Sunday, June 17, 2012

Prairie's Edge - Conclusion

When David Bruce was in the 4th grade in Seattle, he was assigned  to interview one of his grandparents and find out what life was like when they were in the 4th grade.  Bill started to write up what he remembered and so enjoyed it that he gave David much more than expected.  The story was hand written by Bill and Kim typed it in 1997. It was filed in a folder and stored in a box. Kim found it when she was cleaning out a storage area a few weeks before Bill passed away on April 16th, 2012.


In late winter of the 4th grade, the measles came to Hawley.  This meant house arrest behind a prominent sign tacked to the door for a period of 2 weeks.  There were about 20 people in our class and seats would empty 2 or 3 at a time with me still there.  Finally, most of the students were back in school and I thought I wouldn’t get it.  I was the last to get sick and last to get back.  When I got back I had lost the smell of the hive and at recess was relegated to defense of the fort along with Vern Grincker and Loppy Johnson.  The fort was ground higher than the north playground and attack was made uphill along a 180 degree front.  The attack group figured on pelting me along with the other 2 defenders.  About that time the temperature rose to the point ice balls could be quickly manufactured.  Loppy was about 4 years older than the rest of us and had a great arm.. Vernon and I ceased throwing and made snowballs as fast as we could.  I think Loppy nailed all 8 attackers on one of their charges.  The attack force stayed in there for a couple of disastrous days and we then went on to something else for a 15 minute recess activity.

Hawley grade school in 1032 was an 1890’s 2 story brick building with 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades on the first floor and 4th, 5th and 6th on the second. There was a long hall from front to back of the first floor with a branch hall at the middle leading to 1st and 2nd grade.  Two open stairways were adjacent to the long hall and lead up from the short hall.  When we first graders marched between the stairways for the fire drill the students from the upper classes would already be on the stairways waiting for us to clear.  The fire drills were always a surprise test and there was a go go atmosphere as we marched along with in arms length of students waiting on the stairs.  I always imagined I could smell smoke.  By 4th grade we had an enclosed slide and I never experienced the wait on the stairs.

January 1933 found Hawley experiencing cold and strong winds.  The school was heated by a coal fired boiler with hot water radiators.  I was comfy after something went wrong and our classroom cooled!  After all, I had my long johns and a wool sweater.  Miss Carlson, our teacher, was not as well equipped and I suspect she wished she could afford a fur coat.  At this time a nice girl, Betty Hoagl, sitting just ahead of me asked me about the operation of a thermometer.  She didn’t buy my explanation and I told her I would prove it.  I either opened a window or there was snow coming through around the windows.  At any rate, I got a small ball of snow and applied it to the bulb of the thermometer. I showed Betty what I had done and we went back to our seats.  Miss Carlson had gone over to the high school and we had scarcely sat down when she came in with the superintendent.  After a brief discussion with audible repetition of the word “cold”, they went over to the thermometer.  I slunk down in my seat and probably said one of the numerous prayers that speckled my childhood.  Superintendents were imposing from the vantage of a small 9 year old, kind of like a King, and I didn’t want to discuss anything with him.  He walked with a not so bad attitude but came to attention when he looked at the thermometer.  They probably heard him in the 5th and 6th grades when he called out” Good gracious, Forty-five!!”  Betty apparently wasn’t in love with me, as after the superintendent left, she tried to report my actions to Miss Carlson.  We were out of school for 3 days while repairs were being made. Miss Carlson had chosen not to listen to Betty and I didn’t volunteer.

My brother Keith and I spent our 1 week Easter vacation with our Dad and Mother in Argyle, Minn.  Friday or Saturday evening we were in East Grand Forks when my Dad decided to buy us some clothing.  The only store open was a small rather dark men’s clothing store. There were no boy’s clothes in sight. On my Dad’s inquiry, the proprietor smiled and said “I have just the thing, I over ordered when I ordered blue caps for the school”.  It was dark at the back of the store but the man was able to dig out two caps that perfectly fit the small heads of a 2nd and 4th grader.  We were pleased.  Back at school on Monday, we got there just as school was starting and weren’t able to show off to the other kids.  At recess, I proudly came down the step wearing my blue cap.  Conversation came to a stop as the kids stared and one of the girls said “purple”.  I recognized the scorn in her voice and the look of the others.  I went around the building, cap in hand, and when I reached the back steps found a 2nd grader with purple cap in hand approaching from the other direction.  We stuffed the caps under the steps and never saw them again.  We had arrived at a mutual consensus without conversation.  The caps were bright indeed.  Small wonder Mr. “I have just the thing” was smiling as he made the sale.

I can’t recall playing many games when I was in 4th grade.  When weather permitted, a lot of softball was played.  I had poor depth perception and was a washout as a ball player.  We played tag, hide and seek, Auntie-I-Over, Run Sheep Run and Fox and Geese.  At home we played some checkers and card games.  Lots of sledding. Marble games were played in the spring.

The men in our town fished, hunted, went to town team and high school games.  They belonged to lodges and clubs, played cards and in general were busy.  We had a town band.

Radio and movies made great advancements during the 1930’s.  Radio stations proliferated nationwide.  President Roosevelt spoke to the nation when his fireside chats were broadcast.  Prior to the 1932 election Eddie Cantor sang “ Roosevelt, Garner and Me” and after the election we heard, “Happy Days are Here Again”.

In the late 1920’s talkies came and replaces the silent films. In the 30’s, we began to see color films. Going to the movies was inexpensive and often the theaters would be packed.

In October 1931, I was and 8 year old 3rd grader and my brother Keith had started 1st grade.  We had two science heroes, Franklin and Edison.  We had sat around campfires as had the caveman. The same as Abe Lincoln, we had lain and studied in front of a fireplace.  We had lived in houses lighted by kerosene lamps, but hadn’t seen gas lighting.  If we were with our grandfather after dark at the farm, the light would be from lamps.  The light we saw other than from fires was from light bulbs from electricity.  We knew about Edison’s work developing the filament.  Our grandmother had talked about Edison and we knew there were no electric lights when she was our age.  The electric light had been invented little more than 50 years prior to 1931. Edison died that October and our town was to honor him by turning off the village power for one minute.  The leaves had fallen from the trees and as we stood with our grandmother at the living room window. We had a view of town street lights and part of the downtown lights.  I think it was 6 o’clock but may have been later as it was dark outside.  All the lights in town went out. We stood at attention and I noticed that 1st grader Keith was also saluting.

During the decade of the thirties, a federal Rural Electrification program along with private power and farm coops brought electricity to the farms.

In the early 1030’s a farmer, Mr. Friday, came with his milk wagon and delivered milk all thru the town.  His horse knew the route and would automatically make the stops. About mid decade, the creamery started pasteurizing the milk and we got a new milkman.

The iceman delivered chunks of ice to us in the 30’s. The ice had been cut on a nearby lake and large blocks were stored in ice houses.  The housewife had a square with numbers such as 25 and 50 on the sides.  She would put the card in the window and the iceman could tell how much ice she needed.  He would expertly chip off the right amount and carry it in with his tongs.  The ice chests were being replaced by electric refrigerators during the 1930’s. The iceman would give us small pieces of ice on hot days and we would suck them. 

My brother and I would rush home after school to listen to radio serials, especially Little Orphan Annie.  I sent for one of her decoder pins and entered one of her word game contests. My brother would figure out a way to keep the radio going when it would stop.  When we took it to Moss Aury, town inventor, for repairs, he expressed amazement that it still ran with so many things in bad order. Keith, a tinkerer, solver, doer later became an electrical engineer.

Before I stop writing, will comment on smoking. My dad smoked cigarettes and my grandfather a pipe.  Dad was hooked.  At a basketball game or other school events, he would go outside to smoke. He would stop working to go and get cigarettes if he ran out.  Our friends smoked, picking up butts from the streets and later were buyers.  The people in the movies smoked and would enjoy a cigarette as thy expired at the end of the movie. There was cigarette advertising everywhere. By 4th grade, I had decided I didn’t want to be stuck with a habit and never have smoked a cigarette.

Bill’s  Grandparents: William and  Delia Ritteman
Uncle who owned the paper: Archibald Whaley

1 comment:

  1. Keith, thanks for sending Grandpa Bill's stories. They were great. I was struck with how much of his life was similar to my very early memories in Utica. Although we had refrigerator in the late 1940's, many of our neighbors still depended upon ice boxes and I well remember the iceman in his horse drawn wagon roling over the streets of Cornhill. Leaving horse poop and pieces of ice near the curb. We'd separate them on a summer day and wash off the ice before enjoying the free piece. Of ice. My grandfather on Steuben street held off on getting electricity because coal gas (piped in from North Utica where the power company was burning coal to produce electricity) was still available and he was used to it. It my mother who finally talked him into getting electricity so that she could have a radio to listen to popular music, news and probably soaps. By the time I came along in 1943, electricity was just about everywhere, as well as natural gas for cooking and heating.