Thursday, February 22, 2018

Work Ethic

Dad had a work ethic second to none.  He learned this from his parents who were both hard workers whose priority was the family.

He grew up on a farm in northern Minnesota.  It is not easy to make a living on a farm in northern Minnesota.  He was the youngest of nine children.  Everyone worked.  Some worked on the farm and some got outside jobs to help the family.  Dad told me about plowing the fields behind a team of horses and about pitchforking hay into the loft of the barn to feed the few cows they kept for milk and cream and butter.

In the winter his Dad and brothers would take a wagon hitched to the horse team out on a nearby lake.  There they would cut large blocks of ice, load them on the wagon and take them home where they were put into the root cellar, packed in straw.  If done right, the ice would last until the next winter.  They didn't have a refrigerator, but used an ice box to keep food cool in their kitchen.  The blocks of ice were put in the lower compartment of the ice box for this purpose.

During the Depression, Dad went to work for the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), a government work program for young men.  Most of their wages were sent to their families.  Dad liked to show us a park on a local lake that had been one of the jobs he worked on then.

After Dad married and when I was about 4 years old, Dad lost his job at a local gas station.  He and Mother decided to go to St. Paul and stay with her mother for a time, thinking that job opportunities might be better.  He found a job working at a manufacturing plant that made refrigerators.  Shortly after, he saw an ad in the newspaper for an opening for a 'grain sampler' in Willmar, Minnesota.  He had no clue what a grain sampler did, but he applied for and got the job.  He spent the rest of his working life climbing in and out of boxcars at the railroad yard at Willmar, carrying a six foot brass probe, taking samples of the corn, wheat and oats in the boxcars.

As Mother's disease progressed, the Dr. and hospital bills increased.  His solution was to find more jobs.  Welfare was never an option with Dad.  I remember times when he cleaned the church where we went for services.  He cleaned office buildings at night after working all day.  He found a weekend job feeding turkeys in huge turkey barns.  He likely had other jobs I didn't know about.  He never talked about the extra work, nor did he ever complain.

When Dad retired at age 65, he moved with Mother and my brother back to his hometown of Blackduck, Minnesota, finding a small house nearby.  Not content to just sit and do nothing, and I am sure needing money for medical bills, he landed a job with the local bank.  This was before computers, and the bank needed someone to take paperwork and/or cash to Bemidji, 25 miles away, and bring back whatever the Bemidji bank had for the Blackduck bank.  He made two runs every weekday - one in the morning and another in the afternoon.  He also took a disabled boy to school in Bemidji each morning and brought him home in the afternoon.  He spent most of his free time with Mother at the nursing home. 

Dad instilled in me the importance of working hard.  There was a time when I lived on a farm.  Dad came to see me and found me whining about being dirty and sweaty from mucking out a small shed.  He told me there was no shame in being dirty from working.  The shame came when a person was dirty from laziness.  He just couldn't abide lazy.

He also told me once that if you were going to do a job, do the best job you could do.  If that job was digging a ditch, then make it the best ditch you could dig.  And do it not for your employer, but for the satisfaction of knowing you did your best.

Seems to me we could use more with that kind of work ethic and fewer with their hand out expecting it to be filled with free stuff.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Seamstress

Mother was a seamstress of exceptional talent.  There was nothing she couldn't sew.

She sewed my clothes until my last year of high school.  I'm pretty sure that after I left home, she made most of my sister's clothes as well.

I'm not sure where she learned this art, for I don't remember her Mother doing any sewing.  Grandmother may have sewn in earlier years, for most housewives did at that time.  Sewing was just part of what homemakers did then.  But when I first knew Grandma, her husband had died and she was working at a publishing house in St. Paul to support herself and those of her children still living at home.  She may not have had time to sew.

I would have been happy to spend my life dressed pretty much like this.

My little sister and me.

But Mother would have none of it.  She wanted pretty, dainty, feminine looking and acting girls.  I am afraid I was something of a disappointment to her, with my preference for blue jeans and flannel shirts.

