Living In Town

Pa used to plow gardens and haul wash-ice and wood, etc. for everyone in town when I first remember, and he was the kind every housewife had in for coffee, cake, pie, cookies, doughnuts, etc.

Hauling wash-ice meant going down to Pelican Lake and sawing out a load of ice chunks about two or three feet square and from one to three feet thick, according to the depth of the ice, with a saw about seven feet long, and delivering them, a team and bob-sleigh load at a time, to people's houses.

He usually dumped the ice off on the north (shady) side of houses so the sun wouldn't melt it. The housewives would chop off chunks and melt them, mostly in copper boilers, for soft wash water.

Other people hauled wash-ice, too, and if someone had a hole open, the next one would start from that. [6.32-6]

Pa told about one time (I think it was before he was married, while he was rooming at Betsy and Ole Johnson's) he accidently stepped backwards into the open hole into about seven feet of water when it was about 20 degrees below zero. [6.33-1]

He managed to crawl back onto the ice, and he said he didn't feel anything until the water started to run into his shirt collar, but then he started to gasp. He got back on the sleigh, tied the lines together, put them around him, stood up, and ran the horses back to town. He stopped in front of the livery barn, his clothes frozen solid. Somebody came along and put the horses in the barn and he hightailed it to Betsy's and got thawed out. [6.32-2]

One fall when I was about 6, somebody came traveling through, driving a team and sleigh and leading a beautiful black pony that was medium sized and real gentle and awfully hungry. Pa bought the pony and a beautiful saddle and I could ride him. I remember riding all one afternoon behind the wagon in the cornfield down toward the cemetery while Pa husked corn into the wagon.

The pony was as tame as could be, but later, one nice day probably toward spring, after the pony had been eating oats awhile, Pa put me on him and I rode up to the house to show off to Ma and the neighbors. Just as I turned into the yard I got dumped off and the shiny black pony ran back to the barn. Pa sold him to the next horse buyer that came along, and that was the end of my first pony. I didn't have another one until we lived on the farm. [6.32-3]

We had a fence around our yard in town, but when we got a little bigger, we could play on the boulevard up and down the street and that's what we had to do if we wanted to play with the neighbor kids. They wouldn't plan anything to play in our yard because, they said, "Your Ma will just chase us out again, anyway." [6.36-1]

So Pa brought in a big wagonload of sand and dumped it on the boulevard right on the line between us and Paulson's on the north, so all the kids could play in it without being in anybody's yard. [6.36-2]

I had the best toy in the neighborhood -- a "Sandy-Andy." I can't remember what all it did, but it had a little car you filled with sand and it ran down a chute and did some special trick. Hulda Paulson (Mrs. Earl Jacobson) still mentions playing with my Sandy-Andy, 60 years later. (The toy would be worth a fortune as an antique now.) We played in the sandpile a lot, and fought some, too -- naturally. [6.36-3]

One kid could bluff me anytime. Helen Peterson lived across the street and was a little runt, only half my size and a year younger. She was mad all the time because she hadn't been born a boy. She came over to play often before we were old enough to go to school. She had a short, boy haircut and was usually wearing one of her dad's caps, twice or more times as big as her head.

When she wanted anything and I had it and wouldn't give it up, she would pull her cap on and say, "I'll go straight home," and then I would start in, "Here, you can have it, Helen," over and over and she would pull off her cap and come back and play again. Ma told about this many times in later years. [6.36-4]

One winter day, Ma was going to be gone one afternoon to some "ladies" thing and Pa was going to stay with me. I was about 4, and it was a rare thing for him to stay with me.

He had dumped off some kind of a flat wagon-bed 14 or 16 feet long up by the house and when I was being tended, he put one end up on a sawhorse or something up against and house where the porch stuck out behind it and threw water and snow on it to make me a private sledding hill.

