Friends And Neighbors

Mrs. Marden and her husband (Sig) had retired from farming on the north side of Lake Sewell and moved into the house across the street, shortly before I was old enough to remember things. [5.13-1]

I vaguely remember him sitting all day in a Morris chair, eating slices off cold, boiled potatoes, his favorite snack food, and also sucking a piece of alum. I guess that was for a sore mouth. [5.19-4]

He also kept a sack of candy (probably peppermints) and he asked me if I wanted a piece of candy one day. I said, "I don't care," and he said, "If you don't care, I'll put it up again," which he did. I never said that again, because I really did want a piece, but I was always bashful or something about ever saying I wanted anything. (It had something to do with Ma's training: all of her life she never wanted to take anything from anyone, because she didn't want to be "beholden" to anyone -- which means feeling obligated to pay it back.) [5.19-5]

Mardens had a little, open one-seated, high-wheeled Brush car back in the shed. She used to go back there with me and let me squeeze the big rubber bulb that tooted the horn. It sounded real impressive compared to the "erp" we could get out of the weak horn on our Model T. [5.26-4]

The only time I remember the Brush being out of the shed was just as Mr. and Mrs. Marden came out of their driveway on their way to Herman to the county fair. That was a major trip and I don't know any details about it, whether it was a one-day trip or more. [5.26-5]

One day soon after that I was over to Mardens and she and I looked out the kitchen window and Mr. Marden was out back with a man. Mrs. Marden got real excited because she saw him looking at the car. He came in and announced that he had sold the car and she was real put out. (It wasn't nice or acceptable for ladies like her to get mad.) He said he was too old to drive it, but she insisted that she could have learned to drive. [5.27-1]

There was a sidewalk on the Mardens' side of the street, but none on our side, and the hill there was just right for coasting down the sidewalk in coaster wagons. It got to be a popular place to play and kids from other parts of town came to coast, too. The iron wheels made an awful clatter when they crossed the grooves in the sidewalk This got on the old people's nerves and Mr. Marden put up a sign on one of his trees: No Coasting.

That cut down on it some, but some of the kids would make a run down it just to aggravate them, or wait until they turned out the light at night and then coast to see what they would do. [5.27-2]

One day Martin Paulson, who lived just above us on our side of the street, took his daughter Hulda's wagon over and rode it down the hill. That sort of flabbergasted the Mardens and the feud died out. [5.27-3]

I didn't have a coaster wagon; I had a big so-called "lumber wagon" from Wards. (I've seen them now as antiques called goat wagons.) It wasn't good for anything really, except to haul things in, so I usually had the box off and sat on the "bolster" and coasted.

Ma wouldn't let me coast on Mardens' hill after the feud started, even though I was their pet and they insisted that it had much bigger wheels and didn't make much noise and they didn't mind my coasting. [5.27-4]

Mr. Marden died in two or three years (some people said Mrs. Marden starved her husband to death because he was big and raw-boned and couldn't live on birdseed like she did) and she lived there another 10 years, or more. [5.19-6]

Mrs. Marden had never had any kids and I was her "pet." I know she was about 60 years old because I heard Ma tell many times that there were a bunch of neighbor ladies over there and someone mentioned that she (Mrs. Marden) was getting old. She said, "I'm not old," and then she jumped off the porch. They thought that was quite a feat for an old lady 60 years old! [5.13-2]

Mardens were English and Ma was German and Pa was Norwegian, so my early years were in a mixed culture, as far as food was concerned. [5.20-2]

Mrs. Marden always had a jar of horseradish on the table, and my first taste of it stayed with me for many years. She used to put a couple of homemade doughnuts on the rock foundation going down into the cellar until they got as hard as rocks, because that was the way I liked them best. She always had a pitcher of dark corn syrup on the table and I had lots of bread and syrup. (We never had things like that at home because Ma was German and canned things, so we had jam and jelly and sauce and relish.) [5.20-1]

Nobody ever washed their potatoes when they dug them so when Ma peeled potatoes she had a lot of muddy water left in the pan of peelings. When I heard her discussing bread baking with the neighbor women she always mentioned using so much "potato water" and to this day, when someone says "potato water" I get a picture of that muddy water. I always wondered how the bread could be so white with that black potato water in it. [5.20-4]

