She loved all the attention and looks she got from the men. Of course, with Pa’s watchful eye atop the thresher, the boys made these looks quite secretive. When out of sight, the kids tended to walk on the wild side.
At about 11:00, two neighbor women came riding in with food, and to help with the cooking. No sooner had they pulled into the yard, but a rider came thundering into the yard. A young farmer jumped down and told Ma, "You gotta come right away. Sally Mae is having her baby and she’s having a hard time. I don’t think she will make it." And so saying, he began to cry.
"Now, hush," said Ma. "When did her labor start?"
"How far apart are her pains?"
"About 5 minutes, but she is in terrible pain, and she keeps screaming."
"Calm yourself, Billy. Now see here, Billy, there’s no point in killing your horse over this." Ma went up to his horse who was drenched in sweat. "Take this horse up and put him in the cow barn. Give him a bucket of water and some hay. You can come with me in the carriage." Ma called Gert. "You run and get Stella. Tell her to come a-runnin."
Stella and Inez ran to the house. Ma told Stella to harness up Barney, hitch him to the carriage. "Be sure to give Barney a good drink of water, he’s got a lot ways to go. I’m afraid Billy ruined his horse." Ma got her bag and some clean sheets and towels which she had in another bag. She never knew what to expect when she got there, and she wanted to be prepared. "Olga, I may not be back until morning. I just don’t know."
Barney was the family pet, and easy to catch. All Stella had to do was whistle for him, and he came running into the barn. Billy harnessed Barney, led him to water tank, harnessed him to the carriage and drove up to the house. Stella had gone to help Ma, and then loaded everything in the carriage. Ma gave Barney a couple slices of bread. She patted Barney on the nose and told him what a good horse he was. He nuzzled her shoulder in sheer affection. He would do anything for Ma. Ma asked Olga to take over the cooking, that the bread should come out of the oven in about ten more minutes.
"Of course," said Olga in her thick Norwegian brogue, "you doana worry bout a ting." And Olga began bustling about the kitchen, giving orders just as Ma would have. "Youse girls get dose chickens singed, gutted, and cut up."
Ma told the girls, "I want you to mind Mrs. Workman. You know what to do and you should do it."
"I’ll be here when youse get back. Don’t you worry about a ting." Olga put a little more wood on the fire, took out the bread, and dumped it on the counter. Olga was as steady as a rock, and Ma knew she would handle everything while she was gone, including her girls.
Ma spoke softly to Barney, "We got a long ways to Barney, You just take it easy." She said this as much for Billy as the horse. Barney turned his ears back to Ma, and listened to every word with loving attention. He would have gone to the moon had Ma asked him to. Ma often said she wished her children paid as much attention as the horses did. Ma gave a slight flick of the reins and off they went at a trot. They had twenty miles to go, and Ma planned on getting there in one piece. Barney was big, about seventeen hands, and in very good shape. Ma figured they would get there in two hours, maybe a little less.
As with the men helping each other with the harvest, neighbor women shared the cooking and kitchen work. At threshing time, even children helped. Time was of the essence. Chet and Father loaded bundles of wheat into the threshing cylinder and piled up straw that was used later for livestock bedding. Both were tall, 6 feet, and of a very muscular build. Father was the youngest, with Chet just a couple of years older. Chet had inherited Ma’s good looks and red hair, but was more like Grandpa and liked living dangerously. Father was the youngest, and the image of Grandpa, but he resembled Grandma in temperament and personality.
Dinner time was not lunch; it was the biggest meal of the day because there was a lot of hard, physical work ahead for the men. They ate in three shifts of seven or eight men so that the thresher would keep going. Going first was Grandpa. He motioned to Leo, his oldest, to jump up on the thresher and take his place. Leo had red hair like his mother, with a gentle and humorous personality. Something about him caused children to love him, and he played with his younger brothers and sisters.
Grandpa, Chet, and six others took two teams of horses back to the house on first shift. Grandpa brought back the coffee pot, water cans, and any dishes left from snack time. He told Chet, " You and Charlie take the horses on up, water them, and give them some oats and hay." There was a basin sitting on the porch outside with soap and a bucket of water sitting beside it. Pa poured a little water, washed his face and hands, and threw the water out in the grass, as did the rest.
Twenty-one husky men with husky appetites had to be satisfied at mealtime. Ma certainly was as efficient as the men. Not only was Ma efficient, but it was Ma who planned the harvest. It took a lot of forethought on her part to keep everyone fed, and sometimes the threshers arrived without much advanced notice. The meals were prepared on an oversized kitchen wood stove, with a reservoir for water, and warming shelves on the back of the stove. From here came huge dishes of mashed potatoes liberally topped with a chunk of melting butter, great platters of beef, pork or more often of delicious fried chicken, m-m-m-m, pickles, pies, cakes!
The girls worked in the kitchen, and helped bring cook platters of fried chicken, potatoes and gravy, beans, homemade bread and butter to the table. They set tall glasses of cold water from the well down for each man. Stella poured hot coffee, going around the table to each man, starting with Pa, who always sat at the head of the table. Young men sat at the far end. Out of sight of her father and anyone else, Curly would reach his hand up Stella’s dress, his hand running up her inner thigh until it reached it’s goal. Stella had prepared for the moment by having removed her bloomers, and now stood with her legs slightly apart, slowly pouring coffee into Curly’s cup. The girls and women were too busy in the kitchen to notice, as were the men, who were busy eating. As soon as the men finished eating, Klest and Gert removed their plates, cups, and service ware to a dishpan of hot soapy water, to be washed, rinsed, and dried for the next hungry crew. It was only after the threshing crew had been fed that the women and girls sat down to eat.
It was late that night that Barney brought Ma home. She stopped by the house, took her bag in. Olga was sat up on the couch. "Lucy?" the question was in her voice.
"Wait till I get Chet." May went upstairs, wakened Chet, told him to, " take Barney to barn, feed and water him, then hitch up Gabriel, and bring the carriage back to the house. Oh, and put a halter on Billy’s horse and tie him to the back of the carriage." Chet quietly did as he was told. Ma, exhausted, on a high energy that wouldn’t allow her to sleep, came back down stairs and sat in the rocker, close to Olga, whom she could rely on to do the right thing. Olga was a thick set Norwegian, who emanated authority and precision, a character trait that Ma could identify with. "Billy went a little crazy and tried to kill himself. When we drove in the yard, Barney began to whinny. I knew right away something was terribly wrong. There was a pitiful wailing, like a cat whimpering. Billy jumped down and rushed into the house. I was right behind. It was too late for his wife; she had apparently just died. The baby’s head was out, and it was still alive. Billy threw himself over his wife, and began sobbing a high pitched wail, in between screaming, "No! No!" I told him I could save the baby. And he pushed me away. He wouldn’t budge, so I whacked him on the head with a frying pan, and while he was still stunned, I ripped up a dish towel and tied him up. I drug him into the kitchen and tied him to the table. I sharpened my knife razor sharp and I took the baby. I was in for a shock because there were two, both boys. Billy was insane with grief and apt to kill the babies, so I wrapped the little things in towels and took them to young Mrs. Anderson, who just lost her baby to the whooping cough. She should still have milk. I had to leave Billy tied up so he wouldn’t do anything crazy. I need you to take care of Billy."
Olga sat listening with her thick and capable hands resting on her knees, her body hunched forward to hear every word. Ma said. They understood each other, and completed each other’s thoughts. "I’ll take dat boy home with me, yeah sure. We’ll sort tings out later. For now, the babes are better off with Mrs. Anderson."
"Best Chet goes along, in case he gives you any trouble. Now there’s going to be a funeral to think about."
Olga rose and went out. Ma brought the kerosene lantern and gave it to Chet along with strict instructions to "take care of Gabriel, and don’t run him."
"I’ll see to it he don’t." And off they went. Olga explained to Chet what had happened and what they needed to do.
The farther west the settlers went, the more dependent they became on the monopolistic railroads to move their grain to market. Wheat farmers blamed local grain elevator owners (who purchased their crop), railroads and eastern bankers for the low prices. They just rushed in to control the price of wheat by working with the grain buyers in Minneapolis. And soon it cost to harvest the crop. So small farmers were squeezed out. The whole thing was out of control. Corporations and the railroads were controlling the price of grain. Farmers had no say. The only time farmers made any money on their crops was during the First World War. Capitalism had a firm grip on America.
This caused many unions to develop so that people could get a fair shake against the capitalists. Two competing unions for farmers were the Farmers Union which promoted small farmers, and the Farm Bureau which favored factory farms and gentlemen farmers. Ma and Pa joined the Farmers Union, as did my father.
While industries were booming in the twenties, the farmers, homesteaders who built this country, were sliding into a ditch. The harder a farmer worked and the more he produced, the less he was going to be paid for his crop, until he reached a point of diminishing returns. He reached the point where it actually cost the farmer money to produce a commodity crop. So my Grandma Johnson concentrated on crops they could survive on, and also sell locally, like corn for the still, and potatoes, a real stable, good keeper, and could be made into vodka, and barley which could produce beer. But most farmers kept growing more and more wheat which plunged the price right into the ground. Grandma kept growing some wheat and oats because, if nothing else, both could help feed the family, chickens, and cows. Many times they had cracked wheat or oats for breakfast as a hot cereal. But most people were not like my Grandma. And most people were not in position to do this. Most people gave up and moved on.
It’s a good thing that Prohibition was in full swing, because Grandma Johnson began making home brew to supplement the lack of profit in farming: dandelion, chokecherry, rhubarb, and plum wines, beer, and whiskey. Grandma was an excellent cook, so her homebrew was some of the best. This enterprise paid for two quarter sections of land. It also paid for the two-story frame house my grandfather had built, the house I grew up in. A person could not just farm and survive on 160 acres of land. Chet and my father would then run the brew to bootleggers. This carried on into WWII, although I never knew this until I was much, much older.
Grandpa Johnson died suddenly of a heart attack when I was about 4. He was a drinker and a gambler, which my grandma, a strong willed woman, would not put up with. She made him toe the line, along with all the kids they had, mainly girls. Once when Grandpa came home drunk and fell on the floor, Grandma Johnson opened the spigot on a keg of beer, and practically drowned poor Grandpa. "You want to drink, Mr. Man, well let’s see you drink!" I believe Grandma cured Grandpa of his drinking problem, and turned the problem into something profitable.
It is hard to say where this wild willfulness came from. It certainly didn’t come from home by example. Something much bigger seemed to have seized the whole nation. It was a breakdown of morals in order to survive. Revolt and disgust were in the air after World War I, a war the people never wanted. President Wilson had won reelection on the promise that he would keep America out of the Great War or War of the Worlds. Americans, especially the immigrants wanted nothing to do with Europe’s sordid affairs. War was not popular with Americans. The young men came home jaded and decadent. The only ones who really prospered were the industrialists, who had made out like bandits from the Great War.
America had more than accomplished its goal of bringing northern Europeans to America to settle the west and work in factories. So now immigration became a problem, especially with hordes of the wrong color yearning to be free, pouring into America. The Indian problem had been settled, almost to extinction; the Great Plains had been had been settled with the right color; homesteads had been gobbled up by the banks; transportation was tied up with the railroads; captains of industry had all the cheap labor they needed, who were willing to work 14 hours a day, father, mother, and children. Life was good. Factories were overflowing with cheap immigrant labor. So, America, the great nation of laws, created an immigration commission to close the floodgate on immigration. One of those laws was that immigrants had to speak English and could not practice their customs which created a hodge-podge of people constantly seeking new opportunities, forever out with the old and in with the new, the beginning of the modern generation. If workers attempted to create humane working conditions through unions, the immigrants were declared communists and were deported. Thousands of immigrants were deported in what was called the Red Scare.
A hallmark of the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th century was the practice of eugenics, the forcible sterilization of the poor, disabled and immoral. The eugenics movement received extensive funding from various corporate foundations including the Carnegie Institution, Rockerfeller Foundation, and the Harriman railroad fortune. The social movement claimed to improve the genetic features of human populations through selective breeding and sterilization, based on the idea that it is possible to distinguish between superior and inferior elements of society. Eugenics played a significant role in the history and culture of the United States prior to its involvement in World War II. Eugenics was widely accepted in the U.S. academic community. By 1928 there were 376 separate university courses in some of the United States' leading schools, enrolling more than 20,000 students, which included eugenics in the curriculum. The U.S. government was in the hands of the corporations ever since the Civil War, so no attempt was made by the government to put an end to this barbaric practice. Corporations had enough of emigrants, so out they went. Simple as that.
America was founded on greed, murder, and theft so that the industrialists could become insanely rich beyond all imagination off the backs of Indians, slaves, and immigrants. And the beauty of it was that the government used its land sales to run the government, then taxed the poor for further revenue, while the rich merchants and industrialists were not taxed. After the corporations employed people, the people’s income and property were taxed. It was a beautiful system. It was a system that took over people’s lives, and imperceptibly changed who they were. It even changed their minds. Greed is very contagious. Soon it was a dog eat dog world. No one knew what happened.
While the cities of America partied into the Roaring Twenties, America’s farmers slid into a Depression. Although Father and Mother grew up in the 20s, the farm homestead morality still prevailed in North Dakota. However, no one remained untouched by the new world that the capitalists and industrialists had produced. The automobile replaced the horse. Women won the right to vote. Invention of the radio produced mass communication and also mass advertising. Prohibition created a new black market. And most of all, there was a new permissive morality which only money can produce. It was also the death of God and nature. The Church and religion no longer ruled one’s life, capitalism did, because capitalism was what now put bread on the table on a daily basis. People were totally bewildered by the explosion of change thrust upon their lives. Mother and her sisters had the bobbed hair and short (mid-knee) dresses. But they certainly did not have loose morals. They were North Dakota after all, and not New Yorkers or Chicagoans.
