In 2007, my mother, Marian Crook, wanted to write her memoir (expanding on what had been written in Slope Saga and taking her story on through her long and adventurous life), and she asked me to assist her. Although she had in the later years of her career in nursing certainly used a computer to chart for her patients at United Hospital, she did not own a computer ever in her life, although once I gave her a laptop and she gave it a try. Instead, she wrote her memoir in her copperplate handwriting and gave the pages to me to transcribe on my computer. I would print a version, take it to her to make corrections, interview her for clarification and then go home and make changes. Ultimately, I printed a version in December 2007 so she could give it to her children for Christmas. Later in life, she was distressed because her handwriting deteriorated as she got “shaky” and would explain that one of her grandmothers had palsy. Following is my Mother’s memoir, in her own words. (Edited for clarity by me, Lillian Crook.)
One of my first memories is sitting on Mom’s (Lillian Hovick Silbernagel’s) lap in a chair in what now I realize was my Grandfather’s rosary service (this would be Anton Silbernagel’s Rosary service). The chairs were common, round-backed, wooden chairs. It is still vivid in my mind. We sat in the front row.
The only time I remember Dad (Andy Silbernagel) holding me was when I was sick, and the old wood rocking chair would be covered in some kind of sheet or blanket, and a little tin steamer would be directed at our heads. Poor Dad, it must have been miserably hot under there.
That year Lauretta and Junette got new hats from Montgomery Ward and surprise, I have one, too. I practically wore it to bed. We were going to town, and it was terribly windy. Mom wanted me to leave the hat at home because she said it might blow away. I assume I pitched a fit, because I wore it, and oh yes! Just as we were going into Svenby’s a gust of wind blew my hat away. And off it sailed! We did not go after it. I was told, by Lillian Silbernagel, to “hush,” and that “if I had listened, my hat would still be home and safe.”
The summers were so hot we would sleep on the floor in front of the screen door and hope for a breeze. The mosquitoes were too bad to sleep outside. During the day, they ate you alive, and what was left the darn grasshopper scratchy feet crawling on you. The gnats were wild, and I didn’t have sense enough to not scratch big ones [gnat bits], even though Mom (Lillian) tried to help my misery.
We had a room fixed up in the old Perrigo house, and various people slept out there in good weather. I remember there was an old horse blanket out there. Dad would sleep out there sometimes, and he knew that snakes hunted mice in the old house. One morning toward fall, he stretched out, waking up, and whoa! His feet encountered something smooth and cool feeling. He lay there still, thinking, Snake! Finally, he drew the covers back and there was one of my many kitties snuggled down at his feet. It felt like a snake to him.
My Dad gave me many a memory. I suppose that is because I followed him like a faithful puppy. He taught me how to grease the machinery. I would watch him overhaul engines and ask a million questions. Lauretta and Junette were busy learning how to be ladies, and I was content with being my father’s only son. I wasn’t very old when I understood how a combustion engine worked, how a motor should sound, the difference between a cotter key and carriage bolts, and so on.
I learned to drive very early on by steering the Model A behind the folks (Lillian and Andy) as they fixed fence. They soon trusted me to drive pretty well everywhere, on the hills, around the rocks, over hills and dale.
I spent hours and hours in that Model A. I went out with the sheep in the morning and came home at noon, or when the sun was overhead since I had no clock or watch. This is why I became a voracious reader. I also sang a lot as though I was at the Met. It was so quiet, and no one to talk to, except the dog, and he didn’t do a lot of talking. I’d beat my hand on the door and yell. At sundown, I would drive the sheep home down the lane to the barnyard. The dog had learned to ride on the running board. After one long, hot, lovely day, just as I was about to get them started into the lane, I hit a prairie dog hold with the Model A, and for some reason, the horn engaged. “Ooga, ooga, ooga!” it went, and the dog jumped off and took for home. It was several days before I could convince the dog that it was safe to ride in the car with me again.
One time, Dad was putting a new manger in the barn, and as usual, his “shadow” was there — me. He was busy drilling the holes for the chains that we used to tie up the cows. The old brace and bit were marking curls of wood and every so often, he’d blow into the hold to clear it. Of course, I wanted to do that, too. The one thing Dad didn’t tell me is that, when you blow into the hole, you should close your eyes. As a result, I got another of the many great lessons the hard way.
Later Dad was going into the nearby coal mine for a load of coal in the old ’29 Ford truck. It was pretty cold, but Mom dressed me warm. A couple of hot bricks for my feet and away we went over to the Halleck Mine north of Bowman. While he loaded the coal, I sat in the weighing house by the heater, my bricks reheating for the trip home. I think about all of the time I spent with Dad and can see that it was his way of helping Mom keep this busy chatterbox (me) out of her hair, so she could sew or whatever.
Someone had given me a little Kewpie doll that I was devoted to. I went to the outhouse and the doll rolled off into the hole. I went to the house, crying for Mom to come and help. Bless her, she got a rake, got the doll out of the outhouse hole, and washed it up.
We had a doghouse that the dog slept in during the winter, but come summer, I evicted the dog and made the doghouse mine. I spent many hours “decorating” and playing there with my doll and made furniture out of cardboard boxes when I could get boxes. I never lacked in imagination, and since I was alone so much, no one to argue with. I think about how many fleas, etc. there must have been in there, but I never remember being bothered by them.
Going back to my memories, I remember going to Henry’s (Andy’s brother) and allowing, with reluctance, this old man who lay in a bed behind a curtain, to feel my hair and call me his little girl with long curls. I also remember the Sunday that they moved him from Henry’s to Annie’s (Andy’s sister). We stood in the living room window and Mom said, “Well, there he goes.” I only saw him once more at Annie’s before he died.
We took a load of oats over to Harry’s in the cold, in the Model T truck. Mom had a plush coat of some kind that she wore. Of course, at that time, there were no car heaters, but we did have a box-like thing, a drawer that you could put hot goals in; and of course, the old standby warm bricks. Looking back on it, it probably was their way of paying for Grandpa’s keep. I also remember no windshield wipers. One only — of the driver’s side — that you worked manually. Lord help you if it was slippery and you needed both hands on the wheel.
I remember Aunt Emma telling me about the first time Dad drove a car. Henry Holmes (Aunt Bertha’s husband) got a new car (I don’t remember what model). Aunt Emma lived on the Malmon place east of us. The men showed Dad where the clutch, spark, and gas were and took him out to the pasture, and let him go. Since this was a new experience, and no one was riding with him, there was no help when he ran into problems. These men stood to the side and said, “The darn fool is going to kill himself.” That said, Dad’s driving never would have taken any safety awards. Once he got the car, a 1939 Ford, hung up on a rock pile; and all he damaged was he knocked the battery loose. Lauretta and Junette can attest to the fact that, if you were chasing something, it was “hang on and shut up!” He was always going through a gate, thinking he’d be right back, and get delayed and I swear, the animals knew to watch for him to go through the gate and ESCAPE! And then the chase would be on!
He always preached to me that if it looked like I was heading for the ditch, “drive straight in, then you won’t tip over.”
Our house consisted of a kitchen, a living room (not very large), and a bedroom. The bedroom had a window on the north and east sides. These windows were only about 2½ feet square, and they swung to the side. In the summer, that bedroom was not a cool place to sleep.
Mom was a peaceful person and usually was very calm. She always drove the skittish horse teams on the mower, and Dad drove the calmer ones. His team was Beauty and Brownie, and Mom’s was Blackie and Bird.
I wasn’t very old when one of Uncle Henry’s horses got equine encephalitis, and the poor horse named Chub staggered around and around in circles before he died. Henry had a saddle horse named Babe. The horses got out one time, and she got cut up in the barbed wire. We had a telephone line on the fence between Henry’s and our house. Dad called us and told us he might have to shoot Babe because it looked like her leg was too damaged to save her. Since the family also called Junette “Babe”, I was horrified, because I thought they were going to shoot Junette, and I cried and cried since I couldn’t believe anyone would be shot because she hurt her leg.
Aunt Dora would drop in once in a while, and never failed to bring something with her. One time, it was a little demitasse set. I still have it, four little cups and saucers. Sometimes it was a little book, but since she didn’t come often, I wasn’t overwhelmed. I remember once she came and went to Mrs. Robert’s west of Amidon, and got a puppy, a Pomeranian, and she called it Trusty Babe. It was not very trustful. I dearly loved little animals and would never have hurt them, but Trusty always hid from me.
I must have been about five when Aunt Marie and a friend came to visit for a couple of days. Mrs. Kaiser must have bought a blue silk dress for a grandchild or something, but she must have seen how little we had and gave the dress to me. I was so proud of that dress; I wore it every time I possibly could until it just would not fit me. It’s the only boughten dress I can remember having until Lauretta and Junette began to give me things when they had gone to work. Mother was a fair seamstress, and all her sisters were also, except Aunt Emma Luke. Emma was our main source of loving embraces and kisses. In later years, some of the notes said how envious they were of my tailored clothes, and I admitted to being jealous of their things from the store, Oh, the folly of youth!
When I started school, I was only five years old and very shy. The teacher wanted me to start because she had three boys in the first grade, and thought I would fit in. I fit like a square peg in a round hole. I was scared to death! We had Lee and Richard Germann, Ronald Kendall and Bobbie Germann as eighth-graders. When I started school, it was sight-reading and cursive writing. No phonics; spelling was achieved by writing the word until it became second nature. I always envied the kids with short names, since I had a heck of a handle. For the most part, I was too shy to make much trouble.
The first teacher was Clarabel Arneson. She was nice, a lower-grade teacher. I was too young to know how she was to the older grades. The next year, Ruth Swanson came, and it was determined that I should board with the teacher. One room and two outhouses (girl/boy) were our domiciles. She had a Murphy bed that folded down. It was darned cold in that old school, so she lined the springs and mattresses with newspaper to keep the cold from creeping in. Sure was noisy, if you were a restless sleeper. One thing about living with the teacher, was you couldn’t shirk your work, but also, if you had questions, you could ask.
So began my Monday morning through Friday afternoon, living out of a suitcase. It wasn’t a very big suitcase. I had a change of underwear (long underwear in winter), two pairs of long socks, one pair of shoes, one dress for school and another for play, pajamas, and a toothbrush, and hairbrush, and I was set.
The third year I was back home, because the teacher, Lucille Hozmer, didn’t want a boarder. She lasted until Christmas, and I must say, I don’t remember learning much that year. After Christmas, Leola Sipma arrived, and out came my suitcase again. I really loved her. She recognized what an introvert I was becoming, and we played cards and paper dolls after supper, and it made my week go much faster.
The fourth year our school closed, and I was shipped off to Cash school, where I boarded with the teacher in the teacherage that had two rooms across the way from the school. Ruth Esther Merz was not only an experienced teacher but a piano teacher, too. So, of course, I started lessons. She was a wonderful person, but she had a handle on everything, and we even went for long nature walks across the prairie.
In winter, we found an old running board that we used for a toboggan. There were nine kids in the school. An eighth-grade girl and I were the only girls. Needless to say, playtime got a little rough. One time, Stubers had put up an electric fence around a field and the big boys determined that they were going to watch me dance, so they held my hands on the wire. Little did they know that my shoes had rubber soles and heels and that their leather ones grounded them; it was their hair that stood on end, not mine.
I spent fourth and fifth grade with Mrs. Merz and was introduced to the Lord through her faith, although she did not push it in any way. It just was her way of living.
Bobby Silbernagel (Henry’s oldest) started first grade the next year, so between Dad and Henry, they hauled us to Cash the first half of that year, and in the spring, I went to board at Orvin and Mabel Sunden’s house in Rhame. What a rude awakening! Big school, lots of kids, and Leona Engesser, who, whenever you asked a question, the answer was, “It’s in the book.” That was one long year. Then Mom rented a couple of rooms over the Rhame Bank, and we stayed up there, actually in the same rooms I had been born in.
When the lambing started, Dad needed her, and Lauretta stayed a while. Then I moved up the hill to Mrs. Strom’s for a couple of months. She was a good cook, yet frugal. I had a 15-watt bulb in my bedroom. Not much of a hardship for a kid who was used to kerosene lamps.
The next year, Harmony was moved closer to our place and reopened because Getz’s had one boy, Myran. Henry’s had Bobby, Jane and Joann (twins), and Al Schaefer had Lola and Leo, so we had a seventh-grader (me), fifth-grader (Lola), third-graders (Leo), Bobby and Myran (second), and first-graders (Jane and Joann). Kathleen Bakken was a teacher, and she boarded at Henry’s. Even at that age, Bobby was a poor sport in that, if he was “it”, he wasn’t playing. I drove the Model A to school for the most part, and when there was a lot of snow, I cut across the fields with my sled.
One morning, I got to the top of the hill, put my sled down, jumped on, flying down the long hill, and looked up to see a coyote watching me, as though trying to figure out if this was some kind of new animal. I began to be a little nervous when he stood his ground, so I got off and waved and yelled, and then he took off, and I continued on my way to school.
The eighth grade found us boarding the teacher, Mrs. Ethel Willis. She rode to school with me in that Model A every day, and in the evenings, I understood, I filled an awful gap in my education. She found out that I had never gotten my grammar straight. We worked nearly every evening after supper for an hour or so, starting with the basics. We diagrammed sentences until it all made sense. I began to see it like a giant jigsaw puzzle that just needed to fit right. From then on, if I had a question in my mind, I would diagram it.
