Tuesday, December 30, 2014

First 30 Years of My Dad's 90-Year-Old Life

Dad turned 90-years-old on Christmas Eve. He is healthy, independent, and lives in the house in which he was born.

I was surprised he did not want to dispense advice, but like many of his age group, The Greatest Generation as fellow South Dakotan Tom Brokaw has dubbed them, Dad chose to reminisce.

What follows are some of the technological changes a farm boy from east central South Dakota experienced from 1924 to 2014. 

Part I: The First 30 Years 

Waldo ~ in his tweens

Farmers' Line: 1924-1934, Decade #1 
Primitive Living

In the 1930s, farmers formed groups and installed telephone lines. A household would agree to be a switchboard. My Uncle Johnny's parents and Mom's cousin Mary G's family were switchboard centers. If someone called outside the group, the switchboard would make the connection to the other group and could also listen in. That's how the community got news.

Dad told the story of a young girl telephoning that she couldn't find anymore cow chips. The woman on the other end of the line responded in German saying, "Dear girl, nothing to eat. Nothing to poop." It was the Dirty 30s, and cow chips were burned for heat. 

Eventually, those phone lines deteriorated, and the farmers didn't have the money to maintain or repair them. It would not be until 1957 that the rural landline telephone system was installed.

a teenage Waldo

Farming with Machines: 1934-1944, Decade #2
Rabbit Hunting when Pearl Harbor Attacked in 1941

After most of the horses died of sleeping sickness, Dad's father did not have enough horses left to pull the binder. So he traded all but two horses in and spent $200 to purchase an F-12 Farmall tractor with steel wheels that could only go four mph back in 1935. This tractor could pull an eight-foot disc and a two bottom plow. Grandpa used the remaining team of horses to make hay.

Six years later, Grandpa Pete traded in that tractor for a rubber-tired H-Farmall vehicle that could travel 15 mph and pull a three bottom plow. To finance this $900 tractor, he made payments along with the trade-in.

Also in 1941, Grandpa purchased a five-foot Allis Chalmers combine. This revolutionized the family farm, for now they could harvest without a thrashing crew. Stories about harvest work before the combine belong in another post.

Speaking of thrashing crews, seems Uncle Johnny and neighbor Elmer Wipf hopped on a train to Minnesota. They didn’t buy a ticket or sit in seats. They rode hanging onto the outside of the train or maybe even on top of it. After they arrived, they earned a dollar a day shocking bundles on a thrashing crew. This happened in '33 or '34, according to Dad, who heard it from Uncle Johnny—who was, by the way, a story teller.

high school graduation picture

Humbling Beginnings: 1944-1954, Decade #3
Young Adulthood 

Rural areas were still without electricity; however, they knew it was coming some time, so to prepare, the farm was wired and a light plant was placed in the garage in 1947. A little motor with a gas engine made the electricity. They had lights, but not much use for appliances until that year or the next when Aunt Mary and Uncle Jr. went to Chicago to purchase a truck and came home with a gift. A toaster. 

Mom & Dad

Before indoor plumbing, they did have a bathtub that was supplied with hot water from the cook stove that was heated with wood, cobs, cow patties, or whatever they could find.

"There was always a supply of warm water on the side of the stove," Dad said. "Just reach in with the dipper." 

Indoor plumbing didn't exist in the home yet because they couldn’t get water pressure until a pump was installed, and that required electricity. Once that convenience came to fruition, they went to Sears to pick out a plumbing package of a toilet, sink, and tub. Dad's recollection of this event was funny.

"Sears then sent out two old codgers," he said. "They took two suitcases down into the cellar, then went back out and returned with the cast iron pipes to install. I couldn't figure out what they had in those suitcases." After some snooping around, Dad found beer inside.

With indoor plumbing came the need for a septic tank and sewer tiles. Young people from the church helped. One such youngster was Dad’s cousin's son, Roger Wollman. He later became a South Dakota Supreme Court Justice and now sits on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. He too, had a humble beginning.

Dad & Mom with Elliott & Priscilla

Writer's Note: Part II, years 40 through 60, coming in the next post.

Any similarities between my dad's stories and your ancestor's? What was their first household appliance? Where were they when Pearl Harbor was attacked?


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Four Simple, Endearing Gifts

You know the type. You're in a bad mood, but he can make you smile. That was Hugh. Hugh Rausch, one of my former artsy fartsy students. He surprised me with Christmas earrings one year, and I still have them. Well, one of them. Or did he only give me one? He would do something like that.


Christmas earrings
Back in the day, Hugh was one of three reasons I unplugged my phone on the weekends. The other two were Aaron Voth and Andy Mount. Those kooks woke me up with three am phone calls yelling, "Hi, Miss Hofer!" Then they'd laugh hysterically and hang-up.

Good-natured fun, and we still joke about it. Sure glad they did this only on the weekends because I had a hard time falling back to sleep. Sure don't have that problem today. I can sleep sitting up. Guess I truly am middle-aged.

Another endearing Christmas gift? A dainty white angel from Judy Twietmeyer, our school secretary. She was one classy Secret Santa back in the 90s. Whoever made this angel, thank you. It's one of my favorite holiday ornaments.


the angel from Judy

My third endearing gift? A simple pencil drawing from my step-daughter Brittany. Our second Christmas together at my dad's was a few weeks after we put down my first house dog. On Christmas morning, Brittany handed me her portrayal of Lexy asleep in her basket.


8th grade artwork from my step-daughter, Brittany

My fourth gift? A nativity scene painted on rocks. My friend Kay Wulf gave it to me last year after she caught me admiring hers. Kay's sister painted Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus on the stones after her husband filed the ends.


