Thank God for Mama! (The Polio Story)

Deborah & Alvin Sather 1938

Deborah and Alvin (Taken 1938)

 

Thank God for Mama!

 Mama – Deborah Graff Sather 

10-15-1917 —- 11-05-2010

This child has polio.

Just after the school term began, Deborah’s children became ill.  Being farm children, exposure to circumstances conducive for contracting infectious diseases was very limited. When she learned that polio was endemic in the area in the fall of 1946, Deborah further reduced the risks by keeping the school-aged child out of school for the term and the entire family as isolated as possible. Only necessary trips to town for supplies were made.  Still the three children, approximately 8, 4, and 3 years of age, became ill.

The first to fall victim to the dreaded poliomyelitis was Dean, the youngest of Deb’s children at the time.  The family had visited Deborah’s brother and his family the day before, where the children had played on a pile of gravel/sand. Dean, young and a little unsteady in the sand, had fallen and bruised his face on a wheel.  The next day, Monday, he complained of neck pain.  When Deborah noticed a decreased ability to rotate his head, she worried that he had injured his neck in the previous day’s accident and decided he needed to see a doctor.

“The fall against the wheel turned out to be a lucky thing,” she said.  “Otherwise we may not have realized it was polio so quickly, and early diagnosis was important.  Some children in the area were not diagnosed immediately, and their treatment was not as effective.”

Since there was no doctor in Greenbush at the time, Dean was taken to a doctor in Thief River Falls.  After a quick look at the child and lifting his limbs, the doctor said, “This child has polio.”

The Sister Kenny Institute in Minneapolis was the hospital of choice for polio victims from Northern Minnesota, but they were overwhelmed with polio patients and at the time of Dean’s diagnosis had no beds available.  Deborah was told to take the child home, apply hot packs, keep the room temperature at 80 degrees, and give him the pills the doctor supplied.  So, the family, including Dean, returned home.  It was the beginning of a winter of woe.

The next day, the middle child was cranky and complaining of flu-like symptoms.  Deb immediately made her own diagnosis, and Eunice was promptly subjected to the same treatments Dean was receiving.

The following day, Wednesday, the oldest, Alvin, was startled during his morning routine.  “Mama,” he called in a voice filled with surprise, “I can’t tie my shoes.  I can’t reach.”

Mama knew her third child had succumbed to the dread disease.  All of her children now had polio.  This was later confirmed by the doctor who came out to the house to check on the family (a housecall!).  “He told me that all three children had polio.  I already knew that,” Deborah said.  With all three unable to move, there was little question.

al,eunice,dean,tractor

The children experienced pain as the muscles contracted, pulling their heads back and arching their backs.  The doctor had recommended hot packs, preferably 100% wool, kept hot by changing them every three hours and pills that apparently were either sedatives or muscle relaxants or perhaps both. Soon the children could lie flat on their backs, but were unable to change position.  In a matter of a few days, Deborah’s feisty, active children had been reduced to motionless, bedridden patients who could move only their eyeballs, and breathe and speak.

“But they didn’t say al,eunice,dean,dogmuch,” said Deborah. “They slept a lot. The doctor gave me pills to add to their food.” She doesn’t remember what kind they were, but along with the hot packs, the pills seemed to make the children both drowsy and more comfortable.

The neighbors

Like the majority of their neighbors, the family had no phone.  Still, the news traveled quickly.  Reluctant to expose themselves and their families to the dreaded virus, the neighbors wanted no close contact, but they were concerned.  They’d drive into the yard, stop near the barn, and call across the yard to ask how the children were doing. When they learned the family was in need of things easily supplied without exposure to the disease, the neighbors rallied.

The Sathers needed 100% wool for hot packs.  Did anyone have blankets that could be cut into strips?  People had blankets, but they weren’t 100% wool.  Who had woolen cloth?  The ultra-conservative wife an old farmer who wore only 100% woolen underwear had packed his old, worn-out, woolen underwear away. Though everyone wondered why she’d kept the old ragged things, the underwear solved the problem! They were brought out, cut up, and pressed into service for hot packs. Other neighbors gathered up old shirts for “hospital gowns” for the children.  Uncle Ove, whose wife had died, supplied a bedpan he no longer needed.

”So the children were dressed in men’s old shirts and wrapped in old Charlie Haug’s ragged underwear,” said Deborah with a chuckle.

Doctor’s orders

As per the doctor’s instructions, the hot packs were wrapped around the muscled areas of their bodies, avoiding the joints.  Although the children were completely paralyzed, their joints were mobile, enabling Deborah to lift and move limbs when applying the packs.  She also could prop their bodies at a slant to feed them soups and liquids. “They couldn’t lift their arms or even curl their fingers around a cup, so they had to be fed like little birds,” Deborah said.  To avoid choking, no solids could be fed, but with Deborah’s cream soups, the ever-ready cod liver oil, and lack of exercise, the children more-or-less maintained their weight.

