The Life of Neva Briggs Cohoes
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To my children, Marilee, Dick and Layton, and to their children
GOING HOME AGAIN
One day some time ago, my daughter said to me, “Mother, I wish you would write about your life on the farm when you were growing up and tell us what you did and what it was like. We don’t know much about your life.” That set me thinking that they should know. I must first tell you of my parents and grandparents as some of them were a very important part of my life.
We grew up in the Depression of the late 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, so we knew what it was to have great financial problems and bad illnesses and accidents. But, I’m sure they made us stronger people to be able to overcome them. We were strong in our religion and love for one another. We were disciplined by parents who taught us by example as well as words.
All of the things I write about, and some are such simple things, are so vivid in my memory. It must be because they were important in shaping my life. I am sure if you stop and reflect on your lives from your first memories on into adulthood, there will be many fond memories surfacing that your children would like to hear about.
I hope you enjoy seeing and reading of the simple life of a farm girl,
Your Loving Mother
The Story: As told by Neva Briggs Cohoes
I was born Neva Elsie, the second daughter of Earl and Anna Briggs on January14, 1914 at Zimmerman, Minnesota. Earl was the son of Ira Ebenezer Briggs and Alice Michael. Earl had three brothers, Bert, Fred and Ray and three sisters, Emma, Lettie and Ivy. Ira’s family had long ago come from England, Massachusetts, Vermont, then Ohio and finally to Iowa where they settled.
The ancestors of Alice Michael originally came from Germany (Austria). When they came to the United States, for a short time they lived in Pennsylvania and then moved to Virginia, Indiana and finally to Iowa. Alice’s Mother’s name was Martha Beard and those ancestors also came from Germany and took somewhat the same path. Alice’s family had grown up around Charles City, Iowa. Both families were born in Iowa and grew to young men and women before buying a farm at Zimmerman, Minnesota in Livonia Township. They built a small home and lived and raised their family of seven children.
Anna was the daughter of Carl and Eva Swanson. Carl and Eva emigrated from Sweden in the 1880s and settled west of Zimmerman in Orrock Township. Here they had their family of ten. Anna had four sisters, Hilma, Helen, Mayme and Eva, and five brothers, Gus, Charles, Albert, Bert and Harry. Anna went through eight grades of elementary school and then to teachers college at St. Cloud, Minnesota to become a rural school teacher. Prior to this time and during it she worked at the telephone office at Zimmerman.
Earl and Anna met and were married at Zimmerman on June 10, 1910. The first year they lived with Earl’s family. They bought 120 acres of land adjoining Earl’s parents’ farm. During this time they built a home for themselves and started quickly to grub trees and make fields. They built a house, a small barn, corn crib, chicken house and later a machine shed, and, yes, a toilet. I don’t know what the house looked like until I was old enough to remember it. I know we had no storm windows and no screens on the windows, but there were screen doors. On the lower half of the windows mosquito netting was tacked on. The kitchen had kerosene lamps in brackets on the wall which gave about as much light as a couple of candles. We later had a couple of larger kerosene lamps that we carried from room to room as the activity moved. Dad had a kerosene lantern he used outdoors for his chores. On the kitchen floor was a large trap door with stairs doing down to the cellar. The walls of the cellar were cement but the floor was just soil. One wall was lined with shelves that when winter arrived was filled with canned fruits and vegetables. There would probably be a very large crock with sauerkraut mother and dad had made sitting on the dirt floor. On the opposite side of the cellar was a huge pile of potatoes, our apples were stored there too.
The pantry was quite large as it had to hold all of the dishes, pots, pans, etc. as well as all of the food. The coffee grinder was on the wall and we ground the coffee fresh each time Mother made coffee. I used to love to sneak into the pantry when no one was around and cut a slice of Mother’s wonderful bread, spread it was butter and sprinkle it with brown sugar, and then devour it. If I was lucky I would find the raisins. There was no door on the pantry as there was really no room for one, but we had a curtain hung to cover the opening.
The kitchen range was the best part of the kitchen. There was always plenty of wood in the wood box so the range had wood in it all winter long to help heat the house. There was a reservoir in the right side of the range which we kept full of water and it was always real warm for whenever we needed it. The oven on our range didn’t have a temperature gauge on it so we could know when it was hot enough to bake the cake or whatever Mother was making. But it was no problem. When you thought it was hot enough you tore off a piece of paper and placed it on the rack. If in a certain length of time it turned light brown it was ready for a cake. If not you just put more wood in the range to get it hotter. The warming oven was a real blessing and I’ve always wished it had been a part of our stoves today. It was a wonderful way to keep foods warm and to warm rolls for a meal or to dry mittens on the top of the warming oven.
There were always three or four irons on the back of the stove, minus the handle. When it was time to iron clothes, we pushed the irons onto the hottest part of the stove and put the handle on the iron and ironed until it got cold. You then put it back on the stove to heat again while you used another hot one. If you didn’t clean the top of the stove real well before you began and cleaned the irons also, the white blouses and shirts you planned to iron would get soiled and have to be put back in the laundry. It was also easy to scorch the clothes.
As to the furniture in the kitchen, besides the range, in the corner by the stairway we had a small table which contained a wash basin and soap. The reservoir was close so you had warm water for washing. A slop pail, of course, sat beside the washstand as we had no sink drain. A mirror was on the wall above the stand. There was a table on the north side of the kitchen which held a pail of fresh clean water with a dipper in it for drinking. Mother always used this table for making bread, cakes, pies, etc. In the southeast corner of the kitchen was a table and chairs sometimes used when eating our meals. When the family increased in size we used the table in the dining room. There were later seven and sometimes eight or nine for meals.
The dining room was really the center of activity. Besides the potbellied stove for warmth to snuggle up to on those cold winter days, there was our round oak table and six oak chairs which we gathered around in evenings for our various activities with our kerosene lamp in the middle of the table. The table had either four or six leaves to extend it and very often they were all used, as aunts, uncles and cousins got together for Sunday dinners very often.
Mother’s rocking chair sat by the west wall where my memory saw her especially after supper. She would leave the table and sit in her rocker and either Orville ore Elwin would be climbing on her lap to be snuggled and rocked for a while. Furniture got changed around often but in one corner was Mother’s treadle sewing machine that she couldn’t do without. She made clothes for all of her family from when we were infants until we were grown. Another corner of the dining room had a table for Dad’s battery radio. It had no speaker; you had to listen with ear phones. I remember him sitting there listening to the fights, especially the Demsey and Tunny fights during the 1920s.
In another corner was Mother’s china closet that Dad had bought for her for one of their anniversaries. I remember the day it was delivered and how happy she was. She also got a clock that chimed and it’s home was the top of the china closet.
The living room wasn’t used as much except when someone was playing the pump organ – later it was the piano. We had a brown leather hide-a- bed against one wall. On another wall was a “pigeon-hole” desk which was built by my great-grandfather Bunnel. It was in two pieces as there was a bookcase with glass doors which sat on top of the desk but was also used as a separate piece. Mother always had a real pretty fern on a fern stand in the living room, also a couple of rockers and a small bookcase so it was crowded.
The bedroom didn’t have as much furniture. It was not as large as the other rooms. There was only a bed and a dresser. Dad built a wardrobe closet which had doors and shelves at the top for storing blankets and other bedding.
Dad and Mother, as I remember, had a very loving and respectful marriage. They had a very hard life eking out a living on a farm with poor land but they worked side by side with each other’s chores. I have a very vivid memory of Dad during the 1930s going out in the evenings and looking at the western horizon to see if he could see any sign of rain clouds as so many years we had such a lack of rain.
Part of the farm was hilly and it all consisted of clay and wasn’t a very productive farm. Dad worked very hard to make a living on this farm. As he got enough land cleared he raised different crops such as grain, some hay, corn and potatoes, had dairy cattle, pigs and chickens. We raised quite a few white leghorn chickens and the money from the sale of eggs was Mother’s money for groceries each week and for gifts and toys for all of us for Christmas.
In trying to recall just how far back in our lives I remember, it is at least from the time I was four years old. There was one incident even before that time when I broke my arm falling off a chair. Dad and Mother took me by train to a doctor in Elk River to have the bone set.
My sister, Vyrle, was born May 3, 1912. I was born on January 14, 1914. My brother, Orville, was born on February 27, 1918. My Uncle Ray, my father’s youngest brother, left to fight in the First World War. He was stationed in France, became ill and was in a hospital there. I don’t recall that he ever saw active duty. I remember when he came home; he had a blue silk handkerchief for both my sister and me with the year 1919 on it.
I remember the birth of Orville very well. Babies were born at home in those days, but Mother always had a doctor. I remember a lady, Mrs. Lane that was hired to stay and care for them for a week or two. Mrs. Lane would give the baby a bath every day sitting beside the open oven door of the range so it would be warm. What fun for a four-year-old and Mrs. Lane didn’t mind us watching? She was a very kind person.