But things weren’t so roaring for the farmer in the Roaring Twenties. In order to have money to buy the tractors and threshing machines that would replace the horse, the farmer needed to plant crops that would sell on the stock market, not food that people actually eat. So when the rest of the country was roaring into the 20s, speculating on the stock market, farmers were being whipped about by a Market they didn’t understand and could not control. To make matters worse, farmers increased their planted acreage, and the stock market prices for grain plunged.
By the time the Great Depression struck, farmers suffered the most, because they had been in a state of Depression since the twenties. By 1933, one third of America’s farmers had lost their farms. One fourth of America’s people were unemployed. In short, capitalism, the new democracy, had failed, but Grandma and people like her had not failed.
Capitalism, born of private ownership of the means of production, grew by means of conflict. The birth of America did not create democracy, but capitalism. America was created out of colonialism. Colonialism created capital. The Industrial Revolution created industry. Colonialism was always conducted by means of robbery, pillage, murder and the most terrible exploitation. The culmination of capitalism came to a head in the thirties and failed. The banks failed. The Stock Market crashed. Everyone suffered, except for the robber barons, the captains of industry. They believed that Roosevelt had gone way to far with his New Deal, Social Security, and work for the unemployed. They sniffed out an opportunity of war in Europe, and they quickly aligned themselves with fascism and supported Hitler by making munitions for Germany all throughout the war.
Father and Mother met at a house party, where people got together back in those days. People would move the furniture out of living room, roll up the carpet, and dance. Father played a squeeze box accordion. People who could afford it, usually had a piano. Others played violin and drums, and someone sang. Mother was a town girl. Grandpa Scheltons warned her not to marry Father. Father promised her a different life. They married in 1936 and headed out to St. Louis where Father studied airplane mechanics. And mother got a job in a bakery. I think mother really loved city life. Father completed the course and got a job.
Grandma Johnson, Ma, was traditional, but she was also progressive, so when Ford came out with the Model T, she was one of the first to buy one. It really gave a boost to her bootlegging business. Chet and Father would go on little runs with the illegal alcohol. Ma’s was in the most demand because it was so good.
After the Civil War, the morals that could have made this a great nation, changed to fit the new capitalism and market economy that had usurped Jefferson’s vision of America. In order to survive in America, a person had to become part of the new dishonest, artificial way of life. The rabid greed that caused the Great War, WWI, certainly underscored the defects in capitalism. Something in the times helped produce the debauchery in Ma’s children, not all of them, the oldest boy, Leo, and youngest, Father, seemed to have escaped this debauchery that the new age produced. It was a combination of things, women getting the right to vote, prohibition, WWI, automobiles, city life. The young definitely had many more influences on their personalities besides their home and community. Chet and the girls did not escape this.
There is something evil in humans that sets them apart from the animals. In their arrogance, Christians have declared that animals do not possess a soul, that only humans possess a soul. The truth is that only the birds and animals possess souls. Men arrogantly believe they were created in God’s image. The truth is that humans are the sons and daughters of Cain. Eve conceived Cain from Satan, the snake. At any rate, that’s what an old Indian told me, and I have not seen any evidence to disprove his theories. We are the children of Satan.
Or so it would seem with Ma’s children. Chet had a shock of red hair and a hair trigger temper but tempered with an equal amount of humor. He loved making the bootlegging runs. He would stay in the back rooms where there was always a couple of tables of gambling going on. At first he just watched. He knew there would be hell to pay if he lost the alcohol money. Then he got a deck of cards and secretly practiced at home, practiced scuffling, dealing, looking at each hand and calculating the odds. By the time he finally sat in on a game, he broke even. When he finally began to win, he spent his winnings on women of ill repute.
Inez married an area farmer. Stella, Klest and Gert went to dances and social events. Sex was the new thing, and they wanted to have it. Roy was more than happy to oblige. He had returned from WWI and had a lot of carnal knowledge. He had sex with all of them, and impregnated all three. It was a shotgun wedding when Ma discovered it. He chose Klest and both she and Gert went west to Seattle. Stella stayed until the boy was born, then she went out west as well, leaving the boy, Clayton, with Ma to raise. Ma adopted him. And, like a spoiled youngest child, he got a lot of things none of the rest got. Stella eventually moved out west and married someone. They never had any children. I remember them visiting the farm. They had a little dog whom they treated like it was their kid. Stella kept trying to look under Marshall’s robe when he walked through the living room on the way to the shower. We were never close to this aunt and uncle, and didn’t want to be. Clayton, the adopted boy, was sent to college. He borrowed $3000 from Grandma and started Minot Realty. He married and had 3 kids, whom he dropped off at the farm whenever he and his wife wanted to do something. When the kids grew up, they no longer came to the farm. Clayton became a multi-millionaire and eventually shot himself in the head in his garage, upon learning that he had cancer.
Then World War II changed everything. All men were enlisting, anxious to go to war, mainly to have something to do. Grain prices were up, and the Depression finally ended. Grandma Johnson called Father to come back and work the farm because there was no help available and grandpa had some kind of heart problem. It was only going to be temporary, but it never turned out that way. That was the end of city life for my mother. She and Father came back to live with his parents on the farm. And now Mother was not only stuck on the farm, but she was at the beck and call of Grandma Johnson, an energetic and admirable woman, who saved the farm and survived the Thirties.
Mother, the youngest liked to read, and had wanted to go to college, as her brothers and sisters had, but Mother made the mistake of marrying a farmer, and her dreams of being a writer or even reading books, ended when they returned to the farm.
Mother said it was the hard work that caused her not to have children. I think the problem was that the Johnsons did not value the things Mother would have liked to do, like read and write. Once Grandma Johnson was out of the house, my mother would read Grandpa Scheltons’ books. When Grandma came in and caught her reading, she would say, "If you got time to read a book, you have time to do this, that, or the other." I do believe reading was an escape valve for Mother. Most, if not all of the books she read, came from Grandpa Scheltons. Some of them had 1800s publishing dates. After the war, she began subscribing to Readers Digest books for a long time. Many of the stories were good, good novels, which I enjoyed reading. Then she gave that up and began to read paperbacks. I read one of those, and discovered they were sheer trashy Harlequin romances. I was stunned to discover the sheer number of these Mother had; they filled up one half wall in Marshall’s old bedroom, an amazing slide from good literature to trashy novels. Amazing how we really don’t know the ones who are closest to us.
Grandma was the backbone of the farm, and knew how to survive, but she was also a slave driver. When Father and Mother married, they moved in with Grandpa and Grandma Johnson. Mother was assigned the job of carrying the water from the well to the house, no small job when there was no running water. This was heavy, heavy work for someone not used to it. Soon, Mother stopped her cycle, so no kids, which must have been a blessing for Mother. There was no visiting then, just work, work, work. Mother always said that Grandma was a great one for starting something, and expecting Mother to finish it. Once when Mother went to Minot with Grandma, she asked for a winter coat. Grandma said they couldn’t afford it and besides she didn’t need one because she never went anywhere.. That did it for Mother. She snapped and took off. She had enough. Grandpa Scheltons must have helped her get away. I don’t think he ever approved of Father and his family. Grandpa Scheltons put her on a train to Montana, where she found work in a café as a cook. This is where Mother must have bought the dresses, shoes, and clothes that Carolyn and Gail liked to dress up in. And she bought herself a black seal skin winter coat. She was gone about a year. She wrote letters to Father, and he to her. It was finally agreed that Grandpa and Grandma Johnson would retire and move to Minot, taking Clayton with them, and Father would take over the farm. Then Mother wouldn’t have to live with Grandma Johnson. When that was done, Father went and brought Mother home. It was 1942.
Everyone agreed that it was the War that finally brought America out of the Depression. All of a sudden, grain prices took off. The factories were full swing into the war effort. Cars and farm machinery were on hold for 4 or 5 years while the factories churned out planes, tanks, trucks, jeeps, and whatever else was needed for the War. Farmers could not get new equipment, so that meant they had to learn how to repair their tractors, threshing machines, planters, everything. In an amazing fifty years, my grandparents had gone from a sod house and homesteading to driving a car and a tractor. Grain prices were finally up. In fact, grain shortages began to appear. Farmers swung into high gear to produce crops for the demand. But farm workers could not be found because they had either gone to war or the industrial plants, who could pay more than farmers. The government finally passed a law supporting 100 percent of parity for wheat during the war. It meant plant, plant, plant. A farmer finally could really make money if only he had the help to do it. And the best and only help available to Father was Grandpa and Grandma Johnson, who moved back to the farm during the summer. The only one who didn’t really like the arrangement was Mother, but she was glad for the extra help. It was good for Father because he certainly didn’t have to train anyone. Grandma was an amazing whirlwind of energy. She could outwork three men combined. She still made wines and liquors which sold better than ever, and Father delivered.
For the first time in their lives, everyone had money to save because there was nothing to spend it on. The whole country jettisoned into the war effort. Everyone prospered, Life was good. The magic word: jobs. All of a sudden people had jobs that paid good wages. Gone and forgotten were the bad old days. The problems that brought on the Great Depression seemed to evaporate over night. The failed market economy of the thirties was replaced by a command economy under the guidance of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a man revered by my parents, grandparents and many other people. They would have followed him to the moon if he had ordered it. As it was, FDR froze prices, forced corporations and the rich to pay their fair share of taxes, and ordered that farmers receive 100 percent of parity. What this meant was that capitalism had failed, and we were in a totalitarian-command type of government. It worked because of Roosevelt.
It was needed to clean up the mess created by the industrialists. Unfortunately, the clean up died with Roosevelt. The corporate wastrels took off with a vengeance. Capitalism and private industry regained their throne. It was the beginning of a whole new avenue for the country, all without the consent or even the knowledge of the people.
Carolyn, the first born, was born in August 1943, a miracle. Grandma and Grandpa Johnson were staying at the farm in advance of the birth. Grandma did everything, waited on Mother hand and foot, literally putt her to bed, and watched her like a hawk. Grandma detected swelling and rushed Mother to the hospital. Grandma was not one of these women who never learned to drive; she was the first to own a Model T, but she was now driving a ’42, forest green Plymouth. Father was harvesting and had a threshing crew to deal with. Carolyn was born early, and so stayed several days in the hospital, when Grandma brought Mother home. Again, she made Mother go to bed. Grandma made the meals, cooked for the threshing crew, cleaned house, made bread and butter, washed the clothes, picked the beans, peas, and tomatoes, which she canned, made cottage cheese. Grandma had bought a soft, pink lounging jacket for mother. She had bought yards of white cotton flannel, which she cut into squares and hemmed for diapers. She bought blankets and a bassinet. When Father and Mother finally brought baby Carolyn home, it was like the second coming. Neighbors and relatives came, bringing gifts. Carolyn was the only child with a detailed Baby Book of her first year. Father eventually took around with him when she got older.
Mother immediate became pregnant with Gail, who was born a year later in November, unheralded this time, a playmate for Carolyn. Gail was a fussy baby and cried a lot. I think it wore Mother out, who was not a natural mother. Actually, she resented kids as taking up her time. Eventually and thankfully, Gail grew out of her crying stage and did become a playmate to Carolyn.
The war was on, prices were up, life was good, except it was impossible to find any hired help. So, the government sponsored Mexican nationals to work as farm laborers. Father hired Mexicans to help with the harvest. They did not speak English, but were better at taking orders than whites. On rainy days, they played with Carolyn, giving her rides on their shoulders. They taught her how to speak Spanish, a language she didn’t retain though.
Two and one half years later, when another child came along, Mother and Father were hoping for a boy. How disappointed they were, I do not know. But I do know I was ignored my entire life. I was off to a dramatic start. It was February and a snow storm was brewing when Mother decided it was time to go to the hospital. Father took Mother as far as the curves above Donnybrook. The road was drifted shut for about 50 feet. Father went to the nearest neighbor and called ahead to the next neighbor, who came with his car. Father helped Mother across the snow bank. Lowell started out, but could not determine where the road was in the blanket of snow, and he slid in the ditch. Father, who saw what had happened, went back to the neighbors’ and called Grandpa Scheltons, who hitched up his team of horses to the buggy that had delivered the mail through worse than this, and headed up the Donnybrook hill. He had brought lots of blankets and mother was transferred to the buggy. The horses, under the steady hand of Grandpa Scheltons, under adverse conditions, took my mother all the way to Donnybrook. Grandpa put the horses in the barn, gave them an extra ration of oats, and without taking the time to unharness them, he and Mother sped to Kenmare by car, which was highway all the way, straight to the hospital, where I was born a half hour later.
I suppose it was fortunate for everyone that I was such a good baby. I never cried, and never bothered anyone. I never demanded attention, and never got any. It was very easy to ignore me. And everyone did. I didn’t cry and I didn’t complain. I didn’t talk much. But I was constantly thinking about things for as long as I can remember. I didn’t know it then, but I was born an artist. I do know I was different from my brother and sisters, and most people. I had an obsession for the truth. I loved to discover the truth of things. And I relentlessly pursued it in my own little ways, which just annoyed everyone around me. I was termed stubborn and difficult, and worst of all, a tom boy, which I hated. Marshall, in particular, knew how to make me mad and would sing-song, "Tom boy, oh, tom boy," for which I would promptly beat him up. I was a girl and not no tom boy. Just because I played with boys because they had more fun than girls didn’t mean I was a tom boy.