Mother saw to it that my sister and I usually had new dresses to wear to Easter church services and to the annual Sunday School Christmas program.  I liked dressing up at Easter, but would have cheerfully skipped the Christmas program, for I had a fear of speaking in front of a crowd.  Still do.  The only thing that made me go through with it was knowing when it was all over, each child received a small brown paper bag full of my favorite Christmas candies.

Easter dresses.

Christmas dresses.

Mother sewed our school dresses.  At that time there was a dress code in Junior High and High School whereby girls had to wear skirts/dresses.  Jeans and slacks were not allowed.  These were the dresses Mother made for my sister and me when I started 4th grade.


When Mother's youngest sister married, Mother sewed her wedding dress.  Emily was married in the front room of her Mother's home.  I remember how Mother fussed over making that dress, getting it just right.  Emily was a beautiful bride the day she married my favorite uncle. 


Mother had way more patience than I ever had.  She exhibited that patience when teaching me to sew.  My 4-H project was sewing and it required us to make a dress or a skirt and blouse all by ourselves, with no help from parents.  Mother had me practice by making several blouses and skirts that were play clothes before beginning the 4-H project, which was a light brown blouse and a full, flowered skirt to match.  Each year there was a county wide 'Dress Review" that was a judging of the quality of work and a modeling of the clothes we had made.  Mine won me a trip to the State Fair and I have to give the credit to my Mother, who had the patience to keep at it.  It could not have been an easy job for her.

Money was sometimes tight and Mother had to get creative when the price of fabric exceeded the cash on hand.  When I was very young, Mother took apart an old coat of hers to make a winter coat and bonnet for me.  Another year she found that one of the stores was selling flour in the old timey printed flour sacks.  She made sure that when Dad bought flour he got enough of the same printed sacks to make my matching skirts and blouses.  They were so pretty that nobody knew where the fabric had come from.

I think that home sewing is another one of those skills that are going the way of the dinosaur.  I no longer sew clothing, mostly because the cost of patterns and fabric has become prohibitive.  I can buy ready made for less.  But at least I have the skills to be able to make my own clothing should the need arise.  And that is a good thing.

Monday, February 19, 2018

I was going to stay out of this.

I really was.  I was going to let the gun control people - the ones who begin their rhetoric before the bodies have cooled - and the defenders of our right to bear arms, duke it out. 

But then I had a conversation with a lady who, in all other respects, is a nice, sensible, caring lady, but who is in favor of getting rid of all firearms.  She really believes that if we all turned in our guns the problem of mass shootings would be solved.

I suppose I could have given her the standard arguments.  Could have cited statistics favoring firearm ownership.  Could have pointed out that the gun is nothing more than a tool and is not responsible for killing people.  The person holding the gun is the one at fault.  Could have said that gun confiscation leaves the honest citizen vulnerable to attack, while the criminal to whom the law has no meaning, will still obtain his firearms.  Could have mentioned that while I believe that the mentally disturbed should not possess guns, there are way too many who fall through the cracks.  They do not visit mental health facilities.  They may avoid the people who might 'see something, say something.'  Same goes for the millions of illegal aliens living here who stay under the radar - particularly the criminals and gang members.  None of those will appear on a database.  Could have said all that.

But I didn't.  This lovely lady is not politically minded.  As long as she can continue her life in relative peace, she is happy.  All of the above would not mean very much to her.  So here is what I said...

She is a single Mom, living in an apartment, working hard to make a living and raise a teen-aged son and daughter.  We talked about as parents, how our first responsibility is to keep our children as safe as possible.  We talked about how things have changed what with the influx of 'refugees' who hate light skinned people and consider it their duty to rid of our civilization of its laws and traditions to be replaced by theirs.

I asked her what she would do if some of those people kicked down the door to her apartment and entered with mayhem on their minds.  How would she protect her beautiful daughter from being beaten to a pulp and gang rapped.  What would she do if they decided it would be fun to rape her son before slitting his throat.  She is smart enough to know that these things happen - here - everywhere - more often than any of us would care to admit.

She came to the conclusion that the only way she could prevent those things happening to her children was to shoot the bastards as they came in the door.

