Thursday, June 7, 2012

Prairie's Edge

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 October of 1997, Grandpa Bill Folger wrote:

When I was in the 4th grade, I lived with my pioneer grandparents in Hawley, Minnesota.

Hawley was a small town, population about 1000, located about 20 miles from the North Dakota border and about 125 miles from Canada.  We were on the prairie about 4 miles from the edge of the big woods. We had good outside communication, being served b US Highway No.10 and the Northern Pacific Railway.  The extreme weather fostered a hardy people, although this didn’t occur to me at the time.  I was an amateur ornithologist in bird heaven.  There were casuals from the woods, prairie birds, locals and a tremendous spring migration.  By 4th grade, I spent a lot of time along the river.

Ours was a business town serving an estimated 3000 farm people.  The farmers brought potatoes, grain, turkeys, eggs, milk and cream to our potato warehouses, grain elevators and creamery.  We supplied them and ourselves with a seemingly endless array of goods and services.  There were 2 blacksmith shops, a harness shop, 3 doctors offices, 2 dentists, a bakery, 4 grocery stores, post office, 2 banks, 4 restaurants, 5 beer parlors, a drug store 4 garages, a shoemaker, 3 barbers, 2 butcher shops, 2 farm machinery outlets, 3 places to buy clothing, 2 furniture stores and a funeral parlor along and adjacent to our 3 block main street.  In 1932, most of the farmers had horses for work at the farm and to pull the sled to town when roads were blocked by snow.  There were trucks and automobiles, but many farmers didn’t have them and there were lines of horse drawn wagons on the streets at harvest time.  The main street was graveled as were most of the side streets.  There were hitching posts for horses at our end of town, just like in the cowboy movies.

My father was a civil engineer, a bridge inspector for the state highway department.  He was with them throughout the depression, the decade of the 1930’s.  He built bridges in the northern half of the state and so was away from home much of the time.  My brother and I were with him during vacations and with our grandparents during the school year.  He was fun to be with and knew everything.  He would take us to see things of interest and constantly tell us things of interest. One time, he took us to see a slightly smelly dead whale that someone had hauled by truck from the Pacific.  I remember feeling it and I think my brother and I climbed on top of it.  My Dad always had something to report when he came home for a weekend.  I think one time he saw moon dogs and another time a moon rainbow.  He had a Quaker background and emphasized respect for other races and religions. My grandfather was a businessman who took care of his potato house and grain elevator and rental of several business properties. As I move along, I realize I didn’t mention the jeweler, a veterinarian, lawyer, theater, plumber, electrician and bootleggers.  The bootlegger supplied liquor which was not legally sold in our town.  I have the impression they didn’t prosper.  In spite of there being low prices paid for commodities and little money available, the business buildings were seldom empty.

My uncle published a weekly newspaper.  He ran articles of local interest and specialized in short notes on activities of local people.  In addition to his paper, two daily papers from outside were delivered by boys and 2 others came by mail. At this time I was reading one of the papers along with parts of two weekly magazines and at least 5 monthly magazines.  We also listened to the radio.  In addition to the media, we got news about the country from the transients.  In harvest season, thousands were on the freight trains.  I counted 300 on one train.  My grandmother cooked with them in mind and fed hundreds of them.  She never asked that they work. Sometimes one of them would voluntarily chop wood for her cook stove.

In 1932, money was a problem.  To put this into perspective, I will tell some of my experiences with a dime.  If I wanted to bring something to my friends at the bum’s camp, I could buy a soup bone for a dime or for free.  My brother and I would see a cowboy movie every Friday night for a dime (a bargain as we stayed for both shows).  When I was in 5th grade, I garnered several dimes in a short period of time.  I sold 3 Ladies Home Journals for 10 cents each and the salesman gave me a gyroscope that would spin on the edge of a water glass.  I found a hip flask and sold it to a bootlegger’s wife for 10 cents.  She pulled back her rug and opened a trap door to put the bottle in the cellar before giving me the dime.   I borrowed $5 and spent a day going to business places getting change. I was collecting Indian head pennies.  Somehow the day ended with me holding $5.10.  I saved that dime and a few weeks later as walking through an alley where am auctioneer was selling furniture.  I bid 10 cents for a table and the auctioneer held it for me while I ran home and got the dime. I understand candy bars were 5 cents each, coffee and donut 5 cents and soda pop 5 cents.  I don’t recall buying any of these.  For 10 cents, I could get a stamp collection premium and stamps on approval from ads in Boy’s Life.  At the Salvation Army in Fargo, I could buy Henty and other boys books along with old National Geographic’s for 10 cents each.  My folks would drop me off Saturday afternoon when we went to Fargo and usually I was the only person at the bookshelves.

