I WAS BORN
I remember being told the story of my birth. I was born on September 28, 1934 in an upper bedroom of a farm house about one mile east of the village of Nelsonville, Portage County, Wisconsin. I was in trouble before I was even born. One of my feet had been stuck under my mother’s ribs and caused a great deal of discomfort. I wanted to come out rear-end first. (I guess that is called a breach baby). My survival was credited to the brilliant work of Dr. Harvey Rusek. Harvey, my middle name was given me in his honor. I was the fifth child born in my family. I must have been an after-thought or maybe no thought at all because I was several years younger than my brothers and sisters. Andy, the next youngest to me was born in 1926, Irene in 1923, George in 1921 and Arlane, the oldest in 1919.
Although we were not farmers, we lived on the farm until I started second grade. Sometimes my dad would raise a couple of pigs or heifers to provide meat for the family. I remember the house well. Downstairs was the living room, one bedroom for my grampa, and the kitchen with a large pantry. Upstairs were two bedrooms. The stairs went up to the first bedroom. Then you went through the first bedroom to get to the second bedroom. The first bedroom had two beds, one for my two sisters and one for my two brothers. I had a crib in the second bedroom with mom and dad. There was a screened-in porch across the front of the house and a porch on each side of the kitchen. I think we called them the east and west porches. From the east porch a stairs went to the cellar. This is where preserves, apples, meat and stuff were stored.
The house was heated by a large wood burning pot-bellied stove in the living room. It had easing glass panels on the sides so you could see the fire burning. In the ceiling above the stove was an opening to the first bedroom. This was called a grate. It had louvers that could be opened or closed. It was the only heat that the upstairs got.
The kitchen was a large room with a harvest table and enough chairs to seat the family plus a couple of guests. A big cast iron range was the center of activity. It burned wood and had a large cooking surface with a warming oven above. The baking oven was in the center and a hot water reservoir was on one end. It kept the kitchen toasty warm all winter. However, it had to be kept burning all summer also because it was necessary for cooking, baking and heating water. In the corner was a counter that contained a sink and work area for kitchen duties. A pail of water would be brought in from the hand pump outside that was used for cooking and drinking. A dipper, that was used by everyone, hung on the wall near the pail. Another pail sat below the sink to catch the waste water. When full, it had to be carried out and dumped in the garden. The sink and counter were used for washing face, hands and dishes. Above the counter was a small cabinet for wash cloths and towels. Also in the kitchen was a cupboard with glass doors. This contained plates, glasses and cups, silverware and some cooking utensils, but mostly the pots and pans and all food supplies were kept in the pantry.
We had no electricity. Therefore, no electric lights. We used kerosene lamps that we carried from room to room. At best, the lighting was rather dim. There was no hot or cold running water, consequently no toilet, washer or dryer, no shower or bath tub and no faucet on the kitchen sink. All water had to be carried in from an outdoor hand pump and heated on the stove.
Monday was always laundry day. Early in the morning a hot fire would be built in the kitchen to heat the water. Pails of water were carried in from outside. Three laundry tubs were used, one to heat water, one for rinse water and one to scrub extra dirty cloths, shirt collars and cuffs, etc. This was done by hand, rubbing on a scrubbing board with a bar of Fels-naphtha soap.
The washer was brought into the kitchen from the east porch. It was a tub with an agitator in it. There was a handle on the outside of the tub, that when you pumped back and forth it made the agitator turn back and forth much like the more modern washers. Sometimes it was my job to pump the handle, but I was easily bored and wasn’t very good at it. Mounted above the washer was the ringer. This was two hard rubber rollers that were pressed together by strong springs. There was a crank handle, that when turned, made the rollers turn. When the clothes were washed they were put through the ringer to squeeze all the soapy water out. They were then put into the rinse water, where they were swished around until all the remaining soap was rinsed out. Then they were run through the ringer again and put in a clothes basket to be taken out and hung on a clothes line to dry. When the washing was all done, the water was put back in the pails and carried out and dumped. Then the kitchen floor was scrubbed with the spilled water.
In winter, carrying water in and out and hanging wet clothes on the clothes line was not a very pleasant job.
After the clothes were dry, they had to be ironed. The ironing board was set up and three irons were put on the stove to heat. They were made of molded cast iron and were quite heavy. A wooden handle that snapped on and off the top of each iron was used so that you did not get burned. By alternating, you always had a hot iron available. If the clothes got too dry, they had to be lightly sprinkled with water so that the wrinkles could be ironed out. (Years later the steam iron was invented!) It seems that everything had to be ironed, including bed sheets, pillow cases and handkerchiefs. Starch was used on the collar and cuffs of dress shirts. I think that the purpose of this was to add to the discomfort of getting dressed up.
In addition to clothes washing and ironing, carrying water, drying the clothes, mopping the floor, carrying in wood, carrying out ashes and keeping the stoves going, cooking and baking was done. Baking in the kitchen stove took a real talent. You had to use the right kind of wood, cut into the right size pieces. A couple of sticks had to be added to the fire every short while to maintain a steady heat. Also, the damper and flu were constantly regulated to allow the proper amount of air for the fire to burn evenly. Bread was baked a couple times a week and there was always an abundant supply of donuts, cake and cookies.