All the women wore their hair in a pug or pancake on top of their heads and I saw Mrs. Marden comb her hair once. She combed or brushed part of it into a long "switch" (or whatever they called it), and then held that in her mouth while she combed the other half. That was almost too much for me; my thoughts were, "Ish, putting that dirty hair in her mouth." At least my Ma didn't do that. [5.52-5]

One day Ma looked out the front window. Pa had put up a new five-foot fence and steel gate to keep the kids (me) in and there was Mrs. Marden saying, "Put this foot in here, and then put this food up here," etc. -- she was teaching me how to climb over the fence so I could come over and visit her! [5.19-2]

Nobody ever held anything against Mrs. Marden; she was honest and upright in every way, just bored living alone. She would "run over" to our place at least once every day. She was always quoting some maxim like "a penny saved is a penny earned" and "hard work never killed anybody," etc.

Other women had fights and grudges and arguments and opinions, but she had the run of the town and was everybody's friend. Her favorite expression was "Land-A-Liberches" or something like that, and she was a staunch member of the Christian Endeavor and the W.C.T.U. She always was drilling into me, even at my tender age, "never to take the first drink" and that chewing and smoking was just a dirty habit, etc. [5.19-3]

I was Mrs. Marden's "pet" and after her husband died she always promised to will me his gold watch. Before she died, she pasted labels with people's names on different articles and furniture that she wanted them to have after she was gone, as they didn't have any young relatives anywhere -- just some old ones down in Nebraska. The Sam Schrams lived in half of her house at the time. One day Marvin Schram, who was a young kid then with a mania for watches, sneaked the gold watch out of her house and beat it to a pulp with a hammer, so all I got was the gold chain when she died. [5.20-3]

I used to go with Mrs. Marden almost everywhere she went when I was 3 to 5 years old, even up to the school to sew for the Red Cross during World War I. (Ma couldn't go because she had the baby, but she knit socks and so forth at home.) [5.13-1]

She was small and liked to visit a lot and did a lot of what the busier women called "gadding," which was going calling nearly every afternoon. The difference between gadding and calling was that callers left cards and gadders didn't -- they came oftener. [5.13-3]

That was the era of calling cards and all the better class of women in town carried them. They always left one on the table in the front hall when they called. If nobody was home, they would stick on on the front door, and then when the lady of the house came home she either wished she had been at home, or was glad she hadn't been home. It depended on who called and/or whether the house was clean and ready for company. [5.13-4]

One of Mrs. Marden's most frequent calling places was to see Mrs. Peg Leg (Maggie) Anderson, who lived over the old pool hall -- which was the Post Office then. (It has been torn down and the west half of the Borg Drug store is on the lot.) I tagged Mrs. Marden down there many times. [5.13-5]

Mrs. Anderson was like Mrs. Marden, religious, etc. and had a little brown dog she called Brownie. Mrs. Anderson kept a bag of candy, just for Brownie. She had a real old country brogue and every so often she would say, "Sit up, Brrrownie," or "Speak Brrrrownie," and Brownie would sit up and bark and catch a piece of candy. Of course, I was much taken up with watching that. [5.14-1]

The Andersons were an old Danish couple with no kids. While Mr. Marden was still able, he walked down there quite often to play chess with Mr. Anderson, who had two wooden legs, so they called him Peg Leg. (Before they moved to town, the Andersons were neighbors of the Mardens up near Lake Sewell.)