Another son was born, Elwin, July 17, 1924. Another woman stayed for a week or two to help care for Mother and Elwin. She was Mrs. George James, but we youngsters didn’t like her as she was very stern and we could never watch her bathe the baby. Instead we were set outdoors until she was done.
Now we became a family of six and how busy our lives became. During the years before 1924, my parents decided to give board and room to the teacher who would teach our rural school. The school was one-fourth mile from our home. What a treat to have the school teacher a part of our life. Each new teacher that came immediately became a part of our home. Every evening we seemed to gather around the dining room table and draw or look at books. We had many teachers over those years. Dad finished off one room at the head of the stairs for the teacher so we had to sleep six downstairs and that was a bit crowded but we didn’t seem to mind.
We had most of Mother’s family living on farms in the area but only a few of Dad’s. It wouldn’t have been far to go to visit them with a car but much different with a horse and buggy and in the winter a horse and sled. I barely remember my Grandma Swanson as they lived west of Zimmerman and it took a long time going to their place with the horses. She died in 1918 at the same time my brother, Orville, was born. Mother couldn’t go to the funeral. My Grandma died of heart failure at the age of sixty-nine years. Her life must have been very difficult raising ten children, nine to adulthood. It pains me to think of how she was working every day starting at the age of twelve for farmers in Sweden. Later she was left for one year in Sweden with four little children while Grandpa immigrated to America. She came over a year later on a boat with those four little children. Here she picked up such a hard life. I don’t remember Grandma very well but from what I’ve learned she and Grandpa were dear, proud people and raised a much respected family.
Mother’s brother, Harry and family, took over the family farm and lived there and Grandpa Swanson lived there with them for most of the remainder of his life. I remember that somewhat later we had gotten our first car, a Ford touring with side curtains that snapped on to the inside to enclose it. Many quick rain storms and especially the sight of a skunk in the road really made us kids scramble to get the curtains snapped on.
I remember our Grandpa and Grandma Briggs much better as they only lived one-fourth mile from us. Grandma, I remember, wore a full gathered skirt down to her ankles and blouse to match and with long sleeves. They usually wore a long apron tied at the waist. Grandma Briggs’ kitchen had a large pantry and to this day I only have to think of it and I can smell the wonderful aroma coming from it. There was always freshly baked bread and cookies that she knew we were hoping to sample and she was anxious for us to have some. Grandma Briggs died at the age of sixty-six years, when I was eight years old. Hers was the first funeral I had ever attended in the living room of their home. I still have a vivid memory of just where her casket was placed and where I sat in the room of their home. Even though she was only sixty-six years old when she died, I remember her as such a dear very old lady. Her sister, my Aunt Lucy Michael and her brother Jode Michael and his wife, Aunt Hat, came several times during summers to visit. They lived in Charles City, Iowa. We loved Aunt Lucy as she was a real sweet lady.
My feelings and knowledge of my Grandpa Briggs are so different I find it hard to put down on paper. I often wondered where they ever met and why they ever married. They were so different. I know now what I didn’t know as a child, and it may have helped us to understand. Grandpa had a very unhappy childhood as a stepfather used to beat him and it ended in him running away from home at age twelve and joining a circus.
A story given to me in the last few years tells of Grandpa’s father, while building a house for his family, was being helped by three other men. The three men were supposed to be holding or steadying an end or part of it while Grandpa got down getting something. They let part of this building fall on him and killing him. One of the three men married Great Grandmother within two weeks. He’s the step father that beat Grandpa and caused him to leave home. Grandpa Briggs was a heavy drinker and caused so much unhappiness in his family. He was a very self-centered man. He succeeded in naming each of his seven children and many of his grandchildren. When my father was born, Grandpa named him Charles Edward but Grandma finally rebelled and said she would never call him Charles Edward. She called him Earl and Earl he remained.
My Mother was very afraid of him when he was drinking. She told of when I was a baby, one night while Dad was outdoors milking cows, Grandpa walked into our house drunk. Mother gathered Vyrle into her arms and had me in a baby carriage and she cowered in a corner of the house and waited for Dad to come in from the barn. After Grandma Briggs died, Grandpa went to Minneapolis and lived with his daughter, Lettie. Until he became ill, Grandpa lived with his daughter or a granddaughter.
I remember a few times when Grandpa Briggs visited us and entertained us with songs and ditties he remembered from his circus days. He would sometimes go with us to the county fair and nearly always he would win each of us girls a kewpie doll. That we always loved.
Mother and Dad did many things to help us to play and be entertained. Dad did well at building. He built Vyrle and me a doll bed, a very nice child’s cupboard with a drawer and glass doors. We had several swings in our many trees. I was always a bit of a tom boy and I would be “skinning the cat” on one of the poles. Dad built a merry-go-round from two wagon wheels with the axle attached. He sunk the one wheel and part of the axle in the ground. The wheel above had four long poles crossed across the wheel with a seat on the end of each pole. All it needed was someone to push and away we’d go.
Besides the usual cats, kittens, and a good dog for pets, we had white rabbits. For the housing of the rabbits Dad had bought a pen above six or seven feet square, with chicken wire around and on top of it. He sunk a large wooden box in the ground and built a wooden shoot leading from the sunken box on a slant into the pen. He had hay in the box for the rabbits. It was a perfect rabbit home and so much fun watching the little white rabbits poking their head up out of the shoot. Mother often slid down hill with us. It wasn’t much of a hill but quite a long driveway and down past the chicken house and machine shed so it seemed long to us.
We often had lunch on our little table with our dishes, sometimes outdoors. Mother was very willing to let us make our own little loaves of bread when she was baking and teaching us to bake our tarts and cookies.
Dad never had money enough to put siding on the barn so it just had tar paper on the outside. It was large enough for all four horses and a dozen or so cows. He always had Holsteins and they were supposed to be good milkers. He didn’t have a floor in the barn for a number of years. I remember when they finally poured a concrete floor and a gutter in the cow barn. There was a haymow over the horse barn section with a square hole for an opening to get into it from the inside.
Dad milked twice a day, in the morning before breakfast and after supper at night. One day Dad came home with a cream separator. Now he could sell cream rather than milk. He had to haul it in cream cans to the creamery in Zimmerman. The cream separator had a corner of the kitchen until many years later Uncle Ray built a back porch onto the kitchen. Then it was moved out there. I don’t know how the cream separator worked but the very large bowl-like top of the separator held the whole milk as it came from the cows and the separator mechanism separated the cream into one container and the skim milk into another. I used to love every night to dip a cup into the bowl on the separator and have a cup of warm milk.
We had a butter churn and from some of the cream made our own butter. This was mostly during my early childhood. Seeing butter made was very interesting. A butter churn is a crock, cylindrical in shape and maybe eight or ten inches in diameter and about eighteen inches high. It has a cover on top with a hole in the middle to insert the pole for churning. On the bottom of the pole was a round wooden piece. Depending on how many pounds of butter you wanted to make, you filled the churn with that much cream. With the wooden churner a person kept bringing the pole up and down to beat or churn the cream into butter. You knew it was becoming b utter when it became harder and harder to lift the pole up and down. When it was time you took off the cover and placed the butter in a large shallow wooden bowl. Then with a wood butter paddle you stirred and pressed the butter to remove the liquid, or when that would come out of it and pour this liquid out. When you could work no more liquid out you salted it to taste and added just the right amount of yellow coloring. You put the butter in small butter crocks or jars and stored it in a cool place. After the cream was separated from the whole milk, the skim milk was fed to the pigs.
We had two stoves in the house, the range in the kitchen and a large potbellied stove with a nickel-plated rim around the middle, nice to warm your feet on.
Many Falls would find us one evening going to a neighbors place to make sorghum. I don’t know the particulars but sorghum was planted like corn. It grew tall like corn, and, I believe it was cut before it was ripe. The leaves would be stripped off and you would use just the stock. The neighbor had a crushing machine where you would place these stocks of sorghum. He would be attached to a pole from this machine and as they walked in a circle around the machine it ground and crushed the stock. A trough coming from the machine would catch the liquid and drain it into a kettle. This liquid was cooked in a large kettle over an outdoor fire. As it cooked they had to skim the top to keep it clear. When it had thickened enough it was put into cans. This was syrup for pancakes.
There came a day in 1924 that my Mother’s sister, Mayme, died of a cancerous tumor on her brain. Her husband, Tony, had died a few years before and four children were orphaned. The four sisters of Mayme each took one of the children. All of the sisters lived within a few miles of one another. Eva, Mayme’s second daughter, came to live with us. I was real happy as she was only six months older than I. Eva had rheumatic fever as a small child and developed a heart murmur so she was constantly under the care of a doctor during the first years after she came to live with us so she wasn’t allowed to run a great deal and we puller her around in the little wagon or sled. Her heart seemed to improve except she always had the heart murmur.