A couple of days after Dean’s visit to the doctor in Thief River Falls, Deborah received a call informing her that a bed was available at the Sister Kenny Hospital.  By that time, her other children were sick.  “I didn’t want one sick child in Minneapolis and two in Greenbush.  I thought I may as well keep them all at home.”

al,eunice,deanbikes

“Old Home Hospital”

The family lived in a tall old house with a small footprint — only a kitchen, pantry, living room, and one bedroom on the first floor.   The house had no bathroom because there was no running water (as some wag said, we only had running water when someone ran out to the well to fetch it). The kitchen boasted a wood-burning range with a reservoir where water was stored and ‘‘automatically” heated when the range was stoked.  For larger amounts of hot water, an oblong copper tub that spanned a two-burner area of the range served as the “water heater.”  Someone, of course, had to carry buckets of water to fill the reservoir and the tubs.  Someone also had to carry wood to heat the water.  Since Alfred, the father of the family, avoided dealing directly with the illness, the fetching chores fell to him.

For nursing convenience after the polio struck, the children needed to be on the same floor and in separate beds, which limited choices.  The oldest was given the bed in the downstairs bedroom.  For the youngest, a crib was placed in the living room, and the middle child was placed on the living room couch.  By default, Alfred was relegated to one of the upstairs bedrooms – the only “non-hospital quarters” remaining. With the kitchen being the water-heating and hot-pack-prepping center and the living room and bedroom patient rooms, the entire main floor of the house was essentially a medical center/hospital with a medical staff of one.

Medical staff

Deborah dedicated herself entirely to the children for the duration.  The doctor had recommended hot packs and the pills he’d given her.  Deborah felt pressured to keep to the hot-pack schedule to reduce the chances of permanent paralysis.

And the hot packs were hot!  Deborah used a stick to remove the packs from the copper tub.  “When applying them to the children,” she said, “I’d handle them with the tips of my fingers, and they were very hot.  I worried that the children would blister, but the field nurse told me not to worry, because they wouldn’t blister. She was right, none of the children blistered.”

Deborah diligently prepared and changed the packs every three hours, often completing a round of changing packs and feeding just in time to begin again.  When she could finish the round with a little time to spare, she’d collapse at the foot of the bed of the oldest child to nap for a few minutes.

Household staff

That’s if she had the time, because clothes had to be washed.  This wasn’t a matter of throwing a load into an automatic washer.  “We did have the convenience of a gas-powered agitator washer, though,” said Deborah.  And soup had to be made. “For the first time, Alfred had to make coffee and sandwiches to go with the soup, if he wanted a meal.  I didn’t have time to prepare meals.”

Surprisingly, the family was not officially quarantined, but there was no household help, hired or volunteer, to be obtained.  Still, without quarantine, Alfred could go to town for supplies so they did not have to rely on people dropping off supplies.

Deborah avoids answering questions about her fears for the children’s futures.  She says she didn’t have time to think about that.  But she couldn’t know what the outcome would be; she couldn’t know if the children would be crippled for the rest of their lives. So we can only imagine the fears, tears, and prayers that had to have accompanied the difficult routine of caring for her three paralyzed children.

Movement

In the spring, Deborah was wearily changing packs on the oldest child yet again when she noticed he moved a toe!  She couldn’t believe her eyes!  She asked him if he could do it again, and he complied!

Alfred was in the kitchen having a cup of coffee.  “Alfred!” she called, “Alfred! Alvin moved his toe!”  Alfred rushed in.  He wanted to see it for himself, so they asked Alvin to do it again. Again he complied, so Alfred saw it, too!  Although he could not move his leg, he had actually moved his toe!  This was an exciting day!

As time passed, the children began moving more and more, and the hot packs gave way to tub soaks. The children sat in a galvanized tub of hot water for twenty minute intervals, which soon became a boring stretch for them.  When Alfred made a run to town for supplies, Deborah asked him to pick up something to entertain the children while soaking in the tub.  He brought yellow rubber duckies.

Soon the children were moving around enough to look for entertainment outside the tub, as well.  Because warmth was a consideration and the floors were cold, the couch was put into double bed position so Dean could be removed from the crib and placed with Eunice where they could crawl around and play.

The doctor from Thief River Falls made another house call one day when the children were crawling around on the couch.  He took one look, grinned, and confirmed Deborah’s assessment, “Yup, they’re getting better.”

By the end of the school year, Alvin was doing well enough to be taken to his little country school to take his exams to determine whether he had passed his grade. After he was sufficiently on the road to recovery, Deborah had been home-schooling him.  He passed, of course.  Mama had tutored as she did everything else – effectively.

Alvin, the oldest polio child, remembers

Al, the oldest, remembers the children falling ill, but remembers nothing of the time of paralysis. He recovered first and remembers being brought in to see his sister after all those weeks of illness.  “This may not sound very nice,” he says, “but I remember looking at her and thinking, “Oh, yuck!”

He cannot recall what prompted the comment, but agrees that it may have been that she looked ill – or that after all that time, he’d forgotten he had a sister and wasn’t thrilled about it.

Eunice, the middle polio child, remembers

Eunice remembers nothing of the time of paralysis, but does recall riding in the car and mother exclaiming over Dean’s inability to turn his head properly.  In this memory, it seems that the moment is quite intense.

She also recalls the long soaking baths in a round galvanized tub and the yellow rubber duckies they were given to entertain them in the tub.  These were perhaps the first toys the children had received in months. Deborah says these soaks were twenty minutes each time, but Eunice remembers that they seemed long, hours long!

