Today: How my grandfather lost his farm in Vienna . . .

The Permanent Family Record

Tim Torkildson writes: “Subject: How my grandfather lost his farm.


“My paternal grandfather, Peter Oscar Torkildson, was born in Vienna, Clark County, South Dakota, in 1885. The town got its name from an influx of early settlers from Austria, who fondly envisioned the dusty brown plains as a cultural mecca like its namesake. The collection of tar-paper shacks they erected, however, never had more than 800 living souls, and Vienna nearly disappeared during the Great Depression. Today it holds a mere 50 persons, according to the U.S. Census. Residents of Clark County pronounce the town’s name as ‘VIE-enna,’ accented on the first syllable.

“Peter’s father, Ole Torkildson, who was a skilled telegraph operator, left behind the abundant salmon rivers of Nord Trondelag in Norway to become a homesteader just outside of Vienna. Although he left behind no written record that I know of concerning his decision to pull up stakes from the lush green forests and towering mountains of Nord Trondelag to plant wheat which was regularly eaten by locusts, withered by drought, or burnt by prairie fires, I suspect that great-grandfather Ole must have had some dour second thoughts, like a character out of Rolvaag’s novel ‘Giants in the Earth,’ as he contemplated his dwindling bank account and increasing family. He had five children that we know of. Peter was his second-born and the first boy.

“My dad, Peter’s son, wholeheartedly condemned agricultural pursuits of any kind his entire adult life. Removing the expletives, my father’s opinion of farming was basically: ‘Any appleknocker who can make money with a farm must be robbing banks on the side — and those crooks deserve to be robbed.’ So strong was my dad’s aversion to anything associated with planting and harvesting that he stoutly refused to water, cut, or weed our lawn. Our grass alternated between luxurious tropical canebrake and sere brown sagebrush — until I was put into harness, that is, as lawn caretaker at the tender age of 8, for a measly allowance of one thin quarter a week. Hard work never killed anyone, but it sure ruined my Saturdays!

“Gleaned from my memories of comments from my dad and his mother, the redoubtable Olena Christina Torkildson (nee Gullikson), here is how the Torkildson homestead was finally lost during the stewardship of Grandpa Peter:

“Peter’s father Ole kicked the bucket at the start of World War I, in 1914. As oldest son, Peter inherited the farm, lock, stock, barrel, and McCormick Reaper. Peter had no intention of selling the place and divvying up the proceeds with his siblings, so the other four were left out in the cold and eventually drifted away from Clark County to make their way in the world as best they could.

“For reasons that are shrouded in Federal fol-de-rol, Uncle Sam decided that the Dakotas were prime breeding ground for carrots, not grain. In 1917 Peter Torkildson, along with other farmers in Clark County, were given bags and bags of carrot seeds to plant, on the cuff. As patriotic as the next farmer, and unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth, Peter tilled and manured his fields, then struggled to hand-plant the carrot seeds; there were no automatic planting devices for such teensy-weensy things. The rains were abundant for the next few years, and the carrots grew like a house afire. The crickets and locusts, apparently sharing the same universal dislike as human children, gave the carrot fields a wide berth. The Federal government bought up all the carrots he could produce, so Peter was in the chips for several years.

“But then the War to End All Wars itself ended, and Uncle Sam saw no more need to hand out free carrot seed. Peter reverted to hard red Turkey wheat. The rains began to fail sporadically, the land itself began to grow restless and drifted off in dark gray clouds, the price for grain tumbled, and Peter was forced to get a mortgage on the old homestead to keep going. He, too, produced five children: four sons and one daughter. And the land continued to disintegrate before their red-rimmed eyes. When the Great Depression hit in 1930, Clark County was already one of the poorest counties in the whole state, with population draining away like bubbles down a sink.

“In 1932 Peter and 11 other farmers in Clark County formed the Last Man Standing Club. They each put $10 in the pot; as each one gave up or was dispossessed of his farm, he lost his $10. The money, all of it, would go to the last farmer left — if it got down to that. And it did. In 1934 the bank foreclosed on the Torkildson homestead, making Peter next to last. The $120, so I was told, went to a shifty-eyed Swede who used a good part of his meager corn and wheat crop to make moonshine.