I have the utmost respect for law enforcement, but they have no way of getting there in time to help in a situation like that.  We are pretty much on our own.  It would take maybe three good, heavy kicks to my door to break in.  And once in, how am I going to stop them from hurting me or killing me.  Throw a jar of tomatoes at them?  Spray them with my choice of defense sprays?  That would maybe slow them down a little and is sure to mostly piss them off, which gets me beaten or killed.

Which is why, should our betters - the ones who live in gated communities - the ones who are protected by men with guns - those betters - decide to try to rid us of our protection, I will never, ever comply.

We will get back to our regularly scheduled program in a day or so.  But right now I am way too angry with those who think they know best how to keep me and my family safe.   

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Putting Up the Harvest

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, my family moved from town to a 20 acre plot of land with a big, old farmhouse on it.  The selling point was not so much the house, which needed some work, but that it had a large yard and more importantly, a huge garden space.  As my Mother's arthritis continued to wreck her body, the medical bills continued to grow accordingly, and it became more important to garden as a way to feed our family without the outlay of so much cash.  In Minnesota, getting through the cold winters is a priority.

As Mother became more ill, she could no longer do the canning as she had in the past, so as the oldest child it fell to me to help her.  About the time we moved to what we called 'the farm,' I learned how to can vegetables and fruit and how to properly freeze some of the garden's bounty.  At the time I complained bitterly about having to spend so much time working when I would rather have been playing, but in later years I was grateful to have learned those skills for they were used to keep my own family fed.

We canned the standard vegetables along with dill and sweet pickles and several kinds of relish.  We froze the garden fruits of strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb.  In addition, Dad brought home cases of peaches, pears, apricots and cherries.  Some of these we canned in a sugar syrup to be used as a dessert sauce.  Some we froze to use in various recipes like peach cobbler, or to use over ice cream as a treat.  And some of the fruit from the store as well as from the garden went to make jams.

The cellar had a large bin for potatoes, and another where we kept squash.  We canned half the carrots and stored the rest in a third bin, to be eaten raw.

There was a small apple orchard just southwest of the house.  It was an old orchard and some of the trees no longer produced fruit, but there were enough apples in the fall to make lots of jars of applesauce.  And there was one crab apple tree that had the best tasting crab apples I have ever tasted.  We ate many of those fresh from the tree and we used many of the smaller ones to make crab apple pickles.

When we had as many jars of canned fruit on the basement shelves as we needed, we started making pies, using peaches and apples.  We kept a stack of those foil pie tins and used them for the freezer pies.  We made the pies the same as we would if we were going to bake them, wrapped them in tin foil and stacked them in the freezer.  I don't know how many pies we made each fall, but I do know there were at least two stacks of each kind in the freezer when we were finished, just waiting to be baked for a dessert treat or for when company came for supper.

We didn't can meat back then.  I don't know why, but I never heard of anyone doing so.  We bought chickens from a farm neighbor.  Dad had a small field on the property and the neighbor rented it to plant corn or soybeans and paid with beef he raised on his farm.  I think we got the better of that deal.

Food preservation wasn't just a trendy thing to do as it seems to be now.  It was a way of life.  It was the means by which you fed your family.  I fear that these skills will be lost.  I do hope that enough people will learn them for a time when we may need them to survive.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Mother

My Mother was born in 1924 and died in 1996.  She was one of six sisters and one brother, who were raised in a small town in northern Minnesota.  Her father was a railroad depot agent and lay minister and her mother was a homemaker.

Mother at age 16.

Mother believed in honoring her parent's wishes, so when her Dad told her he did not wish her to marry until she was 21 years of age, she obliged and married my Dad one week following her 21st birthday.

Mother at age 21

Shortly after my birth in 1946, Mother was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.  The next 50 years were defined by pain.

  Mother, Dad and me.

Although arthritis was a huge part of her life, she was much more than the disease. 

Mother about age 21 in Blackduck, MN.

Mother was musically talented.  She played piano, guitar, ukulele, violin and cello, lettering in high school for her orchestra performances.  She also had a beautiful alto singing voice and could harmonize with nearly any song.  My sister and I have decided that our singing abilities came from our Dad, who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.