Saturday night was bath night and all the kids got a bath, whether they needed it or not. Again, water was brought in and heated on the kitchen stove. A laundry tub, which now became the bath tub, was placed near the stove so the bather could keep warm. One at a time, each one of us took a bath. The girls always got to go first, before the water got too dirty! While the bathing was going on in the kitchen, the rest of the family was in the living room listening to the battery powered radio. It was about the size of a television set and stood on the floor. Reception was questionable, but if we huddled close to the radio, we could usually hear it. The favorites were “The Grand Ole Opry” and the “Saturday Night Barn Dance”! We loved the singers like Ernest Tubb, Little Jimmy Dickens, Minnie Pearl, Roy Acuff and Hank Williams. We could not use the radio too much and run down the battery, but sometimes I got to listen to “The Shadow” or “Fibber Magee and Molly”. Dad listened to the evening news with Gabriel Heater. I always wanted to tune in “Happy
Hank” in the early morning. It was the radio version of the TV show “Mr. Rogers” and had an ongoing saga of “The Adventures of Squeaky and Sputter” that kept my ear glued to the speaker. I still remember his theme song and a couple of songs that were regularly played on the program. Happy Hank always opened the show with this song:
Smile when you wake up
Be happy and gay, and laugh all your troubles away.
If old man trouble, troubles you, just put him in his place.
I found out the thing to do, was laugh right in his face.
So smile when you wake up
Be happy and gay. And laugh all your troubles away.
I remember in those days, winter was more severe with a lot more snow.
Mounted on each telephone pole were cross arms that had green glass insulators spaced along them. A wire was attached to the insulators. When walking home from school, I liked to walk on top of the high snow banks made by the snow plows. The banks were so high that I would slide my hands along the telephone wires. My wool mittens would get completely black from the wire, which did not make my mother very happy!
We did not have a telephone, but the lucky families that did were on party lines. This meant that several families shared one line. Each telephone customer was assigned a series of rings different than anyone else on their party line. One customer would be two short rings, one three rings and another one long ring and two short rings etc. You could listen in on others conversations (which of course no one ever admitted to). There was a crank on the side of each phone that was used to get the operator to place a call. You could also call another party on your line by cranking
out the series of rings for their house.
My aunt, Olga Anderson, was a telephone operator in Nelsonville. I loved to watch her while she worked but you had to be very quiet. She sat at a desk with many rows of retractable cords in the desk top. A vertical board, behind the retractable cords, contained many rows of holes that were receptacles for the cords. Each cord and receptacle was connected to a telephone line. When a customer made a call, Olga would answer by saying, “number please”. When given the number, she would pull out the proper cord and plug it into the correct receptacle. She would then dial the series of rings for the requested number and the call was completed. If the receptacle already had a cord plugged in it, she would say, “That line is busy” and the caller would have to try again later. If someone was calling long distance, she would transfer the call to the office at Amherst, where they handled all long distance calls. The telephone office was a fun place to visit when I was a young kid.
In the late fall, the pig and heifer that had been raised were butchered. Some of the meat was preserved in salt brine in a wood stave barrel in the cellar. Some of the meat was smoked in a little tin building out back. Slabs of meat and hams were hung in the smoke house and a fire was built below the meat. Wet maple wood chips were put on the fire to make thick smoke. The fire was kept going for a day or two or until the meat was cured.
We ate smoked bacon, ham, side pork, homemade sausage, pickled pigs feet and head cheese. Lard was used for baking and cooking but I never heard of high cholesterol or blocked arteries. Maybe the high energy and hard work necessary for everyday living was enough so that work out rooms and fitness spas were not needed.
I remember that east of the farm house was a large garden with a few apple trees growing on one side. A sizable area was planted with potatoes. In the fall, enough potatoes were harvested and stored in the cellar to provide the family until potato digging time the next fall. As the plants grew they would get invaded with potato bugs. My parents did not want to use commercial sprays on the plants so we would take a small tin pail with about one inch of kerosene in it and we would tap the plants making the bugs fall into the kerosene. This had to be done several times during the growing season. If the bugs were not eliminated, they would strip the plants and kill the crop.
The Village of Nelsonville
I remember that just before my seventh birthday, we moved into the village and a whole world of opportunity and adventure was opened to me.
Home life was much the same except that we had a few significant changes. We had electricity. It was wonderful to have electric lights and lamps. Little by little we acquired conveniences like a radio, a refrigerator, a toaster and other kitchen appliances. We still did not have running water or plumbing, but the hand pump was in the basement which made it much easier in the winter.
The wood burning kitchen range was still used for cooking and heating water, but the house was heated by a fuel-oil burning space heater. Each day the tank had to be removed from the stove and filled from a barrel in the basement, but that was a lot easier than chopping and carrying wood, carrying out the ashes and cleaning up the mess that was made.
Our home was in a perfect location for a boy to grow up. The dam and the tomorrow river was a block to the east of the house. The mill pond was across the road to the north and Stoltenberg Lake was a couple of blocks to the west. I had a sled, a pair of skates, a pair of skis, a bat, ball and glove, a couple of fishing poles, and my dad had a boat. I built a bicycle, from three discarded bikes, for my transportation, as my family did not have a car. I even had one golf club, a putter. Dick Wolding also had a club, and we would play golf in Oscar Loberg’s cow pasture. One day I hit the ball so hard that the club flew into the river and Dick and I searched for it but we couldn’t find it. We then had to share one club when we played. Then we hit a ball into the river and when looking for the ball, we found the lost club!! One memorable day, when we were out on “the course”, one of us smacked a cow pie at the other one and the days fun began. By the time we went home we were both covered from top to bottom with cow pie. My mother was not happy with either the sight or smell but, I didn’t get in much trouble because my dad really laughed at me.
I remember in the 1940’s, the river held an unending supply of adventures!
The Tomorrow River has always been a very popular trout stream. Trout season always opened at midnight on the first Saturday in May. For me, the waiting of opening day was as exciting as waiting for Christmas. I had a telescoping rod and a reel that I was very proud of. The week before the season opened was spent cleaning and oiling my reel, getting the proper hooks, digging worms and making sure the fish line was in good condition.