Eunice remembers learning to walk.  She has a snapshot memory — they were in the kitchen in front of the door leading to the upstairs near the kitchen range.  Mother was holding her up and Father kneeling in front of her coaxing her to come to him.

“Eunice had the most trouble learning to walk again.  It seemed her legs were disconnected from her brain and no messages were getting through,” said Deborah. “I held her hands to keep her upright and her father crawled along pumping her legs trying to show her what to do.”

Dean, the youngest polio child, remembers

Dean, too, remembers the incident in the car involving his inability to turn his head normally.  The time of paralysis is a blank to him, too.  But he does remember the oblong copper tub upon the space heater in the living room.

The space heater was a new one.  “We got a new heater so we’d have better control over maintaining a constant 80 degrees as the doctor recommended,” said Deborah.  The tub full of water for hot packs sat there simmering day and night for months.

And he remembers learning to walk.  “Mom held me up and Dad pumped my legs,” he says.

Exercises and tears – the children remember

All the children remember the exercises–the horrible dreaded exercises, the painful   stretching of the cords.  Oh, how we hated “exercise time.” Every night we’d have this wonderful “family experience” with the three kids complaining and crying while Mama encouraged and enforced. Daddy apparently hid out somewhere.

It was discouraging; we didn’t seem to make any progress.  We’d stretch and stretch those cords, and they seemed to “shrink” before the next evening, because we had to stretch them again. Growing exacerbated the problem—as our bodies grew the cords either didn’t grow or didn’t keep up.  And that stretching hurt!  Oh, the tears!

The leg exercises were the most painful.  One of the hated exercises consisted of standing with legs straight–no knee bending—and reaching down to touch our toes. It hurt; we’d cry, Mama would try to encourage us by exercising with us.  She could do the most amazing thing!  She could reach down and put hands flat on floor!  None of us could do that, and Mama was old (or so we thought).

The most horrible of all the exercises, though, was to sit on the floor with legs outstretched–no bending of the knees–then bend the torso until the head touched the knees.  We’d try and try, and it would hurt so much.  We did not get an A for effort.  We did not get excused for pain. If we couldn’t do it, if we couldn’t get that head all the way down, Mama would push until we got there.  Oh, how it hurt!

Without Mama’s daily encouragement and enforcement there is no doubt that we would have skipped the exercises.  Even as we grew older and knew, without the exercises, we could end up with useless, crippled limbs, I believe we would have found excuses to avoid exercising.  We didn’t want to be crippled, but oh, it hurt to exercise.  We hated those exercises so much!

Thank God for Mama!  Mama knew about tough love before it was a catchphrase!  Mama cared about our futures more than she cared about being popular with her kids!  But as I recall, Mama’s unpopularity usually lasted only about as long as each exercise session.  And not one of us entered adulthood with crippled or atrophied limbs. And all of us learned to deal with pain.  And I like to believe that our exercise sessions built character, too.

Post-polio syndrome

Alvin PPS

Only one of the children had any visible after-effects from the polio; Alvin had a barely discernable limp when he was tired. The limp was so slight, it’s doubtful anyone other than family noticed.  Though none of the children seemed as agile and limber as other children, this was not really noticeable either.

Deborah had asked the school to excuse Al from football when he returned to school.  At some point, though, Al did participate in football – and the next morning he required help to arise from the bed.  “I was so mad,” Deborah said. “After all the effort to get all the kids past polio, he was back to being unable to get out of bed.”  However, from this, too, Al recovered with no ill effects.

Al does not admit to post polio symptoms, but his gait seems to indicate leg muscle problems.  However, he has experienced severe back problems much of his life, which could also affect his gait. He also has some palsy in his hands as he’s grown older, and has some vision problems. He’s had cancer and a stroke, which may account for his symptoms.

Eunice PPS

In her twenties, Eunice found she could not tolerate dressing her long hair, which required holding her hands above and behind her head for sustained periods of time.  At the time, she thought little of it and merely did what was necessary – cut her hair.  Only recently, she’s begun to suspect it was the first onset of post-polio syndrome.

As Eunice edged into middle-age, late forties, early fifties, she began experiencing fatigue and pain in her legs that seemingly could not be totally explained by cardio-vascular disease, and some of her doctors began mentioning post-polio syndrome as a possibility.

Then over-all fatigue became a problem, enough to interfere with her routine.  It would often take two or three days to recover from a clinic visit or a shopping day; any unusual activity, trauma, or anesthesia seemed to exacerbate the problems.  As she continued to age, the over-all fatigue increased, as did the muscle fatigue – now moving into her thighs, hips, and lower back.  There were some issues with intermittent mental fogginess and visual fogginess, as well as memory problems.  Because of early onset of heart disease (she had artery by-pass heart surgery at about age 46, with placement of stents and carotid surgery about fifteen years later, a heart attack at 64, and a stroke at 65), it is difficult to pin-point these symptoms as post-polio syndrome.