Most of Mother's siblings had musical abilities and often accompanied their father to his church services, providing the music.

My brother, being 15 years younger than me, tells me he never heard Mother play any of her instruments, for by the time he was born, her hands were becoming deformed and she could no longer make music.  My sister remembers hearing Mother play all, but I only remember hearing her on the piano, violin and cello.  The last time I heard her play the violin was at a 4-H meeting, where the parents took over the meeting and provided the entertainment.  Dad found a very small child's toy violin.  He stood in front of the room, telling jokes and clowning, playing the toy, while Mother stood out of sight, playing her violin.  I think the tune was "Red Wing," one of Dad's cowboy favorites.  I consider myself lucky to have heard her play.

Mother was an accomplished seamstress.  She sewed her own dresses as well as those for my sister and me.  We nearly always had new Easter and Christmas dresses and she sewed our school clothes until I was well into high school.

Mother enjoyed needlework and often would embroider on those white flour sack dishtowels that were popular then.  She taught me to embroider on the dishtowels as well.  She also crocheted beautiful lace doilies using a very small crochet hook and thin crochet thread.  I never could get the hang of that, but enjoy using regular yarn instead.

Mother loved decorating for the holidays.  I can remember when she took a branch from a bush and painted it white.  She had us blow the insides out of eggs, leaving just the hollow shells, which we painted in bright colors and Easter designs.  She then hung the eggs by threads from the branches, making an Easter Tree centerpiece for the dining room table.  She did the same for Valentines Day, using red and pink paper hearts.

Mother was in her element at Christmas time.  She had evergreen boughs, Christmas ornaments and silver bells everywhere.  The Christmas tree, always a real tree, was a sight to behold.  And when she could no longer walk, she could be found sitting in her wheelchair in the middle of the living room, directing Dad as to where each decoration went.

Mother and Dad at our house in the country about 1957.

As her body deteriorated, I never heard her complain.  I saw her cry only once, when I had to leave her in the nursing home section of the local hospital.  The insurance required transfer from the hospital to the home in order to pay.  Dad didn't have the heart to do the deed, so as the oldest child, it fell to me.  She begged me to take her home, knowing full well that Dad could no longer care for her. 

Once Mother settled into a routine at the nursing home, she became calm and seemed to thrive.  The home is small and in her hometown, so she knew nearly everyone and the staff took very good care of her.  Dad spent much of his day with her and evenings would usually find them in a rousing game of Scrabble, which Mom usually won, with Dad saying she won because she cheated.  That became something of a family joke.

Dad and Mother outside the nursing home in Blackduck where she lived out her remaining years.

Through the years of pain and surgeries and hospital stays and nursing home living, Mother never once lost her faith.  One of the last things she did was to request her pastor to read the 23rd Psalm to her.  She died peacefully on a spring day at age 72.

There are those who tend to refer to Mother as a Saint, and that seems to irritate me somehow.  She was a good woman, but not a Saint.  She had her faults just like the rest of us.  She just was able to handle what life threw at her better than most.  Whenever I find myself slipping into a pool of self-pity, I think of her and realize that my difficulties are minor compared with what she lived with most of her life.

I still miss her.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Dad's Garden

My Dad loved a garden.  He once told me that he acquired his love of all things growing, from his Mother.  When his older siblings were busy with the daily chores of running a farm, the youngest children spent time in the garden with his Mother, where he learned about planting and growing and harvesting.  I think part of it was that he just enjoyed spending time with his Mother.

When I was growing up, my family lived in a series of small, rental houses.  If a landlord permitted, Dad would dig up a small corner of the back lawn and plant tomatoes and potatoes, along with a few other vegetables.  In the mid 1950's when he was finally able to purchase a 20 acre hobby farm that had space for a large garden, Dad was in gardeners heaven.

Dad, my little sister and me in Dad's garden.