Eva hadn’t been with us very long when Aunt Hilma wanted her. I don’t remember if it was to be a permanent change or not but a cute little story ended it. Eva, at that age was pampered because of her health problems and Aunt Hilma insisted she wear heavy long sleeved and long legged underwear and much too late in the spring. We kids always wore long underwear in the winter as we had not yet heard of long pants or jeans. We wore long stockings and dresses. One Sunday when we were down to Aunt Hilma’s Eva told us Aunt Hilma was going to make her wear it until the Fourth of July. So, unknown to Aunt Hilma, she had decided to solve the problem. She cut off the sleeves and legs of the underwear as short as she could and refused to stay there any longer. How glad we were to have Eva home with us again.
While we were so happy to have Eva live with us, the year was to become a time of despair as well. We had been blessed with our little brother, Elwin, and everyone was elated by his birth. But very soon after he was born he began to have convulsions. They became worse and worse until he would have many in one day. He was under the care of a very good doctor in Princeton, Minnesota by the name of Dr. Cooney. However, he couldn’t seem to find the cause of the problem. We had a copper boiler sitting on the back of our wood range with two or three inches of luke warm water in it for many months. As soon as he went into a convulsion, he would be put in the water until he came out of it. This went on all during his first year along with the doctor trying everything possible. One day at the hospital in Princeton, Dr. Cooney said, “We have just one thing to try. I’m going to tap his spinal column and see if he has fluid that could be causing it.” He discovered that had been the cause all that time. He drained off a large amount of fluid. There was the possibility of fluid forming again but it never did and he became a very normal intelligent boy.
The 1920s and 1930s were very bad economically as there were many good crops on our farm and Dad worked so hard for so little. He always found time, however, to do things with and for us. We often would go to Sandy Lake or Blue Lake, not too many miles from our home, where we would swim and fish. We would take a picnic lunch and fry our fish right at the lake. We never used a boat to fish. Mother had made burlap bags, one for each of us, that would hang over our shoulder. We’d have our can of worms in the bag and then would wade out as far as they would let us and fish with a cane pole. Many times some of our aunts, uncles and cousins were there too.
When we were small the Fourth of July usually meant a community picnic at Blue Lake. Either Eva or I would often come home with a quarter that we had won in the foot races and the broad jump. At home in the evening we would have a fireworks display Dad would do for us. As we got a little older the Fourth of July usually meant Big Lake where they had rides, etc. and roller skating where a gathering of our cousins assured a good time.
Eva and I were both tomboys and loved the outdoors. We found just the right trees in the pasture to climb and crawl out on a branch and spring up and down on it. Dad didn’t appreciate seeing these droopy branches but never said not to do it.
We had a corncrib not used in the summer so it was our play house. We would make a real good one. We were both carpenters and made small dressers that worked. They had drawers. We made chairs and a bed stand one summer. We even made a doll buggy, even managing the wheels. Dad seemed to like our enthusiasm for carpentry so he would get us a little bag of nails when he went to town but they never seemed to last until he went to town again. He would notice nails on the outside of the barn that weren’t pounded in tight. We would take a few here and there. Dad would notice it and confront us with it and say, “didn’t I just get you some nails?” He just didn’t understand how busy we’d been.
I can only remember one time in all of our years together that Eva got angry with me. This day we had both gone up in the hay mow looking for little kittens that the mother cat had hidden. We were done and she climbed down the ladder first. Some devilish thought came over me to drop some hay on her head and I did so. It had some chaff in it which got in her hair. She should have pounded me but instead went to the house and told Mother she was running away from home. I don’t remember how it ends or what happened to me but I’m sure I probably was punished.
Our attic wasn’t all finished off when Eva came to live with us. We had just the one room at the head of the stairs. We had one double bed in the room so all three of us girls slept in one bed. Eva just never fought with anyone but three girls in one bed had to ruffle a few feathers so Vyrle and I had a few spats mostly because I always had to sleep in the middle. There was one register in the floor that heat could come through from above the stove in the dining room so when we got out of bed in the morning we each tried to be the one to dress while warming our feet over the register.
Dad eventually added another room in the attic which was next to the chimney so it was warmer. Orville and Elwin slept there except when Uncle Ray was staying with us. Then Orville and Uncle Ray slept in that room and Elwin downstairs. Another small room was added which was Eva’s.
At the same time a new stairway was built and not completely finished by the first night. Mother knew it and had come upstairs with us to see that everyone was in bed. As she left humming a tune she lost her balance on the stairs and had a very bad fall causing a compound fracture of her right leg. She wasn’t able to get around much for a long time so we all had our share of the work to do. She suffered the rest of her life as the bone in her leg was never set straight.
My Dad’s brother, Ray, was divorced and when he wasn’t hired as a carpenter some distance from our home, he made his home with us. We loved having him with us as he was nice to have around, always teasing, and if we coaxed enough he would draw pictures for us, especially scenery pictures. We never knew when our Uncle Ray would be planning to leave. He would just depart as abruptly as he arrived. We knew he was evading paying child support. He had married a woman, Jessie Barrett, who lived not too many miles away. They had a daughter, Doris. Ray’s wife wouldn’t leave her mother and her mother wouldn’t let Ray live in their house. Ray tried to get Jessie to come away with him and he would build a nice house for them, but Jessie wouldn’t leave. Ray was crushed but a divorce was granted and Ray declared he would never pay a penny of child support. As far as I know he never did. Mother suggested to him numerous times that it would be nice to send Doris a gift on her birthday and Christmas but as far as we knew, he didn’t.
Ray spent his short life avoiding getting caught for nonsupport. He loved children but never saw his child after the divorce. He must have longed to see her but he was a very stubborn man and he had been devastated by Jessie’s decision. He had a fatal stroke at an early age, falling on a street in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ray had spent some of his life living with sister, Lettie, in the harvest fields of the Dakotas in the fall, and carpenter jobs around the country. Then one day we’d see a figure walking down the road toward our home and we’d know who it was. He would always have a ring of bologna and liver sausage under his arm. We rarely had any meat in the summer except chicken and fish. What a treat he was bringing us.
Fall and spring always meant a little extra cleaning. The dining, living and downstairs bedroom always got their yearly extra floor maintenance and sprucing up when house cleaning. We kids loved this time. After the floors were scrubbed and dried, Mother varnished them with two coats of varnish. No one could walk on them, but after several hours, here came Dad with long two-by-eights and carefully laid them on the floor to step on when it was a necessity to get something from another room. What fun to walk these planks with our arms out straight to balance ourselves? Each coat of varnish usually took a day and overnight to dry, then the plants were removed and the floor needed a touch-up where they had been. Mother must have had the patience of Job to put up with us.
One day a week all the lamps and reflectors had to be cleaned and the wicks trimmed so when lighted the flame didn’t have a sneep on it. Scatter rugs were used in the dining room, living room and bedroom until a bit later in our lives we got a near room size linoleum for the living room. The floors of the kitchen weren’t varnished but were scrubbed clean very often and some woven rugs used. My Aunt Eva had a rug loom and wove rugs so I’m sure she kept us in rugs. I remember we were always sewing carpet rags for rugs. The floors upstairs were painted but I can’t remember when they were anything but burnt orange.
I remember when we were real young we didn’t have a real mattress. We had what were called straw ticks. They were like a mattress but were filled with straw and I recall occasionally developed a hole and we would find some straw on the floor. I am sure they must have refilled the ticks each fall with new straw. However, it wasn’t many years before we had real mattresses.
I don’t remember ever having a blanket for our bed. We always had comforters and usually made in the winter when there wasn’t as much work outdoors for Mother to do. Mother made nearly all of the clothes for the family and especially the girls. There were always lots of scraps of material for quilts. We had quilting frames that when put together across the back of four chairs we had barely enough room to get around them in the living room. It usually took us all day to get one put together and tied and Mother to finish the edges.
An experience we kids looked forward to was when Dad would find a bee tree, a tree that was hollow and the bees had been making honey in it. I remember Aunt Eva and Uncle Rob going with us at night into a dark woods with a lantern to this bee tree Dad had located during the day. We kids could go along but we had to be very quiet so as not to arouse the bees. I never did know just how they got the honey without disturbing the bees, but we had large dishpans along and Dad and Uncle Rob scooped the honey or honeycomb into the pans. I know we took off in a hurry but we didn’t always get away without getting stung. I remember well the one time that just as I was getting in the back seat one got me in the seat. There would sometimes be one or two bees in the honeycomb in the pan.
There were always trees to be cut and hauled home so in the Fall or Winter a man with a wood cutting machine would come and some of the neighbors, and we would get our logs cut up for another year’s firewood. Each winter a pile would be cut, split and put in cords for the next year’s firewood. We would use dry wood. Mother would get a big dinner ready and feed the men. It seems splitting and cording is an art and men want to do it just the proper way so the word stands were straight and plumb, never a bulge in it. That was my Dad.