“My dad, Peter’s son, hitchhiked out to San Diego after the farm was gone, where his older brother Albin was a cook on a Navy ship. For the next several months, said my dad, he lived off of donuts and coffee smuggled off the boat by Albin, and slept on the dock nestled in giant coils of Manila hemp rope. Dad told me that this was when he decided that families were no damn good, banks were no damn good, and that God, if there was one, was no damn good, either.”

Our birds, ourselves
And: In memoriam

The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “It’s a sad morning on the Wisconsin Riviera. A lethargic swan that the Runabout noticed on the open waters of the Mississippi yesterday has washed ashore. The corpse is cruelly devoid of context, its once-regal grace now gone with its spirit. How could I forget, until today, that swans die?”

Their theater of seasons

Mounds View Swede reports: “My son and family live in Oregon and just sent these photos.




“I was a little jealous at how soon their flowers begin blooming, but then something like this happens and I don’t feel so envious. They have an apricot tree which is an early bloomer and whose blossoms or recently set fruit are usually killed by a frost, so actually getting any is a rare event. The other fruit trees aren’t so anxious to bloom right away and provide enough fruit.

“I am glad my son is ‘paying attention’ and starting to share these back with me. Now I can share them with you. Hang in there! Spring will come . . . eventually.”

Our theater of seasons

Eos writes: “Here’s my snow schnauzer. . .”


Keeping your eyes open (before they close once again) (responsorial)
And: Till death us do part

DebK of Rosemount: “Like Dolly Dimples, who took note of being inexplicably awakened at 3:33 and again at 5:55, Taxman and I had a great deal of fun when, about 145,000 miles ago, we noticed that the odometer on our car chalked up 55,555 as we merged onto Highway 55 from Highway 52.

“Ever since, we’ve considered it ‘our’ ramp.”

The Permanent Family Record (responsorial)

Frandma reports:”DebK of Rosemount could thrill her Taxman husband:

“Tell him that ‘cheap’ ice cream and nasty ice cream need not be the same thing. ALDI has a Select Brand (black box) in vanilla or chocolate, and they have only four or five ingredients — the first one being cream. They are the best I’ve ever tasted, keep a long time, and cost under $4 for 1.5 quarts.”

Fun facts to know and tell (responsorial)

D. Ziner:DebK of Rosemount wrote about the spellings of whisky and whiskey: ‘. . . Apparently, you can offend those in Scotland if you misspell their beverage. No specific mention is made of how the Irish would react to “whisky” as the spelling of their brand of scotch.’

“The misspelling might offend the Scots, but they would be livid if you suggested the Irish made a brand of scotch. If it’s not made in Scotland, it can’t be labeled as one of the five allowable variations of Scotch whisky.”

Lost & Found

The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “I was an extremely shy child. Actually, I was a sniveling little fraidy cat, so when I was invited to a classmate’s birthday party, it took every bit of urging my mother could muster to get me to attend. She said she was more than a little surprised to see me come home with a smile on my face and my arms full of prizes. I had won every game.

“Mother was relieved that I hadn’t spent the time crying in a corner, but she was disappointed by my greediness. I felt totally justified because the six prizes were sets of dolls, and I had a plan. Each box had an assortment of five of these crudely painted but brightly colored china dolls, so I figured if I won all the games, I would have enough dolls to play school with them — if only I had a school. Mom told me that I should give one box to my cousin Patsy for her birthday. I did give it, but not very happily, because I knew Patsy didn’t even LIKE dolls. Shoot! Now I had only 25 pupils and still no school.

“I set up a makeshift school by drawing an outline on a piece of heavy cardboard and using alphabet blocks for the desks, but I kept thinking (muttering?) ‘I wish I had a school.’ My brother Johnny said he would build one for me.

“The board he used was about 12  by 18 inches, and he surrounded it with 2-inch-high walls. He even made a cloak hall in the back where all the naughty kids spent their time. He pounded in little 1-inch blocks for their desks, with a larger one for the teacher. It was marvelous. I stood the dolls behind their desks and pretended one of them was a teacher. I spent hours playing with it.