It seemed that opening day was always cold. Sometimes it rained or snowed or both. Seldom do I remember a nice day. However, it didn’t matter because by midnight on Friday night I would be somewhere along the river waiting to throw my line in the water.
Some years the DNR planted small trout. In those years, we could catch more trout but there wasn’t any satisfaction in catching them. We were always looking for the dark skinned, bright colored native trout.
It seems that usually, during those years, I was moderately successful. I have often commented that I caught more trout at ages 12 and 13 then I ever did as an adult.
I remember the Nelsonville Mill Pond. It had a major part in my growing up years. The West shore started across the road from Walter Leppen’s driveway and ran north, bordering on a narrow strip of swamp land. The East shore started at the feed mill and ran north behind the homes of Jesse Loberg, Lewis Hanke, Carl Johnson, Charlie Diver and the Nelsonville creamery. There it narrowed and continued as far as the old saw mill, that is now Herb and Laurel Anderson’s home. The Tomorrow River ran into the pond in this area. The pond ran right up to the road alongside the feed mill. The road and pond were separated by a two strand cable fence mounted on black and white wood posts. Fishermen would walk on the road and cast their lines into the pond. The overhead electric lines always gathered an interesting array of casting baits, hooks, lines and bobbers.
I remember when I was eight or more, Dad built a row boat. It was a 12 foot, well built, sturdy boat made of top grade lumber and painted green. We kept it in the pond, along side the road, from spring to fall. We would pull the boat out of the water, turn it upside down and let the bottom wood dry. It stayed there all winter and it would shrink as it dried. In the spring we would scrape off the old paint, fill the cracks with tar and repaint it. When we put it back in the pond it took a couple days to swell the joints tight. Then the boat was ready for another summer. I wish I knew how many miles Dick Wolding and I rowed that boat, fishing, pulling stumps, spearing carp or racing. We would sit side by side in the rowing seat and with one oar each, see how fast we could cross the pond. We never even heard about “life jackets”. I don’t know what happened to that boat, but it served us for at least 20 years.
I remember, one time, after the boat was built, Dad decided that he, Mom and I would take a trip down the tomorrow river. Maybe he had heard Andy Williams sing his romantic song, “Cruising Down the River on a Sunday Afternoon”. Well, Andy had never cruised down the tomorrow river in a row boat!! If we had a canoe or a skiff, it may have been alright. But, we didn’t, we had three of us in a heavy row boat. Dad made arrangements with a guy, with a truck, to pick us up at a predetermined time and place somewhere down the river.
So, on a hot, muggy Sunday morning, we started out. After we started out, there was no turning back. We could not get back up the river or we could not stop short of the agreed upon pick up point, and of course, there was no such thing as a cell phone.
When we were in the open, the sun burned us up. When we were in the shade, mosquitoes ate us up. In many places, trees and brush were hanging over the water and in several places trees had fallen across the river. We were either stuck in mud or hung up on rocks.
The hardest part was dealing with fences. It seems that every farmer had strung barbed wire fences across the river in at least two or three places. You cannot imagine how difficult it is to crawl through or over or under the strands of barbed wire, when you are in a moving boat that is pushed by the river current. It was intended that we would ride the river but, mostly, it turned out that we waded the river. The trip took a lot longer than anticipated and when we finely reached the pick up place, no one was there. So we just walked around swatting mosquitoes and waited for the guy to come and get us. After awhile, Dad’s friend came back with his truck. He had waited a couple of hours and when we did not show up, he had gone home for supper. You may notice that this adventure began with “one time”, and that is exactly what it was “one time”!
Fishing on the Pond
I remember when the pond was quite heavily populated with Northern Pike, Carp and Suckers. Occasionally, on a nice evening, when the water wheel was turned off, you could catch a few Sunfish and Bluegills near the dam. The Pike were well fed and stocky, not the skinny hammer handle type that are found in many lakes. The minimum size was 18″ in length. Dick Wolding and I pursued the Pike regularly and were quite successful. We fished with dare-devils and casting plugs, but mostly we preferred live bait. Of course, we had no money to buy minnows, so we built a live box (a box with screen on two ends and a cover on top) and tied it between two stumps at the north end of the pond. Then we would go down the river and catch shiners and chubs. We kept them alive in a bucket of water and took them up the pond and put them in the live box. We then had a ready available supply of live bait whenever we wanted to fish for Pike. We soon discovered that the Pike liked to hang around the live box, hoping that they could get an easy meal. When we started to approach the live box, we would stop about 30 feet away and cast a minnow up near the box. Many Northerns suddenly discovered that it was not an easy meal after all.
One day, Dick and I were fishing the north end where the river widened into the pond. Dick got a mighty strike and we soon realized that it was not a Northern Pike. When we got it into the boat, it was a German Brown Trout. We were so excited we quit fishing immediately and hurried back to town to show everyone. Waller’s Market weighed the fish at 3 1/2 pounds.
I remember one sunny day, I was casting from our boat. The boat was drifting in shallow water near the place that we tied it up. I had caught a snag and I was standing in the boat trying to get it loose, when a breeze blew the boat under the overhanging Willow branches and pushed me over the side of the boat. The water was only a few inches deep, but the soft, silty, muck was so deep that my arms couldn’t reach the bottom of the pond. It was a very frantic time struggling in that muck until I could find a firm footings and get my balance and when I was able to, I crawled out to the side and up to the road. By the time I got out, I was covered head to foot with mud. At this time Highway 10 ran past Nelsonville and the lake west of the highway was called Stoltenberg Lake.