He was almost completely deaf and had some kind of a hearing aid with a big horn like a cow horn on the end of a wire. When you talked to him he would hold out the horn for you to holler into and he could hear a little. He talked real loud and was more interested in talking than listening anyway; he was real stubborn and cantankerous, and fat. [5.13-6]

Old Peg Leg sat out on the upstairs porch over the sidewalk a lot and would holler at people driving up the street with horses. One day Pa went up the street driving a big horse on the left side and a much smaller horse on the right side. [5.14-2]

Peg Leg hollered loud enough to hear him all over town and said, "Hey, Ben, that looks awful. Never hitch the biggest horse on the 'off' side." [5.14-3]

Mrs. Anderson was Mrs. Clemensen's sister and one day the Andersons were going down there to visit. They had a single buggy and a single horse that was a pacer. (A pacer doesn't lift its legs like other horses, but sort of glides along, moving both legs on one side at once instead of alternating from one side to the other, like other horses.) [5.14-4]

On the way to Clemensens' they had to go around a slough on a rough road, so Peg Leg decided to cross the slough on the smooth ice. Half way across, the horse went through the ice and couldn't go any farther, because he wasn't used to lifting his feet like other breeds of horses. [5.14-5]

Mrs. Anderson jumped out and ran the rest of the way. When the Clemensens opened the door, she was too out of wind to talk, but finally said, "I'm afraid he'll drown," and pointed to the slough. The old man couldn't get out and walk on his wooden legs, but she was afraid he'd try. [5.14-6]

When Mr. Clemensen got over there, he hollered into Peg Leg's horn, "What did you drive out here for?" And Peg Leg hollered back, "Maggie told me not to!" [5.14-7]

Another place Mrs. Marden ran to a lot was to see Mrs. Hanson. She was a gentle little lady and belonged to all the same upright things as Mrs. Marden and Mrs. Anderson.

Her husband was a fat, solid, old German who had a blacksmith shop. I remember how black he used to look from the smoke in there -- all that was different was the whites in his eyes. His son worked in the shop with him and was more or less a carbon copy. (You should pardon the pun.) They were famous for their old-country brogue and would say everything backwards: "Throw me over the hammer," etc. [5.14-8]

They were also famous for boozing a lot. One day the cop was going to throw the old man in jail for being drunk. His son bet the cop he couldn't get him in there because he was so fat and stubborn, so the cop hit the old man in the head with his billy club. [5.15-1]

When he appeared before the local judge the next day, he pointed to the village cop and said, "He hit me with his club and I've got a 'knutt' on my head." [5.15-2]

The judge said, "What have you been drinking?" and he said, "I don't know!" So the judge said, "What did it taste like?" and the old man said, "It tasted like dishwater! [5.15-3]

One day Mrs. Lindberg (the barber's wife then), who lived next door, had stopped in for a few minutes to see Ma. She looked out the window and said, "Here comes Annie Boe up the street." She and Ma each grabbed a cloth and started dusting like mad before she got to the door.

While Annie was there, she was looking at some pictures on the piano and picked up a vase to "admire" it. Then she took out her handkerchief and wiped the dust out of the vase. It probably was the only thing in the parlor Ma and Mrs. Lindberg had missed. [5.15-4]

Another day the three Houske women -- mother, daughter, and daughter-in-law -- came to the door full of giggles. They had gone to call on Mrs. McKenzie and she had met them at the door and told them she was too busy to have company that day. Such a thing wasn't heard of in that polite era.

Inasmuch as they had put on their fancy clothes and hats to go calling, they couldn't go home skunked, so they paid Ma an unscheduled call. All such things came to an abrupt end when we moved to the farm. [5.15-5]

We used to go to Fergus Falls in the Model T once in a while to shop, and the highlight was usually a trip to Elton's Restaurant. Pa and Ma had coffee and cinnamon rolls and we had ice cream and, in later years, ice cream sodas, sort of a rare splurge. [5.28-1]

On one occasion, we took Mrs. Marden along to Fergus. When we made our trip to Elton's I rather believe it was Mrs. Marden's first experience in a big restaurant -- or any restaurant, for that matter. When the waitress came, I couldn't wait. I said, "Ice cream soda!" She looked at Mrs. Marden and she said, "The same?"

Ma should have spoken up then, but didn't want to say anything. I'm sure Mrs. Marden would have been happier with coffee and a cinnamon roll like they had, but she had to take her "soda" with us kids. [5.28-2]

Ma had a few friends from Normal School or teaching years that she kept some contact with for a while and we were invited to Fergus one Sunday by a teacher friend, May Butler. She was a good looking old maid who lived with her mother and I wanted to go to the restaurant for ice cream instead.

