Having my Aunt staying with us after mandatory evacuation from all the Eventide venues took place last Thursday, I am learning a lot of things about life when she was a young girl and woman. She will have her 89th birthday in just a few days from now but she is always "My Young Aunt" because she was 18 when I was born and she lived with our family at that time while going to high school in Barnesville, MN. In those long - gone days, there was no school bus service in the rural areas, so if a young person wanted to go to high school after completing grade 8 in their rural school, they had to find a place to "board" in town. My folks lived in Barnesville at that time so my Auntie went to their home and went to high school. She went on to work at the village store near her home in the country as a bookkeeper where she met her husband- to- be. After they married, they purchased the old Cormorant village store and were its owners and proprietors for many decades til they retired.
Now I am learning a lot of things about life on the farm when my mother and her siblings were growing up. It is wonderful to have a talkative relative who can fill you in on so many things you never heard about til now. For instance, when a blizzard came or just the normal snowy, cold winter set in, there was not much entertainment from outside the homes….people could call each other on the "party line" after calling "Central" (Margot A. who was related to our family would connect you to whom you wanted to call) Then you heard the clicks as more and more on the multiple-party line picked up the phone to listen in to your conversation. Nobody thought they were being nosy…it was just a form of finding out the news when there were no radios (no electricity) and television was decades away from being a fixture in farm homes. Listening on the party line was also a good form of entertainment especially if the news being heard was the least bit "juicy". Once, as a child, I was staying at the farm during the summertime but I had to make a call to town to talk to my Mom, so my Aunts and Uncle would put me on a chair so I could stand up to the crank phone on the wall and ring up "Central" and have Margot connect me to our home phone in town (also on a party line!) My mother’s voice would grow distant as the country folks picked up their phones to listen in to me talk to my mother. Once when I was wearing elastic waist shorts, my Uncle crept up behind me …I was standing on the chair of course…and whipped my elastic waist pants down to my ankles! All of them—my Gramma, my 2 aunts and my mischievous uncle were hysterical with laughter as I stood talking to my Mom in my underwear. It is a memory I will carry as long as I "have all my marbles."
Then there were the games of cards played in the rural neighborhood. My Aunt told me that they (she and her sister and brother) thought nothing of walking through snow on the unplowed small road all the way to "Joe and Val’s" which was about two miles away so they could play cards til 2 in the morning and then bundle up once again and walk home in the snowy darkness to catch a nap before it was milking time in the morning. Card playing among the neighbors was a favorite pastime. All of them became good whist players and held progressive whist parties often in each other’s farm homes. All these games would have been played by the light of kerosene lamps, with the kitchen or dining room wood-burning range keeping the rooms cozy til it was time for "coffee". Then a fresh pot of water would boil on the back of the range, and coffee would be added to the boiling water til the coffee was strong enough to satisfy even the most Norwegian of coffee tastes in the assembled card crowd. Sandwiches, cake, maybe even a jello dish would be served. Homemade pickles were opened up to go with the sandwiches. A cake or fresh cookies had been baked in the wood burning range before the company arrived. That was the crowning touch to evening "lunch" which was served well after midnight when the guests would walk back to their own farms in the dark of the early morning hours.
Tragedies abounded. Often one of the parents in families would die at young ages leaving a widow with children or a widower with children which was even more difficult. This happened to my family. My Grandfather who I never knew, other than a few pictures I have seen, died at the age of 49 leaving my Grandmother with 5 children ages 4 through 16 to try to keep up the farming and make a living. But kind relatives and neighbors came to her aid all the time, helping her with the herd of cattle, with the haying, the planting and cultivating. She persevered in spite of the tragic loss at such an early age. It happened all the time in those days….tuberculosis and other diseases that are now not even a problem took many people from their families prematurely. There was no choice but to keep on keeping on… in spite of your grief….cows had to be milked, pigs and chickens fed, eggs picked, hay made, crops and gardens harvested, canning of meat and vegetables and wild fruits had to be done. There was no time for self-pity but grief often took its toll in other ways….like illnesses. My Grandmother developed Parkinson’s Disease at a relatively young age in her 50′s and she lived with it til she died in her late 80′s; there was no effective treatment or no nursing home care. Your children took care of you at home and you died in your own home, in your own bed in which you had given birth to all your children, you had slept in that bed for decades til death came calling and took you to your eternal home.
The marvelous tales that are unfolding every day are such a serendipitous end to the long winter of snow and cold and now flooding in Fargo-Moorhead. If we turned off the radio and TV and got out the cards and invited the neighbors over I might even learn how to play whist. But I would have to make a big lunch for the after-midnight eating before the neighbors walked back home in the velvet darkness of a winter’s night. Maybe I would even make some egg coffee to go with the sandwiches and cake and cookies and red jello with one banana cut up into it! I would have plenty of cream for whipping; I would just have to fetch it out of the "cold kitchen" where it had been placed after we had milked and "separated" the cream out of the milk.
With the snow falling again in another storm warning, it would not be hard to recreate the tales I have been told the past week when my Aunt came to stay with us, til she can go home to her apartment at Eventide once more. I will miss our daily chats and stories and miss the fun of having my "Young Aunt" living once again within my family.