Dean PPS

Dean also admits little regarding post polio symptoms (it seems to be a guy thing).  He does, however, have problems with his legs, which seem very similar to Eunice’s leg problems, albeit with a later onset.  He also seems to struggle with fatigue.  He is a long-haul truck driver handling a big rig, and the driving seems to have become more difficult for him, and he, too, is experiencing some issues with vision.  Dean also had early onset heart problems having had by-pass heart surgery at age 44, so again there is a question of whether the symptoms are due to post polio syndrome or cardiac disease. He has had strokes (TIAs), which may account for some of his symptoms.

Post Polio

It seems that many of the symptoms of post-polio syndrome mimic premature aging, in a way.  Muscle fatigue and the resulting pain seem somewhat normal in old age – the same symptoms at early middle-age and middle-age are not normal. Similarly, over-all fatigue, mental fogginess, and visual fogginess are more expected in old age.

How did Mama do it?

But the greatest difficulties of the Sather family polio episode lay not with the children, but with the caretaker.  The children remember little of the experience and the memories they do have are fraught with love. Thanks to Mama!

For Mama it was a different story – hard times, exhaustion, worry, tears, and prayers.

Deborah was asked, “How did you manage?  How did you get through it?”

Her pragmatic reply, a lesson for us all, “You did what you had to do.”

Memories of Dad

Alfred & Alvin Sather1938

Dad – Alfred Sather – and Al Sather – 1938

Written by my brother Al Sather

I remember one winter when the snow got too deep for the cows to be outside, so they had to be kept in the barn (on the Ole Sather farm).  Dad would load up an old wooden stone boat with manure in the barn and when it  had a big pile on it, he would harness up Babe and Jessie and out the west door they would go with the manure—sometimes that old stone boat would stick to the floor and the horses would slip and fall trying to get the old boat moving—but  Dad would holler get-up and they would get up and try again.

I remember one old Plymouth car Dad had that wouldn’t start in the winter and neither would the tractor so Dad would harness up old Babe and Jessie and pull the car to start it—Dad always said that darn  old car wouldn’t start after the sun went down.  But he finally figured out the problem and he would tell anyone who had the same problem with their Plymouth how to remedy the problem. I think that is how Dad became the neighborhood fix it man.

Do you remember the old Delco light plant out in the West shed—It had 12 glass batteries about 12 or 14 inches high? That is how we had electric lights on the old (Ole Sather) farm before we got REA— (electricity)

I don’t suppose you remember the time the old sheep buck tried to sneak up on Dad when he was carrying a feed bag on his shoulder from the South shed to the barn—I don’t know how Dad knew he was going to be attacked from behind but about the time the buck was going to get Dad, he pushed the feed bag off his shoulder right onto the buck’s head–that old sheep buck took a nose dive into the ground—I think that was the last time that old buck tried to sneak up on Dad. Talk about eyes in the back of your head!

(REA is an acronym for Rural Electric Association)

Storm Days

I sit here looking out the window, gazing upon a magical, glowing, silvery world – the far-north mystical-looking air, a phenomenon conjured by blowing snow back-lit by an obscured sun. It only happens when the snow flakes are fine, not when they are big lacy flakes. The big flakes produce a magic of their own but not today.

The blowing snow howling around the house sounds fierce. It looks cold and sounds cold. It is cold. But in my living room, bundled up, I’m cozy and warm on the couch, pecking away at the keyboard – or even cozier bundled up with a book.

When I need not leave the house, I love stormy, wintry days and the cozy, snug feeling of a warm house threatened by severe weather.

There is something exciting about a snow storm. That feeling of excitement stems, perhaps, from a long ago childhood spent on a Minnesota farm so far north we were almost hugging the Canadian border. Back then the winters were fierce and transportation less reliable. When the snow began falling all the children watched with bated breath and listened to the radio with anxiety. Was it snowing hard enough, storming wildly enough to call off school? Would we have a snow day? The answer would be yes about three times a year. What joy!

If school was called off early enough and we had not dressed for the day, we could relax in our jammies and have a leisurely breakfast. If we had already dressed for school, we’d happily change into more comfortable “everyday clothes.” We had very few school clothes and never wore them around the house or farm.

Usually we’d be assigned some household chores, but it was our special day off so the chores would be few. Sometimes Mom would bring out ingredients so we could help bake a nice, warm treat for ourselves. Or she’d mix up a batch of bread early enough so, for noon dinner, chunks of the dough could be fried and served up dripping with butter and generously sprinkled with sugar. We called them flapjacks. Then later the remaining dough would be baked. The heat from the oven was welcome as the space heater left cold spots in the house, and the aroma of baking bread on a stormy day was wonderful. When it came out of the oven, we got chunks of that, too. Also served with melting butter and sugar.

Usually at some point in the day, we’d go outside to romp in the newly fallen snow. Whether it was our idea or strongly suggested by the parents cooped up with us, we didn’t stay out long. We did not have the wonderful winter clothing today’s children take for granted, so usually we’d soon be freezing and ready to seek the warmth of the house.

But most of the day we bundled up next to the space heater in the living room and read comic books or whatever printed material we could find. Reclining on blankets next to the heater, we’d play games until we argued. Then Mom would find more household chores or we’d be sent outside to wear off excess energy.

Sometimes to warm up, we made fudge or enjoyed hot chocolate and warm donuts shaken in a little bag of sugar. Cozy, lazy, happy comfort.