During our early life we had no icebox so keeping things cold in the summer was difficult. This is now our family managed it. The well and pump and later the windmill were quite some distance from the house. Where the pump pipe went down into the ground for the well, it was a hole probably ten or twelve feet deep and six or more in diameter. It was curbed with cement and stayed real cool down at the bottom. There were planks covering the hole. A rope was tied to the handle of the cream can and was lowered down to the bottom. Any other food, butter especially, was placed in one or more pails and like the cream lowered down to the bottom of the well. The end of the rope at the top would be secured around the pump. At mealtime if you wanted anything from the well in preparing the meal, you went out to the well, removed a plank and brought up whatever you needed.
For many years we didn’t have a windmill. We had a large stock tank to keep filled with water for the cows and horses and we took our turn every day pumping water. Dad did the most of it but we all helped. When we got the windmill it was a great relief but it only pumped when the wind blew, and when it didn’t, it was back to pumping by hand. When I was grown, but Elwin was still home, Dad finally was able to afford a gasoline engine to pump the water when the windmill was unable to do it.
We raised our own popcorn so winter evenings found Dad with the wire popper popping corn in the potbellied stove.
In the winter when it was too cold to take our sponge baths in our room upstairs we would open the oven door on the kitchen range and stand beside the stove and bathe. Everyone, kids too, wore one piece long underwear all winter. We couldn’t have survived those cold winters without the long underwear. There was no such thing as jeans or clacks or snow pants in those days. Girls and women always wore dresses and long stockings over the long underwear legs. There was no two piece underwear so youngsters would soon outgrow theirs.
The washing machine was the old wooden one with a wooden handle that you had to push and pull a given number of times (over 100), to agitate the center of the machine tub to wash the clothes. We first had to heat the water in a copper boiler on a hot stove, enough to fill the washer tub and then transfer. When the first water had been transferred to the machine we heated more water in the boiler and the dirtiest clothes that already had been washed and rinsed would be put in the boiler and boiled to remove any remaining soil. These were usually towels and dish towels. We had a wooden tub rack with two tubs containing cold water for the two rinses. I should say that during the first wash we also used the washboard and soiled clothes had a workout before going into the rise.
In warmer weather this process was always done outdoors, and the machine, tubs, etc. were stored beside the house but in the winter the machine and tubs were brought in and done in the middle of the kitchen floor. Of course all the water had been pumped and carried into the house to do the washing and then carried out again from the tubs and machine when done. What a mess to clean up the kitchen afterward. It makes me tired to even think of our washday back in the olden times. When I remember seeing people in other countries washing their clothes in a stream or river that would be much easier. Wait! There’s more to come.
We three girls, when we were large enough, took our turn at the “push- pull” action of the machine arm. I’ll never forget as it was always so hard for me. I would lie on the ground exhausted and with my heart pounding after my turn. I wasn’t recuperated when it was my turn again. If Dad wasn’t busy with outdoor work he would do this for us but much of the time he was busy. He always gave Mother all the help he could with these hard jobs.
Our winters always seemed to bring us an awful lot of snow in those years. We have little or nothing compared to what we had in the past. I remember on wash day Dad would have to shovel a path to all the clothes lines so we could get there to hang the clothes. We had no room inside to hang them. Of course the long-legged underwear and kids overalls froze stiff. A few at a time would be brought inside and draped over chairs or placed in front of the stoves. This process was barely finished when it was time to wash again. We were always washing for seven or eight people.
Dad kept clearing more land for fields. We kids were always anxious to watch Dad pull stumps. He had a stump puller which consisted of a sort of drum or large spool. A long pole was attached to it and a cable would be attached to the stump and would be wound on the drum as the horses hitched to the pole walked around and around the drum. When it got would tight enough, the stump was pulled leaving a large hole. In one area he worked we would find remnants of an Indian habitation, parts of dishes, tools and arrowheads, so we were always searching. When Dad had pulled the stump sometimes there was red clay in the hole. We kids, when we were small, loved that as we made clay balls about the size of a golf b all. We would take them home, put them on a pan and bake them in the oven. We didn’t really do anything with them but it was intriguing to make them and they were like cement after baking them.
It was always the duty of Vyrle and me to go after the cows in summer and bring them home if they didn’t come on their own. This was done later in the afternoon and before supper as Dad would be milking right after supper. Many times they were a long way from home in the woods at the corner of our property. A lane led past the fields to the woods and we much herd them into the lane to start them home. Some of these times were very frightening to me as so often if I walked too fast I would get pleurisy. Some times a storm was coming up and it was thundering louder and louder. We were a long way from home. We always seemed to get the cows but by the time we started for home, I would get an attack and I couldn’t take a deep breath until I stopped and sat down and rested for a short time. I had to stop but Vyrle wouldn’t stop and wait for me, so there I would be sitting alone with the thunder and lightening. Finally the pain would go away so I could take a deep breath again and I would go more slowly for home. Sometimes I got home before the rain and sometimes not but it was always a frightening experience.
My brother, Orville, four years younger, and I got along very well. We seldom played together as he was younger and our interests were different, but we always knew each would be there for the other. I remember many times at the table one of us, my brother or I, would toss a little water on the other and a water fight was on, outside running to get away. I always knew I would get the worst of it but I never seemed to learn. However, they were always fun and done with love not anger.
Mother and I were gigglers and it seemed it always happened at the table. One of us would have to get up and move away to break it up. Dad could never understand why a giggler couldn’t just stop giggling and I guess that is something you can’t explain.
Mother was the disciplinarian in our home and we knew what we could and couldn’t do. When I was real young my main punishment was to have to sit on a chair or on the steps of the stairway with the door closed. That I dreaded as it was dark. I knew better than to quietly creep upstairs as I would be caught and have to sit in the stairway that much longer. I must have been stubborn as I remember so well after I had sat there for a long time, Mother would say, “If I let you out will you be good?” Oh, how badly I wanted to say yes and get out of there. But some little voice (could it be the devil) just wouldn’t let me say yes or nod my head even, so I would hear Mother say, “Well, you will just have to stay there until you can say you will behave.” I don’t know how many times it took but I’m sure it was more than one before I could say yes. Another punishment for any of us when we would be sassy was to get either pepper or soap in our mouth. We dreaded to see that coming. Mother was never cruel and harmed us but a few times we felt Dad’s razor strap. I can still remember where it hung in the kitchen. Usually all Mother had to do was walk toward it.
Only once did Dad ever touch anyone and I remember it well. We were going over to Big Lake on the Fourth of July and we were all ready and had gotten in the car except Orv. He was still in his room as he intended to go without changing his pants and the folks told him he had to put clean ones on. Finally Dad went into the house and gave him a spanking and when he came to the car he said, “That was the first and last time I’ll ever do it.” However, it wasn’t the last time anyone ever needed it. Orv came out with clean pants on.
Dad and Mother always had very good rapport with all of their neighbors and were very much respected. Mother was more outgoing than Dad and liked to have time when they went to town to visit with everyone while Dad was in a hurry to get home. He had very good friends among his neighbors but I believe he was happiest when he was working the farm and doing things with and for his family. The neighbors were always there whenever they were needed for help of any kind – wood sawing, threshing, etc. They always exchanged help.
Because we were older than our brothers, in the summer we many times helped Dad shock grain, and oh how we hated that job. It was usually during hot weather which made it worse. Dad usually had quite a bit of rye and it was so prickly. When the shocks were perfectly dry a neighbor who had a threshing machine would come for a day or two along with other neighbors. They would haul the bundles on hayracks and it would be fed into the machine. The grain would come out one shoot into a wagon. The straw was blown out a long, high pipe maybe eight or ten inches in diameter into a straw stack.
Threshing was always a fun time for us kids, watching the grain coming out the shoot and hauled to a small granary made into a bin. Dad watched us cautiously because it is easy for youngsters to fall into a bin of grain and be smothered to death. When the threshing machine was gone we had to take our turns climbing up on a fresh straw stack. Before long too much straw was scattered on the ground and would get wet so it would be useless for bedding for the animals. We always had to have at least one big meal for the threshers. There would be at least a dozen men eating a meal and how they did eat after all that work. There is a phrase we hear today when one has a hearty appetite, “you eat like threshers.” The dining room table was always pulled out to its fullest when the threshers were seated around it.
In the Fall it was time to dig the potatoes. Dad had his own potato digger but it was a family job so he would dig quite a few rows, then hitch a horse to a “stone boat” and while the horses pulled the stone boat quite slowly we would be picking from both sides and putting them into the stone boat. This process could take several days to finish. There were potato warehouses in town where there was a buyer. You took a wagon box load into town and the buyer would make you an offer for your potatoes. A stone boat was shallow, a bit smaller than a wagon box and on skids.