I got out of the pond and ran for the lake where the clean water would wash off the mud. In route to the Lake, I ran up the road past our house. My Mother was working in the front yard and saw this dirty kid run past the house but didn’t know who it was. After washing in the lake, I went home and told Mom what had happened. She was pretty surprised to find out that “dirty kid” was me!
The Sucker Fishermen
I remember on occasion, two gentlemen, (strangers to me) with long cane poles, would come to fish suckers. They would sit on the concrete abutments on each side of the dam and cast their hooks, loaded with big gobs of worms, into the pond. Each had a gunny sack on a long string that they would put the fish in and lower it into the water to keep their catch wet and alive. The suckers were plentiful and once in a while they would even catch a trout.
Besides trout, the river had a bountiful supply of shiners, chubs and suckers. I would go down the river and fish for suckers. When I caught some, I would take them to the “sucker fishermen” and ask if they had caught any trout. If they had, they would gladly trade them for my suckers. If they had not, I would give them my suckers anyway. I understand that they canned or pickled the suckers and were not very interested in the softer, tender meat of the trout.
I remember the shape of the pond. When it was formed, the water flooded a wooded area that resulted in a large number of stumps. These stumps littered the west side and north end of the pond. Sometimes the boat would get hung up on a stump that had broken off at the waters surface, but many of the stumps stood five or six feet above the water. The current of the river washed away the soil leaving a dense network of roots suspended in the water. This provided ideal housing for the abundant number of carp that lived there.
One of my prized possessions was a spear with four tines it had a long handle that provided many hours of stalking the skittish carp. We would let the boat drift silently among the stumps with the spear posed ready for an unsuspecting carp. The size of the fish would run from about four to twenty pounds. They were very powerful and when you speared a large one, you had quite a struggle to get it into the boat. To dispose of the carp, I would take them home, weigh them and bury them in our back yard. Maybe that’s why Mom always had such a nice garden.
I speared carp for many years, even to the time when I was dating in the early 1950’s. It was a cheap date to take my girlfriend, Carol, carp spearing and she really enjoyed the adventure. Carol was my partner in the outdoor activities that I loved and we went fishing, ice fishing and hunting. We got married in 1954 and continue to share the same interests today.
Charlie’s Fishing Technique
I remember when I was about 10 years old, Charlie Sorby was an avid trout fisherman with his own technique. He used a bamboo cane pole on which he had mounted a reel and eyelets. He painted the pole black so that the reflection would not scare the fish. His favorite bait was red-legged grasshoppers. He would fasten the grasshoppers on the hook in such a way that it was very lively and active. Then with a six or eight foot of line let out, he would lower the grasshopper so that it’s kicking legs made little ripples on the surface of the water. It seemed that trout could not resist the tasty snack, wiggling on the waters surface.
I had an agreement with Charlie that I would supply him with grasshoppers (they must be of the red-legged species). I had two little wire boxes and any time I wanted a nickel or dime I would catch some grasshoppers. Charlie paid me a penny each. Charlie Sorby and Elmer Loberg owned the Sorby and Loberg General Store, which was also the Post Office. They had a large stock of penny candy. Candy bars, ice cream cones, ice cream bars and bottled soda were all a few cents.
Charlie would pay me cash for the grasshoppers and I would give it back to him for my choice of treats for the day. Whenever I brought in grasshoppers, Charlie would buy them. I did not realize until a long time later that Charlie bought many grasshoppers when he did not go fishing!
The Pond in Winter
Sometimes, at the beginning of winter, before the snow came, the ice on the pond would freeze thick enough for skating. This provided a huge skating area, except we had to be careful of where the river channel ran through the pond because the ice did not freeze as thick over the moving water.
When the snow came we would borrow sidewalk snow scrapers from Waller’s Market and the Sorby and Loberg General Store and shovel a skating area. We shoveled the area in the shape of a rectangle so we could use it for a hockey rink. At each end of the rink we would shovel out a little pocket that was the goal. Not everyone had a hockey stick but we could go into the brush and cut down a stick that worked very nicely. Sometimes it was necessary to use a chunk of wood for a hockey puck.
The wind constantly blew snow back into our rink so it took a lot of maintenance to keep the rink clear.
I never remember getting any adult supervision, If we wanted to skate we had to do all the work. I have tried to think of all the kids that took part in the fun and work. Russell Johnson, Dick Wolding, Charles, Jack and Nancy Shaw, Allen Lungren, Bill and Lucy Frizzell, Beverly and Jeanette Diver are some that I remember.
Evening Skating Parties
I remember a couple of time when we planned an evening skating party. I went to Bernie Stankey’s Garage and George Lee’s Garage and got drain oil that was left after auto oil changes. We then went out on the ice and selected an old dry stump that stood three or four feet above the ice. Then we spent all day dribbling oil on the dry stump and letting it soak into it. In the evening, we would set the stump on fire. The stump would burn for a long time, giving light and heat for the skaters. The fire would melt some of the ice around the stump so we had to be careful not to get too close. I wonder what the DNR would think about kids doing this today?
Fox and Geese on the Ice
I remember that a favorite game on the ice was Fox and Geese. We would shovel a large circle on the ice, then shovel a cross through the center of the circle. One kid was the fox and others were the geese. When the fox caught a goose that kid became the fox and the game continued. The intersection in the cross was the safety spot, but only one goose was allowed there at a time. The intersection where the cross joined the circle was where a goose could stop or change directions. Once a goose left an intersection, he could not turn around until he/she reached the next intersection. It was a fast game and you had to be a good skater to play the game well. Since this was one of the few things in the winter for the kids to do in Nelsonville, many were “good skaters”.
