Days of Sunshine

One spring day I remember trudging beside my dad along a fencerow that was the boundary of his land and he was carrying three greenish-blue duck eggs in his rough hand.  The field to our right had been worked; evidently, he had been unaware of a duck nest and he'd partially destroyed it with some machinery and now he had come back to see if the duck had returned to her eggs.  If the men knew of a nest in the field, they always tried to drive around it.

You forget many things at that age but some events that seem very important at the time you remember.  One morning later that summer, I came down the stairway very happy and I felt very proud of myself.  Mom was at the kitchen table canning large blue plums and she offered me some.  I don't know if my feeling of pride came from having dressed myself all alone that morning or if it was that I knew on this day I'd reached the gigantic age of four years.

Another early recollection I have was rather frightening.  It was another spring and dad had bought a few sheep and the first lambs had arrived in the pasture.  My aunt, a gentle person, very fond of animals, who was staving with us at the time, had decided to take my sister and me down to see the lambs.  What she didn't know was that dad had an 111 tempered Shorthorn out there, too.  When he discovered us in his territory, he started coming toward us.  My aunt was frightened but she didn't panic.  She said we should all three separate a little and that would confuse him, and run for the nearest fence.  She stayed in the middle and always a little behind the two of us.  I turned and looked back once and saw him still coming.  Then I panicked and started back towards her.  She called and motioned me to keep running towards the fence.  Now we had all passed an old straw stack.  When he got to it he took a couple of turns around it, rubbing his head in it making the straw fly and pawing the loose straw with his front feet.  We got over the fence and I never did lose my respect for the Shorthorns. As the family needed more room, Dad built on to the house.  The last addition might be called a utility room.  Its uses changed with the seasons.  In the summertime, canning and some cooking were done out there.  It kept the kitchen cooler.  In the wintertime the cream separator was brought in from the milk house and took its place there but this was the room where the laundry was always done. I remember an early type washing machine that was fastened over the tub.  It consisted of two large corrugated rollers that swished the clothes back and forth through the sudsy water.  Then there was the large wooden cylindrical tub with three quarter inch round holes in it.  When loaded with laundry, it went back and forth through the water.  This machine was powered by a gasoline engine.  When the 32-volt electric plant was installed, the engine was relegated to pumping water for the stock and the switch box now controlled the washing machine.  The next operation was putting the clothes through rinsing waters and then they were wrung out by hand-powered wringers.  White clothes were made their whitest by boiling them in a copper boiler on the kerosene stove.  Some bar soap was bought at the store but Mother made most of the laundry soap in a large iron kettle from rendered animal fat and lye.  After the clothes were hung on the line, the water was carried outside and emptied on the purple lilac which seemed to thrive on it.  The kerosene stove was used to heat the water.  This was started early in the morning after the water was pumped up from the cistern.

There was always a scarcity of water on the farm.  A trench was dug and a pipe was laid from the windmill to the new barn, a distance of three hundred feet, where it passed the house.  A pipe was run into the cellar and up into the "everything" room.  The object was to put a bucket under the spigot when the windmill was turning and get whatever water was needed for the day for cooking and drinking.  If the wind died down and someone forgot to turn off the spigot, it was disastrous.  The whole room could get flooded and down into the basement too if the wind started blowing again and no one was around to turn it off.

It was a wonderful country to grow up in.  Each season had many different interests of its own and it was impossible to find time for boredom.  When the air lost some of its crispness of winter and a gentle south or southwest wind became balmy, a spring thaw might not be too far away.  Even the thought of this was exciting.  When the snow melted, streams of water ran into the lake from all directions.  That which came from the north rushed through a culvert and could be heard from the house some distance away.  At this time, feet were always getting wet.  This put an end to our cross-country hike to school and we had a longer walk on the graded road which at times became inundated in spots, too.  A wet spring brought out many kinds of waterfowl.  Some nested and stayed all summer.

Spring also brought Play Day and Play Day nearly always seemed to bring rain but that didn't dampen the spirits too much.  The kids' day was on Saturday and the playground west of the Farmers and Merchants Bank would be teeming with kids.  The athletic events were held in the morning.  In the afternoon you were mostly on your own.  Early in the day some stores might hand out small tokens for the kids.  Marquardt's Cafe was headquarters for goodies.  There was popcorn, ice cream cones and a large assortment of candy in the candy case.  They also sold balloons filled with helium.  A sad thing could happen if you dropped your ballon for even a second.  It would be gone forever.  Matinee at the Strand; it could be Jackie Cooper, that poor little kid with the sad face and big rumply cap.  After a full day of Play Day and having eaten mostly goodies, you could be a little tired and even a little sick and glad to be home again.

