Now & Then
On the occasion of the Twins’ home opener, we bring you this report from The REF in White Bear Lake: “I scored a minor treasure at an estate sale today: a 1946 program/scorecard for the St. Paul Saints. As I (carefully) paged through it, I found an ad for a St. Paul hotspot:
“I went to ‘the Google’ to confirm the connection to our Joe, and believe that the nightclub proprietor would be our stalwart catcher/first baseman’s great-great-uncle.
“St. Paul’s 1940 census shows John Mauer, 46, married to Louise and living on Thomas Street. (One of his sons would beget Joe’s father.)
“John Jr. was a 14-letter athlete at Cretin. After his 1940s Army service, he returned to St. Paul and played a year for the St. Paul Saints while attending college. He taught and coached at what became Hill-Murray High School, where he and his son both served as the school’s baseball coach.
“At a place called ‘Token Catalog,’ I found photos of ‘Good for 25¢ in Trade’ tokens that must have been given out by the bar back in the day.”
Possibly inspired by this story in the Pioneer Press, here’s The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “Subject: Not your father’s baseball!
“I’m rolling on the floor laughing and spitting coffee through my nose this morning over the image of baseball fans eating salad in the stands.
“In my opinion, the only thing that would be more hilarious is if it catches on and spreads to the Wild.”
Jim Shumaker of New Richmond, Wisconsin: “Male and Female Blue Heron, Interstate State Park, Polk County, Wisconsin.
“I hope your readers enjoy the photo of the Blue Herons!”
The Permanent Family Record
And: Our theater of seasons
DebK of Rosemount: “Spring’s advance is clear in the condition of the gravel road that runs past St. Isidore Farm. As I was driving home from Stations last night, I encountered ruts that put me in mind of April in Iowa.
“Our home place sat smack in the center of a section, a 640-acre chunk of farmland demarcated in most cases by gravel or dirt roads that intersected at every mile. It’s hard to understand why anyone would’ve plunked a house and outbuildings in such a place. Most farmers set up housekeeping within a stone’s throw of the road. Their dwellings and those of their livestock were conveniently accessed by means of private driveways of 50 yards or so in length. But, situated as it was, well back of corn fields and pastures and at the top of a steep rise, our place could be reached only by helicopter, always in exasperatingly short supply — or by traversing the half-mile dirt path which we referred to as ‘the lane,’ a term that conjures up romantic notions much at odds with the reality of the thing.
“There were certain advantages to being so far from the county gravel road that bisected our acreage from north to south. The creamery trucks, farm vehicles, and school buses that passed by didn’t disturb our solitude. Nor did the clouds of Iowa loam they kicked up collect on our line-hung laundry. For the most part, though, living at the end of an overgrown path with only pretensions of being a driveway was an unmitigated nuisance. Or worse.
“The lane reflected the passing of the seasons. Nature gave us Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. The lane gave us cold mud, warm mud, frozen mud, and snowdrifts. Except during the nastiest snowstorms, when the winds off the Dakotas whipped snow into drifts that could (and did) swallow small structures, we were able to walk to the road. But getting a vehicle up or down the lane was nearly always problematic. The creamery route driver, whose job it was to collect our cows’ milk every other day, deserved hazard pay at best. At worst, he flat out refused to come, forcing Dad to use a tractor to haul the milk cans to the road for pick-up.
“It stands to reason that if the creamery truck couldn’t be trusted to stay upright in the muck of the season, our sedan du jour didn’t have a prayer. For a good 10 months out of a year, consequently, our family vehicle would remain parked next to the mailbox, just off the road. Traveling the lane was accomplished by means of our most muscular tractor, a beast with wheels taller than a man and enough horsepower to take us to the moon. Well, to the top of the rise, anyway. It worked this way: Dad wanted to go . . . oh, say, to Dave’s Store by way of the Greenville tavern. He would launch himself into the tractor seat, fire up the engine, and negotiate the obstacle course of ruts and/or drifts all the way to the end of the lane, where he’d exchange the tractor for the car. The return trip was just the reverse, with the complication of a couple of six-packs and several bags of groceries that needed to be kept upright and intact. If the arrival of the school bus coincided with one of Dad’s return trips, we kids would perch on tractor fenders and hitches and cling for our lives — literally — as we tipped and slipped, scoured and powered our way to the house.