I remember in the 1940’s, it seemed that we had a lot more snow then we get today. We lived on First Street (the road alongside of the feed mill). The snow drifts were deep in front of our house and the snow plow left high snow banks on both sides of the road. Some friends and I built quite elaborate snow forts on each side of the road.
One day, during an intense snowball war between the forts, I jumped up above my fort wall and fired a snowball at the opponents across the road. However, right at that moment, Ralph Romanson came driving by in his coupe. His window was open and the snowball went through the window and hit Ralph in the head! He stopped his car, backed up and gave us his opinion of what evil kids we were. Then he went to the Waller’s Market and told my dad about what happened.
My dad had a pretty good sense of humor and I don’t remember getting any severe punishment.
I still wonder about why Ralph had his window open??
I remember when May 1st was known as May Day. It was an exciting time for kids up to about the fifth grade. We made May baskets from colored construction paper. It was a challenge to make our May baskets as attractive as we could. On the evening of May 1st , we would fill our baskets with candy (jelly beans, corn candy, candy covered peanuts, called Boston Baked Beans and the like). Then you would place the basket at a girl’s door, knock on the door and run away. The rules were that the girl would chase the giver and if she caught him, give him a kiss. Seems funny, that even though us boys claimed to hate girls, it was a delight to give May baskets to them!!
Jerome Nelson Elementary School
I remember quite clearly the Nelsonville elementary school located on the east side of the village. The school was a brick building connecting two large classrooms and a wide hallway running from the front door to the back door. The rooms were identified as the “big” room and the “little” room, not because of the size of the room, but because of the size of the students. The “little” room contained grades one through four and the “big” room had grades five through eight. The basement had a coal furnace, coal bin and storage space.
Both of the classrooms were the same. The front of the room was lined with built-in blackboards, with the teachers desk off to one side. The wall on the right side was lined with book shelves and contained the library. A semi-circle of seven or eight chairs were placed in front of the blackboard, this is where classes were held. Along the wall on the left was the piano and the American flag. Kids desks were mounted on long wood runners and were placed in rows from front to back. Each desk had a storage space under the lift-up top.
Along both sides of the wide hallway, metal hooks were installed. Each kid was assigned a coat hook with their name taped above it. A long shelf ran above the coat hangers and this is where lunch pails or sack lunches were kept. In winter, the boys mostly wore heavy, three or four buckle overshoes that pulled on over our shoes. I think the girls had snow boots and carried their shoes separately. However the footwear was placed neatly on the floor beneath the assigned coat hangers. The teachers would inspect the hallway and if any boots or clothes were left out of place the responsible kid would get in “big” trouble.
A high level of discipline was demanded. The teachers were highly respected and their authority was never challenged. A favorite punishment for wrong doers was to stay after school and write one hundred times “I must learn how to behave”! After a little practice, it is surprising how fast one could write. One time I tried to leave out the word “how” and wrote “I must learn to behave”. Well, it didn’t work. I got caught and had to write all one hundred again!!
Janitorial work was done by students. We called them “duties”. A student was assigned a duty for a period of two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, the duty was assigned to another student. All of the duties were done by the “big” room kids, after school every day. The assignments consisted of sweeping duty, blackboard duty, library duty, flag duty, water duty and helping with the coal furnace. The school was heated by a coal furnace in the basement. Next door to the school, in a small old house, lived an elderly man named Andrew Rasmussen. He had the job of tending the furnace morning and night. In the evening, he would bank the fire so that it burned slowly all night long. Then, early in the morning he would get the fire really hot so that the building was warm by the time school started. During the time I was in the “little” room, one of the big kids needed to shovel coal into the furnace two or three times a day. By the time I got to the “big” room, a stoker had been installed that automatically fed the coal into the furnace. Sometimes the rooms would get too warm so someone would be told to go to the basement and close the damper so that the fire didn’t burn so hot.
Sweeping duty: Two kids were assigned to the “big’ room and two kids to the “little” room. Sweeping compound was sprinkled across the back of the room and push brooms were used to sweep from back to front. It was difficult to get the dirt out from under the desks, especially if shoes were muddy. After having this job, you were a little more careful about littering the floor.
Blackboard duty: At the end of each day, the blackboards needed to be washed and the chalk trays wiped out. Sometimes the teacher would write tomorrows assignments on the boards so you had to be careful to wash only the correct area. Also the erasers had to be cleaned. This was done by taking them out the back door and pounding them together until all of the chalk dust was gone. Another good way to clean the eraser was to pound them against the brick wall of the building, but if you did that, you had to get water and a brush and scrub the chalk dust out of the bricks.
Library duty: This duty was given mostly to the girls. The job was to keep the books in their proper order on the shelves and to arrange all magazines and news papers in a neat appearance.
Flag duty: We had a flag pole in front of the school. Two students were assigned to flag duty. Every day, they were required to arrive at school early and put up the flag. After school the flag had to be taken down. We were taught how to properly fold the flag. It was important that the flag never, never touched the ground.
Water duty: This was certainly the most difficult of all the duties. The water bubblier was in the hallway along with the coat rack. It was a five gallon earthenware crock set on a wooden stand. There was a cover on top and a spigot on the side near the bottom. When you pushed the button on the spigot, a stream of water would bubble up for you to drink. Under the spigot was a tray that caught the excess water. A short hose was connected to the tray that emptied the water into a pail. The well had a hand pump and was in the front yard. The student’s job was to pump a pail of water and carry it to the water bubblier. A stool was used to stand on to get high enough to pour the water into the crock. Two or three pails were necessary to provide enough drinking water for the day. Sometimes more water had to be added at mid day. The pail that caught the spillage had to be carried out and dumped.