When I was very little, we used to visit my Grandma Johnson, who lived in Minot, across the river and over the tracks. There was a wooden footbridge just around the block where we liked to play. The footbridge was covered in the middle. On the other side of the bridge was downtown Minot. We all would go to the bridge, but for different reasons. Carolyn and Gail crossed the bridge so they could look at all the dresses in the stores, something I found terribly boring. Marshall, Ardyce and I liked to play on the bridge, a strange and exciting place. One day, instead of going straight home, I decided we should keep going straight and around the block where we would come to Grandma’s house from the other direction. But it didn’t work out that way, and I didn’t find Grandma’s house. It wasn’t like the hills. I had lost my sense of direction. All the housed looked alike and we ended up going round in circles. Ardy was getting tired, so I had her hop up on my back, and I carried her piggy-back. Finally, we came to a very busy street. With a sickening lump in my stomach, I realized we were hopelessly lost. I felt panicky and responsible at the same time. I knew we wouldn’t find our way back unless I asked someone, something very hard for me to do, because of my shyness.
I would have to stop people and ask which way to the covered bridge, because if we found the bridge, we would find our way back to grandma’s house. Over and over, people passed us by, and I couldn’t bring myself to ask. I was panicky desperate, but I knew I had to keep it together because I didn’t want to alarm Ardie and Marshall. Finally I asked a man, but he just muttered to himself and kept walking. I just knew something like that would happen. People passed by, and I could say nothing. And we were getting nowhere. It must have been close to supper time. Marshall sat down and refused to go any further. I studied people walking by. Then I finally asked a woman who was holding a young child by the hand. She looked nice, and as it turned out, she was. She walked all the way with us back to the bridge with us. I was so glad. Gratitude filled my heart for this woman. From there, the familiar route back to Grandma’s house was easy. Marshall raced on ahead, like I wanted to do, but instead I stayed and told the woman I would be alright. I walked back to Grandma’s house with little Ardy in hand. My parents never found out about our adventure.
Grandma Johnson survived the Thirties, and kept the farm. She made it a point to include everyone; no one was left out, especially me. Grandma Johnson noticed something that I never saw myself; she saw that I was frequently left out, ignored, and forgotten. Grandma noticed my neglect, and decided to take me to the State Fair, just me, not any of my other sisters or brother. I stayed at her house for several days. Grandma took me all around to the exhibitor booths, where she had entered everything, and won all the blue ribbons, which wasn’t too exciting for me, but I never said anything or complained. Finally Grandma took me to her food booth where, along with the hamburgers and hot dogs, she had her own home made buns, pickles, and relish to go with the hamburgers and hotdogs. My Uncle Leo and cousin Bob built the booth for her. Grandma’s energy never ceased. Yet she had time for me. After that, we went through the animal barns. The ones I really enjoyed seeing were the horses. It was evening now, and finally Grandma took me to the rides, the whole reason, if not the only reason for going to the fair. She let me go on every ride. That’s the way she was.
Bruno was getting to be an old dog and could no longer chase the cows. Father got a young German Sheppard. Father took a lot of time training him to be a cattle dog. Soon all Father had to do was tell the dog, "Go get the cows," and he would. He would go all the way down the pasture and bring those cows home at a dead run. If they didn’t move fast enough for Teddy, he would grab on to their tails. They soon learned not to play games with this dog. Father said he was the best dog he ever had, smarter than most people. We kids loved Teddy. We would ride around on him. We could talk to Teddy and he would understand what we were saying. Sometimes, when we were looking for baby birds, we would tell Teddy to go home, and he did. Father had trained him to stay home and watch the farm whenever we went visiting. But most of the time, he went wherever we went. Teddy understood that he was a part of the family.
In the late fall, Carolyn, Gail, and I liked to go down to the pond just below the barn, and walk out on the glistening ice. We would throw rocks out to see if the rock would break through the ice. Satisfied that the ice was ok, we ventured out to the middle of the pond. All of a sudden, Teddy began to bark. There was a hideous cracking sound, and we fell through the ice. Teddy came up to the edge of the ice, and grabbed on to Gail’s coat collar with his teeth, and drug her out. He pulled her up to the shore line then ran back and grabbed me since I was floundering. He had to jump into the water to reach me. He drug me over to the shore line and went back for Carolyn, who, since she could touch bottom, had walked to the edge of the hole and had lifted herself out. Teddy grabbed onto her coat and drug her to the shore line. We headed up the hill towards the house, with me bringing up the rear, of course. Sometimes I fell, I was so cold. Teddy nuzzled under me and I scooted on his back. Off he trotted to the house, racing ahead of Carolyn and Gail, and deposited me at the door. My hands were so cold I couldn’t open the door. Teddy stood there and barked. Mother opened the door. I was crying. Mother was aghast. Carolyn and Gail just coming over the hill. Mother brought me inside and went back for Carolyn and Gail. Without asking, she could see what had happened. In violation of her rule not to allow animals in the house, she called Teddy in to dry off. She always had hot water on the stove, but she put on another pan as she told us to get out of our wet clothes. She got down the wash tub and filled it with warm water and told us to get in. The warmth of the water felt wonderful, and we stayed in until we had warmed through. Mother took a towel and rubbed Teddy’s furry coat. A beef hind quarter was hanging in the shed. Mother took a knife and went out in the shed and cut off a generous piece. She lightly fried it, then cut it in pieces on a plate, and set the plate down on the floor for Teddy. Teddy sat beside the plate, excitedly wagging his tail. Mother told him to eat it, and patted his head and told him what a good dog he was. Teddy dived in, ate the meat, and licked up all the juice. Mother had laid Teddy’s towel on the floor by the tub. She told us to get up and out, starting with Carolyn first, whom she handed a towel. Carolyn dried off and handed the towel to Gail, who then handed me the towel. Carolyn and Gail ran upstairs to get dressed. Mother vigorously dried me, which felt good. Then she told me to run up and get dressed. By about this time, Father came in the house from feeding the cows. He emptied the tub water outside. We were back downstairs, dressed, with stockings, but our shoes we put over the heat register. When Father heard what had happened, he was horrified. He told us stories about people falling through ice and drowning or freezing to death. For supper, Mother made some pancakes and sausage. Father told Mother to fix up a plate for Teddy, which she did, with plenty of butter. Father hand fed Teddy all of his sausage. Teddy was a well-fed, dry, and happy dog. Father put on his coat and cap and called Teddy outside with him to go up to the barn and milk the cows. Teddy walked along by Father’s side knowing that he was the special and pampered dog.
Refrigerators were wonderful inventions. They ran on methyl chloride and other toxic gases developed during the First World War. War was a wonderful thing, as long as you didn’t have to fight in it, or any of your relatives. So many inventions came out of war. One night, Teddy started barking and wouldn’t quit. Father got up, went downstairs, and discovered the house full of gas. He ran upstairs and got everyone up except for Marshall, who was a toddler, and Ardy, who was the baby. He told us to get dressed. Then he told us, "When you get downstairs, don’t breath the air. It’s poison. Grab your coat on the way out, and go straight to the garage. Get in the car. Mother, you take the baby and I will carry Marshall." Mother led the way, followed by us girls, and Father came last with Marshall wrapped in a blanket. Father left the doors open, took the led the way to the garage. Teddy walked right behind us girls just like he knew it was his job to guard us. The dog probably figured we weren’t too bright after the ice episode. Father opened the garage doors. He told us to get in the car, a blue 48 Buick, and he put Marshall in the back seat with us girls. Mother got in the front with baby Ardy. Father got in, started it up, and backed it out. He told Mother, "Let it run for about 5 minutes, then turn on the heater. I’m going back to get the refrigerator out of the house."
Mother said, "Be careful not to breath that air."
Teddy marched along beside Father. When Father got to the house, he told Teddy, "You wait for me outside, Teddy." Father took a deep breath and ran inside the house. Teddy did as he was told, but he sat and whined by the door since he didn’t think it was a good idea for Father to go back in the house alone, even though Father had left the doors open. Father pulled out the refrigerator and unplugged it. He ran back outside for some air. Teddy put his nose under Father’s hand. He had to go back in about 5 times before he walked the refrigerator outside. He walked it about 6 feet from the house. He left the door open for the house to air out. He also opened both dining room windows. He then went back to the car. Teddy went around and sat by Mother’s door. "Well," Father said, "we just have to wait for the house to air out. We don’t want to take a chance with breathing that bad air. If it weren’t for Teddy, we’d all be dead by now. He’s the smartest dog I’ve ever seen."
Mother agreed. She loved that dog as we all did. The dog had pure love for Mother. He knew the hand that fed him. Father talked softly to Mother, and we all went to sleep. Father made a check on the house. He couldn’t detect any odors, so he went down the basement and fired up the furnace by shaking down the ashes, and adding more coal from the coal bin. He called Teddy in and told him to sniff around. Teddy said it was safe, so Father closed the windows and doors, and went out to the car, and told us it was safe to come in. After Father and Mother got everyone tucked back in, they went back downstairs and brought everything from the refrigerator into the shed, and brought in any vegetables that would freeze. Mother slightly heated some soup. She tore up some chuncks of bread and stirred it into the soup. Father took it out and poured it into Teddy’s dog dish and told him what a good dog he was.
The next morning, after Father had taken Carolyn and Gail to the country school, which was about 3 miles from our house, he loaded the refrigerator into the pickup and took it to Minot. That evening he came back with a new refrigerator.
One day, we all had gone to visit Father’s sister Inez, who had 8 kids, 7 boys and 1 girl, whom she named Joy, of course. The younger boys were all my age, so I had a good time playing with them out in the barnyard riding the calves. When we got home, Teddy came up and put his nose on Father’s knee. Alarmed, Father brought him in the house so he could look at him better. Someone had shot him through the nose part of his head. Father was just sick as Teddy looked up at him with his big brown eyes, expecting my Father to do something. Father took down the 22 rifle he kept above the door, put in a bullet. Carolyn screamed, as we all cried, "Don’t shoot my dog!"
Father stopped and told us, "There is nothing I hate worse than shooting the best dog I ever had. But if I don’t, he’s going to suffer to death because he won’t be able to eat or drink. This kinder to him." We were all crying by this time, even Mother, with whom the dogs had special bond because she always fed them. We heard the crack of the rifle, and soon Father came back in the house. He sat down at the table and began talking about what a good dog Teddy was. Then he just burst into tears. My whole world shattered to see my father cry. Mother put an arm around Father. The house was full of wailing.
The next day, Father buried Teddy and went around trying to find out who shot his dog. Of course, he never discovered who did it. He figured it was someone who took the dog to be a wolf or coyote. But that didn’t make any sense, because Teddy never left the farm, never wandered off. It kind of ate away at Father, not to be able to find out who did this.
A farmer and his family, if lucky enough to have survived the corruption of homesteading, lived and moved with the seasons. Spring planting and the fall harvest were particular critical times of the year, where everyone really pitched in. We were greatly aware of the weather and the outdoors. My father harvested with a thrashing machine. Although he had a tractor, he still used horses for some things. I loved the horses, as I think my brother and sisters did as well, but not as much as I did. I dimly remember all of us sitting on the back of Lady, a big, roan colored draught horse, with a star on her forehead. She was paired with another roan, Tom. All Father had to do was to talk to the horses, like "take a step back" and this team would do just that. When he was trying to hitch the team to the mower or hay rake, he would say, "Take a step back," and I watched the horses do that exactly. There was a third horse, Kate, who father only teamed once in awhile, just to keep her broke in. She was white, with mean streak. Carolyn assigned Lady to herself, Gail got Tom, and I, of course was given Kate.
Then one day, someone did not close the door to the ground feed and the horses got into it, Lady eating the most. She bloated and died. Father sold Tom shortly thereafter, leaving Kate by herself. I was in the chicken coop gathering the eggs when I was startled and scared by a loud whinny. Kate had stuck her head inside the chicken coop door and was whinnying. Then she rushed to the barn door, stuck her head over and whinnied. I watched her frantically running from one building to another, and it occurred to me that she was heartbroken, looking for Tom. I never before thought of animals as having feelings. I don’t think anyone else has either. Father bought another horse, a white one, whom we called Andy.
It was a wonderful day when Father would announce at the breakfast table that it was time to get the horses. He didn’t have to say it twice, and I was out in the jeep waiting. Father would put ground feed into the troughs in the horse barn, still standing from pioneer days. The cow barn was separate, with the windmill in-between. Periodically, Father would get the long belt from the thrashing machine, attach it to the fly wheel on the tractor and somehow grind these three grains together to make ground feed, which was stored in a little walled up place in the shed attached to the horse barn. Father would take a five-gallon pail, fill it with feed from the horse shed, and hang the pail on a spike nail from one of the rafters in the barn. Once the horses were in the barnyard, they would run into the horse barn where the ground feed was waiting for them in the trough. Father parked the jeep on the hill, and went to the horses, where he fastened halters on the both of them. He always talked to the horses, and he told me to never approach a horse from behind without talking to him first because you might spook the horse, and the horse might kick you. I would watch him take the collar, and put it a around the neck of each horse, and fasten it at the top. He then would take down the harness with hames hanging from a spike located shoulder height, slip the harness unto his shoulder, holding unto the hames, walk over to the horse, talking, and throw the hames over the shoulders of the horse, putting the harness over the back and rump of the horse. He tightened down the harness, all the while the horse was munching away on the ground feed. He then put the blindered bridles on the horses with lightning speed from years of practice. He then gave me the reins to Andy, while he took Kate over to the water tank. I followed with Andy, the gentle horse. to let the horses have a good long drink of water. Father let the horses have a good long drink of the cool, cold water because he said, "They are going to work long under the hot sun." Then we led the horses down to the hay rake. I felt a little scared with a great big horse following behind me, afraid he might step on me, but he never did. I loved the horses, never realizing I was on the tail end of an era, soon to be gone forever.