Then he put me on a sled (on my stomach) and gave me a good shove. Down the yard I went, just perfect, except that there was a pump over to the side a ways and I steered, or at least the sled went, straight to the pump. My Dutchman's head stuck way out ahead of the sled and stopped me short against the pump. I had a dimple in my forehead for 20 or 30 years from that, but I guess it finally disappeared. [6.36-5]

I pinched a little finger in a window one day and the nail came off. The same week, Ma was churning butter with the big barrel churn and I laid the other little finger on the barrel shaft. It went around with the shaft and that nail came off, too. I had white, cloth bandages on both little fingers for quite a while. [6.37-1]

Pa subscribed to "Farm Stock and Home" for 30 years in advance and thereby Ma got as a premium a complete set of blue dishes. She set most or all of them on the water pail shelf. The screws pulled out of the wall and they all crashed to the hard, maple floor. We ate on a few odd pieces of blue dishes, some chipped, after that. That was the saddest I ever saw Ma look. [6.37-2]

We had one of the most modern water systems in town -- a big cistern that the house roof water went into and a hand pump in the basement that Pa could pump to force cistern water into a tank in the attic. The water came back through the same pipe, which had a faucet on it where it came through the kitchen. [6.37-3]

Ma melted ice in the winter some, too, to conserve the cistern water. She washed in the basement, using a scrub board and a wringer and two tubs, with an extra round tub for "bluing" white things. She had a wood stove and a copper boiler and fired up a couple of hours before washing to get the water up near boiling in the copper boiler.

The soap was Electric Spark bar soap and she would pare it into the boiler with a knife. The boiling water was to loosen up dirt and kill lice or germs, if there should be any. Those who didn't have soft water, like she had, put lye in the water and skimmed off the scum. [6.37-4]

Monday morning was wash day and only peculiar people washed any other time, except for dirty diapers, which were soaked out first in a five-gallon wooden candy pail and could be washed separately on other days of the week.

Clothes were hung outside on lines the year around, except on stormy days when they were hung on wooden racks in the basement. If they didn't dry enough outside, the rack was a great place to finish them if it was set right over the furnace register. [6.37-5]

Ma got an old washing machine somewhere; it was propelled by pushing a wooden handle back and forth, but it didn't suit her at all and she went back to the scrub board entirely. [6.38-1]

Our neighborhood street of six houses had fairly industrious housewives and most of them got their clothes on the line early on Monday mornings. There got to be a little rivalry sometimes over who got their clothes on the line earliest and some were accused of washing the night before to get out earlier in the morning than the neighbors. (When Marj was a baby, I remember Ma washed at 4 a.m. a few times so Pa could stay in bed with the kids.)

There was also some gossip about who had the whitest wash and women all over town were more or less judged by how white their wash was. [6.38-2]

Some people took in laundry to do for others who couldn't do their own for various reasons. Mrs. Huggett, who lived up across the street east of the schoolhouse, did this for many years. Her customers would have their kids or her kids transport the laundry back and forth on coaster wagons or sleds. [6.38-3]

There was a bathroom built in upstairs when the house was constructed, just in case they ever wanted to put in a bathtub, etc., but nothing was ever put in it. We had outdoor "plumbing" up by the north fence, sort of on the way to the chicken house. It didn't seem so cold when you were used to it. The Sears catalogues didn't have any shiny pages, so they were better then. [6.38-4]

We had an oblong tin bathtub about three feet long, sort of a kid-sized bathtub that we took Saturday night baths in, in front of the open oven door on the Estate wood-burning kitchen range. Come to think of it, there was an upright water tank by the kitchen stove with heating coils in the stove (connected to the water in the attic) so we had hot, running water, too, if the kitchen range was used during the day. [6.38-5]

I not only had to have a bath every Saturday night (which I hated almost as much as a haircut) but I usually had to go to the basement and get the tub, too. Sort of like being forced to tie a rope around your own neck by someone waiting to hang you. Ma could, and did sometimes, ruin a whole Saturday by mentioning in the morning that it was bath night that night.

Ma aimed to get me clean and wasn't afraid to bear down on the wash cloth, which was usually the lower half of a cut off shirt sleeve. What I hated the most was when she twisted up the rag and cranked it around in my ear like a corkscrew. [6.38-6]

The well in the yard was never used. Ashby sits on a swamp, and the well, (not very deep) produced rotten "surface" water. I suppose it was put there with the idea of watering garden things from it.