Winter time was the toughest. The water in the well pipe had to be dropped so that it didn’t freeze. Then the pump had to be primed before it would pump water again. To drop the water you raised the pump handle all the way up. This opened the check valve and let the water drop to the underground water level. To prime the well, you had to pour water into the pump and rapidly pump the handle. This created a suction and caused the water to rise up the pipe again. Sometimes it was necessary to carry the water up slippery steps, especially on winter mornings.
The school had a large play yard. Big enough for a baseball diamond and other activities. A heavy woven wire fence (I think it was called a cyclone fence) ran along both sides and back of the yard. A back stop had been built behind home plate to prevent foul balls from going over the fence. On the west side of the school was well built, sturdy playground equipment consisting of swings, trapeze bars, rings and teeter-taters.
The girls outhouse was on the east side of the yard. I never had a chance to look in the girls outhouse, so I don’t have any comment on the condition there.
On the west side of the yard was the boys outhouse. The boys outhouse was a cold place in the winter. It was a two room structure without heat, electricity or water. One room was for standers with a metal trough (gutter) that ran along one wall. It was put in at a slant so that every boy could step up to whatever height was right for him. The second room was for sitters. It had an enclosed bench along the wall with three holes in it. I guess that privacy was not a big issue in those days. The partition between the sitters room and the standers room was only about 61/2 to 7 feet high. It was always a challenge for the boys to try to shoot a stream over the wall.
I don’t remember that anyone succeeded. Summer or winter, it was not a very pleasant place to be and one did not spend any more time there than necessary.
I spent eight busy years in the elementary school. We had two boys in our class that quit school. Then in 1948, five of us graduated from the eighth grade. They were Russell Johnson, Marie Ann Waller, Ann Marie Weisbrot, Kathleen Anderson, and me.
I remember the school year ran from the day after Labor Day until the end of May. The school day began at 9:00am. There was a 15 minute recess in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon and a 1 hour noon break. Each day began with the pledge of allegiance and a time of singing. Then classes were held throughout the day. Each grade had a 15 or 20 minute class period four times a day. School was dismissed at 4:00pm.
About the end of September, we had a two week potato vacation. Many of the farmers in the area grew potatoes and needed help at harvest time. There were two large potato growers in the area that were always looking for potato pickers. I had occasion to work for both of them. A potato digger pulled by horses, dug the potatoes from the ground. The potatoes and vines then ran along a shaker to remove the dirt and were then dropped back on the ground. Pickers were teamed up into pairs. We worked side by side, each picking one row by shaking the potatoes off the vines and putting them in a one bushel wood box. The wood box was placed between the rows and the pickers would grab their end of the box and move it 5 or 6 feet forward. Then pick the potatoes up to the box and move it forward again. Each team was assigned a number and given several tags with that number on it. When the box was full you put your tag on top of the box, weighting it down with a potato so that it would not blow away. The farmers paid 5 cents per bushel and if the crop was good and the potatoes were large a picker could make $50.00 or so in the two week school vacation. This was big money for me and was used mostly to buy clothes, shoes and boots.
Christmas was an exciting time at school. About mid-December the rows of desks were pushed to one side of the “big” room. The big kids went into the basement and brought up a wood stage. The stage was in sections that were hooked together along one wall. Heavy stage curtains enclosed the stage, hung by cables fastened to permanent hooks in the walls. A portion of each day was set aside for preparation and rehearsals. Every student had a part in the program: reading, reciting, singing, musical instruments and skits. From the 3rd or 4th grade my part was to sing a solo and participate in the group singing. It was really hard to concentrate on schoolwork when others were rehearsing on the stage. About a week before the big program, three kids from the “big” room were selected to go into Leroy Gordon’s woods (with permission) and cut a Christmas tree. When the tree was brought back, it was set up and decorated by the “big” room students. It seems that trees look smaller in the woods and the one brought back was usually too big and had to have the bottom cut off to fit in the room.
The program was usually on the evening before Christmas vacation began. The room would fill to overflowing with parents and every kid was nervous and excited. When the program was over Santa came. He had a bag for each kid including any pre-school children. The bag contained an orange, an apple, a popcorn ball and hard candy. We had at least a week and a half vacation for Christmas and New Years. When we returned to school, the stage, curtains and Christmas tree were gone. The desks were back in place and it was back to business as usual.
Our teachers were truly remarkable people. They taught every subject to four grades. In addition they were the music teacher, art director, student councilor, drama instructor, activities advisor and nurse.
Yad Ha-Elohim: Ordo for a Celebration in Honor of Jim Beckland
I. Short Welcome
We will begin today with two songs, which is certainly how Jim would have liked to start things off / Introduce Jed—playing a song in honor of Jim
II. Jed [Song on Guitar] (grandson)
Too alarming now to talk about
Take your pictures down and shake it out
Truth or consequence, say it aloud
Use that evidence, race it around
There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
Don’t the best of them bleed it out
While the rest of them peter out
Truth or consequence, say it aloud
Use that evidence, race it around
There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
Kudos, my hero
Leaving all the best
You know my hero
The one that’s on
There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
We are about to sing a song about “no tears in heaven”…but here on earth there certainly are tears to be shed and to be shared…and each one of them is precious to God. As the psalmist says (56:8), God is a collector of tears—He keeps them in his special bottle; He comes near to comfort when His children are grieving and in pain; He keeps a record of our sorrows; He weeps with those who weep. [As it said, “when you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has brought you delight.” (Kahlil Gibran).]