Stacking hay wasn’t as bad as when we girls were small. Dad often cut and stacked hat with Uncle Axle so we had real fun times. The entire two families would spend the day putting hay in the meadow and the older ones worked while all we young cousins played and enjoyed a wonderful picnic of roasted chicken, pies, etc. We only put up hay a couple of years in that meadow but I never forgot it as part of the meadow wasn’t hat. It was moss. It didn’t seem to be fastened to the ground as we got the idea to roll strips of it – maybe two or more feet wide and a foot and a half thick. The moss was a beautiful green color. We laid the rolls end to end forming a square and made us a house with rooms and proceeded to make beds and chairs. They were very soft to sit in. I will never forget it as never before or since have I seen moss like that was. It was great to be young. But as we grew older we got in on a few trips haying that we didn’t exactly enjoy, but we were young and never realized just how hard our mom and dad had to work on the farm.
We had very little fresh meat except chicken in the summer but every winter as soon as it was cold enough a pig and some times a beef was butchered. A couple evenings later the kitchen floor was covered with paper, a wooden table was placed in the middle of the room and the partially frozen dressed pig or beef was brought in and placed on the table. Dad would get his saw and knives and go to work cutting up meat. Mother was even busy grinding meat for sausage. She also made headcheese; pickled pigs feet and hams were smoked and stored. Some of the ham was made into bacon or just cut into strips of side pork. It would be salted and placed in a crock or jar and covered with melted fat. The rest of the fat and trimmings were melted, strained and put in jars for use all winter. This was called lard. I’m not sure where the fresh meat was stored in winter. We had no way in the house to keep it so Dad must have had wooden boxes outside that he kept it in.
For so many years it seems bad luck and health problems stalked us. My Dad was depressed so much of the time but when I look back, how could he have been otherwise. We had so many doctor bills and nothing to pay them with as crops were poor. I remember Dr. Cooney cut his bill several times to help Dad.
When we kids were quite young Mother developed a goiter and it went undetected until one summer her life became so critical she nearly died. I remember Dad calling us kids out into the yard to talk to us as he was afraid she wouldn’t live and asked us to take over the work and help Mother in every way. We would sit beside her and fan her as she had great difficulty breathing. She was in bed most of the summer hoping to improve her condition before surgery. She finally had surgery, removing only half the goiter and then recuperating before removing the rest of it. She couldn’t have a regular anesthetic. She was given what was called “twilight sleep”. She finally had the second surgery removing the rest of the goiter. She was ill for a long time and was permanently left with a damaged heart. I don’t remember how we all managed but somehow we did. Her sisters may have helped but that I don’t remember.
When we girls were in our middle teens one morning in winter, Dad had hitched the horses to the sled and went to the straw stack to dig out straw for the animals. The top part of the stack was wet with melted snow and then it froze so it had a lot of weight on it. He had dug back into the stack to get some straw when a portion of the stack broke off and fell on him. God was surely with him as the horses stood perfectly still. They were very likely to have bolted and run, which would have allowed the part resting on the sled to have all been on him. That would very likely have smothered him. He was screaming with pain. We couldn’t pull him out alone and ran to a neighbor half a mile away. They came quickly, unhitched the horses and then dug him out. He was severely injured, a compound fracture of the leg, injured back and dislocated shoulder. They took him to the Princeton Hospital in the back of a truck. He spent quite a number of days in the hospital and most of the summer in bed recuperating. Friends and neighbors came to our aid – seeded the fields and harvested them along with our help. Orville planted the whole corn field and he was only 12 years old. We had a very good stand of corn. Money was donated by so many for doctor bills. He never fully recuperated from his back injury but he hardly ever complained.
The Swanson family was large and nearly ever Sunday most of them assembled at the home of one of them for a big dinner. There were lots of cousins to play. Vyrle and I have reminisced many times about the difference between then and now as the youngsters always had to wait until all the grown-ups had eaten first. We would have our necks stretched out looking at the chicken platter to see if there would be any left for us. How hard that was for kids.
My memories of the winters were of much more snow than we have now. Like kids with few responsibilities we loved it, especially when we would be bedded down in a wagon box on sled runners. Dad put hay about a foot thick on the floor of the sled and then covered it with a horse blanket. We would sit in a row on the hay and have a foot warmer, coals in it for heating. We would be covered with a heavy quilt and then off we would go to one of our aunts and uncles for Sunday dinner. Dad must have gotten very cold sometimes while we were snug and warm. We didn’t have snow removal as we do now, so in winter the roads were drifted full. There would be many times we would drive through the woods between the snow-covered trees making our own road. Such beautiful memories.
We always had a very large garden including all the regular vegetables plus lots of squash, muskmelons and watermelons. In later years we had strawberries, but we had no way to water them. Dad always had his Tom Watson watermelons, and fed some so they were real large. We had a slope to the north near our house where we raised black raspberries which thrived tremendously and apple, cherry and plum trees.
We each had our own job helping can vegetables and we used two-quart jars a great deal as we always had seven or eight at the table to feed. When the teacher wasn’t with us in the summer, either Uncle Ray, Grandpa Swanson or Grandpa Briggs usually was. Grandpa Swanson never stayed very long. We did have a pressure canner but boiled the jars in the boiler. Today we would be afraid of vegetables canned that way but I don’t remember hearing of anyone getting sick from doing it that way. We raised Beta grapes. They were quite sour but Mother made them into grape juice. We never had a very large supply so we could only have it when we were ill.
In the fall we picked lots of hazelnuts that grew along the road. We dried them on the roof of the chicken house, and then used the shelled nuts in the winter for baking. I remember so well we had one oak kitchen chair that we had used for cracking hazelnuts on the seat with a hammer. This made a good-sized depression in the chair. Over the years it had many coats of paint but the depression was still a reminder of when we kids were home and cracked nuts on it. In later years Mother mentioned it with nostalgia.
We had a low marshy area in a low part of our woods that sometimes had water in it and cranberries grew there. In the late fall it was fun for us all to walk on the bogs and pick cranberries for our winter supply.
One of my most pleasant memories was during the month of May. The morel mushrooms grew in abundance in the woods across from us. We kids would take a fairly large brown paper bag and in a few minutes would have the bag full. Mother would wash them, cut them in half and fry them in butter. I have wished all during my adult life that I could just once find such a spot and repeat the glorious experience again. When neighbors began pasturing the woods for their cows, we never found mushrooms there again.
Vyrle didn’t like outdoor chores so Mother decided that Eva and I were to keep the wood box full of wood each evening and were to gather the eggs. When there were little chickens that had died we had to get them out of their nest and bury them. Burying those little chickens was a terrible ordeal for me. I always used a shovel and stick so I never touched them. It was terrible and I just wasn’t able to go in the house and eat breakfast or whatever meal we were having. It was Vyrle’s duties to help Mother with the meal and set the table.
Orv and I, through our teen years and later were always very close.
At one time our Methodist Church had a pastor, Rev. Sheff who was from England and was very British. In the English language a word beginning with the vowel “e” they would sound an “h” in front of it. The word “egg” would be “hegg”. With a word ending in a vowel they would place an “r” after it so he always called Eva and I “Eve r and Neve r, the twins.”
We were members of the Methodist church and there were services both in the morning and the evening and most Sundays we attended both. In the early days, Dad didn’t always attend church as he often referred to one man as a hypocrite and he wouldn’t join when there were hypocrites in the church. What an excuse. I believe I was about eleven or twelve years old, we were all baptized and joined the church. We three girls, when we were older, taught Sunday School and sang in the choir. Orv and Elwin both sang in the choir when they were old enough.
During one winter I remember Orv and Elwin became interested in making crystal radio sets. Many nights Dad worked on the set with the boys eager help. In those days you could buy all of the items necessary to make one and it was successful.
Eva longed for a ukulele. She had a good voice and liked music. Dad set about making one first to see if she really had the interest as there wasn’t money to buy one if it proved to be only a whim. He started with a cigar box and buying the right wire to string it after it was built, he finally had it finished and tuned. It became a much appreciated first music instrument. They didn’t know if she would continue to have an interest or not, but she showed she did. The next Christmas under the tree was a real store bought ukulele with Eva’s name on it. What a happy girl, and with a page of instructions she soon learned how to play several chords. She had so much enjoyment from it.
Cross country skiing was a great sport. With all of the snow we had during those years, it wasn’t a sport. It was a necessity. But we didn’t have any skis. Our first pair we tried was made from barrel staves, but I don’t know that they went over very great. Uncle Ray had a pair, very nice in those days, that he made and he loved to ski. We were told by my parents to just never touch Uncle Ray’s skis and I don’t think we did. I’m not sure if it was Uncle Ray or Dad that made us skis, but we each had some home made ones and I used to love to go out in the fields after a fresh snow and make the first ski tracks. That was a real thrill.