When I went to Cash, I would go home on the weekends, and Mom would wash my hair and couldn’t understand why my hair wasn’t even. It was because if my hair got onto Donald Burke’s desk behind me, he’d snip some off. The teacher never caught him. He also would go by my desk, reach out, and hit me. He always got by with it.
The Merz’s had a traveling roller skating outfit that Joe would take from town to town. They would pick me up and take me to Rhame with them, and I’d skate the whole night for free. One summer, they wanted to take me with them to Glacier, where they had a contract for the summer, but that wasn’t for me. I couldn’t imagine being away from the folks and my animals for that long at a time.
Dad usually only milked two or three cows at a time. We had plenty of milk for our needs, the bucket calves, bum lambs, and most importantly, for my cats. At one time, I had 21 cats that we tamed, and a lot of them were housebroken. I loved them, although I can never remember naming any. Dad used to run into a bunch of mice in the granary or someplace, and he’d call, “Kitty, kitty,” and you could see them coming from everywhere.
One night, he was milking one cow, and I was milking another one when a whole line of cats waited for us to fill their old kettle, and I heard Dad mutter, “Milk one cow for the cats.” I usually had 10 or 12 bum lambs to feed, three times a day, all summer, and a bucket calf or two. There were chickens and various other critters, too. Turkeys seemed to be the densest of all. The hens would drag the poults out in all kinds of weather, and we’d have to gather the dumb things up, dry them off, and try to warm them up. The only animal that I can think of that we did not make a place for behind the cookstove was a horse. Mom might have put her foot down about that.
One spring, the roads were really bad, and we got a call to say our chick order was in. So we went over the prairie, early while it was still frozen a bit, and got to town, delivered the cream and eggs, and started home. South of the southeast corner of Section 26, there was a creek with two culverts. It was covered in water, and unknown to us, it was washed out between the tubes. Down went the front wheels, nothing for it, but Dad had to walk home while Mom and I sat there with 200 cheeping baby chicks. I thought he must have left the country before he finally came with the tractor. Fortunately, nothing was broken, only our eardrums. Poor little guys, they were hungry, thirsty, and probably none too warm.
I must admit to having a fiery temper. Once, I went out to feed a bucket calf in my bare feet (as usual), and it put its nose in the bucket and tipped the milk out. So, I had to catch the cow, milk another bucketful, and when he started to do it again, I drew back to kick him in the nose, missed him, and hit the feed rack, which was a 2-by-12 and much stronger than my toe or my toenail. Needless to say, I hurt and shattered my nail clear to the bottom. I hopped to the house. Mom asked, “what happened?” I told her and she cleaned it, stuck a rag on, and I got zero sympathies, only a lecture on controlling my temper. She would warn you of danger, and if you were foolish enough not to heed her words, you got short and sweet justice. Neither of my folks ever laid a hand on me, but if Mom was irritated and said she was going to “knock you to a peak and know the peak,” you listened.
There was a prairie fire burning over the west by the old metal signpost on the main north/south road and Mom said we might have to leave, so I was to put my most dear things in the car and be ready. I ran frantically all over the place, getting my cats and shutting them in the coal shed. I can’t imagine how I expected to be able to take them with us, but I think now Mom gave me a job to do, so I would be occupied by something other than worrying about the fire. They got the fire out over west of the main road with only a little bit on the east side. We were always very wary of fire because there was no way to control it once it started, except through barrels of water, gunnysacks, old blankets, and plowing firebreaks. I remember hearing stories of the old-timers killing a critter and dragging half the carcass across the fire when no water was available.
Now we have learned the dangers of asbestos, but my generation remembers how we had asbestos in our homes and schools to protect us from fire. We had it behind the stoves on the wall around the chimney on the floor under the stove and anywhere there was a source of the fire. Dad had his own forge in the shop, and he did a lot of his own ironwork. I can still see the old anvil and how it did ring if you hit it with a hammer. Of course, you weren’t supposed to do that, but what kid can resist a good noise?
We had a rain barrel on the northwest corner of the house. We used this for washing hair and special things. It was such fun to stand on something so you could hear your voice reverberate in the half-empty tank. My, your singing sounded good! There were so many ways to amuse yourself. We could have any bent nails we could find that couldn’t be straightened and reused. All you needed was some string, which Mom would provide, and you had a fence. Then you found different colored rocks for cows, etc. and you had a farm.
When we had a large potato patch, we had the inevitable potato bugs. Mom would give me a coffee can with some kerosene in it and down the row I went with a stick and hit the bugs off into the can. Uncle Henry, Dad, Walt and Glen Parks had a threshing machine in partnership. When harvest time came, they moved from one place to another and threshed the grain that each family had cut, shocked into piles, and hauled with horses to the machine. It went without saying that Walt ran the machine and Glen hauled the grain by truck to each farmer’s granary. Henry and Dad kind of organized the bundle teams (two horses, hay rack and driver).
Of course, the women were expected to feed all those men for however many days it took to thresh your grain. It was a heck of a job because some of the bundle teams stayed over, so it was breakfast, coffee, dinner, coffee, and supper. The teams were usually changed at noon because it was hot, and hard work for the horses.
As usual, I was up to no good. Glen had the ladder up against the granary and I was curious how it would look from up there, so up I went. I never minded going up on the roof, haystack, or anything I could climb. But I hit a snag (the shingles were splintery) and I got some stickers and it hurt to hold on to the ladder, so there I sat in the sun. Glen couldn’t hear me with the elevator running and when he turned it off, he looked up and said, “Stay there, I’ll be back” and off he drove for another load of grain. By the time he came back, I was pretty hot and thirsty, but it taught me to look before I climbed.
I can still see Dad sitting on the seat of the whetstone, sharpening sickles while Mom made supper. My job was to bring water for the stone. He did all his repairs like that. The only thing we took to town was something that had to be welded since we didn’t have electricity.
We had some wonderful neighbors, and the people were like family. We went far and wide to play cards on Sundays. Grandma and Grandpa Jensen, Jens and Lyla Jensen, the Bloomgrens, Walt and Laura Carlson, Elle and Archie Kendall. The Parks weren’t card players, but she made the most beautiful quilts. Glen and Walt were carpenters as well as farmers.
Everyone had big gardens, which included the nasty word “weeds.” No one was exempt from that chore. Our garden was across the barnyard from the house. This allowed some watering from the stock tank by “ditching” since the garden was lower than the well. One time, we had all been to the garden and were headed to the house. We had one ewe who had a bad habit of attacking you. This day, she chose Junette, who had a rake in her hand. She jabbed the rake between the sheep’s front legs and lifted. She held on until Mom turned back to shoo the sheep away. I never saw an animal scare my mother. She just waved her apron at them and said, “Shoo!”
One time, Mom and I were shocking grain bundles just west of the trees. I never liked to use a pitchfork since it was faster to grab a bundle and jam it down and then build my pyramid. Mom said something to me just as I was going to reach for a bundle and then I heard the dreaded “rattle.” There was a rattler under that bunch of shocks!
Another thing that we often did as a group was picking berries. We’d take a picnic lunch and drive over west to the edge of the Badlands with all the milk pails, boxes, etc. We picked Juneberries, chokecherries, currants, plums, and buffalo berries. They sure tasted good and made a wonderful dessert in the winter.
Once, Esther Bloomgren, and her sons Edgar Pearson and Ernie Bloomgren stopped on their way to pick berries and I went along. They had a 1928 Chevy. We spent the day filling all the containers. The weather changed and it rained and rained. When we finally got just west of our place, the creek had come up, but we started across slowly. We made it about halfway when we stopped because the engine had stalled. Edgar got out and started to walk the half-mile to the farm. Meanwhile, the rising water began to run into the car. Esther wasn’t afraid, merely worried about our berries! The water ran in one side and out the other. Finally, Ernie tried to inch the car out after it had dried out the ignition. We got out and when we got to the house, we found all the kettles, pots, etc. under leaks in the kitchen roof on the west side. We had just missed the hail.
The hill to the southeast had a lot of rocks on it, we called it the sheep pasture. When we would have a thunderstorm, we could stand at the kitchen door and watch lightning strike after lightning strike. It was like a Fourth of July show!
Esther Bloomgren had a cousin come to visit from New York City. Like all of those friends, we had them over for supper, and as we ladies (I was a kid) were washing up, the men sat outside and visited. It was a quiet night with a full moon, and the coyotes were howling. This lady heard them and asked, “what was that?” to which we replied, “Oh that’s just the coyotes.” Her eyes got big and she asked, “Are they loose?” It took a lot of control not to laugh our heads off. She thought animals like that were penned up like in a zoo in New York.
When I began to take the Model A and herd the sheep all day, Dad decided I should learn how to shoot the .22 rifle. So, one evening after supper, we went out into the barnyard, and he showed me how to work it. There was a tall pole in the corral with a rope hanging from it. We used it to pull hay from the hayrack up on the stack when the stack got too tall to pitch it up there. Dad said, “Aim for the rope.” He figured if I aimed that high, the bullet would go off into thin air and not hurt anything. I aimed, fired, and cut the rope. I was horrified! I knew how much that rope cost and how little money we had. He was astounded and absolved me of blame. But the next lesson we had was to shoot into a cut bank, and I was a good shot (despite my double-vision). The only thing I ever shot was a snake or two and a couple of coyotes. Killing things was never a temptation and the first rule is don’t aim at anything you don’t aim to kill.
Dad had a tendency for expecting a car to do more than it should. At times, we found ourselves knee-deep in snow or mud, while Mother would mutter, “Crazy man.”
Like all kids, I would take shortcuts. It was snowy and icy, but not too cold, and Mom said to take some kitchen scraps to the chickens. I flew out the door and to the chicken coop, threw them in, shut the door, and took off back to the house. We had some big old flat rocks for steps. I hit one of those on the ice, and down I went. I would up with a broken tailbone.
There had been coal pails sitting on the banking, waiting to be filled. On my way down, I grabbed for something to hold onto, and so they came, too. It was one heck of a racket! It brought Mom to the door to see what was going on. As usual, one did not get sympathy if one did something foolish and then got hurt. It was dealt with as though it was a lesson to think before doing something dangerous. Some of those same stones have now been used in various landscape projects in the North Dakota homes of my children.
We had some wonderful hills to use our sleds and various other things to slide on. A scoop shovel worked well, no matter what kind of snow it was. You sat in the scoop and put your feet on the handle and steered by leaning and using your feet to move the front. The tricky part got to when you hit a rock or something, and the shovel went flying. It sometimes came mighty close to hitting you on the downward path.
I remember that Junette and Lauretta took me up into the sheep pasture once with them to slide. Junette had brought an old dishpan for her sled. It didn’t work too bad, except it tended to go around and around a lot. She always had lots of good ideas. Lauretta’s plans tended to be more elaborate, and always involved someone else doing the testing.
The chickens were Lauretta’s main chore, It was about the biggest animal she wanted anything to do with. In the summer, the chickens were free-range and tended to nest in the bar and other places. You would watch, and when you saw a hen come proudly cackling “hen pride,” you could bet she had a nest somewhere. For whatever reason, I had put the milk cows in the barn, and was feeding them, when she came to get the eggs. She had a pail half full. When she went to put her head into the barn window to take the eggs from the nest in the manger, the cow put her head out. What a screech! Up flew the eggs and the cow withdrew her head as though to say, “What was that?”
There was a bounty on coyotes and up by Black Butte, a hunter named Bill Synder would hunt nearly anything. He had a team of greyhounds that he would come with, and he’d stay at our house for a couple of days, hunting the area. I was scared to death of those dogs. Poor Mom would have to go with me to the outhouse or anywhere I needed to go when the dogs were there. Bills’ wife, Laura, was an old friend of Mom’s, where the Hovicks (Kjelv and Maren) had lived some years before that. His hunting did help clean out some of the critters that killed our sheep, and in some cases, the dogs mutilated them.
Ralph Perrin and Clarence Hestikin hunted by air and that helped, too. I’m glad Snyder stayed on the ground since when he was chasing a coyote, there were no barriers. One time, he caught a bobcat and hit it on the head, and threw it in the trunk of his car. He was late getting home, and since it was freezing, he left the car in the garage and went in. The next morning, he lifted the trunk lid to one very angry bobcat, who scratched him up good for his trouble. Needless to say, that was one bobcat who got away.
Those years, the early ’40s, we had a hard time protecting the sheep from the coyotes. We’d put out lanterns and flares at night on the bed grounds and sometimes sleep up there on the hill with the sheep. Sometimes, you’d hear the sheep stirring and turn on the car lights to see what had bothered them and discover it was a rattler making his way across the ground. Sure made me keep my feet in the car, I’ll tell you. We’d take turns staying out because that Model A was small, and the mosquitoes and flies weren’t very good either.
When the threshers were at our house, Mom cooked long hours, and, in the fall, the flies were always bad. We’d set the tables and over everything, and as the men washed up, we’d flap the dishtowels from one end of the house to the kitchen, and while one held open the door, the others would chase out all the flies they could and everyone would swat as many as possible so that the men could eat in peace.