III. Hymn [No Tears in Heaven] (882)
We are here today to celebrate a life well lived, and to honor the man who lived it. We are here to remember–to look back through eyes of Hope on the life of a man who himself not only shared his life with all of us, but also gave life to all of us in one way or another.
As we reflect on who Jim was, many characteristics come to mind. He was a man of integrity. He was a man who valued doing the right thing, the good thing. He was a man of God, a man whose faithfulness to his creator manifested itself in his faithfulness to his family and friends. He was a man with a subtle sense of humor, a man whose sense of wonder for all of life’s little joys only grew stronger with each day he lived. He delighted in the happiness of others and he never ceased to rejoice in amazement at the talents and accomplishments of others.
When we get to the essence of Jim Beckland, what we find is someone who loved God and loved people. Jim’s greatest joy was in the simple act of serving both God and others, and for that reason I think it is the hands of Jim which serve as an appropriate metaphor to capture just who he was. With his hands, he built; with his hands he served; with his hands, he directed songs and directed men; with his hands he disciplined and embraced; and with his hands he prayed for us.
In the other room there is a board which displays many of the accomplishments and recognitions that Jim worked so hard to achieve over the years. He was a man who did so much in his lifetime…and at this time, I would like to give a synopsis of the many ways in which Jim blessed others with his hands, read from his obituary:
James H. Beckland, 75, Rosholt, left this life unexpectedly in 2009 at his winter home in Florida. Jim was born In Nelsonville, Wi in 1934, the son of Hans and Gertle (Anderson) Beckland. Jim was a baker at the Amherst Bakery and after graduating in 1952, he worked at Edwards Bakery in Waupaca. While in Waupaca, he met Carol Lindskoog in 1954, they married in Amherst. In 1956 he began a 40 year career as an electrician. Jim was a member of the IBEW and NECA throughout his career. In Waupaca, he was a member of barbershoppers, bowling league, and softball team. Jim enjoyed hunting, fishing, and camping on Rolling Stone Lake. He loved playing cards, cribbage, and board games with family and friends. Jim and Carol moved to Rosholt in 1978, where he developed his talent for wood working by remodeling a log house and building some of the furnishings. After retirement, he participated in, and worked with, the Lincoln Center for 12 years as a volunteer driver. A devoted Christian, Jim was a founding member of the Village Church. Jim, known to family as “Papa,” a devoted and loving husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather, leaves behind his wife of 55 years, Carol, of Rosholt, and 4 children, son Kim Beckland (St. Petersburg, FL), daughter Kelly (Mike) Hodge (Rosholt), daughter Tammy Beckland (Rosholt), son Tod (Renee) Beckland (Rosholt), sister Irene Olson (Iola), close nephew Duane Beckland (Fort Morgan, CO), 10 grandchildren, Jamie (Michael) Beckland, Ryan (Lissa) Beckland, Kris Beckland, Sadie (Marc) Nicolas, Jed Bruer, Gavin (Michal) LaFave, Ellie Cecil, Alex, Erik and Rachel Beckland, 2 great grandchildren, Amelia and Arthur Nicolas, and many other and friends. Jim was preceeded in death by his parents, 2 brothers, (George Beckland, Andy Beckland) and 2 sisters (Arlane Biedermann, Joan Beckland). A Memorial of Jim’s Life will be held Wednesday, Dec 23, 2009 in at the Jensen Center. Visitation begins at 2pm with a memorial service conducted at 3pm by Minister Justin Mooney from the Village Church in Rosholt. A memorial fund, in lieu of flowers, has been established to support local charities. In accordance with Jim’s wishes, he was cremated.
V. Hymn [When We All Get to Heaven] (853)
During his 75 years, Jim modeled for us a faith-filled Christian life. And, equally important, in his final hour he modeled a Hope-filled Christian death. Over time, the hands which were once strong and full of life slowly grew weak and frail, bearing the external marks of an internal battle, the ongoing struggle for just one more year, one more day of life.
The moment came as it usually does: unexpectedly. Yet, it was in that very hour—the very moment of death’s ostensible claim—that we witness firsthand the crown jewel of Jim’s Life on full display: His wife of 55 years faithfully praying over her beloved husband, his last word still hanging in the air. After all the years of faithful love and diligent care which Carol had given to Jim, her final act was to hand him over to the gentle and caring hands of Jesus…which, for Jim, no doubt, had a familiar feel, for these were the same hands—incarnate in Carol—that had been caring for Jim all along.
That scene didn’t happen by chance. It was the culmination of a lifetime of God-centered companionship. Jim’s peaceful death was the culmination of a life of faith, a faith which not only empowered Jim to press on in resilient joy, but a faith which also gave Jim the courage to cry out to God in the midst of his disappointments, struggles, and pain.
A while back we were doing a series on the Psalms at the Village Church, and in connection with that series I invited the members of our church to write their own personal psalms. Jim did just that (and in a moment Duane Beckland will be reading Jim’s psalm). There is a special type of psalm in scripture called a lament, which is a song or poem which starts out by crying out to God, expressing all of our pain and frustration and anger. Then somewhere along the way, that prayer of lament, that prayer of bold candor and tearful conversation with God, transforms the person who prays it. It is out of lament that God brings about a transformation within, empowering us to press on, enabling us to persevere in the darkness. It is out of lament that Hope is reborn.
It was a lament that poured out of Jim’s heart, through his hand, and onto the paper…and I thank God that we have this precious prayer, this great exhibition of steadfast faith.