“So tickled were we to be riding, we kids didn’t often consider how dangerous these tractor trips were. One unexpected jolt — one tip too far past vertical — might have sent one or more of us under a tractor wheel to a certain (and unattractive) death. Miserable as it was to slog through knee-high mud or hip-high snowbanks, doing so was usually a far safer option.
“Except during an all-out blizzard. Then, walking long distances — any distance, in fact — was truly high-risk behavior. (Unless you’ve lived on the prairie, that vast, unbroken expanse of land flat as a bowling alley, you’ve never seen a real blizzard or experienced the life-threatening wallop it packs. Do remedial work: Read Laura Ingalls Wilder — particularly ‘The Long Winter.’)
“I can’t put an exact date on it, but one especially severe winter brought blowing snow so severe that Dad was forced to abandon the lane completely and plow an alternate — and, sadly, even longer — escape route through the cornfields. This ad hoc driveway curved around the south edge of our pasture where the slopes were gentler. Moreover, as he created the new path, Dad was careful not to replicate any of the hairpin turns that made the lane so treacherous. It would’ve been quite a satisfactory alternative but for the fact that it lay completely open to winds that had their way with us all that winter. Immense drifts of snow made driving a sedan across the frozen fields absolutely impossible. So, as before, we were forced to travel from house to road by means of the tractor — or worse, à pied. Different route, same process.
“That winter was bitterly cold, too. Each day, as we trudged across the Iowa tundra to reach the road (which itself was often closed due to drifting), we felt the cold and suffered from it. For these were the days before Thinsulate and Uggs, technological advances farm kids really appreciate. We pulled filthy barn boots (rubber) over our ‘tennies’ (canvas), stuck our hands into muck-stiffened work gloves (cotton), and struck off. Even on balmy days we lost feeling in our extremities long before we arrived at our destination. And most days, we’d end up with a touch of frostbite on our noses and cheeks. Darned painful — especially during the thawing-out phase — but nothing that kept us from making those trips to and from the school bus each day.
“We lived by faith, believing that somehow Mrs. Fredien would have the (comparatively) warm bus waiting for us at the end of the new lane when we arrived. Praying that she wouldn’t have surveyed the heavily drifted road that ran past our place and decided that it would be foolhardy to try to travel it. In seasons other than winter, we harbored a deep-seated dislike for Mrs. Fredien. She was Tubby’s nemesis, after all. She had lots of trouble piloting the bus while she was giving Tubby the evil eye through her rear-view mirror. She was deserving of our (unspoken) contempt. Still, many times, our lives would have been in real jeopardy had she not had the courage to hurtle that 48-passenger bus through the snowbanks and the skill to keep it from sliding off the road. The truth is simple and stark: We couldn’t have survived the return trip to the house without sustaining crippling and disfiguring injury.
“Mom’s experience was proof positive of that. One bitter-cold late afternoon during that terrible winter, Mom and Dad had gone to town on a kerosene run. The free-standing stove that stood in our living room heated our farmhouse by burning kerosene, which we could afford to purchase only five gallons at a time. We lived in constant fear of exhausting our supply. Too often our fears were realized. On those dreadful days and nights, we heated the house with the electric oven — cranked up as high as it would go and its door left wide open. No one wandered far from the kitchen on those occasions, I can assure you. As usually happened, the kerosene acquisition was supplemented by a lengthy stay at a local watering hole. Something — I’ve never known what — happened at the tavern that night that provoked Mom to leave Dad behind and strike off for home by herself. The temperature was well below zero, and the wind was fierce, so perhaps Mom didn’t think she could stand being exposed to the elements during a long tractor ride from the road to the house. Whatever her rationale, Mom made the near-fatal mistake of trying to drive the car up the new lane. She didn’t get much more than halfway home before the car was nearly buried in an immense drift. Mom broke the cardinal rule of winter survival — to stay with your vehicle if you get stranded. Instead, she made for the house on foot. After a hundred yards or so, her feet and hands had lost all sensation, so she didn’t notice when her shoes were pulled off by the hip-deep snow.