Another marathon of neighbors helping neighbors was shearing time. Many neighbors ran sheep because of the dry years in the 30s when the land would not support animals that could get by on practically nothing but weeds. Kendalls (Archie and Ella), Parks (Walt, Glen and Nettie), Beyers (Fred and his wife), and Stegners, all in our area, raised sheep. Beyers’ sons Ray and Harold had a shearing outfit. They went from place to place in June and sheared each flock of sheep, and as with threshing, we all banded together to help. We left Uncle Henry out. He hated sheep, so he was milking cows and raised pigs.
My job was to help pack the wool fleeces hung from a platform. It took a small person to get into the bag and jump up and down on the bundles of wool that were thrown up into the bag. It was important to not have holes in the wool, so it was hot, sweaty, smelling, and full of sheep ticks. As I remember, each wool sack weighed about 300 pounds when they were sold, and we usually had six to eight bags to haul into Bowman for sale. After the sale, I would get about $5 for the sale of the fleeces from the sheep I had raised as bum lambs. It was a great deal of money to me. I saved for three years to buy a bicycle. My bicycle caused my cousin, Bobby’s eyes to get green with envy, so of course, he then got one, too. His went faster, but mine climbed hills better. I remember going over to play with Lola Schafer north of Parks’ about a 3-mile ride as I got to the top of a hill, and as I began to coast down the hill a rattler began to cross the road. I could see I couldn’t stop so I lifted my legs up and tore right over him. I pedaled like crazy. You would have thought the snake was going to chase me or something.
My fear of snakes was so much a part of life that it followed me all my life. There were snake dens in the hills southeast of the house and every summer we’d run onto them in various places. It was etched into my head that you never put your hand or foot where you couldn’t see and for all my life that remained true.
In July, we’d sell the wool, and, in the fall, we’d sell the lambs. Our truck was a 1929 or ’30 Ford. One Friday afternoon Dad stopped at the school with a load of lambs going to the stockyard. We were chugging along and as we started down the hill toward the spillway just before the main road, the steering road broke, and off we went into the creek. The lambs saw the creek bank above them and some of them got out. So, then we had lambs to chase and a truck to fix and the sun would soon be going down. I have no idea what Dad did but I know I was busy gathering up the lambs so he could catch them because if we left them the coyotes would get them. Since he always had tools and baling wire, he made a temporary patch, and off we went. I remember like it was yesterday that we stopped at the bank after delivering the lambs and that night as we sat down for supper with Mom, he took out his checkbook and handed her a $100 bill and said, “That’s ours.” I suspect that went we stopped at the bank, he paid off a loan and felt pretty good about it. I think about how hard they worked and used and reused everything all their lives and feel so grateful I had such good role models.
During World War II, we saved everything. All the old iron was hauled to town for the war. Every tin can was cut on both ends and squashed up and bundled up. Anything aluminum was salvaged even the tin foil on gum wrappers was saved. Every extra penny went to Savings Bonds although Dad knew that after World War I, the “Liberty Bonds” of that time became valueless after the bank failures. All the young men in the neighborhood were subject to the World War II draft. Even Dad had to register, and he was a farmer — considered a vital industry. I remember when Pearl Harbor was bombed, and we heard it on the radio. I really didn’t know what it meant but I put my snow pants and stuff on and went to walk in the trees with the dog because I knew it was something bad.
One summer during the war, Junette was in college at Dickinson and came home in the summer and we proceeded to clear the prairie of old bones. It was something else that was being shipped to be made into fertilizer. It wasn’t a nice job but we sure worked hard at it. We only had a coal stove and no matter how hot it was you had to keep the coal buckets full for Mom. It was miserable to can all the stuff in the hot summer after working outside all day. Mom was not one to lose her temper easily, but one night we were canning corn after she had driven the tractor ahead of the combine all day, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt came on the radio, and said, “The farm women will simply have to work harder.” Mom had an iron skillet in her hand and smacked that old cookstove with a whack that shocked us all and then she said, “I’d like to see her following my shoes for a day.”
Harvesting was dirty, dusty, itchy work and so Dad rigged up an outside shower with a barrel and hung something around a platform. Boy did that feel good after the sun had warmed the water, but it was a quick shower so all three could wash up before we went to bed. Of course, the downside was helping carry pails of water to fill the barrel after we washed up.
Our well had good tasking cold as ice water and Dad rigged up a barrel between the well and the stock tank with a shelf where we could keep stuff cool since we didn’t have a fridge. We’d fill jugs with cold water and wrap them in old gunny sacks and wet them down to take to the field with us and put those in the shade. The water kept fairly cool and at noon we’d refill and so we had plenty to drink. That summer Junette was home from college was one of the happiest summers I can remember. She was so full of ideas and always had a project underway. She decided the bed looked too old-fashioned so she took it apart and went to the shop with the headboard and proceeded to cut it down to make it the foot of the bed and therefore as though it would be more modern. She took the bedroom windows down to hinge them from the ceiling instead of the side. One hitch was that we couldn’t get the windows to stay in place up there and rain was coming so here comes Dad to the rescue. He fussed but Mom convinced him that it was just as easy to put them up there where Junette intended so he did. And that’s the way they stayed until 1948 when we redid the house and put in all new windows.
During those hard years when so of the pioneers were leaving North Dakota (many headed to the Pacific coast), the U.S. government bought their homestead lands and sold the buildings for little or nothing, and Dad bought some of these buildings and moved them to our place. There was a big shed on the Hjelm land that was moved to the back of the barnyard and served well for another fifty years. The chicken coop had been Grandma Rustin’s house. There was a hog shed that came from somewhere and some more that he tore down for the lumber. I’ve pulled many a nail and straightened them so they could be used again. We used this lumber to fashion gates and repair buildings.
Since all we had was an outhouse, my Mom was pretty fussy about it being kept clean. She scrubbed it periodically and threw chlorinated lime down the holes to keep the smell down. I always said we had running water since it seemed to be continuous to hear, “Take the water pail and fill.” So you ran to the well, filled it, and trudged back. Then you had to take the slop bucket out to the pig trough and empty it. As I said, “running water.”
Our radio was battery operated. It ran on the same kind of battery that the car, etc. we used, and we had a wind charger on top of the garage to recharge the batteries. We were pretty careful to not use the radio too much because if something happened to one of the batteries we had to be on the list for a new one. You couldn’t buy tires and gasoline was rationed. So, we were canned goods, sugar, meat, shoes, coffee, and more. I remember we had stamps or ration coupons for all those things. Nylons and cigarettes weren’t rationed but impossible to get. The older girls drew lines up their legs to simulate the seam of a nylon stocking and were fussy about that line is straight. Mom would re-roast the coffee grounds on the back of the stove. The canned goods didn’t bother us much because we canned so much of our own. Dad hardly ever bought a pair of shoes because he needed rather special ones, so the girls usually got his ration stamps. He also had shoemaking equipment. The girls could have two pairs a year. Didn’t present a problem for me either since I got only one pair a year before I started school.
The biggest town we’d ever go to was Miles City (Mont.), where Grandpa and Grandma Hovick lived in a house on Garland Street. It was fascinating to me. It had a wonderful front porch and all the amenities (indoor plumbing, electricity). I couldn’t talk to my Grandma because she only spoke Norwegian but all my aunts and uncles and Mom spoke it fluently so they were my interpreter. Grandma had palsy really bad, so she went from her bed to a chair to the table and back. She was always reading her Norwegian Bible. Grandpa was another story. He was full of energy, and he walked many miles every day. By this time, Aunt Emma and Uncle Luke (who had been Slope County homesteaders on their own) lived in a duplex in their first years in Miles City and later bought a big old house on Cottage Grove. It was the first place I ever saw electric Christmas lights on a tree. Aunt Anna and Uncle Gay lived in a tiny house on what was called “The Island” near the river. When I was in Miles City, I’d walk down there because they had a Shetland pony and Aunt Anna (the youngest of the Hovicks, Lillian’s youngest sibling) was always fun to be with. Aunt Bertha managed the Hyde Hotel and Aunt Marie (the oldest of the Hovicks) took care of Grandpa and Grandma. Uncle Helmer came and went on his own terms. Helmer, a veteran of World War II, had a coal mine and herded sheep for a big outfit out of Jordan, Mont. Uncle Lawrence lived in the basement and what a junk collector he was. Both Helmer and Lawrence were bachelors. In later years, after my grandparents were dead, Lawrence had a house on Tatro Street that had various sheds by it. He never missed a circus and would buy a big bundle of tickets and hand them out to the poor kids in the neighborhood. He also would buy groceries for a family if he deemed them needy and worth his help. When he was found dead one morning, he had his tickets for the circus on the table with him. And the Hovick clan cleaned out his junk, donating or reusing it all, no doubt.
One year my Mom bought a string of eight lights that could be hooked up to a battery and we had the first Christmas tree I ever remember having at the farm until later years when there began to be grandchildren. Aunt Lena and Uncle Paul would always send a Christmas card with a $1 bill in it for me. One year they were there for vacation in August and gave Bobby a farm set. Oh, how I loved that set. For Christmas that year I got a dollhouse, and I was so disappointed. I had wanted a farm set like Bobby’s. I tried not to show how I felt because I knew how much Mom had tried to please me.
The winter I was in the sixth grade, Mom and I lived above the bank in Rhame. When it came time for lambing, Mom went home and Lauretta came to stay with me. I was friends with Joan Zielsdorf, Carol Hestekin, and Celia Rosenthal (who lived by the city park). Sydney Monroe was our age and made our life miserable. Lauretta got tired of it and pelted him with snowballs and made his nose bleed. Being the ultimate softie, she felt terrible, but he did not leave us alone after that. Lauretta must have only stayed a short while (off for her own life adventures to beauty school in Bismarck) because then I moved in with Mrs. Mabel Strom at the end of Main Street up on the hill. At that time water in Rhame was always breaking down at some point, so Mrs. Strom kept her bathtub full of water to use when the water pressure was down. After years of washing in the washtub by the cookstove at the farm, using water from our artesian well, it seemed a terrible waste to me. She was good to me and was a great cook. At about that time Sonny Getz lived about a block away and we played together a lot. On my birthday, Sonny gave me a little Lucite horse and a red scarf. I wore the scarf one day and much to my surprise, his sister, Darlene, marched up to me and snatched it off my head and says it was hers. I’m sure it was, and Sonny had thought it was pretty and gave it to me. I was amazed because I had never had anything like that happen to me before.
I learned to play cards very early. My teacher was Mrs. Andrew Jensen, who I called Grandma Jensen. She was so patient and jolly. The others would be playing in the front (living) room and I would go to the kitchen and play. Everyone those days visited and had potluck dinners on Sunday (the day of rest). The only work done those days were chores that had to be done. We went to many places on these forays. One night after dark, we were east of Henry’s when we saw a glow in the sky and Dad floored the old 1928 Ford and off we went right through a gate and through the hills and yes!! it was a fire at our place. It was the chicken coop and all we could do was watch as it burned and make sure nothing else burned.
Dad would only occasionally break a horse to harness (although Uncle Henry rode all the time). My mother was such a good “horsewoman” I can only remember my Dad riding the horses from the field to the barn bareback at the end of the day. He usually trained these horses in the winter when he would team one up with a seasoned plodder who was big enough to slow the young one down. He would hitch up the bobsled and off he’d go across the field east of the house, with the snow flying out from the bobsled and teams’ hoofs. It wouldn’t take long before the young horse got tired of fighting both the deep snow and the older horse and settle down. He usually sold these horses or maybe he was doing it for a neighbor — I just don’t know. When we went somewhere in the sled, he always had a well-broke team on it. One time when Mom and I were living in town, he came to town with the team and sleigh. Something spooked the horse which he had tied downtown and away they went! Leaving him stranded so someone from Rhame took him home. I sure wouldn’t want to hear him when he got home because he could lose his temper and turn the air blue with his language. When I was in seventh grade it was my job to come from school and grab a bite to eat and go over the hill to the sheep and stay until it was time to bring them in for the night. One day Mom had baked bread and these yummy rolls were sitting out cooling, so I grabbed a couple and took what I thought was butter, and then took off in my Model A for the pasture. I gobbled them down and thought they tasted funny, but I was hungry. Boy, was I sick! It turned out that I had used some rancid butter that Mom was planning on using in the bread that she baked for the dog. She would have Dad grind wheat, put in some eggs, milk, and (now I know) old grease for fat, and bake it in a dishpan. It would take two people to lift it into the oven and out, but the dog loved it and was always healthy. After my hot roll experience, I lost my taste for bread, and to this day could live without bread if I had to.
Another place we used to go was Elof Benson’s place north of Harry and Annie’s. He had a big house to dance in. Various people played whatever instrument they had, and everyone had a grand time. In those days, whole families did those things together. The women would bring food. Those that didn’t dance would play cards and visit. I remember Mart Kelly was always good for a piece of Chiclet gum. About midnight they’d have lunch, and we’d all go home. Usually, we smaller kids would find a bed and cover up with coats and sleep. I remember one rainy night; the road was so slick we drove through the ditch and onto the prairie because the gumbo kept sticking to the tires and made them so thick they wouldn’t turn under the fenders.
Dad always wore a hat. I’m surprised he didn’t hang it on the bedpost, but no, that wouldn’t be proper. When he came into the house, no matter how short the stay, the hat came off. I well remember how when we drove to Miles City to see Lillian’s parents and the other Hovicks in that area, he’d take the hat off and hang it on the emergency brake. In those days the brake was on the passenger side of the motor housing. When we would get to the Milwaukee railroad tracks, he’d grab his hat and get all ready to be seen properly attired. I remember sometimes he would let Lauretta drive until we would get near Miles City and then he would take over. The red and green stoplights in Miles City were a real novelty to us.