VII. A Psalm of Lament by Jim Beckland (read by Duane Beckland)
VIII. Narratio (Stories, Memories, and Words of Comfort from Family and Friends)
(Several people came up to speak but these two are the only ones that had their stories written down)
Gavin’s Story at Papa’s Memorial(grandson)
When I think of my grandpa, the man I only ever knew as Papa, I think about life’s simple joys.
I think about riding on Papa’s knee as a small child to the tune of “Pony Boy”.
I think about watching out the side window, seeing Papa working out by his back shed in his trademark yellow winter work hat.
I think about the time spent with Papa in his shop building my pine wood derby cars. We knew that we probably weren’t going to have the fastest car, but we always knew we were going to have the best looking one.
I think about the mornings spent fishing together on Rolling Stone Lake catching or not catching bluegills.
I think about the stories Papa would tell me. Like what happened during his company golf outing. His foursome was finishing up on a par three. Another foursome from their company was teeing off behind them. The hole was laid out to where the two groups couldn’t see one another because a hill separated the green and the tee box. As Papa’s group was leaving the green, a ball from the other group came rolling over the hill. As a joke, Papa quickly picked up the ball and put it in the cup. He and his group watched the reaction from the next tee box. The group came up to the green and began looking all over for the ball, but they couldn’t find it. As a last effort, they checked the hole and the celebration began. Papa’s co-worker thought he had hit a hole in one. Papa told me that he didn’t have the heart to tell his buddy that he had put his ball in the hole and he really didn’t hit a hole in one. So I guess if someone here today golfed with Papa and got a hole in one I am the bearer of bad news.
I also often think of the day I was leaving for college. I went next store to tell Granny and Papa goodbye. They both hugged me in their front yard. As I was walking away, Papa said, “Gavin, make us proud.” Today I know that Papa is the one who has made us all proud.
Kelly’s story at Jim’s memorial (daughter)
I could tell you many stories about my dad. He was a wonderful father, grandfather, brother, friend, and of course husband. There are a couple things I remember so vividly from being a kid. Like when the bells in the church down the street starting playing at 6pm I knew that Dad would be driving into the driveway real soon. One time Dad and I went on a fishing trip to Canada. I was 12 and it was just the 2 of us. We got to the border and they stopped us and asked for identification. Dad pulled out his wallet and showed his, then the guard asked for mine. Well, I was a kid, I didn’t have a purse or any kind of ID. I said ” I have my camp shoes on, Mom wrote Beckland on them” The guard says OK give it here. So I took off my shoe and Dad handed it to him and he let us through. Dad wasn’t mad or anything, he just drove on and said Well we never thought of that did we?
In all the time we were growing up Mom and Dad were at every event that any of us were involved in, and that continued with the grandchildren too. They were at every vocal concert, band concert, play, dance recital, piano recital, basketball game, track meet, parents day and grandparents day, every graduation and wedding…even when Dad wasn’t feeling the best, he was there if he could possibly make it there. And Always so proud…
When Mom and Dad were having their kids it wasn’t common for husbands to be in the room with their wives during the labor and birth. I had decided to have my babies at home and Dad made it clear that he didn’t know why anyone would want to be a witness to that. Well my second baby was going to be born while we were living at Mom and Dad”s house . We had the midwife all set to come to the house and I figured, everybody was usually at school and Dad at work so no problem.. Then wouldn’t you know it , labor started on a Sat. with everybody home. So there I was with the midwife and her assistant laboring away in the middle of the living room. Dad was in the kitchen when the midwife said to him. Grab a flashlight and come over here please. A little hesitant, he gets the flashlight and heads over to her to hand it to her but she says No just shine it right down there. So there he stood, with his flashlight witnessing the birth of his 4th grandchild. After that baby was born he said Thank You to the midwife and said with a tear in his eye that he wouldn’t have missed that for the world.
The thing I think he liked almost better then anything was singing. Whether it was in the car when we were on a trip or at Church or Barbershoppers, He loved to sing and listen to others sing, especially harmony. About 20 years ago the 4 of us Beckland siblings decided that we would sing together and did 4 part harmony singing. We sang at a couple events and Dad was at all of those and at most rehearsals with his ear sharply listening for sour notes. The song that we really seemed to have down was Swing low sweet chariot. Any time that the 4 of us were together Dad would say, why don’t you sing swing Low? we would groan a bit under our breath but usually gave it a try. At Mom and Dads 50th anniversary we surprised them and sang it. We were a bit rusty but he was as proud as he could be. I think about when he passed from this life, and that the last thing he said was my mothers name, and that was so fitting so perfect, but I wonder if he had a chance to say a few more words, if he would have said the words from the song that he loved to hear his 4 children sing, Oh Carol, There’s a band of angels coming after me… coming for to carry me home.
It would not be possible in one afternoon for us to remember and recount all of what needs to be said about Jim. The Life has been lived; now, the story of Jim lives on and will continue be told through us—Jim’s friends and family. Memories big and small will come to mind over time, and as we share those memories–one generation handing them down to another–we continue to add to Jim’s Eulogy one laugh, one tear at a time… and so, the story lives on—as Jim himself does—in good hands.
And, as with all good stories, it is the ending that makes it worthy of telling.
READ Romans 5:1-5
Jim’s story is one of faith, peace, rejoicing, suffering, perseverance, character…and ultimately, of Hope. A Hope that understood the reality of death, yet, a Hope that understood all the more that death is not the victor. As Paul says in I Corinthians 15:
READ I Cor.15:20-26, 51-55
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those who thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me…
…One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die.
— John Donne
Thanks be to God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ…and thanks be to God for the Life of Jim Beckland — a life well lived; A Life that will have no end, for it rests in the victorious hands of our Resurrected Lord.