Hawley in 1932 was hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  There was not air conditioning and sometimes people slept on the lawns.  My grandmother had a screened in porch where my brother and I slept safe from mosquitoes and in position to enjoy the frequent lightening storms.  There was little rain.  We liked the weather extremes in winter and summer.  In winter there were snow storms and cold weather.  The coldest I experienced was -40 degrees F. My Dad reported -55 degrees F.  We went our n the storms but not in the blizzards.  We wore wool long johns (underwear), heavy socks, boots and overshoes to keep our legs and feet warm.  We also wore sheepskin coats and I always had a cap or hat over my ears.  Sometimes my friends wouldn’t have their ears covered and their ears would turn white.  This indicated freezing and they would thaw them with their hand or with snow.

In a small town, people usually walked when they went to school, downtown or to church.  It would be unusual for any of us to be given a ride.  When we went to another town, it was usually by automobile.  Rarely, we would take the train.  I can recall no one from our town traveling by commercial air.  I think Northwest did stop in Fargo by that time but I’m not sure.  The Gophers traveled by bus when they went to Seattle to play the Huskies in the first series game in 1943.  In 1960, I met the Missoula Florence Hotel bellhop who led the team through the smoke filled corridors when the hotel burned.  I was thrilled to meet him and more thrilled when I found out he was going to college at Missoula courtesy of the University of Minnesota. He had waited 25 years and when he contacted the university, someone remembered him and he was given a full scholarship as promised 25 years earlier.

My grandparent’s home had 5 rooms on the first floor and 4 bedrooms and a bath on the 2nd floor.  My brother Keith, 2 years younger than I, slept with me.  We sometimes slept on the davenport in the parlor, sometimes on the porch and sometimes in one of the upstairs bedrooms.  We didn’t have a room of our own.  We constantly fought about the location of the bed centerline.  During vacations with our parents, we would usually live in a rented summer cottage on a lake or in a small rented house near the bridge currently being built by our Dad.  I don’t recall my brother and I ever having separate rooms.  Most of our friends lived in modest homes, none as large as my grandparents.

Our grocery store was small, mostly dry food and canned.  Fresh foods were limited to potatoes, onions, oranges, apples and sometimes bananas.  In local season there would be fresh vegetable such as corn and tomatoes.  The grocery clerk took care of the orders.  Orders were made by telephone and delivered by a delivery boy.  Sometimes we would take a list to the counter and the clerk would fill the order.  Seldom or never would the buyer take the item from the shelf.  The shelving reached to the ceiling and rather than use a ladder, the clerk sometimes used a long handle with a control on the bottom connected to a metal clasp at the top. It was at least 6 feet long.  Sometimes he would tip the item and catch it as it fell.  Pretty exciting!  Many things packaged today, such as peas and beans were taken from a barrel or box and weighed by the clerk before being bagged.  There were no bag options as modern plastics had not been invented. There was very little refrigeration, possibly milk and soda pop in a chest with ice as a coolant. The only frozen food I can remember was the lutefisk stacked outside one of the stores.  Maybe it was dried as it was not outside at night.  There was refrigeration for the ice cream sold at one of the restaurants and for the meat at the meat market.

The nearest hospital was 20 miles away in Moorhead, Minnesota.  It was a 2 story brick building with about 20 rooms.  I stayed there overnight when my tonsils were removed.  I thought there might be some delay in the operating room so took my new Boys Life magazine with me on the gurney.  Not a great experience as the ether didn’t agree with me, my throat was sore and worst of all, I lost the magazine.  It was between 6th and 7th grades.

To be continued.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to Keith for sending along these comments by Grandpa Bill. Life was not easy in those days!