Once we were taking Grandpa Hovick home to Miles City and we hit a bump that made me fly up and hit my head a crack on the car. I cried and glanced back since Dad slowed down and said, “Drive on, she’s all right.” My mother would just say to Andy, “You crazy man.” We always said Grandpa Hovick couldn’t get anywhere too fast for him. He would have loved the jet age. When we didn’t get ready to go someplace fast enough to suit him, Grandpa would just start walking and be almost to Rhame by the time we got there in the car to drop him off for his train ride back to Miles City. Like all old Norwegians, he loved his sour cream pudding (romegrat) and since he had a cheesy kind of mustache it would get into his whiskers and when we would get ready to leave, he kissed everyone. I would go jump in the car in the middle of the back seat so he’d miss me with his kiss.
Most men during my childhood wore their underwear to bed, but Mom insisted on nightwear. Dad always wore a nightshirt. One night he was sleeping in the old house and the dog set up a racket. He put on his hat and stepped to the door and said, “Sic ‘em.” Here came the dog chasing something. In between his legs and under the house it went. He had felt the furry thing and smelled skunk. He did have some interesting experiences with skunks. He would trap them and quietly take the trap on a long chain and lead it away from the place and shoot it. Very seldom did he get smelled up, but our dogs weren’t so clever, and just when he would quit smelling, he’d go to the creek and get wet and smell again. We had gone to Kendall’s one evening to play cribbage and Mrs. Kendall had this cute fussy kitten. When we went home so did Kitty. She lived to be about 15 years old. She was a really good mouser and therefore OK in Dad’s book.
Archie Kendall smoked Prince Albert tobacco in a pipe. Whenever people came to our house who smoked, it didn’t matter how late it was (even past midnight) my Dad never went to bed without emptying ashtrays into the cookstove and putting all the chairs and such back where they belonged. He even carried this to the point of lining the machinery up by the fence in proper alignment.
Our Slope County house in the winter tended to be a bit “cool.” We all wore long handles and cotton socks. Mine were always wrinkly and I can still hear my sisters saying, “Mom can’t you make her keep her stockings straight?” Dad always ‘banked’ in the fall with dirt and took it down again in the spring. I think almost everyone who didn’t have a basement did this to try to keep the cold from coming up from the frozen ground. We had a cellar under the house that kept stuff from freezing in the winter and was cool in the summer. I hated to be sent down there in the summer because there were always salamanders down there and that was too much like a snake to me. Although it was neat to play in that soft dirt on a hot summer day, once you knew the salamanders had gone into hiding and would not slither across. We had a hole in the kitchen floor to access the cellar, but you had to have a source of light, or it was pitch black down there.
In the summer of 1946, Aunt Anna, Arlene Taylor, and I took off for Seattle. Arlene was going to work in one of the hospitals there and Anna and I went along for the ride. It was a big adventure for me since we were camping along the way. At that time the speed limit was a big 35 MPH all over the nation, so we had several days of driving ahead of us. We left Miles City early and after we got west of Billings, I thought I saw storm clouds gathering. Those storm clouds turned out to be the first mountains I had ever seen. We camped beside a mountain stream and spread the bedrolls (no tent), made a fire and had supper. In the morning, Arlene and I hated to get up since it was kind of cold, but Anna made us breakfast, and off we went. As we went through Missoula, a bunch of young men in a really rattletrap car passed us and I can still hear Arlene say, “I promise we’ll pass one car before we get to Seattle.” The next night found us in eastern Washington trying to find a place to camp. Everywhere we stopped had rocks and rattlesnakes that even Aunt Anna didn’t want to deal with (we were sleeping in bedrolls on the ground). We spent the night in a little town park. As you probably can tell we were on a very limited budget. To shorten this tale, the car broke down and I finished the trip on a bus. When I got to Seattle, Junette and her friend Florence Fisher were at the bus depot and Junette didn’t recognize me. I had an amazing time since up to then that was the furthest I had ever been from home (past Miles City). The summer I spent some time in Miles City and Aunt Bertha took me under her wing and taught me how to clean the rooms and run the mangle that ironed the sheets and flat stuff. All my family were hard-working and not afraid to try something new. Aunt Emma worked as a practical nurse for many years (she delivered many babies in Bowman and Slope counties). Aunt Maria taught school, and Uncle Lawrence went to work at Boulder Dam for a short time but said that was too dangerous, but he was such a hand to fix things that he was always busy. Aunt Dora was an RN and worked in many places. Aunt Anna was a stay-at-home mother, but she could and did make all of her boy’s clothes including pants. She and Mom were the youngest of the two and they were very close. All the sisters were very innovative. Aunt Marie and Aunt Bertha had a café in a small town and they had a millinery shop in several places including South Dakota and Long Beach (Calif.).
I look back and wonder where we all slept. We had visitors and there were two beds in the bedroom and a cot in the living room. In later years the second bed was taken down and I went to an Army cot that I put up and down every day. The darn thing gave me more than one blood blister putting it together every night. Then wonder of wonders we got a couch that made into a bed and the bed in the living room went out. It wasn’t unusual for us to have two or three extra people overnight, or even for a couple of days. How Mom managed I just don’t know, but she was a very warm, hospitable person and Dad loved people. I never remember going to bed hungry or less than secure.
Aunt Emma would come with her little dog “Pudgy” who was probably a Chihuahua who my cats intimidated, and the poor thing spent most of its time hiding. I’ve thought often of how she nursed and mothered everyone and everything. Uncle Luke was a jolly man and they loved each other so much.
In 1946, I started Rhame High and once more my suitcase and I was on the move. This time I had a roommate, Helen Brown, who was also from Deep Creek Township but had gone to the U-Bar School, so, although our folks were friends, we didn’t know each other too well. She was the athlete that I wasn’t and had a lot of interests and a family who had children closer together. We muddled through and became lifelong friends.
That was the year I decided I needed a church to go to. I had always ridden to church with Henry and Marian Silbernagel as a kid whenever I could because they were driving right by our place and could stop to pick me up. They went to St. Mel’s Catholic in Rhame, but I chose the Lutheran church and began confirmation class there. It was tough since because of the folks’ difference in religion they had agreed when they were married that religion would be a subject not to be discussed. Man! I hadn’t ever been to Sunday School and did I ever struggle, but as with so many things in my life when I made up my mind to master something I did! Before my confirmation, I had to be baptized and, since I was in town, I asked Oscar and Genevieve Carlson to be my sponsors. I always sang in the choir and, of course, in school, I was in every music and drama thing going. Why drama, I don’t know because I hated learning anything word for word.
My mother could recite poems she had learned as a child, and she was always singing. Dad loved music too and he was always pleased when he heard us singing.
In 1948, the folks hired Axel Arnell to add to the house. The first job was to tear down the Perrigo house and salvage everything we could. I pounded many a nail and learned how to shingle a roof that summer. That spring, Lauretta’s husband died suddenly. Junette went to Port Townsend to stay with her older sister and the children, Audrey and Calvin. Later they came home and decided that they could make some money raising chickens. So they got 300 Leghorn cockerels. It went pretty well for them, but oh my when all those roosters got old enough to try to crow what a noise! They sold them somewhere and peace came again. The 1948-49 winter was terrible for the amount of snow we had. We could walk over the trees in the shelterbelt. The livestock could walk over the fences. It was one blizzard after another. I was used to being home on weekends, but that year I was lucky to get home for Christmas and then missed about 10 days of school after Christmas. The mail, medicines and other necessities were airdropped from people who had small planes. They took people to hospitals or whatever. It was like we had our own Alaskan bush pilots. Finally, the folks had someone fly in to get me back to town. They landed on the field north of the place. I wasn’t thrilled, but we made it. In March, they plowed the road and I got home! But it happened again. That time I rode back to town on a National Guard caterpillar tractor. It took about four hours to go nine miles.
We had a propane fridge. Boy, did we think were we on the fast track. And also a propane furnace in the living room. No more “move the heater in and move the heater out.” Then we got a new cookstove that had propane on one end and coal on the other. We sure missed the old reservoir on the cookstove. It was a pain to fill it all the time, but nice to have warm water handy. It made such a difference in the summer when you didn’t have to stoke up the fire to bake something and end up with a hot kitchen.
Dad didn’t get along very well with the dogs. Jens and Lyla Jensen had a dog named Towser. He’d lay under the porch until Dad would step on the first step, then jump out and bark. Dad jumped every time. Bloomgrens had a wire-haired terrier, Freddy, who was dark grey. He’d lay in the back of the porch until Dad would get to their door, then let loose!
As I’ve said before, we exchanged work over the years with many neighbors. Dad was a fussy eater and instead of staying for supper where he was working, he’d come home. One evening Mom said, “I wish you’d learn to eat where you scratch!” When Grandma Hovick was dying, Mom and I went to Miles City, and, of course, all the family was there. Aunt Dora saw that I was rather scared and not sure what to do. She took me into the bedroom and had me sit on a chair beside Grandma’s bed. She put Grandma’s hand in mine and explained very gently that the body was tired and worn out and needed to stop and go on in heaven where it could be renewed. It was so gentle and nonthreatening that from that day on I never feared death. Only the sadness that comes from losing something or someone you love. For that act of understanding, I have always been grateful.
It was suggested that I include some of the subjects that were required in grade school. This included penmanship, which we pursued twice a week; agriculture, where we learned the names and characteristics of swine, sheep, cattle, horses, etc., and how to figure bushels per acre of various grains and all the good things farm kids needed to know. Our State was a seventh-grade subject. The 3Rs and, boy, did we learn the multiplication tables. Square root nearly did me in. Thank goodness calculators do it now.
We played many games. Everyman’s Den, Stealing Sticks, Hide and Seek, Pom Pom Pullaway and Ante-I-Over (throwing the ball over the WPA building at Rhame school). We also played baseball in a very abbreviated manner since we had so few players. In the winter, it was Fox and Geese and King of the Mountains and, of course, snowball fights. Spelling was important and we’d have contests. We’d had box-lunch socials, pie socials, and the usual programs to show friends and parents what you had learned. It’s so hard for my generation to understand how downright rude young people are to their teachers and elders today. I fear that “spare the rod and spoil the child” has gone a little too far the way these days.
I have never forgotten the first time I saw a woman smoke. We had gone over to the Campbells on the Little Missouri River west of Harry and Annie’s to ask about running some sheep or something, and they invited Mom and me to come in for a cup of coffee. While we sat at the table, one of the younger women pulled out her sack of Bull Durham and proceeded to roll a cigarette and smoke it! Now I had watched the cigarette process many times, but never by a woman.
One spring, when Lauretta and the kids were living at home, Dad and I had been working long hours to get the crop in and it had rained hard. The roads were really muddy, but Lauretta took it into her head that she and I should go to Bowman to the movie. I didn’t want to go because I was tired, but she kept on. I said, “Ok, but I am driving.” You can get stuck in snow and shovel, but when you are stuck in gumbo mud, you’re stuck. We got stuck about one-half way from Kendall’s Hill to the corner of Section 26 where I had been working. Lauretta was afraid of the dark and many other things. She had the only flashlight and spent all her time looking behind us as we sloshed along in the mud. We finally got to the field where I had left the tractor and I said, “I’m riding home, you can come along or walk by yourself.” So after she couldn’t talk me out of it, she got behind me on the tractor and hung on to my waist. This tractor had no fenders, and it threw that mud up with abandon. When we got to the back door, Mom took one look and said, “Wait there.” She brought out a butter knife and proceeded to scrape mud off Lauretta. I just stripped my clothes off and had Mom pour water over my head outside. Dad would scold me when the rows I plowed weren’t straight and he wouldn’t let me plant corn because of this.
And then love flew in the door and brains flew out the window. In the shape of a blind date. Cpl. H.G. Crook entered my life and I never looked back. He was stationed at Fort Worden, Wash., and I was staying with Lauretta and Junette in Port Townsend (Wash.) in order to care for Audrey and Calvin while Lauretta and Junette worked.