When the school year ended there might be two weeks of parochial school, sometimes called Norwegian school.  That was also the time for ripe wild strawberries and they could be found in a pasture on the right hand side of the road as you were walking home.  Sometimes it took a little longer to get home.  Then came the start of summer vacation and anything could happen.  You had a feeling of a fresh freedom.  On the farm there weren't so many specific things expected of you, but you carried lunch to the field, walked for the mail, and weeded some in the garden.  One year when Dad sold strawberries in town, we picked strawberries.  We had to get the cows at milking time in the evenings and when you got to be a little older you found yourself helping with the milking and washing the separator which wasn't a fun job for any age.  If my brother had a breakdown with his machinery and I was anywhere in sight, he would say in Norwegian, "You that are so light on your feet," get me this or that, or whatever he needed.  I rather enjoyed helping him though.  It was much better than inside work like dusting the bottom of Mom's Singer sewing machine with its fancy iron grill work.  Sometimes in the summer he would go fishing in Bald Hill Creek and when he let me go with him I really enjoyed that.  There were mostly bullheads and shiners, but sometimes he caught pickerel.

Part of the summer social life was July 4 picnics and other picnics.  The Fluto Bridge, Red Willow Lake and Nils Olson's farm were some of the favorite places.  Sometimes there would be political speakers from a plank podium decorated with red, white and blue crepe paper, a lot of kids and people you didn't know, a concession where you could get pop that you'd never tasted before, and even though it was outdoors, there was the strong smell of cigars.

A lot of visiting between close neighbors was done in the evening.  There seemed to be time for it, but you didn't get acquainted with people living a few miles away unless you attended the same church or met them later when you went off to high school.

Sometimes during the summer we might take a trip to the Park River, Hoople area.  My mother's sister lived there.  That expedition was a big undertaking.  We'd leave in the morning and get there at night.  The car would need a little help to get up a steep hill.  When we came to what was later called the Langer Hill, everyone would get out and push.  I'm sure my pushing didn't help any but I was afraid to stay in the car lest it would start rolling backwards down the hill.  Some years when we didn't go up there, our relatives would come to visit us.

It must have been one of our first trips up there and Dad knew there wouldn't be a garage to park his car in so he bought a few yards of unbleached muslin sheeting and soaked it in linseed oil to waterproof it, then spread it out somewhere to dry.  That morning, before we left, he folded it carefully and stuffed it in a gunnysack and placed it in the back seat area.  After half way to our destination, someone noticed smoke curling up from it.   Dad stopped the car, jumped out, grabbed the bag, emptied the contents on the ground, and then trampled on it energetically.  He got the fire out but not before a big round hole was burned in the middle of his tarp.  He never did use it.

Most of the time the top of the car was up and in rainy weather the side curtains with their isinglass windows were buckled on.  It was upholstered in black leather and there were two seats between the front and the back seat that were used if there were extra passengers, mostly for kids.  They weren't very comfortable.  When not in use, they were folded up and fit into the car floor, practically invisible.

If you were a kid, Saturday night in Cooperstown was a gala event for those fortunate enough to go often.  Grown ups enjoyed it, too.  I had a taste of it so I knew what it was about but I didn't get to go often enough to satisfy my appetite for it.  That was one time my brother wouldn't take me along but now I don't blame him.

Dad made his town visits in the daytime and they were both business and pleasure.  He liked people and if he met an acquaintance or friend to talk with you could hear his lusty laugh a block away.  Mother didn't always go along to town but when she did, she had a lot of places to go.  She was always in a hurry and walked ' fast. If she held my hand I felt as if I was floating behind her like a streamer.  The majority of things she bought for wearing apparel were from the Larson store.  Gustav Hanson was very convincing about the merchandise being good practical bargains.  The little Hanson shoe store directly west had some well-known shoe brands like Selby and Red Goose.  Most of our shoes came from there.  Then there was the Thompson store to the east on the corner and the Syverson store another block east that had everything from rugs to toys; and toys they did have! It was like a fairyland at Christmas time.  Cooperstown was a big little town.  It had anything you wanted.  There were the meat market, bakery, jewelry store, millinery shop, hotels, opera house, harness shop, livery stable and produce buyers to name a few.

