Grace is in the back row, third from the left.
The changes over the last one hundred years amaze me. Then this letter shows up and twists my understanding even further up the amazement scale. A general observation that things change is pretty banal. Once I hear about a specific change in detail, in a way that I can relate to, it gets personal. In this letter Grace tells us about the one room school-house on the prairie. They were all over North Dakota in the nineteen thirties. Did I say one room?
Then there was the school-house Grace went to. Two rooms. Maybe you can detect a little pride in her description of the school building and grounds. That school yard had everything a school girl would want, including the flowers that Grace described in another letter.
She didn’t describe the interior of the classroom. That’s something I’d love to hear more about. Last summer during the local Irish Fest at the History Center Judy and I attended a talk about bodhráns. The talk was in the one room school-house on the center grounds. Wooden desks nailed to the floor. A world/USA map hanging from the wall. A chalk board on the front wall, next to the American flag. A pot-bellied stove and a table in the front for the teacher and you’ve got it covered.
Compare that to school rooms today, with smart boards and iPads everywhere. The kids have a cafeteria, gymnasium, library and much more. And we still think it’s not enough!
Our schoolhouse was probably one of the biggest in N. Dak. The pioneers from two townships had gone together and built one with two rooms instead of the conventional one room you see all over the midwest. Continue reading
Eric, Grace and Linn by the flower garden at the Pink House by the river.
Gardening has been a favorite pastime for me since we’ve lived in this house. I don’t mean vegetable gardening, those I can get from the farmer’s market or from the store. I mean flowers. Stepping onto the back deck on a warm early summer morning to see flowers reaching for the sun … that’s a good morning. In some of Grace’s and Louie’s letters you’ve seen the Pink House’s yard several times. It’s in this picture, too.
My last summer in that house was in 1958, I was only eight, but the memory of flowers all over the yard sticks with me. All summer long it was a riot of color, with so many flowers. My favorite were the “Tiger Lilies” that seemed to volunteer everywhere in the yard. OK, so maybe they didn’t volunteer, but to an eight year old kid, they just seemed to show up. I loved them, especially the little seed bulbs that grew at the base of each leaf.
My little back yard continues to be that bright spot Grace writes about. Most of the flowers are perennial, so they almost do “volunteer.” For all their beauty, they don’t match the memories of the house along the river.
July 29, 1991
My love of flowers began when I was just a little girl. They were such a bright spot in an otherwise rather dreary and desolate country. Mama always had some flowers planted even though it was extra work to carry water for them. She had window boxes on the south windows with portulaca in them. They did so well in that sandy soil and hot summer sun. Bachelor Buttons, Zinnias + Cosmos were all fairly easy to grow so usually there was some of those in the garden or by the house.
Fanny (Grace’s mother) could make something from nothing. That may be hyperbole, but this story from Grace certainly makes it sound like absolute truth. If creativity wasn’t the main skill, perhaps good old-fashioned horse trading showed off her skills. Grace learned sewing from Esther (her older sister) and Fanny. That gave her an appreciation for well made good-looking clothes. Several of Grace’s stories show her satisfaction with their ability to create beauty from whatever came through the farm-yard.
I do my best to reuse, re-purpose, and make from scratch, but there’s only so much you can do with an old iPhone.
Bowerman’s lived one mile east of us on the farm just to the north of Kunkel Lake. When I started in first grade Galen and Bruce were in the seventh and eighth grade. They drove an old Model T Ford the 3 1/2 miles to school and would pick up Melvin and I. One day when it was real cold they had an old imitation fur coat covering the radiator to keep it from freezing.
Grace on the farm
When a storm rolls through the North Dakota prairie, a couple of things happen. Buildings are destroyed. Memories are made. Although I’ve never seen a building flattened, storms certainly hold a special place in my memory.
There wasn’t much that scared my Grandma. The storm Grace describes must have come very close for her to hightail it to the house. Neither Grace nor I were ever afraid of storms. Perhaps I learned from those old farm gals?
My dear ones,
When I was about three or four years old there was a tornado that nearly blew us away. Continue reading
In this letter Grace shares something I had never heard before, and never did hear in person from her. She talks about a young man that she knew well, but never “went out” with. Is that a common thing? What comes to mind is a certain young lady who was very special to me in high school, we were together many times, double dated and such. We enjoyed many of the same activities in school, signed the yearbook with some special sentiments, but we never hit it off. Now, how many years later, we are still friends. Somehow that closeness never developed into a deep romance. Maybe that’s good?
Steele high school
I think I enjoyed that second year at Steele a lot more than I did the first. I was so bashful + scared to talk to anybody that a lot of kids thought I was stuck up. Guess its hard for all kids to start in a new school, it sure was for me. We always had a homecoming dance + ball game in the fall with a queen + all that goes with it. That year someone nominated me + another gal to run for queen. She got elected but it was quite an honor anyway.
Joyce & Guy – Prom 1967
Lately the letters from Grace and Lucy have been about the various dances they went to in high school. I don’t remember my mother ever talking about going to dances, she never taught me how to dance, but I never missed a dance. In the early days it was John, Mark and me going to the dances just to watch the bands and talk about their guitars and drum kits. Later on I became interested in taking girls to the dances.
The first dances I remember going to with a date were the ones at the Masonic Lodge. They were pretty formal affairs, with dance cards and such. The school put on a number of dances, too, like homecoming. Generally it was pretty important to never go to the dance alone.
Grace and friend in high school
Every summer the carnival came to the Stutsman County Fair in Jamestown. Grace and her friends went to the county fair in Kidder County intending to talk to boys, my friends and I usually went to go on the rides. Some of those rides must have been the ones Grace had in mind when she made the comparison to the ones she went on in Steele.
The county fairs marked the high point of the summer. After the fair not much happened beyond swimming and fishing, the fair was the big event. Once I discovered girls and could drive them to the fair, I enjoyed those summer nights much more.
We still love to go to the county fair, but now the focus is the grand kids.
The part about fixing up her bedroom is actually quite sobering. We didn’t have much to fix up my room during my high school years, but it was far better than a peach crate with ruffles. The comparison to my children’s rooms and their kids’ rooms is another light year away from peach crates. I’ll add my room during the high school years to the list of things to write about in a future blog post. In the meantime, maybe you’d like to share what your room was like in high school?
My best friend in Steele was Mary Ann Pletan. Her dad bought into the garage there with another man + they moved to Steele when we were sophomores. We would stay overnight with each other and go to shows + talk about boys.
One time we went to a carnival and went on lots of rides. We were both mad at some boys and we went on the most reckless rides we could find. Those rides were pretty tame in comparison to the ones they have at amusement parks now.