We spent every minute we could together. The favorite was going with Wade and Faye Norris to Lake Leland for fishing. We ladies would row the boat while the guys fished. It was soon time for me to go home, and I doubt there was a day when we didn’t write to each other. Then I returned to Port Townsend, where in June 1950, the 2nd Eng. Brigade was alerted to move out because of the Korean War. On Aug. 3, 1950, the USA Breckenridge was loading off the docks, and I was with some of the other wives and girlfriends, all of us crying our eyes out. At that time 2nd Eng was the only amphibious unit the Army had so they pretty much knew they’d be in the fight early on. Out the window went my dream of nursing and in flew the dream of being Garland’s wife. From August 1950 to December 1951, all I had were letters and pictures. He called when he landed in San Francisco and all I could do on my end of the phone was cry. He was sent to Fort Smith, Ariz., and began to look for a place to live. Then when I was about to quit my Port Townsend job (I worked for an auto dealer, where Junette was the bookkeeper) and get on a bus, the Army said he was being sent to Fort Hood, Texas, for maneuvers and he’d be gone most of the time. I went home instead and helped my Dad put in the crop. After living in the Pacific Northwest, it was hot at home. About the time Garland was to be discharged, he caught the measles and wound up in the hospital. Finally, he got out and went to his parents in Mississippi. I got on the train and went to Memphis (Tenn.), where Paul Pender picked me up at the train station and took me to Opal and Paul’s home (they later told their daughter that no one had apprised them of this plan and they were startled to get the phone call from a payphone). Garland arrived in his car on the 6th of May and we arrived in Batesville just as the marriage license clerk was closing, but she opened back up for us. Garland had only $1 in change as it happened and the safe was closed, but I had money too. We were married the next evening at Inez (Earl Crook’s sister) and Vardmon Rosamund’s house, near Vaiden, and then went to a lake to stay the night, and guess what? We went fishing. I rowed the boat and he fished, but I got scolded because I didn’t watch where I was going — this was because there was a snake swimming toward us and I was watching that water moccasin instead of where I was rowing. We stayed in Mississippi for a couple of weeks. As we drove over hill and dale, it seemed every place we drove by was an aunt, uncle, cousin, etc. until my head was spinning. I don’t think we spent two days in the same place, most of them living in the pine forest. He had not been home in about three years, so he had a lot of people to see and a bride for them to meet. The heat was terrible for me. It was a record-breaking heatwave for May and here I was trying to look my best and I was so in love.
When it came time to leave, we headed to Cheyenne, Wyo., to visit his sister Frances (where her husband was posted in the Air Force). Someone’s wife who was also from Vaiden was driving to Fort Warren to join her husband. She was afraid to go by herself, so she was to follow us. Somewhere along the way he got tired and asked me to drive. No problem, although I had only driven a few times with him. We hadn’t gone far when I pulled over and said he should drive because he “was anyway”. We went 900 miles that day and spent the night at a motel in Oklahoma. It turns out the other gal was afraid to stay alone so the “honeymooners” shared a room with her. About 11 p.m., the manager knocked and told us there was a tornado warning and we might need to go to a shelter. The next day, we went on to Fort Warren AFB, visited for a couple of days, and then continued north through the Black Hills of South Dakota. Somewhere in the Black Hills, there was a cloudburst, and we came to a bridge that washed out. Garland was a good driver (drove for the Army) and down we went into the creek and out again. Shook up, but OK. What a honeymoon!
We had been home a few days and the folks had a party to welcome Lauretta, now newly married to George, and Garland and I. When everyone had left, we went to bed as I went up the stairs I told Garland that the bed didn’t look right. Someone had turned the old spring upside down so that when we got in it would crash. We quietly righted it knowing that they were downstairs waiting for the crash. Ha Ha! Only that wasn’t the end. About midnight, all heck broke loose. I knew it was a Chivaree, but Garland hadn’t been home from war very long and he panicked. I kept yelling, “Get dressed, get dressed!’ He was so stunned by the noise he just stood there by the bed. I said, “Hurry before they come to get us!” It turned out he had never heard of a Chivaree and had no idea it was simply a noisy party. In the meanwhile, George knew, so he grabbed Lauretta, jumped in his car, and joined in the horn honking and noisy fun with abandon. I’m sure no one remembered what a short time Garland had away from the noise of combat, or they never would have done it.
We stayed on the farm for four years and it was tough economic times. With the arrival of the first two children, Sarah and Andy, Garland went back into the Army where he had a paycheck and health insurance. I stayed home with the children while he retook basic (for the third time) and got settled. One day Mom came over and asked me if I had gathered the eggs and I said, “No, why?” She had gone to do it and couldn’t find any. We asked Sarah and she said, “I threwed them out. They was no good.” Come to find out she had been before this with her Grandpa Andy when he found a nest of rotten eggs and he had broken them. So, mimicking him, she crawled into the coop and broke the eggs. One day we were eating at Mom’s (we lived in another house on the farm) and Mom dropped something. “Dod damn it.” Mom looked over at Dad and said, “I know where she learned that!” As a baby, Sarah had the worst case of colic you can imagine! She was inconsolable from about 1600 to 0200 most every night. Thank goodness we had the folks to spell us once in a while or I think we would have lost our minds. The next baby had feeding problems, too, but we were wiser by then, so we switched formulas and did better. Before Garland came back to get us for the move to California, we sold everything and bought a 28-foot trailer home. We pulled it to El Monte where we set it up in Rose Acres Trailer Park. It was a nice clean place and close to the Nike site where Garland was stationed. One day I washed a big amount of laundry and hung the clothes on the line to dry. I came back to the house to see water coming out the door. I ran in to find all the clothes I had folded so carefully stuck in the tub and toilet with the water running. Andy said, “I rinse them, Mommy.” So back to the laundry I went and started anew.
I’ve never forgotten how truly hard it was to make ends meet on Garland’s pay. He got paid monthly and by the time all the bills were paid, we had $80 for groceries or anything else. I used to hide the money in divided lots so if someone broke in they’d not get it all. One month I hide it too well. When we came to the last week, I couldn’t find a $20 and boy did things get tight! Then another time since we only had one vehicle (thank goodness, only one payment), I asked Garland to bring home a can of Joy for the dishes (at the time Joy dishwashing soap came in cans). Here he comes with a can of Crisco. All he could remember was that it was a can of something. I washed dishes in laundry soap until the next payday.
Aunt Marie and Aunt Bertha lived in a big house in Long Beach where they had boarders. And Marie did the cooking and Aunt Bertha did the cleaning for the boarding house. We went down to Long Beach a couple of times to visit them, me, and my little family. Once the kids and I stayed with them for a few days. It was almost Christmastime and the ladies helped me make doll clothes for a doll for Sarah. Aunt Bertha was going to take the kids to the park to play so Aunt Marie and I could wrap the package. When she got to a street corner, a lady reached down to take Sarah’s hand and Sarah began to yell. Poor Aunt Bertha came home stunned until I told her I had taught the kids to yell if a stranger ever touched them. I was ahead of the times.
Sarah had been super-easy to potty train, but I was warned that boys “take longer.” I would let them play out in the fenced yard and look out to check on them and there they would be in various states of undress with their friends.
Now pregnant with Lillian, we were transferred to Ellsworth AFB in the winter of 1959. What a trip. We hadn’t made it out of L.A. with the vehicle pulling the little house trailer when we were pulled off by the California Highway Patrol for being too wide. Too wide by one-fourth of an inch. So we got out a screwdriver, took off the doorknobs and proceeded on. Somewhere near Zion National Park, we were snowbound for a couple of days, and east of Rock Springs, Wyo., we had a blowout. By that time, our “travel time” allotted by the Army and money was almost at zero. We finally pulled into Rapid City, S.D., and set the little trailer up, got the heater going, and had a weekend to go before he had to report to duty. Garland looked at me and asked if I’d like to go to the Slope County farm and I said, “Sure.” So off we went “on our Texaco card.” There we got stocked up on potatoes, eggs, and some meat and left the two kids there for a week or so. The folks brought them to Box Elder when we were “settled.” When it came time for the next baby’s arrival, Lillian and Andy drove down and took the two older kids back to Slope County until after the baby came. We had a couple of days left before she was born on our seventh anniversary. Just before Lillian was born, while the older two were with my folks, Garland asked if we could afford a fishing license. I said, “Yes if you eat macaroni and rice until payday.” At that time, we were paid bimonthly, and I had to juggle the bills between paydays. As I remember, the cost of the S.D. fishing license was $5 because he was on active duty and we had $9 and some cents to our name. So right when we got back from Fort Bliss, we were off to the Black Hills, to Rapid Creek below Pactola Dam to fish every evening we could. Garland had to leave the morning I was at the hospital to go TDY to Fort Bliss, so one of the other wives took me and the new baby home a couple of days later. And I had that baby on my own and named her on my own – after my mother (because she looked just like my mother and was a little butterball)! My folks gave me a gift of a month of diaper service, and I spent the first two weeks alone with her. Then my folks brought the two older kids home to meet their new sister. She was a wonderfully content baby and I guess I was finally getting the hang of being a mother. Because Lillian was such a good baby and the older kids loved the outdoors, we did a lot of fishing and camping in the Black Hills, and we ate a lot of fish he caught.
Going back to when we were first married and living at the Slope County farm, when Sarah was a baby, Garland’s mother came to visit us (train or bus). She had never been further from Mississippi than Memphis, so it was quite a trip for her. She was aghast at the size of the hills around us in Slope County. Then we left Sarah with my sister, Junette, and took Lena Belle to the Black Hills for a weekend of camping. She, of the Mississippi Delta, practically crawled under the dashboard when we were on the road because she was so scared of the “mountains.” One night we were tenting near where there was a sharp curve. The next morning, she got up and said, “I’m going down the road and see how many of those crazy fool drivers are in the ditch.” It had been hot and when the cars went around the curve on the blacktop highway, the tires squealed, and she was sure they must have crashed. She was such a wonderful person and worked hard all of her life. My kids had such wonderful role models in their grandmothers.
While we were stationed at Ellsworth AFB, our neighbors had another fellow who had been in the 2nd Eng who was living next door, Sherman. Sherman and Garland decided to make homemade beer in their free time. They picked up bottles and sterilized them. When their brew was done, it tested at 27 percent alcohol. Some beer! We also had good friends, Irene and Leo Steines. Leo was also an avid fisherman. One weekend, a group of us all went camping at Angustora Reservoir. The ladies fed everyone. We had so many people to feed that we made coleslaw and potato salad in dishpans. While we were there, Sarah started kindergarten. We lived in the flight pattern of the B-52s. It didn’t take long for baby Lillian, laying on the floor on a blanket, to associate the roar of the airplanes with the fact that she would soon see this big thing fly over us.
As is usual with military service life, we got orders to go to Fort Carson, and this is where Thomas Wade made his appearance. I woke Garland up at about 0800 and said we need to go to the hospital. He looked at his watch and said it was “only 0300.” So, I said, “OK, we will have this one at home.” Boy, did he jump out of bed at that! He called Irene Steines (Leo and Irene had also transferred to Fort Carson) to have her come over to stay with the three kids while he drove me out to the fort hospital. Then he rushed home to let Irene go home to take care of her own kids and to get Sarah and Andy off to school and then take Lillian to Irene’s so he could come and see his new son (who by that point was born). Garland took a look at him but had to leave for work. He was in a basic training outfit by then and it was driving us all crazy. His hours were terrible and as always, we were trying to get by with little extra money. I was babysitting five kids, plus my own, and he would bring home uniforms of guys, for me to sew on name tags, etc. every night. I made 50 cents a patch. I took in ironing, cleaned houses, and anything that I could do and still take care of my family. And, of course, now we got orders to go to Fort Bliss, so off we went again. Fort Bliss was the first time we actually lived on the base. (Fort Bliss had a trailer park and it was nice.) While we lived there, I didn’t contribute to the family coffers. No rent, so less need, plus I was busy with four kids.
Another set of orders. We knew that Garland was probably at this point going to get overseas orders so when the Army sent him to Fort Meade, Md., the kids and I moved to Memphis where his family was. I used to take the older two kids to school, and, since I was driving right by Earl and Lena Belle’s house, and their youngest, Judy was still in school, I’d stop by to give her a ride, too. One morning there was a little snow, which I thought nothing of. I loaded everyone up and took off and waited outside their house and no Judy. So, I went in. Earl was sitting in the living room and said, “How did you get here? The roads are closed because of the snow!” I laughed and since there was no school, I went back home. It was my first experience with people thinking that a couple of inches of snow were a reason to close up a city. I bet Earl $5 I could drive on the roads, and I had no trouble driving, but he never paid up on the bet. As expected, we got orders for Okinawa. So the trailer and all of us moved to the Slope County farm again, and Garland left in September. The older kids started school in Rhame and we began the process of getting reading to join Garland overseas as soon as he found housing for us. The waiting list for housing was so long that we wound up not leaving until June.
Before we left for Okinawa, we helped Dad do the haying, and in the process, Dad wound up with the tractor in the creek. We pulled it out and in the process came up with the idea of taking Mom and Dad to Yellowstone since they had never been there (regarding the West, they had at that point only been to Port Townsend). Junette kept the kids — by then she had two of her own — and we loaded up. In Miles City, we stopped and picked up Uncle Helmar and his boat and motor. We did just fine. We rented one of the old log cabins at Yellowstone Lake for three nights and the men went to put out the boat on the big lake. They left Dad to drive back to the landing nearest our campground. All was well as they backed out, but they hadn’t secured the cotter key that held the propeller on, and down it went, into a very dark and cold and big lake. So they had to row a long way. They spent the next day trying to find a replacement propellor, but they did get some fishing in and Mom and I did the “tourist” thing. Our cabin was pretty drafty with only a wood stove and one light bulb. Two beds, a cot, a table and four chairs. One night, Mom and I headed for the outhouse before bed and we turned a corner and there was a big black bear. My mom was undaunted. She simply flapped her apron and yelled, “Shoo!” The bear was pretty startled and lumbered off into the darkness.
I can never remember my mother showing any upset that I saw. People came to her with their troubles because she was such a good listener. She always had time for the grandkids and put up with many messes they contributed over the years. Dad was always good for a laugh even when the laugh was on him. We have a picture of him posing for the four oldest granddaughters (Leah, Reva, Carin and Sarah) wearing a long-haired wig (it was the ’70s). He was always a good sport and that was how I learned that if you play a game, any game, you must be a gracious winner and a good loser. Andy had a little trouble with that, but he learned. Mom knew her husband, Andy, liked cherry pie and watermelon, so she could make sure those items were on the menu. “Can she make a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy, can she make a cherry pie, charming Billy?”
