LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Slope County Memory Lane

We had the most delightful guests this week for supper. My mother, Marian Crook, and her sister, my godmother, Junette Henke, came for the afternoon.  Fresh walleye was on the menu.

While Jim pounded away on his keyboard in his office, we three women sat at my dining room table with stacks of papers and maps and books and went down Slope County memory lane.

My aunt is one of the authors of “The Slope Saga.” In the photo above, they are looking at my copy of the book, which I treasure, and refer to frequently, to which my mother also contributed. What a great thing those folks did when they published this book.

I remember as a youngster, spending the night at my aunt’s Slope County ranch, sleeping on the sofa bed and waking up to see my aunt “burning the midnight oil,” reading and working on the book, and wondering, “does this woman ever sleep?”

When I told her this, she chuckled. She and my Uncle Alan brought home boxes filled with The Marmarth Mail and sifted through it for material, along with stacks of the submissions of everyone from the county. I guess they had a system.  It still boggles my mind.

Now, when I look at the stacks of articles and books in my “office,” I laugh and think of them. One thing really does lead to another, it turns out. Junette encourages me to write my own stories, and so I do.

They both are still as sharp-witted as ever, playing a fierce game of pinochle at their respective assisted living centers, and I mine their memories for interesting tidbits and answers to puzzles I have, things that I had little interest in as a teenager, but want to understand better now. Junette says she now sees no reason to take some of this to the grave and is very eager and open with the details of heretofore untold stories.

They both also have a terrific sense of humor, and I think they are pleased that I am so interested in North Dakota’s rich history, and in Slope County’s (although I live now in Burleigh County). Certainly, they are interested in the little nuggets I dig up with resources beyond their wildest imagination.

While driving along in the car, my mother and I talked about the news reports (and my husband’s blog account) of the State Water Commission granting more rights for industrial use of the Little Missouri River water. My mother said, in her octogenarian wisdom, “people need to understand that ‘water is gold!’ ” She is dismayed by what she reads is happening. She lived through the Dirty Thirties and the Depression.

As for me, I have vivid memories of the crisis created at our ranch when we would have difficulties with the well. We had lovely, clean water from that well, and we hung a metal cup on the windmill so that anyone going by could pull on the hand pump and take a quick drink. I remember that the Getz’s, our nearest neighbors, had soft water, but ours was HARD and filled with iron. When I left for college, I struggled somewhat to adjust to the Dickinson, N.D., water. I was, no doubt, used to the taste of our Slope County well water.

But I digress.

By the time supper was served, Aunt Junette had gone back in her memory and drawn an old trail on my map, a trail I will write about in a future blog. The day ended with much laughter, and many fond memories were shared. And I knew more about my ancestors than ever.

For dessert, we ate the last of the weekend’s juneberries, with a little ice cream, and we all agreed that these were “drought juneberries,” a little small and hard and not as tasty or juicy as they should be. We all enjoyed the treat nonetheless.

I told them a funny story about the recent harvest. When Jim and I were in the patch and my bowl was almost full, I got tangled in the brush. I knew I was going down, but I managed to keep the bowl upright! Now, that is getting my priorities right. The berries survived and I was unhurt.

Thank you so very much, Mom and Junette. I do love you both so!

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