I would walk down the pasture and look for the horses. I could take a little ground feed and walk down to where the horses were and pet then while they ate ground feed. Once, in the spring, I decided to take a little sugar to the horses because I heard that horses love sugar. The horses hadn’t been petted all winter. Kate and Andy were pawing some snow, looking for grass. I held out my hand with the sugar. Kate came running up, sniffed the sugar, and when she discovered it wasn’t ground feed, she whirled and kicked me, knocking me unconscious. I don’t know how long I lay on the ground, but when I woke up, it was getting dark out. I got up slowly and discovered I could stand, although my thigh really hurt. No one would come looking for me so I limped home through the pain. It was dark, and everyone had eaten supper. Mother asked me where I had been. I told her that I fell out of a tree. Then I went upstairs to take down my jeans and examine the kick. There was a great, big black and blue hoof print on my thigh. I went to bed. The next day, it hurt so bad that I showed it to mother. She took me to the doctor. No broken bones. Amazingly, they believed my story. I never told the truth because I was afraid they would keep me from being with the horses. From then on, though, I stayed away from Kate.
It was good to be young back then, with glorious days that stretched out forever. The whole world was mine to run free in. We had a box elder and elm tree growing in the yard. The elm was straight and hostile, but the box elder spread out into a three friendly branches that reached down to lift up a child. One limb grew at an angle, then branched out into a natural seat. Carolyn claimed this limb and would sit up there on her chair with her dolls. From there the box elder shot straight up with many branches to climb up on. Carolyn assigned this limb to Gail. A third limb jutted out from the other two, with few branches. Carolyn gave this limb to me. However, if I climbed high enough, there was a smooth branch that grew horizontal. I could swing my legs over this branch and hang upside down and swing back and forth. It really didn’t matter how Carolyn assigned things because I owned the trees whenever she wasn’t there, which was most of the time. I examined all the trees in the grove, having decided that I would climb every tree.
We did not have electricity, no TVs back then. Father told us stories when we were little. Even Mother listened in to Father’s stories, like the story of Santa. It seems Santa was having trouble with his reindeer, who had gotten tired of making the long, cold trip south, and had wandered off. Even Rudolph was getting ornery. So, Santa decided to crank up the airplane. He gave the propellers a good down turn. The engine caught, and so did the propellers, catching Santa’s beard. Soon Santa was flying round and round. Santa began yelping, which brought Mrs. Claus, who had to climb into the cockpit and shut off the engine. Or the time Santa was eating his milk and cookies when his beard got tangled up in some fly paper. We would laugh ourselves silly, and beg him to tell the stories again and again.
Talking was part of our family, sharing information, telling stories, telling what happened during the day. I should say Father talked and we listened, with the exception of Carolyn, who was a real chatterbox. We always ate meals together, all seated at the table. Everyone had their particular place at the table, a round oak table. A pedestal anchored the table top in the center. No one’s knees bumped into any table legs. The table had two leaves which eventually had to be used. Eight wooden chairs went with the table. Father sat at the head of the table with his back to the west wall. There was no reason for anyone to go back and forth behind him from this position. In fact, it would have been impossible. Mother sat to his left, a position closest to the kitchen. Along side Mother always sat the baby on a stool. Next to the baby was Carolyn, who frequently had to feed the baby. Then it was Gail, myself, and completing the circle was Marshall, who sat next to Father. No one went off to their corner or room with their food. That was one of the few laws Mother laid down. "You eat your food at the table." Father, of course, backed this up. Father dominated the table. If I tried to say anything, Carolyn would always interrupt and finish my thoughts for me, which were usually contrary to what I had to say. Apparently, I saw and felt things differently from the rest of my family. Breakfast was the time father talked. When we were real little, father talked to mother about the crops, prices of grain, politics, and parity, a word I distinctly remember, because I absolutely did not know what it meant, but it seemed to be important to Father, because he talked about parity all the time. Father would also talk about what was to be done for the day. If it involved any of us kids, he would really outline what we were to do, and how to do it safely. I don’t recall Father ever asking any of us how we felt about something, or what we did in school.
I dimly remember the little wooden shed behind the garage. Before electricity, we had an outdoor shower. It had a window type opening to it, because we had to step over a little wall to enter the shower. Carolyn, Gail, and I hung our towel between 2 nails which served as a shower curtain. There were two wooden benches built along two sides of the shed. A 50 gallon barrel on top the roof created the shower. Father ran water through a hose from the windmill on the hill to fill the shower. The sun warmed the water. Mother used to take us 3 girls until we got the hang of how to do it by ourselves. Carolyn had to stand on the bench in order to reach the spigot to turn on the water. Mother said we had to take our showers in the afternoons before the men came in from thrashing in the evening.
Little did I know back then, that the windmill was true freedom. The idea for a windmill was brought over to America from the immigrants. Without the windmill, the Great Plains could not have been settled. But freedom became an unnecessary burden when we got electricity and running water. Father still kept the windmill and windmill house intact. I never thought of the windmill as a crucial element of freedom. To me, the windmill was a compelling place for 3 little girls to play. The pump was enclosed with boards, built in a box shape with 2’x 4’s and boards, with a sliding door opening, all handmade. The enclosure was built on the frame of the metal windmill tower. Inside the windmill house was a wooden handle about the size and shape of an ax handle. One had to pull it down and fasten a metal wire around it in order to release the fan to turn in the wind to pump the water. A metal ladder attached to the tower led to the top of the windmill to a platform of 2’x 6’s. Attached to the tower was a huge metal fan, and from the center of the fan was a huge vane that turned the fan to face the direction that the wind was blowing. One could always tell the direction the wind was blowing by looking at the windmill. Carolyn, Gail, and I liked to climb up the ladder and run around the platform. Once, when Father was driving the tractor on the home place, he saw his little girls running around on the platform. That tractor came roaring into the barn yard, in high gear. Father did not yell at us, but told us to come down carefully, and to be very careful not to step on each other’s fingers as we were coming down. He did not explode with anger, but explained to us how dangerous it was what we were doing, and the next time he caught us up there, he would give us a good spanking. He went to the house and gave Mother a good bawling out.
"What’s the matter with you that you can’t watch these kids while I’m out in the field? Just damn lucky I saw them!"
Mother immediately began to cry. "Gee, I had my hands full mixing the bread dough. I had no idea they were going to climb up the windmill."
"The wind could have switched directions and they could have all been knocked off by the fan in an instant!" It was Father’s style to keep ranting to make his point over and over.
Mother was equally horrified, but she could not tolerate Father’s blame, so she ran upstairs and threw herself down on the bed, sobbing, "I never wanted all these damn kids anyway." It wasn’t really that she didn’t want all us kids, it was more that she didn’t want the kind of life she was living. And there was no one she could tell that to, so she buried it deep, deep. I think a whole nation buried the loss of a way of life deep, deep.
It wasn’t long and Father followed her up the stairs, and soon they came down together. Altogether, Father was sensitive to Mother’s feelings when she cried, he never understood the real reason for Mother’s tears. Later, Father took and cut off the ladder to the windmill, and hung a horse’s scull on the ladder to scare us.
Planting time was a big time of year. Harvest time was critical. Father got extra men for the thrashing crew, including my cousin, Melinda’s son, Marvin. It was the year Marshall was born on September 2nd. I was 2 ½ years old. Mother had hired a woman, Edith, to watch us, and cook for the thrashing crew. Edith was mean to us. Even though we were only aged 2, 3, and 4, she made us wash the dishes. We had to drag chairs in front of the sink. Carolyn washed, I rinsed, and Gail wiped. Edith made Gail and I carry water from the windmill to the house. We had to carry the pail together between us because it was so heavy. If we spilled it, she would spank us. I remember running away from her, out to the red granaries where the threshing crew stayed, and looked for my cousin, Marvin, who must have been about 18 or 19 years old. We told Marvin what Edith was doing, and he would protect us from Edith. He told us to come and find him whenever Edith was mean to us.
I remember the day Mother came home. It was evening because I remember the red sky shining through the trees. Mother came through the kitchen door. I was so happy, I threw my arms around her knees, and wouldn’t let her go. Mother had to hand the baby Marshall to someone, while she picked me up. I remember crying and not being able to stop. I tried real hard to stop crying, but I couldn’t. I was so happy, but I wasn’t sad or hurt. I didn’t want Mama to see or hear me crying, but I couldn’t stop the tears. They kept rolling down my cheeks. I was just so happy! I tried to squeeze the tears back as hard as I could, but they just kept rolling down my cheeks. I hugged Mama around the neck and watched the red sun through the trees. I was just so happy! Why should I be crying when I was so happy? This wasn’t the happy occasion it could have been for Mother, for when Grandma Johnson heard the news, she sent word that she was coming to help out. Mother just sat in the rocking chair, bawling. We both had reasons to cry. Although entirely different, the reasons became reality, and we both lived through it, but it shaped the way we viewed life.
O joy of joys! A boy was born! Mother doted on him, of course. Father couldn’t be happier. For his 2nd birthday, Father got Marshall a green pedal car, and set him in it. Marshall began to cry and climbed out. Father set him back and the same thing happened. So I got in the pedal car and began to pedal around. Father grabbed me, gave me a couple of spanks, and told me to stay out of it, that it was Marshall’s. Marshall eventually got over his fear and pedaled all around. Later, Father got me a tricycle with a tiny red wagon, which I gave Ardy rides in. Father got a toy pedal John Deere tractor for Marshall for Christmas. I didn’t even try riding it, except one time I drove it into a big mud puddle and left it there.
Ardyce was born 2 years later, and had the misfortune to be born a girl and the 5th child. Mother was tired of kids after the first one, and what with all her energy going to Marshall, she just didn’t have time for Ardy. I was the 3rd oldest of three girls, then Marshall and Ardyce. Added to that, Mother never wanted children. She frequently told us so. "I never wanted all you damn kids anyway," was what we frequently heard from mother, at least us girls heard that. I do not remember Mother ever putting her arms around me and telling me that she loved me, or any of us. She always told us to go outside and play. She was really tired when poor little Ardy came along, and wasn’t a boy. If I was ignored, Ardy was really ignored. Like me, she was a good baby and didn’t need much care. All her life, Ardy always did the right thing and strived for the affection she never got, but so deserved. Ardy was born smart, but it didn’t make up for the isolation and loneness of being rejected.
When I was older, Father got a Schwin bicycle for me, but he told me it was for everyone. So everyone rode it until the newness wore off. Besides, riding a bike in hilly terrain was not easy. Eventually I was the only one riding the bike, which I was constantly giving Ardy rides on. She would sit on the rear fender, which was constantly breaking. Father would weld it back together. I would go to the shop with him. He told me not to look at the welding, and he wore a helmet with very dark peep hole to protect his eyes. Eventually he bought a carrier which attached to the frame so I could give Ardy rides without breaking the bicycle. We would tear down the shortcut path through the grove, shoot down the ditch and up unto the road.
Father had a black smith shop on the other side of the red granaries. It was a little one-story house to that he moved to replace the little shack he had made do during the Depression years. He moved the shack back of the shop, which then became a brooder house for baby chicks, of which he bought 100 little fuzzy yellow chicks in the springtime. Father ran an extension cord from the shop to the shack from which he hung a heat lamp to keep the little chicks warm. It became Carolyn’s and Gail’s job to feed and water the little chicks.. The water dispenser was a gallon container that could be filled with water, then a pan was attached over the top, the container turned upside down, and water automatically dispensed into the pan which formed a circle around the container. I took to picking up one certain chick and petting it. After awhile, when I came out to the coop, and called, "Here, chick, chick, chick," the chicken would come running just to be picked up and petted, even after she had white feathers. Carolyn and Gail were very scornful and dismissive of this activity. "Only a moron would have a chicken for a pet," Carolyn scornfully told me. Gail said, "You’re going to get lice, don’t you touch me." But I was a very stubborn little girl, and I didn’t listen to my sisters.
What with the grain prices during the war, Father was able to buy two homestead quarters of land, lost by homesteaders for taxes. One had some good, sound buildings, the house which became father’s shop, the two red granaries and the huge white building he turned into a 2-room granary. He did this by hiring a carpenter to build high foundations so he could cut a hole in the floor with a sliding door so that he could auger the grain in and out. He had cut a 50 gallon oil drum in half and folded out the sides to form a huge metal container for the wheat to fall into. Alongside his shop, he had a pile of scrap metal which he used to repair broken machinery. Inside his shop he had a forge and all his tools. Carolyn, Gail and I would play ‘mud stand’ out along side Father’s shop. The shop was located right next to the plowed field, and Father always had a pail of water in his shop. We could find all kinds of treasures in his scrap pile in which we could stir the dirt and water together. We would pour out the ‘cakes’ and ‘cookies’ on metal sheets and ‘pans’. When they dried, we would take them to Father to taste, who would always make a big thing out of ‘tasting’ our cookies and telling us how good they were. Once Edna Bott came out with her daughter, Ardis, one year younger than me. Carolyn, Gail, and I were out behind Father’s shop making mud pies. We invited Ardis to join us in our special fun. Ardis came out in her newly starched pink dress, her hair in curls, and declared that we were dirty little girls, to which my sisters threw mud all over her pink dress. She ran crying to the house, and we three took off to the hills. It was the only time Carolyn and Gail ever went to the hills with me . We didn’t come back for a long, long time.