The Army and all its wisdom sent a moving van to Slope County to pick up our household goods with only one man who thought he could just hire someone in Rhame to help him. Not an option in Rhame, so his helper was me. Mom and Dad took us to catch the airplane in Miles City. Little Lillian did not want to leave her Grandma, so I said to her, “You can stay here with Grandma but your Dad is in Okinawa” and I let her think about that a little. Pretty soon I felt her little hand in mine, choosing to go to see her dad. By then, we had all the necessary inoculations and our passports and photos and all that stuff. As the Army told us, we just got in line and got it done.
The folks drove us to Miles City on the old highway, and from there we flew to Billings, then to Utah and then to San Francisco. If you’ve never traveled with four little kids and all the luggage we needed with those changes of flights, you’ve never lived. By the time we arrived in San Francisco, it was late and we had to be at embarkation by 0700 so we simply waited a of couple of hours at the airport and caught a cab. There we were, all in a big warehouse, having our final check and some more “shots” etc. before we all boarded the USS Mitchell which was a troopship. No cruise ship! We had an inside cabin (no window) and when the door closed it was black as ink. They provided four bunks and a bolted-down crib. Thomas was supposed to sleep in the crib! Ha Ha! No way, so we put our suitcases in the crib and he bunked with me. It took us 19 days to putt across the Pacific. We first went to San Diego to pick up a unit of Marines, then on to Pearl Harbor where we spent a couple of days. Bus tours were arranged so the kids and I got to see some of that island. It was really hot for us because we had one of those early cool springs in North Dakota. You’ve never lived until you try to get four kids and yourself into life jackets and your designated spot for the drill in ten minutes. I swore by the time we had skirted a typhoon and buffet dinners on the rough seas that our ship’s captain must be a sadist. Sarah was the only one really old enough to help much. We arrived in Yokoyama, Japan, and since we had a layover, we took a cab to see a bit of the country. I hadn’t gone two blocks before I came to the conclusion that we were all going to be killed. Wow! The opposite side of the road at a speed that seemed unreal with the horn blaring — away we went! It wasn’t long and I was content to go back to the ship. Two days later, we docked in Naha, Okinawa, at about noon on Father’s Day. As with all things military, there were certain ways to do things. We disembarked and there Garland was. We were standing in this un-airconditioned warehouse slowly cooking. I finally said, “What are we waiting for?” Garland replied, “For the rest of your luggage,” to which I replied, “this is what I brought!” At least on the “Rock” (our term for Okinawa), people drove on the same side of the road I was used to although they believed in the liberal use of their horns.
Garland had bought an old rusty Ford for us to use while we were there. It had a problem competing with all of the other car horns. It didn’t have one. If we wanted to warn someone of our coming we had to beat on the door or yell.
We had a two-bedroom house that had a small storage room sort of thing. The Army provided us with bunk beds for the kids and a double bed for us. We put the boys in the small room and the girls in the other room. Our windows had “stealie boys” bars on them and typhoon shutters for storms. We couldn’t afford the price of electricity for air conditioning. Thank goodness our house sat on top of a hill overlooking Buckner Bay and almost always had a nice breeze. There in Okinawa we listened to music on eight-track tapes (recordings made at the NCO Club) and exchanged letters with stateside relatives and watched TV shows like Bonanza and movies such as the original “The Sound of Music” and “That Darned Cat.” “The Pink Panther” was also a favorite at some point.
We had neighbors, Al and Joyce Harvick, who had a little boy named “Tedi.” He used to come up the hill in Okinawa to our house and rattle the screen door, saying “Crook, I hunger.” We had several friends in the neighborhood. The Morrison’s across the road from us were Marines. So was Harvick. Next door to us a young doctor and his wife lived. The Morrisons became special friends of ours. They had a girl, Linda, who was about one year older than our Sarah, Mike Morrison was between Sarah and Andy and so the four of them became a group of friends involved in a variety of adventures including skateboarding, school and exploring the island. Ray Morrison had been raised near Minot, so when he came over to our house one day and I was baking molasses cookies, he was thrilled and said he hadn’t had those since he’d left home in North Dakota. They had by then been in Okinawa for three years, so they were already well settled. Nita Morrison liked ceramics and gardening so she got me involved in a lot of things that made the days fly by. One night just before we had gone to bed, Nita called and asked if I could help. Her son, Mike, had suddenly remembered that he was supposed to bring a “Plaster of Paris” to school the next morning. So the four of us rushed down to the village, split up and began to try to make ourselves understood as to what we wanted. Finally, we made a pharmacist understand, and he said, “Oh cemento!” We had many funny experiences like that in those Okinawa years. Morrisons had a little boat and we went on expeditions with them on this boat including a day trip to a nearby uninhabited island and jellyfish stings on our legs while swimming in the ocean. The kids all took swimming lessons at a nearby pool and I told them when we arrived that “this is their country, be respectful of their customs and traditions.”
One experience I could have done without on Okinawa was a party held for the women while the guys went to a promotion party up the street from our friends. I never did much drinking because my memory of the after-effects was too vivid, and I knew that no matter how bad I felt I had a family who would be full of life the next day, so it wasn’t worth being convivial the night before. At any rate, the wife of the “promoted one” came to the house where the other ladies were gathered and those two got into a fight. The lady whose house I was at rushed back into the house and proceeded to come out of the bedroom with a pistol. I got in front of her and wouldn’t let her go by me. I knew that none of us military families were supposed to have weapons of any kind in our homes according to the rule in Okinawa at the time. This woman threatened to shoot me, and I said, “The only way you are going out of the house is over me, so she gave up her gun and went back outside to fistfight.” I was so disgusted that I walked up the alley to get Garland and get the heck out of there. Instead, I encountered the host of the stag party with his own gun. I faced him down and said his promotion must not mean much to him if that was his way of carrying on. I had a lot more to say about cowards and fools, but my language was pretty salty. I marched by him and told the other men what was going on. The darned fools simply went to watch the fight, but Garland and I left only to find all four of our car tires slashed by someone, so we hailed a cab and went home. There was quite a ruckus about it all and a couple of those families were as a result sent back to the States early. It wasn’t too long after that we were offered base housing, which we turned down after seeing it and we turned that housing into the Inspector General as being so sub-standard that it was later condemned. Shortly after that First Sgt. Brucher came to our house to give me the news that Garland had made E-7 and what do you know, Garland was mad at me because I knew the news before he did. Go figure!
Morrisons had two boxers, Chichi and Troubles, who were well trained. The stealie boys were afraid of these fierce-looking dogs. They also had a pet white rabbit who chased the boxers at times. I had been to their house one Sunday in the afternoon and had one drink. I left to go home (across the street and up a hill), and I couldn’t keep my balance. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and then I looked up at our house and could see the concrete block fence around the yard moving, so I took a breath, and thought “it’s just an earthquake.” I had several shelves of unfired greenware (ceramics) that didn’t survive the earthquake at all. Sarah was standing in the doorway of the house. I had lived through many earthquakes (in the Port Townsend and L..A. area) so I knew as long as I was outside in the clear I was OK. Garland the two youngest kids had been in the car going someplace so they didn’t feel it (actually, an editorial note from Lillian Crook, we were at a friend’s house and the 45 RPM record player we were listening to jumped around & the adults (the Petermans) told us “It’s an earthquake, go home.”) Our home on the island was on concrete blocks with steel reinforcement so other than some cleaning up to do everything was fine. There was only one problem with living on top of that hill: Every day by 0800 we wouldn’t have any water pressure. When I washed clothes, I had to get an early start to beat everyone else on our hill. Nita Morrison and I worked on puzzles as the children were on their own Okinawa shenanigans. We would listen to classical music as we worked on the jigsaw puzzle and caught ourselves a time or two putting the puzzle together “too fast” — turns out this was because we were speeding up to the beat of the music.
Little Thomas, about 3, used to like to sit at the end of the driveway and watch the “Papasan” who loaded rocks on his cart each horse-drawn cart each day. I warned Thomas to not get too close to the street with his tricycle. One day I looked out just in time to see him get off balance and away he went down the steep hill with his legs flying trying to keep up with the pedals on the trike. He made it down a couple of curves before he got dumped into someone’s yard at the bottom of the hill.
At this point, with the older children in the military schools, Thomas and I walked down the hill to City Hall about once a week to complain about our lack of water (we were, after all, paying our water bill). As was their culture, the officials were always polite and apologized but did not fix it. The answer was always, “attaday” which was Ryukyuan for “another day.” We only had a couple of typhoons while we were there, and at least it was never cold. During the typhoons, with the shutters closed and no electricity or water for a couple of days (the exception being the torrential rainwater that came in under the door sills), it wasn’t too bad. Garland would be on duty during the typhoons and the kids and I would just cope with the typhoon and all of us would sleep together in one big bed until it was over.
While we were in Okinawa, Lillian started kindergarten, so along with the older kids in the neighborhood, she had to walk over to the corner by Kadena Junior High to catch the bus to the military school. One day on her way home, a skosh cab pulled up and she got into the cab at the driver’s insistence and he brought her home, where he demanded 25 cents for the fare. Another time Nita Morrison came over and asked if I knew where the Fab Four were (my kids and hers). They had taken a pack of her cigarettes and were tucked down in the nearby quarry (where the Papasan broke the rocks each day with his oxen cart), trying their new experience. We didn’t interfere. She and I just planned a really greasy supper. None of them tried that trick ever again.
The Morrisons had a good friend who was a native Okinawan, Mokai. The original natives were Polynesian rather than Asian, and consequently, they had been treated more cruelly during World War II by the Japanese.
For games, we played Hearts and Pinochle and frequently had a jigsaw puzzle in the works. All these things cost little and made us good friends. There were a lot of laughs about the “gap” between the languages. At times, one would be reduced to drawing pictures and miming in order to make yourself understood for what it was one needed.
Next door to us was Dr. and Mrs. Jon Fredlund. He was pretty disgruntled about having to serve his two years in the military. One day, he was especially down, and I pointed out the fact that in his job he had access to some of the best and newest equipment and was seeing diseases that he had never encountered before. He said, “Ya, I guess so,” and after that, he seemed more content.
We had one of the famous Turtle tombs in our backyard. Most of the people in Okinawa were of the Shinto religion. They celebrated their ancestors a couple of times a year by bringing a meal and drinks to the cemeteries in order to eat, drink and be merry because that was how they honored their dead.
But back to when we arrived in Oki. When our household goods caught up with us, the crates had been setting on the dock through a storm or two. Everything by this point was covered in mold, so all of our possessions had to be cleaned and “sunned out.” I almost wished I hadn’t sent anything over from North Dakota. The island was really safe for the children because the culture there loved children. We were more in danger of being stolen from, but with reasonable care, we had no problem. There were Mama Sans who came to the house selling fruits, flowers, eggs, etc. I would buy ginger blossoms that would make the whole house smell good. The pineapples grew wild on the hillsides and they were good. The Easter lilies grew wild also. It rained nearly every day between 1300 and 1400, and it was like someone dumping a bucket, but most every day would be sunny and pleasant. The kids had to walk a couple of blocks to catch the school bus because the road in the area was too narrow for buses to navigate. Just as I had done at other bases, I took in sewing, mostly sewing patches on the other soldiers’ uniforms as they acquired promotions and such.
Garland always said that he didn’t see any point in playing golf. One day he called from the PX and asked if we could afford a set of golf clubs and since I had a hard time saying no, he here comes with a new hobby. We had been through skis, bow and arrows, guns, and enough fishing and camping gear to fill a garage. Oh, well!
The TV on Okinawa was simulcast. In other words, the programs came broadcast in Japanese and you had to set a radio beside the TV set to a certain station to get the program in English. It looked so funny to see John Wayne or the guys from the Ponderosa or someone else in an old movie speaking in Japanese, but it was what we had.
We had a maid, Hilukyo, once a week who would also babysit when we wanted to go out somewhere. She came Thursdays and when she was there, I would go play cards with some of the wives or shopping or just sightseeing. Maybe we would have kept a car and gone to the Commissary or something like that. I took a class in flower arranging and pattern drafting, and as previously mentioned, took a ceramics class at the hobby shop on Kadena Air Base.
We attended the Kadena/Goya City Lutheran Service Center, and this was where Sarah was confirmed. Andy played in the Little League, although he wasn’t terribly good because he was very small. But boy, could he steal bases, and Sarah always practiced with the boys. The coach wanted me to cut her hair so she could play baseball because she was better than many of the boys. But in those days, it was “a boy thing” only, and she was known as a “tomboy.”
It must have been a lonely time for Lillian (again, Lillian, editorial comment here: It wasn’t because my time was filled with my siblings and friends and their adventures) because I can’t think of any kids her age in the neighborhood. Then came the day when we got the orders for Fort Bliss, Texas — again. We flew to Tokyo, and I swear I’ve never seen Garland so nervous as when we came in there for a landing because the flight path took us right over the ocean and it looked like we were going to crash into the water. We could see Mount Fuji from the windows. We finally arrived in Los Angeles about one-half hour before we had left Okinawa because we had returned over the International Date Line. We got a cab to a restaurant, and everyone had milk. Overseas we had only reconstituted milk and our only fresh fruit was pineapples and bananas. We were all hungry for oranges and peaches.