We always carried our drinking water from the well in the livery barn. Because that well was used so much for watering horses and cows, the water was fresh and cold. All the neighbors carried water from there. It was right in the barn, what they called an open well, and you could look right down and see the water, probably eight or so feet down.

Occasionally someone would get part of a rat or mouse or something in their pail. Nobody thought anything of that -- they just threw it out in the street and pumped another pailful. It was still the best water in that half of town. Even the City Restaurant (it was Runningen's Restaurant then) carried a lot of water from there. [6.39-1]

The horses drank from big, wooden candy pails which were pumped full by hand and set in a row along the alley, about six feet from the pump, where the horses came into the barn from the street. [6.39-2]

There was another well, the village well, with a big water tank for watering horses and cows in the alley against the wall of the old city hall, pumped by a windmill. You could drive up and water the horses there without unhitching them. [6.39-3]

Pa did that sometimes when he was working around town. One time the horses wouldn't drink and he looked into the tank and saw that it was full of wooden butter tubs, which the neighboring storekeeper was soaking up, prior to filling them with homemade butter (called dairy butter) to ship by rail to the Twin Cities. If the tubs weren't soaked up, the butter would ooze out in the railroad car. [6.39-4]

Farm women would make butter and bring it in and trade it for groceries. What was too dirty or rancid to sell locally was shipped. Some said the candy and cookie companies bought it and some said it was rechurned and freshened up. [6.39-5]

It was a common thing to see local housewives tasting several batches of butter in the store to find the best one. The storekeeper gave them a knife or something to take off a sample. I know Ma made cleaner and better butter than average, because the storekeepers set hers back and took it home for their own use. [6.39-6]

There was a village gas plant in the same area as the village well on the north edge of the village park where gas was made from carbide and it was piped all over town to the houses. I remember Pa lighting the gas lights in the house. They were just a pipe coming down from the ceiling that curved back up again -- no chimneys, globes, or anything. He just opened the knob and held a match over the jet. Some people had fancy globes and shades, but we didn't. [6.40-1]

There were gas street lamps, too, on strategic corners. There was one on the corner by the livery barn and Herman Balgaard, the cop, would come along every evening at dusk. I believe he carried a little wooden stool and he would step up on that, tip the globe back, and light it with a match. I suppose he came around in the morning and turned them out again. [6.40-2]

Up on the other corner, a block west of the barn, and north of the present Standard station a block, was a traffic sign on a post: Speed Limit 8 miles per hour. I suppose that was for the young "smart alecs" with fancy driving horses. [6.40-3]

Herman Balgaard was the village marshal or cop, plus taking care of everything else the village needed looked after. He met the trains with a handcart (a sled in the winter) at all hours of the day or night and brought mail from the Depot to the Post Office. Also the railroad had a pump run by a gas engine way down along the track near Ask Lake to pump water through an underground pipe up to the overhead tank by the Depot for the trains' steam engines. Herman had to make numerous trips to the pump house to start and stop and service the pump engines. [6.40-4]

Whenever there was anything dangerous going on in town, like a fight between two drunks or a burglary, or anything dangerous at all, it seemed like Herman was never around. And when anyone questioned where he had been right then, it was always "down to the pump house." [6.40-5]

I remember when they decided to open up the alley or cross street south and west of the nursing home by Harold Skaar's house about 1918. It was fought vigorously and bitterly by Mrs. Skaar and Mrs. Beardsley and others affected by it. They had gardens and bushes and things that would be destroyed when the street was built. [6.40-6]

There was to be a hearing in Elbow Lake on a certain day and one night when Pa came in from the farm someone told him that Herman Balgaard was looking for him to serve papers on him. The were going to subpoena him for a witness in the street hearing fight. That meant going to Elbow Lake to the hearing the next day and testifying for one side or the other.

I never have known whether it was the village or the affected citizens that were after him, probably the village, but he was really busy at the farm then and he didn't want to spend a day going to Elbow Lake. He also didn't want to take sides. He was a good friend of everybody on either side and his name would have been "mud" if he had taken one side or the other. [6.41-1]

I think he made the statement that "Herman will never catch me." I guess he did a minimum of chores that night and hurried up to the house, where he kept a watch out of the window. In due time after supper, here came Herman walking up the street. Pa said to Ma, "Tell him I'm not here," and she kept repeating, "I'm not going to tell a lie." [6.41-2]

Herman came to the front door and asked if Bennie was home, and she must have said he was, because he carefully took off his rubbers on the front porch and started to come in. Then I yelled, "There he goes! There he goes!" Pa was making fast tracks down the back way toward the livery barn. In his haste grabbing his cap, Pa accidentally got mine instead and I guess he looked pretty funny wearing my cap, as I was only 4 or 5 then. [6.41-3]

Herman, not being the excitable type, methodically put on his rubbers again and walked down to the livery barn. [6.41-4]

Pa went up the stairs into the hay mow and when Herman started up the stairs with his flashlight, Pa dropped down into one of the horse mangers through one of the hay chutes. He slipped out the back door and into the shed behind the barn and crawled under the hay in one of the mangers back there. Herman had to give up until morning, and wended his way home. [6.41-5]

Pa came home and went to bed (I guess) for a short night, then he got up and milked the cows and delivered the milk around town long before daylight. Then he hitched up the horses and drove out of town to the farm, still long before daylight. [6.41-6]

I don't know how much Herman looked for him the next morning, but at least he wasn't home so Ma didn't have to lie and I was probably still asleep. Pa was as safe as if he had been a hundred miles away, because Herman didn't have a car and didn't know where he was anyway. I doubt if Pa even told Ma what he was going to do. [6.42-1]

They had the hearing without him, and the street went through. The women who lost their gardens were so mad they wouldn't even dig up and move their own bushes, but the other women around town, especially Betsy Johnson, dug up a lot of them before the street builders came with their horses and plowed them up. And Pa was still everybody's friend. Even Herman's. [6.42-2]

One year Pa bought three or four sheep and put them in the yard around the house to eat the grass. I don't remember much about it. I suppose Ma had the baby then and couldn't mow all that lawn. It couldn't have been too successful, because it was only a one-time project, and he sold the sheep again. [6.51-1]

Those last years in town, 1917-1921, Pa would haul a big pile of long wood from the farm into the back yard and get someone to come with a circle saw and engine and saw it up for the furnace and kitchen range. [6.51-3]

We didn't have a woodshed in town but carried out of the pile for the furnace, splitting the straight ones as we went and piling them in rows against the east car shed wall for the kitchen and basement stoves in the summer. [6.51-5]

That fall they sawed a big pile of wood in the back yard and there was a big pile of sawdust. Hulda (Paulson) Jacobson had come down to play with me and when Ma looked out the window, Hulda and I were busily hauling sawdust in a coaster wagon and covering all the piles of sheep "beans" on the lawn with sawdust. [6.51-2]

Ma had a decrepit chicken coop and high fence around a yard for chickens up in the northeast corner of the lot, and the rest of the whole east half of that big lot was garden and some apple and plum trees that were really bearing by the time we moved away.

There were also two big compass cherry trees that yielded bushels of fruit, which was a cross between cherries and plums. She canned gallons of compass cherry sauce in quart jars and it was my most staple food item in that line. I have never seen a compass cherry tree since we left there. [6.51-7]

[They are still available. (Google: Compass cherry) Prunus "compass": Compass Cherry Plum. self-sterile, requires a pollinator species; produces a red, clingstone fruit in late July that is "great for jams and sauces." Early bearing cross that yields fruit the second year after planting. Small to medium size red clingstone fruit. Pollinator for other cherry plums. Excellent for jams, jellies, canning, and sauces. Best fruit during first few years of growth. Origin Minnesota, early 1900's.]

She also had strawberries and raspberries and a couple of vines of dewberries [brambles, closely related to blackberries]. They were something like black raspberries but much bigger and they tasted like boysenberries. The vines laid on the ground and were really prickly. To pick them she had a steel hook to lift up the vines. [6.52-1]