It was wonderful to be alive, and I loved all of it in my tiny, little world. There was a lake in our pasture where we liked to go swimming. The lake was in the pasture where Father had made a nice swimming area. He hauled truckloads of gravel and sand to create a little beach instead of mud. He poured in lime to get rid of the blood suckers. The swimming area was a peninsula which he fenced off so cattle wouldn’t ruin the area. He built a bench on the beach, a long plank fastened to 2 barrels. With another plank and lumber, he built a diving board off a steep bank on the other side, where the water was deep. Father had built a raft out of railroad ties, which he tied down to a rock so it wouldn’t drift away. We would swim out to the raft and jump off it, over and over. Neighbors came every Sunday to swim and picnic at the lake. Father had even built a picnic table. All during the week on every hot day, we went swimming. The Church would hold picnics at our lake, until my cousins and a few of the older teenagers ruined it for everyone. They came at night and had drinking parties, leaving their mess, broken bottles, and open gates which let the cattle in. That’s when Father put an end to the public swimming. But we kids always had access to the lake by just walking down the pasture. Mother never went with us, and must have been glad when the temperature rose to over 80, so to get us out of the house. Then we would be out of her hair for the whole long, hot afternoons. Mother refused to let us go swimming. Although we begged and pleaded. Mother would say it was too cold until the temperature rose to 85 degrees, and we would keep an on the thermometer by push a chair over to the counter, climbing up and looking at it out the north kitchen window. Many times we couldn’t wait, so we would sneak our swimming suits and a towel out of the house when mother wasn’t looking, and run down to the lake. We would put on our swimming suits, get a towel, and Marshall, Ardyce and I would go swimming. Later, when the water warmed up and it was ok, Carolyn would drive all of us down to the lake for a swim. Whoever rode in the front seat would jump out and open the gate. Sometimes we played water tag. When we were worn out, we would come ashore, spread out a towel, and lay in the sun till we dried off. The hot sun on the cool, wet little bodies was heaven. And time stretched out forever, tomorrow just waiting so we could do it all over again. Little did we know how soon our tomorrows would run out.
Every once in awhile Carolyn and Gail decided to brush my hair. When they couldn’t get a comb through it, they decided to cut it. I was a wild little girl and my hair looked like a lion’s mane, but I liked it. So they chased me down, drug me in the house. I had to sit still or risk being stabbed while they cut my hair off. Then Mother gave me a permanent, and I looked awful, just awful. Another time, Gail let me wear one of her skirts to church. When we got home, I had not changed, but had gone outside. Gail got all mad and told me to get in the house and change that skirt. "You’re going to get my skirt dirty." Having put it that way, I, of course, did not jump to her command, and stayed outside. Carolyn and Gail chased me down and proceeded to slap me until my nose bled. It bled all over Gail’s skirt. I went in the house and changed the skirt, which mother then had to soak the skirt in cold water. She said nothing about the nose bleed except that I "should have changed the skirt in the first place and none of this would have happened." Instead of getting the skirt dirty, they caused the skirt to be full of blood,
In the summertime, there was the country church. Church, rude as it might be, was an important part of community life, which went back to the homesteading days. When we girls were born, we started to go to Sunday school. It was a Moravian country church. The church could not afford a regular pastor, so we only had church services in the summer time when student ministers would come from the East. We would have Sunday school though, in the spring, summer, and fall up until Christmas. We would always have a Christmas program. Every Sunday, we learned a Bible verse which we had to recite before the congregation. Church in the summertime was fun. We had church socials, picnics with the softball games with about 25 people on each side. We played fun games like Three Deep, and races like Three Legged Races. The old people sat around and visited. It was a real community gathering. Then there was church camp which Mother eagerly sent us off to. I must say, no one liked it, especially Marshall. He refused to go after the first year, and didn’t, but we girls had to go.
One good thing about church for Mother was Ladies’ Aid. The ladies would get together once a month at each other’s home for a meeting. It was the only socializing Mother ever had. I do not remember Mother as having any friends.
The church would have socials to raise money, such as the cake contests or box dinners, where the men and boys would bid on a meal the ladies and girls had made. It was like a blind dinner date, except someone was always getting secret information as to who made a particular box. It was an informal way of dating, truly what could be called good, clean fun. Today’s kids cannot possibly experience this kind of fun and entertainment.
There were community events back then that stemmed from the church. We would also have the softball game at the Church picnic. Teams were chosen, including adults, children, anyone who wanted to play. There ended up with 20 to 30 people on a team. Everyone got to play who wanted to. Everyone got a chance up to bat. And it was glorious fun. Then there would be the races, a three legged race where you had a partner and a gunny sack where each had to put one leg in the gunny sack and each one would hold up the sack as they raced to the finish line. You had to really coordinate your running with your partner. People would be falling over, rolling in the grass, get back up, get the sack on, and finish the race. Then there would be the race by age groups. Then there were the games all ages would play, like ‘Too Late For Supper.’ People would make a circle. The ‘It’ person would run around the circle and tap someone on the back. The tapped person took off chasing ‘It’ who would madly run around the circle to the vacated spot. If tagged before reaching the vacated spot, the tagged person would then be It. If not, It would still be It, and do it all over again. If a lot of people wanted to play, the game was called "Three Deep" and a person would stand with three others in the circle so when tagged, three people would be running to get back in place before It. All ages played together. Oh, what fun we had! Inclusion was key, not exclusion. Now-a-days people have been replaced by Little League, college baseball, minor leagues, and major leagues. And people have gone from participants to spectators. That time was so brief, replaced by computer games.
Ardy was the invisible child, and felt it was her duty to be very good. Part of that translated into telling on the rest of us. Both Father and Mother smoked, and we knew where Mother kept her cigarettes, up above the cellar way, on a shelf. Usually it was Carolyn, Gail, and me, where one of us would sneak a cigarette and the others would keep a lookout. We would time our smoke with Mother’s afternoon nap. Then we would get some wooden matches and go down the short cut trail, into the grove. Carolyn or Gail would lit the cigarette, then we would share it, each taking a puff. The truth is we didn’t know how to smoke, and never inhaled. We would hold the smoke in our mouths for awhile, then blow it out, trying at the same time to make smoke rings. Carolyn and Gail got good at it, but I never caught on how to do that. Whenever, vigilant Ardy discovered us smoking, she would run and tell Mother, who would then spank us. If we attempted to run away from her, she would tell us that we could get our spanking now or wait for Father to come home, and he would take down his belt, the one he had hanging in the corner for just that purpose, and whip us with the belt. So, we would take the spanking from Mother. When Marshall discovered that smoking was fun, he decided to get in on the act. Mother had gone to town with the cream and eggs, and got a few groceries and, instead of taking just one, he took the whole pack of cigarettes. When she went to get a cigarette, Mother found no cigarettes. It was common place for us girls to help mother put away the groceries. So she asked us if we had seen the cigarettes. We said no. So mother said that the clerk must have forgotten to put the cigarettes in with the rest of the groceries. Mother was having a nicotine fit, and got more worked up with each passing moment, on how she was going to tell Schultz, the owner. Marshall had made the mistake of telling Ardy about the cigarettes. Listening to how Mother was going to get in the jeep and go back to town and get that clerk into trouble, Ardy did the right thing and stepped forward and told Mother that Marshall had taken the cigarettes, who was then forced to produce the purloined cigarettes. Mother did not attempt to spank Marshall, but she did tell Father about it, who then got down the belt and proceeded to whip the daylights out of Marshall. I ran outside, out to the hills. Carolyn and Gail sought sanctuary in their room, and poor little Ardy hovered near Marshall, pleading with Father that he had enough, all the while crying tears for both of them. "Say you’re sorry," Ardy sobbed, "and that you’ll never do it again." Finally Mother intervened and said, "That’s enough." Ardy felt very guilty for having told. In the end, she never won any points from our parents. The only way she could do that would be to become a boy, and that just wasn’t about to happen. So she just had to be very, very good, and not get in the way.
Father taught us all how to drive when we were very young because he was training us to help with the farm. Starting with the oldest, Carolyn, who drove the jeep down the pasture in the evening and get the cows with my sister Gail and me in the front and the dog in the back seat. When we got to the end of the pasture, we would jump out and begin chasing the cows toward home. We would usually have to go around the lake to find the cows, who perversely liked to be at the far end of the pasture. Sandy, the dog, wasn’t much good, and would only chase if we were chasing. Once the cows got going, Gail and I would jump on the running board and hang onto the shaft between the vent and the rolled down window as Carolyn kept driving down the trail. That way, we could easily jump off and begin chasing the cows when they began wandering off. Once in the barnyard, Carolyn stopped the jeep at the top of the hill between the barn and the windmill. Gail and I chased the three milk cows into the barn. Carolyn would open the barn door, a homemade half door with a homemade wire hook that hooked the door shut. Carolyn would open the barn door, take down a 5 gallon metal pail of ground feed which she would put in the trough built on front of the manger. We put a pitchfork of hay in the manger for each cow. Once the cows were in the barnyard, they would go right into the barn, to their stall and begin eating the ground feed. We would take a chain off the manger and fasten it around the cow’s neck. My father would then come up with two milk pails and milk the cows. He would get down a homemade stool, a slab of 2"x 4" screwed into a piece of fence post, sit down by the cow holding the pail between his legs. When he finished milking, he would pour the cat dish full of milk and at the house, he filled up the dog dish. He poured the milk into a cream separator and set the pails under the 2 spouts, one for milk and one for cream. The cows stayed in the barn at night. He had hired an old man who lived in the neighborhood who came and milked the cows in the morning.
Marshall and I used to beg Father to let us milk the cows. But he said we were too little, probably seven and five. We would go up to the barn with the hired man, but he told use to get on out of there. One morning, Marshall and I went up to the barn early with the milk pails. We closed the outer door and locked it from the inside. We got down the stools that hung between two spike nails on the rafters, and began to milk the cows. It was harder than what we thought, but we kept at it. Soon we heard the old man rattling the door. "You better let me in."
"No. Go away," Marshall said. We giggled and kept milking.
The old man threatened to get Father. Marshall told him, "Go ahead." And we laughed some more. It was daring and thrilling at the same time, to be doing something naughty, but not really bad. It was exhilarating, getting the old man’s goat. We didn’t hear from him for awhile, and thought he went away. Marshall said he would go up and look out the haymow door. He saw the old man sitting in his old car. After a long while, the man came back and told us that our Father said we were to let him in our get a spanking. Still we laughed at him, and wouldn’t open the door.
It wasn’t so funny though when Father did come up there and told us to get to the house. Father finished milking the cows because the hired man got mad and went home. When Father came to the house, having put the milk through the separator, he really chewed us out. Apparently, the old man said he quit and went home. Father jumped in the jeep and went and got the old man. Eventually Marshall discovered it wasn’t funny at all, when it finally became his job to milk the cows.
Back in the homesteading days, it was common for farmers to bring their cream and eggs to town to sell to the local grocer. This practice continued into my years on the farm. It gave Mother a little money to buy groceries. We didn’t need much because we planted a large garden, Mother canned, and Father slaughtered a beef cow in the fall. So, Mother would get flour, sugar, shortening, baking powder, yeast, soda, and vanilla. Yeast was not little dry granules sealed in individual packets; it was a chunk, a beige colored little block about the size of a pound of butter. It was solid, but moist, and had to be kept refrigerated. To make bread, Mother would break off a chunk of yeast, put it in a cup of warm water with a little sugar. The yeast would dissolve in about half an hour and swell in size. Mother would add the yeast to a milk and egg mixture, and mix in the flour. She would make 6 loaves of bread and a pan of buns, and a pan of cinnamon rolls. Sometimes when she was making bread, she would roll out little rounds of dough with the rolling pin, and then fry them. We would butter them and sprinkle them with sugar. We called them 'dough dodgers'. We made our own butter from cream that had been separated from the milk from hand-milked cows. A commercial butter cannot begin to compare with the favor of homemade butter. Like everything else that was good, it is gone, regulated out of existence, gone and forgotten. Like everything else that was good, no discussions, no votes, nothing. Farmers were told the usual lie; there had been a serious outbreak of food poisoning, and farmers could no longer sell their eggs and cream. The reality was, and still is, that commercial dairies and poultry producers wanted all the market without competition. And they always got their way with the legislators, who then passed a law forbidding farmers from selling eggs and cream. They created agencies such as the Health Department to spy on farmers to make sure they weren’t selling any eggs or cream or milk, God forbid!
Everyone had a garden in their back yard, even people who lived in town. Back then, food was serious, and everyone became involved in the growing season. One did not go to a grocery store to buy vegetables; one went to a General Store and bought staples—flour, sugar, coffee, salt and pepper, maybe some molasses, cinnamon and cloves. It was our job as kids, to help plant, weed, pick, and prepare vegetables for canning. We planted the garden right after Father finished seeding the cash crops. Father would spread composted manure piles from the barn yard over the garden, work it in with the plow and drag. Then everyone would go out to the garden. Father would mark the rows with a string line, and hoe a furrow for the seeds. Father would pour water down the furrows. It was our job to sprinkle the seeds down the rows. Then Mother would come along with the rake and cover the seeds. Rows would be marked with sticks at the end of the 100 foot rows. We had lettuce, radishes, carrots, onions, corn, peas, beans, and potatoes. Planting the potatoes involved us kids going into the potato bin in the basement and picking out buckets of potatoes, which were soft, wrinkled, and full of sprouts. We would pull off the sprouts, and cut the potatoes in half or quarters, depending on their size. Father had a horse drawn potato planter he used to plant the potatoes. We would set out tomato and cabbage plants. Father had a special place at the end of the garden for the cucumbers because of their vining. We would plant the garden in a day, usually around Memorial Day. We planted potatoes, onions, carrots, peas, beans, lettuce, radishes, and Father didn’t plant vegetables that he didn’t like, which apparently was turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, spinach, beets, squash, or zucchini. So I decided to plant a little garden of my own in the pasture, just on the other side of the garden. A row of Karaganda hid my activities. I dug out squares of sod and stacked it for a sod house. I planted turnips. Then I made a little fence around my tiny garden, using wooden fence posts and barbed wire. It wasn’t a very good fence, and once the turnips were grown, it was impossible to keep the cows out of my garden. I would run after them with a stick, but they could always outrun me, and circle back to the garden. It made me so mad. Finally I had to just let it go. Funny thing about it was, I didn’t even like turnips.
