Boarding School

Boarding School

Steele high school

Steele High School

In this brief story, Esther covers only the grade school days. When Esther told us stories about the pictures in Grace’s picture album, this picture triggered a lengthy discussion about life in Steele, where the kids went to high school. Not many parents today would do what Fanny and Ted did for their kids.

The township grade school near the farm only went through grade eight. If you wanted more school, it was off to Steele for high school. Though only thirty or forty miles from the farm, that was far enough that the kids had to rent a room in town, staying there during the week, coming home only for the weekends. In the winter, travel would be with horse and sleigh, and sometimes road closures meant weeks would go by without a trip home. Henry went to high school only one year. He didn’t like it; didn’t fit in well. Esther thrived.

The first year Esther was away at school the onset of winter was brutal, which meant she didn’t get home for six weeks. Surviving that extreme case of homesickness hardened her to never be bothered being away from home again.

Vic Gottertz

Vic Gottertz

Melvin joined her the next year and they rented a light housekeeping room from the Goettertz (pronounced Gott-hard) family in town. Henry built a little table for them, they had orange crates for cupboards and a single burner hot plate to cook on. There was no running water, they carried everything to the room in a bucket; out in a slop pail. Rent was ten dollars a month.

After that Bruce Bowerman joined Esther and Melvin, the boys were fourteen and Esther was only 16, but she did all the cooking and cleaning. Fried eggs with bread and butter every morning for breakfast. All without running water, on a hot plate.

By the time Esther was a senior, the boys had left town, and she had to grow up really fast, managing the money and time alone. Somehow she knew enough to get up (alarm clock) and go to school.

My days in high school were pretty mild compared to that. Our kids lived a pretty cushy life, too.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Esther writes:

Esther

Esther on the farm in North Dakota

Getting to school at the two-room country school for the first eight grades was always a high priority. We went to school by whatever means of transport used at the time—car when the weather permitted, or horse and sled in the winter when the roads were not plowed. When we were a little older we drove horses with buggy or sled much of the time. The neighbor boys, Charles and Galen Bowerman, were learning auto mechanics at an early age, and their family had one or more Model T Fords which the boys kept running and gave us many rides to school.

The schoolhouse was not only for school, but served as the only center of activity for the township. Neighbors had many fall and winter parties where everyone played cards, usually whist, until eleven or so. Then the women would break out a big lunch of sandwiches and cakes. Finally the fiddle and piano played for dancing until three or four.

Whole families came, and kids slept on coats and blankets when they could no longer stay awake.

Candy Business

Candy Business

This is Grandma Grace’s version of caramel for rolls.

Two things Grandma Luehr knew how to do: tell stories and cook. My childhood memories are full of bread, kuchen, pies and caramel. For many years when I was in high school and college she sold her baked goods through the neighborhood grocery store, Wolf’s Grocery. She made enough money to stay in the house and lead a comfortable life.

A family favorite every Christmas was Grandma’s caramel. Everything about that caramel was perfect. The gentle aroma of cooking cream and sugar. The buttery feel of the waxed paper wrappers. The perfect “bite.” Her caramel was never too hard, and never too soft. We’d hold the candy to the roof of our mouth with our tongue, letting it slowly melt into delicious sweetness.

Judy and I have picked up a couple of recipes from Grandma Luehr, and the caramel recipe is my favorite. After Fanny died, Judy would make caramel every Christmas, delighting everyone who came to visit, especially my brothers. One year the recipe failed. The caramel was grainy. The texture was all wrong. We threw out the batch, knowing that we had done something wrong. The recipe requires patience and precision. The next batch was OK. Then we had the same problem the following year. Twice.

After a couple of years experimenting we discovered that the dairy industry had introduced a new product. Ultra-pasteurized whipping cream. The new cream did not work for caramel. We had to carefully look for old-fashioned heavy whipping cream, which worked perfectly. We still enjoy Grandma’s caramel every year.

Grandma knew how to run a business: Focus on good product. She never made a pile of money, but her customers and children enjoyed the fruits of her labor.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Esther writes:

Esther

Esther on the farm in North Dakota

The stories of the depression are probably not exaggerated, but somehow I always felt secure. We got to school, were never hungry, and always had clothes to wear and fuel to keep us warm. We did not feel deprived because others we knew had even less than we had.

The “dust bowl” was very real. I remember walking home from school through the dust blowing off a bare field so thick it was like being in a black fog. It blew into the houses through every tiny crack. Fence rows were buried by it; and where it was really bad, no vegetation remained on the fields.

