Farm Neighbors

When the Van Cleves left, the Roy Petermans, a young couple, moved in on the corner. He was the helper in the barber shop in town (it took two barbers in Ashby then) and they had a nice horse and buggy. When the roads were bad, he rode horseback to work. [15.82-1]

They had a little boy between 1 and 2 years old who got pneumonia in that first winter. There wasn't much a doctor could do then. They made a wool suit for him and tried to sweat it out of him. Ma was over there several nights and sat up with him, but he finally died. [15.82-2]

They had a funeral in the Presbyterian Church, but they didn't have a preacher there, so they got the old, retired Lutheran preacher, Dr. Norman. His main stock in trade seemed to be how many tears he could wring out of the poor mother and aunts, etc. He seemed to discover that he would wring out a fresh batch after they had apparently gone dry by repeating the little boy's name, Lavern Christ Peterman, over and over. He milked it to the limit, also mentioning this "poor mother" here, etc. They had four little girls for pall bearers (Marj was one.) [15.82-3]

The family couldn't stand to live there after that (they blamed the cold house, etc.) so Gust and Oscar Thompson borrowed the money from John Moseng (who got the place eventually) and bought it. [15.82-4]

The house had a dirt cellar and a wide ledge of dirt between the hole and the rock foundation. A large family of skunks made their home on this ledge, back under the floor. Mr. Peterman thought it was foolish to give away all those skunks that were wintering under there, as they were worth $1.50 each.

He talked to a fur buyer (Hervin Torgerson) and they had a bright idea. They tied rags on the ends of sticks and soaked them with chloroform and held them in front of the skunks until they were all "asleep" (anesthetized). They then raked them out (15 of them) and filled tubs and boxes with them, down in the cellar.

They were so elated with their bright idea that they sat down to rest and visit a little while, and probably to smoke a cigarette, before they carried them out.

All of a sudden, the skunks started to "come to." They had to start clubbing them right and left, before they got up and ran, and the skunks sprayed with everything they had. It smelled clear over to our place the next morning, as strong as if it had been under our porch. [15.82-5]

Gust Thompson was furious, both because of the odor and because he thought he should have gotten the money for the skunks. So Roy had to give him his nice horse and buggy to appease him.

When the wind was from the northwest, the skunk smell was really strong over at our place for many weeks or months, and they said in damp weather the smell was bad in the house, even a year or two later. [15.83-1]

Those Thompsons were quite the neighbors. Gust was probably in his 50s and his wife had left him years before. His brother Oscar was probably in his 40s and had married a really dumb Minneapolis woman, who was probably about 25 or 30. They had a little, pre-school girl who had such a deformed face you couldn't stand to look at her. They didn't have anything, just worked out when anyone would hire them, and there wasn't any welfare, so they had to live off the land. [15.83-2]

Before they got the place, Oscar (the dumbest of the two) came over to the field and asked Pa if he would do him a favor. He said they were going to borrow $500 to buy the place and Hauge would give them the money if Pa would co-sign the note. Pa told him he would give him the money if Hauge would co-sign the note instead. Pa didn't have $500 then, but knew it was a safe offer. John Moseng had some money, so he lent it to them, knowing that it would be only a matter of time until he got the place. [15.83-3]

They got a few chickens of assorted colors, and in the spring they went around and bought half a dozen turkey eggs from each of the neighbors. The neighbors each had a different breed and color of turkeys so they could tell them apart when they got to roaming in the woods together during the summer. The turkeys would make nests and lay and hatch in the woods and the Thompsons would roam the woods in the spring, hunting for turkey eggs to hatch under their (chicken) hens. Nobody could accuse them of stealing eggs and prove it, because they had bought a few of each color from the neighbors. [15.83-4]

Until the neighbors each got separate breeds of turkeys, there was quite a problem in the fall. Usually, the best "claimer" got the most turkeys. There were several breeds of turkeys then, the big "bronze" breed and the "reds" (ours), as well as the "whites" and the "blacks" and the "Narragansetts," which were a dark breed with white or gray fronts and necks. [15.83-5]

The Thompsons had a one-gallon can to buy kerosene for their lamps in, and they always ran out before they went to town. Then, Oscar's wife and kid, or Oscar, would come over with a quart jar and borrow a quart of "coal oil" to tide them over. They would bring it back when they got a gallon from town. [15.84-1]

Ma would give them a syrup pail of skim milk whenever they came, so between borrowing and returning kerosene and coming for free milk, one of them was there almost every day and would always sit and visit. [15.84-2]

They had been raised in our neighborhood, but had been up in Canada and in "the cities," for many years and knew a lot of things to tell about. Oscar's mother-in-law had a cheap rooming house in Minneapolis, and that's where Oscar got his wife. He delighted in telling how he had stayed there for a while after working in the Dakota harvest fields, or somewhere. He said they thought he was a millionaire, the way he spent money. They eventually went back to "the cities" and we never saw any of them again. [15.84-3]

Some of the old Norwegians called their chickens "Tupaks." When Oscar Thompson's wife [who lived on "the corner"] went out to feed the chickens, we could hear her clear over to our place, hollering, "Come, Tupak, come, Tupak," so we always called her "Tupak" among ourselves -- they were "Oscar and Tupak."

When she was just barely old enough to look at boys, Dorothy Thompson was calling some country boys "hicks." She also told them it was all right to "kiss" if you don't "slobba"!

One day she went to the store and asked for some "Top."

They couldn't make out what she meant and she got mad and almost screamed at them, "'Top' to put on the 'bed,'!"

