A Family History: In Brief

As a column about real estate sales and transactions I read suggests, there’s more to the sale than the deeds imply, just as I wonder whenever I hear someone say they just bought ‘an eighty’ or ‘another quarter‘ somewhere. I think about the land’s back story, What is the history of the land purchased? Is it known? Do the buyers care that there was a river crossing on the land that the Ojibwe and Dakota used on their seasonal rounds before the coming of the white man? Or that beaver dams of hundreds of years ago shaped the river and creek basins and remnants of their dams can be found there nine feet below? Or that, on a walk across that field to the mailbox one day the former land owner found an octagonal-shaped barrel of a flintlock pistol of possibly the fur trade era or before? Or that marked on old surveyor maps there is a wagon trail along the sandridge and down through that quarter that followed the river bank toward Wannaska? I doubt that many new owners think about the history of the land or region any more, that the thought is more about potential yields, drainage, access, and cost.
     My parents were from farm stock. My dad’s Scot-Irish family were from Hagerstown, Maryland, originally having immigrated to North America in the 1700s. Eventually they lived in Illinois and Iowa over the ensuing decades, times being what they were. My mother’s family immigrated from Norway and Sweden in the 1880s. Her paternal Swedish grandparents as well as their eldest son, my grandfather and his two younger sisters, homesteaded in  the Red River Valley and lived in a sod house on the prairie for twelve years. Then, in the late 1890s, after this part of Minnesota was opened to homesteading, her grandfather got wind of it. Newly-created Roseau County, especially the extreme southeastern corner, reminded Louis so much of his native Sweden, that in 1895, he left his homestead in the Red River Valley--some of the richest soil in the United States-- and moved to the poorer sandy loam soils of what became ‘Palmville’, so named as they were its first homesteaders, whose rivers, creeks, and trees became a part of our heritage.

     My mother and dad literally met in the wheat fields of North Dakota in 1928. She was a 19-year old threshing camp cook and he was a 23-year old field hand from Illinois, working the harvests north from Texas with a friend. They met on the Alec Hoeven farm just south of Osnabrock, ND. (Now the Denault place) My mother’s father was a steam engineer and her oldest brother was a fireman. The three of them had worked for Hoevens for several years. Many northwestern Minnesota residents worked the harvests around Osnabrock and surrounding communities. It was a common practice, perhaps similar to people going west from here to drive beet trucks is now.
     Although my mother and dad were married in Des Moines, Iowa in the spring of 1929, they lived in Franklin Grove, Illinois, during the first few years of their marriage near one of Dad’s brothers who had gotten him a job farming there for an elderly couple. Mom was their cook and housekeeper. Mom and Dad lived on an upper floor of their big old house in town where my oldest sister was born in 1930.

     Mom was 21-years old and almost 800 miles from the only home she had ever known. She was so terribly homesick, she could just as well be on the other side of the moon she had told me. Mom had grown up in a family that spoke Swedish and Norwegian so her English was broken at times--(even though she had a good one-room schoolhouse education). Her Iowa and Illinois sisters-in-law would sometimes tease her about it, she said, as she was much younger than they were. (Dad was the youngest of six brothers, and three sisters.)

     Up the street from where they lived in Franklin Grove, was a city park and a gazebo where sometimes in the summer evenings a town band would play. Tired from a long day’s work, Dad would often fall asleep after supper. Mom said she’d sometimes sit near the window in their bedroom where she could hear the music, think of the people and family “uphome,” the fun she had, the love she knew, and cry. She never quite got over missing Minnesota though they went 'uphome' as often as money would allow. Leaving was especially traumatic, so much so my older sisters talk about the long Minnesota goodbyes to this day.

     One time, after a particularly long tearful parting, the folks were nearly to Fourtown, about forty miles distant, when Mom discovered she had left her purse at Grandma’s. Long-suffering Dad, patiently--though reluctantly-- turned the car around and drove back to Grandma’s hoping to dash into the house and back before Mom got her second wind.

   Dad once offered to move the family to Wannaska because Mom’s homesickness had become hopeless especially after 1932 when her oldest brother, Raymond, suffered a broken neck after a fall from a tree and became paralyzed from his chest down.  Feeling guilty as she was the eldest child and about not being there to help her sister and brother care of Ray and their aging parents, my mother’s lament became almost intolerable. Dad said he was willing to make the move to Wannaska. He said he could find work anywhere with his labor skills, but that she had to think about all the conveniences she would have to give up, like running water in the house, electric lights and telephone should they move there. They both had grown up without these things and had little desire to give them up once put to the test, but Dad loved her dearly and was sincere saying what he did. Mom relented. Dad told her he would make every effort to get her uphome whenever she desired, and held true with his promise all the 53 years of their married life. Mom died in 1982 and Dad in 1992.


scott palm said…
I always enjoy your family stories.

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