Dad poured over the seed catalogs, making lists of the vegetables he wanted to plant.  He planted all the standard vegetables - sweet corn, green and yellow beans, peas, carrots, beets, etc.  But then the fun began.  He would try something new every year.  Once he planted peanuts that were a dismal failure.  The plants came up, but the Minnesota growing season just wasn't long enough to produce the peanuts.  Another time he ordered blue seed potatoes.  These grew well and yielded a good crop of potatoes that really were blue in color.  Sadly, when cooked, they turned a disgusting gray color that nobody was interested in eating.

The 'giant pumpkins' gave us some large jack-o-lanterns, but none grew as big as advertised.  His rousing success was popcorn.  The ears were small, and when the plants turned brown in the fall, Dad picked all the ears, spread them out on old window screens, held up by two sawhorses, on the front porch, and left them there to dry.  We shelled the cobs and excitedly tested the popcorn by popping a batch.  We were not disappointed.

Dad added a small strawberry bed and a long row of raspberries.  Both did well, although we rarely had enough to use for jam or to freeze.  He didn't seem to mind, however, when he would catch us picking and eating the berries as fast as they would ripen.

One of my fondest memories is of grabbing a salt shaker and heading to the tomato patch with Dad.  We would sit on the ground, surrounded by tomatoes and eat until we couldn't any more.

During that time I joined the local 4-H club.  Each member had 'projects' for the year, usually ending with county fair exhibits.  Many of the kids raised cows or pigs or sheep to show at the fair, but because we weren't a regular farm and had not the means to care for animals, my main projects were sewing and gardening.  Those with a gardening project exhibited their best vegetables at the fair, and there was also a 'garden tour' held by the club to look at the various gardens in the neighborhood.  That meant that the garden had to be really spiffy with no weeds in sight.  After a year or two, I finally caught on and asked Dad if he encouraged me to garden for the love of raising food or if he just wanted free labor to keep the garden free of weeds.

He just smiled!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Sunday Memories

I have found that since retiring, it is easy to lose track of which day of the week it is.  There are no alarm clocks to set, no time cards to be punched.  The days just flow, one after another.  Early on I decided to designate Sundays as a day of rest, leaving the normal chores for the weekdays.

I think I get this idea from Mother, who was rigidly religious.  She would have been happy if our family attended Sunday School, morning and evening church services.  She would have been even happier if we had spent the rest of the day reading our Bibles.  While these were good pursuits all, things just didn't work out for Mother.

Dad was a good, Christian man.  His beliefs aligned themselves with Mothers, but with a healthy dose of fun thrown in for good measure.  We were spared the forced Bible study.  Often he planned a family activity for Sunday afternoons.  In the winter he would take us ice skating or sledding.  If the weather was too cold and blustery for outdoor activities, we might spend an afternoon reading one of  the many books he kept for us, or we might play board games like Monopoly.  Playing cards were forbidden - Mother thought them to be of the devil - so we played Old Maid or Authors or Uno. 

Summertime Sunday afternoons were for picnics, swimming at the lake or maybe a lazy afternoon of fishing.  We had a badminton set and a croquet set and sometimes he would set up one or the other of those games and we would have tournaments on the front lawn.  Sometimes we just piled into the family car and went for a drive.  We admired the crops in the fields, went for walks along the river or stopped to explore an abandoned rural schoolhouse.  Often these excursions ended with a treat of an ice cream cone.

Mother's beliefs did not allow us to go to the movies.  I never did get her to explain why she felt this way.  I don't know how Dad managed it, but he took me to see 'Bambi' and 'Snow White' when I was very young.  Even though it was well over 65 years ago, I still remember watching Snow White running through the forest and finding the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs.  And I still can't watch 'Bambi' without crying when his mother is killed. 

I suppose Mother's beliefs may have come from her father, whom my Dad once described as "stern but fair in his dealings."  I wish she had been able to enjoy life a bit more as did those on Dad's side of the family.  I'm sure that the fact that she spent many years in pain from rheumatoid arthritis did not help any.  I think Dad's sense of humor matched with Mother's rigid religious beliefs probably tempered both and made for a successful marriage.  I once asked my Dad how he could take care of Mother, day in and day out, in those later days when she could do nearly nothing for herself.  His answer was simple.  "I love your Mother."

And that's what it really is all about, isn't it.