They thought she meant a bedspread, which they didn't have.

She finally got it across that it was "syrup, to put on the bread."

One of those first years on the farm, Tollef Hoff discovered that Ask Lake was full of perch and they bit like crazy through the ice. We kids got to go fishing over there quite a few times, and we almost lived on those big perch that winter. [15.108-2]

We only had an ax to chop the holes with, which wasn't bad when there was only a few inches of ice, but when the ice got thicker, the problem was to get the bottom of the hole big enough to fish through. Usually, the ax broke through and let the water in and then we got many showers chopping through the water to get the bottom of the hole bigger. [15.108-3]

Tollef had an ice chisel, but Himmy Eian borrowed it from him one day and dropped it through the hole to the bottom of the lake. Then Tollef only had an ax, too. [15.108-4]

That winter, toward spring, the lake went dead and all the fish died. We never caught another fish by hook and line in Ask Lake in winter ever again. I went over almost every winter and tried it, even left hooks baited with minnows hanging through the ice overnight, but the minnow would still be on the hook in the morning. [15.108-5]

Tollef discovered the perch that year because one came up in the hole where he watered his cows. He always watered his livestock in the lake in the winter. It was a common sight to see him walking down the hill to the lake with an ax over his shoulder and three horses following in the path, single file, followed by a few red cows and probably three or four partly grown calves. last would be an old sow that would have pigs in the spring. They all took their turns at the hole, drinking ice water, and then wended their way back up to the single-wall shed that they called a barn. [15.108-6]

That big hill from Tollef's barn to the lake was used for a ski hill some years before I can remember it. The good skiers from town would come out on Sundays and ski down it and way out onto the lake.

One Monday morning when Tollef was in the prime of life, he decided to go down it. They had used it quite a bit the day before and the ski track was icy. Tollef said he started down and immediately wished he hadn't. He didn't dare fall down to stop himself and he went so fast he couldn't see in the cold wind. He was really scared, but he kept his balance and went half way across the lake. I doubt if he ever went down it again. [15.108-7]

Tollef was the wildest driver around here for several years when he was young. He had an old Model T touring car with the top missing. Most people drove their Model T's 25 to 30 miles an hour, but he claimed he got 50 out of his. One day he rolled it into the field half a mile north of Ashby. I guess he got thrown out, but it didn't hurt him any.

We went up to look at it, and at least one front wheel had all the spokes broken off and the windshield was demolished. He got some used parts and put it together right there. He was soon sailing around the same as ever. [15.139-5]

Tollef Hoff always copied what other people did, after a fashion, so when Pa got his first beehives, Tollef thought he would get bees, too. He found a bee tree in the woods and sawed it down. He sawed off about a six-foot log where the bees were and put it in his cellar in the fall. (Pa kept his hives in the basement those years, too.)

I don't know how Tollef planned to harvest his honey, but his log wasn't big enough to hold over a quart or two of honey besides the bees. I guess Tollef thought he could raise bees in logs, their natural homes, keeping them in the cellar in the winter and outside in the summer, but his bees all died. [15.139-4]

Raymond Skaar always had a lot of stories to tell, both from what he had heard from the "olden days" and also new, up-to-date ones. I guess he got the most publicity from the story of a feed salesman who was calling on elevator customers to promote a certain kind of hog concentrate. He went out to Skaars and gave them a long "spiel" about this new feed supplement and how much less time it would take to gt a hog up to marketing size. When he got all through, Raymond simply said, "What's time to a hog?" [15.111-6]

Raymond was against almost everything and told about a tourist that stopped in a small town and started to visit with an old fellow like himself.

The visitor said, "I suppose you have seen a lot of changes here in your day."

And the oldtimer said, "Yep, and I've been agin every one of them." [15.112-1]

Gust Melby had more friends than anyone else in the country. He "batched" and milked cows, but after he got all the gravel extraction money (rumored to be more than $30,000 -- about like $1 million now) there was always somebody staying with him, both male and female, and he bought lots of booze. [15.148-2]

There were endless numbers of stories about all Gust's company and good-heartedness and when they got too loud and unruly in a tavern or cafe some years later (?) he always offered to buy the place. [15.148-3]

One night he ran into a truck he met on the road and told the cop, "How did I know it was a truck? It looked like a Christmas tree to me." [15.148-4]

Gust was riding with a friend when the friend got picked up for drunk driving in Fergus and went to jail. They were going to let Gust go, but he said, "No friend of mine sits in jail alone," so they put him in jail, too. He paid both of their fines the next day.

He asked the judge for a check blank and the judge said, "For what bank?"

Gust said, "Any damn' bank -- I've got money in all of them."

The judge checked first, I heard, and Gust was telling the truth. [15.148-5]

(Gust was a cousin of the Skaar brothers and they used to visit him some in his last years. Raymond always commented on the unbelievable size of the pile of empty beer cans behind his house.) [15.149-1]

Gust's father was Norwegian and his mother was a little Scotch lady. I can just remember her. Gust brought her up to visit Ma once and she had such a Scotch brogue that I couldn't understand her. They said she and her husband couldn't understand each other when they got married. (I don't know where she came from, or anything.) [15.148-6]

Gust had been batching for a few years when the gravel pit started up and I went to his place for drinking water sometimes for the gravel pit men. His cream separator sat in the pump house that didn't have a door on it and the cream can sat under the cream spout without a cover from one milking to the next. He took the cream to town two or three times a week, or when the can got full, flies and all. [15.149-7]