“Somehow, Mom made it home that night, long after we kids had gone to sleep. Dad, too, found his way back to the house. But the events of that night were to color the rest of that long, brutal winter. For Mom had suffered horrific frostbite and came very close to losing her feet. The severity of her injury became quickly apparent to us, for Dad fetched Doc Rustad from Greenville to tend to her. Over the ensuing weeks, Doc came repeatedly to trim away stinking, blackened flesh and dress gaping wounds. Most people had a poor opinion of Doc Rustad’s skills, but he managed to convince Mom that she had to stay off her feet if they were to have any chance of healing. And, in the end, he saved her mobility.
“Spring brought its own brand of travel difficulties. The spring thaw turned waist-deep snow into knee-deep mud, rendering our lane impassable in a different way. After one particularly bad winter (perhaps the winter of Mom’s scrape with death), our gravel road, too, became impassable. Clay County closed it to through-traffic. So to get ourselves to school, we had to walk through greedy, sucking mud all the way from our house, down our treacherous lane, onto the equally treacherous gravel road, all the way to the Schutknechts’ farm, about a quarter-mile uphill to the north.
“It was a miserable time, but we’d experienced similar hardships before. Then came a warm spell that accelerated the snow melt all over the North Country and transformed Willow Creek from the benign stream where we chased crawdaddies and watered cattle to a black, roiling malignancy that tore away great chunks of our pastureland and swallowed the county’s road whole.
“This record-setting flood was at its peak the day a stone-cold sober Dad met our school bus at the high-and-dry Schutknecht place. We kids were grateful to be spared the trek home, for from our vantage point, we could see — and hear — immense ice chunks crashing along the length of the unrecognizably swollen creek. We must all have been daunted at the prospect of making our way through the water that lay where the road should have been. But our people didn’t speak of such things. We merely piled onto the tractor, fitting ourselves into available spaces. With a curt reminder to ‘hang on tight,’ Dad took us down the hill and into the icy, rapacious water.
“With every foot we traveled, the water climbed more insistently, reaching halfway up the massive tractor tires and threatening to swamp the engine. Our hands ached with the wet and the cold, but we clung to our perches. Then somehow, just as we were turning off the submerged road onto our flooded lane, Tubby was gone. We screamed at Dad to do something, but he was helpless. He knew it — and so did we. Then, miraculously, as he was being hurled downstream, Tubby managed to catch hold of our mailbox, the top of which was barely visible above the churning water. And he held on. Dad maneuvered the tractor toward him and, in a moment of real heroism, lifted him out of the water and onto the tractor fender — all the while keeping the tractor upright.
“In our day, much of the knowledge farm kids acquired was hard-won. Even now, I dislike thinking of these lessons in the fragility of life. They were painful then; they’re painful now. But they’ve stuck with me.”
Keeping your eyes open
Wayne Nelson of Forest Lake: “Some of the BBers may have missed this beautiful sunrise Wednesday morning.
“It didn’t last very long, and I was able to capture the sky through the trees before it was gone.”
Website of the Day (responsorial)
Saturday note from Poet X of PDX: “Today’s ‘Website of the Day’ informs me the No. 1 song on the day I was born was ‘The Purple People Eater’ by Sheb Wooley, which is not a song I’ve heard often. Strange novelty hit.
“And the site informs me I was born 30,913,079 minutes ago. Well, it doesn’t ask for exact time of birth, so it’s just a ballpark figure. Still, it’s a fun fact to have thrown in one’s face.”
Our community of strangers
And: In memoriam (responsorial)
Writes Ola’s Lint: “Subject: Till we meet again.
“Sincere and heartfelt sympathy to The Wife of 48 Years. The Old Woodchopper was a dear Bulletin Board friend who has been and will be missed.
“Today, spouse and I were at our ninth funeral since October 20th. We are at an age where parents of many friends are taking trips to Heaven. Today’s service was for a sweet man from church. A bagpiper played, and you could have mopped me up from the floor. Music is often my emotional undoing, but the mournful wail of the pipes is guaranteed to hit me in the heart and tear ducts. I generally consider myself optimistic and believe a funeral is not so much goodbye, but ‘See you later.’ But golly, the cumulative punch is heavy, and a few less funerals would be OK by me.
“Let’s be kind to each other and find the good in everyone and every day.”
Band Name of the Day: Baseball Fans Eating Salad
Website of the Day: