Life went on and Mike and I were best of friends throughout most of our youth. Since he was only eleven months younger than I was, we could play together well, at least most of the time. We had our occasional fights, but for the most part we got along great. I think it was just after that accident when I got my first dog, Queenie. She was a small dog, part Chihuahua, part Dachshund. She had very short legs and was black with a brown stomach and chin. She was exactly the same age as I was when we got her. We were six. She was old enough that she did not much care for the tail pulling and ear grabbing that Scott and Sherry liked to do, so she kind of gravitated towards me. She was the family pet, but I thought of her as my dog. She ruled the neighborhood dogs just like her name suggested. If any dog came sniffing around and she did not like it, she would run them off. It did not matter if it was a big German Shepherd or what. She was the boss and let all the other dogs know it. When I was twelve or thirteen, I stepped off the bus one day and saw some .22 cartridges laying on the ground. I knew immediately that Queenie was gone. Dad did not want to do it, but she was so old that he put her out of her misery.
Queenie had several litters over the years, but we only kept one of her offspring. His name was Puppy. Mom and Dad said us kids could name him, but since we could never agree, he just became Puppy, by default. He did not really seem to belong to any one of us, but was the whole family's pet. When he was still young, he got one of his front paws caught in a beaver trap and broke his leg. We took him to the vet, who put on a splint, which of course, he almost immediately pulled off. After that he had a slight limp, but could still run and jump if he wanted to. In the winter, the cold weather must have hurt him, because he took up the habit of laying in the middle of the newly paved tar road that ran in front of our house. All the neighbors knew about it, and since he would lay in the exact middle of the road, people would just slow down and drive around him. He would not move at all. Of course, one day it happened. Our cousin, Tommy, was living with us at the time and he found him. I still remember him crying as he carried Puppy's body across the yard toward the house. That was the last pet I ever had until just recently. I was fourteen at the time.
There were lots of good times though. Mike and I used to play most summers away by riding our bikes down to our friends, the Brateng's. Terry was the same age as Mike, so they became best friends. I was a year or so younger than Gene, so we became best friends. Together, we played softball in the summer, football in the fall, and hockey in the winter. Many times, we would call each other and meet halfway at the Roseau river, to play in our favorite swimming hole. One time in the early spring, Mom let us go there, with strict orders not to go swimming. She said the water was too cold. Of course, we ignored her and did it anyway. We swam in the raw so we would not get our clothes wet. That way Mom would not know we had disobeyed her.
When we got home, she took one glance at us and said, "I though I told you boys NOT to go swimming!"
I was flabbergasted. I remember asking her, "How did you know we went swimming?"
She smiled and said, "How else would your faces be so clean?"
Terry and Mike were better athletes than Gene and I, but since we were a little bigger and older, things worked out nicely. They had a big farm where their Dad grew nothing but crops like wheat and alfalfa for hay. Their barn smelled a lot nicer than the one the Syverson's had, since it did not have any animals in it. I remember when they got a mini-bike one year, Mike and I were jealous. Mom and Dad told us that if we worked hard and did extra chores, they would pay us for the extra jobs we did around the house. For almost six months, we chopped wood, cut grass, pulled weeds from the garden, anything that would count toward that mini-bike.
Finally, spring arrived and Dad brought home the brand new mini-bike. Luckily, it was a two seater, so Mike and I could both get on it at the same time. Then the only question was, who got to drive while the other one rode? We managed to work it out and took turns driving. We sure were proud of that bike. It was great, because now we could make the 2 mile trip to Gene and Terry's house in about 10 minutes, instead of the 20 minutes or so it used to take on our bicycles, and we didn't even break a sweat! That summer, Gene got a real motorcycle, and I was jealous again. My first experience in trying to keep up with the Jones. I found out that is a losing battle.
As time went by, our family eventually moved out of our grandparent's home to live in the back of the store they had run for so many years. Mom and Dad had decided to take over. The store consisted of a one room shopping area, with a small storage area off to the side. The shopping area was so small that I don't think more than three people could squeeze in between the shelves and cash register. Those two rooms took up the entire front of the building. I remember an old soda machine, the kind that you had to slide the glass bottles through this maze in order to get your drink. Dad liked 7-Up, so I liked it too. It is still my preferred soft drink. There were two gas pumps out in front of the store. One sold regular and the other sold premium gas. There was no such thing as unleaded gas back then.
By the time I was about 10, Mike and I were regularly pumping gas, tending the cash register and stocking shelves. Gas was 32 cents per gallon, stamps cost 9 cents each, and sugar was 79 cents for five pounds, or 1.49 for ten pounds. I used one of those old metal stamping ink devices, the kind that had numbers on rubber tracks and a small ink pad, to mark everything's price with purple ink. Every time I did stock shelves, by the end of the job, my finger tips would be covered with the ink. The delivery truck used to come by once a week, and during the summer I got to help roll the boxes down this steel wheeled ramp into the store. Mom or Dad used to place the orders by phone a couple of days before the truck would drive the circuit of local stores. I even got to do it once.
We lived in the back of the store. There was a living room, just big enough to hold a couch and a table for eating, a tiny kitchen with a small gas stove and a counter, and two bedrooms. Mom and Dad were in the smaller bedroom and us boys, myself, Mike and Scott, shared the larger bedroom. There was no bathroom, no running water, no showers, nothing. The place was heated by a large grate that covered the oil heater down in the damp cellar. Mom used to can beets, corn and other vegetables and keep them stored on some shelves down there. Dad used to carry buckets of water from the well house across the yard for us to drink, bath and cook with. In the winter, he would sometimes get distracted by visiting neighbors and let the water sit outside until it formed ice on top. Mom used to break the layer of ice using a knife. We used an electric doughnut heater to heat water for baths, after it was dumped into a large metal tub in the middle of the living room. We had to walk across the yard to use the bathroom. We had a two hole outhouse behind the store. There were always old Sears or Montgomery Wards catalogs in it. It was both reading material and emergency toilet paper. One year, some kids tipped the outhouse for a Halloween prank, and Grandpa fell into it late at night. The next day, he and Dad shoveled the pit empty, then dug poles into the ground and put the outhouse over the poles. Grandpa was determined that nobody would ever tip it over again!
In time, Mom and Dad wished for a bigger place, with running water and everything. About 5 miles away, the state had decided to put up a dam and build a state park. It is called Hayes Lake State Park. There were several old buildings on the property, that the state said must be either auctioned off and moved, or torn down. Dad bid for and bought a large two story building for $500. He then hired the local house mover and veterinarian to move the building to our place for another $600. That was the place where Mike and I found all those antique Mason jars. They were stacked up on shelves down in the musty basement. We collected them and stored them in one of the small sheds at our house, waiting for Uncle Bob to find a buyer. The house had to be moved by a certain date in the spring, so Ezra, the veterinarian, was forced to move it, in under less than ideal conditions. Once the weather warms up in that part of the country, it begins to rain. With all the melting snow and rain, the ground gets pretty soggy in places. When Ezra drove into the yard with that huge old house pulled behind his truck, it sank to its axles. I remember it was quite a job for the movers to build up wood piles, then use wide 2 by 16 planks and steel pipes to slowly roll the house into its final position.
Dad hired somebody to come in and build a foundation under the house using cement blocks, and after it was set, Ezra came back and lowered the house on to its new resting place. The house was covered in gray stucco with old gray cedar shingles on the roof. It sat right next to the well house and covered most of the yard between the store and it. It was so big, you could clearly see it from about a mile away in any direction. Since we lived on a corner with four roads, it quickly became a sign post when neighbors were giving visiting relatives and friends directions. Dad did a lot of work on that old place. He wanted to give Mom and us a better place to live. He and Grandpa did most of the labor on fixing it up. They ripped out one of the walls that separated the living room and dining area, to make a large living room. He installed a new set of stairs leading up to the three bedrooms on the top floor. I had a room to myself, Scott ended up in a room and when Robert was born, he ended up moving in with Mike in the middle room, the biggest of the three.
Dad, about 1978
|Eventually Dad got a pump set up in the well house and dug trenches so he could install running water. Grandma got an indoor toilet first. We got running water, but it was another year or two before Dad managed to install our own septic tank. He remodeled the bathroom and installed a hot water heater, washer, dryer and bathtub. He also put in a toilet, but only the girls were allowed to use it. Instead of flushing it, there was a bucket under the toilet seat, and it had to be emptied daily. That was usually my job, yuck!|
Mom had a big kitchen finally and she liked to use it. Most Saturdays she would cook fresh bread. There is not much to compare to spreading butter across a piece of bread that is still warm from the oven. We got our milk from the neighbors, who had a dairy farm, across the corner. Mom used to let it sit for a few hours, then skim the cream off the top when it separated. Mike and I often had the job of running over to buy a couple of gallons. We used old ice cream pails to carry it back home. Often times, the milk was so fresh it was still warm. On special occasions, like birthdays, she would make pizza or home made doughnuts dipped in sugar.
I also remember that times were often tough, and we ate a lot of milk mush and gloulash. Milk mush is simple to make. Bring milk to a slow boil and slowly work in flour until it gets as thick as paste. She used to do the same thing to make glue for our school projects. Add a drop of butter, cinnamon and sugar and you have a meal. Gloulash is just browned hamburger meat and onions added to macaroni, with a can of tomato soup mixed in. We never starved, but there were times when we had to do without certain things. Dad had a drinking problem and sometimes he used to take all the money and disappear for a week or more at a time. Usually he did this just before Grandma and Grandpa Elliot were due for a visit. I can remember one time, they had to pay the electric bill, because Dad had disappeared again and the utility company had disconnected our power. It was the middle of winter. He knew they would take care of us all, so he felt like he could do what he wanted with his money. The problem was, it was not just his money, it was the family's money. The alcohol made him very selfish.
Mom used to have Mike and I help her search the yard and garage for bottles of vodka. We found them everywhere. The bottom of the clothes hamper, stuffed into the holes of unused cement bricks, under the woodpile, the back of his toolbox, you name it. It was the one thing that I hated growing up. He hurt Mom badly every time he got drunk. He never abused her physically, but when he got drunk he would get mean and say very bad things to her. One time I remember she got so angry with him that she pushed him, hard. He tripped and broke his tailbone. I think we were still living in the store at the time. After a while, she quit trying to argue with him when he was drunk. Instead she would let him pass out and sleep it off wherever he was. Grandma Pearson accused her of locking him in the car during a cold night once. I have always wondered how you lock somebody inside of a car? Can't you just reach up and open the door at any time? Like I said, it hard for parents to admit their children have faults.
He was a good man, when sober though. Every weekend in the summer, the whole family used to go camping and fishing. I remember more than once, Mike and I would get off the bus after school on Friday, and right back onto our converted bus/camper. Dad would put the "Gone Fishing" sign on the store, and we were off. Robert was still too young for camping, so he would usually be left behind with Grandma Pearson, Mom's best friend, Diane Hedstrom, or even Aunt Pat and Uncle Les, who lived near us for a while. We usually went to Blueberry Hill near the Lake of the Woods and set up the big tent for us kids to sleep in. Mom and Dad usually slept in the converted camper. I ended up living in that camper later on, but let's wait for that story.
Part 4 - Let's Go Fishing!
For information about Minnesota in general visit here or here.
Visit the home page of International Falls where I was born.
Also see the home page of Roseau, where I was raised.
Thunderbird Lodge is where my brother, Michael, works.
See Hayes Lake State Park, a few miles from where we lived.
Lake of the Woods where we often went fishing.
Find out more about Minnesota's natural resources.
The Virtual Sweden Site can tell you about where my grandparents came from.
Seattle, Washington is where I visited my Aunt Joyce and Uncle Maynard and saw the Space Needle.
Visit the International Peace Gardens. Many of my great-uncles and cousins helped build this beautiful place.
Dad worked at the Polaris plant for several years.
Both Mom and Dad worked at Marvin Windows at one time or another.