We had what to us was a steep hill. But it was quite a long way from our home – at least one-fourth mile, so we didn’t go out there very often. However, I remember one day Eva and I went out there to ski down hill. I was not very good on steep hills so naturally I took a bad fall and really hurt my leg. I was sure it was broken so what could we do but have someone come for me. Vyrle and Eva skied home and Mother came back trudging through the deep snow. Her first words were, “Can you stand on it? I didn’t know. I hadn’t tried. Mother just wasn’t too pleased with my response. She examined my leg and it hurt but I walked home.
At another point in our young days, we became deeply involved in making and walking on stilts. We made our own. It was lots of fun and seemed quite easy so that kept us busy for a long period of time.
On many winter evenings after supper, we the girls and Dad and the boys would be on the floor Indian wrestling. It was really fun and good exercise.
Mother taught us girls at an early age, to crochet and embroider. She also tatted but I could never master that. We had many pillow slips, dresser scarves and doilies made for our hope-chests. I had quilted two light weight quilts by hand which took me a long time. I never got around to learning how to knit until after we had been married quite a few years. Then I got a book on knitting and taught myself. Now it is maybe my favorite hobby. As for sewing I did the usual during my classes in home economics at school but I didn’t have any interest in it until I was married and had children. Then it first became a necessity and then it became a challenge I enjoyed very much .
We were not allowed to play with regular cards in our home. Dad was afraid we might become gamblers. I don’t know why he had them but he had a beautiful deck of regular cards that had gold edges and I liked to just toy with them they were so pretty. They disappeared! Dad and Uncle Ray both liked to play either Flinch or Rook, so many nights when our work was done we would play one or the other, taking turns as only four could play.
When Eva and I were either fourteen or fifteen and Vyrle a bit older, we started again giving room and board to the local teacher. She was Edna Gehns from St. Cloud and was very much just one of us. We skied in the winter and played cards. The most enjoyable of all was after our evening meal and before we did the dinner dishes, we’d get Mother to sit at the piano and play all of our favorite songs and we’d have a sing fest. It seemed those evenings just weren’t complete until we had our music. Mother had taken music lessons and could play very well. I loved the “ragtime” best of all. We girls all attempted to play the piano, with Mother teaching. Vyrle and Eva accomplished more than I playing the piano but we all enjoyed it.
From the time I was born I had always been very thin and sickly. Doctors were always giving me a tonic that was supposed to help me but never seemed to. Grandpa Briggs said I would never live to be ten years old. When I was born, Mother could never find anything that would agree with me. I was finally given barley water. I was so thin when I was small that a few years later I was ashamed when I saw my picture and tore my face out of several of them.
I was told that when Vyrle started school I walked her to school to protect her. We only lived a fourth of a mile from our school so in good weather we went home for lunch. A young boy Vyrle’s age was a tease and would meet us on the way back to school and was determined to catch her and kiss her. She couldn’t get past him so here I intervened. In those days shoes were pointed so I would give him a kick with my pointed shoe and he would leave us alone. Vyrle had pointed shoes too but evidently she wasn’t as aggressive as I was.
I was a very bashful child and found it very difficult to meet people. I remember well walking the one-fourth mile to our mailbox for the mail. If I saw a car coming from either direction I would immediately take for the woods and hide until there were no more cars coming. Then I would hurry down the road again. I had great difficulty talking to adults as I was so shy. Many times when I was with Mother in a store or elsewhere someone would ask, “Doesn’t she ever talk?” Mother would say, “You ought to hear her at home.”
The most annoying ditty Mother would tell about me was when I was two or maybe two-and-a-half years old. I was in the grocery store with her and Dad and several other customers. I was hanging on Dad’s leg, going in and out around and between his leg when I looked up and saw it wasn’t Dad. I hear about that for many years.
When I started teaching and could no longer depend on Eva and Vyrle to be in the forefront, I gained a lot of independence and self-assurance. It has never been easy for me.
Getting back to rural school days. Most of my days in our rural school, District 41, Sherburne County, were most enjoyable, however, one was problem was that the floors were so cold. Maybe I didn’t have good footwear but I remember so well my suffering every evening in our very cold weather with chilblains, frosted feet, and not knowing any different. Mother would have me sit with my feet up on the rim of our dining room stove and they itched and hurt so badly I couldn’t sit still. How I would cry. Noon and recesses we played many games such as stealing sticks, hop scotch, prisoners base and softball.
In winter we would wear our overshoes all day as the floor was so cold in the school room. That still wasn’t very warm as we never had anything but cotton stockings and the overshoes were just rubber with no insulation. Many times until the school warmed up in the morning the teacher would shove the seats and benches over around the stove and hold classes there for several hours. Some districts hired a man to come in and start a fire early and others were started by the teacher. They seldom got there early enough in the morning to have the school warm for students when they came.
Christmas programs were held in many schools in those days as well as when I was teaching. They were well received and brought people from many miles around as well as all of the parents and their families. The students were so excited in getting ready for it and performing on that special night.
When we were kids, Mother had always made us very pretty dresses for the Christmas program. I remember a duet Orv and I sang at one entitled, “I don’t Want to Play in Your Yard.”
There was usually a school picnic the last day of school with races, etc. for both children and adults and lots of food for dinner. They were always much enjoyed and it helped the moral of parents and teachers.
Vyrle and I had one bad year in our rural school. This was before Eva came to live with us so we were probably nine and eleven years old.
We had a teacher who was a very nice person but had no control over the larger boys in the school. She often let them see her cry so they had no respect for her. They knew she was afraid of them so they did as they pleased.
Vyrle and I would go home for lunch as we lived near school. When we would get back to the school grounds, three or four boys met us with pieces of cut-up gophers, all bloody. We would try to sneak to the school door without them seeing us but never could quite make it. The gophers would be thrown at us just as we got to the door. The school house was white and here were blood spots around the door where they had thrown the gophers. I don’t think we were ever hit but terrorized. The same thing happened whenever we were in the outdoor toilet. The screen window was knocked out and we’d have these gophers tossed in at us.
I remember the boys that year would open a window when the school was in session and jump out and go down on the hill and ski. When they decided to they would come back, jump in the window and sit down in their seats again.
I don’t remember that my parents ever complained to the teacher or school board, or if anyone else did, but nothing happened. That was a year of schooling nearly wasted. This teacher didn’t stay at our home as she lived just a few miles from the school.
When you got to the seventh and eighth grades you took State Board Examinations before you were passed. A seventh grade student could take the geography examination and if he passed he didn’t take geography in eighth grade. If not you had to repeat it in the eighth grade.
Eva and I passed our examinations in eighth grade but we had to repeat the eighth grade the next year anyway as Mother and Dad couldn’t afford bus fare for us to go to the Elk River High School. School districts didn’t own the buses in those days. Private individuals would buy a bus and then charge for transportation. We also rented our books in high school.
Eva and I began high school at Elk River in the fall of 1928 and graduated the spring of 1931, a class of forty-two students.
Zimmerman transported students in a privately owned bus. Vyrle and I were the only two from the Zimmerman area that year who were freshmen. I was always bashful and introverted and found it very difficult leaving the little family of students in our rural school and entering a school of strangers. I made a few good friends but I never really felt accepted. I didn’t enjoy my high school years at all.
My parents were having a great deal of trouble finding money enough to send three girls to high school at the same time for the first year. My sister was graduating in 1928 and Eva and I had begun high school that year. We had to pay our transportation between Zimmerman and Elk River. Being the bus was privately owned, the driver could stop down town briefly on the way home to give the kids the chance to buy ice cream, candy, etc. We girls never had any money to spend and I remember I felt badly to never be able to buy a treat like the other kids. We never went home and asked for any money as we knew they just couldn’t give us any.
It was during this time I used to save and hoard sticks of gum. I had a little box and whenever anyone gave me a stick of gum, instead of chewing it, it went into my little box. That way it gave me pleasure to go to my bedroom and count my sticks of gum as a child now does with his money. However, I wasn’t smart enough to know these sticks of gum wouldn’t remain chewable for ever, so eventually I threw them away.
The town of Princeton was ten miles from Zimmerman and had a Normal Training School there which would give a beginning teacher a year of training and then a diploma to teach in rural schools. My sister, Vyrle, attended one year and then taught a rural school in the area. I never really cared to be a teacher. I preferred going to a beauty school and then be a beautician. Again, the lack of money got in the way. I would have had to go to Minneapolis to a beauty school and would have been expensive.
In the fall of 1931 Eva and I began Normal Training School in Princeton. We roomed where one room was our kitchen, living room and bedroom all in one.