I must have been 3-1/2 or a little more then, and I wouldn't eat a bite of dinner. I'm sure the food was elegant (the house was) and I'm sure that was one of the many days that Ma wished she had never gotten married and had kids. (Maybe it was the first time she wished that, but she made that statement more than once in later years.) [5.28-3]

The most luscious chocolate pie was on the table and it was about two inches high, with a meringue. Nothing would have tempted me more, but I wouldn't take a bite. Ma was so frustrated -- and May Butler was probably glad she had stayed an old maid.

Finally, Ma took me and a piece of pie and a spoon or fork out in a corner of the house behind a big bush where the neighbors couldn't see us, and tried to poke the pie into me, but I wouldn't budge. She had to give up, and we didn't go to the restaurant either. I had this episode throwed at me many times in later years, but I can remember it, too. [5.28-4]

Ashby had quite a few characters that I remember when I was from 4 to 5 years old. One of my favorite places to tag along with Pa was to Koefod's Restaurant down on the corner where the street goes now between the Equity and the railroad track just below the bridge that came over the tracks from the east.

Herman Koefod looked like Charlie Chaplin with a little black mustache. He was quite fascinating, even to a little kid like me. I remember Pa having coffee in there and Herman gave me a chocolate rabbit with marshmallow filling. He didn't run the place very long before he went broke. [5.15-6]

Pa bought Koefod's restaurant garbage for a penny a pound to feed the chickens. That was really a buy, as there wasn't any chicken feed on the market with protein in it in those days. Pa came home with whole sacks of stuff and dumped it out to see what Herman had thrown away. He dumped every "leftover" every day, and after slack days there would be big roasts of meat with only two or three slices missing, and all other things accordingly. If it hadn't been contaminated in the garbage can, our family could have lived high on only a fraction of it. [5.16-1]

Old John Bemis had a hardware store where Spanglers' Grocery is now and he had a sense of humor, too. He kept a B.B. gun handy and when a dog came down the street he would get a B.B. in the "butt" from Bemis's gun.

One day when Mrs. Germanson (first house north of the Ashby Laundry) was bent over out in the garden she got a B.B. in the "butt" from Bemis's gun, too.

Of course he stepped right back inside and laughed his head off, but she knew where it came from and her kid (Dutchy) went over and bawled Bemis out something awful! [5.21-2]

J. L. Everts was a retired banker who came here from Vermont before my day. He came from the rich dairy country and was of the upper class. I think I can still remember when he started a bank in Melby and built the new bank building, (which has since been used for a restaurant and steak house.) He had George Wangsness go down there and run it for him.

Everts owned the farm north of Christina Lake (since owned by Leslie Nycklemoe.) After he was retired, he stocked it with cows and had a sharecropper farm it on shares. He got a percentage of the cream check, the same as for the field crops.

To keep the renter's nose on the grindstone, he drove his car out there and hauled the cream to town on cream days. That was to keep the renter out of town and from wasting time. (I can remember him going there even after we moved to the farm.) He would be parked by the pump house door, where the cooler and separator were, about 6 a.m. so the farmer would have to get up early and get to work. [5.16-2]

Before my day, the best status symbol you could have was the biggest house in the country. Most of them only opened the living room when the preacher or other important company came to visit.

Gilbert Hoff built the biggest one, but another prosperous farmer soon built the biggest house of all, though the family continued to eat and sleep in the old log house for quite a while and only opened the new house for special occasions. When someone came to call on the mother, she would call her husband in to do the visiting because she was too busy to visit. [5.16-3]

Pa worked on that farm for a year the second year he was in Minnesota. The boys in that family were teenagers then. The old farmer eventually gave each of his boys a farm "scot free," except the youngest one, and he got $10,000 in cash. [5.17-1]

The boys all lost their farms eventually. The one who got the cash played poker and lost it all. He played purposely to lose so the poor boys who had to work for their money wouldn't have to lose theirs to him. (He was poor the rest of his life.) They said a good share of the money he lost went to pay for the biggest house in town, which was owned by the village gambler. [5.17-2]

The gambler's house was built on the hill back of where the Pelican Lake Lutheran Church is now. His lawn consisted of about 3/4 of a square block, where the church and parsonage are, covering the whole area from street to street. [5.16-3]