Fall and time for school again, feeling half reluctance and half anticipation at the prospect of getting together with school friends again and the new tablet, pencils and the box of crayons that smelled so delicious that you were sure to get.  A large size tablet was preferred over a small one especially if it had a pretty picture on the front cover, and of course a large box of crayons would give you a little more feeling of prestige.

After an early light snow the kids would step out a large fox and geese game.  Some had skis and some sleds.  A long sled would accommodate more kids and more to tip off coasting down a steep hill.  They took turns and shared.  An early thaw would make an accumulation of water between the hills and it would be skating time.

The wool stocking cap and scarf, home knit mittens, stockings and leggings, not to forget union suits, and high-top black cloth buckled overshoes with rubber soles didn't always keep you comfortable walking home from school facing a northerly wind.  Your toes would get a feeling there was something between them and there would be frost on your eyelashes.  If the wind was brisk, my sister would have me walk directly behind her.  She was a little older than I and she acted as my shield.  We didn't always walk.  Sometimes if it was a little stormy they would come for us and in the morning if it was stormy, we might stay home.

In the winter there were two kinds of transportation besides horseback; the wagon box on runners and a homemade outfit, a boxy looking cab, wood frame, wood front and back, the sides covered with heavy white canvas, and tall doors on either side.  There was an opening in the front so the driver could see where he was going and also for reins.  This cutter had more protection from the wind but either of these outfits were used for school transportation.  If it was very cold and you rode in the sleigh you would sit at the bottom and cover up with blankets, head and all.  Dad wore a buffalo coat and large fur mittens.  Going to a party or visiting in the winter, it was usually the sleigh.  The vehicle for going to church was the cutter.  The narrow runners would make a horrible sound like a dozen chalk on a blackboard every-time it went over a place on the road that wasn't snow covered.  Sometimes then dad would take off across country over the stubble fields.  One time when he did this we hit an uneven snowdrift and the cutter tipped.  I don't remember how we got out.  It must have been through the front opening.  It was a lucky thing we had some old calm horses.  Dad got the cutter righted again and we continued on to church.

During the winter months there was a group of neighbors that played cards regularly at different houses.  My brother was one of them and I couldn't help but worry a little when he took off on horseback on a cold dark night, but he always made it home.

Later in the summer and into the fall after the grain had been cut and the field of bundles raised up into shocks, it was threshing time.  Early in the morning you could hear the boom boom of the Rumley in the distance but couldn't tell for sure if it was the Rumley or your heartbeat.  The rate was about the same.  When the sound kept getting louder you knew it was the threshing rig coming and it might be around for a few days.

Excitement ran high.  Before now mother would have been to town and purchased an extra long piece of white oilcloth for the kitchen table and added a leaf or more to it.  Also, she would have bought some more large white cups, baked a big batch of bread and cookies, and also doughnuts if she knew the threshers were coming soon.

Breakfast was served about dawn.  The men had good appetites.  Besides cereal they might have home-cured bacon and eggs and pan-fried potatoes that had been boiled the night before, or hash.  Forenoon and afternoon lunch was brought out to the field, coffee in a two-gallon dark enamel pot.  Summer sausage or cheese was the usual for sandwiches.  Cookies, doughnuts or cake would be sent out in a large dishpan with a dishtowel for cover to keep the chaff and the flies off.  For dinner, home-canned meatballs with gravy or home-cured ham or home-raised chicken.  Round steak or other fresh meat had to be bought at the store that time of the year.  At one time there was a horse-drawn meat wagon that delivered meat at the door.  Potatoes and vegetables came out of the garden.  For dessert there was sauce, puddings, or pie.  Supper could be some kind of potatoes again, ham or bacon and eggs.

On the whole the men were a cheerful group.  Most of them were neighbors but some were from far away and had come to find work in the harvest fields.  There was always some humor at mealtime even though it had started raining before they were quite through or had a breakdown.  They played a few practical jokes and pranks on each other down around the barn area where some of the horses were kept at night.  Some of the men slept upstairs in the hay.

Alice Krogsgaard Mason

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial Page 115 

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