Part of the excitement of snow days was the element of danger. When we were snowed in, we were truly isolated. Vehicles would not move, often would not even start even though the batteries were removed and taken kept warm in the house. Most winters we had no horses, so the only way to get out was to walk in the storm. Some of the neighbors had horses and sleighs, but we had no telephone to call them if we experienced an emergency.

We always had a stock of food in the winter. Every year Mom “put up” (canned) fruit, berries, and vegetables. In the basement, we had shelves of Kerr or Mason quart jars filled with jewel-like goodies. We raised chickens and hogs every year, and butchering was done each fall. We usually had milk cows, so we had milk and cream and made butter. After harvest, Mom bought flour in 50 pound bags. No, we did not have to worry about getting to the store for groceries during a storm.

On snow days there was a fine sense of isolation. The world did not intrude on our family; we had to rely on one another. Whatever we needed, the family had to provide.

Three storm incidents come to mind today.

Once, our neighbors harnessed their horses and came trekking through a blizzard to play cards! What excitement! We certainly did not expect company emerging from the dark in the blowing snow. It seems like that storm continued for days. The neighbors claimed cabin fever had brought them out; they simply had to get out of the house. I suspect, though, that they were checking up on us to see if we were okay since we could not get out and had no phone. People were like that back then.

Another incident was not so pleasant. My dad had injured his foot before the storm and he developed blood poisoning. I don’t remember how the neighbors were notified; someone must have walked out to the neighbors to tell them of our emergency. I do remember taking Dad out to the main road on a toboggan so someone could give him a ride to the hospital.

The most dire storm emergency involved plowing across country, across fields to get Dean to the doctor. The snow had piled up and the plow could not efficiently plow out the road. Across country was faster. I was very young and only remember the family legend, so I asked my brother (Pastor Al Sather) about it.

This is what he wrote:

“Memory is a funny thing—let me rephrase that—sometimes it is funny how our memories can be fine one minute and the next minute we seem to be in a fog.

— Do you remember the trees along the east side of the road from where I used to live [the old Ole Sather farm where our family lived until I was six. EDK ] down to the corner where the road went to the evergreens?

Well, the year Dean’s tonsils swelled so big he couldn’t swallow, the snow had drifted in from the west so all that was [to be seen] above the snow was the REA wires on the west side of the road. . .

— When Nick Derod came out with the snow plow at  night all you could see was his head lights on the top of the cab.

Dad walked up the road on top of the snow to meet him and Nick told dad it would probably take close to three hours to clear that last ¾ of a mile. So he backed up all the way to the [Old Bethania/Sather] cemetery and came across the field and crossed the ditch at the corner where we were waiting.

— Then Nick turned around and went back the same way and dad followed him across the field because the snow had almost filled in the path he had made already. . .”

When we lived on the farm, before we moved to town when I was in high school, we had no phone. Neither Al nor I can remember how our rescuers were notified of our need. It seems someone had to make the trek through the deep snow in a blizzard to our neighbors a half mile away.

But on a day like today in the relative safety of modern communication, I remember the “cozy” and feel the warmth of it again.

Posted in October but written in the winter several years ago.

Old Haug School

My First School

Since preschool and kindergarten were not offered when I was a kid, first grade was my introduction to school. Brother Al and I went to the “Old Haug School.” I think it was Al’s first year there, too. Of course, he had attended school before that, but this was just after we moved to the Louie Peterson place, so he had to change schools.

The old Haug School definitely would not pass state regulations these days, but it was a great school! It must have been a model school building in its day. Mom said it had once housed a school that even offered two years of high school. It was so modern that they even taught Home Economics. It was a big, boxy building located just behind the Benny Christianson farm (later the Jackie Erickson farm and now the Harlan Solberg farm).

The school had suffered the ravages of time by the time I started first grade. Mom says she thinks the building fell into disrepair because of a lack of tax money to pay for its upkeep. (I was born in 1942, during the war years – WWII) A more-or-less collapsed portion of the building was off-limits to us kids. I think it had once been a gymnasium. There were three large classrooms that were used for the eight grades. Depending on class sizes two or three classes were taught in the same room. There were only three teachers for the whole school — one for each room.

When I started school, first through third grades were taught by Arlaine Pederson (Duray). She was a wonderful teacher and I loved her. Embarrassingly, I sometimes slipped and called her Mama. Everyone laughed and taunted, of course, but I believe every one of us made the slip at some time. And when others did, of course I laughed and taunted, too.

The room had a large wood- or coal-burning furnace in the front right corner, a water crock to the front left, blackboards at center front, and large windows to the rear. The old-fashioned student desks were arranged in rows, except when it rained. Then the roof leaked, so we had to rearrange the desks to make room for several pails to catch the dripping water. In winter, sometimes we got to sit on the desktops with our feet on the seats because the floor was so cold, and sometimes we had to move the desks around because it was so cold near the windows. However, it was fun to sit at the back near the windows even if it was cold, because the snow would build up on the inner sills and we could lean back, grab a handful of snow, and put it down someone’s neck or even form small snowballs.

I had an advantage academically because, before I started first grade, Al missed a lot of school when we had polio and Mom tutored him so he could remain with his class. Of course, that meant that he got an inordinate amount of attention – or so I thought. So I joined the classes, and as a result, I learned some reading and math. With that advantage, I got top grades — all “A”s. But in second or third grade, the snow on the sill was too much temptation and I got my first “B” — in conduct. Mom was not pleased!