I have heard that in those days the rich people always built on a hill so they could look down on the poor people, and that was one of them. I also have observed that the biggest old mansions in both Evansville and Pelican Rapids (and I think Elbow Lake) to mention a few, were like that. (These examples are located south of the highway in Evansville, near the courthouse in Elbow Lake, and on the southwest corner of Pelican Rapids.) [5.17-2]

Another character in Ashby was Hawken Rohn. I remember him as being odd looking and old and wearing a plug hat. He didn't have a roof in his mouth, as I heard it, and I couldn't understand a word he said. He had a picture gallery in a small wooden building where part of the Fire Hall is and took some of the infant pictures of Marj and me. [5.17-3]

Pa told about some girls who went up there to get their pictures taken before he (Pa) was married. Hawken Rohn told all but one exactly where to look and she said, "Where should I look?" and he said, "Oon ook at me." They got the giggles and could hardly get their faces straightened out enough to get their pictures taken. [5.17-4]

Another day some girls went up there and Pa was getting feed ground in the feed mill next door. He was young and eligible then and they hollered over and said, "Come over here, Bennie, and get your picture taken." So he went over, all sweaty and covered with feed, and had his picture taken with them in their white ironed blouses and big bow ties. We still have a postcard size print of that. [5.17-5]

Koefods bought the old gallery for a cottage and one Sunday we went down to the cemetery and the building was sitting near there -- parked over Sunday en route to Pelican Lake. The door was open and Ma and Pa went in and took some of the pictures of us that were still pinned up on the walls. [5.17-6]

Another, more recent, character was Dud Burns. He was an old bachelor and quite a thresh machine and engine man. He liked attention and in the late 1920s had a real big old single-cylinder gas engine and feed grinding mill in a wooden building just north of where the new apartment building and liquor store is now. Farmers like Pa who only had a few sacks of feed to grind would bring it there and he would grind it and re-sack it for 8 or 10 cents per big, two-bushel cotton grain sack. [5.18-1]

Dud's mill was right behind the old Woodmen Hall that fronted up to the street across from the Fire Hall where the three-cornered area between the two streets is now. All the annual meetings of various co-ops and such were held in there. If Dud got a few sacks to grind, he would stall with some pretense until the meeting was in full progress and then start up the engine. (I was at a Creamery annual meeting when he did that and it sounded like his engine was right behind the stage curtain.) People suspected he started the engine even if he didn't have anything to grind. [5.18-2]

Before my day, the elevator belts to lift the grain were propelled by horses on a "sweep" going round and round, but when I first remember, it, too, was powered by a big, single-cylinder gas engine -- probably the same one Dud got to grind feed with after electricity came. I can remember it going "pop-pop-pop" all day during threshing season and teams and wagons would be standing in line clear downtown waiting to unload. Some of the early tractors were powered by that same type of engine. [5.18-3]

Pa told about an ice boat Pete Eian built before Pa was married. Pete came from Norway and no doubt had experience with them there. He made a small platform like the deck on a raft and mounted short, steel skate-like runners under it. It had a sail like a sailboat and would only work on rare years when the ice froze smooth on the lake in the fall before it snowed. [5.6-7]

Pa was along when they made the first run across Pelican Lake from the creek under the road on the west side to south of "the island." Pa was standing up, holding onto the mast, when the ice boat hit an open hole. The hole was smaller than the ice boat and only the front end went in. Pa saw it coming and when the boat stopped, he just kept on going and landed on the ice on the other side. Bob Lynne was only a half-grown kid and he started to holler and climb the mast. Pa stepped back on the boat and pulled him down. [5.6-8]

Another "ice" experience happened one day when he went down to the southwest side of Pelican Lake to get a load of hay. He had a team and sleigh and new, sharp shoes on the horses. The sleighing was real poor yet and when he got near the lake, he decided to cross it. The horses took off on a fast trot and when he looked back he saw that each footprint was a hole where the shoes took out a chunk of ice. He didn't dare stop or turn around and crossed the whole lake on three inches of ice, or less. I guess he took a deep breath when he reached the home shore! [5.7-1]