What I did like though, was what we called Indian potatoes, called turnips by Indians. These bulbous plants grew wild in the pasture in the late spring. I would take the spade shovel and go looking for purple floweret plants. About 3 to 4 inches under the ground would be a brown tuber root. After collecting a bunch of these, I would take them home, and boil them up. They were quite starchy tasting and bland. Sometimes I would eat raw, the younger, smaller sized tuber. But mainly I boiled them because they were tough. By about July, the plant would dry up and blow away. I have no idea where this knowledge came from because we never associated with Indians. It must have been something my Grandma Johnson knew. We lived next to an Indian reservation, yet I never saw an Indian when I was growing up, and no one ever talked about Indians. It’s like they didn’t exist. In fact, for what I knew, they didn’t. For all of America, Indians were a relic of the past.
The three hills directly south of our farm, the ones we call the Three Sisters, was a place of Indian relics and arrowheads. Father found an oblong stone with a circle chiseled out a little above center. It is easy to see that a leather strap could have tied a stick to the rock, and the whole thing would have functioned as a hammer, like for driving stakes. Another stone was wedge shaped with a ring chiseled out of the thick end which with a leather strap tied to a long handle, it is easy to see this could have been used as an ax. Father took these home and kept them on a shelf in the basement. He brought these out sometimes when brothers and sisters came to visit. But he never talked about Indians or the history of Indians in this country. I just assumed they were gone. So did a whole nation. I did not know what happened to these relics. Our past has not been well cared for.
Once on a hot July day, I thought about the soft grass. I suggested to Ardy that we find that grass, pack a lunch, and take blankets so we could sleep overnight. I figured Mother would never miss us. I went upstairs. Soon Father was calling me to come down. He was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. "Don’t you ever tell Ardy to run away from home." He grabbed me by the wrist, drug me into the kitchen where he kept his belt hanging on a hook behind the door, just for occasions like this. I got a good whipping. "Don’t you ever think of doing anything like that again." I squeezed my eyes shut and refused to cry. Father said, "Say you are sorry." I wasn’t sorry, and I refused to say so. Father took the belt and gave me another whipping. "Say you are sorry, and that you will never do that again." I refused to say it. Out came the belt again. This time I could no longer endure it, and tears of pain escaped my eyes, and I said, "I’m sorry! I’m sorry!" but I didn’t mean it. At least the whipping stopped. Mother had stood silently by, doing nothing, approving. I ran out of the house, up to the barn, and threw myself down in the hay. I refused to cry because I knew I had done nothing wrong. My neglected chicken came and nestled up against my face.
I loved Father and Mother, and I would never dream of running away. Poor little Ardy could not be trusted. Why on earth did she tell them we were going to run away? I knew Father didn’t understand, and that Ardy wanted so desperately to be noticed. There was just no explaining it to anyone because they just wouldn’t understand. It didn’t matter; my chicken understood.
I used to follow Father around. I would watch him fixing things in the shop, firing up the forge, cutting iron with tin snips, hammering and shaping it on the anvil, and plunging it into a pale of water. In the fall, he would take the sprinkling can, put some gas in it, and poured it on the grass and weeds along the road. He would light a fire and the weeds would go up in flames.
Father and Mother would go to town leaving Carolyn in charge. I had walked through the bare garden to the end of the grove. It was hard to walk because the thick, droopy grass and underbrush reach up and grabbed me by the ankles. I don’t know what possessed me, but I went back to the house and got Ardy and Marshall and some wooden matches, went back to the end of the grove, and tried to start the grass on fire, sharing the matches with Ardy and Marshall. I had to light quite a few matches before the fire got going. Then I would stamp it out with my feet. But I had a fire fascination and was drawn to light it again. The grass was extremely dry. A little breeze came up and soon the fire was burning out of control. We tried to stamp out the fire, but it was too big. We ran back to the house. I said we needed to grab the winter coats, soak them in water, and race back to fight the fire. Marshall and I did that, and Ardy, of course went and told Carolyn. Marshall and I were swinging the coats on the fire to put it out, but we couldn’t. Soon Carolyn came and told us to get in the jeep, that we were going to the nearest neighbor, that she had called the fire department. We all got in the jeep, and Carolyn drove over to Knudson’s. From there, we saw the fire truck go by, and some other cars. After what seemed like a long while, we drove back to the farm which was full of cars. The house and buildings were still standing, and so was the grove. Father and Mother were home and in the house. We walked into the kitchen. Father asked who started the fire. For the first time in my life, I stepped forward and told Father that I had started the fire. And that I knew I deserved a spanking. I hoped it would make me feel better, because I felt awful. Father never spanked me, but said, "I hope you learned your lesson about playing with matches. It’s just damn lucky you didn’t burn down the house. Then where would you sleep?" I endured everything he had to say to me, which was very quietly said, instead of the loud outrage. I waited for the spanking which never came. Then I slipped off up to my room and stayed there. The incident was far from over because every time someone came to the house, aunts and uncles, even salesmen, Father would trot out this story, and I would always disappear before he ever finished the story.
The only people we visited were my grandparents, mother’s and my cousins, sister to my father, who had seven boys and one girl. Except for the three oldest, all were close to my age. We would visit every week. Mainly, we played cards—canasta, pinochle, and whist. My parents played at the kitchen table and we kids played at a card table in the front room. A lot of times, in the wintertime, my father would play cards with us kids, teaching us the tricks of the game. Mother would only play if a fourth was needed, and she would not play partners with my father, who really chewed out his partner for making wrong moves. He was better with us kids, actually taking time to explain the game to us, or maybe we just expected to take it. He really chewed us out for making mistakes. I practiced alone with a deck of cards. Eventually, I became almost as good as father at cards. When we, as a family played, I was never paired with father because no one would want to play against us. Father loved to win, in fact, had an obsession about winning. One time, when I was older, I went with my parents to my uncle Chet’s place for Christmas. Chet had bright red hair, married a red head, and all four kids had red hair. We played whist day and night. Father and I played partners against Chet, a known card shark and gambler with his various partners. Father and I won easily all the time. Finally Chet jumped up, threw the cards down, and accused us of cheating, and that was the end of the game. He could not be persuaded to play another game.
Cards was a winter game though we played outside in the wintertime. One year, with very little snow, father let the water from the well run over the wooden horse tank, down the hill to a little pond at the bottom. Then we kids would grab our sleds and slide all the way down to the middle of the pond. Sometimes father would tie a rope with knots in it to the back of the jeep and then we would grab on to the rope and he would pull us back to the top of the hill where we would slide down again.
One time, we all got ice skates early for Christmas, while the ice was still clear. Oh, the many times we walked down to the lake. Sometimes we would play "crack the whip" on ice. I remember another time father took us to another pond, one where the beavers had cut down some trees. Father gathered some of the limbs in a big pile on the ice, and lit it on fire. It was a warm night, close to freezing with a brisk wind from the west. We would open our coats and let the wind push us from one end of the pond to the bonfire, where we would warm up, and do it again. Then father would give us a little ride on the pond in the jeep, spinning circles. Oh, what fun we had.
Another thing we did at home in the wintertime was to gather around and sing. Father bought an accordion for Carolyn, from a traveling salesman. Lessons came with it. Soon Carolyn could play pretty good. Father would have her play from the Golden Song Book, and we all gathered round to sing at Father’s suggestion, especially The Blue Skirt Waltz and Moonlight on the River Colorado. Father’s favorite hymn to sing was How Great Thou Art. Oh yes, we had the radio, with all its country western music which I really didn’t care for the sound of the nasal twang. But there were a few good songs like "Your Cheatin Heart," and singers like Patsy Kline and Lefty Frizzel. I definitely did not like Kitty Wells. I think a huge difference was that we were participatory, even in the music we listened, including pop hits like Elvis Presley’s "Love Me Tender" and "Jailhouse Rock," which Carolyn would get the sheet music for and soon we would be singing it around the accordion, together. That is key; we did not go around with a microphone stuck in our ear, listening individually and alone to the latest hits. What we had was a cabinet record player. On one side was the record player, the other side a shelf to hold the records and albums. The record player could play 33 1/3 rpm , 78 rpm, and 45 rpm if an insert was put in the record. The speed had to be selected manually. Records could be stacked up to 10 records, and the player would drop the next record at the end of the first. The 78’s were so fast, they only had one song on each side of the record. These were called vinyls. There were no songs we sang or listened to that had dirty lyrics.
We participated together as a family and a community in social gatherings, something totally missing in today’s world. School children have no idea what it means to participate or interact.
My world was very small back then, but it was genuine. We went to school in a one room country school, five of us, five cousins, and five neighbor kids. We were very fortunate to have good teachers, the most memorable was Mr. Lee, right out of college, who taught for two years. He was interested in art and music, and could play the piano, so we had art and music. I loved it, because I was a naturally born artist. We were encouraged to write stories. I remember one year, the 7th and 8th graders wrote a play from "A Christmas Carol" and performed it. Mr. Lee strung a wire across the front fourth of the room and hung sheets on it for curtains. Ardyce, being the youngest, played Tiny Tim.
School was fun. Learning was fun. The country school was superior to any other form of learning that I have experienced. But I didn’t know that at the time. All grades were together in one room. When there was only one kid in the class, Mr. Lee would combine classes. My brother Marshall was in the 3rd grade, my sister Ardyce in the 1st, but Mr. Lee put Ardy in the 3rd grade as a 1st grader. Ardy had special training before she ever got to school. We would play "school" at home. When I think of it now, I must have been about eight, and Ardyce must have been about three or four. I would play school, having Ardy as my student. I taught her how to read, how to count, add and subtract. Mother and father got her a little desk, which apparently was her little torture chamber. Sometimes she would escape from me during the middle of a lesson, and I would have to chase her all over the house to catch her and force her back into her desk. And I would demand of her, "What do you want to be? Stupid?" So, like it or not, what with her natural intelligence, Ardy could read on a 3rd grade level when she went to school, add and subtract, and write. Ardy had an additional advantage because when Mother and Father went to town, Mother would just drop off Ardy at the school with a little lunch. And Ardy, who was home alone with a mother who didn’t want kids, missed us terribly and was glad to go to school. Mr. Lee became a father figure to Ardy, sometimes taking her on his lap, and putting her down for a nap after lunch by the stove. The rest of us regarded it as quite natural. We were one big happy family at the school. Truly, most of us were related.
All of school was fun. Learning was fun. We would listen in to the older classes. That alone put us two grades ahead. Of course, recess was the most fun of all. Mr. Lee would play games with us, and teach us new games like Dare Base. And we played Red Rover and Crack the Whip and all kinds of Tag, like Freeze Tag. In the wintertime, when there was snow we would make a large circle and play Fox and Goose. There were indoor games when weather was bad. Mr. Lee taught us how to do the Virginia Reel and Square Dancing. In the spring and fall, there was the softball game. Two of the older kids would choose sides. With Mrs. St. Aubin, Joe explained all the rules to us, which allowed him to always rack up a lot of points in a game. When Mr. Lee came, we had to play by the rules of the game, and we loved it. The game would go on for days.
Before Mr. Lee, we had Ida St. Aubin, aunt to Joe, Alice, and Jimmy for a teacher. Joe was a little crazy and mean. He was the oldest, in a grade all by himself, Alice in Gail’s grade, and Jimmy in my grade. All three were dark and had black hair. They said they were French/Canadian. Mother always said they had Indian blood and acted like Indians, which wasn’t anything good. It meant they lived in a shabby house, cluttered up, and never tried to better themselves. Jimmy was the only fat kid in the school, and he was usually chosen next to last. As Joe was sullen and mean, Jimmy was good natured and laughed a lot. Joe made up the rules for softball. That is, if he didn’t hit the ball, he got to go to first base. Like that. That all changed when Mr. Lee came. We discovered the actual rules to softball. And Joe had to follow the rules, which he didn’t like. One hot, hot day, when Mr. Lee got after Joe, Joe threatened to go home and get his gun and shoot Mr. Lee. We all sat at our desks in stunned silence as Joe headed out the door. There was a nervous tension in the room while we waited for Joe to return with his gun. I think even Jimmy was a little scared of Joe. St. Aubins lived only about an eighth of a mile from the school. However, Joe never returned that day. In fact, his parents had to come to school before Joe could return, which he eventually did. Mrs. St. Aubin always babied Joe, which was a big part of the problem. He always got his way, until Mr. Lee came.
We used to play Cowboys and Indians a lot when Mrs. St. Aubin was the teacher. Joe had a carved wooden rifle that looked like the real thing. There was still a barn standing from when students used to ride horseback to school. One day when Joe was absent, I picked up his wooden rifle and was waving it around, showing off. I hit something in the barn and broke the tip of the barrel off the rifle. I set it down, and didn’t touch it. Must have been Friday and either fall or spring, because it was real nice weather out. The next day, I talked Ardie into coming with me to the school, but I had to pull her in the little red wagon. I put a rug in the wagon. I had made up a glue flour paste which I put in a little jar. I found the rifle in the barn, but the gluing didn’t work, so all the way back home, pulling Ardyce in the red wagon. We were almost home when Ardyce fell asleep and fell out of the wagon on her head. She woke up with a scream, and instead of getting back in the wagon, she ran all the way home, crying. The next week, Joe was back. Someone must have told him that I broke his gun because he took me aside and asked me, "Did you break my gun?"