I was in second grade when our current events paper introduced us to the concept of television. I remember because the teacher discussed the subject and wrote the word on the board. Later she erased it and asked who could spell “television.” I was the only one in the three classes who could. Boy! I thought I was clever being able to spell such a modern word!

Another time we did an experiment with paper towels — the brown, crispy kind. The teacher plastered two wet towels to the blackboard, one close to the hot furnace and one further away from the heat. She asked which one would dry and fall off the blackboard first. I thought the experiment was stupid, because I thought everyone should know the one closest to the heat would dry more quickly. Watching those towels dry was about as exciting as watching the grass grow, as they say. All through school, I thought experiments were dumb and boring — probably because this introduction to experiments was less than exciting.

Of course, if that were true, I should have learned to hate reading. Learning to read was no challenge as I had already learned the basics in “Mom’s School.” And the books we had to read in school were somewhat less than interesting. We read about Dick and Jane, their little sister Sally, and their dog Spot. Rather bland characters and the plots were mighty bland, too. “See Dick. See Jane. See Sally. See Spot. See Dick run. See Jane run. See Sally run. See Spot run.” It seems amazing that any of us grew up to enjoy reading!

But recess in the winter was not boring at the Old Haug School. A deep ditch ran next to the school, and in winter, snow would accumulate in it. We had a grand time sliding down the slopes on makeshift toboggans–large pieces of cardboard from cardboard boxes. When we tired of that, we’d play King of the Hill, or if enough snow had accumulated, we’d build forts and even igloos.

Entertainment at the old school was sometimes an unusual activity and sometimes a spectator sport. There were some daring young men in the upper grades who did things like venture into the collapsed portion of the building and work themselves between the walls. Apparently, there was no insulation, plus unusual construction. Anyway, the noise they’d make between the walls was funny and the teachers’ consternation was hilarious.

And one time in the spring when the weather was warm, one of the upper-grade teachers opened an unscreened window to allow in some fresh air. Later she left the room momentarily. Before she returned, one of the daring young men dived out the window headfirst! Reportedly, the teacher arrived in time to see his feet disappearing through the window. We younger kids, being in another classroom, did not observe the trick, but we heard about it and secretly yearned for the courage to perform such acts.

We moved to a new school in the spring of my third grade, so I must have been a rather precocious child because I had a love life while still at the Old Haug School! Once I punched a boy and gave him a bloody nose. When the teacher asked why, I said, “Because he tried to kiss me.”

Another time I got a love letter from an “older man.” I think he was two or three years older than I was, making him about 5th grade or so. Now, I was old enough to know that Mom wouldn’t like this development, but also old enough to be flattered and I didn’t want to dispose of the precious letter. So I brought it home and hid it behind a loose brick in the chimney upstairs. My brother Al, however, promptly snitched on me. I had to produce the incriminating evidence and face the music. I don’t know why I should have got in trouble over the note — I didn’t write it. If I’d ever liked the boy who gave me the note, I sure didn’t after that incident!

The Old Haug School was a marvelous place, but the spring of my third-grade year, we moved to a new school, a consolidated school known as Haug-Leo. It was all shiny and new and modern, but it didn’t have the interesting features of my first school.

Hi Tech Entertainment

The images in this article are thumbnails. Click to see larger image.

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You may think that when I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s we knew nothing of technology, especially because we lived on a farm in remote northern Minnesota. Not so. We had our own kind of technology. When I was very small, we had a console radio. It was a wonderful, ornate piece of furniture about three and a half feet tall and two feet wide with a depth of perhaps eighteen inches. When it was turned on, you could turn a dial to hear people talking or singing. It operated on a large battery, a little larger than a car battery.

Once when the radio wouldn’t work, Dad replaced the battery. Behind the grove where we lived at that time, there was an old house and a two-seater “outdoor bathroom facility.” Behind these buildings was our very own “toxic waste dump” – a junk pile in less modern terms. That is where Dad disposed of the old battery. We kids were fascinated with it. We thought all the “little people” who sang and talked for us when the radio was in use had died and were in that old battery. We, of course, were not supposed to mess around in the junk pile, but behind the old buildings behind the grove, we were out of sight. We tried to break into that old battery so we could see all the dead little people. I don’t remember how successful we were at demolishing the battery, but I do remember we never did find those tiny corpses.

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Later after we got electricity, we had a small radio that sat atop the refrigerator. It seems to me that we listened to that more often – perhaps because it didn’t require purchasing batteries. I remember Mom listening to “soap operas” like Fibber McGee and Molly and Ma Perkins and I remember her singing along with the radio. I liked that. Gabriel Heater presented the news, and we can’t forget Amos and Andy. And in the mornings, Dad would listen to a farm program that I think gave the prices on the grain markets. And always the weather program – very important on the farm. There also were children’s programs on the radio – programs like The Lone Ranger, Lassie, and something like Storm King.