Turns out we arrived back in the States (L.A.) in the middle of an airline strike, so now it was a choice of train or bus only, and I really couldn’t see taking four kids on a bus with us so we got on the train headed to Seattle and then to North Dakota. It was as crowded as it had been during World War II with people everywhere, soldiers who were returning from Vietnam and hippies who were traveling in the late ’60s. It was also air-conditioned to the max and by then, we were accustomed to the heat of Okinawa. We got as far as Portland, Ore., and we were all freezing, so we got off for a layover and went out and bought a blanket for each of us. It was a long trip. They pulled our passenger car off at Puyallup (Wash) and let us sit until morning when the next Milwaukee train pulled in and hooked us up and we were truly on a local that made all stops, which included somewhere along the way a landslide in the mountains that covered the train tracks and stalled us out for a while. My folks were waiting for us in Miles City, where we finally arrived 12 hours late, but we caught up on some sleep, spent some time at the farm, picked up the brown Ford Station wagon in Bowman we had preordered, went on an explore and picnic on a Sunday with our family to nearby Bullion Butte and then started off for El Paso so that the kids could be there in time to start school.
In El Paso, we rented a three-bedroom house on Mercedes Street, with a garage that had been converted into a family room (again, not on the base). A couple of days later, we discovered that the house was infested with dog fleas, so we used a poison (Sevin) all over the house and then moved in. Trust me, we had no bugs nor spiders, nor anything else for a long time. Later we moved to Harcourt. All the houses had lots of cockroaches and in ours this was never tolerated. Bugs were for outdoors, as were dogs, but the kids had goldfish, cats and parakeets as indoor pets. Occasionally, they would bring home from the desert lizards and tadpoles, none of which lived in our house for very long.
I went back to school for a couple of months to learn to be a MedTech and my Aunt Marie Wanberg (childless herself and widowed early in her life) came to live with us. She was 85 but sharp as a tack. (She had been a rural schoolteacher in eastern Montana.) I never worried about the kids “out-thinking” her. The three older children were in school all day, so she decided to start Thomas and another little neighborhood boy with kindergarten work. Every morning they started learning under her supervision. Such a good start.
We camped out while our household goods were making a “world tour.” We had bought beds and scoured the second-hand stores for makeshift stuff until we caught up with our things (or rather, our things caught up with us). It was here we lived when Thomas came home riding in the little red wagon with a small rock stuck in the top of his head. Stuck so hard that I couldn’t dislodge it. The older kids and he had been playing with some old blankets anchored to a windowsill by bricks and one had slipped off and knocked him cuckoo so they loaded him up in the red wagon and hauled him home for first aid. Lillian, in attempting to render aid to her younger brother, tried to pick him up and dropped him in the process, and then a piece of gravel lodged in his head.
The kids came home with measles and mumps and shortly before Christmas, it was chicken pox for all of them at once. Aunt Dora and Uncle Theron had come from Phoenix to spend the holidays with us. Aunt Dora (the RN) found Thomas sitting in a recliner by himself and asked him what he was doing. He said, a matter of factly, “I’m waiting for the chicken pops.” And the next morning, he had them. She laughed about his ability to figure it out. She helped everyone feel better with her years of nursing, and we all survived. I finished my LPN degree and got a job with a urologist across the city from where we lived, Dr. Gibson. I worked 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, and 9 to 12 Saturdays, while I also was a Cub Scout Den Mother and taught Sunday school at the Fort Bliss Chapel. Needless to say, it made for a busy life. Garland had a second job at the base theater, so we had a bit more income, and the kids got to see free movies and help out there — when they weren’t gorging on popcorn and soda.
Sarah went off to Girl Scout camp in the Lincoln National Forest near Carlsbad, N.M. When I asked her how she washed clothes there, she said, “I turned them inside out.” She learned so much in Scouts and her troop learned to sail boats at a reservoir in New Mexico — and more. All the other kids were in Scouts as well, and Thomas was in my “den,” where we had lots of fun. One Mother’s Day weekend, the Boy Scouts took their moms camping, where they were supposed to do everything themselves. I can tell you some of the mothers had a terrible time keeping their noses out of the cooking, etc, but not me, as all of the years we had been camping it didn’t bother me to let them the Scout take charges. Earlier, when we had been stationed at Fort Carson, we’d go up to Eleven Mile Reservoir to camp. Of course, there was good fishing there. We visited many historical areas over the years. We’d set up camp somewhere and while Garland fished, the kids and I would explore any interesting place nearby. No matter where we lived I emphasized the fact that there were so many different kinds of people and so much to be learned from each area where we lived.
While in El Paso, one of our favorite places to camp was the canyon of the Gila River north of Silver City, N.M. We went there to get away from the heat of El Paso. When the sun would go down, it was black as ink down in that canyon. By that time, we had a pop-up camper and a pickup topper — which had been built by hand by Alan Henke — and we had a pair of beagles we picked up while visiting family in Mississippi, which we named Lady and Duchess. One night we were bedded down in the pop-up camper and woke up to noise right by our heads. We knew that there were many black bears in the area. The children were snug in the sleeping bags and the dogs were quiet, but we could still hear this animal huffing and puffing. Finally, Garland took out the flashlight and peeked out to find a big longhorn bull bedded down right by our heads. Since it was open-range country there, we knew the bull couldn’t be dangerous, so we just waited for him to go away. We were worried that our dogs being city dogs might not be wise enough to stay quiet, but they did.
One day at work, Sarah called me for some reason, and I scolded her for calling me at work. Boy, did I get an earful from Dr. Gibson. He insisted that the children were more important than the few minutes it took me away from work. He was tough to work for but very fair. I remember once he came home from the OR furious because he wound up with more than one anesthesiologist. He chewed me up and down because I was the one that scheduled his OR routine. I stood in front of his desk and answered, “Yes sir” and “No sir.” He finally yelled at me, “Can’t you say anything, but ‘yes sir and no sir’”, to which I said, “No sir but would you like to know what happened?” He apologized because it hadn’t been my fault. Someone asked me one day who I worked for and when I told them they said, “How can you work for him?” I guess I could because he was so much like Dad and Garland. With them you let them blow off steam and kept your mouth shut until they had released their steam then told them what had really happened. The difference was Dr. Gibson would apologize, Dad would listen, and Garland would sulk.
In January 1969, Garland got orders to go to Korea. I chose to stay in El Paso because of my job, the kids’ school, and the fact that he would likely be sent back to El Paso when his tour was over. All went as usual until March or so. I suddenly was getting no mail from him. I just assumed that he was really busy. One day a letter came and all it said in almost illegible form was that he had been hurt and was in the hospital. I quickly got hold of the Red Cross and Sgt. Spike Buckner’s wife who lived near us and the wheels began to turn. He had been hurt unloading a missile when the chain broke and hit him. It broke his cheekbone along with internal injuries and short-term memory loss. After about a month and some reconstructive surgery, he was sent home on a medical transfer to William Beaumont hospital at Fort Bliss and then finally home on recuperative leave. The strain on all of us was tough.
The next June of 1970 he elected to retire, and we headed for North Dakota to the farm. It was a real change for us all. The kids loved it and I was looking forward to spending time with my folks and my family again after so long a time at various military bases. We arrived in time for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration. Shortly after that, Mom and I went juneberry picking one Monday, and Tuesday she woke up terribly sick, and we took her to the Bowman Hospital, which then transferred her with me to the Dickinson Hospital. And by Thursday, she was dead from a mesenteric artery occlusion that when released caused a massive coronary occlusion. I was in the room with the doctor and assisted him with my own mother, but there was nothing more to be done. She was gone in the blink of an eye. Poor Dad was so lost and wanted the Lord to take him right away because she was his only love and our rock. I can’t recall those first days except that I was the one who had to call my sister before Mother died and the family in Miles City, too. Shock is good for something. It allows you to carry on when you’re numb inside.
Although Mom and Dad had purchased a house in Bowman for their retirement home, Dad then stayed with us on the farm, and I tried so hard to fill my Mom’s shoes. I drove myself trying to be everyone’s anchor. Then blessedly, I found I was expecting another baby and I was thrilled. Things were going along and suddenly, while in Rapid City, I found myself unable to see anything from the lower parts of my eyes and with a blinding headache that caused lightning flashes across what vision I had left. Then, I developed weakness in my right hand and could not communicate to anyone around me that I was pregnant. At EAF, they did all sorts of tests, but all I was worried about was the baby. When I finally was allowed to go home to the farm, I had to use a walker and teach myself to walk and talk again. It was quite an ordeal for our family, but in August 1971, Garland and Lillian took me back to Box Elder so I could be with friends near the base hospital when the baby arrived. And in early September, with Garland back for he could be there and shop for a new pickup, here was our baby girl. At that time, younger siblings were not allowed in the hospital, so I held her up to the window for them to see her, and I let them name her Rebecca Lyn. She was fine despite all those dangerous tests, and she never lacked caregivers. Garland was crazy about babies, and she was one determined little individual. She was only 6 months old when she had her first horseback ride, her older sister, Sarah, riding with her in her arms, and Beckie, never afraid of animals, loved it. She also loved to sing and really liked country-western music, which was what her daddy liked.
I went to work as a nurse’s aide at the hospital in Bowman and later Sarah worked at the nursing home there. I worked 3 to 11 and Sarah 7 to 3, so when the weather was good, I’d drop Beckie at the nursing home and Sarah would take her to the farm. Later Beckie stayed home with Garland, and I worked 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. I usually made it home about the time the school bus left, and so we juggled her around and I got by on three to four hours a day for sleep. I really liked the work and it paid for piano lessons and such for the kids. One year the boys got BB guns for Christmas — a promise that had been made for when we were no longer living in a city. Thomas was such an analyst that he measured the package under the tree, weighed it and read the catalogs to see if this was what it might be. So, Sarah made up another identical box and put it under the tree. Poor Thomas couldn’t figure out why he would be getting two BB guns, so his figuring was suspect.
The family always had taken turns having the holiday meals and whosever house it was at that day would make the meat and potatoes and drinks and everyone else would bring all of the other goodies. One time we were at Jessie Henke’s in Rhame and everyone brought desserts. No veggies, no salads, just desserts. We all laughed. It was my turn one Christmas and I had to work Christmas Eve night, so I put the 26-pound turkey in the oven just before I left at 12:30 for my night shift in Bowman, with the oven barely turned on to about 225 degrees, hoping that it would cook slowly. Instead, somehow the dial got turned up, maybe when they started breakfast, but by the time I got home at 0800, the turkey was very, very done. I made dressing and all of the other things, and we salvaged what we could. Alan’s dad liked the back of the turkey and he knocked on this overcooked turkey and said, “I guess we’re having turtle this year.” No one went hungry, but it wasn’t a success, either. Later my kids would bring home friends for meals and find us having nothing but toasted cheese sandwiches, not steak or roast beef, despite all those Angus cattle in the barnyard. Sometimes, it was just meatloaf and Minute Rice and no pie.
My life was filled with science fairs, EMT training, work, church and all the kids’ activities. At one point, I was the chairman of the Cancer Drive for Slope County. The bigwigs in Fargo thought we weren’t getting enough publicity, so they sent out this young man in a suit to educate us. First, he told me that we needed to put out material in the doctor’s offices, to which I replied, “we don’t have those in Slope County.” After several similar suggestions, he finally said, “What do you have?” I told him we have three or four one-room schools, one grocery store and two bars. And then I enlisted Ethel Lawson’s help and she gave him a tour of the county. He went back to Fargo and quit.
I tried to expose my kids to new things because I knew the world was bigger, brighter and more interesting if you approach it with an open mind. My years were devoted to my family, and I was never sorry. As the children grew up, they all left for college and jobs, and then it was just me and Garland and a youngster to run the farm and make a living. At 50, faced with a divorce and still with a burning desire to finally become an RN, I opted to go back to college. There’s no way to explain what it was like to go to college after being out of school for over 30 years. Thank fortune for a good basis. I chose the two-year RN course and successfully challenged English and history through CLEP tests, but that darned algebra, which was just as bad as I remembered it. I also had to learn how to swim. But after all those years in the health field, I had an advantage over some of the kids because of my experiences. (This in the days when being an older-than-average student was somewhat unusual.) Taking vitals, making beds, bathing patients – all old hat. And for sure the smells and sights to see were nothing new for me. I always had had a sense of what needed to be done and therefore could use my time to good advantage. And when I graduated, Aunt Dora was there to pin me and that made me so proud. After passing my boards, I took a job at United Hospital in Grand Forks because by then Sarah and her family lived there and I used the money from the sale of my farmland to buy a house in which we could all live. There Beckie would have caregivers when I was working at the hospital. I had never worked in such a big hospital, but I managed, and here I worked on the orthopedic floor. Nursing: so interesting, so demanding, but challenging and rewarding. But it sure can be hard on the body. Back at the Bowman Hospital, I had lifted far too many heavy patients in the days before lifting devices were available, and I didn’t know any old nurses who did not have bad backs as a result.