I was scared to death of Joe, so I said, "No."
Joe said, "I won’t get mad at you. I just want to know."
I just said no. It seemed odd to me how easy it was to lie. And I knew he believed me because I was always known for telling the truth. It seems natural how easily fear compromises and confuses the truth.
Other than Joe, I don’t think there were ever any discipline problems at the little country school. Everyone behaved, and wouldn’t dream of acting up. We had respect for our teacher and if we didn’t, my Father would soon let us know we were to behave in school and listen to the teacher. But it never came to that. We weren’t brought up that way, and the school was too much like a family.
Father took us to school in the jeep. We lived the farthest away; about 3 ½ miles. The school had an enclosed porch which was used to store textbooks, with a place to hang our coats. The main room had 4 rows of desks. There was an oil burning stove for heat. I remember one really cold winter day, Mr. Lee couldn’t get the stove started. I don’t remember if he called someone or if he finally started it, but it was pretty cold in there and we all gathered round the stove. I stayed in back because I didn’t like pushing and shoving. Marshall was trying to get to the front of the stove, a space hogged by Joe. Mr. Lee told Joe to let little Marshall in, so Joe grabbed Marshall and shoved him against the hot stove, burning him. There was a first aid kit, and Mr. Lee applied burn salve. I felt sorry for Marshall, but was glad I never tried to push and shove my way to the front, something I wouldn’t dream of doing.
The desks were really old fashioned. The wooden desktop, like a drawer without a front and a little hole in the right hand corner to hold ink, even though we no longer used pen and ink; wrought iron sides that curved around and held a bench type seat, was fastened together on a 1" x 8’ board. The desk top had a space below to put books and papers. Four desks were fastened together this way, in 2 sizes, big and little. I think we had 4 rows of these desks. Two kids could sit together at one desk, which we did for lessons. The front row ended with a seat, where we came up and sat for lessons. All grades had their classes in the same room, which meant that as a fifth grader, I was listening to the 7th and 8th grade lessons, and so on down the line. We could listen in or tune it out as we chose. Every morning, Mr. Lee started out by reading to us for about 15 minutes, from a novel he kept on his desk. He read things like Black Beauty, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. We would always beg him to read more, which he promised to do if we got our work done, and did well on it, which we always did. It was like a gifted and talented class. With Mr. Lee, we went to all the speech, recitation, and music contests, and we always won.
Mr. Lee taught us about government and democracy by letting us vote for a president. First of all, kids would nominate someone for president. Then, after candidates had an opportunity to outline problems and solutions, we would vote. Carolyn would always end up as president.
There was no running water. I believe the teacher brought the drinking water and poured it into a large container with a push button spigot. A dispenser was fastened to the wall with cone shaped paper cups. There were 2 outhouses. But then, many people did not have running water at that time, and there were many homes with out houses.
My cousin Marvin became very sick with kidney failure, a very painful untreatable malfunction. By this time, my grandparents had died. Marvin took to coming out to the farm between hauling loads as a truck driver. Every once in awhile a big semi would pull into the yard. Father would have Marvin park his rig over by the white granary. Marvin would always have silver dollars for us kids when he came from Montana, lots of candy bars, too. When Marvin became critically ill, it was Father and Mother who treated him like a son, took him to the hospital, and went to see him every day. Marvin was in such pain, he begged Father to shoot him. He cursed the nurses and hurled water glasses at them. Grandma Johnson was staying at the farm then, and said she would go up and pray for Marvin. Father repeated the prayer to us many times. She prayed real hard for Marvin to get well, but if he couldn’t, then give him the strength to withstand the pain, and take the pain away so he could go peacefully to meet the Maker. When they visited Marvin the next day, the nurses wanted to know what they had done, because Marvin was a changed man. Even Mother had to admit it was a powerful prayer. And he did die that peaceful death. His funeral was held at the Moravian country church. Father had asked the young, talented student minister, Earl, to conduct the funeral. Earl went all around to discover who Marvin was, talking to truck drivers. When he gave the funeral service, all the truckers sitting in the back row had tears in their eyes. The church was full of people. It was one of the best funeral services ever given.
Carolyn was the oldest, Father’s ‘Prune Pit’. The U.S. government sent up Mexicans to work on farms. Father got Mexicans to work on the farm because he provided them room and board, and paid them very little. They were friendly, hard working, and carried Carolyn all around. They even taught her to speak Spanish. After the war, Father got an old man for help. The combine had replaced the threshing machine, and he could get by with fewer hands. After the old man, father began getting young guys from the state Employment Bureau. These did not work out very well. Things came to a roaring halt with one young guy. Danny stayed in the red granary. In going to take care of the little chicks, we girls went by the red granary. One time when it had rained, Danny called us over. The door, which opened to the East, was open, and not visible to the house. Danny would send me off to do something, like, "Look! The dog is chasing your chicken." I, of course, went to see if my chicken was ok. When I returned to see what they were doing, I saw them sitting on the bed. The young hired man said he had a pencil in his pocket, which he said they could reach in and get it. He told them not to tell our parents, that this was just their special game. So, whenever it rained, Carolyn and Gail would go out to the red granary to play the pencil game. Once when I returned, having been sent off, I saw Gail lying on the bed. The young guy said they were playing Doctor, and he needed to examine her pee-ter. He said he would have to give her a shot, but that wouldn’t hurt. So he put his head between her legs, while he pulled down his pants, and brought out his pencil. "Here," he said to Gail still lying on the bed. I felt something was wrong so I ran to the house to tell.
Father was sitting at the table drinking coffee, mother in the kitchen. I burst in the door and announced, "Danny is hurting Gail."
Father jumped up, and asked, "Where at?"
"In the red granary."
"You stay here!" and Father bolted out the door, across the yard to the red granary. Soon Gail came running to the house, and ran up to her room where Carolyn already was. Father drug Danny over to his scrap pile, and picked up a wooden spoke with an iron ring on the end, and proceeded to beat Danny within an inch of his life. Then he drug him over to the jeep and threw him in the back. The jeep sped out of the yard.
Father and Mother never had any talks with Gail, about this incident. This was a subject that just was not talked about. Father and Mother felt the less said, the better, and left that subject up to us to figure out, and quite frankly, we did not figure it out. And why should we? Adam and Eve never figured it out. The Garden Gate closed behind them, and there was no way back. They became prey to sexual predators with no understanding. Without knowledge from the Tree, Carolyn and Gail found the garden gate of childhood closed shut on them. What is not understood is that once innocence is gone, it’s gone, gone. There is no putting it back together again. Father and Mother were silent on the subject, as was God.
Now that Father was no longer getting hired men, we had to help with the farm work. Haying. Carolyn drove the team of horses, Gail and I stacked. Once, when Carolyn was raking the alfalfa on the Wilson place, Kate started kicking the rake which scared Carolyn, and she walked home, and refused to go back, so Father said I could drive the horses. Father drove the jeep back to the field. He said we would bring the horses home and let them get a good drink, then I could start after lunch. I must have been only 8 years old at the time. I drove the horses, and Father followed later with the jeep. Father was patient and very thorough when explaining things. He told me to talk to the horses, and don’t overwork them, that they get thirsty in the hot sun. He showed me how to lower and lift the rake. Then he took and drove the horses and told me to walk along side and watch. He showed me how to press a pedal with my foot so as to hold the rake down. When he was ready to release, he would hit another lever with his foot, the rake would fly up and release the hay that had been bunching. He said to keep making circles, releasing the hay at the same spot so as to form a windrow. Then I had to drive the horses between the windrow, holding down the rake so as to make a big pile of hay. Then Father would come with the tractor and sweep rake and pick up the bunches of hay. With the farm hand, he could lift the hay high in the air before he dumped it in a pile to make a haystack. Carolyn and Gail stood on the haystack with pitchforks moving the hay around to the edges and also tramping down the hay. They wore long sleeved old white shirts of father’s to be cool and to keep from getting sunburned. They also wore sun hats. Father would let them know when they were to round off the top of the haystack. Father then got two long ropes which he tied a rock to each end. He would toss one end of the rope up on the haystack. Then Carolyn or Gail would toss it down the other side. This would keep the hay from blowing away in the wind. He would then lift the sweep rake to the top of the stack. Carolyn and Gail would climb on, and he brought them down to the ground. Little Ardy loved horses, so one time I told her to go through the short cut, and wait for me to come around with the horses. She did, and I stopped the team and rake. Ardy climbed on the rake and walked down the tongue of the rake between the two horses. She climbed on Andy’s back and off we went to the hay field. There was just a little bit left, and at about noon, I headed the horses towards home. As a kid, I didn’t think about the horses running out of control once they knew they were headed home. Ardy fell off Any onto the tongue between the two horses. I called out ‘whoa’ and pulled back on the reins, but the horses wouldn’t stop. I was scared to death that Ardy would bounce off the tongue and be killed. I braced both feet and pulled back on the reins with all my might. Finally the horses slowed to a stop, and Ardy walked back on the tongue and got off the rake, which she refused to ride on, and ran home instead.
Then there was the baled hay. Father would pick up the little rectangular bales with the tractor and sweep rake, and Gail and I would stack the bales which weighed 50 to 70 pounds, on the big truck, which Carolyn drove. That wasn’t so bad because we were outside in the breeze. We would stack the bales high, high, criss crossing them, then Father would tie them down with a long rope. It was stacking them in the hot, hot Quonset that was torture, with sweat running down our backs and running into our eyes. The worst of it was that we had to stack bales on top of loose hay. That meant throwing bales up on a loose inside hay stack. We would grab the bade by the two strings of twine, bounce it off our knee, and toss it up the stack. One particular hot July day, with our whole bodies drenched in sweat, Gail quit and went to the house, and refused to come out again. I kept on battling the bales. After awhile, Father came out and told me to come in. It was only 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, but Father told us to get our swimming suits on, that we were going swimming. So we did, got in the jeep, and Father drove us down to the lake for a beautiful, cool swim. Everyone went, including Mother.
It was shortly after that, that Father got a speed boat with an Evinrude motor. He made the surf board. It was about a board, about 6 feet long, 20 inches wide with a rounded tip. Two holes had been drilled equal distance on the front of the board so that a rope could be tied on to the surf board for the boat to attach to. A second rope was attached for the rider to hang on to, both for balance to steer the surf board, and to hold the tip up out of the water. We took turns learning how to surf pulled behind the boat, starting with Carolyn first, then Gail, then me. Father would drive the boat. Someone would sit in back of the boat and lead out about 50 feet of rope attached to the surf board as Father slowly headed the boat away from the shore. The rider, crouched down and leaning back would nod and yell, "Hit it!" when the rope felt taunt. It took a little while for Carolyn and Gail to get the hang of it. I never did well at it because I wasn’t heavy enough to hold the back of the surf board down, which meant I really had to pull hard on the rope to keep the tip up, for when the tip went under, I would fly over the surf board and into the water, which happened a lot. We always wore jacket life preservers, plus Father kept extra life jackets in the boat, both adult and child sizes. Father would circle back with the boat and hang out the ladder so I could climb in.
From then on, Father always took us to the lake for a swim after a hot day of hauling bales. The next year was a hot dry summer, and the lake began to dry up. Father said he remembered a lake near Stanley called Clear Lake. So, we got in the car, a blue Chrysler-Imperial with our swimming suits, and headed out to find it. Father drove around, stopped at a couple of places to get directions, and we finally came to Clear Lake. What a glorious lake it was! It had a natual gravel bottom. We could swim out over our heads and look down through the water and see our toes. The Stanley JCs had hauled in loads of sand to create a beach, and had built a bath house and outhouse. The JCs had built a huge raft with a diving board on it. The raft was chained down to a boulder in about 10 feet of water. Father bought us a pair of water skies. What a difference that made! One could then actually steer the skies behind the boat. Sunday filled up with people, but the place was ours during the week. The beach was free. They just asked that people clean up after themselves, which we always did, and then some. The JC’s had even built fire pits, so Mother took to bringing a picnic meal like hot dogs and chips. From then on, we went to Clear Lake. And Father always stopped haying early so we would have time to go. Life was good, wonderful! Wonderful! How little did we know how short it was to last.
We were still going to country school when Father decided to teach Carolyn how to run the tractor and do field work. She also learned how to operate the hydraulic lift to the equipment such as the one-way, so called because it could only be turned one way at the end of the field. Carolyn was in the 7th or 8th grade then, so she must have been 13 or 14 years old. Other neighbor boys had started farming a little younger. It was unusual to see a girl running the tractor. Carolyn was quite small to boot. Running the tractor meant she spent the whole day out in the field going over 160 acres of land. All of us, Carolyn, Gail, and I, drove truck during the harvest, but running the tractor was different; this was real adult work. In school and at church, neighbors would ask Carolyn, "Was that you I saw out on the tractor?" And Carolyn would somewhat proudly answer yes, although I don’t know how they recognized her under all that black dirt. Truthfully, Carolyn did not like driving the tractor in the field and getting all dirty, and she was real glad when Marshall was old enough to take over. I was skipped over, the one who really would have loved to learn how to drive the tractor.
I born into a male dominated world but many of society’s rules didn’t apply at home, exactly. It was an accepted fact that males were meant to have privileges and responsibilities no shared by females. It was a concept taught in church. Time swirls around the memory and my memory was that Father was good to us. I never thought or questioned that I was treated unequally. A child sees it as all normal and natural. I never thought about Marshall and Roger as being treated differently.