I remember how excited I was when we got a phonograph – a record player. I think it was a used one that Dad got for us kids. If I recall correctly, we only got one record for it. It was a 78 RPM record about the size of a dinner plate. The phonograph had to be wound up with a little crank and the needle arm had to placed on the record manually. I loved it and listened to that record over and over. If it wasn’t cranked up enough, the phono would slow down before it got to the end of the song and the sound would change. The tone lowered and the words strung out longer and longer until you couldn’t understand them. It’s strange but I cannot remember the name of the song on that record that I listened to so many times, yet I remember the name of a song on a record I heard once at my Uncle Emil’s house – The Goosepimple Waltz. “I get goooose pimples when I waltz with you . . . ”

Later, I got a little red and ivory suitcase-style electric phonograph that didn’t require winding. The needle arm still had to be placed on the record manually, but it would play either the dinner-plate 78s or the salad-plate 45s. The 45 RPM records had a larger hole so a little plastic-disk adapter had to be inserted to use them on the phono. That little phono played a lot of music for me – one record at a time. Each record had to be changed manually – there was no automatic feed. Eventually, I did go on from the phonograph record player to an 8-track player, cassette players, and CD players. But that was years later.

The really big technological advance in entertainment came about when I was a Junior or Senior in high school. We got a TV — black and white. I don’t remember, but we probably got only one channel, two at the most. It didn’t really matter. I spent very little time watching it. I thought it was a ridiculous and useless thing. Mostly we saw snow – that’s what we called white dots moving vertically across the screen. Sometimes you could make out a picture, but it would come and go. It never came in clear enough and for long enough to get involved in what was being presented. That probably was a blessing since you were unlikely to have reception steady enough to see the program to its end. Perhaps it is this introduction that explains my lack of interest in TV to this day.

When I was young, I always found something to read. Dad’s The Farmer, Mom’s True Story, catalogs, advertisements, cereal boxes, comic books (we usually stopped to buy a comic book every week after Sunday School). I remember taking reading material (not the cereal boxes, though) to a grain trailer box that sat back of the woods. I liked going there to read. The sides of the grain box provided windbreak, so it was usually a warm place to read in spring, summer, and fall sunshine. The sides also shielded me from view, so I could pretend I didn’t hear Mom calling me and no one knew where to find me. I spent many hours reading and basking in the sun there. There has been little technological advance in reading (although I am aware of the e-books technology, I have not used it – 2003). But I have always preferred reading to TV – no “snow,” no dials to fiddle with, no electronic equipment, and the picture in my head is clearer and provides a more intimate involvement with the story. And yes, when there is nothing else to read, I still read the catalogs, advertisements, and cereal boxes!

Oh, yes, we had our “high-tech” entertainment, but as you’ve probably surmised, we didn’t spend a lot of time at it. We had other ways of entertaining ourselves when we lived on Grandpa Ole’s farm – “low-tech entertainment” you might call it.

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We rode the huge, old pigs like ponies, which was a lot of fun. We also rode our bikes or trikes and even made little bridges over the shallow ditch next to our driveway to add to the experience. We had a tire swing that hung from a branch of an old tree. And we climbed trees.

I loved to hang in the treetops like a monkey. I wonder if that was because my mom said I looked like a monkey when I was born. Now, you understand, this purportedly was not because I was incredibly ugly, but because I was a preemie and, like many preemies, had dark fuzz covering my body. I had a redeeming attribute, however; I was born with pretty dark, curly hair on my head. Unfortunately, when I was perhaps 3 or 4, I got the measles and ran such a high temperature that I lost all my curly locks. It came back the color of straw and straight – so much for my redeeming attribute!

In addition to biking, swinging, and climbing trees, we had a few toys. However, at one point, apparently enamored with the idea of buried treasure, we decided a good portion of our toys, if buried, could qualify as our very own buried treasure. So we dug a hole, plunked a box of our toys in it, covered it over, and promptly forgot the location of our treasure. We had neglected a very important step in the process; we didn’t make a map. I remember we buried them behind the house, but where??? Oh well, we were innovative and imaginative children and went on just fine without our “buried treasure.” If we longed for a new toy, we would simply nail a couple of small blocks of wood together, and Voila! We’d have a new toy! We played with many an item that didn’t qualify as a toy, but our imaginations made it so.

 

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We never lacked for companionship, either. In addition to the ubiquitous canine companions, we were always surrounded by the “little people.” Some days we even had to be careful we didn’t step on the little folk when walking in the grass. Sometimes we’d try to blame our mischief on the little people, but I don’t remember even one time that Mom believed that. I can’t understand why. She is Norwegian and should have been as familiar with the naughty Nissen as we were!

Coming Back From the Dead

Coming Back From the Dead

Following is an excerpt from My Life Journal, a work in progress:

Reincarnation is not supported by Christianity, but some world religions do believe we are reincarnated after death. Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, and Mark Twain also believed so. I wonder what they wanted to come back as. Each excelled in some way. Did they want to excel in a different way?

Do you think you will come back again?

Whatever your beliefs may be, speculating on what form people would be assigned if they come back is fun.

I know people who would make a perfect mad dog. Winston Churchill would have had to reincarnate as a bull dog as he so resembled one, a nice doggy if rather ugly. Or perhaps he was a bull dog who came back as a person.

Some would be a sweet, purring kitten. Or maybe an irritating cat who is all over you and won’t leave you alone.