Mother always helped us get food prepared at home that we would have for the week. On Monday morning early Mother would load up the car with all of our food plus a cream can full of cream, a case of eggs which she would take into Zimmerman on the same trip to do her grocery shopping. This one particular morning, before we got to Zimmerman a car we were meeting got over into our lane and hooked our left front fender and it threw us into the deep ditch. We weren’t injured very much. But, oh, the mess. Here were four people mixed up with a cream can full of cream, broken eggs and all this food we were taking for the week. The car was over on the top but fortunately a neighbor had been right behind us so he got the doors open so we could get out. Dad had the car cleaned many times but the smell of spoiled eggs and cream never left it. He finally had to get rid of it.
We enjoyed our schooling and socializing very much. It was a friendly town and we made many friends. That year was soon over and in the spring of 1932 found us desperate to find a job teaching for the following fall. The years of the 1930s were depression years and if you were lucky enough to find a job teaching, the pay was very low. Vyrle was teaching in the school near home and Eva found a job at the adjoining school district. My first job teaching was in District 15 in Crown, Minnesota, about five miles from home. Another woman teacher had gone to the school board and offered to teach it free to get experience. The school board, however, hired me at a salary of _________ a month for eight months. That school was a most unhappy experience. The younger students were friendly and cooperative but many older ones were incorrigible and it was known that District 15 was the toughest school in Isanti County.
While teaching there I had room and board at the home of an elderly German family. That was a three year nightmare for me. The man had previously had treatment for mental problems and slept upstairs across the hall from me. I had no lock on the door and many times he was screaming during nightmares at night. The woman was a very cross and very plump German woman who suffered from a goiter that was inoperable. They always ate first and then she served me at the dining room table. The food was very good but she always sat in a rocking chair beside me and rocked and watched me, while at the same time coughing and spitting in the “spittoon” which was a newspaper rolled into a cone.
I’m only describing the above to give you an insight into what a young nineteen year old girl had to cope with on her job and managed to live through it for three years. Thanks to my dear Dad, I didn’t have to stay a weekend in all that time. When he couldn’t get through the heavy snows with the car, he came with the horse and sled which meant two trips a weekend regardless of the cold temperatures.
My next two years I taught the home school and what a joy it was to have friendly happy students to work with. I stayed with Mother and Dad those two years.
Vyrle was teaching in the Zimmerman school then and staying at home. Eva was in the next district less than two miles away so Dad took her to and from school. We three girls were home together again.
It was during the years of the 30s that young men started coming into the lives of we three girls.
Eva and Marv Swanson were always destined for each other and had gone together since high school.
Dating was confined to a much smaller area in our times as it was very difficult for young men to have a car and buy gasoline to go long distances. We usually went to the Saturday night dances, movies and parties.
During the three years I taught at Crown I met a young man from Minneapolis, the grandson of the people with whom I was staying, by the name of Don Berglund. We cared for one another and had plans for the future but the hard times of the thirties and the distance apart made dating very hard. We both started dating others and drifted apart.
After dating several local boys, an older local young man, Floyd Cohoes, came into my life. I couldn’t believe he really wanted to date me. I was 7-1/2 years younger than him and never dated anyone that much older before. I did not know how to act or how to talk. Floyd had been married and divorced and I just didn’t know if I could settle for being “second fiddle” in his life. However, after a couple of years of dating Floyd, a stable lasting love happened between us. I knew I could trust my life to him, that whatever my problem he would know how to solve it. I knew he would always console and care for me and I had pride in and respect for him. At Christmas 1937 we became engaged.
I had quit teaching and was going to a secretarial school in Minneapolis. I had enrolled in the Calhoun Business College the fall of 1937. Floyd was teaching in Ramsey County in North St. Paul. He always picked me up Friday night and when he went home to his parents in Zimmerman then I would ride back with him on Sunday night. I roomed with a family close to the college. In the spring I walked the streets of Minneapolis for a couple of months looking for a job. I finally got one in Elk River at the courthouse.
In the 1930s Uncle Ray built a front porch on our house. Grandpa Briggs was coming to live with us. Mother bought a bed and dresser and fixed up one end of the porch for Grandpa. She wasn’t real calm and serene when Grandpa lived with us as he was so domineering and demanding. We never knew the reason but once he was very religious and still was very knowledgeable about the Bible. He had bought a book on evolution. I remember so many times he would get that book and while Mother was in the kitchen preparing supper, Grandpa would read and argue his evolution beliefs to her. Many times we girls hid his book but we would soon have to give it to him again.
Grandpa was now in his late seventies and was still getting his liquor. When he couldn’t go and buy it a neighbor helped him out. There was a great deal of problems over this, with Mother tolerating it but Dad seething over it. He had never forgotten what life had been like when he was growing up and his Mother had suffered because of it and had died quite young.
One of the things I remember Dad telling us, or rather Mother told us as I doubt Dad ever would have. It was when Dad and his brothers were young. Grandpa would get into town and stay at the liquor store until his boys would come after him with the horses and wagon. They would have to take him bodily and put him in the wagon. Some of them would have to hold him down while one would make the horses take off in a hurry so they could get him home. He had so many of these bad memories that he was not very tolerant of Grandpa.
In 1936 Grandpa’s health grew worse. He had always doctored with Dr. Page of Elk River but I don’t believe any of us knew until near his death that he was suffering from prostate cancer. The night of his death in September 1936, I will never forget as it was proved to me once again that there is a merciful and forgiving God.
Grandpa’s sons had gathered at our home. His three daughters were now deceased. He had been unconscious that day but in the evening he roused, and then asked his sons to come to his bedside where he implored them not to lead their lives like he had. He sang hymns in a clear voice and then very soon he was gone. What an impression that night left on our family.
Orville was in high school in the thirties. Like many boys he didn’t like school and needed some pushing, but graduated in either 1935 or 1936. He was mechanical and he was a very good worker. He was in demand for farm work and worked so hard for only one dollar a day. Orv was a great help to Dad on the farm. He loved to drive the horses. He planted a field of corn when he was only nine years old.
Orv was a very good looking young man and had lots of friends – boys and girls, when he was in high school and afterwards. After high school he worked wherever he could get it and in the fall would go to the Dakotas and work in the harvest fields. One time when he came home he discovered the girl he had planned to marry had been unfaithful to him while he was gone and now was going to marry another man. Orv began to drink heavily to drown his sorrow and no longer cared about anything.
A young woman who had eyes on him for some time decided how she was going to get him and bragged she would get him one way or another, which she did.
Elwin was a very dependable boy and young man. He loved pets and was the proud master of a couple of black terrier dogs that gave him companionship as he was six years younger than Orv. Elwin grew up during the year I was in Normal Training and my first three years of teaching when I was gone most of the time. Elwin never gave our parents any trouble. He attended church regularly and always sang in the church choir. He found school challenging both in grade and high school. He was my pupil in District 41, Sherburne County, for my three years there. He was a very good student, however, I’m sure he would sooner his sister was not his teacher but I never heard him complain. Elwin’s last year of high school proved to be extra work as he had decided he wanted to go into radio as soon as he graduated, so he took a correspondence course in it.
Eva and Marvin Swanson, her high school sweetheart, were married in the summer of 1935. They had a beautiful wedding on the lawn of our home. They made their home in Zimmerman, Minnesota. March 1936 their first daughter, Marva Lou, was born. Other places they later lived were Rockford, Minnesota and Minneapolis where three children were born, William (Bill), Margaret (Peggy) and Robert (Bob). Eva died of emphysema in 1961 or 1962.
Vyrle had been dating a local Norwegian young man for several years. They were married in a home wedding, October 29, 1938. They bought a farm in our home area and there had three sons, Gary, October 15, 1940; Norris, February 20, 1943; and Douglas, May 24, 1947. Vyrle died January 9, 1989.
Floyd and I were married at my home in Zimmerman, November 23, 1938 with just the immediate family attending. Our dear local pastor of the Methodist Church, Pastor Merton L. Brann, officiated at our wedding. Pastor Brann was a very special person in our lives.
Money to set up housekeeping was not just scarce but practically non- existent. I had saved $125.00 and Floyd, after renting the house and paying one month’s rent and other expenses, had $10.00 in his pocket to last a month until his next paycheck. We bought a bedroom set and a living room set with my $125.00.
We had so little money when we were married we had to decide whether we should take a short honeymoon or spend the money to furnish the house, and naturally we spent the money on the house.
Every weekend we were either traveling to Zimmerman or our families came down to visit us.
Floyd was teaching at Arbolado, District 33, Ramsey County, located north of St. Paul off Highway 61 and County Road C. It was a three story school where he taught the upper grades. We lived a few blocks from the school and lived in three different homes during the five years Floyd taught there.
Our first child, a beautiful little daughter, Marilee, was born while we lived there on February 11, 1940 at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul. The home we lived in at that time had no water so we had to carry water from a home across the street to our home. For wash day we carried it into the basement to wash and then back upstairs to throw the water out as there wasn’t even a drain in the basement that worked. I was washing for a baby too and we didn’t have pampers in those days. All went smoothly for us and we had such a happy home.