God so loved the world ~ and I am so glad that he did

Do you have any holiday items or gifts that warm your heart like these simple ones do mine? What are the circumstances around them? Share your stories in the comment section below. Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Artsy Fartsy Girl Teaches First Lesson

Paper plates, cotton balls, glue, and my oldest nephew and niece who served as my students. The lesson: paper plate Santa. I taught Michael and Evelynn the same lesson we did in Mrs. Gilchrist's third grade classroom.

Evelynn and Michael with their Santas and me in 1975

I must have really liked this project if I came home and re-taught it. I am thankful Mom snapped the picture of us three because it signifies my first teaching experience. I grew up playing school, but never dreamed of becoming a teacher. That’s an explanation for another post.

Mrs. Gilchrist was the most etiquette-filled teacher I ever had, and I'm sure she didn't care for our 8-year-old fingers making a mess with glue. Third grade was a turning point. I got glasses, I got in trouble for a fart note to classmate Todd Tollefson, and I figured out what the middle finger meant. Those stories will show up in another blog post too someday.

my paper plate Santa ~ he's 39-years-old this Christmas
We did not make a big deal out of Santa Claus in my childhood home. I always knew he wasn't real, and that Christmas was about Christ's birth. But for some reason, I kept the Santa I made in Mrs. Gilchrist's class. See the picture above. Found him in my memory box right beside the “I Like You” notebook cover. Read the post Thankful to be a Child of the 70s to understand my fascination with that icon.

I remembered this art project when I saw a picture of paper plate crafts on my colleague and friend Marilyn Keller's Facebook page earlier this week. She’d posted a link to the Artsy Craftsy Mom.

photo from the artsycraftsymom.com

This woman is incredible: a software analyst by day and craft-mom by night. What a combination. But I have never completely bought into the right-brain or left-brain only philosophy. A Denny Dey workshop focusing on brain research a few summers ago debunked the idea of that anyway. For more on that, click here for an easy-to-read article on the subject. It contains more brain research links inside it.

So it got me thinking, I am crafty. Kind of. 

But when I started listing how and snapping pictures of the evidence, this blog post evolved into a novel, so I cut and pasted the info into other documents to save for other posts.

Hey, cut and paste—isn't that crafty? 

What holiday crafts do you perform each year? Or do you remember a special one from your childhood? I would enjoy interacting with you in the comment section below. And remember, if the kids are getting cabin fever this season, Google the artsy craftsy mom.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

One Teacher Who Changed Many Lives

Our little orange-stained fingers dropped loose change into the little white piggy bank church that served as the offering plate. Us preschoolers had munched on Cheese Puffs or puffy popcorn around the U-shaped table listening to the Bible lesson. We prayed, sang, and learned about Jesus in the Sunday School classroom of Mary G. Wipf. 

Aunt Bina (standing), Mom, Grandma Katie, Aunt Grace, and Mary G.

Mary G. was my mom’s cousin and like an aunt to me. The G stood for Gladys, her middle name, and she answered to Mary G. so as not to be confused with the other cousin, Mary J. Dammier. In May, Mary G. passed away. She was 90. Here is her obituary. Her birthday of December 8 was also her wedding anniversary and the birthday of my niece, Colleen, who ironically now shares a birthday with her husband, Jason.
Colleen & Mary G. share a birthday cake one year.

Mary G. and husband Warren were frequent guests in our home and travel companions to Kansas where one of their sons and his family lived. My dad often received good-natured teasing from them on his lengthy bathroom stops at courthouses during such trips. They teased me about some make-believe people we concocted to pass the time—I think their names were KillRoy and Virginia.

Mary & Warren in 1982, 40th Wedding Anniversary

Mary and Warren lived in Doland, and were the first town friends that I remember. Warren ran his own mechanics shop while Mary G. worked at the post office. They lived a modest life, but because they were not stuck out on the gravel roads in a farm house, this little girl considered them rich. They had a TV in living room, cable TV mind you, a garage for their car, a sidewalk to a front and a back door, and a cement driveway. To top if off, they had a basketball hoop with cement under it. They were rich.

Dad, Warren, Mom, Mary G., Mary J, unknown man (to me), Wayne, and Marcella

Their kitchen also fascinated me. The frig set on a slant so one could get to the basement—that wasn't creepy like our cellar—where the laundry room existed. The kitchen had no cabinets on the wall. Instead, Mary's dishes were in the pantry. It was fun helping her set the table or put stuff away because my little hands could see and reach it all. It baffled me how Warren would help her dry the dishes sometimes. I never saw my dad or my brother ever do that. Was this how town people lived? 

The Wipfs attended the major events in my life: piano recitals, school plays, birthday parties, and graduations. Many Sunday nights after church, we'd get together to play the domino game, Shoot the Moon, or Aggravation. At their house, our snack might be the colorful popcorn balls that I referred to in the post entitled, Treating with Tricks.

Mary G.: times with my sisters & me

Her 21 years as widow involved many changes: selling items from Warren's business, selling her Doland home, moving to Huron into assisted living, and then living her remaining years in the nursing home.

This year, on her birthday tomorrow, Mary G. resides in her heavenly home that she taught so many Ebenezer Church children about. The song "Thank You" by Ray Boltz is no doubt the theme song of her life.

I am happy-sad as I listen to it, for as the lyrics say, because of you, I am a life that was changed.

Do you have a close family friend or relative whose birthday or death was near the holiday season? What advice do you have for those who are coping with this type of loss for the first time?

Writer’s Note: I will write more about Mary G. in an upcoming Christmas post. To read more about Ebenezer Church's influence on my life, read the post, Skinned Knee with a Slice of White Bread in which I reminisce about daily vacation Bible school.