“My joy was complete when Daddy came home one day and told me to close my eyes because he had a surprise. When I opened my eyes and saw her standing behind her desk, I couldn’t believe it. Daddy had bought me a teacher! In my mind, she was nearly real, and as the years went by, I remembered her the way I imagined her then; her soft gray hair was real, and she wore wire eyeglasses. I had a couple of years to enjoy that treasure, and then in 1941, we moved to Bloomington and my precious little school got stuck in the brooder house, never to be seen again.

“I still had some of the dolls, but the teacher was mislaid. I didn’t find her again until 1967. My sister Nora and I (along with our husbands) were helping my dad clean out a shed, and in an old dresser of mine (that had been shifted from shed to shed with each move), there was my teacher doll. What a shock. Nora was the one who recognized her, and she laughed when she saw the look on my face. This amazing teacher doll I had remembered all those years was just an ordinary china doll with painted-on hair and painted-on glasses. I was bummed. My illusion was better to keep than the reality, and I threw her on the junk pile.

“I had another surprise in 1998, when my cousin Patsy had a garage sale to dispose of her deceased older sister’s belongings. One of the items for sale was the very set of dolls I had given Patsy so long ago, so evidently her sister had liked them even if Patsy didn’t. (See, Mom? I told you Patsy didn’t play with dolls.) THEY looked just as I remembered them, and even though I knew that Patsy thought I had a screw loose, I bought them. Aren’t they adorable?”


Joy of Juxtaposition

Semi-Legend reports: “Subject: Ecliptic J of J.

“Browsing in Magers & Quinn today, I heard over the speakers Bonnie Tyler singing ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart.’

“I returned a book to a shelf and, as the song continued, ran across a spine: ‘Zane, Total Eclipse of the Heart,’ by a one-named author of whom I had never heard.

“Somewhere, Jim Steinman is smiling.

“I picked up the book and turned to Page 51. Domestic discord. I put it back.”

The five-ring circus of PyeongChang
Including: Gaining something in translation

The Monkey Lover’s Wife of Northfield: “As I mentioned earlier, I love the Olympics, especially the Winter Games. Each member of our family tends to root for a different country, based on our latest interests: Bananagirl is cheering for Norway after meeting all the wonderful people there last summer, T-Bone is cheering for Germany because of his language studies (I know it has been decades, but I still reflexively think ‘Which one? West or East?’ when the team is mentioned), and The Monkey Lover is rooting for the U.S., because, well, someone has to. In accordance with 50 percent of my heritage (at least until I do one of those increasingly intriguing DNA tests), I am cheering for Finland (again!), and this time I’m really trying to get to know the team members. The hockey team’s assistant captain shares my mom’s maiden name, which is really cool. He played for some NHL teams, but now plays for a KHL team: the Helsinki Jokerit, which translates to the ‘Jokers’ or ‘Jesters.’ I’m now in pursuit of one of their jerseys.

“And I hope everyone heard about the snowboard coach who knits at the top of the runs. Actually, it’s not just him.

“My favorite quote (which goes right along with the traditional view of Finns) is: ‘. . . it is a nice, Finnish thing . . .  it means no unnecessary chit-chat is needed.’

“But the best part is following the Finnish Olympic team on Twitter, and running the tweets through their translation (‘Powered by Microsoft’). This morning’s quote from a coach partially explained why Minnesotans are the way they are (I think Minnesota has more Finns than any other state in the nation, except maybe for Michigan): ‘The team selected improved the jumping ice during the exercises. The overall contribution of yesterday’s competition was also reasonable. No one seemed to best, but it is an average current level. Not good, and not bad.’

“(Translation of Finnish is a dicey thing, because the language is so different from everything else. These articles illustrate languages beautifully: mental

“My two favorite Tweets are the following:
‘@RmHakola, Sprint 6th: “Yes I was a clear kutonen today, but Olympiakutonen sounds good. In the final top it seemed pretty good, but pretty soon the cost was a clot. No more, all the lunch was eaten. ” #PyeongChangFi #olympicteamfI’

“‘DAY 5. @OlympicTeamFI with skiers fighting will #Pyeonchang2018 in the sprint, but medals were frozen. In the race spot, the Norwegians captured a @oopeezoncolan tricky mask in that place 😄! @ritakti the chair became familiar #skeleton with and the @ennirukajarvi Medal of Coffee.’

“They have had other tweets which mention coffee, so I’ll have to do some more research to find out what the confusion is. Or, they’re just revealing training secrets, who knows.