I retired in the late 1990s and went to the East Coast to stay with my son and his family so that someone would be with their kids while he was serving on several U.S. navy cruises. Then, I returned to Dickinson to help Lillian with child care while she worked, and, finally, I settled in Mandan to help care for my last grandchildren, Beckie’s boys. In these last years, I enjoyed traveling with my children and grandchildren and took my grandchildren on many a camping trip in Montana and Minnesota, and more, where we would visit lakes and mountains and historic sites. I never cared for airplane travel but preferred to drive my car on long trips across the country. My last airplane journey was an adventure, from Bismarck to Maryland, to Virginia Beach, and back to Bismarck. My sister Junette loved playing cards together until her very last days, down the hall from me at Sunset Nursing Home.
Postscript, 2022: Marian maintained a lifelong interest in history, geography, current events and reading, spending time each morning with a daily newspaper and afternoons with semi-trashing romance novels (she called those her “sleeping pills”) and she learned long ago to never go somewhere to wait in a queue without something to do or read be it a paperback book, puzzle book, battery-operated solitaire gadgets, embroidery, you name it). Her years as a military wife, waiting in line for vaccinations or other orders for moving and such had trained her to have something to do, when she wasn’t doing in-home day care, visiting with her neighbors, driving her kids around for lessons and Scouts and packing up the crew to move around the world and back. And we attended lots of parades. Knowns as “Gram” to her grand and great-grandchildren, she continued her gypsy life, traveling and living with her children around the country to help care for her many grandchildren so their parents could pursue their educations and careers and sometimes just enjoy some free time by themselves.
In her last years in Mandan, she was on a first-name basis with the owner of The Owl used bookstore and had her phone number on her speed dial on her little flip phone. She loved to travel, taught her grandchildren to shop in thrift stores around the country and took each one of them to used bookstores. Many days of her life, you could find her putting together complicated jigsaw puzzles, including many of her favorite subjects: nature and birds and lighthouses. She explained to us that her love of lighthouses was sparked when she lived at age 16 in Port Townsend. The boarding house in which her sisters Junette and Lauretta lived looked right out at the lighthouse there, in their neighborhood that was snugged right up against Ford Worden.
For much of Marian’s life, her bird-feeding stations are her homes were the stuff of legend, and we were all kept busy keeping those feeders full and chatting about identifying the birds of our landscape and our travels. She said she led an interesting, gypsy-like life. She loved spending time with her children and grandchildren, loading them into her various minivans for road trips with tents to Minnesota lakes and, of course, Yellowstone National Parks (just to name a few). On several occasions, she and her daughter Lillian set off with grandkids and traveled to Montana and Wyoming, including Teton National Park and Glacier National Park. Even though she once lived in California, she never got to visit Yosemite National Park. But she encouraged us to and wished she could be with us. She enjoyed cooking over a campfire and sleeping in a tent well into her 80s (much to the astonishment of her older sister, Junette). She loved to travel on trains (and disliked airplane travel) and had a vast number of stories of her travels with relatives and friends and her family over the years, starting with wagons and horses and a Model-A, and including the streetcars in Seattle and the ferries on the Puget Sound. She had creative nicknames for her children (some of which seemed to have originated with other older generations of her line including the Crook family members in Mississippi). The last time Lillian (her daughter) put her on an airplane to visit the East Coast members of the family, she was snagged momentarily by the TSA for inadvertently having a plastic knife in her luggage (she loved ingenious gadgets all her long life). The nice TSA agent handed Lillian the knife, Marian shrugged, and off she flew to Maryland and Virginia (Amtrak) and back — again filled with funny stories and a new fancy hat she wore on the airplane. (She was of the generation who dressed up to fly on an airplane or go to town.) Although she always said “if I had been an artist or a painter, I would have …” she was an artistic wizard with a needle and thread all her life and taught us all to knit and sew along the way. She sewed us doll clothes, school clothes, wedding clothes, Halloween costumes (the mouse costume complete with a huge tail was passed down by many) and more. We bought lots of fabric and took her on lots of shopping trips for craft supplies. Once she settled again in Slope County, there were many trips to Rapid City for shopping and medical services at Ellsworth Air Force Base, including when she had her last child, Beckie, right there at EAB. Many of her lucky family members and friends have her beautiful, embroidered dishtowels and a few of us are fortunate enough to have the quilts she helped make in the course of her life. If there was a geography bee anywhere, Marian might have won it. Having chased a career military husband around the world while she raised kids added to her advantage, but she had a native knowledge of geography fostered in her growing years in North Dakota and the Pacific Northwest and having read countless issues of National Geographic magazine. Her homes always had newspapers and magazines and such, including Life magazine and her lifetime collection of the original Nancy Drew books, which her parents bought for her and her children later read in our Slope County home and then passed along to grandchildren. She raised a bunch of nerds.
But back to jigsaw puzzles. Generally, jigsaw puzzles are pictures of places, and she put together thousands of them, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends and family and neighbors. Each time, Marian learned something about the place in the picture she had just completed and admired the artwork. There was a drive-in somewhere in El Paso and of course, like any family of the 60s, we went to that, when her kids weren’t at the pool or in school or in the station wagon driving from El Paso to North Dakota or El Paso to Mississippi — both really long journeys in a car with kids and a variety of dogs and cats. Somewhere on the route between her El Paso homes and Fort Bliss was the first-ever Country Fried Chicken we had seen, and we were in hog heaven when we ate there instead of cooking chicken ourselves. When she was a young bride, having a great deal of experience in butchering and cooking poultry in Slope County, she found herself in Mississippi, where her mother-in-law had not roasted a turkey. Her husband said, “Marian, maybe you should roast the turkey instead of boiling or frying it.” And so, Marian did! Right there in rural Mississippi. Where she also picked berries and taught us to pick berries and fish and go to the area beauty shop to get prettied up and the nearby Piggly Wiggly to buy food and the corner store to buy fabric. To pack our suitcases and unpack those and then get in the car to head back to wherever it was we were living. But dang, at that time women were not meant to fish or drive or … but of course, Marian’s children did all of the above.
Later she encouraged her children to cultivate many hobbies and pursue their educations. A long list includes Scouts, band, basketball, baseball, stamp collecting, Science Club, coin collecting, books and reading and more. When she became a military wife, eventually with a handful of kids to look after while her husband was deployed both overseas and in this country during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, she wasn’t intimidated by the challenge of getting ready for the next move, oftentimes after her Army husband had gone on ahead to his next post to line up housing for his growing family. And she always looked forward to the possibility of seeing some of those places she had dreamt about as a girl. Later we tolerated ourselves in various automobiles when we would get motion sickness. She kept us busy traveling to nearby national parks and historic sites and such so Garland could fish in peace without his kids pestering him. She taught us all a lot about packing and unpacking and traveling and fashion and more — including the ever-changing fashion of hats. And by the time she moved into assisted living, she had collected an impressive array of hats. In March 2017, she won the Edgewood Vista Mandan pinochle tournament.
In her lifetime she learned English, German, Norwegian, Latin, Spanish and Japanese and she tried to keep up her vocabulary until her last days. She could remember all of her various mailing addresses. She was always interested in genealogy and worked on that with Lillian and Junette until their last years together in Mandan. She always asked if we kept in touch with relatives still living in Norway and elsewhere in the U.S. (they are, and we do). She loved the seashore and the mountains and hatched many adventures with her new friends around the world. And she nurtured countless people in learning to identify birds and plants and more, when she was not reading, making krumkake, organizing a pinochle or whist or cribbage game or scheming up a trip to a thrift or craft or bookstore. She visited as many lighthouses as she was able and loved the view across the ocean and from the tops of mountains, born perhaps from the time she lived on the open prairie but her topophilia was shaped by her teenage time in Port Townsend. She taught many of us to read a map and her nursing home room included a framed copy of a map of East coast shipwrecks from National Geographic.
When camping, with or without her family, in her tent and a well-used sleeping bag, in national and state parks around the country, she’d pitch a tent and plunk herself down in a camp chair to read the National Park publications and other guides and maps that would steer her on the journey ahead. She always wanted to share what she had read with her loved ones, and she traded stories and magazines back with more people than can be counted. She also loved to garden and have flowerpots outside windows when appropriate to the home in which she was living. She did not much like to cook although she certainly knew how. One of her favorite tricks, when we were kids, was to get us to cook, and then she would wash dishes while we were engaged in other things like doing our homework or practicing the piano or such.
Marian was resolute about the importance of education and justifiably proud of their descendants as we proceeded, each on our own life journey of education and adventures. She and Junette traded stories and games and magazines and books until Junette’s death in April 2020. Marian kept busy getting to know her new neighbors in Mandan in three different locations, driving her grandchildren from event to event, attending music festivals, and the symphony with Junette. While she was humble, she was generous in praising us and telling the folks around her how proud she was of us as we obtained our myriad credentials in life. She knitted and crocheted dozens of special scarves and afghans for loved ones and staff members and could make a beeline to the yarn section in any store. She raised her children to work hard: farming, 4-H, hauling bales, branding, raising chickens, singing in choirs, playing piano — you name it. Roll up your sleeves and do it. We all rode various buses to school on gumbo and snowy roads, played musical instruments in various pep and marching band — again — whatever was required of us.
Sarah, her eldest, worked in various nursing homes and hospitals, attended UND and worked for JC Penney until she retired after a 30-year career. Marian burst with pride when Sarah became a seasonal employee for Theodore Roosevelt National Park and couldn’t wait to see a picture of Sarah in her uniform. Her last road trip with Thomas and Lillian was, in fact, to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where we met Sarah for a picnic in Chimney Park, listened to Western Meadowlarks and took Marian on one last drive on the scenic road before it was time to speed back to Mandan. Thomas is a retired Senior Chief, U.S. Navy. He managed to fly into Bismarck for what would be Marian’s last birthday party and the faces of the people in the building who watched us arrive were something else. Because of the frightful winter weather and the uncertainty, we did not tell her he was visiting, especially since she had endured by this time almost two years of COVID lockdown with its rules about who could and could not be with her. When he entered the room, Sarah and Lillian witnessed Marian melting into his arms in tears of happiness and laughter of pure joy that he was there and the excitement that we were actually having a birthday party in her room. Others arrived as their schedules allowed including Beckie, who has worn so many hats in her life as a daughter, dental hygienist, wife, mom — and in our view master organizer, gardener, party-thrower and an all-around good cook. Fishing, potlucks, various boats and campers and such will keep us all busy as bees. Marian would have it no other way. Like my ancestors, we are not fond of braggadocio, but we can say Marian’s last party was a damned fine one. The youngest daughter of tough Scandinavian and German roots, she embodied the pioneer spirit and worked hard to make her corner of the world a better place. Her obituary, while brief, is just a glimpse of her interesting life, a long life, raised by suffragettes of many generations, she placed a high value on the right to vote and a right to privacy and to make our own decisions and mistakes. We discussed and debate world affairs all her life and listened to the stories of many of the elders and to hers and others are time marched on. She was born in a time when rural electricity was just extending to Slope County, with a windmill for water and power and a battery-operated radio in the kitchen. And she lived to watch the Moon landing and the TV show “Sixty Minutes” and more. Franklin Roosevelt was president when she was born and she told stories about the Roosevelts all of her life. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Marian was told exactly what was ordered for military dependents: She would have to evacuate while her older children were in elementary school, and they might be separated from her and her younger children still in diapers (fortunately, that crisis passed). She was a terrific driver, drove fast and was quite proud when she was living in places where an inch of snow paralyzed the town, like El Paso, and she was still able to drive to work. It was a sad day when she had to relinquish her last automobile, but she had an N.D. driver’s license until her last days and by goodness, she was going to vote. She watched Kennedy’s funeral on a black-and-white TV in Slope County. (She had proudly voted for Ike! some years before this.) She took great pride in voting, and her very last absentee ballot was a vote for the first woman vice president – we documented that her absentee ballot had been delivered by one of us and she took some righteous pleasure in watching the subsequent inauguration. She nurtured generations of museum nerds along the way and surely more to come. Fishing was boring to her, but she liked watching people fish and have fun and she liked to eat breaded shrimp!
She spent one last night with her three daughters at Sanford in Bismarck before passing away peacefully in her sleep on Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, in true North Dakota form, amid a blizzard, shortly after her last birthday party. She cared for many people in the Bowman and Grand Forks hospitals and hosted many brandings and made and ate lots of pie, and especially loved sour-cream raisin pie. Marian loved chocolate and had a generous heart to the end.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Lillian and Andy, her four sisters, and her grandson Craig Charles McLaughlin II. Surviving her are her children, Sarah (Craig) McLaughlin, Andy Crook, Lillian Crook (Jim Fuglie), Thomas (Betty) Crook, and Beckie (Jason) Walby; grandchildren and their spouses, Eric (Carrie) Crook, Christina (Chris) Lowe, Kathleen McLaughlin (Jesse) Richardson, Tommy (Whitney) Crookson, Lisa Casserly, Matthew (Jaimee) McLaughlin, Michael McLaughlin, the twins Chelsea and Rachel Sorenson (Lillian’s daughter’s), Duncan and Loren Crook, and Jacob (fiancée Ashley Wanner) and Ryan Walby, many great-grandchildren, and one great-grandson. Services will be held at the Rhame Lutheran Church and she will be buried at the Tuttle Cemetery in rural Bowman County on May 14th, southwest of Rhame, next to her parents, Lillian and Andy. And then her descendants will have a great party – which is just as she would have wished!