It became our job to get the cows. It started out with Carolyn driving and Gail and me chasing. Then it was my turn to drive, but this time with Marshall and Ardyce chasing. They would stand on the running board and hang on to the window frame dividing the rolled down window from the open vent. I must have been 9 or 10, which meant that Marshall was eight and Ardy six. The jeep was stopped, and instead of jumping on the running board, Marshall hopped on the hood of the jeep. I told him to get off and get on the running board. He refused. I just sat there, refusing to move. I told him he had nothing to hang on to and could get run over. He insisted that he could hang on, so I took off slowly. Then I hit a dip in the trail. The jeep bounded up and down, and Marshall disappeared! I slammed on the brakes and shut off the engine. Ardy wailed, "You killed Marshall." I sat frozen for a couple of seconds, then forced the door open. I checked in front of the jeep. No Marshall. I forced myself to look under the jeep, and there was Marshall, alive. I helped him out and told him to wait while I went and got father. But no, he wanted to get in the jeep. So I opened the back door and the dog jumped in. I tried to get the dog out, but the dog wouldn’t budge. Marshall said to leave the dog, and I helped him in. Ardy got in beside him. The jeep was a standard transmission clutch affair with a hand pull choke. It took both feet to start, one to push in the clutch, the other to push on the brake or gas or both. My foot was shaking so bad I didn’t think I would get the jeep started. I thought of running home, but then the engine caught and I drove very slowly to the house. Instead of parking the jeep, I drove right up to the porch. I told Marshall to stay while I went in and got mother, who was in the house. I told her what had happened. Mother helped Marshall upstairs to his bed. Mother didn’t realize that Marshall was hurt as bad as he was.
Things are kind of a blur from here. Marshall wasn’t taken to the hospital until the next day. Ardye reported to Mother that Marshall couldn’t walk. Ardie had a deep seated need to tell, so she told that I had run over Marshall with the jeep, unknown to me. Of course, Ardie was only about 5 or 6 years old. She believed I had not told them the truth of what happened, and in her young mind, she wished to gain their favor, which, of course, she never did. Father and mother took Marshall to the doctor. Marshall was hospitalized for a long, long time with crushed vertebrate. I felt awful, just awful in the ensuing days. I remember praying every night that Marshall would be able to walk again. Mother and Father went every evening to see Marshall in the hospital. It seems like Marshall was in the hospital a long time, I felt just awful, even though it wasn’t my fault. And finally they brought him home. He could walk. I was truly grateful to God for that.
I was very eager and willing to help Father with the farm work, which meant that Marshall didn’t have to do the really unpleasant jobs like hauling bales or picking rock. However, harvest time was different. Everyone had to pull the load during harvest. Father cut the grain with a swather. Carolyn and Gail drove the grain trucks at harvest time. Marshall had to get into the wooden grain bin and shovel the grain as the grain was being augured up from the truck. The big Dodge truck had a hoist, but the pick up had to be shoveled, which the driver did. Once when Marshall was shoveling barley, he left the bin and went to the house to take a shower. With no one shoveling the grain, the grain auger plugged up. Carolyn tried to start the auger, but it wouldn’t start. The truck did not get unloaded. The truck didn’t get back to the field, which meant the combine was full and Father was sitting there waiting for the truck. Father was combining the Wilson place which was only a quarter mile. Father didn’t sit there long. Thinking something must be wrong, Father shut down the combine, and walked home. Marshall was showering when Father came in. Father opened the basement door and hollered for Marshall to get up here. He did, with him bathrobe tied around him.
"What the hell’s the matter with you? What the hell are you doing in the shower instead of shoveling grain?"
Marshall looking very small said, "I couldn’t stand being itchy."
Mother jumped in to protect him. "He can’t tolerate the grain dust, and has broken out in hives." This time, though, Mother was right. Father, who tolerated nothing at harvest time, saw the situation for what it was, and was not unreasonable.
Father went out, unplugged the auger, and started the engine. It became my job along with Ardyce to keep the grain shoveled back from the auger. He then drove the big truck with Carolyn, back to the field. And the harvest proceeded.
Blond and blue eyed like Mother, Marshall turned out to be a huge disappointment to Father. He showed no interest in farming, and had a distinct feminine animus. He liked staying in the house. He learned how to embroider. He did not like getting dirty or itchy which left out driving the tractor, haying, and harvesting or working with the cattle, which Father did not allow to last forever.
After 5 years, Mother had another baby, a boy, who turned out to be the apple of Father’s eye. Once, when father was disking on the home place, Roger, just a toddler, had run after the tractor all the way to the end of the field, and when Father made a turn with the tractor, he saw little Roger in the headlights. Father, of course, put him in the tractor cab, and he rode with Father up the field to the shop, where Father shut off the tractor and took Roger to the house. Father built a little seat for Roger, who then when with Father out to the field, and rode the tractor with him. In fact, Roger went everywhere with Father.
Mother and Father had an agreement; he farmed and she did the housework. It was one of those freak accidents that happened in a moment. We kids were all in school, the country school. Father needed Mother to watch the auger while he shoveled the grain. Mother said she turned and looked at something. In that instant, the auger became top heavy and lifted up and grabbed her right hand, mangling off her three middle fingers. Her little finger was dangling by the skin. She doesn’t remember screaming, which brought Father bounding down from the granary. Horrified, he shut off the auger, helped Mother to the house, took her over to the sink and ran cold water on her hand. He poured some alcohol on it, and wrapped it in a towel. He called Dr. Holliday in Kenmare and said he was bringing in Mother. He drove the car as close to the house as he could, and helped Mother, who was in shock, into the car, and grabbed Roger, who was a toddler, and put him in the front seat behind his shoulder. That Chrysler was capable of doing 100 mph, and I think it did that day.
Dr. Holliday was a big time doctor in a small town. He sewed Mother’s little finger back on, and attached the nerves. Mother eventually recovered some movement in her little finger, enough so that she could pinch together her thumb and little finger to pick up and hold some things. Mother was in the hospital for over a month. Father, of course, went to see her every evening. He felt very guilty and responsible for the accident. Mother said if only she hadn’t looked away. The Dr. told them both to stop blaming themselves, that it was hindering the healing process. "Healing is also a state of mind. Bad things usually happen in an instant, and healing takes good long time to mend the damages. Neither one of you deliberately caused this accident. That’s the difference. So, neither one of you is to blame. Just forgive one another, and learn to live with it. It could have been worse. Your quick thinking actually saved the finger, which is going to make all the difference. There’s no reason for you not to think positive about this. After all, no one died." Dr. Holliday was one of Mayo’s doctors, but he wanted a small town practice, very fortunately for Mother.
Father asked one of the neighbor’s daughter, a young women to keep house and look after us. Irene must have stayed for about a month, and then suddenly, she left. Mother said it was time for Carolyn and Gail to take a bigger role in helping out. They were 13 and 14 years old and could do it. After all, none of us were that little except for Roger, who wasn’t that hard to look after. Someone still needed to watch him during the day while we were in school, so Father got a different young woman, Ardella, to look after him, and help Mother. Carolyn and Gail really took over the housework, cleaning, cooking, and making bread and butter.
Changes happened in the name of progress that destroyed a part of our world all, without any vote or discussion. One big, insidious change was the coming of TV. We were told that TV would educate and inform us. TV slid into our lives during a very repressive time. America had not solved the problems that caused the Great Depression. World War II ended the Depression. Everyone knew that. Everyone said so. Even the government knew that. War was good for the economy, socialism was bad. Most of all, TV entertained us. We were not told that TV would further isolate us, distract us, and reinvent history, all the while creating a class division and debt through the sale of unnecessary products, while replacing our morals and religion with false morals and atheism. Mother would not permit us to eat meals in front of the TV. It didn’t make any difference during the day, because we weren’t around to watch it, but in the evening we gobbled our meal and rushed into watch the westerns, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rawhide, The Virginian, and Wagon Train. No more talking around the table of daily events. We were now ruled by the TV. We had only one TV in the living room with only 3 channels. Father enjoyed watching TV as much as anyone else. His favorite programs were first of all, the nightly news, then the westerns. He did not particularly like relationship shows that made you think. If there were any question, Father always decided what was watched on TV. Mother insisted that we girls get the dishes cleared away and washed after supper, so we would hurry and do that while the news and stupid sit-coms were on, like Leave It To Beaver. Father loved the Red Skelton Show, the Honeymooners and the Lawrence Welk Show. I liked Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock, Star Trek, and good movies. We no longer played games together. Most of all, we no longer sat around the table talking. That was gone, gone. The right to talk and be heard. Gone. But we didn’t realize that. No one did. We were simply lulled to sleep.
The end of the country school was the end of my world as I knew it. Three students graduated from the 8th grade, Carolyn, Gerald our cousin, and Faye our neighbor. With younger brothers and sisters, it made no sense to send these three to high school and continue sending the younger brothers and sisters to the country school. So the country school closed.
TV and town schools adversely affected my cousins, who were boys. They no longer played with me. Instead, they took to beating up Marshall and throwing rocks at him. Marshall, always a follower and impressionable took to throwing rocks at little Ardie. He once ran her into some barbed wire, running to get away from him. She got a deep gash, and ran into the house to tell mother, who told her she was ok, and nothing ever happened to Marshall, who continued throwing rocks at everything, including the helpless chickens, breaking their legs and wings. Ardy’s wound got so infected she could hardly walk. When Mother finally took her to the doctor, it was discovered that she had a bad case of tetanus, just lucky she didn’t die. Marshall continued to throw rocks at Ardy. The new morality. Marshall never threw rocks at me because he knew I would beat him up. I never knew he was throwing rocks at Ardy or I would have beaten him up for that. Father never did. Boys got to live by different standards than girls, but no one explained it.
I was not prepared for the 6th grade in a town school. I don’t think anyone was. Going to school was not a community affair like the country school or the country church. It was an insidious invasion of the family, but we didn’t know that at the time. A big yellow bus drove into the yard, and we got on the bus at 7:00 am, because we lived the fartherest out. No one talked to us, and we didn’t talk to anyone. Kids sat in little cliques. We did not sit together as a family. The bus made stops at farms, home to people I never knew.
There were about thirty 6th graders, all in one room. School was very different from country school. Kids were loud, naughty, profane, and ill-mannered. It frightened me. Recess was not at all like country school. Here, the girls stood around together, and the boys stood around together. The girls said mean things about each other and talked about boys. I wasn’t used to that. I was used to playing with boys.
In the spring and fall, the boys would play softball. I was the only girl standing in a group waiting to be chosen. Of course, I was the last one chosen the first time, and the last one up to bat, bases loaded. A strike, then a foul, then I knocked the ball off the school grounds. That changed the boys’ attitude towards me, as far as playing ball went, and I was the first one chosen. But no one became my friend over it. It caused the girls to talk about me and isolate me even more.
Then, over the noon hour, kids would walk to the grocery store to get a 5 or 10 cent candy bar, except for me, since our parents never gave us any money. Also, walking up town was a friend thing to do. If you walked alone, it meant you had no friends. I never went because no one asked me. Then one day, a girl in the 5th grade asked if I wanted to go uptown. I told her I didn’t have any money. She said she would buy me something, and she did. Sandee became my friend because no one would and she wasn’t liked much in her class. Girls teased her about her hair, which was cut like someone set a bowl on her head and shaved up part way on the sides and back. She had thick hair, so it really stuck out like a saucer all around. Her mother or aunt had done that and everyone felt bad about it, except her classmates, who thought it was the funniest thing. I didn’t feel we were close friends, just two kids commiserating together. In all fairness, I don’t think it was possible for anyone to be my friend; I was too devastated, with absolutely no one to talk to.
Carolyn and Gail were in their own world. School did not bring us close as sisters. It had quite the opposite effect. It turned us into our own isolated cubicle where our feelings didn’t matter. What we thought didn’t matter. Learning was a competition, rather than a cooperation of finding out. I was very quiet, and I went from being an A student, down to Ds and Fs. . Then, to top it off, I had two teachers; both of them very stupid, with discipline problems. To make matters worse, Mrs. Jenson, the home room teacher, decided to put me in between two of the worst boys. Both had flunked two grades. They were very profane and constantly used the f word. Right across the aisle from me, was a pretty little girl who was also very profane and talkative. She attracted all the attention of all the little boys, and she really enjoyed it. She was a nasty little girl who would oftentimes put her feet up on her desk, so her panties showed to these 2 boys. She would write notes, and pass them to me, to pass to these two loud boys. I, of course, cooperated because I didn’t know what else to do. This wasn’t anything I wanted to be a part of, but I felt I had no choice but to become part of it. I was very careful not to be caught, but I don’t think the teacher was bright enough to catch me or maybe she just didn’t care. I gave the illusion of going along with it, but it sickened me. The whole class was sick.
Finally, I started to make excuses like I was sick, so I didn’t have to go to school. But eventually I would have to go. I really dreaded Sundays and Sunday nights. It got so that the night before school, I couldn’t eat, so I went up and laid down on my bed. It was supper time and I was upstairs. Finally Father came up and asked what was wrong. I told him about the worst of the boys. He told me not to pay any attention to them because they weren’t going to amount to anything, just a big pile of crap. And he told me that next year, we would go to Donnybrook. After that, I saw it through, my grades improved, and I survived, but not intact. Something was gone, and I would never get it back. Something was missing for all of us, but we never talked about it, because we didn’t exactly know what it was. As brother and sisters, separating us into grades into separate rooms, isolated us further from each other. We each were going through a hostile environment on our own, that we were so totally unprepared for. Socializing at home was suddenly old fashioned. We no longer gathered around as Carolyn played the accordion. We watched TV instead. Yes, we watched it together, but isolated in our own spectator experience. We no longer had church picnics. We were ripped away from a moral, honest world and thrust into the modern world nastiness and competition without knowing what happened. It was one of the most traumatic events in my childhood. I didn’t understand what was going on. Apparently, no one else did either.