These were the days of the hobos, also called by other names. Many unemployed men traveled by “rail” looking for work, (“rail” meaning that they caught illegal rides on freight trains) and they even came to farm areas looking for a meal or a few hours or days of work. Occasionally one would stop by, apparently walking from the main rail line to the south, to the branch line to the north — maybe 18 or 20 miles. Mama would give them a meal and require them to eat it outdoors. Continue reading

Knock on the Floor

Knock on the Floor

Grandpa Ted working on his car.

Grandpa Ted working on his car.

My brother Linn and I have been interested in family stories for a long time. Some of Esther’s stories in this blog are from the time he and I spent a couple of days with her, listening to the stories and looking at photo albums. After he and I heard stories from Esther about life on the farm, Linn visited our aunt Iris, wife of Esther’s brother Melvin. Linn wrote down the story as Iris remembered it in 2008.

The story about Ted’s last days reminds me of our mother’s last days. Those two stories are among the many reasons I don’t often hesitate to visit a doctor. Not a chiropractor, a medical doctor.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Iris writes:

iris-and-melvin-luehr

Iris and Melvin

The time was before WWII, during the depths of the Great Depression. The family had planted its saved seed supply several years before – but the rain never came.  So there was no crop that year. No seed the next. They borrowed to buy seed to plant that next year, planted it, and the rain never came. No crop that year either. After three or four years of this cycle, the family was deep in debt – the house, the farm, and the equipment were all mortgaged. About that time the bank repossessed a neighbor family’s sole milk cow after they could not repay their debt. It may have been the Bowerman family who eventually purchased and still own the Luehr House in Lake Williams. Continue reading

Fencing the Prairie

Fencing the Prairie

Successful Farming

Successful Farming

This is the story that triggered the Grandpa Guy’s Stories blog. Everyone in the family knows this story as it was one of Grandma Fanny’s favorites. Grandma told this story every time we visited, and we visited her often.

At the risk of repeating myself; my brother Linn, our cousin Ted and I were riding in the car to Ted’s house one afternoon. We started reminiscing about Grandma’s stories. One of us recounted the Chandler Story. Another pointed out the errors in that version, and the third one of us laughed at the incongruities of both versions, telling what was certainly the true version of the story.

Esther clearly recognizes that many versions of the story exist, and I could point out a couple of discrepancies in this version, and perhaps add more details. Grace had her own short version of the story which she recounted in one of her letters to me in 1994. Grandma Fanny’s version of the story took about twenty minutes to tell, and may have had more detail than any one of us remember. Continue reading

Papa

Papa

Tom Sawyer Abroad and other stories

Tom Sawyer Abroad and other stories

I never knew my maternal grandfather Ted. He died long before I was born. There’s only one material connection between him and me; a copy of Tom Sawyer stories by Mark Twain. The book was a Christmas gift from his sister Frieda in about 1901. That single connection lends credence to Esther’s comment that he liked to read.

How much time did Ted have to read when they lived on the farm in Kidder County? There would have been plenty to do without taking the time out to read stories by Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer’s experiences would have resonated better with Grandpa Ted than they do with me, and my grandson would have little idea what Mark Twain was talking about in some of those stories. Even reading changed dramatically in the last 100 years since Ted received this book for Christmas. Continue reading

The Doctor Book

The Doctor Book

I grew up in my Grandmother Fanny’s house, getting most of my medical care from the same woman who treated Esther in this story. Esther describes the all too common wound of a foot punctured by a random nail.

Henry on crutches – after a 1936 snowstorm.

Henry on crutches – after a 1936 snowstorm.

As a wide-ranging eight year old child, bare foot most of the summer, I stepped on plenty of nails and sticks, pulling them out of my foot before heading home for Grandma’s treatment according to the “Doctor Book” that Esther describes. The standard treatment for foot wounds was to wrap the wound in bacon and wait. It may have worked, as the salt from the bacon could reduce infection.

The other treatment that is much more memorable was for sunburn. In the summer, neighborhood kids went without shoes or shirts. On the exceptionally sunny summer afternoons we’d come home beet red with sunburn. I hated the treatment described in the book. Vinegar. Continue reading

Mama

Mama

A hundred years ago a mile was a lot longer than it is today. In this story Esther relates that they didn’t get to visit her grandparents very often, and then just for funerals. The five hundred miles from North Dakota to the old home in Nebraska was just too much.

Grandpa Ted and Fanny in 1939

Grandpa Ted and Fanny in 1939

That distance barrier still existed in the fifties when I was a child. Esther and her husband lived in Montana at the time, and I lived with my mother and her mother (Grandma Luehr) in Jamestown, ND. Once we took the train to Libby to visit them. Once. I don’t remember much about the trip, but I do remember being on the train for a very long time. Maybe it was lack of resources, but we very rarely visited family other than the few who lived within fifty miles of home.