How about the person who definitely will return as a snorting, pawing bull? And perhaps be more pleasant in that guise.

We’ve all been confined in a car or elevator with the person who will definitely make his next appearance in black with a white stripe down his back.

A gossipy, garrulous person would be a macaw or maybe a parrot, repeating all that they hear. That person who nods at everything you say, perhaps a woodpecker, a downy or a redheaded, or if that red hair is spiked, a pileated woodpecker.

And that slimy person? What else? A snake. We even call those types snakes (behind their backs, of course).

Using that criteria, the sly person would be a fox and the romantically forward person a wolf. And one who snaps at you could be either a fox or a wolf. Or a snapping turtle.

And the chauvinist, will he become a pig? Nah, he should come back as a female in a land that holds females as breeding stock and slaves without rights — and live a long life. That would be real justice.

That prissy person with lips forever pursed in disapproval? A fish, of course! Maybe a bottom feeder.

Go ahead, start speculating. I know you want to.

After deciding what others will be, look at yourself. What form would you like to come back as if you were reincarnated? What would be your choice? Similarly, what form do you think you have earned while in this life?

In my next life, I’d like to be a rich and famous author who can afford a housekeeper, butler, and gardener.

If I must come back as an animal, I’d like to be something beautiful and free. But considering the story of my birth, I’ll probably come back as a monkey. Please though, may I be spared the indignity of a red behind?

And what were you in a former life?

I have said many times that I was Woman Chief in a former life. She was a Gros Ventre girl who was captured and adopted into the Crow tribe. She adjusted and became not only a full-fledged member of the Crow tribe but a warrior chief. In a twist of irony, she was killed by a group of warriors from her Gros Ventre people. And unfortunately, not honorably in battle, but in a wicked betrayal and murder.

When I first heard about her, I just knew her story. Why do I feel such an affinity for that woman and know her story, although only one or two paragraphs have ever been recorded about her?

I’ve had other experiences of deja vu, where from experience, I could not possibly know what I know. There is a theory of a knowledge pool left by our ancestors (in the sense that all people before us are ancestors). This knowledge pool surfs the air currents, and like radio receivers, we subconsciously pick up the signals when the conditions are right.

Perhaps you are aware of the old soul/new soul theory, as well. This one claims that if you don’t get it right the first time around, you will be sent back into the world again and again until you finally do get it right. If you have been reborn several times, you have an old soul and may subconsciously recall things, making you “smarter” than a newer soul, and explaining intuition and deja vu.

These beliefs, of course, are not supported by the Christian religion either, but one can speculate. Why do I get migraines? Was I killed violently with a blow to the head in a former life? Why have I had this inexplicable pain in my arm since I was a child? Did I suffer a compound fracture in another life? Why do I have this irrational fear of fire? Was I trapped in a burning building in an earlier life?

How did I know a particular fact as if pulling it from a hat? Could it be that I have lived many lives? Have I messed it up many times and been sent back time and again to get it right? Being a bumbler, it actually seems possible.

I may not believe these ideas, but I think it only fair to warn you, treat me nice or I’ll come back as your colonoscopy doctor and it won’t be pretty.

School Days

School Days

The school year has begun and I know a young man who is beginning his first quarter at U of M. I’m sure it has been a less-than-comfortable week for him. Brings to mind some of my school experiences.

I can still remember my first year of school (yeah, I CAN remember that far back!). We lived in a remote part of northern Minnesota on a farm and seldom went to town. We didn’t see friends, relatives, or neighbors much, either. In other words, I was an isolated little ‘fraidy cat when it came to meeting people (brave about hanging in the uppermost branches of trees, though).

We did not have pre-school or kindergarten but were plopped right into first grade. I had the advantage, though, of an older brother attending the same elementary school as I. He was in a different room, but rode the same bus with me, and it was a comfort to know he was in the same building.

Before I started school, my older brother missed the better part of a year due to a severe illness. During that time, he was home schooled by my mom while I hung over her shoulder. I learned a lot, including how to read. So although socially I was far from ready for school, academically I was more than ready and anxious to learn more.

I survived the shock of my first days at school and predictably loved the exciting new world of playmates and classmates and regimented learning. Each summer was a great break, but I was ready to return to school long before the next term began.

Until . . . high school!

For high school I was even less prepared. My little three-room grade school ran out of grades after eighth, then we were bussed to a consolidated high school. Okay, I’ll concede the high school wasn’t very large, but after a three-room school and an eight-person class, that place seemed immense!

And as it always happens with me, everyone else seemed to know all the other people, where things were, and what was expected. I knew none of it! I was terrified! I was lost. I was alone.

Unlike grade school, adjusting to high school took a long time. But I survived and finally did become comfortable with it. I suffered only one discernible lingering effect – for at least twenty years after graduating, I wandered the halls and corridors of that frighteningly large school in my dreams desperately hunting for my locker!

Well, back to the young man at U of M. The University truly is a very large school, but he is so much more prepared for the transition. He has attended large schools all of his life and previously has made successful transitions between schools. He’s very talented academically and has experience with college courses. He’s braver and socially more adept than I’ll ever be. Although he may become lost or disoriented at first, I doubt he’ll spend the next twenty years wandering around that school in his dreams.