“Back to the Olympics!”


The five-ring circus of PyeongChang
Or: A thought for the week

The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “Subject: Something to keep in mind as we watch.

“From my Sports Page-a-Day calendar: ‘Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Dan Gable once said: “Gold medals really aren’t made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.”'”

Our times

Monday email from Bloomington Bird Lady: “Subject: Power went out!

“The perfect start to a holiday: Our power disappeared suddenly just before 8 p.m.! Our whole neighborhood was black; even the streetlights.

“We’d intended to watch the Olympics’ skate dancing, but instead our house cooled off; no phone, no lights, no heat, no TV. Got out the candles after a half-hour of feeling like we were back in time by maybe 30 years! How did our forefathers ever get along with no electricity? I guess it’s a good thing to learn the hard way to appreciate all we have these days.

“Resetting the landline phone was a first for me. Darn directions are written for 12-year-olds who are savvy about how to do these things! AT&T doesn’t like when one programs date and time and fails the first few attempts.

“At least as the house cooled off, the woolly throws helped us stay warm.

“Power came on at 10 p.m. The extra sound bar for the TV did not come on. Didn’t realize it would do that; turned it back on.

“Now some of our clocks are flashing 12:00, but my caller I.D. is working. No strange numbers will be answered.”

The Permanent Sonly Record

Mom in Boyland: “Last Ash Wednesday, I neglected to inform my youngest son that he wasn’t walking up the aisle for a blessing, but for a smudge of ashes to be applied to his forehead. He was not pleased. After furiously rubbing his off, he glared at my ashes and said: ‘I do not like brain crosses!'”

Everyone’s a copy editor!

Twitty of Como: “In the ‘Travel’ section of Sunday’s paper is an interesting article by writer Todd P. Walker about his visit to the Grand Canyon with his 84-year-old father. Apparently a visit there had been on his father’s ‘bucket list.’

“I read the article because — as a senior citizen myself — I was interested to see if the father went down inside the canyon. But I got lost in the sixth paragraph when Mr. Walker reported that Williams, Arizona, is 60 miles north of the Grand Canyon. What?
Pretty sure it’s not.

“Mr. Walker also mentioned skipping exploring a stretch of old Route 66. Last time I was there, Historic Route 66 ran right down the middle of Williams, Arizona — right past the train depot where he boarded the train for his ride to the south rim. He could’ve walked part of it. Time passes; things change, but I’ve always found it compelling enough — having driven Route 66 back in the early ’60s — to find even small remaining stretches of that historic route to drive on. It always stretches my memories and imagination.

“I still don’t know if Dad went down inside the canyon. It didn’t sound like he did, but I was hoping.”


Everyone’s a (comedy) critic!

IGHGrampa writes: “There are no comic actors today to compare.”

Live and learn!

Gregory J. of Dayton’s Bluff: “It’s always humbling to discover a major gap in one’s education, but that is exactly what happened to me recently.

“I’ll admit the world of art has never been a large part of my life, but I know enough about the great masterpieces of the world and the artists who created them to get by. So imagine my surprise when I found out I knew nothing about a ubiquitous — one might almost say iconic, although one would be hesitant to say that here in Bulletin Board [Bulletin Board says: Bravo, Gregory J.! You have learned well!] — series of paintings.

“Of course I speak of ‘Dogs Playing Poker.’


“My first revelation was that it is not a single painting, but actually a series of 16 paintings, only some of which show dogs playing poker. In the rest of them, the dogs are pursuing various other equally unlikely activities.

“Second, I had always assumed they were created in the 1950s, but they are much older than that.

“Third, they had not been churned out by a graphic artist working for a corporation. They had been painted by an established artist, Cassius Marcellos Coolidge.

“Fourth, and this was the most surprising, they had been commissioned by St. Paul’s own Brown & Bigelow to advertise cigars. The first painting was delivered in 1903. They were eventually used in other kinds of advertising and moved out into the world at large as framed prints, ashtrays, neckties, postcards and who knows what else. I don’t know whether we should be proud or ashamed that a St. Paul company released these dogs into the wild.”

BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: We should be proud!

Band Name of the Day: Dogs Playing Poker

Website of the Day: Cassius Marcellus Coolidge Gallery


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