Orv and Pearl were married and lived near Wayzata, west of Minneapolis. Their first child, Mavis, was born April 19, 1941.
Elwin had planned to stay with them while he was going to radio school. Being he couldn’t afford a car he thought he would get a motorcycle and then he could drive cheaper. On Mother’s Day, May 10, 1942, he had gone to look at a motorcycle below Elk River. He decided to try it out and had stopped at a filling station with it for gas. In leaving and knowing it was difficult to start, he had his friend push him. Upon starting, it leaped into the air, flew across the busy highway and hit a railroad spur. He was thrown many feet through the air. He was not wearing a helmet as in those days no one even realized you should. His head hit the only rock in the area. His head was crushed on one side killing him almost instantly. Elwin was killed two weeks before he would have graduated from high school.
In late 1944 it was decided by Mother and Dad to move from the farm as it had so many memories of Elwin there Dad just couldn’t live there anymore. They moved a few miles closer to town to what was known as the Lynch place. Dad wouldn’t farm anymore as it had small acreage. They built a large chicken house intending to raise more chicks and have some cattle. They only lived there a couple of years before Dad became ill and died of cancer. Dad died June 10, 1946 of cancer.
One pleasant memory during that time was of Dick. He loved his Grandpa and sat on his lap as long as Dad could hold him. Then one day Mother needed a rooster to make some chicken soup for Dad. Dick, less than three years old, ran a rooster down and caught it and brought it to Mother to make soup for Grandpa. Dick was always a fast runner.
Floyd’s parents decided to sell the farm in Zimmerman and Floyd’s younger brother, Norm, talked them into renting a home a few blocks from us on County Road C, north of St. Paul. Norm rented and furnished it and lived with them when he got in from his job as a salesman. That was in 1941.
Floyd had decided he wanted a change in his teaching and he was applying and setting up interviews. He decided he would like to get into a high school. He was offered a position at Forest Lake Junior High School. We moved to Forest Lake in the fall of 1942. His first year’s salary was to be $1,300.00 for nine months. That was a little less than if we had stayed in District 33 but he wanted to get into a high school.
Little did we know, tragedy would strike so soon. On Friday, May 8, 1942 Floyd’s Mother suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and never regained consciousness. On that Sunday, May 10th, Elwin was killed. Floyd’s Mother was buried that following Wednesday and Elwin on Friday.
Floyd’s sister, Estelle, went to St. Paul to live with her Dad that summer. In the fall she and her dad moved to Princeton where Estelle worked and lived for many years.
Orv and Pearl had their second daughter, Karen on October 24, 1942 and now lived in White Bear Lake.
We were having difficulty stretching our money for the bare necessities so Floyd was doing many extra jobs when he wasn’t going back to school to get more education. He worked with another friend building houses, worked in a summer canning program at Forest Lake School, or at a greenhouse in St. Paul. Neva made clothes for herself and baby Marilee.
Now the Second World War was raging and the United States entered.
Orv joined the Navy and went to boot camp and then was transferred to Norman, Oklahoma. Pearl and the two girls moved to Oklahoma to be with him. When he was finished, he was put aboard the aircraft carrier, U. S. Hancock. Pearl and the girls came back to live with her parents.
Duane, Floyd’s foster brother, was 18 years old and joined the Army. When he was finished with basic training, he returned to Minnesota and married his fiancé, Eileen Boehm. He was then shipped overseas and was very soon fighting in France.
We were elated when on July 19, 1943, our first son, Dick, was born. He was born in a maternity home across the street from our home in Forest Lake. Dick was born was a serious intestinal problem which we realized as soon as we took him home. He would clench his fists and drain his bottle in a couple of minutes and then immediately spout a stream of formula into the air and barely miss both himself and Mother. Then we’d try again. His doctor prescribed a medication to correct the problem but he was allergic to it and went into convulsions. By this time we were making a hurried trip to a hospital. Forest Lake didn’t have a hospital and we didn’t have a doctor who was available as it was Sunday. We took off hurriedly for Bethesda Hospital and I kept sponging him with tepid water all the way. When we got him to the hospital his temperature was 107 degrees. They got his temperature down but he was in the hospital for many days. He was put on medication when he came home. For the next four months life was a nightmare for all of us as he cried most of the time. The problem was the valve between the stomach and small intestine. It didn’t open and close as it was supposed to. In the years since Dick’s birth they were doing surgery to correct this soon after birth.
It was during the summer of 1943 that Duane came home from the service for a few days before being sent overseas. He visited our home and played with our babies and then we never saw him again. We got word in August that he had been wounded and very soon afterward that he was killed. What a tragedy and so heart breaking for the family.
The following months were quite uneventful; the youngsters were growing and well. We had the usual getting together on weekends at Zimmerman, Princeton or at our home in Forest Lake.
Mert, Mae and Imogene lived in Portland, Oregon so we seldom saw them. Imogene spent some time with us when we lived in St. Paul and again after we moved to Forest Lake when she was ten or eleven years old.
During the summer of 1944 I was suffering from gal bladder problems and had an appointment with a surgeon to have an operation in November. He asked me if it could be postponed for a week so he could go deer hunting, which I did. The day the surgery would have been done, I came down with bulbar polio. That was the most devastating illness I have ever had and I find it too hard to talk about. It affected my throat and neck and my leg on the right side. I prayed one night for God to let me die even though I loved my little family so very dearly. God has answered so many prayers for me but I thank Him that he didn’t answer that one the way I asked Him to.
My dear Mother came down and stayed and took care of Floyd, Marilee and Dick while I was in Sheltering Arms Hospital. Floyd had some of the symptoms and may have had a mild case of polio.
The Second World War ended and Orv came home from the service. He, Pearl and the two girls moved into Grandpa Briggs’ farm home in Zimmerman.
Many good visits took place with our families during this time but little did we know my dear Dad was so close to leaving us.
After his death, Orv and his family left their home and moved in with Mother so she wouldn’t be alone.
We were blessed with our second baby son on October 19, 1947. He was a beautiful baby boy with so much very dark hair and eyelashes.
It wasn’t until after about two weeks that I learned he would have a growth abnormality. He was checked by doctors at the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinic for quite a few years for unexpected problems but he was healthy and had none. As mothers always do, I worried about his future. That worry was unnecessary as he grew into a very responsible and well liked boy and man.
About the same time Orv and Pearl had twin baby girls born October 24, 1947.
The liquor problems of both Orv and Pearl soon became a cause of friction with Mother and made it impossible for them to live together. Mother sold the house and moved into Zimmerman and soon went to work at the Ben Franklin store in Princeton until her health began failing.
Mother lived in the little house in Zimmerman until the early sixties when her health deteriorated. She then alternated living with Vyrle and me until her death July 20, 1965. She died at age 76 of heart failure after having diabetes and a disfunctioning spleen.
Now to go back to life with our daughter and two sons. In 1946 we left our home we were renting in Forest Lake and built a house on the west side of Forest Lake on Broadway Avenue.
The house we had been renting in Forest Lake was sold in the spring of 1946 and we were just told we would have to be out in August. This was during the War and no one could build a new house unless they were a service man. We had to have a sign, for sale, on the lawn for a year or two and would have to sell it to any service man who might want to buy it. Many prayers were offered that God would let us keep our home, which he did. Our house was the first house built by Capp Homes.
While the house was being built, I and our two children were in Zimmerman staying with Mother and Dad for three weeks, until Dad passed away on June 10, 1946. Those were difficult days for all of us.
Our home on Broadway was a great place for our three kids to grow up. Our home seemed to be the gathering place for kids from all around to play. They had lots of fun. Bob and Mike Shoberg, next-door neighbors, practically lived with us, going camping, fishing, attending Sunday School, and helping with any task necessary. I have always had a special feeling for Bob and Mike as we knew them so well.
Money was very scarce as teacher’s salaries were very low and for only nine months. We all worked very hard on our 1-1/2 acres, raising fruits and vegetables that were taken to local stores, the city market and at our own vegetable and fruit stand. Marilee, Dick and Layton all were very much involved in this operation. I know they weren’t enthusiastic about their work but they did their share.
The children managed to grow up at our Broadway home among all their friends and relatives. We were always blessed by having Floyd’s sister, Estelle, brother, Norman, occasionally brother, Merton and wife Mae, and Grandpa Charlie visiting us real often. Grandpa Charlie stayed with us during the summers as he loved to hoe and work in the garden.
We had our share of illnesses but somehow always found the way to surmount them.
Now, our children are grown, married and have families of their own. I thank God every day that they are near us and love us.
I hope that you Marilee, Dick and Layton will carry on where I left off so your children will sometime carry it on.
This writing by Neva Cohoes was provided my Marilee Larkey, first born of Neva and Floyd
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