Esther starts this story talking about her mother’s name. I never used the word Fanny to address my grandmother. She was Grandma Luehr. There was no question about that. Continue reading

Promise of the Prairie

Promise of the Prairie

The Kunkel House

The Kunkel House

Grandpa Ted caught North Dakota Fever in 1919.

According to other stories about Ted and Fanny, Ted had spent a summer in the Red River Valley working on a farm, fell in love with the land, and decided that’s where he wanted to start his own farm. Thousands of other people caught that same fever. The 1920 federal census shows almost eight thousand residents in Kidder County, compared to less than two thousand just twenty years earlier.

Can you imagine the excitement of those years, as hundreds of people thronged the real estate offices and railroad stations? Every train from the east dropped off new residents looking for farmland or a place to open a store. Greenhorns and shysters everywhere. Continue reading

Grandpa Guy’s Aunt Esther

Grandpa Guy’s Aunt Esther

Back in the nineties, when Esther heard about my family story project, she decided to write a few stories of her own. This upcoming series of eight posts includes her thoughts on her parents’ lives on a farm in North Dakota. Esther was my mother’s older sister, born on the North Dakota prairie early in the 20th century, raised during the Great Depression, and lived the good life from Montana to Arizona to Oregon.

Esther

Esther on the farm in North Dakota

Esther shared my interest in family history. In the early 2000’s my brother Linn and I spent a couple of days with Esther at her home in Oregon, looking at old picture albums and hearing her stories. I’ve used notes from that time to augment Esther’s own words and highlight some of the more interesting parts of the stories. For each story, I’ve tried to include some of her pictures and some from Grace’s photo album.

If you’ve read Grandpa Guy’s Stories, especially the stories from my mother Grace, you are familiar with most of the events Esther describes. In some of Esther’s stories, I’ve added links to Grace’s recollection of the same story. Reading the two versions, and trying to reconcile the differences between them and the same stories that Grandma Fanny told me, makes me wonder about other historical stories where multiple versions exist.

Esther during one of Linn and Guy's visits

Esther during one of our visits in 2005

Everyone has their own version of history. Esther (my aunt), her sister Grace (my mother) and their mother (my Grandma Luehr, who Esther calls Mama) shaped my view of family stories. Though their stories are not the same, the essence remains consistent. You can read Grace’s stories in the letters and commentary I’ve added to them. (Grace’s Stories)

After reading Esther’s stories I hope you can imagine life on a farm in Kidder County, North Dakota.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Lake Williams Horses

Abandoned Lumberyard in Lake Williams ND

Abandoned lumberyard in Lake Williams ND

My brothers and I took several trips together in the late eighties and early nineties. The memories we built on those trips are among my most valued. On one of the trips we stopped to visit our Uncle Henry. Henry was an eccentric old man, and my favorite uncle. While we were visiting him this time, he took us on a tour of the country side. The five of us piled into his big GM sedan and hit the road; gravel roads, driving well over the limit, taking his half out of the middle.

Suddenly he hits the brakes and stops in the middle of the road, in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Pettibone and Woodworth. He throws open the door and jumps out, saying “Here’s the town of Marstonmoor.” We look quizzically at each other, wonder if it’s OK to park in the middle of the road, climb out and look around. There’s nothing there. Well, there’s grass and the road.

Henry says “Look over there … see that cement sticking out of the grass?” We crane our necks for a better view, realize the railroad tracks (abandoned?) are just a few feet beyond, and yes, indeed! There is an old concrete foundation there. Overgrown, crumbled, and not all that big to start with.

Henry gave us a quick history of the town. It was a railroad invention, they had to have stations every couple of miles along the rail line to support farmers who had only horse and wagon to deliver milk and cream to the railroad. Towns grew up around some of the stations, but not around others. This town was not one where dreamers succeeded.

Lake Williams fared a little better, there are still houses and buildings around where the rail station used to be. Not much else remains. Uncle Henry owned one of the old buildings in town. He used it to store his collection of cars and things. He wasn’t a car collector like my friends in the AACA, Henry just never bothered to ever sell a car. Ever. His place was just down the block from the lumberyard in the picture.

In this letter, Grace recounts the dreams of a rancher who thought he could get rich on fancy horses in Kidder County. That plan just didn’t work. Neither did my grand father’s plan of raising Herefords on the north forty. Not much remains in that area these days. If you listen to the wind and stare at the prairie grass long enough you can almost hear and see dreams floating by.

They’re gone now.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

 


 

Grace writes:

Summer always seemed hot + long + the cool water in Lake Williams was a nice place to swim and fish and boat. Sometimes we would have a picnic there under the trees.

Continue reading